HL Deb 29 July 1982 vol 434 cc353-5

3.8 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will introduce legislation to amend the British Nationality Act 1982 so as to make citizenship of the United Kingdom available to citizens of the Falkland Islands on the same basis as it is available under that Act to the citizens of Gibraltar.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made it clear in another place that no Falkland islander, whether he has the right of abode or not, will have any difficulty over admission to this country. For this reason we see no immediate need to introduce amending legislation.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that when a group of wealthy Argentines during the recent conflict took advertising space in the press, they attached considerable weight to the allegation that under the British Nationality Act the Falklanders were not given the fullest rights of citizenship? Would it not be a very proper acknowledgement of the loyalty and devotion of these people under desperately trying conditions for Parliament now to confer this on them?

Lord Elton

My Lords, while I always have the highest regard for what my noble friend suggests, I do not think that it is proper to use legislation as an instrument of propaganda warfare.

Several noble Lords


Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the House gave a First Reading to a Bill to amend the Nationality Act in order to accomplish the exact purposes which his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has in mind? Will the noble Lord make quite sure that the Bill receives a speedy passage through the House?

Lord Elton

My Lords, it will be for the House to decide on the speed of its passage. I think that it is already placed on the timetable.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, ought not the noble Lord to be influenced by the fact that when we were discussing the British Nationality Act the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, took a contrary view? Should there not be more joy over his repentance, than over all the just persons who voted the right way in the first place?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I can never regard my noble friend without joy, whatever his opinions.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that the Falkland islanders have been of pure British descent for generations, whereas citizens of Gibraltar, with due respect to them, are not?—or at least very few of them are.

Lord Elton

My Lords, that is largely why about 1,500 of the Falkland islanders, which is the vast majority of the population, will automatically become British citizens at the beginning of next year. We are talking of a balance of about 400 who will have direct access to British soil should they wish to have it, and who will be able to take up residence here. My noble friend also referred to Gibraltar. The distinction between the two is of course that the Gibraltarians will be within the bounds of the European Economic Community, and as such are technically already with us in nationality.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, did the Minister say that it would be for the House to decide on the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and will the Government make sure that the House does have an opportunity of deciding on the matter? Is he aware that when the proposal was put to your Lordships by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, it was lost by only a very narrow margin, and that if it were now put again, with the support of so many noble Lords sitting behind the Minister, it is certain that it would be accepted?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord's Bill is down on the timetable for a Second Reading, and your Lordships will make up your minds about it when it reaches that stage.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend reconsider his suggestion that to legislate in honour of people who have fought loyally by our side is not really accurately or properly described as propaganda warfare?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend for enabling me to correct an impression that I wrongly gave. I understood that he was asking whether it was not appropriate to bring in legislation in response to an advertisement taken by wealthy Argentinians, and it was to that point that I was answering. The remainder of the case must rest on its merits, and that I hope is the basis on which I dealt with it.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, may we now take it that the noble Lord agrees that it is not just propaganda to suggest that people who have suffered gross injury as a result of the negligence of Her Majesty's Government, resulting in the resignation of the Foreign Secretary, should be treated in the same way as the Gibraltarians, who have suffered no similar injury from the negligence of Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I should not wish to be drawn on issues of responsibility. I have already said that I do not think that this is a matter of propaganda warfare, except in the terms to which my noble friend referred at the beginning of our exchanges. I think that I have made the case that every citizen of the Falkland Islands will either become a British citizen automatically on 1st January next year, or have the opportunity so to do if they wish.

Lord Renton

My Lords, does my noble friend recollect that during the last war the island of Malta was awarded for its valour with the George Cross, and would not some similar recognition, either by grant of special citizenship, or in some other way, be well deserving in the case of the people of the Falkland Islands?

Lord Elton

My Lords, it would be difficult to promote the people of the Falkland Islands higher in the esteem or the sympathy of either this House or the country.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that recent events could hardly have left the 400 Falkland islanders in any doubt of the love, esteem, and care that we show for them? We could have done no more had they been living in Westminster.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am greatly obliged to my noble friend. We sometimes tend to forget that side of the argument.