§ Order for Second Reading read.1.20 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill seeks to fulfil a commitment to grant British citizenship, and with it the right of abode in the United Kingdom, to British dependent territories citizens in qualifying overseas territories. Many hon. Members will be familiar with its content and many have urged the Government to speed its passage on behalf of the people of the overseas territories. It was introduced in another place by my noble Friend and colleague Baroness Amos, Minister for the overseas territories, and has come to this House without amendment. I hope that it will secure the approval of this House too.
Britain has 14 overseas territories. For the benefit of hon. Members who are not familiar with all of them, I shall list them: Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Antarctic territory, the British Indian Ocean territory, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena and the dependencies, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia on Cyprus and the Turks and Caicos Islands. With the exception of Gibraltar, all those territories are islands or form part of them. Their populations vary from some 60,000 in Bermuda to only 50 in Pitcairn, which owes its population and its place in history to the mutiny on the Bounty.
§ Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
My hon. Friend mentioned the British Antarctic territory. I am not sure whether it has a permanent resident population, but my question relates to the fact that it is a claim rather than an agreed possession in the sense in which the other territories are so named. Can my hon. Friend clarify that point?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
Not immediately. I shall endeavour to do so in my winding-up speech. None the less, my hon. Friend is absolutely right on this point: as far as I am aware, there are no permanent residents in the territory to which he refers.
§ Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
Apart from Gibraltar, which my hon. Friend has listed, none of the other overseas territories is included in the European Union. Will he make it clear now or subsequently that, when the Bill is enacted, people to whom British citizenship is extended will, ipso facto, be citizens of the European Union? European Union citizenship is not geographical; it depends not on whether we are in the United Kingdom but on whether we are British citizens. I do not believe that that is made clear in the Bill or the explanatory notes.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
I do not think that there is such a thing as a citizen of the European Union. There is, however, British citizenship, and the citizens of the territories will 478 become British citizens and enjoy all the rights that such citizens have in the European Union, so the answer on the premise of my hon. Friend's question is yes.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
My hon. Friend had not been elected when the Maastricht legislation was introduced, so I understand why he does not know that it provided for the citizenship that I described. We are citizens of the European Union and I am pleased to tell him that he is, too. He needs to have the matter clarified by the time that he makes his winding-up speech, because it is a very important constitutional point. I believe that citizenship will benefit these folks, although some people might take a different view, so we need to know whether they are citizens of the European Union. I assert that they are.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
My hon. Friend may well be right. I shall try to help him on that point by the end of the day.
§ Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)
I understood the Minister to say that the citizens of our overseas territories would enjoy the same rights as other EU citizens. Does that include the rights to free travel and work throughout the Union and therefore throughout the territories?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
Yes, it does.
Some of the territories, such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands are prosperous; others are less so. Most, such as St. Helena and her dependencies Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, are remote. Whatever their differences, they have a close, long-standing connection with Britain.
In March 1999, the Government published a White Paper entitled "Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories." It was a culmination of a wide-ranging review of our relationship with the overseas territories. It laid the foundations for a new relationship built on the fundamental principles of self-determination, the acceptance of responsibilities on both sides and the greatest possible control for the people of the overseas territories over their own lives. It set out an agenda explaining what each side expected of the partnership in terms of support for good governance, sustainable social and economic development and protection of the environment.
In his foreword to the White Paper, the then Secretary of State made it clear that our partnership must be founded on self-determination, and that the overseas territories would be British for as long as they wished to remain British. Britain has willingly granted independence when it has been requested, and will continue to do so when that is an option. I should like to reaffirm that that remains the position.
Partnerships are not always easy, and I recognise that we may not always get the balance right, but I believe that our relationship continues to evolve positively, in consultation with the territories, and that we have made good progress on White Paper issues such as financial regulation, human rights, the environment, constitutional reform and good governance.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
The Minister has mentioned two important words: 479 self-determination, which is fundamental to democracy, and partnership. Will he assure the House that there is no question of Gibraltar entering a form of condominium with Spain? Surely British citizenship means that the British flag should fly and that another power should have no jurisdiction in what is essentially British dependent territory.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
I emphasise the assurances that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Minister for Europe have given. However, I warn Members that I am not prepared to be drawn on Gibraltar outside the scope of the Bill.
We need to maintain momentum. The White Paper agenda still holds good, and there is further work to be done. The proposal to grant British citizenship to British dependent territories citizen' in qualifying territories, and to recognise their British connection properly, is an important component of that process. The proposed citizenship provisions in the Bill apply to all territories except the sovereign base areas of Cyprus, which are excluded because of their special status as military bases, established by treaty with Cyprus.
The Bill formally changes the name of the territories to British overseas territories, and the term "British dependent territories citizens" to "British overseas territories citizens". It is no longer appropriate to use terms such as "dependent territory" or "colony". They are outdated and fail to reflect either the nature of our relationship and partnership with the overseas territories or modern reality. The Bill alters those terms in the British Nationality Act 1981 and will add a new definition of British overseas territory to the Interpretation Act 1978, so that it can be conveniently used in all future legislation.
We estimate that around 200,000 people could become British citizens on or following enactment. The number is an estimate because it is not yet possible to tell exactly how many people will benefit. Apart from those who already hold British dependent territory passports and live in and outside the territories, others who live in them and do not yet have that status will come forward after commencement of the Act to seek naturalisation or registration as British overseas territories citizens and go on to apply for registration as British citizens.
§ Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)
Will my hon. Friend clarify one point, which, surprisingly, is not about Gibraltar, but about the Falkland Islands? Will the people of the Falkland Islands, St. Helena and other places still have the right to self-determination? Will the Bill provide for that?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
Yes. There is, however, no compulsion about British citizenship. We believe that most people will want it, but British overseas territories citizens, as the Bill proposes that they should be known in future, will have the option to renounce British citizenship and to retain their current status should they so wish.
British dependent territories citizens from the Falkland Islands already have British citizenship, and those of Gibraltar are already entitled to apply for it. We do not expect all British dependent territories citizens in other territories to want to apply for new passports describing them as British citizens.
480 I have already said that those people who prefer to continue with their British overseas territories passports will be free to do so. We expect the take-up rate to vary from territory to territory and according to circumstance.
I hope that right hon. and hon. Members have had an opportunity to read the Bill and the explanatory notes, both of which were deposited in the Library after First Reading and are readily available in the Vote Office. Nevertheless, it may be helpful if I summarise the content and scope of the Bill. As soon as the Bill has passed through Parliament and received Royal Assent, clauses 1 and 2, which deal with the change of name to "British overseas territory" and "British overseas territories citizen" will take effect. At that point, all references to the territories will be formally changed. I say formally, because the description "overseas territories" is already in common usage. Those clauses deal only with changes of name and involve no substantive change of law.
Clause 3 sets out how existing British overseas territories citizens, as they will be known, will automatically become British citizens with the right of abode in the United Kingdom on commencement of the citizenship provisions of the Bill. In other words, they will not have to apply for citizenship, although they will have to apply for a British passport to show documentary evidence of their new status and to facilitate travel.
§ Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)
Will my hon. Friend confirm that possession of a passport confirms, but does not confer, citizenship?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
The date of commencement will be appointed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs by statutory instrument once we are satisfied that the practicalities for implementation of the citizenship provisions are in place. For instance, we need to ensure that arrangements for passport issue are agreed and that the staff who will deal with passport and nationality questions are properly trained.
Clause 4 sets out how British citizenship can be acquired by people who become British overseas territories citizens after commencement of the legislation. There are, of course, many people living in the overseas territories who are not British dependent territories citizens. The automatic provisions of the new legislation do not apply to them. To qualify for British citizenship, they will first have to qualify for British overseas territories citizenship by connection with the territory in which they reside. If their application is successful, they will thereafter be free to apply for British citizenship.
§ Tony Baldry (Banbury)
The Minister is talking about citizenship and passports. The White Paper, "Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories", published in 1999, was a series of quid pro quos. Will the Minister explain what the overseas territories and their legislative councils have given the Government in exchange for the citizenship that we are giving? As I understand it, this is a two-way deal that the Foreign Office has arranged. We ought to have some understanding of what is being given back.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister could tell the hon. Member for 481 Banbury (Tony Baldry) that we are returning to those citizens what they had prior to 1962, when the then Tory Government took away their right of abode in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
The point is well made.
Clause 5 and schedule 1 to the Bill further amend the 1981 Act to provide for acquisition of British citizenship by future generations having the requisite connection with any of the qualifying overseas territories. Those provisions will put the qualifying territories in the same position as the UK for that purpose so that, for example, a child born in a qualifying territory after commencement to a parent who is a British citizen or settled there will automatically acquire British citizenship in the same way as a child born in similar circumstances in the UK.
Clauses 6 and 7 and schedule 2 deal with repeals of superseded legislation and the short title, commencement and extent of the Bill.
British citizenship will mean that British overseas territories citizens have the right of abode in the United Kingdom and the right of free movement and residence, and with that the opportunity to work, in European Union member states. In short, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they will have the same entry and residence rights as you or me. They will be able to visit friends and relations or travel on business or for employment without being subject to immigration controls. I know that that has long been a bone of contention.
British dependent territories citizens have never considered it fair that they are subject to immigration control and must pass through the non-EU channel on arrival at UK ports and airports. As British citizens under the Bill, they will not have to.
I should like to make an important point at this stage. The Bill is about nationality. British citizenship carries with it the right of abode in the United Kingdom and the right of free movement in Europe, but other rights and obligations, including the right to preferential rates for tertiary education, health and social security benefits and the vote in UK parliamentary elections and the requirement to pay income tax, all depend on residence in the UK, not nationality. Those matters are therefore not covered.
Furthermore, the Bill will have no impact on the constitutional relationship between the United Kingdom and the overseas territories or that between the territories and the European Union. That has been confirmed by the Constitution Committee in another place.
I am aware of concerns surrounding those issues, and also of continuing concern about reciprocity. Representatives of some territories are worried about what would happen if large numbers of British or European citizens were given the right to live in their territories, most of which are small islands that would be unable to cope with such an influx. They point out that granting British and European citizens the right of abode in their territories risks fundamentally altering the social, cultural and economic fabric of the territories.
482 We have already given assurances that the Bill is non-reciprocal, but in case there are lingering doubts, I am happy to reiterate that that is the case. Please do not think that support for the Bill will entitle you to retirement on Bermuda, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It will not.
§ Tony Baldry
I am partly at fault, as I was not sufficiently clear. That is not the trivial type of reciprocity about which I am concerned. The White Paper refers to fundamental principles of self-determination and the acceptance of responsibilities on both sides. As a consequence of the Bill, what new responsibilities, if any, will the overseas territories in the Caribbean and elsewhere accept?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman a longer list when I sum up, but, for example, territories have changed their laws on money laundering, same-sex relationships and a number of human rights and judicial matters, which they would not have done had it not been for the Bill.
The legislation is eagerly awaited, nowhere more so than on St. Helena, which will celebrate—
§ Mr. Bradshaw
No, I am sorry. I shall give way in a moment, if the hon. Gentleman is patient.
St. Helena will celebrate its quincentenary in May next year. How fitting for its people to be able to celebrate by having British citizenship conferred on them and residence rights in the United Kingdom restored to them.
§ Bob Russell
I am grateful to the Minister for answering the question before I have asked it. Is he confirming that the citizens of the island of St. Helena will be British citizens by 21 May 2002?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
We hope so, but that depends to a certain extent on the rapidity of the progress we make in resolving the passport issue. My officials are confident that we will do so in time for the islanders' happy celebration.
§ Peter Bradley
In my previous intervention I sought clarification, as possession of a British passport does not of itself confer citizenship, but simply confirms it. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) is making the point that putting in place provisions on issuing passports is not necessary to granting British citizens' rights to the residents of St. Helena and elsewhere well before 21 May 2002. That point is extremely important to St. Helenians and their friends in the House and elsewhere, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister carefully considers what we are saying.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
I shall consider those points carefully. The time lag between the passing of this legislation through both Houses of Parliament and the issuing of passports is being discussed in the light of representations that my hon. Friend has made to me and colleagues in the Home Office. I hope that the islanders will welcome the fact that we are bringing the Bill through now. I know that they have waited a long time, but we have a heavy 483 parliamentary programme, and we are showing our commitment to getting the Bill through by debating it now.
I know that many right hon. and hon. Members take an interest in the overseas territories, and have urged the Government to deliver on the granting of citizenship. Given the pressures on the parliamentary timetable, we have been fortunate to secure an opportunity to debate the Bill. I am confident that hon. Members will share my desire to see it approved, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)
The British Overseas Territories Bill contains many positive aspects, and I should like to express my party's support for its objectives. We have waited a long time for this Bill since the original proposals were made. I remind hon. Members that it was on 27 August 1997 that the then Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), announced a review of policy on the dependent territories. Those plans stayed for too long in the in-trays of Foreign and Commonwealth Ministers. It was not until March 1999) that a White Paper was published. It took until July 2001 for it to appear as a Government Bill, which is an inordinate delay.
§ John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)
It occurs to me that, if it were not for a previous Conservative Government taking away the rights of these people, we would not have needed the Bill in the first place.
§ Mr. Spring
Circumstances have changed somewhat in the past 40 years. Although there certainly was a powerful feeling that this issue needed to be addressed, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the difficulties that Hong Kong presented for the British Government.
We welcome the Bill, even though it has taken four years and three months to be introduced. We recognise that the people of the overseas territories are very much in favour of the Bill, and we fully support their right to this change of status. It is good to debate legislation that has such widespread support among those whom it will directly affect.
Britain's overseas territories include some of the most prosperous and some of the most remote islands in the world. They range from the barren wilderness of Antarctica to business, financial and tourist centres, such as some of the Caribbean territories and Bermuda. We understand the value that people in our territories attach to British citizenship—like the people of Gibraltar, if I may remind the Minister. The people in our territories have long sought the status that the Bill will afford them. The Conservative party will support their right to citizenship, as we have supported the right of the people of Gibraltar to remain British. I refer in passing to the widespread consternation that the inept remarks of the Minister for Europe have caused in Gibraltar.
The main provision of the Bill concerns the granting of citizenship. We welcome this move, and so do the overseas territories. Many benefits will now be available to those who are soon to become full British citizens. At this time of terrorist threats from around the world, the overseas dependent territories are dependent on the United Kingdom for defence, just as in 1982 when Britain went to the aid of the Falkland islanders. Supporting the rights 484 of territories can take the form of military action, but happily of late that has rarely been needed, and it more often takes the form of diplomatic assistance. Only this week we have seen the importance that the residents of Gibraltar attach to their British status, which they clearly cherish, and which we cherish, too.
However, it is not only close-to-home territories such as Gibraltar, or those further afield such as the Falklands, that depend on Britain for support. The Chagos archipelago, better known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, is claimed by both Mauritius and the Seychelles. The United States' lease is due to expire in 2016, and although that is 15 years into the future, we may be called upon to defend the rights of people who wish to return there.
§ Jeremy Corbyn
Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that the Chagos islanders have already won their right of return? That happened in a landmark High Court judgment last year. As yet, however, there is no specific facility for their return, beyond an environmental impact assessment study that is taking place now. Is it not high time that these people were allowed back to all the islands?
§ Mr. Spring
The hon. Gentleman has a particular interest in the subject. The House will have heard what he said, and I am sure that we should consider it.
The relationship between Britain and the overseas territories is also important to the development of their economies. A prominent example, which many will doubtless cite later, is St. Helena. I mention St. Helena for a specific reason: it illustrates the problems of distance and inaccessibility. I therefore hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will not mind if I refer to it at some length.
I am pleased to say that it was my constituent the Earl of Iveagh who, on 30 July 1997, introduced the British Nationality (St. Helena) Bill. It was intended to provide for the acquisition of British citizenship by those with connections with St. Helena. It gives me great pleasure that this Bill deals with many of the issues to which my friend was so dedicated, including the need to boost employment, the need for an airstrip, and the value of education opportunities for the young people of the island. It is regrettable that the earlier Bill did not make more progress.
I pay tribute to Ned Iveagh, who pursued the issue so singlemindedly and highlighted the plight of St. Helena before his departure from the House of Lords. On Second Reading, on 23 October 1997, he spoke of the "overwhelming sense of Britishness" on the island. He said:The majority of the people are Anglican; their schools teach using the national curriculum, and, of course, the language is English.The citizens of St. Helena should have the right to British citizenship. They should be able to go through the British-European Union channel at British airports.
In 1997, Lord Iveagh rightly asserted:The civil rights of the St. Helenians were granted by King Charles II in 1673 by Royal Charter, which stated that its people"—at this point he quoted from the charter—'Shall have and enjoy liberties, franchises, immunities, capacities and abilities of free denizens and neutral subjects within any of our dominions to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born within this our kingdom England or in any other of our dominions'".485 He was also right to add:This freedom has been eroded by the introduction of work permits for Saints"—that is, St. Helenians—who want to work in the United Kingdom, followed by the British Nationality Act 1981".
§ Peter Bradley
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that legislation of the 1960s, and indeed the British Nationality Act 1981—which conflicted directly with the royal charter—was in any way unlawful?
§ Mr. Spring
The legislation was passed, obviously, and I do not think that it was successfully challenged. As the hon. Gentleman will surely accept, however, things have moved on. We are dealing with a limited number of people in specific circumstances.
Members have spoken a great deal about the situation in St. Helena, especially since the changes in shipping patterns, and I am very glad that we have now reached this stage.
Lord Iveagh pointed out that giving St. Helenians the right to British citizenship was important because it would address the "poor economic status" of the island and its dependencies. He also spoke of the unemployment problems that have sadly led to a damaging brain drain from the island. He said:Restoring full British passports will create a much needed release valve for the islanders, who seek to raise their living standards from a very low base.An issue that is of great concern to the people of St. Helena, and to many Members, is the need for an airstrip on the island. During that debate of 23 October 1997, Lord Iveagh said:The island's economic status is punctuated by lost opportunity. A Ministry of Defence survey back in 1941 declared an airstrip as feasible. It is now 1997 and there are still no plans for an airstrip. The island is very well served by the RMS 'St. Helena', which is an extremely versatile ship with a highly dedicated crew. However, the case for an airstrip comes into its own when we consider such things as medical emergencies and the development of the island's full tourist potential."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 October 1997; Vol. 582, c. 847–8.]The islanders of St. Helena are dependent on the United Kingdom for their transport links with the rest of the world. Those links have changed dramatically in the past 30 years, but the Government seem to be set on providing the cheapest option. They are focused on a short-term solution. The current proposals require spending £26 million on replacing a passenger cargo ship, and will require the continuation of an annual subsidy to operate the service.
A recent recommendation, which will require £38 million in the short term but has the possibility of earning revenue in the long term, is to build an airport on the island. The 1999 White Paper itself recognised the problem when it stated:In 1997, 8,698 tourists visited St. Helena but without an airport, no safe anchorage for yachts in heavy seas and the limited capacity of the passenger/cargo ship RMS St. Helena, tourism is unlikely to develop rapidly".486 In a written answer, in July, the Secretary of State for International Development stated:The St. Helena Leisure Company has held preliminary discussions with the St. Helena Government and my Department about its proposals to provide leisure facilities on the island. At the request of the St. Helena Government, we have made available to the Company a copy of the recent report of the 'Comparative Study of Air and Sea Access' for St. Helena. We understand that the Company wishes to take account of the study's findings in further formulating its proposals to the St. Helena Government."—[Official Report, 5 July 2001; Vol. 371, c. 264W.]The Minister would also do well to read the comments of the late Lord Shackleton, who was a great supporter of St. Helena, and who argued on many occasions for an airport on the island. An airport matters to the people of St. Helena, as no airport means no tourists in any substantial number. Give the islanders an airport and the significant boost to the local economy, not to mention the much speedier transport link that will ensue will be greatly appreciated. Such action would also encourage people of other countries to invest in the island, which—as Viscount Colville of Culross stated in another place, on 10 July 2001—would be of great benefit to it.
An airport is one means of boosting the economy of St. Helena. By helping St. Helena to achieve that objective the Government would be giving the islanders the opportunity to exercise more economic independence. I assure the Minister that, for the sake of an extra £12 million, the Opposition will not stand in their way.
From the development perspective, we must all welcome the easing of the education restrictions that are currently endured by those wishing to study in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Spring
The hon. Gentleman will know that the way of linking St. Helena to the outside world has changed dramatically. Previously, shipping went regularly between the United Kingdom and South Africa, and for many years much of it stopped off at St. Helena. Much of that shipping has now ceased, thereby aggravating the problem. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that.
§ Tony Baldry
Will my hon. Friend confirm that only those citizens of the overseas territories who come to the United Kingdom and take up UK citizenship have access to education here? The idea that all citizens of the overseas territories are able to avail themselves of higher education here and then return to the overseas territories is a misconception. All the Bill does is to provide people with the opportunity to come here and gain citizenship, from which other rights would follow.
§ Mr. Spring
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue, which I was about to address. If he is successful in catching the eye of the occupant of the Chair, he may wish to expand on the issue.
Hon. Members may be aware of the difference in the fees structure. The University of Manchester, for example, offers a very good degree in medicine. For a UK or EU citizen attending that university, the fees for the first four years amount to £4,300. For all others, the fees for the first year alone are £9,700. Fees for the third and fourth 487 years are significantly higher. The total fees bill for four years amounts to some £54,200. Through this Bill, we are offering, to some at least, tertiary education at an affordable price, and that is welcome.
In the past, I have said to interested parties, such as the British Council, that there is an important long-term gain for Britain in attracting the brightest and the best to this country. I understand that it is open to individual universities to interpret the regulations on fee status and that decisions on access to education and differential fees are based on residence and not citizenship.
What assurances can the Minister give on the measures he is looking at to encourage universities to undertake initiatives to encourage young people from these territories to study in Britain? There is an argument that under a changed status many islanders may leave to visit Britain either to work or to stay. I point to what happened on Tristan da Cunha, which faced a full evacuation in the 1960s to the United Kingdom. An overwhelming majority of the population returned to their homes when the all-clear was given. Indeed, the top estimate of those who would leave St. Helena at present amounts to some 500 people. People obviously prefer their own home base.
All the evidence points to the fact that the Bill will lay foundations that can assist the British territories in their development and in their partnership with the United Kingdom.
Another issue that Opposition Members are glad to see addressed by the Bill is the resentment that many feel concerning airport procedures at present. In 1998, my noble Friend Lord Waddington, who has substantial experience of the British territories as a former distinguished Governor of Bermuda, informed the Foreign Affairs Committee that the vast majority of white Bermudans of Anglo-Saxon descent have British citizenship but the vast majority of black Bermudans do not. He went on to say:At Gatwick the whites go through the British and EU Channel. The black Bermudians, even Premiers and Cabinet Ministers, are lumped in with the foreigners and queue to obtain leave to enter. It is scarcely surprising that this causes immense resentment and black Bermudians simply cannot understand why as a matter of common courtesy those for whom Britain has a responsibility are not treated as favourably as foreigners for whom Britain has no responsibility.We welcome the fact that this situation will no longer continue.
On the values of our relationship with the British territories there is also the issue of aid. One cannot forget the valuable contribution made by the British Government to Montserrat when nature took its violent course, spewing volcanic lava and ash over half the island and leaving its capital destroyed. It is right that we made that contribution.
As a friend of the territories I would like to flag up a note of caution regarding this Bill. We will be seeking clarification on several issues which concern the fine detail of the Bill, and I am certain that the Minister will be able to provide assurances.
The House may not be aware that some Governments of the overseas territories would not welcome this Bill if it came with conditions attached to it, such as an obligation to introduce British tax rates and regimes. It would be of concern to the Governments of the territories, to their people and indeed to the House if this Bill were to result in an unwelcome excessive influence of EU law 488 in the internal affairs of the British territories. The EU is seeking an active influence. A memorandum on a meeting of the preparation of the euro group and Council of Economic and Finance Ministers, which took place in July this year, stated:As far as the EU's tax Code of Conduct is concerned, we must continue with member states to ensure that the timetable established by the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers of November 2000 for rollback of harmful business tax measures, including in dependent and associated territories of Member States is observed.This matter was discussed in a letter to my noble Friend Baroness Rawlings, on 15 October this year, from the Baroness Amos, who stated:The territorial scope of application of EC law is defined in the EC Treaty. This specifically excludes the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus and, with the exception of Part Four of the Treaty concerning the 'Overseas Countries and Territories' (OCT), the other Overseas Territories apart from Gibraltar. The EC Treaty applies, with some exceptions, to Gibraltar as a 'European territory for whose external relations a Member State is responsible'. The relationship between the other Overseas Territories and the EC is governed by the Council decision on association with the Overseas Countries and Territories, which is periodically renewed (the latest OCT decision is due for adoption in December and will run until 2007). The granting of British Citizenship to Overseas Territories citizens under the provisions of the Bill will have no effect on the Overseas Countries and Territories decision, nor on the constitutional relationship between the EU and the Overseas Territories. It follows that the Bill will have no effect on the rights of nationals of EC Member States, including British citizens, in the Overseas Territories, because the Territories fall outside the scope of the EC Treaty.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Is it not possible that there could be an increased perception that British citizens, including those who will now become British citizens, should be equally subject to the same tax obligations? Is not that a danger? Will my hon. Friend confirm unequivocally from the Opposition Front Bench that we have no intention of letting that happen and that those countries will be able to have their own fiscal policy and regime?
§ Mr. Spring
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point so forcefully. Of course, taxation is a matter of residence and in no way should it be our responsibility, or, indeed, that of the European Union to impose a specific tax structure on the overseas territories. I should therefore like to ask the Minister to assure the House and the people of the territories, who would resist such a move, that the Bill will not result in the Government or our European partners further interfering in the internal workings of the British territories.
§ Peter Bradley
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether, as well as reading the Lords Hansard report of debates that took place in the other place, he has read the White Paper, the Bill and the explanatory notes, which clearly confirm that the citizens of overseas territories will not be subject to British tax unless they have taken up abode and qualify for tax and benefits in this country? Will he make that clear to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who clearly has not read that information?
§ Mr. Spring
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman seems to adopt a somewhat churlish tone about a perfectly valid point, which my hon. Friend asked me to reinforce. As I made clear in response to my hon. Friend's intervention, we are talking about residents. I am happy to confirm that, 489 but what I want to hear from the Minister is something crystal clear, from the Government's point of view, to echo the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
These are extremely important points, which get to the heart of the Bill. Will my hon. Friend consider reciprocity again? Is it not the case that the Minister said in his speech that British citizens resident in the United Kingdom would not be able to settle in the overseas territories because he lumped them together with European citizens? He referred to British or European citizens. In other words, he gave the impression that, notwithstanding the fact that the overseas territories remain British and not part of the EU, European citizens from elsewhere in the EU could go to those overseas British territories. For that reason, he denied full reciprocity. Will my hon. Friend consider that point?
§ Mr. Spring
I hope very much that, for the benefit of the House, the Minister will clarify that point in replying to the debate, because some confusion has obviously arisen from his remarks. The fact is that there is no reciprocal arrangement between citizens of the United Kingdom and those who live in the overseas territories for exactly the reasons that have been set out in the White Paper and the Bill. Obviously, it would be extremely difficult for that to happen in practice, as I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree, but I am grateful to him for making that point.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
British and European citizens will be free to go to the overseas territories, but there will be no free mobility of labour. That is also the existing position in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. To invest or obtain employment, one has to meet the local work permits regimes. There is confusion because, although the right to live in the territories will be a matter of fact, there is also the question of employment.
§ Mr. Spring
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. It underlines the importance of the Minister addressing it when he winds up.
The Minister talked about the relationship between the United Kingdom, the European Union and the territories. The White Paper states:Under European Community law, giving British Dependent Territories citizens British citizenship will mean giving them certain European Community rights of free movement and residence in EU and European Economic Area member states.The Minister defined the difference between what was and was not available, but he might wish to refer to the issue when he winds up as there is some confusion.
§ Mr. Spring
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's erudition.
The Government raised human rights issues in their 1999 White Paper. It states:Overseas Territory legislation should comply with the same international obligations to which Britain is subject, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.490 It also flagged up three human rights issues on which it wanted reforms in some of the overseas territories: judicial corporal punishment, homosexuality laws and capital punishment.
We note that the laws making homosexuality a crime in Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands were repealed in January 2001; that judicial corporal punishment has been abolished in all overseas territories; and that a variety of human rights projects in the territories are funded by Britain.
However, many Members may not be aware that some lawyers and students of law believe that the Government may still risk being in breach of important and fundamental international agreements, including the European convention on human rights and the international covenant on civil and political rights. It will be useful for clarity's sake if the legal position regarding the international agreements is outlined by the Minister for the consideration of the House when he winds up.
In particular, I would like assurances from the Minister that the Bill's implications for the agreements were carefully considered when it was drawn up. A statement on the legal rights of individuals in the territories that will become British overseas territories is central to that. In particular, as a result of the Bill, will individuals be able to take action against the British Government regarding legislation or actions implemented in the territories that fall in breach of the ECHR? As Baroness Amos said in her letter to my noble friend Baroness Rawlings on 15 October:British overseas territories citizens who gain British citizenship as a result of the Bill will come within the definition of UK nationals for EC purposes and will therefore acquire the same rights in EC law as existing British citizens".I take this opportunity to acknowledge my gratitude to my noble Friend Baroness Rawlings. She put much constructive effort into the debate and discussion of the Bill during its stages in another place and asked such questions.
Addressing the situation in the Cayman Islands would add clarity to the problems that Britain may face in due course. Despite the progress on human rights that I have outlined, reports suggest that the human rights situation in the Cayman Islands—and indeed in some other territories—is at present below that demanded under the ECHR. One issue of particular concern is that spouses of citizens of the Cayman Islands do not have an equal human rights status. Does the Minister agree that this constitutes a violation of article 8 of the ECHR, which demands that spouses have equal rights even if one spouse originates from another country?
In addition, there is the issue of statelessness. The noble Lord Redesdale mentioned that in the debate in the other place. Is the Minister aware that the problem extends to the Cayman Islands? I understand that children there who are subject to statelessness are entitled to British citizenship under provisions in the British Nationality Act 1981. Will he clarify that?
Furthermore, what discussions has the Minister had on the human rights situation in the Cayman Islands and will he assure the House that before legislation comes into force, those matters will be considered and, if necessary, resolved? Will he consider placing in the House of Commons Library his assessment of whether the 491 European convention on human rights extends to the Cayman Islands, with particular reference to the right of individual petition applying as of November 1998 with the addition and changes to the treaty through protocol 11, which was ratified at that time.
It would be of great concern to all hon. Members if the United Kingdom were found to be in contravention of its obligations under the European convention on human rights and the international covenant on civil and political rights as a result of this Bill. That would expose the United Kingdom to an avoidable contingent liability of costs and possibly damages. Will the Minister assure the House that the Bill does indeed comply fully with those obligations? Will he also assure the House that no embarrassment will be caused to Britain as a result of the change of status of the territories?
At present, citizens of the British dependent territories can acquire an entitlement to British citizenship if they qualify under the immigration rules to enter and remain for settlement in the UK. They are then entitled to register as British citizens as soon as they have completed five years' residence. I am interested to know what mechanisms, if any, are in place to stop terrorists obtaining citizenship in an overseas territory and using that status to apply for British citizenship under the rights afforded in the Bill. I understand that the Home Secretary will exercise scrutiny in that matter, but the detail of the process is less clear. We should consider that given the current international situation. Are there plans to scrutinise those citizens of the territories who apply for British citizenship shortly after obtaining citizenship of one of those territories? What mechanisms are in place to prevent known proponents of terrorism from obtaining British citizenship under this legislation?
In whatever action we take we must be careful that we do not undermine either the political structures or the economies of the British territories. Will the Minister give assurances that the Bill will not result in unrealistic standards being forced on the overseas territories? It must not result in regulation in excess of that operating in the London markets, especially if financial markets are a primary source of revenue. What of the financial concerns that were raised in the White Paper? Several of the territories rely heavily on offshore banking. What are the implications for them? Will they be affected by European Union legislation on that sector?
Clarification is also needed on some of the Bill's finer points. What is the cost of bestowing British citizenship? The explanatory notes to the Bill state:The intention is that the costs of implementation will be recovered from the fees charged for nationality registration and naturalisation and passport issuing.Will the price vary from territory to territory? Does the Minister agree that it is important that any cost-paying mechanism is not discriminatory?
What measures is the Minister taking to achieve the aim of the partnership that all hon. Members would welcome? The Bill implies that the people of the islands will become more closely associated with the United Kingdom, but little has been said about what positive steps will be taken to achieve that aim. What evidence will be required when applying for British citizenship, and what action has the Minister taken to ensure that arrangements for passport issue are agreed and that the staff who will deal with passport and nationality questions are properly trained?
492 What has been the outcome of the discussions being undertaken with the overseas territories with a view to developing a programme of secondment and training for overseas territories civil servants from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's good governance fund? Finally, how will the pension and social security rights of those applying for British citizenship be affected?
The Bill is a significant step towards the Government's notion, as expressed in the White Paper, of a partnership. In fairness to the Minister, I do not expect him to provide full answers to my questions this afternoon, but I hope that he will do so either in part in his response or in Committee. However, for the sake of clarity, I hope that he can be persuaded to write to me on some of those questions before we reach the Committee stage. I should again like to commend the Minister for introducing and explaining the Bill today. We fully support its aims.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
It was, and it may well remain, my intention to make a brief contribution. I must be honest, however, that in view of the breathtaking hypocrisy of the general political points made by the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), I am tempted to speak for far longer.
One of the main thrusts of the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks echoed what Baroness Rawlings said about waiting too long for the legislation. Perhaps four years is too long, but had the Tories been elected in 1997 we would still be waiting for a report, and we would probably still be waiting in 2005. It is a little strange to hear the hon. Gentleman claim that we have been waiting too long.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Lord Waddington. He said in his contribution to the debate in another place that he had raised the possibility of restoring British citizenship to the British dependent territories when he was Governor of Bermuda. The then Tory Government made it clear that there was no possibility of that being considered while there was still a threat from Hong Kong and, even if that threat were to recede, they would still be highly unlikely to restore British citizenship to citizens of the British dependent territories.
§ Peter Bradley
Although Lord Waddington made a thoughtful contribution to the debate in the House of Lords, it is worth pointing out that before he was the high commissioner for Bermuda he was Home Secretary and would have had more influence had he made that suggestion then.
I want to reiterate a point that my hon. Friend raised in his intervention. Never mind waiting for the legislation, it would not be necessary to legislate had it not been for the British Nationality Act 1981 and previous legislation enacted by the Conservatives.
§ Mr. Marshall
Naturally, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, but I wish that I had refrained from giving way because he makes two of my main points.
Lord Waddington was one of the most illiberal Ministers ever to serve in the Home Office. My hon. Friend might have forgotten—I am sure that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who also served on the Standing Committee that considered 493 the 1981 Act, will remember—that prior to Lord Waddington becoming Home Secretary he was the Minister of State responsible for interpreting and deciding immigration matters. As someone who wrote to him in that capacity, I cannot remember him ever giving a favourable response to a request for people in this country to be permitted to stay. As I said, he was one of the most illiberal Ministers to occupy high office in the Home Department.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk also referred to St. Helena. I almost cried for the island and its population. I appreciate their difficulties, but the Opposition are shedding crocodile tears. The hon. Gentleman referred to the royal charter granting the status of St. Helena and the right of its people to come to the United Kingdom. I remind him that the British Nationality Act 1981 removed those rights. I can only say, with due diffidence on my own part, that in the Committee proceedings on that Bill we protested against that, but the then Tory Government were impervious to our arguments and rode roughshod over those historical rights. It ill behoves the Opposition now to criticise the Government when the primary responsibility is theirs, and we are restoring rights to people who had them removed.
I certainly welcome the Bill without reservation. As the Under-Secretary said, it restores the right of citizenship of, and abode in, the United Kingdom to those people who are currently citizens of the British dependent territories. In view of the way in which I voted last night, it is a pleasure to be able to say publicly that, on this occasion, the Government are to be applauded.
I say that not only because of the contents of the Bill but because for the first time since 1966, nearly four decades ago, we have legislation on nationality and immigration which gives people a right—the right of abode in this country. For the past 40 years, each piece of legislation on nationality and immigration has successively taken away rights, ultimately removing all right of entry to, and of abode in, the United Kingdom. I certainly applaud the Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary, who has introduced the Bill today.
As I have already said, I served on the Standing Committee that considered the British Nationality Bill in 1981. There are still a few of us left in the House. I have already mentioned the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood. We also have the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who then went under the name Selwyn Gummer, and the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), who was then the hon. Member for Petersfield; namely Michael Mates. I mention his name in case some hon. Members do not know to whom I am referring.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
Order. It is normal just to refer to the hon. Member's constituency, and I do not think that there is any need to spell it out for the House.
§ Mr. Marshall
I am aware of the propriety and the rules of the House, but I was trying to be helpful.
To show how long the Tories have been involved in racist nationality and immigration legislation, and how high within the party that involvement ultimately went, 494 I should also point out that the Tory Whip on the Committee was a Mr. John Major, who subsequently became Prime Minister.
§ Tony Baldry
I think that we have had enough of this. Will the hon. Gentleman be fair-minded and acknowledge to the House that the Government would not be introducing this Bill now if Hong Kong were still a dependent territory?
§ Mr. Marshall
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have no intention of hiding away from the problem that Hong Kong posed, so I shall come to that question. [Interruption.] I did not hear what the hon. Member for West Suffolk said.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That is a good example of how sedentary interventions simply disturb the debate.
§ Mr. Marshall
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I sought to intervene on several occasions during the speech by the hon. Member for West Suffolk by rising in the normal manner, rather than trying to make my comments from a sedentary position. Unfortunately, he refused to give way. If he wishes to intervene and repeat his remarks so that I can hear them, I will give way.
§ Mr. Spring
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not giving way to him, but I did not see him rise. I hope that he acknowledges that I generously gave way to a number of his colleagues.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the hypocrisy of our supporting the Bill after we complained that, although the way was clear for it to be introduced after 1997, there was a delay in doing so. Following the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), he then admitted that that was due to the Hong Kong situation. I do not see where the hypocrisy is, and I feel that his remarks were neither called for nor fair.
§ Mr. Marshall
They were totally fair and they were called for. There was no reason for the then Tory Government to treat the 200,000 people who are now citizens of British dependent territories in that way just to protect the position of Hong Kong. If they had wished, they could have allowed those people to be British citizens, with the right of abode in this country, even if they could not allow them to retain citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies. Unfortunately, 200,000 people scattered around the world have had to suffer an injustice because the Tory Government in 1981 were not prepared to give them justice. They had to suffer for that Government's decisions on Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford)
As a new Member of the House, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he agrees that we should not waste time discussing what previous Governments did, and that our time would be better spent considering how we can now benefit the people of the overseas territories? Does he agree that it is rather strange that we are debating the future of people in 495 the British overseas territories who have no right to vote in British elections or to have a democratic say in what goes on in this House?
§ Mr. Marshall
I can only say in my defence that I dwell—I hope at not too great a length—on the events of 20 years ago because, since I came into the House in 1974, I have always sought to protect the rights of British citizens both in this country and overseas. I have witnessed, particularly between 1979 and 1997, increasingly racist nationality and immigration law. I hope that this Bill now closes that chapter. We are seeing that trend reversed, which is why I so warmly welcome the Bill.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Does not the hon. Gentleman find it interesting, and does not he draw any conclusions from the fact, that Her Majesty's Government have seen fit to introduce the Bill to grant British citizenship to people living in the overseas territories but have introduced no measure to end the statelessness of children of British overseas citizens born in east Africa?
§ Mr. Marshall
Again, the hon. Gentleman anticipates a point that I hope eventually to reach.
Returning to the Standing Committee on the British Nationality Bill, you will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the legislation sought to bring into line nationality and immigration law at the same time. It abolished the citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies, and introduced three types of citizenship for the people concerned: British citizenship, citizenship of British dependent territories and citizenship of British overseas territories. Only the first of those conferred the right of abode in the United Kingdom.
Despite the overwhelming strength of the arguments that Labour Members advanced in the Committee on the 1981 Act—we were led by Lord Hattersley, who had by far the better of the debate—we failed to persuade the Tory Government of the day of the injustice inherent in the legislation. That Government were so obsessed with the potential threat of mass migration to the United Kingdom from Hong Kong on its being handed over to China that they were prepared to ride roughshod over the claims of 200,000 people living in the other dependent territories. We repeatedly levelled that charge and the Tory Government never convincingly refuted it. I am delighted that that injustice is now to be removed.
I wish that the current Government had been bolder and taken the opportunity to restore rights to British overseas citizens. The Tory spokesman and the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood mentioned stateless children in the Cayman Islands and in Kenya. My understanding of previous debates and of remarks made by Foreign Office Ministers is that if there are stateless children, they will be given British citizenship. I would like to hear the Minister's comments and his estimate of how many people are involved.
A decision has to be made on the position of British overseas citizenship, which is held by a group of people who are scattered throughout the world. Their numbers are dwindling and many are elderly, so a decision would not cause large numbers of new British citizens. Furthermore, that category of citizenship is racially discriminatory. For those reasons, I urge the Government to be bolder and to restore rights to British overseas citizens.
496 I also urge the Government to recreate a single British citizenship, which would cover not only British overseas citizens, but British protected persons, British subjects and British nationals (overseas). The three latter categories of person should also he brought within the ambit of British citizenship.
I apologise for having taken the House down a path that leads back 20 years. I welcome the legislation, but I urge the Government to turn their mind to introducing a single British citizenship, so that we can do away with the various categories that I have described.
§ Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
As our spokesman in another place said when the Bill was introduced there, the Liberal Democrats support the Bill, and—more importantly—so do the dependent territories. It is important that its passage through Parliament is swift so that the important changes it makes to citizenship can be established as soon as possible.
The rights of abode, of employment and of movement are fundamental rights that go with citizenship. It is right that the people of the dependent territories—which are to be renamed overseas territories—are to have those rights, that those rights are to be automatic and that they are to be capable of being passed on to those people's children. As the Chief Minister of Gibraltar put it earlier this year, in contrast to some of the measures on offer, the Bill gives "first-class British citizenship" to the people of the overseas territories. We, too, welcome that.
Several interesting themes have run through the debate, including that of self-determination. I do not want to get sidetracked by the issue of Gibraltar, but it is worth noting that in another place Baroness Amos confirmed that the Bill would not affect the right of self-determination, saying:the right is reflected expressly in the constitutions of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 July 2001; Vol. 626, c. 1037.]We must hope that the Government never lose sight of that fact.
The important changes made under the Bill and their effects have already been explored by other speakers. Separate channels at airports are particularly humiliating, so it is welcome that they are to go at last. There is some confusion about the rights relating to education: universities will have discretion to decide whether to treat the new British citizens from overseas territories as though they were resident. That is important, but I hope that the Government will go further and encourage people to do that, rather than leave them uncertain about what financial burdens and opportunities would be open to them if they came to this country to pursue further or higher education.
The other substantive change made by the Bill is the change of name, which is right and proper as it reflects the practical reality of how the territories are already described. It was not specifically mentioned by the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) today, but Conservatives in another place attacked the change of name, saying that it reflected some sort of political correctness. I hope that is not the hon. Gentleman's view. It appears that all of the—soon to be officially—overseas 497 territories support the change, so right hon. and hon. Members on both side of the House should be able to agree.
The number of people affected by the Bill is relatively modest—the current estimate is 200,000—so many have speculated about the reason for the delay in its appearance. We have already gone over that territory, so I shall not dwell on it too long. Suffice it to say that during the 1980s and 1990s the previous leader of the Liberal Democrats, Lord Ashdown, fought a fairly lonely battle on the issue of citizenship on behalf of the residents of Hong Kong. That issue may have been the practical reason why the Bill could not appear under a Conservative Government. We opposed their treatment of Hong Kong, and we feel that it is not appropriate for the Conservatives now to make a big deal of the delay between the publication of the White Paper and the introduction of the Bill.
There is a separate issue relating to timing which has been touched on by previous speakers: the crucial and practical issue of implementation. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) said that the rights are conferred and are not dependent on a passport having been issued. My understanding is that at the point that the commencement order is passed following the Bill completing all its stages, all those in the overseas territories will have those rights of citizenship: none the less, it is important that they are quickly issued with their passports. Technical issues relating to passport provision and the training of staff have been mentioned.
§ Peter Bradley
The point I was trying to make is that commencement is not conditional on the structure for issuing the passports being in place. I hope the hon. Gentleman will support me in urging Ministers to ensure that commencement is not delayed by delays in producing passports.
§ Mr. Moore
I wholeheartedly endorse that. It is most important that the commencement order is introduced as soon as possible after the Bill has completed its stages and received Royal Assent.
Having said that, I hope that there will not be many practical problems that might cause a lengthy delay between commencement and the issuing of the passports. I am sure that the people of St. Helena, whose 500th anniversary has been mentioned, would be delighted to be able to flourish British passports as a symbol of their British citizenship.
The Minister's explanations of the problems are similar to those given by Baroness Amos in another place in July. Some months have passed since she made those observations, so I hope that the Minister can assure us that the problems are close to resolution and will be sorted out before too long.
There have been brief references to points that are missing from the Bill: for example, the issue of stateless persons and British overseas citizens in the Cayman Islands, in east Africa and elsewhere. The Minister was strangely silent on that point. Will he inform the House of the state of discussions with the Kenyan and Cayman Islands authorities, in particular, and give us his assessment of the likelihood that that loophole will be 498 closed within those countries? Will he make a strong statement of intent that, if the countries will not fulfil those duties, the British Government will fill the vacuum?
In response to an intervention, the Minister briefly mentioned some of the welcome human rights developments that have taken place in certain overseas territories during the past few years and which he directly attributes to the prospect of the Bill. He promised to give a fuller list at the end of the debate. I hope that he will take the opportunity to do so.
The Bill is short, but it has huge significance for the people who will be affected by it. As the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) pointed out, for years rights have been stripped away from people who live in the dependent—now to be overseas—territories. The Bill restores those rights and Liberal Democrats support it.
§ Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)
I, too, welcome the Bill—not least because it is short, simple and straightforward. It rights wrongs that have been festering for the best part of 40 years. I had hoped that there would be (a measure of consensus for the Bill, so I am sorry that some of the contributions from the Opposition Benches have been contentious, especially that of the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), the Opposition spokesman. It would have been appropriate, opportune and gracious had the hon. Gentleman—rather than drawing a veil over the past and making only a grudging concession about the implications of the British Nationality Act 1981—taken the opportunity to issue some words of apology to the 200,000 people in the overseas territories who were not only disadvantaged but insulted by that legislation.
I am especially pleased because, although the Bill may not attract much public interest, it is of huge importance to the territories that will be re-enfranchised and to many of the 200,000 people who will have their nationality rights restored. They enjoyed those rights until the legislation of the 1960s and, finally, the 1981 Act, which rendered them second-class citizens. In future, they will enjoy the right of British citizenship and, most importantly, the right of abode in this country.
I suspect that few of the 200,000 people involved will take advantage of that right, however. Mercifully—not least because of the progress made in establishing higher standards of human rights in the territories—few people likely to be victims of persecution in those territories. Few of them are likely to be economic migrants: about 70 per cent. in the territories enjoy a gross domestic product that is higher than ours.
Lord Waddington, a former Governor of Bermuda, made the point in another place that white Bermudans who had the benefit of British citizenship passed through the "British" channel when they disembarked at British airports, whereas their black compatriots all too often had to pass through the "other nationalities" channel. In future, I hope that insult will be removed.
The restoration of citizenship rights will have a practical moaning for other people, especially St. Helenians. They will have open access to opportunities that were previously denied them; in particular, for education and training in this country and in the European Union.
§ Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor)
The hon. Gentleman said that the measure would bring an end to second-class 499 citizenship, but citizenship, as we understand the word, will continue to be second-class for St. Helenians in relation to education. As Saints will have to fulfil residency requirements, and as they have no opportunity to take up tertiary, higher, or further education in their own islands, they will still suffer discrimination.
§ Peter Bradley
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point; he is both right and wrong. As I understand it, he is wrong inasmuch as the conditions that apply to other people living outside the United Kingdom will now apply to Saints. In other words, they will not be disadvantaged compared with other people in the same position. However, I share the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman and by other Members and make this plea to the Minister: given the importance of education to the economy of St. Helena, Departments should work vigorously with British universities and higher education institutions to ensure that places are made available to a small but important number of young people and others. They come to this country not only to enjoy the right to British citizenship and to acquire education and skills that enrich them, but to develop their economy in St. Helena—whither I suggest that the vast majority who will come to this country for education and training will want to return.
I shall concentrate most of my remarks on St. Helena, because of its special position. Perhaps more than any of the territories, St. Helena was almost literally cast adrift by the 1981 Act. It is a tiny island: 47 square miles, mostly of volcanic rock. It has little more than 6,000 inhabitants, most of whom feel intensely British. Their island is incredibly remote and isolated. It is almost 4,500 miles from this country; about 1,200 miles from the coast of Africa; and about 1,800 miles from the coast of south America.
The 1981 Act caused enormous hurt and grievance to the population of St. Helena. It also severed an economic lifeline—tenuous but nevertheless important—and forced the community into an unequal struggle for self-reliance.
St. Helena has had a long association with this country. It was first settled in the year of the Spanish Armada, in 1588. It was more permanently settled by half a dozen families who were displaced by the great fire of London. For 150 years, it was administered by the East India company, but became a Crown colony as long ago as 1834.
In those days, the island was of great strategic importance to this country. It was a key station on our sea routes and provided invaluable service both to the Royal Navy and to merchant shipping. In its heyday, about 2,000 ships a year put in for re-provisioning or repairs. Since the opening of the Suez canal, that number has declined swiftly and substantially; at present, only one ship, the RMS St. Helena, plies between Falmouth and the island.
The island is rich in landscape and wildlife habitats, but in little else: economically, it is poor. It had a flax industry that was undermined by the development of synthetics. I am indebted to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), who tells me that when the Post Office decided to bundle letters in rubber bands rather than string, not only was there enormous growth in the littering of our streets and doorsteps but St. Helena was deprived of an important export outlet.
500 Unemployment has reached about 18 per cent. in St. Helena. Provisions for a three-day week and job sharing were introduced because of the straitened circumstances in which the economy found itself. Retirement at 60 was also introduced, and 1,000 of the 6,000 residents of St. Helena now work outside the island—700 on Ascension Island and 300 in the Falklands. Its GDP is one of the lowest of all the aid-receiving overseas territories—£2,500 per capita, compared with just over £17,000 enjoyed by people living in the British Virgin Islands.
It is vital that we reconfer rights of citizenship and of abode in this country and open up opportunities for training and shilling, but the aid provided by the Department for International Development should also continue. Hon. Members have mentioned the importance of the airport, which will make a huge difference to St. Helena. Reading the Hansard account of debates in the Lords, I came across an anecdote—probably apocryphal, as I have heard it several times—about the previous Government, who thought it expedient to dispatch a Minister to St. Helena. However, they could not spare one, so they sent a Whip, who disappeared off the radar, not for days or weeks, but for several months, so difficult is it to get to St. Helena and, more to the point, to get back again.
The airport is crucial, not just to the quality of life of people who live on the island, but to the development of their economy. There are prospects for the limited expansion of their tourism industry. As I said earlier, although much of the island is volcanic, there are exceptional wildlife habitats and beautiful landscapes. Hardy and adventurous people will want to visit St. Helena and spend their money there, not least the French, who will want to visit Napoleon's former home.
It is important that we restore citizenship rights to Saints, but this is not just about rights and opportunities: it is a matter of principle. The hon. Member for West Suffolk quoted the royal charter of 1673, which was conferred on the island by Charles II. It says that the inhabitants of the islandShall have and enjoy liberties, franchise, immunities, capacities and abilities of free denizens and neutral subjects within any of our dominions to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born within this our kingdom England or in any other of our dominions".That was an unqualified conferring of rights and privileges on a people living 4,500 miles away. The provisions of the charter were intended to remain in perpetuity; it was never intended that they should be superseded by legislation passed in the 1960s or 1981.
The 1981 Act did a great injustice to the people of St. Helena and, indeed, those elsewhere. I was not in the House in those days, so I am not sure how readily Conservative Members conceded that the 200,000 inhabitants of the dependent territories, as they were then called, should be disadvantaged by the need to protect the country, as their Government saw it, from the implications of returning Hong Kong to mainland China. I am not sure that they were willing to concede that point. However, the hon. Gentleman made it clear that rights were withdrawn from Saints and others, not by accident but by design. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) made clear, with a little more thought and consideration, and to honour our commitments and the provisions of the charter, those territories could have been 501 exempted from the legislation; it is no credit to the previous Government that they were not. Much as they would like to, Conservative Members cannot escape that fact. I hope that they will take the opportunity during our debate to apologise to the 200,000 people whom we are re-enfranchising today for the wrongs done to them in the past.
The White Paper "Partnership for Progress and Prosperity" was widely welcomed when it was published, not just for the rights that it re-established, but for the responsibilities that it conferred. Indeed, the previous Foreign Secretary drew attention to four subjects in his introduction: the important right to self-determination, which is not abridged in any way by the Bill; responsibilities on both sides; the right of territories to control their own destiny; and their right to depend on or look to this country for continuing aid where necessary. As I have just said, self-determination—the ability of territories to take control of their own future—is an important principle. Although a few people will regard it as political correctness, changing the term "dependent territories" to "overseas territories" is important; it is politically significant, not least because it makes it clear that those territories should no longer regard themselves as subsidiary to the motherland, even if the ties are strong, and have a right and responsibility to pursue their own future.
The White Paper also insists on conformity to higher standards of human rights. An important by-product of the process that led to its publication and the subsequent introduction of the Bill is the fact that there have been changes and significant improvements in human rights in most of the territories. In most of them, corporal punishment and capital punishment have been abolished; laws that curtailed equal rights for homosexuals have been amended. We must be vigilant, as must the territories' Governments and people, that standards in human rights continue to improve. When they fall short, our Government and Parliament have a responsibility to ensure that every encouragement is given to Governments in the territories to improve them.
The White Paper makes important reference to the need for stricter financial regulation. Money laundering has been a problem for a long time and pre-dates the events of 11 September, but the need to deal with it is now much more urgent. I hope that the Government will give aid, as well as incentives, to the emerging economies and their Administrations to ensure that their offshore financial regimes are not vulnerable to the money laundering with which we have become all too familiar recently.
I referred to continuing aid, which is significant. Technical aid is given to Anguilla, Pitcairn Island and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Financial aid—budgetary supplements—is given to St. Helena, this year totalling £9.5 million. By comparison with our own public expenditure, that is not a great deal of money, but it is a considerable sum for an island with a population of 6,500. This year, Montserrat will receive £24.5 million, not least because of the continuing need to recover from the effects of the volcano. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the aid will continue and that, in particular, the Government will do all they can to advance the project to develop an airport. A consultation paper was completed this year and the Government have pledged aid for 502 whichever solution—replacing RMS St. Helena or constructing an airport—proves most cost-effective. Cost-effectiveness is a strange criterion; within reason, we should be looking at which solution is most desirable and can provide the biggest boost to the local economy and the quality of life of the citizens of St. Helena. I hope, like other hon. Members, that we will be generous in acknowledging our commitment and debt to St. Helena and give its people every assistance to develop their economy in future.
When the White Paper was published in 1999, a newsletter from the UK branch of the commission on citizenship led by the Bishop of St. Helena said:The Government has understood the justice of the case and responded with both honour and generosity.It is unusual for a Government to receive such a plaudit, but is welcome none the less. The newsletter went on:It does not merely restore full British passports and the right of abode in the UK, it does so in a manner that is open, honourable and generous.I join my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South in saying that it gives us, as members of the Government party, a warm glow to be able to welcome a Bill that has generated such support from those whom it is intended to benefit.
That welcome for the White Paper and the Bill was shared by my constituents, whom I ought to mention—Ken Butler and his wife, Edie, who provoked my interest in St. Helena. Like most hon. Members, I was blissfully ignorant of its existence, other than in the history books, arid of the plight of the people who live on St. Helena, mini the 1997 general election, when I knocked on Mr. Butler's door. He said, "You politicians—you only come round at election time." We are all familiar with that opening gambit. He went on to say, "There is one issue that concerns me and which I feel passionate about, but if you get elected, you won't take the slightest interest in it." I am particularly pleased to discharge a debt today and to redeem the pledge that I made to Mr. Butler—that I would remember his words. Since that time, I have taken an interest in the fate of St. Helenians.
I pay tribute also to Dr. Dorothy Evans, who is a lifelong friend of the St. Helenians and has been extremely helpful to them in the development of their education system. She provided the basis of much of my knowledge about St. Helena and, I discovered, happens to live in the same village as my sister, from whom she bought a jumper recently. If anyone else would like to buy a jumper from my sister, who makes them for a living—very warm and elegant they are, too—please let me know after the debate.
People like Ken and Edie Butler and Dr. Dorothy Evans have kept the flame burning and campaigned tirelessly for the rights of an isolated people many thousands of miles away. I pay tribute to such people, without whose support Saints would not be on the threshold of achieving their new status. Their commitment and love for that place are paying off. They have kept the faith and kept the crusade going.
I am grateful to the Minister for offering a meeting some time ago to discuss the Bill. I repeat that, on 21 May 1502, the Portuguese Admiral Joao da Nova Castella discovered St. Helena, although it was the British who settled the island. In six months, Saints will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of their island. It 503 would be sad to have made the progress that we have made so far, but not to have conferred on Saints by that date their British citizenship and the rights that go with it.
That is why, in a series of interventions today, I have made a plea to the Minister not to allow the bureaucratic difficulties of establishing consensus among the territories about the format of the new passports, and the technical ability to issue passports, to delay the commencement order which confers British citizenship on those 200,000 people. It would be sad if that were to happen. Conversely, it would be the cause of much celebration throughout the territories if we were sensible and sensitive to those people's needs and issued the commencement order as soon as the Act receives Royal Assent. We owe that much to Saints, to ensure that they can celebrate their anniversary as British citizens.
I welcome the Bill. It discharges a debt and acknowledges the associations of the past, but it goes further. It will help to secure the future for hard-pressed economies and isolated communities such as those of St. Helena. They are a few, but they are an important few in the British overseas territories. I hope that when we have achieved Third Reading, Royal Assent and commencement, there will be happy days of celebration for those people.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before I call the next speaker, may I remind the House that the Second Reading is principally about citizenship? One or two hon. Members have started to stray rather wide of the mark.
§ 3.4 pm
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
I shall be brief, and I shall resist the strong temptation to reminisce to which the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) yielded all too readily, going back to the good old days of the 1981 Standing Committee that considered the British Nationality Bill. Let us deal with the points at issue, which were not all addressed with complete clarity or certainty by the Minister from the Dispatch Box.
The Bill deals specifically with the granting of British citizenship to residents of the British overseas territories. As British citizens, they are to be on an equal footing with us. This is all to the good, and there is unanimity about it across the House. However, the Bill is singularly deficient because it does not address the responsibilities as citizens which those new British citizens will enjoy. The omission is deliberate. On the key question of the franchise, the Bill says nothing. That is an issue about which democrats such as us care profoundly.
All the dependent territories listed are beyond the European continent, except for one—the dependent territory of Gibraltar. It is instructive for us to contrast the citizenship provisions of the Bill, and the attendant responsibilities, with those enjoyed, for example, by French citizens in the French overseas departements, especially the big ones—Reunion, Guadeloupe and Martinique. Those have been incorporated in metropolitan France—
§ Jeremy Corbyn
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is right to draw the parallel with the French overseas departements. They have direct representation in 504 the French Parliament and elections which are part of those in metropolitan France. Is it his wish that the same should happen in the case of British overseas territories?
§ Mr. Wilkinson
No. I was about to point out an anomaly. The departements send deputies and senators to the French Parliament in a way that is not proposed in the Bill, unless, perhaps, some residents of the British overseas territories are fortunate enough to become people's peers and sit in the other place—anything is possible. Although the residents of the British overseas territories will be citizens in the fullest sense of the word, they will not be able to stand for election here in the territories where they reside or to take part in the democratic process for representation of those territories in the UK Parliament.
With regard to Gibraltar, it is noteworthy that the United Kingdom continues to be in breach of the European Court of Human Rights decision of 18 February 1999, which ruled by 15 votes to two that the residents of Gibraltar should have the right to vote in the European Parliament elections. For that reason, I thought it was casuistry on the part of the Foreign Secretary to declare in the preamble to the Bill that the Bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights. In a strictly logical and legalistic sense, he is right, but the spirit of the legislation is not compatible. Following the resolution of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe this year, it is high time that the United Kingdom found a means for Gibraltarians to vote in European elections.
§ Tony Baldry
Does my hon. Friend find it surprising that the Minister did not draw the attention of the House to a written answer given by one of his ministerial colleagues yesterday, in which the Government state thatthe UK is now actively considering taking unilateral action to extend the franchise to Gibraltar. This will involve bringing in domestic legislation without prior amendment of the 1976 Act"?—[Official Report, 21 November 2001; Vol. 375, c. 331W.]If the Government are considering taking unilateral action to extend the European franchise to Gibraltarians, one would have thought that the Minister would make that point today.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Yes, indeed. Perhaps the Foreign Office is not sanguine that the proposal will receive the unanimous approval of the other member states. The Government may envisage a blocking veto but be reluctant to admit it at the beginning of discussions with the Government of Spain about the future of Gibraltar.
Let us not be awkward, however, but return to the Bill and the more central question of citizenship. A most interesting principle is involved, as our conferral of full British citizenship on the residents of the overseas territories means that they will, ipso facto, become citizens of the European Union. The Minister denied it at the start of his speech, but then stood corrected, as he was not present for the exciting and interesting debates about the Maastricht treaty, which means that he missed a lot. The consequences persist: people can acquire citizenship of the European Union, whether they like it or not, by virtue of having citizenship of one of its constituent countries. This will also be the case for British citizens who live in our overseas dependent territories.
I find intriguing the extra-territoriality of the measure in terms of European citizenship. It is a sort of imperialism, exerted via the route of citizenship, which is distinctly 505 odd. In the understanding of most people, citizenship is attached to territorial connection in a very particular way. It is not the case in this instance, inasmuch as the Minister specifically admitted that our overseas territories will, with the exception of Gibraltar, remain fully outside the European Union. In addition, when he was pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), he said that European Union law would not apply to them. He is looking thoughtful, which is all to the good. If I am wrong, I am sure that he will put me right in his winding-up speech.
I mentioned a significant omission regarding the children of British overseas citizens. I think that only Kenya now regards children as stateless if neither of their parents is a national of that country. The issue arose in the other place. I am not sure whether the situation still exists, as Baroness Amos seemed to suggest that the children in question could somehow acquire British citizenship by virtue of the British Nationality Act 1981—an answer which I did not comprehend. This is a most important point, not least for my constituents, as these are the sort of unaccompanied refugee children who end up at Heathrow, which is in the same borough as my constituency. My constituents have to pay for them to the tune of more than £1 million a year. They are a significant category not only in practical terms for my constituents, but also in terms of ethics. Nobody wants children to be stateless and therefore unable to enjoy the rights of citizenship in any country, especially if they owe their statelessness to a lacuna in British citizenship legislation.
§ Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)
I agree that we have a responsibility to avoid statelessness in respect of any category of British citizen, but does the hon. Gentleman have any evidence for his implication that the children of British citizens are arriving as refugees at Heathrow?
§ Mr. Wilkinson
All I can say to the hon. Lady—I have not studied the figures—is that we seem to get unaccompanied refugee children from most parts of the world. I imagine that it would be easier for the refugees in question than for others to get around the visa stipulations of airlines, which are extremely vigilant, as they are liable to be fined if they allow passengers to board their aircraft without appropriate travel documents. I assume that Kenya is embarrassed about the situation, which is entirely of its own making, and will be all too happy to see such children elsewhere. Of course, once they arrive here, as do many other stateless children, we have a responsibility to fulfil. We do not shirk that responsibility in my borough—far from it. Every effort, from social services to health and schooling, is made to ensure that stateless children who come into this country are well accommodated and provided for, and that the transition to British life is smooth and harmonious for them. We are not shirking our responsibilities, but the point is important and the Government should address it. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
I should like to make a couple of other points. They may appear to deal with matters of detail, but they are very important from the ethical viewpoint, which I have already mentioned. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has been more assiduous than any hon. Member in championing the rights of the Chagos 506 islanders who were evicted from the British Indian Ocean territories and transplanted to Mauritius. From the middle of the next decade, they will be able to return, which is well and good. I wonder, however, what will happen to those who elect to stay in Mauritius. I presume that they will not get British citizenship. Is that the case, even though their transplant was occasioned entirely by the high-handed and dictatorial behaviour of the British Government of the time? Why should they be denied that right?
§ Jeremy Corbyn
I am puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's assertion that the Chagos islanders can return from the middle of the next decade. They currently have a right of return that was granted by a High Court decision of last year. The American lease on Diego Garcia expires in 13 years' time. So they have a right of return at the moment that has not yet been carried out.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has clarified the matter. I imagined, perhaps over-optimistically, that when the US lease on Diego Garcia ran out, the reason for this forced transplanting of people would be a thing of the past and the islanders could return.
§ Jeremy Corbyn
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. I think that he may be confusing Diego Garcia with the rest of the archipelago. A very large number of islands are situated some distance away. Diego Garcia is the largest and is, unfortunately, occupied by an American military base. The others are unoccupied at the present time and are, therefore, available for return.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
In an ideal world, they most certainly are. I referred to Diego Garcia because it is the island which is relevant to the United States lease. I am well aware that the territory is huge; it stretches for hundreds of miles and contains many islands. None the less, I should like the Minister to answer the citizenship point.
I want to deal with one final matter. If any of our overseas territories elect, by virtue of self-determination, to become independent, what will happen to the British nationals who are resident in those former British territories? Will they continue to enjoy the British citizenship that the legislation confers, or will we introduce an Act of Parliament that contains special provision? What will happen? This came up in the other place, where the Minister made no clear reply. We should have a clear answer before the Bill leaves the House of Commons.
I applaud the principle of the Bill, which is overdue. However, like so many other measures that the Government have introduced, it is ill thought through. Many gaps and inconsistencies remain. I am thankful that, unlike the more important and contentious constitutional measures, it has not been strictly timetabled. Perhaps we have time to get it right.
§ John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)
I welcome the Bill, which is long overdue. I congratulate the Government on finding time for it in a heavy legislative period. I welcome the Bill for the same reasons as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). It is one of the few occasions when such a measure confers rather than removes rights.
The British Nationality Act 1981 removed rights from the people whom we are considering today. In 1983, citizenship was granted to the people of the Falkland Islands as a result of a rebellion in the Tory ranks. It has taken another 14 years for the election of a Government who are prepared to extend that citizenship to the other territories. That is one year for each dependent—now overseas—territory.
I want not to dwell on the past but to look to the future, and to ask for clarification on one or two points. I should like the Minister to expand on his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) about self-determination. As hon. Members know, the right to self-determination is an intrinsic part of the United Nations charter; it is covered in the first article. Some of the overseas territories, the Falkland Islands, for example, have that right enshrined in the preamble to their constitutions.
I seek an assurance that, even though the right to self-determination is contained in a preamble, not the main body of the text, it has the same legal validity in international law. I also ask for an assurance about the reviews that are taking place of overseas territories' constitutions. Will territories be allowed to incorporate the right to self-determination in their constitutions?
During the debate, several points have been made about Gibraltar. Self-determination is important in the context of Gibraltar. The Order in Council that established the 1969 constitution of Gibraltar stated:Her Majesty's Government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes.I seek an assurance that that remains the case. I share the fear of other hon. Members that, unless the British Government stand firm against the measures that Spain have taken to affect normal life in Gibraltar, it may have to decide whether to compromise its sovereignty to obtain a telephone line or the right to issue a driving licence. That cannot be tolerated.
Hon. Members have referred to the United Kingdom being in breach of human rights legislation because the people of Gibraltar are not represented in the European Parliament. Of course, the Government intend to put that right as soon as possible. However, their attempts may be thwarted by another European Union member, which would try to block and veto them, thereby continuing to deny the people of Gibraltar their rights. We need an assurance that the Government will stand up to Spain, which is infringing the rights of the people of Gibraltar.
It has been said that approximately 200,000 people nay be affected by the Bill. They will have the right to British citizenship. The right of abode in the United Kingdom is part of that, but it is right to point out that few of those citizens will avail themselves of it. Few Bermudans would give up their climate and higher standard of living for the 508 British winter. However, the right to travel to gain education and work experience is important to many Bermudans.
Hon. Members have referred to comments by Lord Waddington in another place about the injustice of the inequality in the treatment of black Bermudans and white Bermudans at British airports when they go through two separate channels. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) highlighted that problem in a debate in 1997 when the then Foreign Secretary announced the review of British citizenship and the overseas territories, and heralded the White Paper.
Discrimination does not only occur when Bermudans come through different channels at airports. Bermuda relies greatly on banking and financial services, and therefore many Bermudans need to travel and work abroad to gain experience so that they can progress in their careers. Black Bermudans, who are denied British citizenship, do not currently have the right, whereas white Bermudans, who may have British citizenship by descent, do. I am pleased that the Bill will create equality between black and white citizens in Bermuda.
Other territories are less fortunate in their economies than Bermuda. I acknowledge that we are not here to discuss the economy of St. Helena, but it is pertinent when it comes to explaining why British citizenship is so important to the people there. It has traditionally exported labour, and the money earned by Saints abroad has gone back to sustain their families and communities. It will be dependent for a long time on revenue and support from the United Kingdom.
I echo the comments of my hon. Friends who have more experience of St. Helena than I do. Few hon. Members have visited St. Helena; few people have visited because of transport difficulties. The Government acknowledged that in the White Paper, which referred to the lack of safe anchorage and the limited capacity of the passenger ship. St. Helena would benefit if it were to be opened up through the provision of an airport to make it less dependent on the United Kingdom and on work elsewhere.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the importance of May, which marks St. Helena's 500th anniversary, in the context of the commencement of the measure. I hope that procedural difficulties will not prevent commencement before St. Helena's celebrations, and that the Foreign Office and the Home Office will work together to ensure that there is no delay.
Will the Minister say what will happen to people who will become overseas citizens and may be abroad or in the United Kingdom with limited leave to remain between the Bill's passage and commencement. Will their position be secure? What is the position of people who will become British overseas citizens and wish to apply to come to the United Kingdom before the date of commencement?
I also wish to refer to the situation of the Chagos Islands and the British Indian Ocean Territory. In the original Government proposals, the BIOT was not to be included in the provisions for British citizenship. I suspect that that decision has been changed because of the High Court judgment to which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) referred. I am pleased by that judgment.
509 My hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Islington, North have championed the rights of the Chagos islanders for many years. The High Court judgment gives them the right to return and ruled that they were illegally removed. However, the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) is right to highlight the position of the children of the Chagos islanders in Mauritius who have been born since 1968 and who are automatically Mauritian citizens. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that the children of the Chagos islanders—the Ilois—also have a right to return, as well as a right to British overseas territory citizenship and thus to British citizenship.
I welcome the Bill for a variety of reasons, not least because it will remove the difficulties faced by my constituents from Montserrat if they wish to travel to France or other European countries. They have difficulty obtaining visas. Many of the Montserratians in my constituency would like to return to Montserrat. Unfortunately, some of them have no homes to return to. Some will remain in the United Kingdom, and it is right that if they are here, they are afforded full British citizenship and full rights as residents.
I said that the citizens of the BIOT were not originally to be included in the legislation, but they now are. It would also have been possible to include British nationals overseas, British overseas citizens and British protected persons. The number of those persons who have not exercised the right to come to the United Kingdom and now have no right to do so is very limited. It would not be difficult for the Government to provide British citizenship for those people as well.
I seek an assurance from the Minister that the children of British overseas citizens in Kenya—they have been mentioned by other hon. Members—who are effectively stateless, will not be allowed to remain so by the United Kingdom Government and that they will have the right to British overseas territories citizenship and, through that route, to British citizenship.
My final point relates to Europe and to international bodies. Often, the interests of the overseas territories are affected by decisions taken in international and intergovernmental organizations—for example, the European Commission, the European Union, the North American Free Trade Area and the World Trade Organisation. Will the Minister consider how the voice of the overseas territories may be heard in those organisations? The Government could consider adding a representative from the overseas territories to the UK permanent representation to the Commission in Europe.
Hon. Members have mentioned the way in which European legislation may affect the overseas territories, which are in a different position from the French dependent territories mentioned by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood. They are an integral part of France, with direct representation in the French Parliament. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Reunion and, since he is passionate about the euro, he may be interested to learn that, because of that island's position in the time zone, when the clock chimes midnight and the euro becomes legal currency in Europe, it will already be the legal currency in Reunion. Our overseas territories are in a different position, however.
510 My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) referred to financial services and banking in some of the overseas territories. He is right to stress that those services need to be regulated. No one is arguing against that. Regulation is different from taxation, however. A substantial part of the economy of some of those territories depends on banking and financial services. An EU derogation allows them to be excluded from EU tax regulations. Concern has been expressed—I know that it is shared by the UK Overseas Territories Association—about whether that derogation will be affected by the legislation. I do not think that it will, but it Would be helpful if the Minister could assure the overseas territories that that is not the case in his response.
In his opening statement, my hon. Friend the Minister referred to the fact that there are 14 overseas territories. This legislation will be welcome to their citizens. I have visited only two of those territories, although other hon Members have travelled more widely.
Returning to the problem of isolation and the needs of St. Helena, which my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin mentioned, I visited the Falkland Islands for a Commonwealth parliamentary conference on citizenship and immigration issues. There was a representative from St. Helena at the conference, which took place in January. For me, it meant a day's travel from the United Kingdom and a day for the return journey, although it is not particularly comfortable travelling there in a Tristar out of Brize Norton, via Ascension. We picked up the St. Helena delegate in Ascension. He had left St. Helena before Christmas and was unlikely to get back home much before Easter. That emphasises the need for better communication links and the importance of an airport for St. Helena. I hope that the Minister will also deal with that in his reply.
§ Tony Baldry (Banbury)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin). The House will agree with much of what he said, in particular his remarks about Gibraltar.
Gibraltar is an overseas territory and the rights of the people of Gibraltar to self-determination must be no less than those in relation to any other overseas territory. The treaty of Utrecht is unambiguous and clear. It must be a matter of concern that the Foreign Secretary appears to be colluding with the Foreign Secretary of Spain against the interests of Gibraltarians. I am not aware of any request from Gibraltarians to become part of Spain.
It is a matter of great regret that the Government, in enraging in discussions with the Government of Spain, were not able to persuade the legislative assembly of Gibraltar that it was in Gibraltar's interests that the discussions should take place. There must be real concern in the House and elsewhere that the Gibraltarians are likely to be bludgeoned into some compromise of sovereignty, as the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead described it, which will be to their detriment.
Not only is Gibraltar a British overseas territory: we should never forget that the Gibraltarians have supported this country, the Commonwealth and the allies in two world wars and that, without their support, we would have had great difficulty with the naval campaigns in the Mediterranean.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is most unfortunate that Chief Minister Peter 511 Caruana and his delegation were not permitted to attend in their own right the meeting during the recent discussions between the United Kingdom Government and Spain that concerned their future? They could only have gone there had the situation been different.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member and knows that he is leading his hon. Friend astray and taking us outside the scope of the Bill. He may have been provoked, but I am ruling that the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) should return strictly to the terms of the Bill.
§ Tony Baldry
The Bill is about citizenship, and we in the House are entitled to put down a marker that we are concerned about the people of Gibraltar retaining their right to avow their wish to remain citizens of Gibraltar and thus retain their links with the Crown. That should not be undermined by negotiations between the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Minister of Spain.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman might indulge me, as I did not rule against him. I intervened because of the direction that the remarks made by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) were taking when he talked about the composition of delegations. I ruled those out of order.
§ Tony Baldry
Perhaps I am being hyper-sensitive, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Bill is of relatively narrow compass and its purposes are to change the name of the British independent territories to the British overseas territories—no one could complain about that—and to confer British citizenship on citizens of the overseas territories. However, it has been suggested that more rights are being granted to British overseas territories citizens than is the case. As the Minister in the other place made clear, all the Bill does is grant citizenship. With citizenship, it grants the right of abode, but all the other rights flow from the right of abode.
§ Tony Baldry
The hon. Lady, from a sedentary position, dares to challenge me. Let me read to her what the Minister in the other place said:The Bill grants citizenship, and with it the right of abode. Other rights come into effect on the basis of residence."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 July 2001; Vol. 626, c. 1034.]
§ Fiona Mactaggart
I said, "No they do not," because residence and right of abode are two separate matters. The hon. Gentleman is right that those rights derive from residence, but they do not derive from right of abode.
§ Tony Baldry
I think the hon. Lady is wrong, because what the Minister in the other place said could not be clearer or more unambiguous. Unless people from the overseas territories come here to live, they will not acquire any rights. That is a straightforward point.
512 There was great discussion in the other place concerning the ability of people from the overseas territories to come to the UK for medical treatment or to benefit from higher education. They will not have those benefits unless they choose to come to the UK to live.
§ Tony Baldry
Yes, of course they are, but my point is that people in the overseas territories will benefit from those rights only if they choose to live in the UK. The Bill will give people in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat no benefits unless they choose to exercise them in the UK. There have been suggestions in various places that the Bill will give various rights to people in St. Helena or Anguilla who may come here to benefit from medical treatment or higher education. It will not, unless they choose to come here to live.
§ John Austin
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the position is no different from that of a British citizen born in the UK who chooses to live elsewhere and then returns?
§ Tony Baldry
I must be being very inarticulate this afternoon. I have no quarrel with that, but it is not the point that I am seeking to make. For citizens of the British overseas territories, such rights as the Bill will give may be acquired only if they choose to come to the UK to live. Those citizens of the overseas territories who may want to come here for higher education will have to pay the costs as though they were foreign nationals, unless they come here to live.
§ Mr. Trend
Is my hon. Friend concerned that the remarks made from the Labour Benches are fallacious? Inhabitants of St. Helena have no right to higher education because there is no possibility of higher education, but it would be unfair for them to have to come here and pay an enormous sum to exercise a right as a British citizen.
§ Tony Baldry
I agree with my hon. Friend and we are at one on this. It is perhaps a pity that the Government were not more generous, particularly to some smaller overseas territories, in at least making higher education available. Effectively, those rights are exercisable only if people choose to live here.
The Bill, which effectively arises from the White Paper "Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories", is about balancing rights and responsibilities, and the citizenship proposals are part of the package. If I may, I shall briefly explore with the Minister what has happened to the rest of the package on the balancing side of the equation, as I have some interest in the matter.
For a while, I was fortunate enough to fill the post that the Minister occupies and lucky enough to visit five of the 10 overseas territories in the Caribbean: Montserrat, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. For reasons that I shall 513 explain, I thought that my ministerial career would come to a sudden end through my being sacked as a consequence of my involvement with them.
When I returned from the overseas territories, I recommended that we reconsider our relationship with them and that there ought to be balancing rights. The White Paper refers to various balancing rights such asmeasures promoting more open, transparent and accountable government;improvements to the composition of legislatures and their operation;improving the effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and impartiality of the public service".What have the Government done to meet the various objectives on improving the quality of government? We are doing our part by granting citizenship. That is part of the package; the other part is what the overseas territories have to do. What have they done?
How are the Government minimising the contingent liabilities of the overseas territories? In May 1997, the National Audit Office published a report on contingent liabilities in the dependent territories. I return to why I thought I would be sacked. One night in 1995, 3,000 Cuban migrants suddenly arrived on the shores of the Cayman Islands—then a dependent territory with a population of only 30,000. The governor had only two police officers and he was concerned that they would be insufficient to deal with 3,000 Cuban migrants, so he asked whether we could please send more.
I realised that, whatever I did as a Minister, I was likely to get it wrong. If I sent no officers, there would inevitably be riots and I would be held responsible. If I sent a lot of officers, there would again be "bobbies on the beach" stories of the kind that arose in Anguilla in the mid-1970s. Either way, my ministerial career would come to a sudden end.
The Metropolitan police kindly put no fewer than 500 officers on stand-by one weekend, but to my great joy and relief the American Government reopened Miami for Cuban migrants and, very speedily, those on the Cayman Islands went to the United States, which is where they wanted to go in the first place. The incident brought home to me the fact that the overseas territories place on the United Kingdom a number of contingent liabilities. To what extent have the Government assessed them and have they reached arrangements with the overseas territories to minimise them?
This is not the only Bill before the House dealing with overseas territories. Clause 2 of the International Development Bill, which focuses international development on poverty, makes an exception in relation to overseas territories. The United Kingdom development budget is top-sliced to give money to the overseas territories. For understandable reasons, Montserrat is getting £22.8 million this year. St. Helena is to get £29 million over a three-year period; the Turks and Caicos Islands are getting £4 million; Anguilla is getting £2 million; and even the British Virgin Islands are still getting development aid.
When I was in the Turks and Caicos Islands, I was slightly surprised that we were giving them substantial development aid while the people of those islands do not pay income tax. I found that rather curious. Although I fully understand why Montserrat and St. Helena may still require development aid, will the Minister tell the House 514 when other overseas territories, such as the British Virgin Islands, will no longer be a liability on our development budget?
My predecessor as the Member of Parliament for Banbury was Sir Neil Marten, who was persuaded way back in 1979, when he was Minister with responsibility for overseas development, that if the Turks and Caicos Islands were given an international airport, it would so generate tourist income that they would no longer require any development aid. That was 20 or so years ago, and the Turks and Caicos Islands still receive a substantial amount of development aid in proportion to the population.
I welcome the Bill, and I do not think that anyone could object or take exception to it. However, it was part of a package under the White Paper "Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories", which required the overseas territories to do certain things in exchange for being granted citizenship. We have heard a lot about what we have done, so it would be good to hear from the Minister what the overseas territories have done in exchange and what they will continue to do. We should have a better feel for the on-going relationship.
Clearly, it is unlikely that any of the overseas territories will opt for independence. Bermuda had a referendum not so long ago, and it voted against independence. The remaining overseas territories are likely to remain so for some time. The House is entitled to have a better explanation from the Minister than he gave in his opening remarks about how he sees our future relationship with the overseas territories, and about what their duties and responsibilities will be.
§ Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I welcome the debate and the Bill. I want to refer to three of the overseas territories. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin) highlighted the plight of the Chagos islanders and the British Indian Ocean Territory. I shall also refer to Antarctica and the sovereign bases in Cyprus.
I tabled early-day motion 380, which notedwith concern the recent protest outside the British High Commission in Mauritius by hundreds of exiled Chagos Islanders and the protesters' declared intention to go on hunger strike untilthe British Government have responded to a number of their demands. I shall try to explain those demands.
The situation of the Chagos islanders is very serious. In the mid-1960s, the British Government indulged themselves in a deal with the United States in which the people of the Chagos Islands—the Ilois people—were to be removed. The majority of them were to go to Mauritius and some to the Seychelles, and the largest island, Diego Garcia, was to become an American base. Unfortunately it still is an American base, and is being used as we speak in the bombing campaign in Afghanistan.
Ever since they were removed, the Chagos islanders have rightly demanded a right of return. They have protested strongly at the way in which they were removed—internal memorandums that have since been revealed used disgusting language against them, describing them as people like Man Friday—and they have sought a right of return. Many lived and still live in great poverty in Mauritius and in other places, and they feel dispossessed.
515 It was my privilege last July and August to attend two sessions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The first was on indigenous peoples, in which the Chagos islanders were represented, and the second was the sub-commission on human rights. This issue was raised on a number of occasions.
I shall give some further background. The Chagos islanders have pursued their eternal quest for a right of return with enormous diligence, brilliantly led by Olivier Bancoult and others from he elected committee. They pursued their case with the help of an excellent English solicitor, Richard Gifford of Sheridans, and last year took the case to the High Court, where they won an historic right of return—a declaration of their right of return to the islands. That right of return was made without qualification, and ultimately was not appealed by the British Government, even though they initially responded that they would appeal against the judgment.
There are clearly problems over the right of return to the largest island, Diego Garcia, because the British Government have signed a lease agreement with the United States, which has another 13 years to run. There are serious questions about the legality of that lease arrangement, which may well be challenged in the American courts in the near future.
I have tabled a number of written parliamentary questions, and I had a meeting with Baroness Scotland when she was the Minister dealing with this issue. On several occasions, I have discussed with the Foreign Office what will happen about the right of return. The British Indian Ocean Territory's high commissioner announced that there would be a feasibility study of the right of return and an environmental impact assessment.
That concern for the environment is touching, given that the presence of a small number of people—a few thousand—re-inhabiting the islands of the archipelago is unlikely to have an enormous environmental impact. After all, they managed to live there for several hundred years in an entirely sustainable way by fishing, picking coconuts and small-scale farming.
The idea that a small number of people returning to the islands is about to destroy that pristine environment is laughable. Far greater damage has been done to the archipelago around Diego Garcia by the presence of the American base, including the removal of some coral reefs to allow large American military ships to get to the base. If the experience of the United States leaving other bases around the world is anything to go by, the condition in which they leave Diego Garcia will be pretty appalling, if and when they finally leave, as we hope they will, in 13 years' time.
I hope that when my hon. Friend winds up the debate he will assure me that, on 3 and 4 December, when Olivier Bancoult visits London, he will be able to have a meeting with the Minister or with Baroness Amos, who is directly responsible for this matter. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that it is extremely important that the Chagos islanders be treated with the courtesy they deserve and that such a meeting be afforded to them.
§ Mr. Trend
I seek clarification, because I have not understood this point. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, as a result of the court judgment, the inhabitants have the right to go back home straight away, but the Government are delaying their return? I am not trying to make a party 516 political point I had assumed that they would not be allowed to go back until 2016, but the hon. Gentleman seems to be telling us something different.
§ Jeremy Corbyn
The hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head. The High Court judgment authorised the right of return without the setting of a specific date, so it might be assumed that that means now.
There is also the perverse issue of the deal made between previous British Governments and the United States over Diego Garcia. It could be said that the issue should be viewed in two ways: as well as the opportunity, possibility and right of return to the rest of the archipelago, which is a subject of the current environmental impact assessment, there is the secondary—or, rather, connected—question of the right of return to Diego Garcia.
I hope that the Minister will tell us when the assessment will be completed, and what assistance is being given to the islanders to return and, indeed, to visit and be consulted, as part of the arrangements for the assessment. They have very imaginative ideas about how the islands could survive. They are extremely intelligent and capable people, who do not deserve to be treated in a way that suggests that they should not sit at the conference table. They have submitted some ideas to me, including a return to fishing and coconut growing but also small-scale farming, eco-tourism and a number of other activities. They care deeply about the archipelago, and would be ideal custodians of it.
I have referred to the wider issue of Diego Garcia. The lease expires in 13 years. Several thousand nationals of other countries currently work for the American base on the island. Some people, however, are specifically barred from civilian employment there: Ilois, or Chagos islanders. The Americans do not trust them, I assume—or the British do not trust them; I am not sure.
I hope the Minister will tell us why the only people in the world who are not allowed to work on Diego Garcia are those who were expelled from it in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The arrangement is surely very unfair. Obviously, the island could be at least a temporary source of employment. The expulsion was one of the great injustices of the 1960s and 1970s, and the last Foreign Secretary made considerable efforts in that connection when Labour were in opposition.
I now want to make a number of points. My great friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—the Father of the House—may wish to do so as well, as he has taken an enormous interest in the issue.
Responding to the demonstration outside the high commission in Mauritius, Lady Amos wrote to the solicitors representing the Chagos islanders. She replied to a number of points, including the suggestion that a visit was needed. Apparently, the possibility of a ship to take the islanders to the Chagos Islands at least for a visit is being investigated. Will the Minister confirm that that is happening, and also that the Foreign Office—or, more specifically, the Indian Ocean territories—will bear the cost of the visit, rather than the islanders' being expected to pay?
There is also the question of resettlement, and the expected date for the pilot scheme. Another question, which has been raised by a number of Members on both sides of the House and therefore cannot be seen as a party political issue, relates to birth certificates and rights of residence. 517 As I have explained, the islanders were removed against their wishes, and many have subsequently led a very poor existence—some in Mauritius, some in the Seychelles, and a smaller number scattered around the world. Some of those are in France, some in this country and some in Switzerland. I have met many on foreign visits.
Birth certificates are a sad subject. Apparently many birth records were lost and then discovered somewhere else, which does not say much for the quality of administration. Furthermore, there is the question of what rights are held by children born since 1968 in Mauritius, the Seychelles or anywhere else to a parent who was a Chagos islander. Being born in Mauritius would have given them an automatic right to Mauritius citizenship, but there is an added complication: Mauritius has a claim on the islanders, because it would like to take over the islands and make them part of Mauritius.
I want the Minister to make it clear that when the right of return is exercised, the islanders' children will be included and will be entitled to the same privileges and rights—and will have the same responsibilities—as every other person in the British overseas territories included in the Bill. That, surely, is a fundamental demand.
The issue of compensation for the islanders is mentioned in Lady Amos's letter of 15 November to Sheridans. I accept that the British Government paid the Chagos islanders individual compensation some years later—belatedly and reluctantly: it was not paid on a collective basis. We are talking about a poor community that suffers from high unemployment and poor access to further and higher education. I shall not pursue the issue of individual compensation, but I would be grateful if the Minister could say whether there is any possibility of general support and compensation for the community as a whole. That would enable elected representatives—in particular, Olivier Bancoult—to travel to this country for important meetings. It strikes me as perverse in the extreme that a poor community should be expected to organise collections to buy an air ticket enabling Olivier Bancoult to meet representatives of the Foreign Office.
I feel that a social aid trust fund should be established. The Chagos islanders would be the trustees and administrators. The Foreign Office has already accepted the legitimacy of the raising of these matters by the elected representatives of the people. Surely, just as in the case of any other overseas territory, it is our responsibility to support the elected form of government. We have a recognised and elected committee here, and elected representatives there should be supported as they clearly deserve to be. The issue of pensions should also be considered.
§ John Austin
As my hon. Friend will know, before the High Court action the Chagos islanders had a grievance relating not just to the loss of their homes but to the denial of an opportunity for them even to visit their ancestral burial grounds, which were very important to them. Does my hon. Friend know whether they have now been given that opportunity?
§ Jeremy Corbyn
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that. Visits have been undertaken by some people from the Chagos Islands, but I want to make it 518 clear to the Minister that the islanders want the right to visit the islands to assess for themselves the need for return. They also want the right to return itself. The issue of visits to ancestral burial sites is clearly important.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Is not this the position? It had been agreed in principle that such visits would be allowed, but after 11 September, the use of the Diego Garcia base—the biggest base outside the continental United States—made that impossible for the time being.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am a little concerned. The debate seems to be moving away from the main content of the Bill; the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) seems to be pinning a different debate on this legislation. I should like him to move back to the main stream of the Bill.
§ Jeremy Corbyn
I am happy to move straight back to it, and suggest that these British overseas citizens have a right to visit Diego Garcia, at the very least to examine burial sites and other important memorials.
Will the Minister confirm that Chagos islanders born in places other than the Chagos Islands since the unlawful removal in 1965 will qualify for British citizenship? It is extremely important that that right is confirmed. Will he also confirm that the Government might adopt as their policy the amended clause 4, on the conferral of British citizenship on Chagos islanders, that was drafted by the citizenship expert Laurens Fransman QC? The Foreign Office has received a copy of the amendment, and Baroness Amos has been involved in correspondence on that technical but extremely important point. Will the Minister also tell us what other practical action the Department has taken on the issue other than to appoint experts to study the possibility of return?
Will the Minister give a date by which the islanders will be able to return? Does he accept that the United Nations human rights sub-committee was correct in its conclusions, in its report of 29 October 2001, on the British Indian Ocean Territory? In paragraph 38, the committee criticised the Government's failure to disclose information in their fifth periodic report, and it noted the unlawfulness of removing the population. The report also suggested that the Governmentshould, to the extent still possible, seek to make exercise of the right to return to their territory practicable.Does the Minister not feel embarrassed that the United Nations should criticise the British Government on this matter? Will he pursue that particular point? In her letter of 24 October, Baroness Amos seemed to ignore our obligations under the United Nations charter. Does the Minister accept that the UN human rights sub-committee has underlined the Chagos islanders' citizenship rights under the charter?
Although I could raise many other issues concerning the Chagos islanders, I have sought only to highlight the islanders' main concerns, which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and I have pursued both in an Adjournment debate and with Ministers. In the 1960s and 1970s, this country did a terrible wrong to those people by forcibly removing them. Earlier this year, in Paris, I spoke to a Chagossian family about the removal; the woman described what it was like to be dragged from her home as a child and shipped off to Mauritius, a huge 519 distance away. She told me she felt a burning sense of anger and injustice at her removal and at the fact that she has not been able to return.
I think that we should applaud the Chagos islanders for the very peaceful and responsible way in which they have pursued their case. They have won their High Court case, and surely it is now time to settle the score. We should let them go back, give them the support that they need and recognise their children as British overseas citizens. That is what the Bill is about. I hope that, in his reply, the Minister will be able to help us on those points.
I shall deal briefly with two other points concerning overseas territories. I have frequently raised in the House the issue of Antarctica, and I was very active during the passage of the Antarctic Minerals Act 1989 and the consideration in Committee of the Antarctic Act 1994. In an intervention, I asked the Minister to confirm that, as there are no permanent residents in the British Antarctic territory, it is very unlikely that the Bill will apply to people living there. However, should anyone become permanently resident there, presumably the Bill will apply to them. The legal problem is that the Antarctic territories are a British claim and are not recognised by anyone else as a British territory. Indeed, most of the British claim is overlain by the claims of other countries, notably Argentina.
Will the Minister comment on that situation? It could be argued that those who spend a considerable time at a British research base might be entitled to claim that they are normally resident there. Equally important, will the Minister say whether there is a ratification and implementation process to establish a secretariat and protect Antarctica as a world park and as a place of peaceful scientific research, rather than as a place for exploration and the exploitation of mineral resources?
The Bill's inclusion of the British sovereign base areas in Cyprus raises some interesting issues. I think that Cyprus is the only place in, the world where Britain has sovereign base areas in a national area. As the areas are surrounded by Cyprus, there is clearly a great deal of traffic between Cyprus and the base areas. What will happen to the British overseas citizenship that has been granted to the relatively small number of Cypriots on the bases if a future Cypriot Government decide that the sovereign bases should close and become part of Cyprus's national territory?
One previous President of Cyprus was persuaded that the bases should become part of Cyprus, and I am concerned that the citizenship issue could cause enormous future problems. I should therefore be grateful if the Minister will clarify the issue. Despite that dilemma, however, I generally welcome the Bill.
§ Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor)
I welcome the Bill, which all hon. Members agree should have been introduced years ago. I think that it is fair for me to say that the Bill has been a long time coming from the current Government because one was never introduced by the Government whom I supported. I very much regretted the omission at the time.
The Bill gives British citizenship to the inhabitants of the remaining overseas territories, comprising about 200,000 people. I have no quibble with the Bill's title; the new name overseas territories is a better general 520 description than dependent territories, although, as I shall explain later, some of those territories are still highly dependent on us. We must not lose sight of that fact with the change of name.
The Bill puts an end to a long period of shameful inactivity on the international status of the citizens of those former possessions. My interest in the subject—like that of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley)—comes in part from a constituency case involving nationality. The case took years to resolve and, like the case cited by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin), involved a visa for a spouse who wished to travel in Europe. Although successive Ministers oozed sympathy at us, it seemed that nothing could be done about it. It was eventually resolved, for which I am grateful, but I suspect that that was only because Ministers had already decided to change the law.
As we heard, the Bill was preceded by a White Paper, "Partnership for Progress and Prosperity", which is a good document that raises many interesting and important citizenship issues. However, many of the questions asked in the White Paper are not answered in the Bill. We could avoid the problem that we have seen in the Chamber today, of hon. Members wishing to speak more broadly on those issues, by ensuring that the House is able regularly to discuss and debate the affairs of the overseas territories. Will the Government consider that proposal? May we have at least an annual opportunity to discuss and debate in Parliament the affairs of our new co-citizens?
The idea of an annual report on those affairs was suggested in the other place. Such a report would be helpful, as it is very difficult for Back-Bench Members to draw together information and views from around the world. If the Government do not agree to that proposal, would it not be possible for a Select Committee of the House to put aside one sitting per year to call representatives from the territories to give evidence? I have the honour of serving on the Public Administration Committee, and we have an annual appointment with the ombudsman and the Cabinet Secretary. We regard it as our job to maintain a strict programme of keeping in touch with those individuals.
Will the Minister say whether the rules of the House allow us to call witnesses from the overseas territories to the United Kingdom? Such meetings could coincide with those of the Overseas Territories Consultative Council. As I understand it, that council meets annually in London, but I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that.
The Bill addresses the question of citizenship. It says that it gives British citizenship to the former British dependent territories citizens, but that is not quite right. In fact, it gives those with British dependent territories citizenship the right only to a modified form of British citizenship—as most people would understand that term.
Unlike other European countries, we have not gone the whole journey with overseas citizenship. The inhabitants of overseas territories will still be a different class of citizen from those of us who live here. They will not have representation in the British or European Parliaments and will not enjoy the same benefits as those who live in Britain. They will not, as overseas citizens of other EU countries can, participate in the full democratic process of the country of which they are citizens. That is despite the fact that the British Government have imposed upon the territories European social legislation, sometimes against 521 the wishes of local populations. For a Government who say that they want to get rid of dependency status, one can scarcely imagine an act more likely to underline where ultimate power really lies.
It seems to me that the Government have been trying to have it both ways. On the one hand they have insisted on certain requirements to bring the territories into line with our national law and then, on the other, they have refused to extend certain benefits and duties that we regard as essential parts of citizenship. I fully understand—and the point has been made frequently today—that some territories do not want to enter into such a relationship, but some may. Why can we not ask each of the territories what they think, perhaps in a referendum?
The White Paper raised questions about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, which this Bill fails to answer satisfactorily. I hope that later in the Bill's progress through the House we can attempt to amend it so that the Government will have to explain why, henceforth, there will still be two classes of British citizens. I hesitate to say that the inhabitants of the overseas territories will be second-class citizens, but in some important respects that will be the case for inhabitants of some of the poorer territories.
Present-day British citizens in the United Kingdom understand that while we have obligations to the Government, the Government have obligations to us. This understanding will not be available to the individuals entitled to British citizenship under this Bill, but it is the basis on which trust is built up between the citizen and the state.
Indeed, to move for a moment from the general to the more particular, that is why the Government are currently in deep trouble with the people of Gibraltar. Whatever the Foreign Secretary says, he no longer enjoys the trust of the local people. If we really mean to guarantee the legal rights of Gibraltarians, what on earth have we got to discuss with the Spanish Government? The Government are clearly trying to tell the people of Gibraltar that they must alter their view on sovereignty. They are trying to put aside the fundamental principle of self-determination; and they are failing in their duty of trust.
I do not know how this will appear to those in the other overseas territories affected by the Bill. What will British citizenship mean to them if they see that it is a negotiable concept to the British Government? The current negotiations with Spain over Gibraltar are to be deplored; and their timing, in light of the appearance of the Bill, is even more unfortunate. For most people, the ambiguity so beloved of the Government when dealing with questions of nationality causes serious concern. We all need to know who we are, what rights and responsibilities we have and where we fit in. We accept the duties and responsibilities of civic life because we are clear about the duties and responsibilities that the state has towards us.
I know that in replying to a Second Reading debate the Government will not be able to answer all the questions that have been raised, but I would urge the Minister to consider the basic question of the trust that needs to exist between the citizen and the state. Why are we currently imposing obligations upon these new British citizens without giving them a voice here in our British Parliament? Are we prepared to offer them real 522 guarantees? I am thinking of the many guarantees of basic standards of progress and prosperity, to quote the title of the White Paper, which we take for granted.
The Government must not think that I am wholly critical; I welcome many of the developments that are taking place in the overseas territories. After a distinctly wobbly start, the Government have done better with Montserrat and the offer of a new ship or an airport to St. Helena is also to be welcomed. I hope that it will be left to Saints to make this decision for themselves. I appreciate also that some territories will need further work to ensure a brighter future: I am thinking particularly of Pitcairn, which is going through troubled days.
I am concerned, however, by the piecemeal way in which these problems are addressed. There is no clear understanding of what the British Government are responsible for and to whom they are responsible. These matters go to the very heart of the concept of citizenship. In normal circumstances, the Government would be responsible to their electorate in any given territory, but that is not the case here. Nor is it true that, in dealing with the overseas territories, the Government are responsible to the electorate of the territory which did elect it—the voters of the United Kingdom—because the recent changes in the human rights legislation made in the territories were done by Order in Council, through the Privy Council, without any reference to Parliament. In my view, the Bill, to borrow a phrase from the European arena, exposes a serious democratic deficit.
I am aware that new constitutional arrangements are being discussed in some territories, but even under the terms in which the Government are operating their piecemeal policy there are still too many unsatisfactory louse ends. I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) had to say about the Chagos Islands. He raised some important questions—some of which I was not aware of—that clearly need answers. For example, I would like the Government to explain why the sovereign bases in Cyprus are outside the scope of the Bill: we are always told that there is a good reason, but I have never heard what it is. I can imagine circumstances and so could the hon. Member for Islington, North in which that could become a serious problem, so I invite the Minister to tell us the reasons for excluding Akrotiri and Dhekelia.
It would have been preferable if the constitutional arrangements for the territories involved in the Bill could have been agreed by now. I would like the Bill to have covered all aspects of citizenship. We need to know if some basic standards will apply across the board. For example, will the right of self-determination, which we have heard about in the context of Gibraltar, be available to all territories? Will it be written into their constitutions? What about the idea put forward from St. Helena about some sort of association with Britain, modelled on the Channel Islands?
I would also like a clearer picture of what responsibility the Government feel for British citizens who, for obvious geographical reasons, have no access to higher education. In another place the Government implied that this could be an area where our universities might help. An uncertain nudge and a wink, however, is no substitute for clearly identifying where responsibility lies. An excellent recent paper to the Overseas Territories Consultative Council by 523 a delegate from St. Helena, the Hon. Eric Walter George, spelled out the problems in the primary, secondary and vocational sectors.
Current UK overseas student rates can cripple the economic and social development of those small island communities. The Government should be more specific. We should be clear about the rights and responsibilities instead of asking people to rely on uncertain discretionary handouts. Generous as they may be, they provide no certainty and no ability to plan for the long term.
The Government should be more specific about the possibility of making special arrangements for training civil servants, people who work in services that are vital to public life and people wishing to attend business courses, who could return to their islands better prepared to boost the local economy. I remind the House that in some of these territories there is, and will remain, a real dependency on us which will not disappear simply because we have changed a word in the description of their relationship to the United Kingdom.
Another question that always arises is whether the British Government have responsibility for defending the territories? To borrow the NATO doctrine, is an attack on one to be understood as an attack on all? Is there a responsibility here, and do we offer guarantees? Those and other questions must be returned to. For the moment, however, I repeat my welcome for the Bill, as far as it goes.
We have heard much today about Lord Waddington, who gave a number of excellent examples of the benefits of the Bill. I was struck by one that has not been mentioned today. Clearly he speaks with deep experience of the subject. He said:When I was in Bermuda I was made acutely aware of the resentment felt by Bermudians who, on travelling to Britain, found themselves waiting in the foreigners' queue at London airport while EU citizens were whisked through immigration ahead of them. In fact, the situation was even worse than that because some Bermudians did find their way into the fast lane—Bermudians with British citizenship or the right of abode in Britain by virtue of ancestry—and they, of course, were white. Bermudians in the slow lane were for the most part black."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 July 2001; Vol. 626, c. 1023.]It is clear that the Bill will stop that nonsense—all inhabitants of the overseas territories can now have British passports. That is very welcome.
However, what will Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State request and require ofall those whom it may concernto do for those British citizens? Will the passport state that it does not confer an automatic right tosuch assistance and protection as may be necessaryfor other British citizens" Will we need to warn our partners in the EU that those passport holders might not be full citizens, so they should be careful how reciprocal legislation is applied in their cases? Will we need to spell out that we have not yet decided the constitutional status of the homelands of those citizens and cannot be sure if we would defend their territories; or that those citizens can be affected by legislation even though they have no representation in the legislative bodies which make it?
In brief, the Bill takes one hugely desirable step in the right direction, but it leaves the way ahead unclear. It will put right a serious error from the past, but it will do little to map out the way ahead. I hope that we can have an 524 opportunity to test those matters further and that the Government will tell us more about how they will bring progress and prosperity to communities whose pride in being British should be matched with an equal striving from us for real partnership with them.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend) referred to Pitcairn in his thoughtful speech. May I ask the first of the questions of which I have given notice to the Foreign Office? Even more remote than the Pitcairn Islands is Henderson island, which is uninhabited, but which has a pristine ecosystem. That ecosystem may be in danger, and I wonder whether the Minister could comment on that?
The second point that I want to make is that, for many years the fount of all parliamentary knowledge on St. Helena was the father of the present Government Chief Whip, my friend the late Ernie Armstrong, who sat in your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with considerable distinction for a number of years. He recalled that, when he was sent to St. Helena, as Tony Greenwood's Parliamentary Private Secretary, all the inhabitants, it seemed, turned out to welcome his arrival with "God Save the Queen." Things may have changed since then.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The late Ernie Armstrong was a marvellous man.
My third question is about Anguilla. A fortnight ago, William Whitlock died there. He was the unfortunate Under-Secretary who was turfed off the island with maximum publicity, and his parliamentary and ministerial career suffered accordingly. May we have an update on what has actually happened on that tiny island and on whether it is, in fact, as stable as we would like to believe?
I now wish to ask a number of specific questions on the Chagos. Will the Minister confirm that those Chagos islanders born off the Chagos Islands since 1965 to a Chagos-born mother but not a Chagos-born father will equally qualify for British citizenship? Will he confirm that anyone so born before 1 January 1983 is not a British dependent territory citizen because, before the British Nationality Act 1981, United Kingdom citizenship was inheritable only by legitimate descent through the male line—a piece of gender discrimination remedied with effect from 1 January 1983?
Does the Minister accept that article 73 of the United Nations charter, which requires an administering power to promote, as a sacred trust, the social, political and economic advancement of the population of a non-self-governing territory, is as binding on Her Majesty's Government today as it was when the population of the Chagos were unlawfully removed between 1965 and 1973? What steps do Her Majesty's Government propose to take in furtherance of that sacred trust?
I should like to tell my hon. Friend the Minister that I feel very strongly about that, because it so happened that, in 1969, on the way back from Australia, I went to Mauritius to stay with the Governor-General, a former general-secretary of the Labour party. His name was Len Williams and his wife took me to see some of the Ilois on Mauritius. It was a very sad and moving occasion. Those people, who had come from an archipelago, had 525 been just dumped in that thriving commercial society. When people see such things, they stay with them and they can feel a bit emotional about it.
Does the Minister accept that the so-called feasibility study, which calls into question the return of the population to the Chagos Islands, is a totally inadequate response to the finding of illegality by the High Court, and a breach of the sacred trust? In particular, why do the Government refuse to enable the Chagos islanders to conduct a reconstruction and rehabilitation study in accordance with the request made to the Secretary of State on 5 October in their solicitor's letter. I associate myself entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said—those people have their own ideas. They are able people, and they should be brought into the process.
Why have Her Majesty's Government refused to make available the birth records of the Chagos islanders who were born between 1976 and 1983, which were previously lost by the Government but are now located in the registry on the Seychelles—where Chagos islanders are currently forced to live—to enable them to prove their identity and benefit from the Bill?
Does the Minister realise that the failure to make any substantial progress in relation to the Chagos islanders' schedule of requested steps, dated 7 December 2000, for nearly a year was unlikely to persuade that community that it should trust the British Government to act promptly in accordance with English and international law? Does the Minister agree that the Chagos islanders are a community who have been driven to the edge of despair by the immoral and illegal actions of the British Government, carried out on a rather grand scale for 30 years?
A letter, dated 12 October, from the British Indian Ocean Territory states that a visit to the islands was, in effect, refused. Those involved particularly wanted to go on 3 November this year—the date when Chagossians mourn their dead. That had been agreed in principle a year before in the wake of the court judgment. Her Majesty's Government have, however, done nothing to facilitate that visit, and, of course, the events of 11 September were used as a final reason to refuse it. I ask, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, whether that is a reason or an excuse. It does not seem immediately self-evident that, although a huge base operates there, those people should be refused something that was agreed in principle.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but it is not immediately obvious to me how that issue comes within the Bill. I have been very indulgent with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), and to repeat some of the same issues would stretch too far the boundaries of this debate.
§ Mr. Dalyell
You have been very generous. Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I simply say that many people are interested in such issues; they are not quite as arcane as might be thought. The Friends of the Chagos—led by the former senior Foreign Office official, Nigel Wenban Smith, with expertise from Professor David Stoddart of the University of Berkeley—ask about the Charles Shepherd report on global warming and the rising sea levels around the Chagos and the changing ecology.
526 Time is of the essence, so I conclude by pointing out that the U. K. Chagos Support Association and its secretary, Celia Whittaker, are deeply interested in such debates. I hope that the Government will take seriously, as I am sure that they will, the plight of these people.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
The relevance of my hon. Friend's remarks to the Bill has been questioned. However, when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair, I pointed out that the Bill will make the Chagos islanders citizens of the European Union. If they are citizens of the EU, they will have the additional rights that result from that. Those rights are relevant to this case.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not dispute Mr. Deputy Speaker's ruling, and I recognise that there is a problem of time. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that it is a matter of rights. The European Union should be as involved as the British state.
§ Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)
I know that time is of the essence and that other Members wish to speak. I therefore wish to make one brief point. Like many Members, I welcome the Bill. However, I have slight reservations not about its purpose but about what it does not include. It is perhaps guilty of sins of omission rather than sins of commission.
The Bill rightly restores to the citizens of the overseas territories the rights that they lost quite unacceptably many years ago. It recognises the UK's responsibilities to its overseas territories which, over the centuries—let us face it—we took possession of for our interests and our commercial and military benefit.
I welcome the fact that the Bill will enable the citizens of the overseas territories to enjoy rights similar to those enjoyed by UK citizens. Citizens of the territories will be able to live and work in the UK if they so choose. That is the first step—but an important one—towards the UK recognising its responsibilities to treat all its citizens equally wherever they happen to be domiciled in the UK's sovereign territories.
The Bill also reinforces the importance of upholding our values and principles even when they might run counter to our perceived short-term interests. In the longer term, defending our values and principles must always be in our over-riding interest. Many Members will recall that point when we eventually debate the Government's proposals for the UK's citizens in Gibraltar. We should defend our values and principles rather pursue our short-term interests.
The White Paper, "Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories" has been mentioned several times. It understandably points out that no reciprocal rights have been considered between the British citizens in the UK and the citizens of the overseas territories. That was a response to the unanimous views of the overseas territories and their concerns about migration. I certainly do not quibble with that.
The total population of the overseas territories is less than 200,000. If all those people were to migrate to the UK, which is hardly likely, they would not have a significant impact on a population of 60 million. Equally clearly, however, the demographic structures of the overseas territories are fragile and vulnerable. Montserrat 527 has a population of 4,500, St. Helena a population of 6,500, and the Pitcairn Islands a population of about 50. Any change in the overseas territories could be traumatic in the face of the influx from the UK that might arise from the introduction of reciprocity. I fully understand that that might be a real problem.
The overseas territories already enjoy significant protection through their own immigration laws. For example, the Cayman Islands have been mentioned a number of times and they have a population approaching 40,000. Only 10,000 of them are "belongers", the indigenous people of the overseas territories who are protected by specific rights. Baroness Amos explained:The Bill will not alter UK definition of overseas territory "belongership", which is a concept of territory nationality. That confers the right of abode, voting rights, the right to hold public office and in many cases to own land in the territory. This status is automatically acquired by the indigenous population and normally by those born in the territory to people settled in the territory. Under local immigration laws, "belongership" can be conferred on a discretionary basis on long-term residents who meet certain criteria. None of that will change as a result of the Bill."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 July 2001; Vol. 626, c. 1871.]That is the crux of the matter.
The Bill rather skates over the issue of maintaining the rights of all UK citizens equally wherever they happen to be domiciled. Those rights are the human rights that we, as a nation, have a duty to uphold under our international obligations.
The main thrust of my contribution relates to a particular case. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) referred to the fate of UK citizens intermarrying citizens from the overseas territories who will become British citizens with the passage of the Bill. I have been contacted by Mr. James Stenning, an industrial chemist who is now training as a lawyer. He is a UK citizen and he met and, after three years, married a Cayman islander, who was at the time a postgraduate law student at Sussex university. They assumed that, on marriage, they would have no problems living in the Cayman Islands, because they are a UK overseas territory. However, when Mr. Stenning arrived in the Caymans with his bride, he was granted just a two-week tourist visa—and that only on the production of a return air ticket to the UK. He is now able to renew his visa on a three-monthly basis, but he is expressly forbidden from working in the territory.
The ultimate irony is that Mr. Stenning understandably considered the option of returning to the UK with his bride and settling here to raise a family only then to run into major obstacles with the UK immigration authorities. Basically, he cannot live and work with his wife in the Caymans, and she cannot live and work with him in the UK.
§ Fiona Mactaggart
If Mr. Stenning's wife had obtained permission before she left the Cayman Islands, she would be able to live and work with him here.
§ Mr. Chidgey
I thank the hon. Lady. I know that she is an expert on these matters, but I have described the situation in which Mr. Stenning found himself. I do not know the details of his case law, but that was the position. The real issue is that the Bill removes the obstacle to living and working in the UK.
528 A former director of the Red Cross in the Caymans, who is now a volunteer in exile, was forced to leave, with his Caymanian wife, to seek work in Bahrain because he could not work in the Cayman Islands. The Bill will allow both Mr. Stenning and Dr. Dobson to settle in the UK with their wives, but surely there is an infringement of human rights if citizens of overseas territories who marry UK citizens are forced into exile for their economic survival.
The White Paper states:Overseas territories legislation should comply with the same international obligations to which Britain is subject, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.In Committee in another place, Baroness Amos said:As to human rights, the Bill will fully comply with the United Kingdom's international obligations. The establishment and maintenance of high standards of observance of human rights is an important aspect of our relationship with the territories. The European Convention on Human Rights was extended to the territories in 1953, with their agreement. Since then, the core UN Human Rights instruments have been or are being extended in the same way. Most territories have fundamental rights chapters in their constitution which protect these rights."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 July 2001; Vol. 626, c. 1870.]I appreciate from earlier contributions that our overseas territories have made progress on human rights reform, but it is clear that they have some way to go to reform their laws on human rights. The UK runs the risk of being found in breach of its international agreements on human rights. We could well face legal challenge and liability for costs and damages to UK citizens whose human rights we have failed to uphold.
The key consideration is how the Government intend to enforce the suggestions set out in the White Paper on the imposition of UK law on the overseas territories. That is clearly a controversial issue in the overseas territories. What action are the Government taking to persuade and to ensure that the overseas territories enact the necessary reforms in local legislation, especially on intermarriage, so that the rights of all UK citizens in international law are maintained?
§ Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)
There is a small number of hon. Members in the Chamber, but it is a big issue. We need to recognise that the Bill, which is welcome, deals with one of the most important issues that politicians determine—people's nationality and their citizenship. It is not insignificant that the first thing that Hitler did to the Jews was to remove their German citizenship. That recognised the significance of people's citizenship to their identify.
We cannot be too proud of the history of British citizenship because we have frequently taken the opportunity to narrow the group of people who can share a full identity with Britain. We should be proud that the Bill is moving in the opposite direction and once again widening that family of British citizenship. There has been much criticism, which I share, of the British Nationality Act 1981. In error, I once typed it as the "Brutish Nationality Act", and that is how I always think of it, because it is an accurate description of its effect.
Labour Members should not feel smug, however, because we started the process in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968. I am proud to be the successor to 529 Joan Lestor as Member of Parliament for Slough. That Act was rushed through Parliament as a response to the exodus of citizens of the UK and the colonies from repression in east Africa. She was one of the handful of Labour MPs who voted against the Government. I sometimes wish that I had shown her courage in some of our recent debates.
The decision behind the 1968 Act was entrenched in the 1981 Act. The 1968 Act removed the right to reside in and travel to the country of one's citizenship, which is the most important right of citizenship. The European Court of Human Rights condemned that decision as a breach not of article 5, but of article 3, because it amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment by the British Government of the citizens of the UK and the colonies who were not able to travel to the country of their citizenship. Our response was to allow a limited number of people to come to Britain through a scheme granting 5,000 vouchers a year to heads of households who were citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies. That scheme continues today for that handful of people, who are now British overseas citizens, if they wish to exercise that fundamental right of British citizenship, the right to travel to the UK. These are people who have no other citizenship.
Although there is still a worldwide quota of 5,000 vouchers, the average take-up for each of the past five years has been some 200. That is not a proper right. I am representing the relative of a constituent who sought a quota voucher to come to the United Kingdom but was refused one because the British high commission does not believe that she is divorced, despite the fact that she has provided it with her divorce certificate. Because she has no rights deriving from her citizenship, but is merely the beneficiary of a discretionary scheme that is not entrenched in law, there is no way for her to appeal against the high commission's decision. She has had to turn to me to press the high commission to fulfil the obligation that it obviously has to her.
Although we have done the right thing by deciding that, following the slicing up of British citizenship, we should bring some of those slices together, we have failed to grasp the opportunity to extend the process to other people who have one of the residual forms of British nationality which they cannot exercise. Those people whose only nationality is British overseas citizenship or British protected person's status should benefit from a secure form of citizenship. I urge the Minister to find out whether it is possible to take that further step.
It is not only those with British overseas citizenship or British protected person's status who have connections with my constituency. Slough has probably the largest Anguillan community in Britain and a substantial Montserratian community who are directly affected by the benefits of the Bill. Will the Minister give an undertaking that, before commencement, information about how the Bill will work is targeted at those communities? Only three weeks ago, an Anguillan came to my advice centre to ask for help in registering as a British citizen. I was required to tell him that that is not a sensible use of his money at present because when the Bill comes into law he will not need to pay for that process. Citizens of overseas 530 territories who are currently resident in Britain and who wish to become full British citizens need to be informed of the Bill's impact on them.
There has been much talk in this debate about the rights that accrue from citizenship, and it is important that we are clear about the origin of some of those rights. The Conservative party introduced many of the barriers to what they called "benefit tourism", requiring people to be resident here for several years before they could qualify for benefits and education. The Conservatives introduced checks on people's resident status which inhibited immediate access to health care for pre-existing conditions when they were visiting the United Kingdom. We should not take any lessons from Conservatives suddenly seeking to reconnect rights with citizenship. We in this country take the right approach to public services, which is that people's access to public provision depends on their residence here, not on their citizenship. We do not ask people to produce their passport to prove their eligibility to attend school or to receive hospital treatment.
We have a responsibility toward those overseas territories that have no higher education facilities for their residents. There are fewer than 10,000 residents of St. Helena and of the Falklands. The issue is not within the scope of the Bill, but it is covered by the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. I hope that the Minister will confirm that within those Departments there is a recognition of the education needs of people in the dependent territories, and that help will be targeted on those people who are least able to access further and higher education and who cannot afford to travel to nearby universities and further education establishments. I hope to hear that schemes will be created to enable such people to benefit from higher education at a price they can afford.
The Bill is an important step. Its message is that whether we are from the overseas territories or born in the United Kingdom, we are British together; it is that we value all sorts of Britishness. I urge the Minister to take a further step—even if he is unable to do so under the Bill, let us not end our journey here. Let us correct the mistake that we made in 1968 and state that everyone who is British is equally British and deserves equal rights.
§ 5.2 pm
§ Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I am pleased to follow many of those who have spoken, not least the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). She spoke fluently and I agreed with much of what she said, especially her last sentence. I believe that we—Parliament—have not acted properly in respect of the British citizens of the overseas territories. It is time to treat them as we expect our constituents to be treated—equally. We have not done so and although the Bill goes some way toward achieving that, a great deal remains to be done.
The Bill is long overdue, but Parliament should be doing far more to further the rights of British people who live in various territories around the world, 14 of which the Minister listed. I am secretary of the all-party Gibraltar and Falkland Islands groups, and a member of the St. Helena group, the Cayman Islands group and the Overseas Territories group—I have a special interest in 531 the subject. I speak today to express my belief that it is our fundamental duty to treat all those who are British in exactly the same way. I strongly object to the fact that in our—purportedly—modern and democratic society, we still treat people who are British differently, and in many cases unfairly.
Our overseas territories are enormously important, but they are often forgotten. I am pleased that we are having a lengthy debate today, as it has enabled many of the issues that surround the overseas territories to be explored. I am only sorry that more hon. Members are not present. Our overseas territories are inhabited by people who regard themselves as British—just as we all do—yet they do not all have the opportunity to be legally considered full British citizens, nor arc they granted the rights and responsibilities that British citizenship entails.
From conversations with citizens of the overseas territories, most recently with people I met in Gibraltar when I visited the Rock in September to celebrate their national day, I know of their great pride in being British. They do not want to be anything else. We can understand that view. Our constituents would not want to be considered as anything but British, so why should people in the overseas territories? Why should there be any question that they are different from people in my constituency or the constituencies of other hon. Members?
The citizens of the overseas territories do not question their identity and are confused when we do not reciprocate by treating them as British, so I warmly welcome the spirit of the Bill. The measure will rectify the situation, and will extend British citizenship to all who are citizens of the British overseas territories. That move is long overdue and will, I am sure, be warmly welcomed by the people of all those territories.
We have only to consider the history of many of the overseas territories to see their natural links with the people of the United Kingdom. Anguilla was colonised by English settlers from St. Kitts in 1650. That was pointed out to me when I had the privilege of visiting St. Kitts three months ago.
In 1609, shipwrecked English colonists settled in Bermuda. I recently met the new, Labour, Prime Minister of Bermuda and discussed that point with her. Pitcairn was discovered by the British in 1767. Indeed, each of the overseas territories has significant links with and ties to the United Kingdom, deeply rooted in their history. Whenever a referendum is held, such as that in Gibraltar in 1967, the people of the territories vote overwhelmingly to remain British.
Earlier in the debate, much was said about the record of the Conservative Government on this subject. I have not been a Member of Parliament for long, and I was certainly not a Member under the previous Conservative Government, so I shall not defend their actions. None the less, when an overseas territory was threatened and we were put to the test, we had a Conservative Prime Minister—Lady Thatcher—who led the Government and the country in our defence of the people of the Falkland Islands, restoring them to the liberty that they deserved.
I clearly recall, however, that the then leader of the Labour party, Mr. Foot, and many Labour Members were not so enthusiastic about sending a taskforce to defend the freedom of the people of those islands. I am pleased that many Labour Members now share the view of 532 Conservative Members that it is our duty to defend all British people, wherever they are in the world. That most certainly includes the people of the overseas territories.
Several Members made points about St. Helena, including my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), and other Members spoke about the people of the Chagos Islands and of the British Indian Ocean Territory. I concur with those remarks. The people of the British Indian Ocean Territory were treated shamefully, and I hope that in years to come—sooner rather than later—the British Government will address that and will recompense them.
The Bill barely breaks the ice as regards treating the people of the overseas territories as fully equal members of our extended British family. The measure makes only a start towards giving the people of the overseas territories the support they deserve; it serves only as a limited statement of our commitment to them. Even though we are extending the hand of British citizenship and telling them that they are legally, as well as emotionally, British, that still does not give them the right, for example, to direct representation in Parliament. I agree with the Minister who, in his opening remarks, said that words such as "colony" are outdated. We should decolonise the overseas territories and treat them as we do our own constituents. They should have votes to elect Members of Parliament and be given the same democratic rights as any British subject, whoever and wherever they are in the kingdom. We should extend the right to vote to all citizens of British overseas territories.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I am sorry to seek my hon. Friend's indulgence again, but is it not extraordinary and does it not reflect badly on our country that Gibraltarians are denied the chance to vote in the European Parliament elections, whereas the people of Gaudaloupe have their own Member of the European Parliament? French Caribbeans have representation, but there is no European representation for the European British.
§ Mr. Rosindell
I thank my hon. Friend and agree with him entirely. The people of Gibraltar are told that they will have the right to vote in European elections, although the British Government have not yet stated how that will manifest itself or how they will be able to vote. I am pleased that a commitment has been made, but the issue needs to be addressed. As my hon. Friend mentioned, France gives the residents of its overseas territories an equal right to vote, not only in European elections, but in French national elections. There is no reason why we should not do the same; we should behave in a modern democratic manner. It makes no difference whether someone lives in Port Stanley or Slough; if they are British, they should have the right to vote.
§ Fiona Mactaggart
The direction of the hon. Gentleman's remarks makes me anxious. Thousands of people in Slough are not British but can vote in British elections. I am concerned that the hon. Gentleman is trying to attach citizenship to the right to vote in a way that we have never accepted in this country.
§ Mr. Rosindell
I cannot understand why the point is difficult to grasp. In the democratic modern world in which we want to live, the democratic modern United Kingdom has overseas territories. Geography, to my 533 mind, is an irrelevance; what matters is the fact that we are talking about British people who, like those of us in the Chamber and those whom we represent, wish to be treated exactly the same. I cannot understand the problem with giving those loyal British subjects the same rights as we enjoy.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
In his early days in the House my hon. Friend is playing a leading part, and I agree with everything that he has said. The Bill is about citizenship so, if we have given a commitment to a people to whom we are now giving full citizenship—the people of Gibraltar—and they have the right to vote in a referendum and vote for no association with Spain, is it not obligatory for the UK Government to recognise and accept their decision?
§ Mr. Rosindell
I hope that it is obligatory. I certainly hope that Ministers will respect the rights of the people of Gibraltar if there is a referendum. I cannot understand why that is even an issue and find it puzzling. Why should there even be a question that the people of Gibraltar would not have that right to self-determination? I have extracts from the United Nations charter of 1945, which make it clear that people of all the overseas territories of the United Kingdom should have the right of self-determination. I find it insulting to the people of Gibraltar that any British Minister should go to Barcelona to discuss the future of Gibraltar, without the agreement of the elected—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The debate is not about the future of Gibraltar. It is about British citizenship.
§ Mr. Rosindell
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall proceed with issues relating directly to the Bill. We are telling residents of the overseas territories that they can travel freely in Europe with the authority of their British status, yet we maintain that they cannot elect a Member of Parliament to Westminster, where decisions relating to the acceptance of Britons' free movement in Europe are debated and decided.
I accept that the Bill is non-reciprocal, for many good reasons. Territories will therefore not become members of the European Union in their own right, but by being more closely linked with the United Kingdom, they will encounter EU regulations and practices, such as customs agreements, which will affect them directly. The most significant issue may be the threat from EU plans for tax harmonisation. My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk, the shadow Minister, mentioned that and quoted a memorandum. I emphasise that that is a genuine fear which we should consider.
Evidence shows that the overseas territories will be affected by the European Union, but while Britain supposedly prides itself on democratic governance, the Bill permits British citizens to remain disfranchised, powerless to change the political agenda that affects them because they have no representation in the House of Commons. I am sure that the overseas territories do not want political structures imposed over their existing systems by us or by the EU. That would interfere with their tried and tested systems of government, and I hope 534 that no one seeks to do that. It would also have a serious impact on their local economies, with which we would not want to interfere.
Truly to recognise citizens of the overseas territories as British—as I hope all hon. Members want to—we must do more than grant them citizenship. We must not simply tell them that they can live on the mainland if they want, and leave them to it, occasionally informing them of the latest round of EU rules and regulations that may affect them. That is not how we should treat the citizens of the overseas territories. They must be enfranchised and given a political voice, like every other British citizen. It is unacceptable to me and, I hope, to most of those present, that we claim to believe in democracy, yet we treat one British citizen differently from another. That is discriminatory and should be condemned.
I find the Bill astonishing in one respect, although I shall not deal with the matter in detail. Through the Bill, the Government are attempting to send a message to the people of the overseas territories that they have our full support, and that by making them British citizens, we are recognising them as an integral part of the British spirit, yet at the same time the Government are pursuing an agenda to abandon thousands of fiercely proud Gibraltarians. We in the House must ensure that, regardless of which party is in government, we work to guarantee the rights of the people of all overseas territories. We should not negotiate away their independence, but defend their freedom, sovereignty and rights, just as we all would in a dispute regarding our constituents. I would see no distinction between a resident of Pitcairn and a resident of Portsmouth. Every British citizen should be treated in the same way.
The Bill gives the overseas territories a greater degree of pride in being British, but it does not give them an equal deal. I urge hon. Members to support it, but I also urge the Government to look at the overseas territories again and to do so in a manner that will treat them equally as British, with no strings or conditions attached.
§ Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
I want to follow on from a point made in passing by the hon. Member for Rumford (Mr. Rosindell). Albeit inadvertently, he traduced Michael Foot when he referred to the events of 1982 in the Falkland Islands. I imagine that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were present for the debate in which Michael Foot and John Silkin vigorously prosecuted the then Government for their dilatory handling of the Falklands dispute. For the record, one of the hallmarks of Michael Foot is that he does not yield to violence or tyranny. He did not do so in either 1982 or 1938, when other people were appeasing. I wanted to put the record straight on behalf of a distinguished Labour party and parliamentary colleague.
Both Front-Bench speakers referred at some length to the White Paper on overseas territories. I think that my hon. Friend the Minister wanted the House to believe that the Bill represents a substantial commitment on the proposals that the White Paper canvassed. The provisions to grant citizenship to people in overseas territories and to change in statute the term "dependent territories" to "overseas territories" were indeed contained in the White Paper. I give him full marks for that, but the document also contained a hell of a lot more, and the Bill is seriously 535 flawed and deficient because it does not address other fundamental issues, some of which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Romford.
I canvassed proposals in the House by introducing a ten-minute Bill in the last Parliament to deal with the central problem: the severe democratic deficit that exists for these thousands of people who are soon to be British citizens, who are peppered around the globe and whose Parliament is, ultimately, this place. Their Prime Minister is the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and their Foreign Secretary the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). If the United Kingdom decides to go to war, they go to war too. They do not have the privilege of saying, "If you don't mind, we'll sit this one out." They are committed lock, stock and barrel. Indeed, when such events arise, we invariably discover them, and the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and all these other archipelagos suddenly become important. I think that the word is "bunkering", but basically, we need them and suddenly remember them.
There is a severe democratic deficit that is yet to be addressed. Hon. Members will see that, in the White Paper, which my hon. Friend the Minister prayed in aid, Baroness Symons, its architect and author, canvassed many ideas. One of them, which would be better than nothing, is the suggestion that the chief Ministers or legislative councils of overseas territories should be able to petition the House from the Bar of the House. Of course, that proposal has long been lost and forgotten.
Personally, I think that there is no substitute for democratic representation in this place for all the people who will become citizens. That happens not only in France, but in Spain, the Netherlands and the United States of America. When the Minister listed the territories, he referred to the British Virgin Islands. Next door to them are the United States Virgin Islands, which have a delegate in the United States Congress. He cannot vote, but he has access. There are comparable arrangements elsewhere.
Sooner or later, we will Dave to address the matter. If we do not, I shall look forward to the day when two or three of the territories w ill muster the strength to prosecute Her Majesty's Government with vigour—and they will win. They will do so under human rights legislation and, surprisingly, under European law. A lady in Gibraltar won the right to the franchise in Europe although Home Office and Foreign Office lawyers said that she would not. I predicted that outcome in the House. The Government are often badly advised by Home Office and Foreign Office lawyers, especially on the subject that we are discussing. Sooner or later, we must deal with that.
One of the problems with the House of Commons is the cosy consensus between those on both Front Benches about so many matters. The Conservative Government have acquiesced in or perhaps caused all the wrongs that Back Benchers have mentioned today. For example, hon. Members referred to Lord Waddington, who was beating his breast about how black people from Bermuda had to go through one access channel at Heathrow when white Bermudans went through the other. Yet no one said that he was once Home Secretary. At least, I do not believe that such a comment was caught by the Official Report, but I put it on the record now.
I wish to make one other point, only in passing, because it is not relevant to the Bill—I wish that it was. The Conservative Government could have dealt with all the 536 issues that have been canvassed about Gibraltar—you had to stop some hon. Members from getting involved in them, Mr. Deputy Speaker—when Spain acceded to the European Union and to NATO. As on so many occasions, we unhappily have to say of those on both Front Benches, "They're both the same and they're both to blame." The sooner we get the Government out of the legislature, the better. We would thus remove the nonsense of hon. Members who go into opposition pretending that they were not responsible for things that are wrong.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
The hon. Gentleman is being slightly provocative as usual, but he is fascinating to listen to. On citizenship, I hope that he agrees that some hon. Members from the Conservative and the Labour parties have held consistent views, whichever party has been in government.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) never took the Thatcher or the Major shilling. He certainly will not be offered the Blair shilling; neither, I suspect, will I. Time and again, hon. Members who have been Ministers pretend that they are not guilty. That was evident in a debate on human rights earlier this week. It makes this place nonsensical.
Earlier, I asked the Minister why the Bill and the explanatory notes do not state that granting citizenship to people in the overseas territories means, ipso facto, that they are citizens of the European Union under the Maastricht treaty. Colleagues who are walking encyclopaedias on the treaty agree on that, although we may have different opinions about its work. I welcome the fact that people in the overseas territories will have the right to protection and some consular services that European Union citizens receive from other overseas missions when, for example, United Kingdom representatives are not available. I believe that if the Minister makes lawyers stay late at night and get their books out, they will find that such rights and obligations flow from the measure. That brings us back to whether there is a severe democratic deficit.
I am sure that people in the overseas territories will be able to show that their failure to be represented here is unlawful under human rights and European Union legislation. We must now consider whether they should be enfranchised for the European Union. Of course, the measure does not make the overseas territories part of the European Union, but the people are European Union citizens. That will be tested sooner or later. Through their voting systems, most other European Union countries afford votes to people in archipelagos around the world. I wish that the Government would deal with the matter rather than be dragged, screaming and kicking, to fulfil obvious obligations. I hope that the Minister will at least say that he will ask the Department to reconsider that matter and, perhaps, be proactive, rather than merely pretending that it does not need to be tackled.
The case for the territories to be represented here is overwhelming on moral as well as practical grounds. If we are going to afford these people British citizenship, this place has an obligation to ensure that they have good governance—we had that obligation anyway, but now it has increased.
When you and some of the other hon. Members present entered the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a substantial slice of the globe was still made up of colonies, which occupied 537 the interests of a large number of hon. Members, who were familiar with those places. Now, the globe is only peppered with those small places and we are not walking encyclopaedias on these issues. Many of us do not have access to the territories. If we do have access, it is on a nice Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visit—those are attractive and worth while.
We do not know whether the stewardship and governance of the citizens that we will create through this measure are good. I am referring in particular to the governors of the territories. I do not mean their local legislatures, as they can throw out the Chief Minister or the Legislative Council. The governor, however, is appointed by the Foreign Secretary. We do not know if the governors are good, bad or indifferent. We have no way of knowing.
I invite the House to consider that that is one part of our Administration that is not under the spotlight of scrutiny. Scrutiny generally is still seriously deficient, but we now have Select Committees, which are looking into every nook and cranny of the Administration. Due to the geographical handicap, however, we do not know if a governor in one of those obscure places is behaving like Terry Thomas in "Carleton Browne of the FO". We have no way of knowing because we do not have colleagues from the territories coming here to ask questions and we do not have access to them as Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Trend
As I suggested earlier, perhaps when consultative councils are in London, a Select Committee may be able to interview their members on a regular basis. Also, we may be able to investigate whether people could come here from overseas at public expense—as they will be British citizens—to give evidence to a Select Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman have any views on that?
§ Andrew Mackinlay
Yes, I certainly do and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking. I am mindful of the fact that other business has to be dealt with by the House and I do not want to delay it. I have got the signals from the person who is paid a large sum of money not to say anything in this Chamber. I will wind up in a moment. However, this is one of the few occasions when the thousands of people who are peppered around the globe in the territories have their limited clay in the court of Parliament. As they cannot be here themselves, I and other hon. Members are obliged to protect and promote their interests.
The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend) asked me for my view. I regret that my colleagues on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs declined to consider this matter as a pre-legislative measure. That was a profound mistake. It also raises questions about the volume of work with which that Committee has to deal. If it is engaged with Kosovo and there are other things happening in the world, they cannot be considered simultaneously. Our obligations to people in the territories around the globe are always at the bottom of the pile.
If I cannot persuade the House to enfranchise those people, we should have either a standing sub-committee of the Foreign Affairs Committee to consider overseas territories or an overseas Select Committee to do so— 538 a halfway house should exist at least. If we do not provide for that, we will make profound mistakes. We saw the gross irritation of the people of Montserrat when they had problems. I do not rush to judge whether the stewardship of the Montserrat crisis by the Secretary of State was good or bad, but there was disagreement and those people did not have the right to raise the issue in this place.
I hope that we will see this Bill as the beginning. I also hope that, to whet the Minister's appetite, I can persuade him that he might make a name for himself by enacting legislation that would leave an enduring legacy for our British citizens around the world and which would give them a right of access to put questions here—not questions on Thurrock, Sedgefield or wherever, but on foreign policy, defence and the macro-issues to which they are entitled to answers, as well as issues relating to their constitutions.
This year, we shall be asked to rubber-stamp Orders in Council that will alter the constitutions of some of those places. The best we will get is a one-hour debate and nobody will have considered whether they have approval In fact, I am so unsure of procedure that I am not certain that they will come before the House at all. The Minister may be able to confirm that we shall soon alter the constitution of the Falkland Islands, and there is an important proposal to alter the constitution of Bermuda by Order in Council. That serious issue needs to be addressed, and it should be dealt with by an overseas Select Committee.
The Minister may think that I am labouring the point about Bermuda, but there is still conscription there and he should consider the fact that the Bermuda Regiment still uses shackles for those who do not answer the call. I do not want to argue about whether conscription is good or bad, but those who do not turn up are not asked to get in a police car—they are shackled. I have had that confirmed in a parliamentary answer.
It is disgraceful that we are not dealing with such issues. We acquiesce by our silence, so the House of Commons must address those problems. Acquiesce by silence I will not; and I tell the Minister that when those people all have e-mail I shall beat the Foreign Office. I shall invite them to tell me what is going on and I shall table parliamentary question after parliamentary question. By attrition, I shall make the Government listen to them.
§ Mr. Spring
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
May I remind hon. Members why were are here today? The Bill has been comprehensively reviewed and has widespread support not only in the House but in the territories that it will affect. A number of important questions have been brought to the attention of the House and we look forward to the Minister's winding-up speech.
One cannot underestimate the value that our territories attach to British citizenship. The people of Gibraltar not only value their citizenship, as we know well, but have long sought the status that the Bill affords them. The Conservative party supports their right to citizenship just as it passionately supports their right to remain British.
I am sure that I have the support of the House when I say that I hope the Bill acts as a stepping stone to a more equal relationship between Britain and the 200,000 539 inhabitants of its overseas territories. It lays a platform for an updated relationship, and it contains many positive aspects. On behalf of my party, I reiterate our support.
A number of important and interesting speeches have been made in the Chamber today and, ultimately, this is a cross-party issue. The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) echoed the views and sentiments expressed in another place by Liberal Democrat spokespersons and, as always, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) made an eloquent speech. He described the spirit behind the legislation and the importance of the Gibraltarians having the right to vote. He also raised the question of the statelessness of children in British overseas territories—an important issue which I hope the Minister will address. We need to know more about it.
The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin) made a thoughtful speech that questioned whether the overseas territories would he assured of self-determination should they so desire. He also touched on the importance of Gibraltar and normality of life there. A number of Members on bath sides of the House alluded to the discrimination against black Bermudans. We want to get rid of it and the Bill is part of that process.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) showed considerable knowledge of the issues. He discussed education—I hope that the Minister refers to it—and made a powerful point about access to tertiary education in this country for people from the overseas territories. He also referred to the contingent liabilities and the reciprocal arrangements between the United Kingdom and the British overseas territories. I hope that the Minister will respond to those important points.
I should like to tell the hon. Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) most sincerely that few hon. Members appreciated the plight of the Chagos islanders until they brought it to the House's attention. We have been moved by their passionate commitment to that cause. It has given all of us considerable food for thought. The House, and especially the Government, will need to consider the islanders' plight, given the issues that the hon. Gentlemen have raised. They have done us a service.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend) made an original and thoughtful speech. He is a distinguished governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and knows a great deal about many of the countries with which we have relationships. He made powerful points about the need for parliamentary scrutiny and the possibility of an annual report, an annual debate or a Select Committee. Parliamentary scrutiny would be most valuable in the new relationship that we have been assessing.
My hon. Friend also referred to the importance of Gibraltar and its right to sovereignty and self-determination. He talked about bringing UK law and, by implication, EU law into practice in the overseas territories, and the issues surrounding that.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) welcomed the Bill, and made a reasonable point about "belongership." He also talked about the imposition of UK law on overseas territories. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who is obviously knowledgable on this subject, referred to the widening of the family of British citizenship, and I thought that that was an apt description.
540 My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) made a refreshing speech. He reminded us that we have defended overseas territories at times of stress. That has been part of the relationship, and he was right to remind us of the deep historical links that we cherish—as the residents of overseas territories cherish their links with us—and of the essence of Britishness in that respect.
That leads me to the point about the democratic deficit, which was made with characteristic effectiveness by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). I mention in passing—this is only a personal observation—that we could explore this matter as we consider the role of an upper House in this Parliament of ours. I do not think that anyone objectively considers the recent proposals as anything other than a dog's breakfast. We could explore the democratic deficit in the upper Chamber if it is to be substantially directly elected. What is on offer is utterly unacceptable, but the Bill may provide an opportunity to incorporate the overseas territories in some arrangement.
The Bill has also given the House another chance to debate the building of an airport as a long-term solution to St. Helena's transport link problems. A number of hon. Members alluded to that. It would deal with the problem of distance and inaccessibility.
The Bill also gives the Minister a chance to set out his position on the opening of further opportunities for students. I referred to that, and I hope that the Government will look into it. As I said, my discussions with interested parties suggest that there are long-term gains for people receiving tertiary education in this country, given the links that are thereby established.
I hope that hon. Members will agree that addressing those issues would send a message that the Government intend to make the Bill the basis for a real and enduring partnership on a number of levels between Britain and the British territories. Like many hon. Members, I have raised questions in the debate, and we look forward to what the Minister now has to say. We shall pursue these issues in more detail in Committee.
Our aim is to ensure that the Bill best serves the people of the British territories and that it achieves a better relationship, which is what we all want. We welcome the Bill in principle. I wish it fair passage as we consider it and its implications in greater detail in Committee.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
This has been an interesting and helpful debate, and I am grateful to all who have taken part. My overwhelming impression is that the Bill commands widespread support on both sides of the House. Its passage will send a welcome message to the people of the overseas territories, who, as I said earlier, have waited a long time for its introduction. I thank Members for their positive comments.
As was said by the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), many questions have been raised during the past five hours or so. Some were outside the scope of the Bill, so Members will have to indulge me if I do not reply to all their queries; I promise to reply to the rest in writing. I shall not be able to answer many of the questions that were within the Bill's scope because time will not allow it, but they will be addressed in Committee.
§ Mr. Trend
I know that a vast number of questions have been raised. I believe that before the Committee 541 stage in the other place, and indeed before amendments had been tabled, the Minister met interested parties and officials, so that matters that were of no consequence or were susceptible of easy answers could be got out of the way. Will he bear that in mind?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
I am happy to do so, as are my officials.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) raised a number of issues. He questioned whether all overseas territories were similarly disadvantaged by the British Nationality Act 1981. I can confirm that those who were previously citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies—the form of citizenship that then existed—and who owed that status to their connection with an overseas territory became British dependent territories citizens under the 1981 Act. Because they are geographically within the European Union, the people of Gibraltar were in addition entitled to British citizenship by registration if they applied for it. That recognised their freedom of movement within the European Union. The Bill will entitle them automatically to British citizenship. Following the Falklands war, a private Member's Bill was passed giving British citizenship to 400 residents of the Falkland Islands who did not already have it.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk and others asked what progress had been made on human rights in the territories. I am pleased to be able to confirm that considerable progress has been made. We said in the White Paper that we regarded the establishment and maintenance of high standards of human rights as an important aspect of our partnership with the overseas territories. Our objective is that territories choosing to remain British abide by the same basic standards of human rights, openness and good governance that British people expect of their Government. We stated that, specifically, we wanted the abolition of capital and judicial corporal punishment where they were still on territories' statute books, and the decriminalisation in the Caribbean territories of homosexual acts in private between consenting adults.
All our territories have abolished capital punishment for murder. All have abolished it for treason and piracy except the Turks and Caicos Islands, with which we are in active consultation concerning abolition. Judicial corporal punishment has been abolished by both Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands, which were the last territories to do so. Following extensive consultation with the Caribbean territories, private homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalised by Order in Council on 13 December 2000.
We are funding a broad range of human rights programmes in all the overseas territories. They include examination of children's, women's and migrant workers' rights.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk asked whether the territories were in breach of the European convention on human rights. All overseas territories have legislation that complies with the convention as it extends to them. The hon. Gentleman and others raised the question of self-determination. It does not feature, being outside the scope of the Bill. As I said in my opening speech, the Bill is exclusively about nationality.
542 A number of other issues that were raised—voting rights, taxation and education, for instance—are also outside the Bill's scope. There is some confusion over the difference between rights conferred on people as a result of citizenship and rights conferred as a result of residence.
I assure the hon. Member for West Suffolk that, in addition to discussions with the Department for Education and Skills on developing closer links with United Kingdom universities and colleges, we are discussing twinning arrangements and scholarships. I suggest that he and other hon. Members who are concerned about the education issue make their views known to colleagues who are involved in the review of higher education funding. We think that it is very important that educational links between the UK and the overseas territories are strengthened rather than weakened.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned the educational rights of young people in the overseas territories. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) pointed out, he seemed to be suggesting that British citizens who reside in overseas territories should have greater rights of access to education in the United Kingdom than young people who are born and bred in this country who do not fulfil the residence requirement. Education funding and the requirement to pay fees are based on a residence requirement; they are nothing to do with citizenship. If the hon. Gentleman's children who are born and bred here left the UK and lived in a non-European Union country for more than three years, they too would not be entitled to the same educational rights as those who had been resident here for three years.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
This issue concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House. Is the Minister saying that EU citizens have priority and more entitlement to obtain grants for higher education than British citizens who are resident in overseas territories?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
Their entitlement to education in the United Kingdom is the same as that for all EU citizens, but it is based on residency. The entitlement to education for British citizens, wherever they live, is based on residency, not on their citizenship.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk also asked about the cost of applying for a passport. The cost is the same throughout the territories; it is £46.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin asked how many overseas territories are in receipt of aid. There are six in total. Montserrat and St. Helena are in receipt of budgetary aid, while Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Pitcairn Islands receive contributions towards their public finances for specific programmes.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk and other hon. Members sought clarification on the position of an airport for St. Helena. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has assured me that she remains committed to meeting the lowest capital cost option for maintaining access to St. Helena. Consultation is still under way in and with St. Helena on which of the two options—replacement of the ship or an airport—it prefers. The Department for International Development has also agreed to assist the St. Helena Government in seeking funding from other sources to meet the difference in those costs.
543 Various hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) and for Windsor (Mr. Trend) and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), raised the issue of parliamentary representation. Overseas territories are not constitutionally part of the United Kingdom; they are separate legal jurisdictions. It is therefore not appropriate for them to be represented directly in the British Parliament and to take decisions on British legislation and internal UK domestic matters.
Such an arrangement would represent a move in the opposition direction from the principle in the White Paper, which is that the people of the overseas territories should exercise the greatest possible control over their own lives. It would inevitably mean ant they had to accept much greater integration within our Government system than they have at present. The overseas territories have wide autonomy and self-government, and that is more precious to them than any risk of compromising it to gain representation here.
§ Mr. Rosindell
Why is it not appropriate for British overseas territories to be represented here when the people of the Faroe Islands can send a Member of Parliament to the Danish Folketing and the French overseas territories can send representatives to the French National Assembly?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we have a relationship with our former colonies similar to that which France and other countries have with theirs. We have not had a similar relationship historically and we are not changing it. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock asked whether it was illegal that there was no parliamentary representation. I am assured by my officials that it is not illegal, but I shall ask them to have another look at the issue.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
Having listened to the debate this afternoon, I do not think that the territories need to worry that their concerns will go unheard. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock said that no one was a walking encyclopaedia on this issue. He surprises me, as I think there are several walking encyclopaedias in the House and they have made their knowledge and their care for the territories well known. As my hon. Friend said, he and others regularly raise these issues on their behalf.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk suggested that the territories could have some kind of representation in the other place. That is an interesting idea that he might like to feed into the current discussions on the reform of the second Chamber.
The hon. Member for Windsor and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) both referred to Cyprus. The hon. Member for Windsor asked why the Cyprus bases are excluded from the Bill. They are excluded because the treaty with Cyprus provides that they are for use as military bases only and not for the establishment of a wider community.
§ Mr. Chidgey
I assume that the Minister is about to conclude his remarks and if I am wrong I apologise to him. However, I raised a particular question about the 544 difficulties experienced as a result of intermarriage between citizens of the overseas territories and UK citizens. I hope that he will try to address that before he concludes.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
I am afraid I am not near the end of my remarks, although I am not sure whether I will be able to respond to the hon. Gentleman; if I cannot I promise to write to him.
All hon. Members feel very pained by the historical treatment of the Ilois, which was referred to at some length by my hon. Friends the Member for Islington, North and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) among others. Many of the questions that they raised lie outside the scope of the Bill, but I promise to write to them and answer every single one.
One of the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and others have raised does have a direct relationship with the Bill. It concerns whether children born to Bois since their exclusion from the Chagos islands will qualify for British overseas territory citizenship. The answer is yes, they will for the first generation. My hon. Friend asked about those born between 1968 and 1983 whose mothers, but not their fathers came from the Chagos islands. We are aware that an amendment has been suggested on this. Although I hear what my hon. Friend says, at this stage I cannot speculate on the outcome of our considerations.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is an on-going saga, but attempts must be made to resolve it fairly soon. I understand that the Minister does not have direct responsibility for this and that the relevant Minister is Lady Amos in another place, so I plead with her to get the various officials at least to see the parties involved before things get any more sour than they are at the moment. Jaw, jaw really is better than conflict.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
I can reassure my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North asked me directly whether my noble Friend who is responsible for this area of policy would be willing to meet those concerned. She has agreed in principle; it is just a matter of fixing dates.
§ Jeremy Corbyn
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, the Minister mentioned the proposed amendment. I hope that it is debated in Committee and agreed. He also said that citizenship would be conferred only on the first generation of families who are living outside the Chagos islands. However, they have been outside for so long that there is now a second generation. If we are prepared to recognise the Ilois people and negotiate with them, surely any of their children or grandchildren should be recognised in exactly the same way as the first generation.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
We are getting into even more complicated territory, which we could explore in Committee if my lion. Friend wants. The crucial advance that the Government have made is the recognition of the right of return. If we extended British overseas territory citizenship to future generations regardless of where people live, when they have been given the right of return, we would cross a number of lines and would create difficulties elsewhere.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Rather than having an extended period in Committee, would it not be better to hold a meeting to 545 sort out such things before we get involved in Committee? We are not interested in creating difficulties, but the problem is on-going and real.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I shall consider doing so if I think that it will help to expedite the matter that he wants expedited.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) asked whether the non-reciprocity in the Bill had been agreed because of the EU—there was a certain amount of obsession about the EU among Conservative Members—but that is not the case. Neither British citizens from the United Kingdom nor EU citizens will be given rights to go to the overseas territories, and the overseas territories will retain control. The EU is involved because the overseas territories' British citizens will be able to move freely in Europe, but non-reciprocity would apply even if EU citizens were not part of the picture. The small size of the overseas territories means that they could not open their doors to 50 million United Kingdoms citizens, let alone all EU nationals.
The hon. Gentleman also asked what would happen if one of those territories decided to vote for independence in future and whether the House would need to pass separate legislation to settle the nationality issue. He is right—such legislation would be needed.
Some hon. Members have asked why there should be a delay between Royal Assent and the citizenship provisions coming into force. That delay is simply intended to ensure that the practical arrangements, such as those for the acquisition of British citizen passports, are in place at the time of commencement. We will not delay bringing the citizenship provision into force any longer than is absolutely necessary. Indeed, we are already in detailed consultation with the territories on the format and the arrangements necessary to train staff and issue passports.
546 My hon. Friend the Member for Slough asked what we are doing in advance to inform people of what their rights will be. We have issued a leaflet to all the territories' representatives in London, and I hope that they are distributing copies widely in the territories. I am sorry that I have not been able to address all the questions that have been asked.
§ Peter Bradley
I am grateful to the Minister for the assurance that he, the Foreign Office and the Home Office will do all they can to ensure that there is no undue delay, but will he confirm that there is absolutely no need to delay commencement until such time as the passports can be issued? In those circumstances, is there any reason why commencement should not take place immediately on Royal Assent?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
As I have said, there is a practical problem—people will naturally expect the rights to be realised on the date of commencement and we might not be able to do that. However, I have told my hon. Friend that I am discussing the issue with my officials, and I shall try to be as helpful as possible.
Many hon. Members have said that the Bill rights wrongs. My hon. Friends the Members for Slough and for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), who is no longer in his place—he told me that he would have to leave early—drew attention to the fact that this is the first nationality Bill for 40 years that does something positive; it gives people something, rather than taking something away. All hon. Members can take pride in the Bill, and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).