§ 7.16 p.m.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the White Paper before us sets out the Government's proposals for implementing the nationality provisions of the Hong Kong Act 1985. With the White Paper is a draft Order in Council to enact these provisions. The provisions arise out of the Sino-British joint declaration on Hong Kong and the associated exchange of memoranda. Your Lordships will recall that following the debates just over a year ago my right honourable friend the Prime Minister went to Peking to sign the agreement.
§ The schedule to the Hong Kong Act enabled provision to be made by Order in Council for a number of matters concerning nationality. It provided that British dependent territories citizens by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong will lose that citizenship on 1st July 1997, but will be entitled to acquire a new form of nationality, that of British National (Overseas). The schedule also enabled provision to be made, among other matters, for the avoidance of statelessness. The Sino-British agreement and the Hong Kong Act have therefore already established the framework within which the Order in Council must fit.
§ Today's debate fulfils the Government's commitment during the earlier debates to produce "an order with green edges". The White Paper was published in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong on 17th October, and the people of Hong Kong had a good opportunity to comment on it. As your Lordships will know, it was debated in the Hong Kong Legislative Council on 4th December 1985. Following that debate, the Council issued a letter on 3rd January asking the Government to make some amendments. They asked for BN(O) passports to be endorsed to the effect that the holder did not need entry clearance to come to the United Kingdom for a visit. And they supported the request by the non-ethnic Chinese minorities in Hong Kong—that is, those that are not ethnically Chinese—that they, as well as a small number of former servicemen in Hong Kong, should be granted British citizenship. The Legislative Council passed a formal motion on 8th January asking the Hong Kong Government to urge the British Government to implement these proposals. No doubt many of your Lordships will wish to reflect on the Legislative Council's views today. I shall listen carefully to what your Lordships have to say, and we shall consider whether we need to amend any of the provisions in the order as a result. We shall then formally lay a draft nationality order before Easter.
§ Turning to the order itself, it affects only those people who are British dependent territories citizens 72 by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong. But it is necessary for the order to define what is meant by "a connection with Hong Kong". Article 2 provides that definition. It sets out as simply and logically as possible the ways in which a person may have a connection with Hong Kong, and it includes all the Hong Kong British dependent territories citizens listed in Annex 2 to the White Paper. Annex 2 itself is simply intended to help people find our whether or not they come within the terms of Article 2.
§ Articles 2 and 3 should be read together. Article 2 defines connections with Hong Kong for the purposes of the order. Article 3 provides that anyone who is a British dependent territories citizen by virtue of such a connection shall cease to be such a citizen on 1st July 1997.
§ Article 4 is concerned with the entitlement to acquire the new status of British National (Overseas) and to hold a BN(O) passport. Under the terms of the agreement, BN(O) status can only be acquired by British dependent territories citizens before 30th June 1997, except for those born in the first six months of that year. Acquisition of BN(O) status will be by registration. But the formalities will be kept to a minimum and no fee will be charged for registration.
§ Article 6 sets out the Government's proposals for reducing statelessness. During the debates last year a number of your Lordships were concerned that British dependent territories citizens who were not ethnically Chinese, and their children, might be left stateless in 1997. The Government therefore gave a firm undertaking that no former Hong Kong British dependent territories citizen, nor any child born after June 1997 to such a person, would remain stateless as a result of the agreement. As your Lordships may recall, this undertaking was extended during the Committee stage of the Hong Kong Bill in your Lordships' House to cover the grandchildren of former Hong Kong British dependent territories citizens if they were born stateless.
§ The Government's proposals in Article 6 are fully in accordance with the undertakings given in your Lordships' House. They provide that any former Hong Kong British dependent territories citizen who for any reason has not acquired BN(O) status, and would otherwise be stateless in 1997, will automatically become a British Overseas citizen on 1st July 1997. Any of their children born after June 1997, if they would otherwise be stateless, will also acquire British overseas citizenships at birth; and any of their grandchildren, if born stateless, will be entitled to registration as British overseas citizens. These provisions will apply to all, whatever their ethnic origin. Thus non-ethnic Chinese British dependent territories citizens and their descendants will be able to have a form of British nationality until well into the middle of the next century.
§ We accept, of course, that a continuing right of abode in Hong Kong is no less important than having a recognised nationality status. Clearly no form of British nationality can carry with it right of abode in Hong Kong after 1997, when Britain ceases to have any jurisdiction over the territory. The rights of abode in Hong Kong are necessarily safeguarded under the agreement with the Chinese, and are set out in Section XIV of Annex 1 to the joint declaration. These 73 provisions cover all the non-ethnic Chinese British dependent territories citizens in Hong Kong, unless they have left Hong Kong permanently and have the right of abode elsewhere.
§ The non-ethnic Chinese community, supported by the Legislative Council, have argued that the nationality and right of abode provisions do not go far enough. They say that unlike ethnic Chinese British dependent territories citizens they will not have a right of abode in Hong Kong by virtue of their nationality. And they are concerned about the nationality status of their descendants. They have therefore asked to be granted British citizenship, which carries with it the right of abode in the United Kingdom, rather than BN(O) of British overseas citizen status. The Legislative Council have also asked that about 400 former servicemen in Hong Kong should be granted British citizenship, or that the Government should give sympathetic consideration to their registration as British citizens under section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981.
§ I shall of course listen carefully to what your Lordships have to say. But I have to tell your Lordships that the Government are not persuaded that it would be right to grant British citizenship to non-ethnic Chinese British dependent territories citizens. They want to continue to live and work in Hong Kong, and this is guaranteed by the agreement. Nor would the granting of British citizenship be of any advantage to future generations. British citizenship can be transmitted to only one generation born abroad. The second generation has an entitlement to registration as British citizens similar to the proposed entitlement to British overseas citizen status. After that there is no automatic claim to British citizenship, nor entitlement to registration. Conferring British citizenship on non-ethnic Chinese British dependent territories citizens in Hong Kong would give future generations no advantage in avoiding statelessness or securing their future in Hong Kong.
§ The Government's proposals, together with the agreement, will provide all Hong Kong British dependent territories citizens with a recognised nationality status and a place to call their home. As was made clear during the debate on the Hong Kong Bill, the Government's view is that the right course of those who have permanently settled in what will by then have been part of China for many years is for them to apply to become Chinese nationals, although they will not of course be compelled to do so. We have discussed this with the Chinese Government in the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group, and they have confirmed that non-Chinese who meet the legal requirements under Chinese nationality law may apply for Chinese nationality and their cases will be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.
§ As to the former servicemen, we recognise of course the valiant and gallant contribution they made during the war. But many of them were born in Hong Kong as were their ancestors. Most are British dependent territories citizens who will be entitled to become BN(O)s and will have the right to abode in Hong Kong. Furthermore, the Hong Kong Act does not allow us to use the order to grant British citizenship to those British dependent territories citizens who have another nationality, and do not therefore risk 74 statelessness; nor to those who are not British dependent territories citizens, even if we thought it right to do so.
§ We will of course consider any individual application made under Section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981 on the grounds of Crown service under the Government of Hong Kong. But I would remind your Lordships that the Government made it clear during the passage of the 1981 Bill that the discretion under this section would be used very sparingly, and that the key factor in each case would be the quality of service. I cannot predict what the outcome of any application might be, but we should have to look at each one in the light of this criterion. I should also add that this section cannot apply to persons who were in service under the Government of the United Kingdom, which may be the case for a number of these former servicemen.
§ The Government believe therefore that the provisions in Article 6, together with the agreement, constitute the most satisfactory, reliable and fair way of providing the people of Hong Kong with what they want; that is to say, British nationality and the right to continue to live and work in Hong Kong. The Government have also made it plain that if any British national were forced to leave Hong Kong and had nowhere else to go, we would expect the Government of the day to consider sympathetically whether to admit them on a case by case basis in the light of their particular circumstances. But our minds are not closed, and I shall listen carefully to your Lordships views on these matters.
§ I should like to say a few words now, if I may, about the proposed arrangements for issuing BN(O) passports once the order comes into effect. Although this matter is not strictly part of the draft order, I know that a number of your Lordships are concerned with this matter which is closely linked to the order and is of central importance to its successful implementation.
§ The Government intend to issue BN(O) passports from 1st July 1987. This will enable Hong Kong British dependent territories citizens to choose between applying for a British dependent territories citizen passport with a restricted validity until 1st July 1997, or a BN(O) passport valid for a full 10 years. It will not be possible to carry both a BN(O) passport and a British dependent territories citizen passport at the same time. The great majority of BN(O) passports will be issued in Hong Kong. But it will be possible for Hong Kong British dependent territories citizens to apply for a BN(O) passport wherever they may be. There will be a fee for the passport, which will be the same throughout the world.
BN(O) passports will contain an endorsement as to the holder's right of abode in Hong Kong. I know that this has been a matter of particular concern to your Lordships. As the House already knows, the Chinese have agreed in principle that the wording of the endorsement should be as follows:
The holder of this passport has Hong Kong permanent identity card number [the number will be entered] which states that the holder has the right of abode in Hong Kong".
We expect to reach final agreement on this at the next meeting of the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group in March.
§ The Government are confident that BN(O)s will not need their identity cards when they travel, since the agreed wording is clear and unambiguous, and third countries should be satisfied by the clear endorsement that BN(O)s may return to Hong Kong. Once the order is in place we intend to explain the significance of the passport around the world. Your Lordships may know that we have already had encouraging responses to informal approaches from the United States, Australia and the European Parliament.
§ We believe that this is likely to be the best way of ensuring the acceptability of the BN(O) passport in third countries. We are studying the proposal by the Legislative Council that BN(O) passports should be endorsed to the effect that the holder did not need entry clearance to visit the United Kingdom. It is a fact that entry clearance for temporary visitors is not a requirement; it is available to those who want to be assured of their entry into this country. We must ensure that any proposed endorsement does not lead people wrongly to believe that they are not subject to the immigration rules. Visitors coming here must satisfy the immigration officer that they qualify for admission under the rules. We are, however, considering how best to meet the concerns of the Legislative Council in this matter.
§ We welcome the interest the White Paper has generated. The matters that we are debating today will have a far-reaching effect on the lives of the 3¼ million British dependent territories citizens in Hong Kong and we fully realise its importance to them. The draft order represents a major step along the road we are taking between now and 1997 to implement the Sino-British agreement so as to secure a prosperous and stable future for Hong Kong.
§ The Government believe that the nationality provisions proposed in the draft order are generally on the right lines. We believe too that they are fair and consistent as between all British dependent territories citizens in Hong Kong. But we shall take careful note of the views expressed by your Lordships before finally inviting this House to approve the order. In that spirit I commend the proposals in the White Paper to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for the way in which he has introduced the debate on the White Paper. Let me say immediately that the Government and this House have a very special burden and responsibility in this matter, for at least four reasons. The first reason is that, as the Minister frankly said, a promise was made—indeed, it is recited in the White Paper—that before any order is presented to Parliament to deal with the vital rights of the inhabitants of Hong Kong there will be a full opportunity for debate both here and in Hong Kong.
I am so glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is present while I quote what she said so clearly 76 at col. 503 of the Official Report of this House on 19th February 1985. The noble Baroness said:I should like, following the point raised right at the beginning by the noble Lord. Lord Cledwvn, to confirm to him that the Government arc prepared to give this House an opportunity, if it wishes, to debate the draft order on nationality in a preliminary way before the House is asked to give its final approval. That is a scheme which I think has been described as debating a draft order with green edges.If I may say so in parenthesis, those were the very words quoted by the noble Lord the Minister in his introductory remarks. However, the statement of the noble Baroness goes on in this way:If necessary, the Government would then withdraw the order and revise it to take account of views expressed by noble Lords and in Hong Kong, before resubmitting it to be dealt with in the normal way under the affirmative resolution procedures. I believe that this will meet the concern which has been expressed".In a moment I shall raise matters which have been recommended by the Hong Kong Government in looking at this order; which have been the subject of a resolution of the legislative council (both the official and the unofficial representatives); and which were recommended by the majority of the speakers in the other place when the matter was debated there last Thursday; and, I am hoping, the majority of your Lordships' House tonight, in justice to the people of Hong Kong.
If those words mean anything on behalf of the Government, they mean this. If Hong Kong says something through its proper representatives and if Parliament says something by a majority voice, then the Government are morally bound, not just to take account of it, but to enact it. That is the first reason why I say that the Government and this House have a special responsibility.
The second reason that we have a special responsibility is that we are doing something, I imagine for the very first time, in regard to people who have been the subjects of a great empire and a great Commonwealth. Normally we have dealt with territories which are receiving their independence and which have control over their own destiny. We are not doing that in this case: we cannot do it in this case. We have to hand back the lease in 1997 and the inhabitants of Hong Kong are going to another nation—a nation that we salute with respect, but another nation and another culture. Therefore, we are handing over those people not to their own destiny but to a destiny that will be ruled by others and by governments, people and ministers of whom at this stage we have no knowledge at all.
The third reason why we have a special responsibility is that we must remember the leading part which this House took in deciding the nationality rights of others. Your Lordships will remember, possibly with tender memories too, what this House did for the Gibraltarians when we were discussing the Nationality Act 1981. We said then that they must have the rights of full British citizens. They had lived under our flag; they had taken part in our history. We said that Gibraltar must know, and its occupants must know, that they have the full rights of British nationality. Then, when it came to the question of the destiny of those in the Falklands, we said retrospectively, after we had gone to great sacrifice to rescue those people from an aggressor, that the people 77 of the Falklands must have the right to full British nationality. We must remember what we have done for others—in justice we must remember.
The next consideration—and this is the last which I shall mention—is a memory of our history and that of Hong Kong. It has been British since 1842. A week may be a long time in politics; upon any view, 150 years is a long time for the loyalty of others to our flag.
I shall not concentrate on matters already covered by the agreement and by the joint declaration. From all parts of your Lordships' House and in another place Members have congratulated the Foreign Secretary very warmly—and we do so today as well—on all the negotiations that ended in an amicable arrangement with the Chinese government. We pay them tribute too. Nothing that I shall say will require a variation of that joint declaration and agreement by which, in honour, we are bound. All that I shall say—I repeat, supported by the legislative council, the Government and the majority of speakers in another place—can be dealt with properly and honourably and, in my view, with the consent and approval of the Chinese government. However, it must be dealt with by way of a variation of this order, but not by way of a variation of the joint declaration or the agreement.
First, let me deal with what ought to be a very easy matter, and one with which the noble Lord the Minister dealt. It is the question of the rights of the people of Hong Kong, the citizens of Hong Kong, who are holders of British passports, to have the proper, dignified right of entry into the United Kingdom. I am not asking for any variation of our immigration rules or procedures at all. I am merely asking that their passports are endorsed with the clear fact that they have the right of entry—not a right of abode—into the United Kingdom which our immigration officials will immediately see.
Noble Lords may ask why that is necessary. It was referred to in the other place in many speeches, and I should like to quote the Economist of 11th January this year. The article is headed "Hong Kong Passports: Britain's loss too". It states:At present even senior Hong Kong businessmen have been subjected to humiliation at the hands of Home Office immigration officials at Heathrow. Paradoxically, America has agreed to treat Hong Kongers more generously than has Britain. They will be given multiple entry visas in their passports which secure unlimited entry into America".I shall conclude my first point very shortly. I ask for holders of British passports in Hong Kong to be allowed, subject to the ordinary formalities of the immigration officials, to have clearly in their passports the dignified right to enter, but not abide in, the United Kingdom.
The second matter was dealt with by the noble Lord the Minister in what I thought—and I know that he will forgive me for saying so—was a slightly cavalier fashion. I am talking about the rights of colonial civil servants and the ex-servicemen who fought in our forces during the war. There are very few in the first category; there is a maximum of 400 in the latter category. I refer to ex-servicemen who want to be full British citizens, having fought in our forces. I should have thought that that was a concession which could so easily be granted. It is not properly covered— 78 and the Minister was quite frank about this—by Section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981 because that deals with those who serve under a dependency, not with those who serve directly as employees or servants of the Crown. Therefore, we have to make special provision for them.
I emphasise the particular position of Hong Kong, which will not be given its own independence because that is not possible. Therefore, I ask the Government, and others have asked the Government, as the legislative council and Hong Kong have asked the Government, to give these ex-servicemen that privilege if they want it. It is a dissimilar case; we cannot say they there are many people in India, Pakistan and other places who served in our forces who might now like to have British nationality. They have their own country with a right of abode and citizenship, which they have chosen to have. The position is different with Hong Kong.
The third short but extremely important point is the right of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. There are about 10,000 of them and they include some 6,000 of the Indian community who have been in Hong Kong and who are there now. In order that we may know with whom we are dealing, I should like to quote very shortly from "A Question of Belonging", which is a very interesting and well-written booklet issued by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, who carried out an important visit to Hong Kong before the booklet was prepared. Who are we dealing with?They came to Hong Kong because it was British, not because it was Chinese. In the words of the petition of the Council of Hong Kong Indian Associations, 'The ethnic Indians came, stayed and remained of their own free choice. They chose Hong Kong because Hong Kong was a part of the British Empire or Commonwealth, because they had faith in the laws and the system of government of Great Britain and because they chose to give or to continue their allegiance to Great Britain'.Quite apart from that quotation, again, with whom are we dealing when we talk of the Indians and of the other ethnic minorities who have been pleased to serve under the British flag? I should like to quote from an article published in the Financial Times last Saturday. It is headed "Controversy grows over Hong Kong's non-Chinese minority". It reads:The roots of the Indian community in Hong Kong—and its historical connection with Britain—run extremely deep The descendants of Abdoolally Ebrahim proudly remind people that their business had been established in Hong Kong months before Jardine Matheson opened its doors in 1841.It is rarely remembered that Sir H. N. Mody and Paul Chater established the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, that Dorabji Naorojee began the Star Ferry, or that Sir H. N. Mody endowed the Hong Kong University in 1911, and gave Hong Kong its statue of Queen Victoria, which now stands in Victoria Park.While many arrived as traders—most of them Parsees and lsmailis—a large number of Punjabi Sikhs arrived as recruits into Hong Kong's police force.Around the time of Indian independence, there was a further major influx. Many arriving at that time were required to re-affirm allegiance to the British Crown …The plight of Hong Kong's minorities might have fallen between two stools but for two factors. First, political figures in Hong Kong agreed to back their demands, separating them from the demands of the many ethnic Chinese for full British citizenship as an insurance in case Hong Kong flounders under Chinese administration.Secondly, it was realised that business confidence in Hong Kong would be undermined if the Indian community became seriously unsettled.It is said that those I am talking of, the ethnic minorities, will have the right, because that has been agreed, to reside in Hong Kong because the Chinese 79 Government has agreed to that. And, say the Government at the moment, but presumably capable of having their opinion changed in accordance with their undertaking, if Hong Kong says it and Parliament says it, or the majority of speakers in Parliament, they also are going to have a British passport.
The British passport is the equivalent of a travel document. It gives no other right whatsoever. Somebody may say, "Well, why do they need anything more than a travel document and the right to stay in Hong Kong?" As a first generation, after 1997, they will have grown up under a British tradition and culture. They will be used to a British system of justice. They had elected to swear their oath of allegiance to Britain.
Things may go remarkably well in the last part of this century; things may not go so well. What is the privilege of nationality? I quote, and it is my last quotation, from what somebody has so rightly said on their behalf.British citizenship is only a fall hack in the sense that all nationality is: that it pros ides the holder with the security of belonging inalienably to one particular country. Only those who have not the security of such a nationality fully appreciate the vulnerability which this creates".If you are not ethnic Chinese, you rely upon the generosity, the understanding of a future Chinese Government which, very properly, has reserved to itself the full right of deciding whether or not, even if an Indian applied or one other member of an ethnic minority applied, to give, or give not, Chinese citizenship.
We owe them a duty. Do not let us shirk it by talking about the difficulties of creating precedents. That was the argument, I remember, on Gibraltar. We fought that argument. We won it. That was the argument in regard to the Falklands. We fought that argument, and we won it. I hope, in justice to these ethnic minorities—only 10,000 in total and they will not, in the main, be coming to this country; certainly not if things work out as well when Hong Kong becomes Chinese as the Government and all of us hope—that we shall give them the security they deserve, and the continuity of British culture and British rights if ultimately, and unfortunately, they need that. They should not have to rely on case by case being looked at by a future Government. This is the Parliament which will decide upon their rights. We are not going to leave it to a doubtful future.
I see that time is running out. I am therefore going to limit myself, although I had other things to say, to one other short point. Please let us see to it that in the international community there is general acceptability of the passports we are issuing. Let it be transparently clear that there is no difficulty among the 70 countries of the world where no visas are required; that the passport we are issuing will give no difficulties of entry into those other countries by the endorsements which are clearly on them. That again is a responsibility of the Government.
We are going to hand over a lease that we have held with honour. When we hand over to the freeholder those who depended upon us not only as a good 80 landlord but as a ruling mother country, let us see to it that we do it with honour.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, rightly began by saying that we are having this debate this evening because of the repeated undertakings given by the Government on many occasions that, before the Order in Council implementing the nationality provisions of the Hong Kong Act 1985 are finally laid before Parliament, they would consider carefully the views expressed mainly by the people of Hong Kong, but also by your Lordships and by another place.
The noble Lord quoted the remark of the noble Baroness, Lady Young (whom we are so pleased to see here this evening) in the debate of 19th February last, that the Government would, in the last resort, be prepared to take away the order and re-submit it to your Lordships in an amended form to take account of the views that had then been expressed by the people of Hong Kong.
As I understand it, this is what is meant by an order with green edges. It is a new phrase in our terminology. I suppose it means something less than a document which is green all over. It means that the Government are not prepared to listen quite as carefully as they would be if it was entitled the Green Paper. But nonetheless, from the number of occasions on which these assurances have been repeated, I think we are entitled to assume, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has already said, that if every single view which has been submitted to the Government by the people of Hong Kong, by their representatives, by the organs of opinion in Hong Kong, by another place, and by your Lordships is absolutley unanimous in any one recommendation, then there would have to be some fundamental reasons of principle why the Government would not act on those recommendations. Indeed, in another place last week, on 16th January, the Minister responsible for immigration repeated again at col. 1271:We shall consider particularly whether we should amend any of the provisions in the order.As your Lordships know, the people of Hong Kong have expressed themselves in the most forceful and unanimous manner in the shape of the resolution of the legislative council of 8th January, and we must remind ourselves that this is the only forum which is available to the people of Hong Kong in which they could express their opinions. Therefore, it constitutes the only possible means by which the Government are able to gauge the views of the people of Hong Kong as a whole.
I should remind the noble Lord that there has not been one single dissentient voice raised against the resolution of the legislative council, which asked for the deep concern expressed by the council to be conveyed to the British Government—and I hope that they have indeed been studying this carefully over the last two weeks—on the proposition on which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, rightly concentrated, that any person of non-Chinese ethnic origin ought to be given full British citizenship and not the British overseas citizenship, the nature of which the noble Lord has already outlined.
81 In the debate which took place in the legislative council on 4th December speaker after speaker supported the principle. It would be very difficult to imagine a more impressive demonstration of the strength of feeling on the matter by disinterested members of other ethnic minorities than the support that was given to this resolution.
I told my friends from Hong Kong that I did not believe that the debate this evening would affect the outcome of this decision and that the Government were simply going through the motions without being prepared to give due weight to the opinions that have been expressed. I said that because, in a letter written by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to me on 18th November last she said:We are satisfied that we have now moved as far as we reasonably and consistently can to meet their needs"—that is the needs of the ethnic minorities—within the terms of the agreement with the Chinese".The noble Lord the Minister said again this evening that the Government are not persuaded that it would be right. He said that their minds were not closed and that they would listen carefully to what is said this evening. But I believe that this is a façon de parler because the noble Lord knows already what the arguments are. We can only repeat them on behalf of the people of Hong Kong, and if they have fallen on deaf ears in another place, I do not have a great deal of optimism that what is said this evening, even if it comes from all quarters of the House, and even if there is no dissentient voice here either, will carry an effect in the minds of the Government. I hope that I may be proved wrong; I really do, but the tone of the letter of the noble Baroness and of the Minister this evening was not of people ready to consider the merits of an argument and the strength of support for points of view other than those of the Government.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I am sure he will forgive me. I want the Government Front Bench to know that the Opposition Front Bench is much more optimistic than the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. We think that this debate is worthwhile and we shall be surprised if the Government do not pay attention to it.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, it is always nice to be proved wrong, and I hope that at the end of this debate the arguments we put will have convinced the Minister. I cannot imagine how we can say anything more forcefully than what has already been put to the Government on so many occasions by every shade of opinion in Hong Kong, by all those in another place except one who spoke in the debate last week.
This argument about the situation of the ethnic minorities only arose because they will not have an automatic right to Chinese citizenship after 1997, but only a conditional discretionary right which they acquire as aliens or stateless persons under Article 7 of the Chinese nationality law.
Mr. Waddington said in another place last week that by the middle of the next century, when the two-generation extension of BOC status would be drawing to an end:one would expect that people still resident in Hong Kong will have taken out Chinese citizenship".82 Why would one expect this? Sir Peter Blaker asked the Minister in another place how the Chinese would apply this discretion, and in his winding-up speech the Minister simply reiterated that in the Sino-British joint liaison group the Chinese had confirmed that Article 7 of their law would apply, that is that non-Chinese may apply for Chinese citizenship. But what indication is there that their applications would be granted? Presumably we have raised this matter in the joint liaison group and I suspect that we were told that, like a British Home Secretary, the Chinese authorities are unwilling to comment on hypothetical cases. Therefore nobody can know whether or not they would be granted Chinese citizenship until the first application is made after 1997. In the meanwhile they are in a state of uncertainty. I do not think I can emphasise too strongly how difficult this makes the situation for the people concerned. I am sure that if the Minister had listened to them he would know that what I say is right.
The feeling of unsettlement creates the major problem for this group of ethnic minorities which prevents them from getting on with their lives and from contributing as they have done in so remarkable a way to the prosperity and wellbeing of the whole territory.
The status of British overseas citizen which is to be assigned automatically to the non-Chinese after 1997 is, I believe, unique. It is the only instance to be found in the nationality laws of any country in the world of a purported citizenship which is not linked to the right of abode in at least some part of the territory controlled by the awarding power. Citizenship, one would have said, until the invention of British Nationals (Overseas) and British Overseas Citizen status, implied residence as well as the right to vote, to stand for public office and to join organisations such as trade unions and political parties. But here we have a citizenship awarded by one power, linked with the right of abode awarded by another power, and apparently conferring no political rights in either country.
Under section XIV of annex 1 of the joint declaration the non-Chinese are to be guaranteed the right of abode if they have been ordinarily resident for seven years in Hong Kong either before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong special administrative region, and have taken it as their place of permanent residence. There will be an entry in their BN(O) or BOC passport referring to another document, as the noble Lord the Minister has described, the Hong Kong permanent identity card, which will be issued by the Chinese authorities. It will be in the latter document that the right of abode is conferred. The necessity for a person to carry two separate documents arises from the fact that after 1997 the Secretary of State who issues the BOC passport has no authority to confer the right of abode in Hong Kong.
Incidentally, there is no such right as a right of abode in the Hong Kong immigration ordinance. As we understand it here, there are "belongers", who are defined as people of British or Chinese descent born in Hong Kong, and those with a "right to land", meaning persons with 7 years' ordinary residence who are nevertheless deportable. An amendment to the ordinance is needed to bring it into line with the 83 agreement. I should be grateful if the Minister who is to wind up would tell the House that this is to be done.
The Government say that they have every confidence that ultimately the 70 countries which grant visa exemption to our own citizens will extend the same privilege to holders of BN(O) passports, and I have no reason to doubt that claim. But the question is not the formal acceptance of the BN(O) passport as a travel document, but whether in practice it enables the holder to enter countries as freely as if he or she were a British citizen. If we ourselves at the airports subject passengers from Hong Kong to delays and extensive questioning, is not our example likely to be copied and even surpassed by others? We appear to be saying that anybody coming here from Hong Kong should obtain an entry certificate which amounts to the same thing as a visa. It means that the passenger has to answer questions put to him by an entry certificate officer in Hong Kong instead by an immigration officer at Heathrow.
I understand that the entry certificate system applies only to persons from the Commonwealth and dependent territories. What happens after 1997? Presumably then we would have to demand visas or letters of consent instead of the entry certificates. Whatever the case may be, I most earnestly support the pleas that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that we should introduce some system of multiple entry permits, whether as part of an entry certificate scheme, or more widely to cover passengers who need to come here frequently, such as visitors or students. The noble Lord has already pointed out that the Americans have a system of this kind and make no charge to the travellers who benefit from it. My own passport has a multiple American visa which entitles me to go to the United States on an unlimited number of visits for the whole of the time that this passport is valid. If the Americans can do that, I do not see why the British could not follow suit.
Incidentally, we have just increased the charge for an entry certificate from £12 to £24, and that amount has to be paid for each visit. I suggest to the Minister that it would save unnecessary work and would benefit regular visitors enormously if we could stamp a passport, as the Americans do, in such a way as to allow the holder an indefinite number of visits during the validity of the document.
Whatever concessions are made to ease travel from Hong Kong to Britain, the case for allowing non-Chinese to claim full British citizenship by registration remains overwhelming. Some might still await the transfer of sovereignty in 1997 and then take their chances with an application to become Chinese citizens then. But most of the 10,000 people belonging to the ethnic minorities want the certainty of a definite citizenship now rather than a doubtful status which falls short of proper citizenship and leads to statelessness after two generations. In my opinion if this is offered to them, it creates no precedent because there is not another British territory in the world reverting to control by the sovereign power which originally ruled it—unless you admit the case of the Falklands where citizenship has been conferred on those who are not Argentine nationals. Frankly, I 84 cannot imagine what would be the knock-on effect which was mentioned by the Minister in another place if we granted this concession.
The only other argument against the proposition which was mentioned by the Minister was that giving these people citizenship would be looked at by the Chinese as indicating that we lack faith in the Sino-British agreement. That was the only point about the non-Chinese which he picked up from a debate which strongly supported the case which we are advancing; and I must say that this also reinforced my pessimism about the Government's willingness to listen because the debate was very much on the other side yet that was the only point the Minister picked up.
Of course, there are no grounds at all for attributing this reasoning to the Chinese. On the contrary, there are reasons for believing that the Chinese think that we ought to give citizenship to the minorities, who were originally brought into the territory to serve British interests. The newspaper Wen Wei Po, which is taken to reflect the current views of Peking, carried editorials on January 6th and 7th urging the case of both the non-Chinese and the servicemen; and this morning I had a telex from Hong Kong referring to another newspaper which is even more closely aligned to the views of Peking making uncomplimentary references to the speech which was made by the Minister, and particularly saying that the argument which he put forward concerning the attribution of views to the Chinese that we had no faith in the Sino-British agreement if we made this concession was utterly nonsensical.
If the Minister would kindly reflect on this and revise the views which were expressed by the Minister in another place, I think it would be helpful. I think that the House ought to be told officially from the Government that the Chinese authorities have no particular interest in this matter but, in so far as they would want to express any view at all, it is that our responsibility as the administering power is to make sure that the ethnic minorities who are not fully entitled to Chinese citizenship should be properly taken care of in the interim period.
After last week's debate in another place, the Unofficial Members of the executive and legislative councils issued a statement saying that they were "profoundly disappointed" by the Government's attitude on what they described as the "compelling case" of the non-Chinese and the servicemen; and they went on to accuse the Government of having failed to discharge their moral responsibility to British nationals who have made valuable contributions to Britain and to the Commonwealth. They were right! It will be a tragic mistake if we turn down their plea.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
My Lords, my researches in Dod's Parliamentary Companion today yielded the information that the noble Lords who precede and follow me in this debate are, like me, Balliol men. I am sure this is an entirely unintended juxaposition, but it is nevertheless comforting to be so surrounded by one's fellow collegians. I am grateful to the Government for providing opportunity in your Lordship's House for discussion of this matter and to the noble Lord the Minister for his introduction to it.
85 I begin my approach to the White Paper and the draft Order in Council with a piece of enumeration to clarify my own mind. There are six groups of people among the nearly 5½ million present inhabitants of Hong Kong. First, there are 3,200,000 people holding British Dependent Territory citizenship who are ethnic Chinese. Under the provisions of the Chinese memorandum, they will be entitled to Chinese nationality. They will also be entitled to register as British Nationals (Overseas). A second group of 2 million immigrants are from China. They are not BDT citizens but, like the first group, they will be entitled to Chinese nationality. There is a third group of 150,000 foreign nationals (that is to say, holding neither British nor Chinese nationality) and a fourth group of 17,000 consisting of British citizens with the right of abode in this country.
A fifth group are those people, numbering 10,000, who hold British Dependent Territory citizenship but are not ethnic Chinese and who, under the memorandum, are not given Chinese nationality. They will be entitled to register as British Nationals (Overseas). Those who fail to do so will automatically become British Overseas Citizens. Sixthly, there is a group of 11,000 stateless refugees, mostly from Indo China. I make this enumeration to press home two points. The first is that those in the first four of those six groups will have a secure and effective nationality which gives them right of abode in the country of their nationality and a status which can be passed to their children. Those in the fifth and sixth groups would be left without a secure and effective nationality.
The second point which I need to press out of that enumeration is that the numbers involved are a small proportion of the total. The estimate of 10,000 people holding BDT citizenship who are not ethnic Chinese is a conservative one and includes the dependants of the people involved. Both groups number less than one in 500 of the total population of Hong Kong. But the smallness of the numbers involved underlines the importance of the position of those vulnerable groups.
I want to mention, first, the position of the stateless refugees, because so far they have not received mention in your Lordships' House this evening. They are mostly Vietnamese; they live in camps, open and closed, that have been set up in Hong Kong while their future is being considered. They live in conditions that are cramped almost beyond belief. I remember, when I visited one of these camps, watching the moment when the lists of those who had been granted admission to other countries were pinned to a board outside the camp's administrative centre. There was an almost pathetic rush to see the names on the lists. I could not help reflecting how undignified a way it was to be informed of decisions which so profoundly affected the lives of those involved.
The rate of resettlement has fallen from 37,000 in 1980 to 1,843 in the first seven months of 1985; of those, four came to the United Kingdom. There is apparently some talk among the authorities that those camps may still be there in 1997 and beyond; and the position of those refugees under the Chinese Government is likely to be even more exposed than it is under British responsibility at the moment. The refugees are a British responsibility, and Britain 86 therefore should give a lead in the resettlement of the remaining refugees.
I want to address the main thrust of my remarks, as have the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Avebury, to the position of the 10,000 or so British Dependent Territories citizens who are not ethnic Chinese. They were granted this BDTC status under the Nationality Act 1981, which put them together with the citizens of all British colonial territories which had not yet gained independence. Yet it is clear that Hong Kong could not gain independence. Its future has been decided by an agreement between two great powers and not by a decision of its inhabitants. The nationality now being offered to this group is the status of British Nationals (Overseas) or of British Overseas citizenship. Neither carries the right of abode in this country. BN(O) cannot be transmitted; and BOC can be given only to children and grandchildren who would otherwise be stateless.
Of these 10,000 people, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has said, about 6,000 are of Indian origin. They are mostly businessmen, policemen, clerks or others who were used by the British in the administration of Hong Kong. The remaining 4,000 are of Portuguese or other European origin, Eurasians, Malaysians and a few Hong Kong-born Indo-Chinese. Many of them are in clerical or service occupations. Not being of Chinese origin, they cannot be expected to share the positive feelings of the majority over the return to China. Nevertheless, they are not hostile to the agreement: their concern is with the security of their future. Many of them came to Hong Kong in a spirit of enterprise which is the attitude encouraged today. They got, not on their bikes but into their boats, to build businesses and to share in the British way of life.
In 1962 the right of abode in Great Britain was taken from them, and they find now, under the provisions of the White Paper and the draft order, that their only legal place of abode is to be Hong Kong; they will be handed over to Chinese responsibility. Not surprisingly, they feel themselves caught in a series of decisions in which they took no part. I quote at some length from a letter received from one of them, because I believe it expresses the kinds of feelings to be found among these residents in Hong Kong:Where once we looked upon ourselves simply as British subjects belonging to a British Crown Colony called Hong Kong, at least those who can claim to be ethnically Chinese are guaranteed papers, an identity, after 1997. The rest of us—and we do not number more than a few thousand—whose families have lived and worked here for generations, will fall into a grey area, belonging nowhere and merely tolerated in the one place we considered our home. We will have no avenue of escape, because the country to which we gave our allegiance is not prepared to recognise us or accord us any rights, thus condemning us to a life of spiritual imprisonment within the bonds of a territory formerly our home under a political system we have been taught to consider alien. And what heinous crime deserves such punishment? That of being born and raised in a British Crown Colony to families who considered themselves British and who educated us accordingly. Is this British justice?What are the objections to granting effective nationality and right of abode to the non-Chinese BDT citizens? The first objection is that they already have a nationality under the provisions of the White Paper and the draft order. But the nationality they have, BN(O) or BOC, cannot be said to be a full nationality: it is little more than a travel document and 87 a device to ensure that they are not technically stateless. The Chinese Government does not regard BN(O) as a nationality since it allows that status to ethnic Chinese BDT citizens who will also be Chinese nationals; yet Chinese law forbids dual nationality.
The second objection is that this group already have right of abode in Hong Kong. But Britain has no power to enforce that right after 1997. The assurance that if BN(O)s and BOCs came under pressure to leave Hong Kong it is expected that the British Government of the day would consider their admission sympathetically on a case-by-case basis is a dubious one. The British Government of the future is not necessarily bound by such an assurance. It is imposing a great uncertainty upon a minority group at the very moment when the British Government are trying to persuade them to commit themselves to making the agreement work. If their position should become untenable, or that of their children, for whom they are as deeply concerned as we are for our children, they will be thrown upon the mercy of a British Government of the future whose attitudes are unknown to us.
The third objection is that the granting of British citizenship would undermine the agreement. But under the agreement China would give Chinese nationality only to those who are ethnically Chinese. Responsibility for providing a nationality under the agreement for non-ethnic Chinese is left with the countries responsible. Britain is quite clearly responsible for providing a nationality for non-ethnic Chinese BDT citizens, since the White Paper does provide one. What it fails to do is to provide an effective and secure one.
The fourth objection is that the non-ethnic minorities should be encouraged to apply for Chinese nationality. Since many of them feel that their identity is British and not Chinese, this is not helpful to them. Of course, such feeling may change as Hong Kong's new identity asserts itself; but, again, it may not change. More importantly, they could not acquire Chinese nationality until after 1997, when Britain has relinquished responsibility for the territory and the granting of such a nationality will be wholly at the discretion of the Chinese. An assurance has been received that the Chinese Government will consider applications from non-Chinese who meet the legal requirements of the Chinese nationality law, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has already commented—and I make no apology for repeating the point—to consider applications is not the same as to grant them, and it will not be possible to test whether requests will be granted until after 1997. Once again there is very considerable uncertainty.
A fifth objection is that the Chinese would object to such a move. But all the evidence coming to hand is that the Chinese are expecting and encouraging the British Government to take action to secure effective nationality status. During the debate in the Legislative Council on 4th December 1985, to which noble Lords have already made reference, seven speakers covered the position of the non-Chinese BDT citizens. Five of these were ethnic Chinese, and all five spoke in favour of more satisfactory arrangements for the minorities than is at present being granted. I will quote from two of them. The Honourable Allen Lee said: 88I have talked to quite a few Chinese BDTC passport-holders. I can safely say that they have no objection to the minorities obtaining British citizenship or retaining their BDTC status. In fact, they wish the minorities the best of luck.He concluded:In my view this is a British responsibility. Failing to take up this responsibility is unthinkable. I hope that Members of the British Parliament consider this carefully.The Honourable Stephen Cheong said:Please take heed of the request of the small number (less than 10,000) of British subjects of Hong Kong who are not ethnic Chinese. The uniqueness of their case must rank equally with, if not higher than, the case of the Gibraltarians or Falklanders, for it is the British Government that decided to return Hong Kong to China.What of Peking's view? The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has already commented on the reports of pro-Peking newspapers published in Hong Kong. Again, I make no apology for repeating the point since I believe what is said needs to be underlined. One such paper has said that it supports the right of non-Chinese BDT citizens to fight to gain effective British citizenship. Another has criticised, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said, the statements of the Minister of State in another place, and has said that Britain should not try to avoid its responsibility. There appears to be a consensus emerging among the Chinese not only that the present offer of BN(O) or BOC status is insufficient but that the British Government are avoiding responsibility if they do not come forward with proposals to secure a proper nationality for this non-Chinese minority.
The final objection I should like to be considered is that this group, like many others, is only trying to find a way of escape, a way of getting into this country, as many people are today. This is to misunderstand the case. It is not, in the first place, about a fall-back position, an escape, for people who would like to come here if things go wrong. It is about ensuring a secure and effective nationality for all Hong Kong residents.
Apart from the refugees, the only people not to have such a secure and effective nationality are the non-Chinese British Nationals.
The moral arguments for the responsibility resting upon the British Government to this group are, to my mind, overwhelming, but I should like to add to them a pragmatic argument which in this case—though it is not always so—supports the moral imperative. Should Britain fail to honour its obligation, those who can afford to do so will look elsewhere for their nationality. They will leave Hong Kong for a period in order to establish residents' rights, which could enable them to claim nationality in other countries. At the very moment when stability is necessary, they will be absent from Hong Kong out of a proper concern for their own, and their children's, future. Such an absence can only be damaging to the stability and the prosperity of Hong Kong.
The Government have granted to Gibraltarians the right to register as full British citizens under the 1981 nationality Act. Falkland Islanders had their own nationality Act passed in 1983 to make them full British citizens. The minorities of Hong Kong look to the British Government for equal consideration.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Lord MacLehose of Beoch
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for the clarity with which he 89 set out the Government's position on this draft order. First, I want to say something about the background in Hong Kong. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke about the remarkable unanimity behind the requests that have been made by the legislative councillors. I am sure that this is right. For my part, I cannot recollect an occasion on which there has been such unanimity and such force behind a request to the British Government. I am afraid that there really are deep feelings of frustration and resentment. The editor of the South China Morning Post, who really is a most balanced man, recently referred to nationality as an issue which, in his words, has caused,deeper agony than almost any other connected with the future.This is not rhetoric. To my personal knowledge it is fact. Moreover, it applies particularly to the better educated and more articulate—in fact, just the people on whom the future of Hong Kong depends.
It is not easy for us to enter into the feelings of people whose administrative power is being changed once and whose nationality is being changed twice in a single generation. Nor is it easy to appreciate the extreme difficulty of the Governor in such a situation. I emphasise all this, because I urge your Lordships that against this background, as well as on the merits, it is very important that these requests be dealt with satisfactorily. They do not necessarily affect this draft—though they might do, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said—but some of them can certainly be dealt with administratively. But it is certainly appropriate that they should all be raised in connection with this draft and responded to before the order is made.
First, there is the question of the new British National (Overseas) passport. Preparations for this seem to be going well, as the noble Lord the Minister said. The only major issue on which a decision is necessary at this stage is the councillors' request for an entry in the passport covering visits to the United Kingdom, and I will come back to this. The formula agreed in principle with the Chinese Government to indicate right of abode is satisfactory, and it is an indication of the good work being done by the Joint Liaison Group. It is also satisfactory that some major countries have already indicated that they will recognise the passport. The noble Lord the Minister has said that the Government will press ahead with obtaining formal recognition as soon as it is possible to do so.
All this is good, but when the new passport starts being used, and in spite of formal recognition by governments, the novelty is bound to cause problems with some immigration officers in some places. I am sure that, even if our embassies and consulates stand ready to pounce, the request for an entry in the new passport is highly relevant. The request is to indicate that the holder is entitled to bona fide visits to the United Kingdom. The Hong Kong councillors have said explicitly that they accept that this would not affect normal immigration control, but it would give an indication to immigration officers in third countries of the value attached to the passport by the British Government.
In the debate on the draft order in Hong Kong on 4th December, a QC, Mr. John Swaine, put it like this: 90The important thing is for Britain to set the lead in giving the new passport international acceptability".I am sure that that is right and, by agreeing, we can supplement the efforts we are making to give it a good launch. In any case, it is surely appropriate that the passport should indicate that holders are welcome to make bona fide visits to the United Kingdom. After 140 years of British rule we should not make a meal of this.
The Minister of State in another place has already said that the Government are giving this proposal sympathetic consideration, but I really do not think that this meets the situation in Hong Kong. This request was at the head of the councillors' list. They confirmed on 18th January, after the debate in another place, that freedom from normal immigration control was not being sought. Surely the Government could, without more ado, say that a suitable form of words will be found. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will do so, because this seems to me the most immediately important of these requests—not the most important; I am not prepared to differentiate between these requests—because it affects all 3½ million people who will become British Nationals (Overseas) and acceptance of the passport is the immediate issue.
That brings me to the request for British citizenship for the two groups—the ethnic minorities and the service veterans. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred to the exceptions that we have made for Gibraltar and the Falklands. The Government have indicated the difficulties in making an exception over these two categories, but this will not do. It is simply a question of political will. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the right reverend Prelate that there is no question of the granting of this request being in any way objectionable to the Chinese Government. I am quite sure that they will regard this as a purely British matter. For my part, I certainly accept that these people are in quite a different category from the ethnic Chinese majority.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I was inclined to conclude from what the noble Lord the Minister said that the Government were preparing at this stage not to accept the solution requested by the councillors; that is, the granting of British citizenship. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, did not read this into his words but thought that he still had an open mind on this matter, because this question will not go away.
If the problem had been based on lack of the automatic expectation of Chinese nationality available to the rest of the population, it might be solved by discussion with the Chinese Government. But the senior legislative councillor stated in a letter of 3rd January that many would rather emigrate than apply for Chinese nationality. Nevertheless, I am glad that we have spoken to the Chinese Government about this. I hope we will keep in touch with them about it, because the minorities' attitude seems in part due to concern about their prospects under the Special Administrative Region, and in any case I presume that, even if the Government were prepared to grant their request, as I hope they will, probably rather few would come here. In part, too, they are obviously sceptical about the value of the British (Overseas) 91 passport, with its absence of a state or right of abode in a state, which has to be procured, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, under separate arrangements. To them it clearly appears a very strange animal. I wonder whether anything can be said about experience of how in practice this citizenship has been found to meet people's needs.
We are talking about a very valuable and worthy element in the Hong Kong community, and it would be deplorable if they felt obliged to leave and it will be destabilising and a serious reflection on us if their present concern remains. I agree with the legislative councillors that this is a British problem. It really must be solved and the fears of these people removed. If not, I am afraid that this issue may poison the atmosphere in Hong Kong.
This brings me to the case of the veterans. This is rather different and much simpler. At the end of this long era of British rule inevitably there are some debts to be paid. The legislative councillors say that this is such a debt. I am sure that they are right. I think the question of precedent or of opening up claims from elsewhere can be greatly overstated. It is just a matter of definition, and I suspect that the numbers will be found to be small. Of course we must bear in mind the very special arrangements that we made in this respect for Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands. If exceptions can be made for them, surely an exception can be made for these people. In this case it is the gesture and the recognition of our responsibility that is so important, and I hope the gesture can be made.
Other aspects of Hong Kong and our relations with China are proceeding fairly well. There have been some ups and downs and some worries but generally speaking the progress is fair to good. The market is high and business confidence has returned. So the reaction to this draft order, and the strong language of the legislative councillors may have come as a shock to noble Lords. But, my Lords, I have worked with many of these councillors and with some I have kept in touch. They are serious and experienced people deeply aware of the problems through which they have to lead Hong Kong. I read these requests as a strong demand for a response in a highly charged situation and I very much hope it will be made.
§ 8.44 p.m.
My Lords, it is a great honour to speak after the noble Lord who has more experience than anyone else in this House and who always puts his case without exaggeration. Therefore the speech he has made today is all the more impressive, because I think it is the first time I have heard him say anything which is a little against what the Government are proposing.
I spoke in the first debate and in the other debates that have taken place and therefore I shall say a few words today because I am particularly interested in the territory. I should like to say that the speech made by Lydia Dunn, the Unofficial Member, was excellent, it was balanced; she put forward the points, and I think it was received extremely well. We also have to remember that we owe quite a lot to the Chinese in Hong Kong for the marvellous prosperity they brought 92 to that part of the world. When I went there in 1946 it was, as one can imagine, in a very dilapidated state. Many people had been imprisoned under the Japanese; business had not been carried on, and many people were hungry at that time. I have had a chance to see a complete change up to the present time.
With regard to the speech, I gather there has not been any adverse reaction from China, which I think is extremely important. I understand that the pro-Peking press in Hong Kong publicly supported all three of the major Legislative Council requests, including one that the minorities should have full British citizenship. I should like to make one suggestion. When India became independent, they granted the Portuguese in Goa and the French in Pondicherry full citizenship. I know that they took over Goa first, but they did give them full citizenship. If we cannot give full citizenship to these people we should ask the Chinese if they will do it on the same lines as India. After all, India was a republic and China is a republic, and it might be a good example of what they can do to help.
I had a meeting the other day with the Indian deputation and with another deputation last Monday with regard to minorities. They feel very strongly about the points that have been raised already today. Many of the Indians have been there for four generations and helped to start the industries in that country. They started banks and businesses and they served in the civil service, the police and the prison service. I think that we should give deep consideration to their position.
The question of refugees has also been raised. I gather that we are now to have 500 more reunion cases and that there are still a great number in camps. I should like to know what will happen if any more come between now and 1997. It will be an increasing problem unless something can be done about it. I should also like to mention the servicemen who gave splendid loyalty during the time of the Japanese occupation. I am a trustee of the Far East prisoners of war, and I have taken a considerable interest in all people who suffered during that period. There are not very many of them who would want British citizenship, and I feel that they should have it. After all, they have nowhere to go. Most of them were born there. They are not like the Sikhs, who can go back to their own country, or the Gurkhas, and so on. They have absolutely nowhere to go.
I was very glad that the noble Lord mentioned the question of the Falklands, because I believe very strongly that we shall be in the same position as we are in with Hong Kong if we have lease back. We have learnt something about the need to keep our eyes on these various countries to make sure that we do not fall into this trap again.
The British Government will do all they can to ensure that BN(0) passport holders may enjoy the same access to other countries as is enjoyed by BDTC holders. It seems to me to be very strange that they can get residence in the EC countries but not in Great Britain on those passports. They will have the trouble of getting many visas when they go from country to country. When I was working in Malaysia my passport expired and I had to get one in Singapore. Therefore I 93 have some knowledge of the difficulties that occur. I had difficulties in Germany, where I was nearly turned off the train when I showed my passport. Things have changed now, partly because of the EC, but I did have difficulty and found myself in Ellis Island when I got to America. That was quite fun, because I was there for only two or three hours. That was all due to difficulties with my passport.
Nobody has yet mentioned the question of students. There will be students wanting to come here, particularly students of music. Some of them are brilliant at playing European music but they will not be able to obtain in China in the same way the training that they can get here. There is also the question of law students. It is very sensible that we should have students over here studying law if we are going to keep that aspect going.
On 16th January, the Minister of State said in another place:That is a valuable reminder to the House that it is always possible for the Home Secretary to exercise his discretion to allow someone to enter the country and later qualify for British nationality if there is exceptional hardship".—[Official Report, Commons, 16/1/86; col. 1305.]I suggest that there will be exceptional hardship to them all if the Government cannot help them in that way. The Minister added:In the case of … somebody under the age of the majority, section 3(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 allows the Home Secretary to grant British nationality as a matter of discretion".—[col. 1306.]I do not know whether that would also allow the Home Secretary to deal with students.
I understand that many Hong Kong Chinese do not want any form of British nationality as they think that such would imply rejection of their Chinese identity. However, they do want Britain to help them secure a recognised status in Hong Kong that reflects that they are nationals of China.
The Honourable Stephen Cheong said:I wish to plead to whoever takes part in the debate in Westminster … to try to take heed of our concerns—listen attentively to our suggestions and the rationale behind our suggestions—and finally persuade the United Kingdom Government to adopt our proposals".That was very well put. It is very moving that we should receive such a plea.
Finally, I have received a telex from Hong Kong that states:Obviously a considerable amount of interest is being shown in the drafting of the Basic Law and it will be essential that it follows the current system as closely as possible. Any major change would be disastrous for both confidence and stability in Hong Kong. In addition, there is considerable debate at present concerning the passport issue and, in particular, the status of the minority groups in Hong Kong after 1997".I received that telex this morning. I should like to re-emphasise the fears and worries that are felt by the people of Hong Kong. We must all try to find some way of seeing to it that those people do not worry and get themselves into difficulties in the future. We wish them to have a happy Hong Kong.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord Rhodes
My Lords, I wish to congratulate the noble Lord the Minister on his clarity. I must confess that I am like the boy who was sure that in his exam 94 there would be a question on Napoleon but who, to his horror, found instead that the question concerned Wellington. He therefore began his answer by stating, "To understand fully about Wellington, one has first to understand about Napoleon".
It is not generally realised that for the past 150 years Hong Kong has been a British colony and not a country. It has never had national status and post-1997 it is destined to become at best a Chinese colony defined as a special administrative region. All Chinese British Dependent Territory citizens will have Chinese nationality available to them after 1997. Non-Chinese holders of such citizenship are being provided with a new form of British passport that will not give them the right to live in any British territory. They can stay in Hong Kong after 1997 only through the goodwill of the Chinese.
Here I want to digress. When foreign governments and foreign dynasties were established in China, they were soon absorbed by the Chinese, who imprinted a certain "Chineseness" upon their barbarian conquerors, while at the same time the barbarians put new blood into China. An analogy is the marriage of an English aristocrat with a chorus girl. That is what is happening to Marxism in China today. Marxism in its purest form was never suitable for China, but with severe adaptation it could become so. It may be that a form of federal government will emerge. Personally, I doubt whether a central government can govern 1,100 million people. We therefore have the position where there is an experimental situation in Chinese politics. This is known and is accepted by the Chinese themselves.
Very few holders of British Dependent Territory citizenship will want to leave Hong Kong even in the present circumstances. They are mostly entrepreneurs who own successful businesses and who control 12 per cent. of Hong Kong's export trade. We are utterly commited to maintaining stability and prosperity, and those are the people who will help us to do it. That runs through all the documents that have been produced on this subject. It appears three times in the annual report that we have just received. We shall fail in our duty to Hong Kong if we do not seek to do all in our power to keep Hong Kong prosperous in the years ahead.
What are we doing? We are penalising the people concerned. We are not taking the opportunity to keep in Hong Kong the very people who have made Hong Kong what it is. Hong Kong is a unique place. It has the admiration of the world. There is no doubt that we fail to keep stability and prosperity in Hong Kong at our peril. To exclude these people about whom we have been talking tonight would be grossly unjust. In biblical days the cry went up, "Let our people go". The cry should go up from this House, "Let our people stay".
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, a number of your Lordships will doubtless recall the long and tortuous passage of the British Nationality Bill, as it then was, in 1981. At that time we had the benefit, and if I may say so the privilege, of my noble friend Lord Belstead as our guide and, nearly always, our mentor. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur has said—and I think he said it 95 it three times this evening—that he would listen carefully to what is said today. I am sure—and I really mean this—that as Lord Mishcon has said, he will listen just as keenly and consider it just as seriously as did his and my noble friend, the now deputy Leader, five years ago.
Before getting to the fundamental issues, I should like to raise two points of detail. The first concerns the statement made by my honourable and learned friend the Minister of State in another place last week, and repeated by my noble friend the Minister this evening. They both said—and I have this verbatim—From the 1st July 1987 Hong Kong BDTCs will have a choice of applying for a BDTC passport with a restricted validity until 30th June 1997. or for a BN(O) passport valid for a full 10 years".The quote continues:It will not be possible to carry both a BN(O) and a BDTC passport".Very simply I must ask my noble friend the Minister why not? At least, by carrying both the holder can test out the acceptability of the BN(O) passport without putting his journey at risk. In all the circumstances, I must ask my noble friend to seek amendment to the one or the other situation. What harm can arise by a BDTC passport holder concurrently holding a BN(O) passport?
The second point of detail is closely allied to the first; namely, the question of dual BDTC and BN(O) passports. Article 4(3) of the White Paper states—and I trust I have it correctly:Am person who, haling become a British National (Overseas) by virtue of paragraph (2) above, ceases at any time before 1st July 1997 to be a British Dependent Territories Citizen, shall at the same time cease to be a British National (Overseas)".I read this very carefully on a number of occasions and it is very likely conceivable that I have missed the point; but if the holder of a BN(O) passport cannot concurrently retain his BDTC passport, then it would appear that he is no longer a British Dependent Territories Citizen, in which case, according to Article 4(3) which I have just quoted, he must by definition cease to be a BN(O) as well. It is possible of course that my noble friend will tell us that, though the holder of a BN(O) passport must relinquish his BDTC passport, nevertheless he will remain a British Dependent Territories Citizen.
Surely this is a most curious situation, when a citizen is barred from holding the passport for which he is eligible because he is encouraged to hold another. I ask my noble friend to look at this point and perhaps alleviate my fears on it.
On the fundamental issues and what is really much more important, I not only support the unanimous proposals of the Hong Kong legislative councillors and note the UMELCO statement of last Friday as quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, but I also quote the very end of that statement when UMELCO said that they now looked to the House of Lords for a just and more sympathetic consideration of Hong Kong's case. I emphasise that most strongly.
Good progress certainly has been made and we should not belittle it in any way. As has been said by many other noble Lords, and I support it most strongly, the joint declaration was a masterpiece. I 96 think that in every respect it was infinitely better than nearly anyone expected, even in the detail. Huge progress has been made. British Dependent Territories Citizens are just that. They are BDTCs and not a frightful thing called a COTBDT—a dreadful prospect which has thankfully been avoided. British Overseas Citizen status has been extended to a second generation. The very title "British National Overseas" is a good one.
In answer to a Question for Written Answer on the 3rd December last my noble friend Lady Young—and I, too, say how nice it is to see her on the Front Bench today—gave welcome news regarding the right of abode endorsements. All these are warmly welcomed. But they are still very limited and, as has been reiterated this evening—I make no apologies that I am going to say exactly the same as noble Lords have said previously—there are specific instances when we must support the contention put forward unanimously by the legislative councillors.
The vast majority of your Lordships, if not all, have passports as of right, which is a fact that is very easy for us to forget. Provided that we are not wanted by the law, we can travel virtually where and when we want, mostly without the necessity of a visa; and even when a visa is required it is not difficult to obtain. Many of your Lordships will know of my close affinity with Hong Kong, stemming perhaps in this House from the British Nationality Bill.
As has been said, it is a vibrant, hard-working community; but it is tiny, and if it is to survive, as the joint declaration wishes it to, its people must have totally unfettered means of travel. It has one resource only—I have said this before in your Lordships' House, and I say it again—and that is its people. If its people cannot travel and if the confidence of those people is lost, Hong Kong will revert to the barren rock that it was 140 or 150 years ago. Paragraph 5 of the joint declaration specifies that point about the continued lifestyle and freedom of travel, so in no way are we going against anything said in it.
I have no doubt at all of the sincerity of Her Majesty's Government and of my noble friend the Minister in all that they have said. But perhaps in slightly different words from my noble friend Lord MacLehose I must state that I do not think that just sincerity is now enough. Action must be seen to be taken. We owe it to the present BDTCs of Hong Kong to be overt that a holder of a BN(O) passport has no less rights or privileges than a BDTC. Yes, there should indeed be a clear, unequivocal statement placed in each such passport that the holder does not require any certificate or visa to enter the United Kingdom, though he will of course still be liable to ordinary immigration rules and regulations.
I fully support the case for full British citizenship for what my noble friend Lord MacLehose describes as the "veterans". They are few in number even now. By 1997, if my calculations are anywhere near correct, the youngest will be well into his seventies. Could not my noble friend make this apparently small but in fact emotionally very significant gesture and undertake that such BDTC ex-servicemen and women alive on, say, 1st January 1997 will be eligible for full British citizenship?
97 The larger issue with respect to full British citizenship concerns, as we have heard, the Hong Kong BDTCs who are not ethnic Chinese. In passing, I must say that I do not agree with the suggestion that they might become citizens of another British dependent territory. That seems to me to be quite impractical, not least in that it presupposes willingness by both the individual and the chosen host dependent territory.
However—and I am conscious that perhaps my noble friend the Minister will comment on this—in what some might call a fundamental change of personal opinion I am strongly persuaded that there is now a case for granting such non-ethnic Chinese full British citizenship. Many of your Lordships will, like me, have been shown strong evidence that this would not cause resentment or reaction from the otherwise similarly placed ethnic Chinese; nor to my knowledge, as indeed we have heard this evening, has there been any adverse reaction from Beijing to the widespread publicity to that suggestion. If I may say so, the remarks by my noble friend Lord MacLehose in this respect as to what he anticipated the Chinese reaction would, or perhaps more accurately would not, be are very significant from his vast wealth of experience on the subject.
The numbers are really minuscule. It has been said in another place, and it was repeated by my noble friend the Minister this evening, that conferring full British rather than BN(O) or BOC citizenship on the non-ethnic Chinese minority would not benefit future generations any more than the present proposals, since it could be transmitted only to one generation born abroad. But, with respect, that is really no argument. First, if that is so (which indeed it is under the British Nationality Act). then why not make the gesture, as it will have virtually no effect on United Kingdom immigration? Secondly, it would not only create enormous goodwill in Hong Kong towards the United Kingdom (a commodity which I must say to your Lordships is a very rapidly dwindling one) but the reverse is also true. It would put the onus firmly on the individuals concerned to make a considerable choice and effort to carry such full British citizenship beyond one generation. The onus would be on them.
We have heard many impressive speeches this evening, but none more so than the very authoritative and, if I may say so, persuasive speech of my noble friend Lord MacLehose. We have a chance with this green-edged White Paper to relieve the remaining fears of the people of Hong Kong with regard to nationality after June 1997. Let us take that chance. We risk, effectively, nothing. We stand to regain the confidence and respect of the people of Hong Kong which, in turn, is vital for the successful implementation of the joint declaration.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Lord Chitnis
My Lords, like, I think, every noble Lord who has spoken so far, I, too, want to speak about the position of the 6,000 Hong Kong Indians—but from a particular point of view. I know that there are the other 4,000 people of non-Chinese origin who are in the same position about nationality as the Indians. But it is for the Indians that I have a particular fellow feeling. I remember in 1948, when India 98 achieved its independence, my father having to make the choice of where his future nationality should lie. I remember him, like the Hong Kong Indians, deciding to take the advice of the Indian Government that expatriate Indians should take the citizenship of the place where they had decided to make their home.
I therefore came quite early to understand what citizenship is about. It is a form of contract. It is about a person, on the one hand, taking on certain responsibilities and acquiring certain rights, and the state, on the other hand, assuming certain rights over the individual but also certain responsibilities for him. It is those responsibilities that Her Majesty's Government seem to be seeking to avoid; indeed, unilaterally, they seem to be breaking the citizenship contract. The normal assumption that citizenship carries with it the right of abode in the country of which the person is a citizen has long since ceased to apply. The right of abode that these people will have in Hong Kong will be unenforceable by the country whose passport they carry. And this is to happen to a community that is diligent, enterprising, cultured and hitherto very pro-British. Many have served the colonial power in high or low capacities for generations. All of them feel that they are being let down in a way that they had not thought possible.
It is terribly difficult to understand why the Government are so determined to resist giving these people full citizenship and thus the right of abode in the United Kingdom, because they change their ground so often. Some months ago, it used to be that ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong would resent discrimination in favour of the Indians. That argument has now gone out of the window. Then it seemed that the Government felt that to make this concession now, so soon after the agreement, would be seen by the Chinese Government as a signal of no confidence in the agreement. But we have heard tonight from very authoritative sources that the Chinese take the view that the Indians have a case for special treatment by the British. It may, of course, be that the Government have fallen prey to the terror that has struck other governments before them, both Labour and Tory, at the thought of people with skin of my colour coming to live in this country. I have spoken to a number of Hong Kong Indians. The strong impression that I have formed is that this particular lot of Indians at least—like me, I hope—can just about pass muster in polite society.
In any case, if the Hong Kong Indians are given the right of abode in this country, we know that 6,000 or even 10,000 people will not suddenly arrive here, though, if they did, they would be less than the number of British citizens who emigrated last year to the United States alone. The Hong Kong Indians do not particularly want to come here and would probably all prefer to go on living peaceably in Hong Kong. They simply want the right to the full nationality to which everyone is surely entitled in order to feel that he belongs fully to one particular country.
If they are not given this right, what then will happen? My impression is that of other noble Lords—that over the years between now and 1997 the Indian community will drift away from Hong Kong to other countries enlightened enough to understand the contribution that they can make, taking with them 99 their stake in Hong Kong's future. If that happens, the British Government will not have evaded a problem. The losers will be not so much the Indians but the people of Hong Kong as a whole, to whose welfare the Indian community has made a significant contribution in the past and could do so in the future. This may be taken as a signal by other businessmen, who respect the acumen of the Indians, to follow suit. Britain will have passed up a chance of retaining not just the loyalty but the energies of the Hong Kong Indians. There will be another little tawdry tale to be told about the retreat from Empire.
I would say only one thing on another subject. I think that this evening is perhaps not the time to talk fully about the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong, since they figure in no one's nationality provisions for the colony. But there they are—8,000 to 9,000, I think, in open and closed camps, and the recent much-trumpeted permission for 500 to come here, to which the noble Baroness referred, does not significantly alter the problem. It is unthinkable that they should be allowed to remain in these camps until the transfer of power. Whenever Hong Kong is discussed in this House, and 1997 approaches, it must be remembered that somehow the future of these refugees has to be resolved—and the sooner the better.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, as we would all expect, this has been an excellent debate. We have been particularly fortunate in being able to hear from a number of your Lordships whose valuable contributions to the debate stem from a close personal experience both of Hong Kong and of China. Understandably, our discussion has gone rather wider than the substance and detail of the draft Order in Council attached to the nationality White Paper. It is right to do so, since we need to see how the draft fits into the wider picture.
The framework is already in place. As I said at the beginning the action we take now must be consistent with the Sino-British Agreement and with the Hong Kong Act 1985. Together these have set the parameters for the detailed nationality arrangements proposed in the draft order. Within that framework the order as drafted has sought to be fair and consistent as between all British Dependent Territories citizens in Hong Kong. We want provisions which meet the real needs and understandable concerns of the people there in a way that properly complements the commitments we have already made to the people of Hong Kong and to the Chinese Government. We want to make sure that the provisions which we introduce work well in practice and are clearly understood by all those who may be involved.
Of course, there are some sincere differences about how these objectives can be achieved. I hope that I have interpreted the views expressed tonight aright in saying that I believe the principles are widely shared in your Lordships' House.
However, I turn now to some of the principal points made by your Lordships in the debate. Following such a wide-ranging discussion I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not go into the fullest of full 100 detail on all of them. However, I can assure your Lordships that I and my ministerial colleagues will be considering all the points carefully as we come to consider the draft order again in the weeks ahead.
I think that there are four main areas of concern: British citizenship of the non-ethnic Chinese; the granting of British citizenship to former servicemen; the entry endorsement; and the acceptability of BN(O) passports to third countries. There was one very fundamental point raised in a quotation by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon where he seemed to suggest that the Government were handing Hong Kong over to the Chinese. I shall, of course, study the quotation and the remarks of the right reverend Prelate with great care. But this is not the case. We are talking here about something which is the result of a carefully and thoroughly negotiated treaty. This debate—which we are conducting now—was promised by my noble friend Lady Young last year to meet the concerns which were expressed then. That shows the unusual lengths to which we are going to secure the most proper, fair and practical solution to the full range of problems which we have been discussing this evening.
First, there is the question of British citizenship for non-ethnic Chinese. I note the views and concerns that have been expressed this evening. Nearly everyone who has spoken has expressed their support for the view that those in Hong Kong who are not ethnic Chinese should be offered British citizenship.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister forgive me? He used the words "nearly" all. Would he kindly tell his right honourable friend the Secretary of State that every single speaker in this House made that recommendation, together with support for the other recommendations of the Legislative Council? And would he be reminded of the undertaking of his noble friend Lady Young that in the light of discussion and debate the order will be considered and, if necessary, amended?
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, if I said "nearly" and I should have said "every" speaker I apologise unreservedly to the noble Lord. Perhaps I may cover the other point which he raised when I have a chance to respond to the whole issue, which I am about to do.
I fully appreciate the anxieties of those British Dependent Territories Citizens who have no other nationality and who would not be regarded by the Chinese as their nationals. The draft order makes specific provision to guard against the possibility of statelessness for such people up to about the middle of the next century. The agreement with China guarantees their continued right of abode in Hong Kong. It remains the Government's view that the right course for them and their descendants who remain in Hong Kong is to seek Chinese nationality. However, we have listened carefully, as we promised to do—and I have done so tonight—to the arguments forcefully expressed for granting them British citizenship, and we shall consider the matter again very carefully.
But I have to say—and this is an important point—that we believe we have an excellent treaty. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said so himself. Therefore, I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that 101 in expressing concerns—and those concerns are understandable—we must in no sense undermine the agreement. It is that agreement which underpins so much of what we are discussing tonight and so much of what we are trying to do. I believe that it is that agreement that will lead to prosperity in Hong Kong in the future in the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, wished and described.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, suggested that that was the only point of substance that I was making as regards this particular issue. I must say to the noble Lord that it is such a fundamental point that I do not think I can usefully add to what I have just said. It is very much the key to the whole issue.
The noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, with his enormous experience, which I fully respect, in talking about the ethnic minorities said that it would be deplorable if they felt obliged to leave. With respect to the noble Lord, I do not feel that that is a particularly encouraging view to take. The whole aim of the agreement is to provide a secure future for all Hong Kong's residents—one in which they can feel confident and can continue to live and prosper. The agreement guarantees that.
§ Lord MacLehose of Beoch
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I did not say that that was my view. I was quoting the view of the legislative councillors. In a letter from the senior councillor, it was stated that if they had to choose they would emigrate rather than apply for Chinese nationality. I think that we really have to take account of that.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I certainly shall take account of it. I shall take account of it with my honourable friend the Minister and others, in the way in which I said that I would take account of the other views which have been expressed on this particular issue. If I have misrepresented the noble Lord in saying that it was a view which he was expressing when he was in fact representing the views of people in Hong Kong, then I apologise to him and to them.
I turn to the qustion of granting British citizenship to former servicemen. I appreciate the concerns which again everyone has raised on this issue. It was certainly no intention of mine to treat this matter in a cavalier fashion—to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. That was not my intention at all, because there are serious difficulties and I shall, I hope, explain why.
One of the problems foreshadowed in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, was the difficulty about trying to distinguish servicemen—and this concerns the whole question of definition—as a different group. Some of them are ethnically Chinese and some are not. Some of them are not even British Dependent Territory citizens. The order cannot be used to grant either group British citizenship. To expand a little, it is not possible to make provisions in the order to confer British Citizenship on all former servicemen in Hong Kong because it is not permissible under the Hong Kong Act 1985. It would require an amendment to the British Nationality Act 1981. Such amendment could not be made by the order because that cannot make any provision not permitted under 102 the Hong Kong Act, and it would therefore require primary legislation.
The reasons are as follows. First, some former servicemen may not be BDTCs, as I said just now. Paragraph 2 of the schedule to the Hong Kong Act, and consequently the order itself, can only affect people who are BDTCs by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong. Secondly, some may be ethnic Chinese BDTCs or may have another non-British nationality, and nothing in the Hong Kong Act permits the conferral of British citizenship on BDTCs who do not risk statelessness.
As to registration of all former servicemen under Section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act, which I believe was one of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that would not be possible because Section 4(5) can apply only to persons who have been in Crown service under the Government of a dependent territory. That was the point which the noble Lord made. The limited information available indicates that a number of former servicemen in question were in regular British Forces units and were therefore in Crown service under the Government of the United Kingdom. Therefore, they are not eligible for registration under Section 4(5), and there is no other provision available.
However, I hope that your Lordships will recognise that there are some complex issues to be considered here. We shall need to look into these in a great deal more detail before we can say whether it would be appropriate or possible to meet the ex-servicemen's request. But, again, I can assure your Lordships that we shall give this the most careful consideration.
I turn now to the matter of the entry endorsement—a key point raised throughout this debate. The request has been made by the Legislative Council that the BN(O) passport should carry an endorsement making it clear that visitors to this country do not need an entry certificate. We have considerable sympathy with the concern which this proposal reflects. Of course we want to make clear that people from Hong Kong are welcome to visit this country. That has always been so, and I hope that it will always be the case. As I have said, it is a fact that an entry certificate is not required for such visits. An entry certificate is a service to visitors to help them establish their position before travelling.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, quoted from the Economist about the matter of visas and entry to the United States of America. I emphasise again that visitors from Hong Kong are welcome here. Their position is certainly no worse than it is when they visit the United States of America. Indeed, unlike the United States of America they do not need a visa to visit this country; but they may, if they wish, obtain an entry certificate to facilitate their arrival. Of course immigration officers have to satisfy themselves that someone is a bona fide visitor. If the noble Lord is aware of any particular difficulty—and he did not indicate this in his speech—I hope that he will write to me, and I shall certainly ensure that the matter is investigated.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that courtesy, but in another place several Members drew attention to what they called 103 the hassling of Hong Kong businessmen, and so on. That was a fundamental point of the article in the Economist. It seems peculiar if everybody is wrong and the Home Office is right.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I shall certainly look into the matter, but I am not aware of any particular cases. If anyone knows of any particular cases, then if we can have the details they can be followed through. However, it is impossible to do so without knowing the details.
Returning to the point about endorsement, a simple endorsement in the passport on the lines suggested by the Legislative Council could, if we are not careful, give a misleading impression about a traveller's position in relation to the immigration rules, and we do not want to create misunderstanding and make travel more difficult. We have noted the statement made by the Legislative Council that it is not seeking exemption from the United Kingdom's normal immigration rules and formalities. We understand that, but we must ensure that individuals now or in the future are not misled into believing that the suggested endorsement would give them such exemption.
I hope it will be quite clear from what I have said that the Government have taken the point fully on board. This issue was considered in some detail in the debate in another place last week. Since then some further thought has been given to this matter, and in the light of what your Lordships have said I can say that we shall do our best to find an acceptable formula.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, if the noble Lord is finishing on that point, could he address himself to the question of how the Americans managed to issue the multiple re-entry visa which is valid for the whole of the currency of a passport, where this does not, as I understand it, exempt a person from the immigration control laws of the United States, and no one suspects that it does?
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, in his intervention the noble Lord has just beaten me to the next note to which I was going to refer in answering that point. Multiple visit entry clearances of limited validity are already available for business visitors. This facility is not currently available to ordinary visitors and there are no plans for extending these arrangements generally. However, I note the noble Lord's comments on this, and I shall pass them to my right honourable friend for his consideration. I hope that that at least gives him something of an assurance on the matter.
I turn now to the question of international acceptability of BN(O) passports, a point again raised throughout the debate. A number of your Lordships have referred to the need to ensure that holders of these passports will enjoy the same freedom of travel as is currently enjoyed by BDTC passport holders. The freedom to travel is a matter of considerable importance to the people of Hong Kong. The Government will do all that they can to ensure that BN(O) passport holders enjoy the same access to other countries as is enjoyed at present by BDTC passport holders.
104 The importance we attach to this is one reason why we are introducing the new status at such an early date, in order to give immigration officers in third countries 10 years to get used to its endorsement in passports. We shall explain the new status and the new passport endorsements to third countries once the order is in place and before passports showing the new status are introduced in July 1987.
Given the clear indication of right of abode to be included in the passport guaranteeing the returnability of BN(O)s to Hong Kong, I can see no reason for third countries to introduce different restrictions on entry of BN(O) passport holders from those which apply to BDTC passport holders. I believe that those steps should lead to the unfettered right of access which my noble friend Lord Geddes so earnestly desires. In my opening remarks I referred to Australia, the United States and to Europe as well.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and my noble friend Lady Vickers raised the matter of Vietnamese refugees. The population of Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong has now fallen from the 11,000 quoted by the right reverend Prelate to a little over 9,000 as a result of the efforts made to resettle them. Her Majesty's Government have recently agreed to take up to 500 more refugees from the camps. We are working actively to persuade other countries to do more. It is certainly our hope that this problem will have been solved long before 1997. It is right to say that we are continuing to raise the issue with other governments, both directly and in co-operation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and have received some encouraging responses from a number of countries.
On the question of right of abode in the Hong Kong ordinance, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, the noble Lord is right; the Hong Kong ordinance does not at present use the term "right of abode". It provides equivalent rights under other terminology. But I understand that the Hong Kong Government intend to amend the ordinance so as to include appropriate references to right of abode.
My noble friend Lady Vickers raised the question of the immigration status of students. Understandably, that is an important matter. Like others coming to the United Kingdom for temporary purposes, students do not require entry clearance, although they may obtain this in advance if they wish. These arrangements, which currently apply to BDTCs, will be precisely the same for BN(O)s. As now, students from Hong Kong will continue to be welcome in this country.
My noble friend Lord Geddes asked two questions about passports. He asked why it would not be possible to hold a BN(O) passport and a BDTC passport. He went on to ask a further question on paragraph 4(3) of the draft order. I shall have to find my words very carefully here, but we do not believe that it should be necessary for a BDTC in Hong Kong to retain his BDTC nationality and his passport, and at the same time become a BN(O) and hold that passport. Citizens in Hong Kong will be at no advantage in holding both passports, and it would make it easier for others to abuse the situation. The BN(O) passport is different from others because it gives an absolute entitlement. We agreed with the Hong Kong 105 Government that in those circumstances people in Hong Kong should have the choice but should not carry both at the same time.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Rather than take up the time of your Lordships' House at this hour, I wonder whether he would write to me as to what the present position would be if, having elected to hold a BN(O) passport, the person concerned who, if I have understood my noble friend correctly, remains a British Dependent Territory Citizen (albeit he does not have a British Dependent Territory Citizen passport at that stage) then wishes to revert from his BN(O) passport holding to the BDTC passport holding before 1997. Can my noble friend perhaps write to me on that?
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I certainly think I shall have to write to my noble friend. I cannot respond to that question now, but I shall note it and let him know as soon as possible. I hope I have clarified the point on paragraph 4(3), but I shall study my noble friend's remarks on that and write to him on that, too.
I am conscious that other matters will have been raised in tonight's debate, but in conclusion may I say that the Government are committed to ensuring the success of the Sino-British agreement. We believe it is a good agreement and it is up to all of us to make it work. This will be our aim in the years ahead to 1997. The draft Order in Council is a keystone in the building of that agreement. We shall, as I have promised, study with care all the views expressed by your Lordships today and by the people of Hong Kong. Having done so, we shall invite your Lordships to approve the draft of a nationality order which we hope to lay before Easter.
My Lords, if there are other points which I have not covered and which I can usefully answer by letter, I shall certainly do so. This has been a useful debate; it has been a help to all of us for the future. As I have said, I shall take careful note of all that has been said.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Harrogate Bogs Field etc. Bill [H.L.]106
§ Presented and read a first time.
§ House adjourned at sixteen minutes before ten o'clock.