HL Deb 27 January 1994 vol 551 cc1098-101
Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bonham-Carter.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Brougham and Vaux) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [British Citizens "otherwise than by descent"]:

Lord Bonham-Carter moved the amendment:

Page 1, line 25, leave out subsection (2) and insert— "(2) A person who but for his registration prior to commencement as a British citizen under section 1(4) of the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990 would be a British citizen "otherwise than by descent" under this Act, shall be treated as having become such a citizen at the time of his registration, notwithstanding the provisions of section 2(1) of the 1990 Act.".

The noble Lord said: On Second Reading, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said:

"However, if the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, in Clause 2 were put into effect, they would in fact give citizenship benefits both to the ethnic minorities and to the spouse and child beneficiaries of the selection scheme which are not enjoyed by other British citizens who are born abroad". —[Official Report, 13/12/93; col. 1219.]

That is not an interpretation which I or my legal adviser accept. However, in order to make assurance doubly sure, I am moving an amendment to delete Clause 2(2) and replace it with the proposed subsection (2).

Perhaps I may explain the amendment. The 1990 Act set up the Hong Kong selection scheme providing for the registration of 50,000 key people in the colony. Section 1(4) of the Act also provides for the spouses and minor children of successful applicants under the scheme to he registered. Section 2(1) goes on to say that those spouses and minor children who are registered under the selection scheme in that manner shall be British "by descent". That means, generally, that they will be unable to transmit that citizenship.

However, among those persons—that is, among the non-Chinese ethnic minorities to whom the Bill is directed —there may be spouses and minor children who have registered under the selection scheme of the 1990 Act and who would therefore become citizens by descent. If such person or persons would under the Bill have become British citizens "otherwise than by descent" and are able to transmit that citizenship for one generation, they should be so treated. In other words, they should be treated as citizens "otherwise than by descent" from the time when they registered.

No provision needs to be made in the Bill for people registered under the 1990 Act after the Bill comes into force because such registration would be redundant and unnecessary. That is because those persons becoming British citizens as a result of the Bill (when it comes into force) or being born after the legislation comes into force would therefore be British citizens and no longer eligible for registration. I hope that that explains the rather legal phraseology of the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Members of the Committee will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for his explanation of the proposed new subsection. I must confess that I found the original wording totally incomprehensible. The explanation that the noble Lord has just given makes it almost totally incomprehensible, but there are little glimmers coming through to me from time to time. I hate legislation which deems things to be what they do not appear to be. The noble Lord seems to have got rid of the word "deem". However, he is still making things what they do not appear to be on the face of it. I suppose that there is no way of avoiding that. This is a worthwhile Bill. Its effects are minimal in terms of numbers. That the Government should seek to oppose it is as incomprehensible to me now as it was at the beginning. Any improvement in wording to overcome what might be legalistic objections to the Bill is worthwhile.

Earl Ferrers

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that this is a complicated matter. If he finds it so complicated, I cannot imagine why hp should think the Government would be wrong to oppose something which he himself does not understand. However, we understand these difficulties.

Clause 2(2) as it appears in the Bill provides for all the spouses or minor children of the 50,000 principal beneficiaries registered under the selection scheme to be British citizens "otherwise than by descent", as the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said. That means they can pass down that citizenship to their children.

The 1990 British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act makes no provision for the spouses or the children of the 50,000 principal beneficiaries registered under the scheme to be able to pass on citizenship automatically to the next generation. It provided for them to be British citizens "by descent," a form of citizenship which is of lesser value.

Lord Bonham-Carter's amendment seeks to change this—but only in respect of the ethnic minorities with whom his Bill is concerned. It seeks to allow the members of the ethnic minorities only, who have applied and who have been successful in their application under the scheme, to have an enhanced status. It proposes that the spouses and dependants should have citizenship "otherwise than by descent" rather than "citizenship by descent" as the 1990 Act provides. Citizenship by descent is what the other successful applicants under the scheme will get.

I am bound to tell the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, that his amendment conflicts with the clearly stated principle behind the 1990 legislation that its benefits should not in general be enjoyed by future descendants of those who are selected under the scheme. It would, therefore, mark a departure from a fundamental principle of British nationality legislation which is that British citizenship should not be transmissible to people who have no close connection with the United Kingdom. I accept, though, that the amendment which the noble Lord proposes is art improvement in the context of the Bill as seen through the eyes of the noble Lord. It restricts Cause 2(2) to members of the ethnic minorities, rather than seeks to cover all spouses and children registered under the selection scheme.

As both the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said, these are complicated matters. I would not seek to oppose the amendment because it is an improvement to the noble Lord's Bill. But, as the noble Lord knows only too well, the Government regrettably do not view the noble Lord's Bill with approbation. I would say in short that the noble Lord's efforts with the amendment can be described as trying. His efforts with the Bill can only be described as very trying.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The Minister misunderstands me. My incomprehension is limited almost entirely to Clause 2(2). The Bill itself, which I wish the Government would support, I understand very well. That is why I support it. The Minister said that, regrettably, the Government do not support this Bill. It is indeed regrettable that that is the case.

Lord Bonham-Carter

The noble Earl has said that my amendment is trying. I wish the noble Earl and the Government would try to meet the demands which this Bill makes. I would be ready to consider a minor alteration so long as the principle to which this Bill is directed is put into effect and that the future of the ethnic minorities at which it is directed is ensured and made safe. I am perfectly ready to hear suggestions from the Government's own draftsmen as regards meeting arty fundamental objections as long as that does not affect the principle of the Bill. I hope therefore that the noble Earl will try to meet my remarks.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

The schedule agreed to.

House Resumed: Bill reported with amendment.