HL Deb 13 January 1997 vol 577 cc91-4

8 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

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 Willoughby de Broke.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Hooper) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Acquisition of British citizenship]:

[Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

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

Lord Willoughby de Broke moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 24, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: The deletion of subsection (2) of this clause will remove any danger of attack upon the Bill whereby it may be construed that it interferes with the provisions of the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990. Therefore, this provision will tighten the Bill and make it more acceptable to the Government. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

The Government see this amendment as an improvement. The present Clause 2(2) conflicts with the clearly stated principle behind the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990 that, as a short-term measure dealing with an exceptional situation, its benefits should not extend to future descendants of those selected under the British Nationality Selection Scheme. It would also give to the solely British ethnic minority scheme beneficiaries an advantage denied to other scheme beneficiaries. The Government welcome the fact that those deficiencies are being rectified by the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Supplementary]:

[Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Short title and extent]:

Lord Willoughby de Broke moved Amendment No. 6: Page 2, line 26, leave out ("section 3(3)") and insert ("section 4(3)").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to correct a typographical error in Clause 5(2). It should refer to Section 4(3) instead of Section 3(3).

Perhaps I may explain to the Committee the reasons for not moving Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. Certain issues have arisen which need further thought and clarification. I hope to return to deal with those matters at Report or on Third Reading. I look forward to doing that. In the meantime, I beg to move the amendment.

Lord Wilson of Tillyorn

It may seem odd to rise to speak on an amendment which seeks to correct a typographical error, but the proceedings have gone through so quickly that I was not able to rise earlier.

I wish to express my support for the earlier amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. More important, I wish to express my support for the tremendous effort that he has made to deal with this very small but real problem which affects a significant group of people in Hong Kong. That deserves our support.

Perhaps I may merely comment on that earlier amendment that it is a form of rough justice but a perfectly acceptable form of rough justice for the reasons which the noble Lord and the Minister referred to; namely, it avoids conflict with the earlier British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990. If we are to deal with that group of people, we must make sure that we do not become tangled up in the thorns of some other problem because this issue now deserves to be dealt with. I should like to express my support for the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke.

Lord Geddes

I rise to support my noble friend Lord Willougby de Broke and to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn. This is a cause which is well worth pursuing. It has been pursued now for some years on all sides of the Chamber. I ask my noble friend to take very seriously both the fact and the principle behind the fact of the Bill.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

I strongly support the Bill. I feel that there is an issue of timing here. It is vital that we should be seen to do the honourable and proper thing now and not be forced to do it in some very ambiguous way later which would probably cause infinitely more trouble and danger to our future relationship with China. It is better to take this action now as a matter of course—tidying up a family issue and an issue of loyalty and honour. I believe that the Chinese respect people who respect themselves. They would find it very difficult to respect us if we do something unwillingly later under pressure or perhaps not do it at all, which would be even worse.

Lord Dubs

I support this amendment and in doing so, I take the opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, on the effort that he has put into this Bill. It is an extremely worthwhile measure which I hope will meet with the approval of the House in its later stages. I hope that it becomes law before the election. It is an excellent measure and it will make a significant difference to a very small group of people in Hong Kong whose rights would otherwise have been taken away from them.

Baroness Blatch

As regards the amendment itself, as my noble friend said, it merely seeks to rectify an incorrect cross-reference and as such, the amendment is acceptable. However, in view of the general comments that have been made, I should repeat that the Government are still not supporting the Bill.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Schedules agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

House adjourned at nineteen minutes past eight o'clock.