§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.—(Lord Willoughby de Broke.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ COMMONS AMENDMENTS
[The page and line refer to Bill (90) as first printed by the Commons.]
§ COMMONS AMENDMENT
Leave out Clause 1.
§ Lord Willoughby de Broke
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. In doing so, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 2 to 18.
One of the favourite expressions of the late Deng Xiaoping was,It matters not what colour your cat is as long as it catches mice".So although the amendments before your Lordships will substantially alter the original Bill, I am satisfied that even though the cat—is a different sort of cat—a blow-dried, shampooed-and-set cat—it will still do its job and catch mice.
I was touched when I read the proceedings of the Committee stage in another place. Several Members of the Committee were kind enough to express concern in case I should be in some way hurt or disappointed that my Bill should be so severely altered. I assure the Members of that Committee that I am not at all disappointed. I am only delighted that it is going ahead as planned. It is important that the Bill be enacted as soon as possible. Pride simply does not enter into it on this occasion. I thank the Members of that Committee for the time that they gave to reviewing the Bill, and particularly my honourable friend the Member for Staffordshire South who so skilfully piloted it through its various stages in another place.
I also take this opportunity to thank my right honourable friend the Home Secretary for not being afraid to change his mind and for accepting the strong 496 case that was made to him by everyone who supported the Bill. My thanks go, too, to the Home Office officials who have worked hard to produce an effective and acceptable Bill in a very short space of time.
Turning to the amendments, Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 omit Clauses 1, 2 and 3 in order to pave the way for new Clause 1 and make some consequential rearrangements.
The replacement clause in Amendment No. 4 provides for eligible people to have an entitlement to registration as British citizens on application, instead of an automatic claim to British citizenship. It also defines the requirements which applicants will need to satisfy in order to establish an entitlement, such as ordinary residence in Hong Kong at the time of application and immediately before 4th February 1997, the date on which the Home Secretary announced his intention to legislate. It excludes people who renounced or otherwise took active steps to give up another citizenship on or after 4th February 1997.
The clause makes provision for the inclusion of children born as British nationals on or after that date and of those whose applications for naturalisation or registration as Hong Kong British Dependent Territories citizens or other British nationals are only granted on or after 4th February. It also makes provision for registration to take place only from 1st July 1997 to ensure that all potential beneficiaries qualify for right of abode in Hong Kong automatically on that date.
Amendment No. 5 first removes subsection (1) of Clause 4 which provides for people becoming British citizens under the Act to lose British Dependent Territories citizenship (BDTC) and also British National (Overseas) BN(O) status if they have that status.
As far as the loss of BDTC status is concerned, British citizenship under the Act will only be granted from 1st July; by then the status of Hong Kong BDTC will have ceased to exist; therefore that element of subsection (1) is unnecessary.
As far as the loss of BN(O) status is concerned, depriving successful applicants of that status could mean that their children and grandchildren would not be able to benefit from Article 6 of the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986 and become British Overseas citizens (BOCs) if they would otherwise be stateless. Article 6 requires the person who would be stateless to be descended from a BN(O) or a BOC.
Secondly, this amendment removes subsection (2) of Clause 4, which provides for the anti-statelessness provisions in Article 6 of the 1986 order to cease to have effect. As I have just explained, while these provisions will not be needed for the beneficiaries of the Act, they might still be needed for some potentially stateless children and grandchildren. They therefore need to be left extant.
Thirdly, the amendment inserts the provisions contained in Clause 2 of the original Bill on the acquisition of British citizenship "by descent" and "otherwise than by descent". It adds provisions for British nationals other than BDTCs to acquire British citizenship by descent in all cases. Their present status is equivalent to a "by descent" status.
497 Amendment No. 6 reinstates the power, given under Section 41(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981, to make regulations for the taking of fees. It will be necessary to charge applicants a fee in the normal way to meet the costs of providing them with citizenship.
Amendment No. 7 removes the reference to Section 44(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981. Section 44(1) says that any discretion shall be exercised without regard to the race, colour or religion of any person who may be affected by its exercise. This Bill has no discretionary provisions—registration will be an entitlement for those who meet the requirements. The reference to Section 44(1) is therefore unnecessary.
Amendment No. 8 ensures that where, in legislation pre-dating the British Nationality Act 1981 which introduced British citizenship, there are references to,[citizens] of the United Kingdom and Colonies",and their entitlement to do certain things or be eligible for certain things those references will automatically apply to people acquiring British citizenship under this legislation.
Amendment No. 9 deletes subsection (3) of Clause 5 which is a House of Lords privilege amendment. A money resolution has already been passed making subsection (3) redundant.
Amendments Nos. 10 to 17 are drafting changes which clarify Schedule 1 without affecting the substance. Amendment No. 18 deletes Schedule 2 which is not needed because the insertion of the reference to Section 41 of the British Nationality Act 1981 by Amendment No. 6—previously described—means that the British Nationality (General) Regulations 1982 would automatically prescribe how and to whom applications for registration should be made.
I am delighted that the Government have accepted the Bill and I congratulate them on doing so. I know that those affected by it are immensely relieved.
I end by thanking most sincerely all noble Lords from all sides of the House who have supported not only this Bill but the intention behind previous attempts to enact it. I think particularly of Lord Bonham-Carter. I know that he would be very pleased to see the Bill enacted, I only wish he were here with us. I am grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for her courtesy throughout all stages of the Bill. I warmly welcome her at last onto the side of the angels. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1—(Lord Willoughby de Broke.)
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, is unduly modest in what he said in introducing the amendments. He has every reason to be proud at having finally been able to steer the Bill to a successful conclusion. When we last discussed it on Third Reading on 29th January, I made a final plea to the noble Baroness that it was not yet too late. That was in a mood of some pessimism and I was quite astonished, a few days later, to read the 498 announcement that the Government had decided to accept the Bill. We ought all to greet that change of mind very graciously.
I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, that although I am not a great expert on procedure in your Lordships' House, I suspect that he is making a little piece of parliamentary history. It is not usual for this House to accept Commons amendments that virtually abolish the original Bill and rewrite it almost totally and then to say what a splendid thing the Government in the other place are doing in making the proposals.Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons".There have been many just persons in all parts of both Houses and outside. They include distinguished former governors of Hong Kong and the present Governor of Hong Kong, I think one can now safely say. He felt that it was a point of honour for this country in dealing with the important minority of people in Hong Kong who have been loyal to this country and served it well. I notice from the proceedings in another place that the Minister there told us that there are probably 8,000 such people—a larger figure than some of us have used.
Therefore, the Government have agreed to do something important. I was touched by what the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, said about my former colleague, Lord Bonham-Carter, who was one of the pioneers in raising the cause. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and, no doubt, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in welcoming the change of mind on the part of the Government.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said. Perhaps I may on my own part congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, on his single-minded dedication to getting the Bill through, the enormous amount of work he put into it and the able way in which he got us where we are. I am delighted that the Government have seen fit to change their mind. I was tempted to say that I always welcome the sinner who repents, but I do not regard the Minister as a sinner in that respect. I think that she had to do the bidding and was made to act as though she was a sinner, but I do not believe that she ever was. I do not expect her to comment on that but she was in a difficult position when the whole House was critical of the arguments that she put forward.
It is good that we are now all agreed and I am delighted that the Government have seen fit to change their mind. I know that a lot of work went on behind the scenes to achieve that end and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and his friends who went to much trouble to see that the case for the Bill was well put and listened to by the Government. The result is that we now have agreement on what is before us.
When I was in the other place, I had the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee dealing with the British Nationality Bill which became the 1981 Act. We spent much time considering the position of Hong Kong 499 and all felt uneasy as to whether we had got it right. The passage of time has suggested that we did not get it right. Further changes had to be made of which this is an important one.
I do not wish to go through the details, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, has explained to the House what the new Commons amendments mean. I wish to make a comment about two of the changes. I think it is right that people should register to become British citizens rather than that there should be an automatic process. I believe that British citizenship is an enormous privilege, by whatever means one acquires it. It is right that for those who are not British citizens the process of becoming such should be an explicit and deliberate act rather than something that happens to them inadvertently so that they do not even know that they have got it. To that extent, the change is very much for the better and improves the principle underlying the Bill. I appreciate that many of the changes are technical and 1 do not wish to dwell on them.
I wish to ask the Minister one question. In the new arrangements under the Bill, the critical date is 4th February 1997. I understand that with the exception of children born after that date, that is the cut off date and anyone who gave up any other citizenship before 4th February would be entitled to become British citizens on that date, assuming that they qualify by reason of the provisions in the new Bill.
In the original version of the Bill, the cut off date was 21st November. I wondered what the reasons were for that change. I understood that the date of 21st November was chosen so that people would not have had any basis for renouncing their citizenship, whatever it was, in order to benefit. It gave a fairly long period so that the position would be clear. I wondered what the reason was for making the change. I do not dispute that there may be merit in it.
Beyond that, I repeat the welcome to the new Bill. I am delighted that we have got there and done it before the election so that it is on the statute book and the people of Hong Kong will know that we have done our duty by a small minority of people there who deserve well of us and who will receive justice as a result of the measure.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke for accepting the savaging—it is the only way I can put it—of his original Bill. But as my noble friend said, the purpose of the Bill remains firmly intact and at the end of the day that is what matters.
When the Bill was last considered, I indicated that the Government remained opposed to new legislation to give British citizenship to the solely British ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. The House will now be fully aware that we have decided to withdraw our opposition. We have done so because, in the light of the views expressed in both Houses and by the Governor and others in Hong Kong, it has become clear that, however forcefully we emphasised the immigration guarantees which the ethnic minorities have been given, and 500 however much we underlined the fact that they would not become stateless, we had ultimately not succeeded in assuaging the concern that the ethnic minorities felt about their position in Hong Kong after the change in sovereignty. It is plain that nothing short of British citizenship will put their minds at rest.
The Government are therefore now content to support my noble friend's Bill. As my noble friend said, the Bill as it has returned from another place is a rather different animal from the one which was before the House last year. However, it is different only in detail, not in its objectives. The amendments are all designed to ensure that the Bill properly meets its objectives. As amended, the Bill will ensure that, subject to certain safeguards to prevent abuse, all solely British nationals of whatever type in Hong Kong will be entitled to be registered as British citizens. It will also cover all those in the non-Chinese ethnic minority communities in Hong Kong who would have benefited from the immigration guarantee.
My noble friend has unreservedly welcomed the amendments before us this evening and I also commend them to the House. I hope now that we can see early enactment of this measure and the speedy establishment of the machinery for dealing with the applications in Hong Kong.
As regards the 4th February date mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the Bill, like the Government's earlier assurances, is aimed at the ethnic minorities living in Hong Kong when the Home Secretary made his announcement. It would be wrong for the Bill to apply also to people resident elsewhere who moved voluntarily to Hong Kong following the announcement by the Home Secretary. The cut-off date was pushed back, as it was thought only fair not to—I must pause there.
§ Baroness Blatch
It was fair not to penalise those who renounced their citizenship before the Home Secretary made his announcement. I think I got it right in my own first answer. I should have left it at that while I was winning.
I join my noble friend in thanking my right honourable friend the Secretary of State who did listen to the arguments; Members of another place who worked very hard and fast in bringing the Bill before us at this time; and the officials in the Home Office who, I know, have been helpful to my noble friend in talking him through the amendments to make sure that nothing in the intentions of my noble friend were compromised in any way.
I think all of us will want to join my noble friend and other noble Lords who referred to the late Lord Bonham-Carter. What Lord Bonham-Carter started has been finished tonight, due in large measure, I believe, to the arguments he put in this House which were taken up by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke. I am 501 not sure what protocol says about what I am about to say. But I should like not simply to put that on record but to write to Lady Bonham-Carter with the acknowledgment of this House that the efforts made by Lord Bonham-Carter in this respect have been both recognised and honoured in the passage of this Bill.
Let me conclude by offering my congratulations to my noble friend on his success with the Bill. I know that it will give him and all those who supported him great satisfaction to see it enacted and this long-running and difficult issue brought to a happy conclusion.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, let me add a word in relation to the late Lord Bonham-Carter. I knew him very well as a friend in all kinds of political activities outside the House, although he was in a different party. I very much respected the stand that he took on this matter. I was not a Member of the House at the time. What the Minister said is a very noble gesture with which I should like to associate myself fully.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to express my appreciation and say to the noble Baroness that what she has just said is generous beyond the call of duty. I am sure that it will be very deeply appreciated by Lady Bonham-Carter.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ COMMONS AMENDMENTS
- 2 Leave out Clause 2.
- 3 Leave out Clause 3.
- 4 Before Clause 4, insert the following new clause
§ ACQUISITION OF BRITISH CITIZENSHIP
'.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, the Secretary of State shall, on an application made for the purpose, register as a British citizen any person who—
(2) The requirements of this subsection are that, immediately before 4th February 1997 ("the relevant date"), the person—
- (a) was ordinarily resident in Hong Kong;
- (b) was a British Dependent Territories citizen by virtue only of his having a connection with Hong Kong (within the meaning given by the Schedule to this Act); and
- (c) would have been a stateless person if he had not been such a citizen, or such a citizen and a British National (Overseas).
(3) The requirements of this subsection are that, immediately before the relevant date, the person—
- (a) was ordinarily resident in Hong Kong;
- (b) was a British Overseas citizen, a British subject or a British protected person; and
- (c) would have been a stateless person if he had not been such a citizen, subject or person.
(4) Subsections (2) and (3) above shall each have effect, in relation to a person who is or was born at any time on or after the relevant date, as if the reference to immediately before that date were a reference to that time.
(5) Paragraphs (b) and (c) of each of those subsections shall have effect, in relation to a person who, at any time on or after the relevant date, becomes or became—
- (a) in the case of subsection (2) above, a British Dependent Territories citizen; or
- (b) in the case of subsection (3) above, a British Overseas citizen, a British subject or a British protected person,
(6) A person shall not be registered under subsection (1) above if, on or after the relevant date, he renounces or renounced, or otherwise gives or gave up of his own volition, the status of a national or citizen of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom.
(7) A person shall not be registered under subsection (1) above before 1st July 1997.
(8) In this section expressions which are also used in the British Nationality Act 1981 ("the principal Act") have the same meanings as in that Act.'.
5 Clause 4, page 2, line 1, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—
'(1) A person who is registered as a British citizen under subsection (1) of section (Acquisition of British citizenship) above, and satisfies the requirements of subsection (2) of that section, shall be treated for the purposes of the principal Act as—
- (a) a British citizen by descent; or
- (b) a British citizen otherwise than by descent,
according as, immediately before becoming a British citizen, he was for the purposes of that Act a British Dependent Territories citizen by descent or a British Dependent Territories citizen otherwise than by descent.
(2) A person who is registered as a British citizen under subsection (1) of section (Acquisition of British citizenship) above, and satisfies the requirements of subsection (3) of that section, shall be treated for the purposes of the principal Act as a British citizen by descent.'.
6 Clause 4, page 2, line 11, leave out 'other than subsection (2)'.
7 Clause 4, page 2, leave out lines 13 and 14.
8 Clause 4, page 2, line 19, at end insert—
'section 51(3) (meaning of "citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies" in other Acts and instruments).'.
9 Clause 5, page 2, line 24, leave out subsection (3).
10 Schedule 1, page 3, line 5, leave out from 'person' to 'below' in line 8 and insert 'shall be taken to have a connection with Hong Kong for the purposes of section (Acquisition of British citizenship)(2) of this Act if—
(a) subject to paragraph 2'.
11 Schedule 1, page 3, line 15, after 'mother' insert '("the registered person")'.
12 Schedule 1, page 3, line 20, leave out 'person registered' and insert 'registered person'.
13 Schedule 1, page 3, line 25, leave out from 'would' to end of line 26 and insert ', but for his death or renunciation of citizenship, be such a citizen by virtue of his having such a connection'.
14 Schedule 1, page 3, line 28, leave out 'citizenship has been renounced and subsequently resumed,' and insert 'the registered person had previously renounced citizenship of 503 the United Kingdom and Colonies, or British Dependent Territories citizenship,'.
15 Schedule 1, page 3, line 36, leave out 'have been so but for his death' and insert ', but for his death or renunciation of citizenship, he such a citizen by virtue of his having such a connection'.
16 Schedule 1, page 3, line 42, leave out '(3)' and insert '2.'.
17 Schedule 1, page 3, line 43, leave out 'under' and insert 'as specified in'.
18 Leave out Schedule 2.
§ Lord Willoughby de Broke
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 2 to 18 en bloc, to which I spoke on Commons Amendment No. 1.
§ Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 2 to 18.—(Lord Willoughby de Broke.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.