§ Second Reading debate resumed.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, in returning to the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Amendment Bill, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Vickers on her continuing advocacy of the cause of the Falkland Islanders. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter was, I think, the first to raise the matter in this House when he tabled a Question on the matter in July. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, then brought in a Bill on similar lines to the one we are debating today, though there was insufficient time left to consider it in what remained of the last Session. Today's debate, therefore, provides our first opportunity to debate the matter thoroughly. We do so 1077 on the basis of my noble friend's Bill, which seeks to ensure that all the Falkland Islanders become British citizens.
As things stand, about three-quarters of all Falkland Islanders will become British citizens when the British Nationality Act 1981 comes into force on 1 st January next year. That will be the case whether my noble friend's Bill becomes law or not. But the remainder, about 400 people in all, may not do so because their ties are mainly with the Falkland Islands, while their connections with the United Kingdom are more distant. Those 400 would therefore hold the important parallel citizenship which is called British Dependent Territories citizenship. That citizenship was deliberately designed to reflect, not a distancing of the holders from the United Kingdom but a recognition of the fact that the holders' connections are with a dependent territory rather than the United Kingdom itself.
The new citizenship arrangements now set out in Part II of the British Nationality Act 1981 in no way weaken the constitutional relationship of the United Kingdom with the Falkland Islands or any other dependency. The Government have always made that absolutely plain. The White Paper we published in July 1980 contained the outline of our proposed legislation. In it we said, in paragraph 16:
The establishment of a separate citizenship for the British Dependent Territories would in no way alter the relationship of those territories and the United Kingdom, nor the Government's obligations and commitments to the dependent territories and to their citizens".My honourable and right honourable friends who spoke for the Government during the passage of the subsequent legislation lost no opportunity of repeating that assurance. I gladly repeat it today.
It must also be recognised that the passage of the British Nationality Act 1981 has not changed the immigration position of people from the dependencies. People from our dependent territories who do not hold certain specified links with the United Kingdom have been subject to immigration control ever since the passage of the first Commonwealth Immigrants Act in 1962. The controls were confirmed in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968, passed by the party of the noble Lords opposite, and by the Immigration Act 1971.
All that the 1981 Act did was to change the title of the citizenship held by people who did not have the right of abode in the United Kingdom. This change of citizenship title was essential if one of the main aims of the new nationality legislation was to be realised. That aim was to define as British citizens only those people who had the right of entry here. This, my Lords, finally brought to an end the misleading and unsatisfactory situation whereby people were called citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies even though they had no right under our immigration law to enter the United Kingdom.
My noble friend's Bill would make an exception for the Falkland Islanders. The Falkland Islands are only one among 15 dependent territories listed in Schedule 6 to the Act. But it would only be their inhabitants who would automatically become British citizens as well as British Dependent Territories citizens. Before I come to the question of whether such exceptional and preferential treatment may be 1078 justified, I feel that I should mention briefly one other matter.
My noble friend's Bill sets out to bestow British citizenship upon all Falkland Islanders, regardless of whether they are entitled to it by other means. Before I turn to the merits of the aim of doing this, I think I should briefly point out the defects in the way in which the Bill sets out to achieve it.
First, the Bill refers to the Falkland Islands only, although the dependent territory is described in Schedule 6 as "Falkland Islands and Dependencies". Even though they are for the most part uninhabited at present, the Bill would probably be better able to avoid future controversy if it included the dependencies. Next, the new Section 11A(1)(b), which Clause 1 would insert into the parent Act, confers British citizenship on a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who was ordinarily resident immediately before commencement. But it does not say for how long he or she must have been ordinarily resident. It may be thought odd that the ordinary residence could be as little as one day. It is in fact unnecessary to have this criterion in the Bill at all, since the people whom my noble friend wants to cover can probably be described rather better in a different way. Thirdly, the new section also refers to people whose parents were settled in the Falkland Islands before commencement, apparently in order to give them British citizenship by descent. But they would be British citizens otherwise than by descent, since no amendment has been suggested to Section 14, which sets out who is to be a citizen by descent.
These defects are of course purely technical. They can readily be corrected in Committee. But I felt it right to indicate that there were drafting deficiencies in the Bill. They were one of the reasons why the Government did not feel that it would have been right to allow a Bill in these terms to pass undebated through another place when it was introduced there by Mr. Kilroy-Silk.
I now pass to the merits of the Bill. I must stress that the Government believe that they have already, in other ways, taken very full account of the special needs of the Falkland Islanders. Indeed, we have consistently undertaken to bear their special circumstances in mind. This was so, even when we felt obliged to recommend that no exception be made in the citizenship area when the relevant amendments to the British Nationality Bill were debated in your Lordships' House last year.
We have all along given specific assurances to the Falkland Islanders. The first pledge was given in December 1979 by my honourable friend Mr. Nicholas Ridley when he was Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This assurance was repeated at all appropriate stages of the Bill, and we kept our word. As your Lordships will recollect, on 8th April—very soon after the outbreak of the conflict with Argentina—my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced that no Falkland Islander would have any difficulty over admission to the United Kingdom, whether he had a right of abode or not. That remains the position. In merely practical terms, it is very difficult to see what my noble friend's Bill offers the Falkland Islanders which they do not already have available. Indeed, it is because the Government have acted generously and sympathetically that it is 1079 possible to argue that, having gone this far, really it is only a small extra step to take to confer British citizenship on everyone connected with the islands.
It is not a small step. It has significant implications for the whole scheme of new citizenships created by the British Nationality Act 1981. That Act for the first time put our citizenship law on to a clear and rational footing. Citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies, which is what we have under the 1948 Act, gives a confused and imprecise idea of where people belong. It confers citizenship without regard to immigration laws which, by controlling entry to the United Kingdom, seem inconsistent with a citizenship title which includes the United Kingdom.
The 1981 Act gets away from this confusion by creating one citizenship, British citizenship, for those who belong to the United Kingdom; a second, British Dependent Territories citizenship, for those who have connection with a dependent territory; and a third, British Overseas citizenship, for those citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who have no continuing connections with either the United Kingdom or our remaining dependent territories. These new citizenship titles reflect what has for a long time been the reality of the situation.
To the extent that exceptions are made, the position will remain misleading and unsatisfactory. It is contrary to the scheme of the 1981 Act to describe people as British citizens if their connections are actually with a dependent territory and not with the United Kingdom. We must therefore be very clear that to make one category of former citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies a special case must not establish a misleading precedent.
I must make it plain that the Government take the view that on immigration grounds it is quite out of the question to alter the citizenship categories of either the other British Dependent Territories citizens or of British Overseas citizens. British Dependent Territories citizenship is an important citizenship parallel to British citizenship. It indicates that citizenship is firmly linked to one of the British Dependent Territories. British Overseas citizens, where eligible, enjoy the special benefits of the special voucher scheme, which is in itself a recognition, appropriate to the circumstances, of their particular situation. I would suggest that the special steps taken by the Government (to admit the Falkland Islanders to this country whether they have the right of abode or not) are an equally appropriate way of responding to the special circumstances of their particular situation.
I now turn to the basic point, which seems to me to be this. In October last year, your Lordships voted—by the narrowest possible majority, it is true—to reject an amendment sponsored, among others, by my noble friend Lady Vickers, which would have had precisely the same effect as her present Bill. Indeed, my noble friend's Bill is very closely based on her amendment. A lot has happened since then, but events have not necessarily changed the force of the argument which the Government advanced against the amendment when it was put. To grant the islanders British citizenship even where their connections lay with the Falkland Islands alone would still be contrary to the 1080 logic of the Act, and it is to logic that I have so far addressed myself.
But it is not only logic with which we have to deal. There are other things in life of profound importance and almost equal reality, and I am fully aware of the extent to which those lie behind our present arguments and the extent to which they influence your Lordships' House. The Government accept that, in the circumstances of the Falkland Islanders, logic is not enough. A lot has happened that has not only served to emphasise the close bond that unites the people of the British Isles with those of the Falkland Islands but that has amply demonstrated the loyalty and commitment of our Government and our people to preserving them; and my noble friend has referred to many of them. But when the Royal Fleet Auxiliary "Sir Bedivere" docked at Southampton a fortnight ago, she bore a more eloquent testimony to that which either my noble friend or I can ever do. It may well be, therefore, that your Lordships will consider that the case for granting British citizenship to all the islanders should be conceded because it is wholly exceptional.
I cannot promise Government time in another place, but I shall not ask your Lordships to resist my noble friend's Bill. If your Lordships do decide to give the Bill a Second Reading, I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that the Government will be prepared to assist my noble friend with the drafting of amendments to remove from the Bill the defects which I have already listed.
I hope that I have now made plain the Government's views on the matter. We are by no means unsympathetic to the position of the Falkland Islanders. On the contrary, we have gone to great lengths to respond to their special needs and claims in the immigration and nationality area. Their special position has been amply recognised by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary's speedy decision that the islanders should all be freely admitted to the United Kingdom whether or not they hold the right of abode. I thought it right to draw your Lordships' attention to the implications of making an exception for the Falkland Islands alone among the dependent territories. That said, we will none the less help with the drafting of the Bill if your Lordships give it a Second Reading. May I conclude by once more expressing my gratitude to my noble friend Lady Vickers for giving your Lordships this very valuable opportunity to debate the question in depth.
§ 4.3 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, on behalf of those who sit behind me, I too would like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, on bringing forward her Bill. It is true that the Bill bears substantial similarities in text with the one which I had the honour to put before your Lordships at First Reading shortly before the Recess. That is of small consequence; what is of consequence is that, as the House well knows, the noble Baroness had fought consistently, aided from time to time by her noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for the principles involved in this Bill. For our part we are very grateful to her, as will be the remainder of the 90 Peers of various parties who sought to sustain the noble Baroness in the Lobby and who did not, regrettably, include many noble Lords 1081 opposite—principally, those on the Government Benches.
The intention of the Government was leaked in The Sunday Times yesterday. I was uncertain at that time as to how to regard the leak that it was the Government's intention to support the noble Baroness, because one normally prefers to hear items of considerable importance first of all from the Front Bench rather than from reading in the columns of the press beforehand, authoritative reports emanating, perhaps, from some of the noble Lord's colleagues or even from his department. Nevertheless, it is very welcome news.
I was a little puzzled by the noble Lord's speech. It seemed to me that he spent about three-quarters of the time which he took to address us in seeking to justify all that had been done before. Perhaps that was a little unwise in view of the significance of what was said by his noble friend Lord Trefgarne during the course of the debate on 7th October 1981, when the noble Lord was quite adamant—and the Government with him—as to what was happening. This is what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said:But whatever may have happened in the past there is no argument in equity or in logic"—and the noble Lord added the word "equity" to the word "logic" which the noble Lord has already used—that a British citizen of whatever generation in the Falkland Islands should be able to transmit his citizenship to his children born there but that a British citizen in any other dependency or in any other country of the world should not".Then he made the point which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has made this afternoon:It is not as though the Falkland Islands is the only place overseas where people of United Kingdom descent have settled. There must be in the other dependencies alone many more people of United Kingdom descent living there than there are in the Falkland Islands".That rejection of the arguments put forward on that occasion by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, was delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in his usual very decisive fashion, and it was certainly most emphatic.
The noble Lord has given as a reason for his general support of the measure a reversion to sentiment in the special case of the Falkland Islands. I wonder why sentiment was not expressed before. When Mr. Kilroy-Silk's Bill was presented in another place for Second Reading it was objected to and there was no case that it would pass through without debate or anything of that kind. Why, then, was there objection in another place, if there are going to be considerations of sentiment or emotion—which are very laudable things for people to experience? Why was there not an immediate reaction when the Bill was presented in another place? The noble Lord, I thought, sought refuge in the possible technicality that the Government were not prepared to allow a Bill through at that time without debate. There is no question of there being no debate.
With the Government's agreement—now, we must say, very reluctantly expressed, and I do not believe that the noble Lord can accuse himself of being wildly enthusiastic about the Bill introduced by his noble friend—is it perhaps because the Government have to anticipate the results of the Franks Committee Report and want, if they can, to clear the decks before then? I say that because there appears in the current issue of 1082 the Economist a very interesting feature which expresses in more temperate terms the sentiments which I might otherwise be tempted to express. The feature, which appeared in last week's issue, says this:Before the Argentine invasion, the British Government was sending out a series of unintentional signals to Buenos Aires suggesting a reduced commitment to British possessions in the South Atlantic. These signals had little to do with the Foreign Office—supposedly the custodian of the Falklands 'policy'. They included the proposed withdrawal of 'HMS Endurance' from the South Atlantic (Ministry of Defence); the giving up of the survey base on South Georgia (Department of Education); the removal of full British citizenship from most of the Falklanders (Home Office); the lack of enthusiasm for the Ridley leaseback initiative (Overseas Defence Committee)".Can it be that the reluctant agreement that we have heard of from the noble Lord today now acknowledges that perhaps the Home Office's insistence upon the British Nationality Bill, applying the full rigours to the Falkland Islands, may have constituted, together with the other factors I have mentioned, a signal to the Argentines which eventually resulted in a gross miscalculation? Perhaps it is clearing the decks for that.
What is certain, in the light of the events that have taken place since the resignation of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, whose departure from office is regretted by many from all sides of the House, is that his resignation was possibly not the only resignation that was called for in those circumstances, bearing in mind the responsibilities of the other departments of State and of their co-ordinator, through the Overseas Defence Committee, no less than those of the right honourable lady the Prime Minister herself. Well, is this support reluctantly dragged from the noble Lord possibly in anticipation of adverse criticism as a result of publication of the Franks Report?
Or, alternatively, is it due to the Prime Minister herself? I had the pleasure of seeing the Prime Minister on television on a Saturday afternoon a fortnight ago and she was discussing matters of this kind. With the utmost clarity—and nobody can accuse the Prime Minister of lack of clarity in her diction or of directness in her expression—she made the following observation in her usual pugnacious style in terms of real force and eloquence. This is precisely what she said:The Falklanders are British and will remain British".Evidently the Prime Minister was unaware of the defects in the British Nationality Bill. Doubtless soon after she made the observation, which can be verified from the transcript, there was a fluttering in the dovecots in the Home Office because the Prime Minister had said something which according to the Home Office was not strictly true. Can it therefore be that this reluctant amende honorable has been made in order that the Home Office may bring itself into conformity with the position that the Prime Minister has publicly adopted?
I felt it wise to go into rather greater detail in this matter than the content of this Bill might seem to justify. But I think it is important on occasion, particularly when one is dealing with the Home Office, if I may say so, to have the utmost clarity as to exactly what the position is. The noble Lord will forgive me if I say that the example he has given this afternoon, of proving that the whole thing really was not necessary anyway and that the Government's position was 1083 perfectly clear from the beginning, necessitates perhaps a more detailed examination into Home Office motives, as one gives to Home Office actions. So, we will, of course, give every conceivable support to the noble Baroness when the Bill comes up at Committee, and we are glad that the noble Lord himself has offered to give technical assistance in the drafting. In the light of the Home Office's whole attitude towards this question from the beginning, which the noble Lord himself has seen fit to emphasise once again today, may I assure him and may I assure the noble Baroness that we shall examine this in Committee with the utmost care, to make quite sure that the purposes which the noble Baroness had in mind when putting down this Bill are in fact carried into legal effect.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, may I begin by doing three things; first of all, to congratulate the noble Baroness on having had the opportunity and the wit and the perseverance to bring this Bill before your Lordships today; secondly, to apologise to your Lordships since, because of the lateness of the hour and the number of Members down to speak and owing to a previous engagement, I may not be able to stay till the end, much as I would have wished to; and thirdly, to commiserate somewhat with the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I think he has done his best in a difficult situation. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, has said, he has perhaps not got quite the same didactic approach to these subjects as his predecessor Lord Trefgarne. He has indeed allowed logic to be bent or to be put aside for a minute, and I am quite sure his predecessor would not have allowed that.
It would be very easy to have a considerable amount of fun this afternoon at the Government's expense, but the situation is much more serious than that, and I will try to confine my remarks to those items where I believe the Government have made serious mistakes and where this simply underlines those mistakes. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, has already touched on the general situation with regard to the Falkland Islands: the question of the removal of "Endurance"; the removal of the rights of the Falkland Islanders by the Nationality Bill. May I add to the list that he gave the removal of the foreign language broadcasts. All noble Lords on this side of the House and some on the other side gave very clear warning to the Government that in doing what they did they were creating great dangers for this country's overseas activities. Only a very limited amount of notice, although some notice, was taken of that; but of course the Spanish broadcasts were among those that suffered.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, we on these Benches await with great interest the result of the Franks Report to see what other mistakes are going to be revealed. I do not perhaps go quite so far down that road with him in suggesting that this is a cosmetic exercise, but I do agree with him that it is all part of a package. I was somewhat worried to see in the newspapers a suggestion that the Prime Minister is going to do everything in her power to keep as much 1084 as possible of the Franks Report secret. I hope that that is not another leak from any Government department.
I am sure very few of the Government's supporters can feel happy about the situation with regard to this Bill. It underlines the weaknesses of the Nationality Act. Some very clear statements were made both on the Gibraltarian issue and on Hong Kong during the passage of that Bill through Parliament. It seems to me that the logic of that has now been exposed at a number of points, as we remove one exception after another—and be assured that people will continue to try to remove other exceptions. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, will say something this afternoon on Hong Kong. I think that we again through the popular print have information on certain assurances being given to Hong Kong when the Prime Minister visited there recently, and apparently, according to the Daily Telegraph, the word "British" will appear on Hong Kong passports.
I quote from today's Daily Telegraph which states that:the Foreign Office emphasises that British is used entirely descriptively and Hong Kong citizens will continue to be tightly restricted by Britain's immigration laws".I suggest that "entirely descriptively" might be replaced by "entirely deceptively". If we are to use the word "British", let it mean what it means. Let us not try to fool people in other parts of the world in the same way as we have been trying to fool ourselves with the British Nationality Act.
I do not intend to spend more than a very few minutes on the Bill. It is an important step forward. It removes an unfortunate anomaly which was present in the British Nationality Act, but, sadly, it exposes many other anomalies and makes it more and more clear that the Government are occasionally prepared to give way on those matters where white citizens of the world are concerned. Would that it were prepared to give way more graciously, even occasionally, in cases where coloured citizens of the former Commonwealth are involved. The trouble, as I have said previously, is that the Government behave like Humpty Dumpty. They always want words to mean what the Government say they mean and not the generally accepted meaning. The intellectual consistency of the Act is destroyed if the Bill is passed by your Lordships, as I very much hope it will be.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Lord Balfour of Inchrye
My Lords, may I, I think for the first time in nearly 40 years, ask for your Lordships' indulgence and express an apology to the Minister and to the House for my inability to be here at the end of the debate if it continues for very long. I should like to condone that apology by saying that my remarks will be very brief indeed. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, and the Government on the outcome of the Bill that she has promoted and the promises that Her Majesty's Government have made. I think that the Bill, or the amendment to the British Nationality Act, which gives the Falklanders the same status as those who live in the Channel Islands or in Gibraltar is laudable and will please your Lordships in all quarters of the House. I was fascinated to listen to the Minister. His delivery was very rapid, quick, and, for me, difficult to take in, skipping over 1085 the British Nationality Act and the technicalities of this Bill. I am reminded of a man who, on being asked to describe an elephant said, "I don't know. I cannot describe one, but I know one when I see it". I, too, know a full British citizen when I meet him.
This issue cannot help but be related to the Falkland ordeal of aggression and invasion which the inhabitants have overcome so determinedly and bravely over the past few months. The Bill should not pass without our paying a tribute to the courage and resistance of the Falklanders. If the Bill had not come forward and if everyone had to prove who their grandparents were, or where they were born—I doubt whether I could—we would have divided the Falklanders into the sheep and the goats. About 1,400 of them would have been the sheep, possessing full British citizenship rights, and 400 would have been the goats, with restricted citizenship. I am glad to say that we shall not hear any more of that in the future. What a reward that would have been for those who faced aggression, and just a few months after they had been through their ordeal.
Her Majesty's Government have had another escape. Their attitude could have been likened to the situation in Mr. George Orwell's Animal Farm—All men are equal, but some are more equal than others".Fortunately, in future all the Falkland citizens will be equal with full rights of citizenship.
Finally, resentment in this, country and in the Falklands would have grown and grown if the Government had not had the courage to turn back on an error and misjudgment which they made earlier. I hope that the Government will feel that they are rewarded by the feelings of those who objected very much to the division of the Falklanders into two, and will wish all those Falklanders who are from January to be full citizens of Britain the very best of futures for their bravery which justifies that wish.
§ 4. 27 p.m.
§ Lord Maclehose of Beoch
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, on introducing the Bill. I intervene briefly on one point. The Bill discriminates against other dependent territories and the question arises as to what extent that is an obstacle. I accept that it was the Government's intention that in its treatment of dependent territories the British Nationality Act should be neutral. But there is an enormous difference between legalities and human feelings. The fact is that the British Nationality Act was bitterly resented in the dependent territories, including Hong Kong. It is true that, as the noble Lord said, the door to the United Kingdom was closed to residents of dependent territories in 1962, but the British Nationality Act appeared gratuitously to double lock the door. Similarly, the change in the name of citizenship was regarded as explicable—I repeat, regarded as explicable—only as an act of political disengagement. As the situation developed the then Governor of Hong Kong exhausted himself in explanations, and indeed in epithets, but with only marginal success, in moving Her Majesty's Government; and I do not intend to repeat them this afternoon. However, I should acknowledge the recent administrative change authorised in Hong Kong passports, which is helpful and 1086 welcome, as far as it goes, since it may facililtate travel in third countries.
I mention all this because there is still very deep bitterness in Hong Kong, and for all I know in other territories, on this subject and that is an unhappy background to the Bill. One reaction will certainly be that the Bill will be criticised in Hong Kong and other territories as discriminatory. I sympathise with that reaction, but I do not wish to oppose the Bill on that ground because there are other, deeper considerations which I hope will be apparent in Hong Kong, and if the Bill appeals to your Lordships on balance of other grounds I do not think that the situation I have described should be regarded as an obstacle.
In the first place, I do not think it would be in the interests of Hong Kong or of any other dependent territory to appear to stand in the way of a benefit to the Falkland Islands in which the emotions and policies of the United Kingdom are so deeply involved at this time. Moreover, I do not think that Hong Kong people themselves would wish to carry their resentment to the extent of opposing doing something for the Falkland Islands. Furthermore, if this Bill becomes law, the Government will have accepted, admittedly in this very special case, the need to amend the Act's provisions over a dependent territory, within the limits of what is necessary and numerically possible, when justified by special circumstances. Such a proposition would be welcome. My Lords, on all these grounds I support the Bill.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Lord Aylestone
My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, for introducing the Bill. It gives those of us on this Bench an opportunity to support her, as we did when she introduced an amendment with the same objective in mind during the passage of what was then the Bill last year. During the passage of that Bill, which now is an Act and comes into force on 1 st January, from all sides of the House and from almost every country associated with Great Britain, the anomalies, the unfairnesses, that might arise once it became law were pointed out. We felt then, as we feel now—and as most people felt—that it was quite wrong that one replaced the automatic right of a child born in this country to be a British citizen by a system whereby the requirement was that the child should have one, or both, British parents.
In the Bill now before us the noble Baroness is seeking to put right a wrong affecting at this stage only about one fifth of the people of the Falkland Islands. I say "at this stage" because the remaining perhaps 1,400 are British and it is true, as the Minister has said, that they all become citizens of a British dependency, but they wish to become full British citizens. Therefore, it is accurate to say that at the moment it is only affecting about 350. But what about the remaining 1,400 as the generations move on? They will become citizens of a British dependency but will lose their full British citizenship unless, of course, now and again, members of the family come here and are able, in one way or another, through intermarrying to restore British citizenship. That is hardly likely to happen.
I should like to quote one case to your Lordships—and I am certainly not going to mention 1087 the name—of a gallant gentleman, a third generation Falklander, who assisted the British Task Force and was awarded the MBE quite recently. He is British because his grandparents were British. What of his children and their children? They will lose their British citizenship and become again citizens of a British dependency. But it is not enough, and we do not regard it as enough. They feel that they are British, and as British as the people of the Isle of Wight. They feel that they are as entitled to British citizenship as the people of the Isle of Wight. It is true that the Falklands are 8,000 miles away, but they have always shown an unquestioning loyalty to this country. They have never had any need to prove it, but, if proof were needed, we saw it during the Argentinian invasion.
During the passage of the British Nationality Bill last year the citizens of Gibraltar were given British citizenship. There are many others who ought perhaps to have it. I hope that the Government, in looking at this Bill, will widen the whole question, because there is a problem affecting the smaller British dependencies, none of which is really big enough to become an independent country. I have in mind Tristan da Cunha, the Caymans, and the Ascension Islands, with probably not 15 people living there normally. Therefore, if the Government accept this Bill, I hope they will look carefully at all these aspects also, and take an opportunity to put the thing right, because none of the British dependencies feels that citizenship of a British dependency is in any way equal to full British citizenship.
I recall that last year when we were discussing the Falklands amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, those of us who supported her—and there were many—were accused of being over-emotional. I hope that after the happenings on those islands a few months ago now no one will ever again be accused of being over-emotional about the Falkland Islands. In fully supporting this Bill we hope that the Government will accept it. We are heartened by what the Minister has said. We hope that if it passes through this House—and he said that he will help whenever redrafting is necessary—the Government will not only assist in redrafting the Bill and give us the opportunity of passing it through this House, but will give an assurance also that they will find time for it in another place as a Government Bill or permit someone, maybe on their own side of the House, to sponsor it and see it safely through that House too.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lady Vickers for her persistence in bringing back this Bill. It may be more helpful, as the merits of the Bill have been spoken about by many of your Lordships, if I refer to some of the wider issues which strike me because of my tolerable familiarity with that part of the world. The importance of the Government's response is no longer, in my view, related only to the merits of the Bill, because what has become the paramount issue is what we might call the Argentine interpretation factor, and also the Latin American and United Nations interpretation factor. We are being watched in South America and in the United Nations to see whether Britain means what it said and did. We are being 1088 watched to see whether the task force was just a flash in the pan, and whether in the future officialdom will one day revert to appeasement of a corrupt régime which is now distrusted within its own borders. All will be watching to see whether one day sovereignty may yet again be up for negotiation.
I must promise you, my Lords, that I am not straying from the issues of the Bill. Everything I have to say relates directly to the Government's decision today. It came as a shock to me when the question of sovereignty and the possible negotiation of it seemed to be clearly implied, after all that has occurred, in a letter from our United Nations representative to the Security Council last August. But I have the impression that the Foreign Secretary has since restored the situation.
Last month I took the opportunity to be in New York during the United Nations' debate and took soundings of both American and Latin American opinion on this. My own impressions were different from most, and personally I welcomed the debate because it was so absurdly premature that nobody would take it really seriously. 1 also welcomed the somewhat irresponsible vote against us because it got certain parties at a very early stage off the hook, especially those countries which have been embarrassed by the Falklands war. On the whole most countries, apart from Argentina and Soviet subordinates and so on, are fairly bored with the Malvinas cause. But obviously the Organisation of American States countries had to adopt a public posture in support of Argentina. Having done so, and having won the United Nations vote, honour may well have been served for those who matter. It will not be served, and they will not be off the hook, if we continue to give any signals at all that sovereignty could ever be negotiated with Argentina.
Regarding the United States, it is ironic and unfair that it was not Britain that was unpopular in South America after the Falklands war but the United States. Britain has restored her credit and prestige and is now widely respected for doing so. But, sadly for America, she is unpopular for not standing shoulder to shoulder with OAS in a typically unprincipled ganging-up during the hostilities. Therefore it should surprise nobody that America seized the first opportunity at the United Nations of winning back a few bonus points.
Most Americans I spoke to after the United Nations debate were at pains to point out that they had given Britain solid support when it mattered, and they had merely voted with the opposition in the United Nations when it did not matter. Nobody from any country seems to expect us to take much notice of that preposterous United Nations debate—premature and unprincipled—and we shall simply lose international respect if we do. The United Nations has, in my view, a lot of reputation and image to recover after such a shameful performance.
The Government's response to this Bill, therefore, will be the second significant milestone in recent times since the Falklands operations. The first was the decision not to axe "Endurance", and this is the second, the sort of signal that can be recognised on the other side of the Atlantic and the other side of the Equator.
1089 Against that, we must recognise that voices are already being raised at home which are at odds with the nation as a whole, with the Government and, I suspect, with the majority in this House. Nevertheless, they are voices which are making themselves heard more and more—in the media; many writers and members of the establishment, whatever that may be—and there are many stimulating the line that we should not have done it, we could not afford it and who wants the Falklands, anyway? Nor on the official front has one perceived much sign of repentance, and the grapevine seems to indicate a certain smugness; "I told you so. Look at the costs", and so on. I believe that Ministers are being deliberately scared with grossly inflated estimates of future costs, including an unnecessary level of defence. All this will be noted in South America. They are signals which they take in and memorise.
There is also more hopeful talk in party circles of the "Falklands factor" wearing off. Happily, the heroic Falklands operation had a beginning, a middle and an end. The Falklands factor is not something that wears; it is a fact and it will not dim in the minds of the British public, ever. It is encapsulated, so to speak, with all its heroism and drama in the nation's mind and in our history. Those who hope to watch it wearing off remind me of agitators seeking to damage a brilliantly produced film by letting off stink bombs in the auditorium.
The Falklands were always an asset to this country, as Lord Shackleton's first report proved. It was deception when the opposite view was promoted. The Falklands can once again be turned into a thriving asset, but primarily our descendants will not thank us if we weaken our ability (which favours the free world and Latin America) to protect the sea lanes and the gateway to the Antarctic. The Argentine Government are not yet sufficiently stable for the free world to put at risk the sea routes round the Horn. As my noble friend Lady Vickers said, if the Soviets ever had a base in Tierra del Fuego opposite their big Antarctic base, which I have seen, off the Antarctic peninsula, and if the Panama Canal was also closed, that would be game, set and match as regards maritime communications in that part of the globe.
On the question of defence, I am convinced, like most people in Argentina and everyone else in South America, that the Junta would never have invaded British territory if they had thought we would retaliate. There has been much talk about deterrence, "Endurance" and so on. What we have learned in the Falklands is that deterrence is indeed a critical factor but that a deterrent can become a dubious factor unless it implies clearly that one will act decisively when challenged. A deterrent is merely window-dressing if the notion is around that one will not actually use it.
Therefore, this Bill is a signal. Provided Argentina, the rest of Latin America and the United Nations know that we will always protect British territory and British citizens—which, as I understand it, is the disposition of the Government and certainly of the electorate—there will never be another Argentine invasion of the Falklands. Provided that is the case—and that is why this amendment is a vital signal—all that are necessary, in my view (and I have been there many times) for effective deterrence backed by a clear, 1090 positive Falklands policy, are sophisticated early-warning devices, the smallest trip-wire presence in terms of troops, and immediate airborne access, which was never available before. That will be enough—not only in my view but in that of many others to whom I have spoken—permanently to discourage invasion.
Scaremongering is now being indulged in in reference to Exocet missiles and the danger of sudden air attack. We should tell Argentina now, plainly and fearlessly, that if one single attack is made on a British vessel in the South Atlantic, by Exocet or anything else, we will immediately sink an Argentine ship whether at sea or inside an Argentine harbour. I am not in the least belligerent, but that, in my view, would be a fair, rational and statesmanlike disposition, one which should help the Argentine people themselves and avert further catastrophic follies by their inept oppressors.
I should not like to close by leaving the impression that I am hostile to the Argentine people; what I say here may be repeated. I felt very deeply for Argentine friends in their humiliation, and they included diplomats, people in office and others in all walks of life. They suffered indeed through the stupidity of their pompous régime and through our own misleading and misguided policies over 18 years, which compounded the situation. I have already been in touch with some in Argentina and one prominent citizen who held high office replied within a fortnight:I agree with you and I think that independent citizens of both countries should get together and do something for the cause of peace".Britain has always been, and still is, popular in most of South America. Most countries always believed in our resoluteness and resolution. However, these relations will not rebuild so long as there is any doubt about our intentions and so long as we have the sovereignty issue open at the United Nations. Only when the door has been finally and resolutely closed can everyone relax and move forward again. The Bill, if accepted by the Government, will assist that finality.
It is not properly appreciated after the horrors and hostilities of the war that the inhabitants of Argentina are delightful people, over 40 per cent. Italian, with a large Spanish component and a mixture of Germans, English, Welsh and so on. They are not a race in the accepted sense. Sadly, they have always had an unfortunate faculty of saddling themselves with the most frightful régimes. In the last century, the leaders proved themselves the worst colonialists almost in all history, resorting to genocide of the indigenous population on a huge scale. Today they have a junta who are fearful of handing over power to civilians because they shrink from disclosing what happened to 15,000 Argentine citizens.
I must say in passing how contemptible it is to think that anyone in this country could ever have contemplated even for a moment putting free British citizens under such a repellent rule, and it makes no difference whether their numbers be 18, 1,800 or 18,000. That rule is now distrusted and in many quarters despised by the majority of Argentina's own inhabitants. How incredible also now to think that some people in this country could publicly proclaim likewise. I wonder whether they are seriously prepared to stand up and solemnly declare that not only would they prefer to see those 1,800 British citizens subjugated under junta 1091 rule, but apparently would also prefer that today the British nation itself should be disconsolate, morose and humiliated, while an endless, ineffectual shouting-match ground on at the United Nations. That is what would certainly have happened, without question, without the task force and its spectacular and historic triumph.
It has always been my aim that understanding and agreement should be reached with Argentina over a broad spectrum of activity—including industry, trade, fishing, defence, conservation, the Antarctic and so on—but not on sovereignty. We are not helping the Argentine people if we encourage their military overlords to think that negotiating sovereignty is ever an option. Everything that we can do to discourage that impression is vital. Therefore the Bill that my noble friend has introduced, and the Government's response to it, are essential as a signal in relation to this particular aspect.
Certainly all Argentinians have been taught about in school, and feel fervour about, the Malvinas fables. Incidentally, it is not widely understood that the very last Buenos Aires settlement in the Falklands, in about 1830, was dispersed by the Americans, not by the British. But the fables, part of an aggressor rule's dream of being the dominant power in the South Atlantic and the Antarctic, are not our fault—we cannot help the fact that they have the fables, teach them in schools, and print them in books—and they cannot therefore be permitted to distort the international jigsaw that has been stable down there for 150 years. After all, it was in far more recent times that the Buenos Aires Government colonised Patagonia and exterminated the Indians.
Finally, I should like to say that the time for talks with Argentina is after military dictatorship has ended—and not before. To refer to the possibility now is a cynical disservice to all parties, including the majority of the Argentine people. To do so is to encourage the junta to hang on. To promise talks on everything except sovereignty, when, and only when, civilian government is restored, is the proper and honourable course. On sovereignty, there could be other options in the long term, in the context of the Antarctic Treaty in 1991, and other possibilities. That is why, in fairness to the Argentine, Latin American countries, the Falkland islanders, and the people of this country, we must be consistent. Therefore we have to support this amendment; the Government have to accept the amendment, and I am delighted to hear that that may be the prospect. To do otherwise would simply confuse the world.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
My Lords, when we first knew the text of the British Nationality Bill I think that there were a great many of us, both in this House and elsewhere, who felt that it was a profoundly unsatisfactory Bill, and that that concept of British dependent territory citizenship was not a satisfactory one. What has now happened is, that for a concatenation of reasons, this particular example of its madness has appeared, and the factors in this case that make us aware of the defects of the Nationality Act are as follows. First, there is the natural feeling that 1092 everyone by now has about the special rights and claims of the Falkland islanders. The noble Lord argued that there are occasions when logic must be overridden. Well, he need not apologise for that; it is perfectly clear in this case. One could argue until one was black in the face that there are certain legal and practical difficulties about treating the Falklanders as having exactly the same citizenship as we have. One might make that case most eloquently, carefully and logically, and nobody will believe it, either now or later, because in fact it does not make sense. I am glad—very glad indeed—that the Government have realised that, and we must all congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, on having been the person in particular who got them into that position.
Another reason why we regard the situation as something that brings out in particular the weaknesses of the Nationality Act concerns the numbers involved. We know what would be the feeling of the Falklanders if the Bill now before us were turned down. As the noble Lord who has just spoken has pointed out, we know also what Argentine Governments, and South Americans generally, might think if the Bill were turned down. Could we possibly do that because of a few hundred people? It would be absurd to run all the risks that are involved in defeating the Bill merely because we feel that these few hundred people ought not to have this advantage. I stress this point the more since it would divide the Falkland islanders themselves between those who would be British citizens and those who would be citizens of a British dependent territory. Again, argue the logic of it, or the historical reasons for it, as much as you like, and at the end of it nobody will believe in the validity of what you are saying.
To that we must add—and here again I would refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa—what he called. I think very rightly, the interpretation factor. Quite clearly, we must consider what will the world at large think about the way we handle this issue? If the Bill were rejected, the general conclusion would be that the British Parliament, having had a second opportunity to show its confidence in, and its fellow feeling for, the Falklanders, had for a second time turned down the opportunity of doing so; and I believe that the international effects of that could not but be disastrous.
I know—and here I see that there is a point of substance—that there is a possibility of its being argued that on the basis of treating the Falklanders in this way, the same must happen to every dependent territory. I think that argument was quite decisively dealt with by the wise and generous speech by my noble friend Lord Maclehose of Beoch. He, more than any others, is in the position to speak of what the people of Hong Kong might feel about the matter. He explained to us that the people of Hong Kong are by no means at all happy about the Bill, but that certainly they would not wish us to deny to the Falklanders the advantages that the Bill gives them.
There is only one further point that I want to make, and it is about the future of the Bill. The Government have indicated that they will positively help the Bill in its passage through this House; that they will help the noble Baroness in any amendment that may need framing. They were not quite so explicit about what might happen elsewhere. Here again one can argue 1093 elegantly and say that a Government spokesman in this House cannot give definite pledges as to what will happen in another place. But I say to the Government that everyone knows that if they really want the Bill to go through another place, it will go through. If it does not, the conclusion will be that the Government have prevented it from doing so; and for that there would be no conceivable excuse whatever.
Just as the Government have been led—I will not say "pushed"—to accept the validity of the argument that the Falklanders ought to have British citizenship, so they must accept the compelling nature of the argument that by doing that they are taking on themselves, whether or not they like it, and whether or not they now admit it, a responsibility for seeing that the Bill becomes law. If in a few months' time we were faced with a situation in which it had not become law, the Government would have very few friends on any side in this House. I hope that they will remember that.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, unless the noble Lord was going to ask a question of the noble Lord who has just sat down, I think that he is out of order.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has been kind enough to give way and, if I may intervene, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, that his name appears a further four places down the list—
§ Lord Elton
I am sorry, my Lords; I meant the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, whose name is not yet on the list of speakers, and I would suggest that he might care to speak when we reach what is commonly called the "gap".
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, perhaps I may address your Lordships very briefly. My particular reason for doing so is because I misjudged the business of the House in October of last year and so missed being here for the essential vote on my noble friend's amendment, which was lost for the lack of one vote; and I should like to congratulate her very much on returning to the charge. I should also like to make the point, which many other noble Lords have already made but which I am afraid I must make again, that at the time I wished to cast that vote in the direction which would have put this provision into the Bill it was because I was so appalled, as I had tried to say to the Government for six months, that they had made public that they were going to do away with "Endurance", because it seemed to me, exactly as my noble friend Lord Buxton has just said, that the messages going across the Atlantic would give the Argentines the wrong impression. But I must confess that I never thought that they would be stupid enough to act when they did. I did not think it would happen 1094 quite so soon; I suspected it would more likely come about this winter.
However, this is old history. But the fact of the matter is that signals they were, and signals are terribly important—and not only across the Atlantic to South America. Signals are made which can be misinterpreted in all parts of the world; and I would hope that the Government take good care to ensure that their actions are understood in the light of how other people may interpret them. I rather feel that in the demonstration of our activities overseas we sometimes forget that aspect.
Not to waste your Lordships' time, I am simply delighted that the Government have had the wisdom to override their logic, and I would ask them only one thing. That is whether, having taken that step and having said that they will give support to my noble friend in making her Bill more acceptable in law, they will then accelerate the progress of this Bill through both Houses and ensure that it is as fast as possible, in order that the message and the signal may be clearly understood in Argentina and in the world at large.
§ 5.2 p.m.
The Earl of Dudley
My Lords, I, too, should like to add my congratulations to the noble Baroness on the success of her enterprise and on the introduction of this Bill; and I should also like to congratulate the Government and the Minister on their response to it. I think it is fair comment that in respect of the Falkland Islands the characteristic of the Government's policy has been to respond to events rather than to initiate them. Last summer they responded vigorously and successfully. They have responded sensibly to the noble Baroness; and in respect of the vote in the General Assembly they have responded wisely in having taken the decision not to respond at all.
I think that perhaps the most encouraging feature that emerges from the Government's decision is that their response shows that they propose to stand by the Falkland Islands in the future. I think we can draw that conclusion; and I should like to add this to the point made by my noble friend Lord Buxton and the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, who said that, of course, the eyes of Latin America, the eyes of Argentina, have been on this Bill and on the decision taken by the Government and by this House. I should like to add that had the Argentines been in a position to make any such offer, I am sure they would have been gratified to give the islanders both full Argentine citizenship and the right of abode in the Argentine.
My Lords, one thing is certain. If the future of the islands is to be assured, if the updated report of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is to be implemented, people are going to be needed in those islands. It seems to me very much better that the islanders and those who are likely to join them should receive at least as favourable treatment, if not better treatment, from our own democracy than they would have received from an Argentine dictatorship.
I have never been to the Falkland Islands. I have been to Argentina, and, as I have explained before in this House, I have three children by an Argentine marriage. I have no hostility, either, towards Argentina, although I believe that while they are, as my noble friend Lord Buxton said, a charming and 1095 delightful people, and a mixture of many races, they have unfortunately proved themselves largely irresponsible in the field of government and in the field of their social relationships. From this point of view I, too, agree that sovereignty should not be negotiable for the foreseeable future.
I should also like to add to the very interesting remarks that my noble friend Lord Buxton made. I must apologise if my remarks are rather wider ranging than perhaps the context of tonight's debate permits, but I think this precedent has already been set and allowed by your Lordships in earlier speeches. I should like to add to Lord Buxton's remarks and also refer your Lordships back to a speech which my noble friend made 18 months ago during the debate on an Unstarred Question in this House, when he said words to the effect that the importance of the strategic position of the Falkland Islands and their dependencies at this point of history should not be in any way underestimated.
I should like to add my personal evidence following a recent visit to the United States, where I met a leading American banker with established South American connections. He told me of the flood, the cataract, of funds flowing from Latin America into the United States, converted at penal rates of exchange and impelled by the fear of Soviet communism and its spread throughout the Latin American continent. I think that a reasonable view of the needs of the West and of our needs as regards our future security should take account of the possibility that in the course of time the Latin American continent, or large parts of it, at least, may fall to Soviet communism. I can visualise circumstances in which the Falkland Islands would represent Europe's only safeguard of free passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, at least in those remote areas away from Soviet naval, air and missile-strike capability.
So I would say that I believe that the United States' dilemma, while it is a very real dilemma (whether it is their dilemma or the influence of the attitude of the Latin American section of their State Department, whose head I met in Washington on the occasion of my recent visit to the United States) should not lead them into what I think is a misunderstanding of their true interests, which are the retention of the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands by this country and their incorporation at some later stage into a wider strategic arrangement for the security both of the islands and of the Western free world.
I put forward this view because I believe very strongly that the pressure on the Government from various quarters—from the United Nations, from the liberal world, from those, perhaps, who take the view that we should be more understanding in our attitude towards Latin America—might lead the Government at some point to weaken in their stand, and could lead them into actions which would be prejudicial both to our interests and to those of the United States. I think I have taken up enough of your Lordships' time. Finally, I should like to say how pleased I am that the words of the Prime Minister, repeated so often during the summer and repeated again in this House tonight, that these people are British, will now remain enshrined in the laws of this country.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Vickers has yet again done this House, this country, and the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands a great service by bringing forward this Bill. As my noble friend has observed, it is remarkably similar to her Amendment No. 65 to the then British Nationality Bill. I am sure that all in your Lordships' House most sincerely hope that a similar fate does not befall this Bill to that which befell that amendment. I most warmly support this Bill not only because of recent events in the South Atlantic, to which other noble Lords have referred much more eloquently than I ever can, but also for the reason that I and many other noble Lords expessed in October of last year: that once the Gibraltar amendment had been approved there was little or no logic in withholding British nationality from the other British dependent citizens, of whom the principal were those of the Falklands and Hong Kong.
I am sorry not to see my noble friend Lord Trefgarne in his place this evening, as I am sure he would have expected me to speak also on Hong Kong. I shall not disappoint him nor, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. As the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, has said, I am sure that we listened to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Maclehose of Beoch, with particular interest. He is a very real authority on Hong Kong. I was personally sorry that he was not a Member of your Lordships' House at this time last year. Throughout the, at times, tortuous passage of the British Nationality Bill last year, many of your Lordships, including myself, stressed the vital importance to Hong Kong of the nationality—not the citizenship, but the nationality—of its citizens.
It was with considerable pleasure that I received advice last Thursday that, on the previous day, 24th November, the Chief Secretary of Hong Kong had announced to the Hong Kong Legislative Council:Her Majesty's Government have agreed that opposite the word 'nationality' on the first page of all British Dependent Terrorities' passports will appear the word 'British'. Immediately under this description of nationality, there will be a description of the passport holder's citizenship. In the case of Hong Kong, after the British Nationality Act comes into force on 1st January 1983, this description will be, 'British Dependent Territories Citizen, Hong Kong'. These descriptions do not, of course, alter or affect existing law so far as rights of entry to, or abode in, the United Kingdom or elsewhere are concerned, to which reference is made elsewhere in the passport. But the nationality and citizenship will be accurately described in passports, to the great satisfaction, I am sure, of members of this Council and of the Hong Kong community at large".I think, my Lords, that we should all be most grateful to my noble friend the Minister if, in his summing up, he would confirm that that statement is correct.
After the narrow defeat of Amendment 117 A to the Nationality Bill on 13th October 1981, it is good news, indeed, to hear that perseverance has apparently prevailed, due, so one understands, to a significant extent to the persuasion of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. Would that her practical touch had had the same effect 13 months ago and that Hong Kong had been spared that period of indecision and—I must say it, my Lords—of bitterness! At the same time let us be quite clear that, even with that concession, Hong Kong will not be on a par with Gibraltar or, if, hopefully, this Bill is carried through, the Falklands. So be it, at least pro tem. Here, we hope, is some good news for Hong Kong which, although I cannot and do 1097 not speak for that admirable and industrious territory, will surely give pleasure and bring some relief.
In this Bill there is positively good news for the Falkland Islands. How good it has been to hear my noble friend on the Front Bench giving it a fair wind today!—and I do congratulate him upon it. Let us hope that his and my honourable friends in another place continue so to do when it leaves your Lordships' House. How sad, however, that that was not done over a year ago. Who knows—as other noble Lords have said this evening—whether it might not have influenced Argentinian thoughts in April 1982?
§ 5.18 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, spoke in support of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness to the Nationality Bill on 17th October last year. I am delighted to have this opportunity to support her in the Bill that she has put before your Lordships today. The point has been made that the House on that occasion—and it was a very numerous House, of 180 Members—divided equally. I regard that as a total vindication of the noble Baroness's amendment on its intrinsic merits, because it must be assumed that some of the votes cast against it on that occasion were cast, very properly, in loyalty by a number of Government supporters. I was glad, as was everyone else who heard the Minister earlier this afternoon, to hear that the Government are now prepared to give favourable consideration to this Bill provided that the case is made out adequately in your Lordships' House. It seems to me that we have been making out the case adequately ever since he said it, but I am encouraged by his words to make a small contribution towards that case.
With other noble Lords, I take the line that the Falklands war has served to illustrate that the Act should have been amended so as to bring in the noble Baroness's amendment before the war occurred, and that, far from removing or even diminishing the need for her amendment, and, hence, for this Bill, the war has actually added force to it. I propose to follow the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, but I shall be making a very different argument from his. It will be an unpopular argument—from all that I have heard in your Lordships' House—and, therefore, a difficult line of argument to maintain. I am taking the line from the point where the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, spoke in the context of what he called the foreseeable future. I invite your Lordships to look further ahead into what in a very uncertain world is an unforeseeable future.
Totally wrong though the Argentinian invasion undoubtedly was, it revealed at the time—and it has continued to reveal ever since—the intensity of feeling among the whole Argentinian population and in South America generally—and in some other countries in the world—in regard to the opposing play; and that feeling, I predict, is not going to go away. I fully supported our action to repossess those islands. Indeed, who in your Lordships' House did not? We all did. As an old soldier, I am second to none in my appreciation of and admiration for a remarkable feat of arms.
At the same time, I do not believe—I choose not to believe—that that necessary act of force established for this country a stronger claim than we had before the 1098 invasion. It may well be that our claim is a very strong one. I do not dissent from that at all. However, to state, as some Government spokesmen—including the Prime Minister—have stated, that the interests of the islanders must be paramount does not establish the incontestable right to the territory. Sovereignty remains to be proved. I stress these words: at some time in the future there may have to be fresh negotiations with a future and different kind of Argentinian Government. As a consequence of those negotiations, a future British Government may renew our earlier offer—and let us not forget that we made that earlier offer—to have our claim to title tested before the International Court of Justice. This means that the future of subsequent generations of islanders beyond the foreseeable future is not secured in the islands for all time. They are, or will be, vulnerable.
If the Government really mean as they have so often said—and I believe them totally—what they said about safeguarding the interests of all the Falklanders—not only the present generation but the future generations—then they should give practical form and shape to that intention by granting full rights of citizenship to that considerable minority, that one quarter or one fifth, whatever it is, of the population, who under the present provisions of the Act are denied it. Sympathetic consideration of applications for British citizenship—the words of Mr. Timothy Raison in another place during the passage of the Bill—by potential applicants from that minority really is not good enough. Nor do I believe that the right of admission which the Home Secretary has assured will be given in certain circumstances to the Falkland Islanders—the undertaking that he made in April of this year—in those words does not amount to permanent residence.
In the years ahead, should any members of that minority—and do not let us forget that that minority is going to increase as the years go by—decide to leave the islands, whether out of personal choice, a change in their personal circumstances, or conceivably because of a future change in status of the islands themselves, then they should have the full right of entry to and residence in this country, if they so desire, and not have to come as suppliants to any future British Government.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Lord Gridley
My Lords, it is with the greatest pleasure that I rise this evening to support my noble friend Lady Vickers with her Bill, which, when and if it is suitably amended, one hopes will pass through the other House and get support there so that full British citizenship will be granted to all the 1,800 British subjects in the Falkland Islands.
Before I continue with my main theme, may I refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt? I am afraid that I cannot agree with his arguments about sovereignty. I think that these people in the Falklands have been subjected to a form of aggression and they have stood up steadfastly for the principles in which we all believe and which were the principles on which we went to attack those islands, to defend the charter of the United Nations. That is something which we owe to them in perpetuity. This is something that we should not forget. I have been more impressed, if I may say so, by the speeches of my noble friend Lord 1099 Buxton and also my noble friend Lord Dudley, who obviously speak from great experience and knowledge of the actual situation as they have found it on the spot.
Tonight a certain amount has been said about the Falkland islanders and their links with Britain. So far as I am concerned, they have greater links with Britain than any other colony or former colony which we once possessed and which has now become an independent nation. I therefore feel that what we desire and what it is desired to achieve in this Bill is more than justified. I am also justified in what I have just said by the loyalty that these people of the Falkland Islands showed to Britain, its institutions and its principles, and, moreover, by the fact they stood steadfast when, in defence of the United Nations charter, we mounted the attack to which I have referred.
I suppose that there are going to be certain criticisms of the position which we are about to adopt and which may be voiced when this Bill, suitably amended, becomes law. I suppose that there are many who may well see in what this Bill tries to achieve that it is we British who are endeavouring to perpetuate a form of colonialism. That view may well predominate in the United Nations and from some of its members with their double standards. It may also be a view expressed by some politicians, by some academics and by those who in the post-war years saw no good in anything that we as a nation were endeavouring to achieve with our Empire and the bestowing of independence upon our former territories.
All this, I feel, must be refuted. Have we forgotten that the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth made an official release that every nation in the Commonwealth supported us when we set out to liberate the Falkland Islands? It is rather extraordinary—is it not?—that if there had been anything in the oppression that has been alleged against us in former years, the whole of the Commonwealth should have stood beside us when we went to liberate these people who had been the subject of aggression.
I hope that the Government will take note of what has been said this evening in what has been a most useful debate. I would make one final point about the reaction of people for whom we are responsible and who were deprived of their liberty by the aggression of others. If anything we have ever done in our association with people overseas was objectionable or oppressive to them, why is it that when they lose their freedom—that freedom that they enjoyed in our association with them—they do not lose their affection for this country, Britain, or its institutions and the principles which we represent?
Let me give an example which is my personal evidence. I spent four years of the last war as a guest of the Japanese. I spent that four years in Changi gaol. Malaysia was invaded. I was an overseas colonial officer. If there was a modicum of truth in that despised word "colonialism", how is it that I, a former colonial officer, am here this evening? I cannot give the whole story; it is too long. But I and others owe our lives to the efforts of those we served, those who under colonialism kept us alive in the situation in which we found ourselves. The pundits would have you believe 1100 that it is a period in our history that we had better forget for ever, but we have nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, the evidence is that we were welcome and achieved much.
That is all I have to say this evening. I feel that the situation I have depicted is not dissimilar to that which we now face with this Bill in our future attitude to the Falkland Islands. I wish this Bill well, and thank my noble friend for her industry and for her achievement in introducing it. I hope it is successful.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I have the privilege tonight to wind up this debate on a Bill moved, with her usual grace and ability, by the noble Baroness. Lady Vickers. I had a similar privilege of winding up the debate on the Second Reading of the British Nationality Bill and I remember that debate so well. I can remember those who, from various sides of this House, pointed out that the Bill which was then before us was ill-considered and that there had been no proper consultations with the dependent territories, of which the Falkland Islands was one. It was said that there was much misunderstanding as a result of a lack of public relations work even if the provisions of the Bill were right. I can remember the speeches made by the most reverend Primate and by some of the right reverend Prelates on that occasion.
I gladly join with all those who have spoken in the debate tonight in supporting this Bill. I am obviously glad to know that from the Government Front Bench the noble Lord, Lord Elton, a distinguished and much respected Minister in this House, has said that the Government will aid the Bill in this House and also, one assumes, in another place. But I would be less than honest if I did not say at this moment how clumsy we have been in what we have done in regard to the British Nationality Bill. In that Second Reading debate I can remember the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—and I am so sorry he is not in his place: I pay him a tribute and therefore am not in any way "stabbing him the back" in his absence—talking of Gibraltar being slapped in the face by the Government's presentation at that stage of the British Nationality Bill. He was answered, as were others who spoke of Gibraltar, by the clear statement that Gibraltar could not be made an exception. There was much hard feeling in Gibraltar—loyal, good old British Gibraltar.
Then there was a vote and your Lordships spoke with that fortitude which is very much a part of the tradition of this House; and the vote was against the Government. There was no immediate proclamation on behalf of the Government after that vote and that debate so that Gibraltar could be reassured and the feelings of discontent could be dispelled; it was not said that the Government were behind Gibraltar and, in view of the debate, would immediately confer full British nationality on the people of Gibraltar. It was not done. It took some little time and a great deal of consideration before the statement was made in another place: "Yes, those in Gibraltar, as a result of all parts of the House of Lords joining in, and not because of the benevolence or wisdom of Her Majesty's Government, will receive British citizenship".
1101 We argue the case of the Falkland Islands, and when we talk of these places 1 hope that your Lordships will not think that I forget the general argument which was so eloquently advanced by my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones, apart from others of my colleagues. We felt there was very much a case against this business of selection. We felt there ought to be one treatment for the dependent territories. We thought we could get over the problems of Hong Kong—and when I select just the two cases of the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar it is only because we are considering such cases today and not because I am forgetting the others who have been forgotten by her Majesty's Government.
In regard to the Falkland Islands we pleaded the case—and I am not talking politically—from all parts of the House. "No", said the Government, "Quite impossible; it is not logical, not constitutional; there would be great difficulties; no citizenship for the Falkland Islands". The effect, from a public relations point of view, upon those islanders can well be imagined. But the fight did not end there. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, unfortunately had not voted in regard to the Falkland Islands amendment but had he voted then, quite apart from the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who regretted his absence on that occasion, the amendment would have been carried. But the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, voted the other way for, I have no doubt, very good reasons. I would say in his absence that I am sure he had very good reasons for voting in the way he did. But there was an equally good reason for the Question he posed in your Lordships' House on 29th July last. I am reading from col. 353 of the Official Report for that day. He asked this Question: whether Her Majesty's Government,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 noble Lord, Lord Elton, with his usual ability, answered the Question and, if I may paraphrase him—I hope perfectly fairly—pointed out that they had been promised sympathetic consideration in regard to their entry into the United Kingdom. I say in parenthesis that the Falkland Islanders are deserving of more than our sympathy in consideration; they are entitled to full legal rights which, happily, they will have if this Bill goes through.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, then pointed out something which has been forgotten in your Lordships' debate. Some of your Lordships have been dealing with the question of sovereignty and the whole argument in relation to the Argentine. I do not intend to depart from what I think ought to be the proper tenor of this debate. I do not think this is the occasion for us to argue that matter, although I was personally very interested in the very good speeches made on that theme. There is no doubt that the Argentinian debate will continue in the United Nations, and, it may be, by direct negotiation after a certain passage of time, with a different régime. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, asked the following question of the Minister on 29th July: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 1102 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?The noble Lord, Lord Elton, replied as follows: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.The Official Report thereupon continued:Several noble Lords: Oh!" [Col. 354.]I am one individual noble Lord who tonight wishes to say "Oh" to that concept as well.
With all that information, with all that background—if the Home Office were not mixed up with the Foreign Office—and with all this propaganda being put out as to what the British Nationality Act had done to the Falkland Islanders and as to how we were interested in defending them as a matter of territory, but not in defending them as a matter of individuals, someone in the Government could surely have had the intelligence to say, "Look, we faltered the first time. Let us, now this has been pointed out to us, come forward quickly with our own Bill and announce to the Falkland Islanders This is the Government's wish. This is a Government Bill. All right, we made a mistake. We have considered it. We are conferring nationality upon you—the 400 as well as the 1,400'." No, my Lords, it had to wait for my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington to put down a Bill, for Mr. Kilroy-Silk in another place to put down a Bill and then, with her usual courage, for the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, to put down a Bill, the Second Reading of which we are considering tonight.
So I think we come to the conclusion that the Government have seen the light, but in seeing the light they have not walked along the road to Damascus. They have stumbled on the road to Damascus. That is the sense of sorrow that one has, because—if I may finish upon this note—how odd we are as a nation if we are prepared to sacrifice national blood and treasure for the Falkland Islanders but have not been prepared before now to spend 40 lines of legislative ink on conferring upon them the nationality which we, and others, have said in the past they so richly deserve.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I begin, as I began before, by congratulating my noble friend upon the persistence of her pursuit of the cause of the Falkland Islanders. I do so now, strengthened in the knowledge of the eloquent sympathy of so many Members of your Lordships' House. By your Lordships' leave, I shall try to reply very briefly to points which were raised after I spoke, the first of which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, who is as keen as any of us on getting this Bill adopted. But he received the news that the Government would not obstruct it with no more enthusiasm than did the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. Its arrival on your Lordships' Table was greeted by him not with applause or gratitude, or even with any very lengthy approval. He treated us instead to a fascinating exercise in exegesis, in which he sought to divine what, possibly, could have caused Her Majesty's Government to be less at variance with his own and his party's views than usual. He mined every possible seam in search of material, and the noble Lord, Lord 1103 Tordoff. joined him in some of the more distant galleries, in which I shall not join him, in the territory of the Franks Committee.
The noble Lord also sought to persuade me that what I said earlier in this debate was inconsistent with what my noble friend Lord Trefgarne said on an earlier occasion. I must tell him, with a suitable degree of regret, that he has not persuaded me. I do not think there is great substance in that allegation. Indeed, I think it is borne out by the noble Lord's remarks about my own speech, because I made it clear, for what I think he said was about two-thirds of it, that there is still force in the arguments which my noble friend advanced; and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, thought that I ought to have spent two-thirds of the speech in outlining the Government's position and one-third in explaining that it was not inconsistent with what my noble friend had said. Circumstances most obviously affect judgments, and the circumstances have changed dramatically since my noble friend made his Statement last year. But, as I said earlier, logic cannot be paramount in this consideration.
May I confirm to my noble friend Lord Geddes that Her Majesty's Government have recently agreed that dependent territories, including Hong Kong, may insert the word "British" opposite the printed words "national status" in all British dependent territory citizen passports? The noble Lord, Lord Maclehose, made a speech of great importance and interest, and I welcome, as will other noble Lords, the wise advice of the noble Lord, whose knowledge of Hong Kong and its people is so extensive, and whom I had the pleasure of meeting briefly out there some years ago.
Her Majesty's Government are fully aware of the strong feelings that the British Nationality Act aroused in Hong Kong. However, as I said earlier, the Act involves only a change of nomenclature. It does not take away from citizens of dependent territories any rights which they possessed previously as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Together with the noble Lord, I believe that the people of Hong Kong will realise that their situation is not similar to that of the Falkland Islanders, and will not wish to deny the latter the benefits proposed under this Bill. I welcome the noble Lord's view that the Bill should be considered on its merits, without regard to Hong Kong or the other dependent territories, since the situation of the Falkland Islands is, indeed, unique.
My noble friend Lord Buxton mentioned the question of negotiations and the recent vote at the United Nations General Assembly. The Government have made their view perfectly clear. We cannot be expected to negotiate with a country which will not renounce the unlawful use of force, which will not take account of the wishes of the islanders and which insists that negotiations shall lead only to the transfer of sovereignty. The General Assembly resolution is totally unacceptable to Her Majesty's Government. That is all the answer I can afford to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, glad though I am to acknowledge the support that we received from the Commonwealth, as my noble friend Lord Gridley underlined with all the depth of his personal experience and with great restraint.
1104 I was, indeed, glad to receive the commendation of the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, for the position we have taken up, though not as glad as I was to receive that of my noble friend Lord Dudley, because, unlike my noble friend, the noble Lord prefaced it with an attack on the position which Parliament took up on the passing of the British Nationality Act. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, raised the question of time to be given in the House of Commons to this Bill, and many other noble Lords did the same, particularly in the context of the Argentine dimension; that is to say, the signal that would be seen to be sent out by the proceedings of Parliament to places abroad, particularly in South America. That is true of my noble friend Lord Buxton, among others. The question has been raised as to whether Government time might be made available in the other place and, as the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, conceded, this is, in fact, a matter for my right honourable friend the Leader of the House in another place. But I acknowledge the importance of not giving the wrong signals to Argentina, and I shall draw to his attention the strong feelings which have been expressed by your Lordships on this matter.
In a very graceful speech, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, regretted that your Lordships' trenchant views expresed in the debate about Gibraltar had not resulted in my noble friend Lord Belstead rising from this Bench at the end of the debate, almost before the tellers had sat down, to announce his own conversion—and that of his department, the Secretary of State, the entire Cabinet and the Prime Minister—to a new point of view as a result of that Division. That may be a travesty of what he intended to say, but it is fair to say that changes of policy take time to deliberate. Therefore, I should have hoped that he might have been a little more generous in acknowledging that, in this debate, the change of heart came at the beginning, not at the end.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, also referred to an exchange between my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and myself on 29th July. He was a fraction less than his usual fair self. He referred to a reply. I shall always remember the reception which it received—the loud cries of "Oh!" which are recorded in Hansard, to which he has now added his own. As I made clear in the next column, I gave that reply under a misapprehension. It appeared to me from what the noble Lord to whom I was replying had said that it was suggested that we should pass a law in answer to an advertisement. That seemed to me to be an absurd proposition. In fact it was not the proposition which had been advanced. The noble Lord will find my correction at col. 355 of Hansard, and any noble Lords who doubt me will find it as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred also to the offer only of sympathy to the Falkland Islanders who might not be British citizens and who might wish to come to these shores. The noble Lord has not taken on board what it was that my right honourable friend said. He announced that they were able to come here if they wanted to, whether or not they had the right of abode, and to settle. And settlement eventually brings nationality.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I specially did not interrupt the noble Lord the Minister when he dealt with another of my points, to which I shall not refer. I do not believe that the House would like me to do so.However, regarding the point to which the noble Lord the Minister is now referring, may I remind him of the very clear statement which I made to which he has not referred?
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am not quite certain to which clear statement the noble Lord is referring. Whatever it is I did not refer to, I shall refer to it tomorrow; and if it is what I think it is, it will entirely bear out what I have just told your Lordships.
This has been a valuable debate. I have striven not to give a lengthy and therefore a weighty reply to it. I made our position clear at the beginning. I think it was broadly welcomed, although almost everybody treated it very much as a curate's egg. I am confident that the position which the Government now occupy is the right one. I am grateful to my noble friend for giving the opportunity to your Lordships and to the Government to make this clear. In the light of what has been said, it seems to me that your Lordships will very probably give a Second Reading to the Bill. Thereafter I shall abide by the undertaking I gave at the beginning of this debate. I think that that is as much as your Lordships would wish me to detain you with at this stage.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for a very interesting and informative debate. I am sure that we have all learned a great deal from it. I am delighted by the support which the Bill has received. I am grateful to the Government for the change of mind. My noble friend is expert at seeing both ways, which is very clever of him. It will stand him in great stead. He will be liked by everybody on all sides if he finds that he can give his consent to the various points which are made.
May I refer to two telegrams which I have received? In their telegram to me, the Falkland Islands Sheepowners' Association say that they support me in my efforts on behalf of the Falkland islanders, and the General Employees' Union say in their telegram that they support me. I thought that your Lordships might like to know about those two telegrams.
Let me first say that I shall be delighted to accept my noble friend's advice. I hope that it means that he will put me on the right, not the wrong track in the future. With regard to getting the Bill through the other place, may I point out that there will shortly be a ballot for Private Members' Bills? Perhaps we ought to find out whether a Member of the other place can take up this Bill.
I thank the noble lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, for his very powerful speech and, in view of the circumstances, for being very kind to me. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for his kind support from the Liberal Benches. I hope that my noble friend will consider the question of language broadcasts in the future.
It was splendid of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, to speak. He is one of our oldest and most revered Members. It took him some time to make up his mind. He really thought out whether or not he 1106 would support the Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Maclehose of Beoch, for coming specially all the way down from Scotland to put his very adequate point of view. He made an excellent maiden speech and now he is supporting very worthwhile causes. The noble Lord has also put us on the right track regarding the future. I hope that he will convey to the people of Hong Kong that we are still intensely interested in them.
I next thank the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, and the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, for being present at both debates, for putting their name to the amendment in our previous debate and for giving their usual helpful advice. To the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, and to the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, may I say that I am delighted whenever they speak. The noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, and the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, have real knowledge of the area. I did not agree with my noble friend's slightly unkind words. I do not know nearly as much as either of these noble Lords about the area, and their support has been very well worthwhile.
The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, was very doubtful at one time, but he has given a great deal of thought to the matter and now supports the Bill. I did not agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said. However, I did agree when he said that it was a remarkable feat of arms by the task force. I know what my noble friend Lord Gridley went through in Malaysia, and about the work which he did for the Colonial Service. He feels as strongly as I do about our great Commonwealth of Nations. To the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who always makes delightful speeches, may I say that his speech today was not out of the usual strain?
We ought all tonight to pay a special tribute to the task force and to the magnificent job which they did. This debate has been about the support of human rights. I hope that this country will always be ready to support human rights, in whichever continent help may be needed.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.