§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they will consider enlarging the quota of full British passports which can be granted to Chinese Hong Kong personnel who serve in the Royal Navy and the Army, if necessary by introducing legislation.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, the quota of British citizenship places which is available to locally engaged service personnel was determined by the formula which is prescribed in the British Nationality (Hong Kong) (Selection Scheme) Order 1990. We see no case for altering the position.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, can the noble Earl say how many Chinese servicemen, British-employed, will receive United Kingdom passports and be able to travel to this country? They have displayed great loyalty over a number of years.
My Lords, as regards the number of Army people who are locally employed personnel who have been given passports on the first tranche, the figure is 159; for the Navy, it is 43.
The Earl of Selkirk
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are people from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada who are prevented from getting passports to come to this country after wartime service, perhaps even having been wounded during their service?
My Lords, we had this problem right at the very beginning. It was decided that a certain quota of passports would be given to those people who reside in Hong Kong. The figure was 50,000. It was then decided how it should be broken up. It was considered that the appropriate method of doing so was to apportion to general occupation classes 36,200; to disciplined service classes, 7,000, and to the sensitive service classes, 6,300. That is the way in which the figures were broken up.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware — I am sure he is— that those of us from both Houses who have visited Hong Kong periodically have been impressed with the loyalty to this country of the Chinese Hong Kong people, despite a Communist power breathing down their necks? Will the noble Earl be kind enough to consider the submission made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who asked the Question?
My Lords, of course, we have considered this. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, that the loyalty of those people has been impressive. However, the original figure of 50,000 was arrived at after a good deal of discussion and consideration, not only as to what was appropriate to Hong Kong but what would be appropriate to this country. For the reasons I have given, I believe that the figure should remain the same and that the 1062 break-up within that figure should remain the same, as originally suggested, with one or two amendments to the second tranche.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that we badly let down the 3 million Hong Kong Chinese residents by taking away all the passports to which they had previously been entitled? They never wished to come to live here. It was only as an escape route, should the Chinese turn nasty, and as a place to park themselves for a little while before moving to warmer and less socialist climes. Is the noble Earl further aware that those Chinese who served in the forces in Hong Kong would obviously be the first to be victimised if the Chinese turn nasty? They should, in honour, be given the same rights as others on the quota. If they are not included in the quota, then they should be.
My Lords, I agree they are on the quota, but the way in which the quota was designed gives them a certain proportion while others also have a share. One must remember that that particular branch of people, the disciplined services, covers not only the Navy and Army but also the police, the prison services, the government flying service, the independent commission against corruption, customs and excise, the fire service and the immigration service. They all have to be fitted in, and they all have great claims. That is why the Army and the Navy have been given the quotas they received.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, as regards the reply which he gave to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is the Minister aware that the maximum number of locally employed personnel who have not yet received the status of a full British passport is estimated to be no more than 1,000? Is he further aware of the problems of recruiting already being experienced within Hong Kong because, as the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, says, of the fear over their status from 1997 onwards? The cost of replacing those locally employed personnel with UK personnel is estimated to be an additional £3 million per annum.
My Lords, I do not think that one can go too far down the road of investigating the alternatives. We went through all this problem when the Bill came to your Lordships' House and if we have a limited number, we have to abide by that limit. Having set the limit, we have to separate it into reasonable proportions. Many people have good claims to British passports: from the Army, 630 people have applied and from the Navy, 123 have applied. The first tranche of 159 have received passports: the Navy has 43. In the second tranche, there has been an alteration to the formula which gives both the Army and the Navy a benefit over what they would have had under the original regime.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that his answers to these questions indicate that the Government have created the problem for themselves? The problem is such that they are indicating that they have no sense of obligation 1063 whatever towards people who have been prepared to serve in the Armed Forces and to risk their lives for this country. Are they not ashamed of that?
My Lords, not for the first time in his life, the noble Lord is wrong. The Government have made it perfectly clear, and the noble Lord knows this perfectly well, that we went to a great deal of trouble to give those people in Hong Kong certain British passports and certain British citizenship to which they had not previously been entitled. We did that in order to conserve the status of Hong Kong and to enable Hong Kong to continue. I disagree totally with the noble Lord when he says that the loyalties of those people have not been recognised. They have.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I wonder if the noble Earl will help me with a little problem. Is it not a fact—perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong —that the citizens of Macao are to be allowed to become citizens of Portugal? As such, will they not, as European citizens under the Maastricht Treaty, and indeed before the Maastricht Treaty, be able to come to this country and settle here, to live and work here, and to vote here? Does he agree that it is strange that we should be allowing that to happen when former servicemen, people who have served this country, who are in this situation, will not be allowed to come here except under certain very stringent circumstances?
My Lords, I am not in a position to know to whom 'the Portuguese authorities give their citizenship. But I can tell the noble Lord that anyone who has Portuguese nationality will be able to come to Portugal and, having done so, will have free movement within the European Community.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, is the noble Earl therefore recommending that those Chinese Hong Kong personnel who serve in the Royal Navy and the Army, to quote my noble friend's questions, should now defect and go to Macao in order to get Portuguese passports so that can live in this country?
My Lords, the noble Lord tries to make a crafty point. I have not recommended that anyone do anything. I merely told the noble Lord's noble friend behind him what the facts were. Nor did I suggest that anyone should defect. I assume that the Portuguese authorities do not dish out their passports for free, as it were. There are certain criteria which have to be met before a passport is issued. The noble Lord is about to ask me what the criteria are. I am not part of the Portuguese Government and I cannot tell him. What I can tell the noble Lord, if he will contain himself for just half a second more, is that holders of a Portuguese passport who come into the European Community will have the right of free travel within the Community.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, has the noble Earl understood that the Portuguese Government have already said that they will give Portuguese nationality to all the people from Hong Kong who apply in Macao?
My Lords, I have said what the position then is; and I have not recommended that anyone defect.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, in view of the obvious feeling in the House that the Government are wrong, will the noble Earl undertake to look at the position again and treat regulations as if they are to be used by human beings, rather than human beings being used by regulations?
My Lords, I was trying to see where that one vote of support came from. The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, is, I believe, a little wrong if he concludes that because two or three people ask questions of a similar nature to that which he has asked the whole House agrees with him. I considered this case before today's Question, as the noble Lord would anticipate. I understand the position. He must realise, as I am sure he does, that the number of people who can be given British passports is limited. That was decided two or three years ago. Having decided that, one then has to allocate the numbers fairly between those people. Obviously, some people will be disadvantaged and disappointed. I can only tell the noble Lord that that is what the position is. If he now asks whether we will alter everything that was discussed three years ago, I am bound to say that I do not think that that is very likely.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I understand what the noble Earl says. But does it not give him some concern that, although we are limiting considerably the number of people from Hong Kong who can come here, the Portuguese will be able to decide—and indeed will—that 900,000 people from Macao can come here without let or hindrance?
My Lords, we can only conduct our own affairs correctly. We cannot conduct the affairs of other people in the way we might like to do.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, I hope that the noble Earl takes this matter seriously. We have been a little distracted over the Portuguese. Here again, the House faces a situation in which we should hang our heads in shame. I remember an occasion (arid the noble Earl may remember it too) when this House reversed a decision with regard to the pensions of the Hadrahmi Bedouin Legion. The result was that. through the action of this House, the decision by the government of the day was reversed and the soldiers got their pensions. Can the noble Earl, in consultation with his naval colleagues, consider again whether the proportion is right? A decision was taken, but we ask the Government to think again.
My Lords, of course I shall consider what the noble Lord says. I am bound to tell him, however, that the room for manoeuvre is very small unless one is going to alter the totality of the figure of 50,000. What the noble Lord is really suggesting is that a certain proportion within that total should have preferential treatment over the others. While I 1065 understand the reasons, I think that it would be quite difficult to propose that, but I shall take into account what the noble Lord says.