§ 4.52 p.m.
§ The Earl of Iveagh
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
Historically speaking, the St. Helenians, or "Saints" as they are often euphemistically called, are descendants of those settled by the British. Britain landed the first permanent settlers on the island, many being evacuees from the Great Fire of London. The process of building an island fortress began. The British East India Company organised almost every aspect of the island's social and economic fabric. Hardwoods were grown for the repair of visiting ships; fruits and vegetables were grown for the hungry seamen. In some years over 2,000 ships anchored offshore. Many people settled, and there was prosperity.
In this century the technological advances made in maritime technology, together with the opening of the Suez Canal, ended the island's great trade era. Although it still had New Zealand flax to keep the island alive, prices of that commodity collapsed, making it uneconomic to produce, thus leaving the island with no major industry and the islanders with very little opportunity. The then government stepped into the breach by creating in some instances time-filling jobs. That policy has now, thankfully, been dismantled, hence the unemployment problem, which now stands at over 18 per cent.
Visiting the island this summer, I was touched by the overwhelming sense of Britishness. The majority of the people are Anglican; their schools teach using the national curriculum, and, of course, the language is English. The people in the street recount with pride the visit of Prince Andrew to the island. In huge white letters on the cliffs above Jamestown reads the message "Welcome Prince Andrew".
The civil rights of the St. Helenians were granted by King Charles II in 1673 by Royal Charter, which stated that its people,Shall have and enjoy liberties, franchises, immunities, capacities and abilities of free denizens and neutral subjects within any of our dominions to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born within this our kingdom England or in any other of our dominions".This freedom has been eroded by the introduction of work permits for Saints who want to work in the United Kingdom, followed by the British Nationality Act 1981 844 which has effectively made them second-class citizens of their own country. The House of Commons debate in 1997 highlighted the widespread concern at the present situation. Sir Nicholas Bonsor, the then Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, said:Everyone who has the welfare of St. Helena at heart agrees that the status quo is not an option".Sir David Mitchell, on the Conservative Benches, said:I know that I am not the only hon Member who did not realise when we passed the British Nationality Act 1981 that we were closing off the route for St. Helenians to come to work in the UK".Mr. Tony Lloyd, who is now the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, said in the same debate:There can be no doubt that our commitment…to the island and its dependent territories is legal and historical, but it is also a moral commitment and we cannot avoid that".Why should we grant citizenship to St. Helenian people over and above others in the dependent territories? I believe that the special case for the island and its dependencies largely springs from its poor economic status. Restoring full British passports will create a much needed release valve for the islanders, who seek to raise their living standards from a very low base. Currently the annual income per head stands at 3,000 dollars.
The Saints do have the opportunity, it is true, under the work experience scheme to work elsewhere. However, they are often forced to spend long periods working, say, in the Falklands or on Ascension Island or indeed in Britain. Apart from splitting up families these jobs are usually short-term and thus they do not give the long-term security that we all crave. A law to prevent the abandonment of children was passed earlier this year. The abandonment of children is another symptom of social injustice which the present situation creates.
The island's economic status is punctuated by lost opportunity. A Ministry of Defence survey back in 1941 declared an airstrip as feasible. It is now 1997 and there are still no plans for an airstrip. The island is very well served by the RMS "St. Helena", which is an extremely versatile ship with a highly dedicated crew. However, the case for an airstrip comes into its own when we consider such things as medical emergencies and the development of the island's full tourist potential.
Fishing is another under-capitalised asset. Large reserves of fish stocks are thought to exist offshore, but they are currently unreachable due to the lack of a suitably large boat with refrigeration. A super-processing and canning facility awaits on the island. Another concern is the lack of reconnaissance over our fishing waters. On its way from Capetown the RMS "St. Helena" passed a long-distance South Korean trawler operating close to St. Helenian waters. We have no idea as to whether there is any incursion into our waters.
The restoration of British nationality is a humanitarian concern. It would merely be restoring what was sanctioned for a long time. Do we want to keep a minority of our people in a bureaucratic entanglement that denies citizens their full rights? 845 The status quo fails to conform to the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 15 states:A) Everyone has the right to a nationality; B) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality".My private visit to the island this summer put an end to any doubts as to the need for change. The legislative council and the citizenship commission both lend wholehearted support to the concept of British nationality, together, I might add, with the views of the people on the street. I urge Her Majesty's Government to take note of the views of the legislative councillors during their forthcoming visit to Britain.
The young people of the island in particular would benefit from the Bill. Chatting to the bright school-leavers at St. Andrew's School, I asked how many of them would like to get some form of higher or further education or to visit Britain. Twenty-two hands were raised. Under the present arrangements, between four and five school-leavers can come to Britain to study per year. That is a much lower percentage than for the lucky school-leavers in mainland Britain who enjoy further or higher education. To make things worse, the same generous budget could stretch far further if the "Saints" were not considered to be overseas students, thus having higher fees to pay.
I frequently asked how many from the island would leave to visit Britain either to work or to stay. The top estimate was 500 people. To those noble Lords who may be concerned that we may depopulate the island as a result of this Bill, I suggest that we look at what happened on Tristan da Cunha, which faced a full evacuation in the 1960s with total repatriation to the UK. An overwhelming majority of that population returned to their homes when the all-clear was given.
I urge your Lordships to support this Bill to restore full nationality to the St. Helenians. I finish by reiterating the plea to Her Majesty's Government to give back some hope to the young.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Earl of Iveagh.)
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I have never been to St. Helena, but some years ago when I was in the Whips Office I remember being asked by the Foreign Office to dispatch a Whip to St. Helena to carry out some ceremonial duty because no Foreign Office Minister was available. The Whip was dispatched, weeks went by and we thought that we had seen the last of him. I shall not reveal to your Lordships whether that gave us pleasure or pain, but it certainly gave us a shock and it brought home to me the remoteness of St. Helena because it was literally weeks before the fellow returned.
St. Helena is not only remote—1,200 miles from the coast of Africa—and nowadays, unlike during the last century, on the way to nowhere; it has virtually no natural wealth, no mineral deposits and little cultivable land. I am told that its waters are not even particularly 846 rich in fish. Therefore, it is very different from the other dependent territories, which brings me to the simple point that I want to make today.
There is a powerful case for granting—some might say "restoring"—full British citizenship to those belonging to all our remaining dependent territories. I find it very difficult to accept the objections raised by the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, in her reply to our debate on the dependent territories in June. The Minister said that free access to Britain for those belonging to our remaining dependent territories would mean reciprocity—that is, unrestricted access by other British citizens to the islands. That is simply untrue, as is obvious from taking a simple look at the Channel Islands, where housing legislation is used to prevent strangers taking up residence by denying them the right to buy or lease accommodation and then denying the right to work to those who are not lawfully housed. Furthermore, there certainly was not reciprocity when we last shared a common citizenship with those belonging in the dependent territories when we were all citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies. Why, therefore, should there be reciprocity if we restore common citizenship?
The Minister argued that it would be cynical to grant British citizenship to those belonging in the remaining dependent territories so soon after the return of Hong Kong to China, but the sheer impracticality of granting free entry to Britain to 3.5 million citizens of Hong Kong now that Hong Kong is no longer a British responsibility is scarcely an argument for refusing to do what is right by the 160,000 people living in territories for which we do have a continuing responsibility.
Having said all that, I have to accept that it appears that for the time being the Government have set their face against the change that I advocate. I want to make it absolutely plain that, to the best of my knowledge, nobody in Bermuda, for instance, takes the view that if all the remaining dependent territories cannot have British citizenship none should. They recognise that St. Helena poses very special responsibilities which simply must be addressed while the general argument continues to be pursued. I heartily support the Bill and I congratulate the noble Earl on having introduced it.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I very much hope that the Minister will indicate government acceptance of the Bill and its proposals. St. Helena is a very small island with a very small population. There seems to be very little justification for keeping it in isolation. Therefore, I very much hope that the Minister will say that he will advise the House to accept the Bill.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, I took part in our debate on the dependent territories and urged the case for all their citizens ultimately to have what is, after all, a very limited privilege, given the numbers involved. I also 847 agree—I have been fortified in this view also by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington—that St. Helena is in any event a special case. All of us will have been very moved by the speech of the noble Earl who introduced the Bill and who gave a graphic account of the various difficulties which the people of St. Helena, and particularly its young people, face because of the impact of legislation which was certainly not designed for their detriment. I very much hope that Her Majesty's Government will find this modest little Bill something which can be accommodated.
This Government should have a particular interest in St. Helena. We all know that one of the distinguishing features of the present Government is their employment of spin doctors. Whatever else is true of St. Helena, it is where the profession originated. It was the group of people who followed Napoleon into exile and who produced the documents, memoirs and books which created the Napoleonic legend which made that conqueror the apostle of liberty, democracy and "modernisation", that current buzz word. So, even if only out of gratitude for their spin doctors, I hope that Ministers will feel that St. Helena has a great claim upon their sympathy.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord Holderness
My Lords, I have been asked by my noble friend Lady Hooper to apologise for her absence. She has another appointment that had been made even before her appointment with your Lordships this afternoon.
I must next congratulate the noble Earl—whom I am proud to call, as he allows me to, my noble kinsman—not only on his speech this afternoon but also on the energy with which he is pursuing something which he obviously believes to be right and on the initiative that he showed when he paid a visit to the island to see all that he ought for himself. If this does not make him blush too scarlet, perhaps I may say that all the reports that I have heard of his visit have been impressive. I have a number of spies at work and they report to me that my noble kinsman's visit created a great sensation on the island. That is not surprising and it is partly due to the difficulties mentioned by my noble friend Lord Waddington. It takes quite a long time to get to St. Helena and to get away from it. It was only by taking a month or two away from your Lordships' House that I managed to do so myself.
I hope that my noble kinsman's impressions are similar to mine. I suspect that they will be. First, I hope that he greatly likes the people—it would be impossible not to do so. Secondly, he has made it clear that tonight, and in the future, we must take account of the unique isolation of the island. Thirdly, and most importantly, he has shown in introducing the Bill that he believes, as do I, that the continued refusal of British citizenship cannot be justified.
I understand that the present position on the island depends on the British Nationality Act 1981. In that respect, I wish to make a personal confession. I was a Member of your Lordships' House in 1981 and had the opportunity of opposing what the Conservative Government were then suggesting, but I did not take it.
848 My only excuse in my defence is that my knowledge was less clear that the 1981 Act changed the 1948 Act, which had been introduced and carried by the Labour Government after the war.
The 1948 Act gave to the Home Secretary the power to grant a certificate of naturalisation—in other words, to confirm citizenship—to any applicant who had lived for four out of the last seven years in the colony or dependency, who was of good behaviour and who had an adequate knowledge of English. In the light of that legislation a number of my noble friends and I were disappointed by the refusal of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, to restore the right which my noble friend Lord Iveagh rightly said was granted to the St. Helenians not yesterday or 10 years ago but more than 300 years ago. On that occasion, the noble Baroness based her refusal on three grounds. The first, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Waddington, was that it would be necessary to make reciprocal arrangements with the colonies concerned. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will say whether he has any grounds for believing that the Government of St. Helena will refuse recipricocity if we allow them the privilege that they want in this country.
Secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said that the issue of citizenship for the Falkland Islands had arisen only because a Private Member's Bill was introduced. That is exactly the vehicle which my noble friend is choosing to introduce the same privilege for the St. Helenians. The argument about Hong Kong convinces me no more than it convinced my noble friend Lord Waddington. If that argument is used, surely it will freeze the whole position as regards our dependent territories and it will make impossible for ever changes in dependent citizenship.
I wish to remind the Minister, if he needs reminding, that the Government he supports has as yet shown no reluctance to make changes to our own constitution, nor in the relationship between one part of Britain and another. Therefore, it seems wholly illogical that they should aim to freeze relationships between Britain and its remaining dependencies. It may be that in Scotland, and even more so in Wales, many people prefer the present situation rather than the Government's proposals for the future. But the Government—and rightly, in my opinion—gave to the Scots and the Welsh the power to express a view. On a number of occasions, I have heard the Minister give sympathetic if not wholly satisfactory answers to some of our problems. In the light of the decision in respect of Scotland and Wales, I beg him in discussions with colleagues to pay heed to the intense wish of the people of St. Helena and restore their right of citizenship in this country.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, on introducing the Bill. I feel perhaps even a little jealous. When in 1994 I introduced the first debate on St. Helena for 10 years, I said:I am not tonight asking about citizenship and the right of abode. That is in the minds of all your Lordships who know anything about St. Helena, and we shall come to it in due course in your Lordships' House, possibly when the affairs of Hong Kong are on a more even keel".—[Official Report, 1/2/94; col. 1242.]849 That time has now come and it is right that a Bill has been introduced by the noble Earl. I hope that the Government will treat it sympathetically.
My noble friend Lord Lester, who has been producing a legal opinion for the benefit of some citizens of St. Helena, greatly wished to take part in the debate and I know that he would have been able to add a great deal. However, he has unfortunately been summoned away to talk to a member of the Government and cannot be here.
I speak on behalf of my party in wishing the Bill well. We hope that in their forthcoming review the Government will examine the whole position of dependent territories and will consider the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. I am delighted to learn from him that the people of Bermuda do not in any way have a dog-in-the-manger attitude towards this problem. One or two other sources led one to believe that they might have done so, but I am delighted to know that is incorrect.
There are very few countries coloured red dotted around the globe—the dependent territories, to which we owe various forms of friendship and gratitude. I believe that in time we should be able to grant them all citizenship. I see no major reason why we do not do so. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, has chosen a good time to introduce this Bill relating to St. Helena. I understand that a delegation from its Legislative Council will arrive next month and will discuss this issue and others with the Government. I hope that the Government will be able to meet its case.
There was a time when St. Helena was very much a part of the experience of Britain. It was the staging post from India to the Cape and back to England. I have recently finished reading Vanity Fair and your Lordships will remember Osborne and Jos coming back from India and stopping off at St. Helena on the way. Many English people in India, English boats and the Navy owed a great deal to St. Helena in those days. That debt has been reciprocated in that the St. Helenians have always felt a strong affection for England. I regret to say that that affection has been tested during the past few years, but I hope that it will not be tested if the Bill is allowed to become law or if it is taken over by the Government, which I hope will be the case.
St. Helena is as English an outpost of the Empire as any. We owe the St. Helenians hospitality. They have no other major contact with other parts of the world. They do not, like the Caribbeans, have countries around them which are the same as they are. They are miles from anywhere, and their affections and loyalties lie with us. I hope sincerely, as does my party, that the Government will be able to see their way either to giving this Bill a fair wind or to making sure that the subject is taken over and made their own.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Anelay of St. Johns
My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, for giving us the opportunity to consider this Bill, a Bill which would 850 restore British citizenship to St. Helenians, who lost that citizenship and right of abode in the United Kingdom as a result of the British Nationality Act 1981.
I endorse what the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, said about the qualities of the Saints, as they are known, who have for so long made that British dependency loyal to the Crown and a law-abiding place in which to live.
I regret that before I prepared for this debate, I knew little of St. Helena except for the information which I had gleaned nearly a quarter of a century ago as a history teacher and certainly over the past year from the many press articles which have appeared on the matter. I hope that I have now remedied that omission and I look forward to seeing the result of the debates on the Bill. I hope that it will give the British public the opportunity to learn more of St. Helena and its residents.
The previous Conservative government made it clear that their commitment to the island is more than legal and historic; that it is a moral commitment too. The question has been how we should best discharge that commitment. As we have known for some time, the problem is that economic and social pressures, when allied to aid dependency, can lead only to a downward spiral of economic stagnation. As with all the remaining territories, we as a government cared then and now in Opposition care still about the welfare of St. Helenians and share wholeheartedly their desire for a better and more prosperous future.
While in government we made available aid support of more than £8 million per year, which I understand equates with about £1,500 per year per head of population and is the highest per capita package of United Kingdom aid in the world. However, we, and the Saints themselves, always wanted to see a reduced dependency upon aid. We wanted economic development to lead to a prosperous future for the island. Private sector development and public sector reform are the keys to the island's future.
We worked with the island's government in their efforts to attract inward investment. Last year a British company established a fishing operation on the island and at the end of March this year a business forum was established to encourage more United Kingdom companies to invest in the local economy. The majority of Saints wish to stay on the island and it is therefore vital that whatever else we do today we remain determined to help them to achieve greater self-sufficiency and a stronger all-round economy.
But time moves on and the new Government have continued negotiations with the St. Helenians. Political constraints on policy-making can change. My noble friend Lord Waddington said today that he believes that people in other dependencies—he mentioned Bermuda, of which he has so much experience—would not feel slighted if St. Helenians were given citizenship and they were not. I bow to his expert knowledge in that field.
Other distinguished noble friends on this side have spoken most strongly in favour of the Bill. On these Benches we maintain our commitment to the welfare of St. Helena. Perhaps the time has now come when it is 851 right to look again at the question of whether the residents of St. Helena should have British citizenship. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)
My Lords, I too am most grateful to the noble Earl for his speech today and also, just as important, for the contribution that he has been making to the search for solutions to what I think everyone recognises are real difficulties.
I want to say quite plainly that the Government share many of the concerns which have been expressed and I say on behalf of the Government that we have considerable sympathy for the people of St. Helena in relation to the problems which they face. The point of disagreement is whether what is proposed in the Bill is the best and most appropriate way to deal with those problems. At the moment the Government have some doubts about the noble Earl's citizenship proposal.
A number of your Lordships have referred to the British Nationality Act 1981. However, in point of historic fact, restrictions on entry from the former colonies into the United Kingdom and on right of abode here were introduced almost 20 years before that by the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. The inhabitants of the dependent territories have not been free to come here at will, to work or settle since the introduction of that Act.
If this Bill became law, it would mean undoubtedly—it is a matter of judgment whether it is acceptable—a further erosion of the scheme set out in the British Nationality Act 1981, to which a number of your Lordships have referred. That scheme was intended to apply to the dependent territories as a whole. The Act of 1981 provides for different forms of British nationality to be acquired according to whether a person has close connections with the United Kingdom, a British dependent territory or elsewhere. If we adopt the Bill, we shall be departing from the fundamental principle which has been followed over the past 35 years to restrict the right of abode in the United Kingdom to those who have close links by birth, parentage or residence with the United Kingdom.
It has been the policy of all British governments since the early 1960s to distinguish between British nationals who have connections overseas and those who have connections with the United Kingdom. All governments have imposed immigration controls on those nationals who do not have close links with the United Kingdom. The exceptions to the general policy have been Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and certain people in Hong Kong. The reasons for the exceptions in relation to the people of Hong Kong are well known. As regards Gibraltar, those British dependent citizens who have their status through a connection with Gibraltar are, because of their position in Europe, included in the definition of UK nationals for EU purposes. They enjoy European Community rights of freedom of movement within the European Union. They are able to settle in the United Kingdom. The government of the day concluded that they should be able to become British 852 citizens if they so wished without residing in the United Kingdom. Specific provision for that was made exceptionally in the British Nationality Act 1981.
A number of references have been made to the Falkland Islands. Immediately after the Falklands war—I agree respectfully with what the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, said—a Private Member's Bill was introduced in your Lordships' House. It became the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act of 1983. It conferred British citizenship automatically on 400 islanders out of a population of about 2,000 who were not already British citizens. Most had had sufficiently close links with the United Kingdom to qualify for British citizenship by descent when the Act of 1981 came into force on 1st January 1983. The government of the day provided help with the drafting of that Private Member's Bill, but they made clear also at the same time that they did not wish to see that Bill used as a precedent.
The noble Lord, Lord Holderness, asked whether reciprocity was a significant feature in the St. Helena connection. Nothing has been said by St. Helena on the question and I do not believe, given the notice that I have had of that question—which is limited of course—that that has been a topic of discussion between Her Majesty's Government and St. Helena. I shall revert to that a little more fully when I deal with the Government's review.
Because the British dependent territories' citizenship is of a unitary nature any proposals to change the situation in St. Helena must take into account possible consequences elsewhere. We cannot simply look at British nationality law purely in terms of the effect on St. Helena. There are about 150,000 British dependent territories' citizens living in our remaining territories. We have received representations from other territories as well as from St. Helena. There are 3.4 million British nationals overseas in Hong Kong, and many thousands of other British nationals across the world who do not have right of abode in the United Kingdom. Therefore, whatever the ultimate conclusion may be, the overall situation must be the subject of scrutiny by a responsible government, as also must be the possible implications arising in those areas.
There is a further question with which the noble Earl dealt; namely, the social and economic problems in St. Helena. I entirely understand the validity of the description which he put forward. One of the questions is whether the noble Earl's Bill will prove to be a solution to the problems of the islanders. That aspect also needs to be carefully considered. Some people doubt that there would be a great rush of the inhabitants of St. Helena to this country. It may be that the possibility of access to Britain would be a release valve; indeed, it might lessen the feeling of frustration among the young. There may well be financial benefits both ways. Others take the view that, if the Bill became law, it might encourage the gradual depopulation of St. Helena.
People have suggested, with a good deal of force, that it may well be preferable to concentrate on other ways of trying to improve the situation in St. Helena.
853 For example, as the noble Earl and other speakers pointed out, there could be more employment opportunities in the United Kingdom for St. Helenians who wish to come here temporarily for that purpose. We are currently looking at ways of improving opportunities on Ascension Island and on the Falkland Islands. At the same time—and I take the noble Earl's point—we are considering the question of access to training and employment in the UK and how that might be made easier for those who wish to come here for those purposes. There are 25 trainees at present in the UK under a training and work experience scheme. Because he mentioned the matter specifically, I am happy to be able to tell the noble Earl that we are trying to increase the number coming here under the scheme for between one and four years. We hope to ensure that the skills gained by trainees who come to the UK are relevant to the present and future needs of St. Helena.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, made reference to the review. I respectfully agree with him in his view that it is something of great importance. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has announced that there will be a review of all dependent territories. That will be wide-ranging and will consider the nationality situation applying to dependent territories. In our view, it would not be sensible to pre-empt the outcome of that review in any way. The review ought to be in a position to allow the Foreign Secretary to announce its conclusions by February of next year. So it is not a case with which we are all wearily familiar of booting the ball into the long grass; indeed, it is intended to be a focused, short-term review. Therefore, while the Government reiterate the sympathy which we have for the difficult conditions under which the islanders labour, our intention is to reserve our position on the Bill until the review has reached its conclusions. We have an open mind and are eager to see what the review produces.
We are aware that the citizenship issue is one which the islanders consider lies at the heart of the relationship between the island and Britain. There is the history of more than 300 years which is a source of real pride, especially in St. Helena, but also I hope in the UK for those who consider such matters. We recognise that there are social and political tensions and, therefore, social and political grievances. We are alert to them and will do what we can to address them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said that times change and that we need to review changing circumstances. I entirely agree. That is why my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary thought some time back that it was the right time to take stock of the present situation at this time in our history. That is why he commissioned the review. I cannot leave the topic without reference to the remarks made by my lunchtime companion and sparring friend, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. He spoke about the first spin-doctors having sprung into existence in St. Helena. Oh, no! The noble Lord never gets his historical references wrong; but is there not a statue immediately outside your Lordships' 854 House to that great man the Lord Protector who in historical terms has not done too badly from spin-doctors?
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, could he please answer a question about the review? Is he saying that when the review is completed all of the 160,000 people who are now inhabitants of the dependent territories will be looking at the possibility of getting proper British citizenship? I believe that 160,000 is a very small number and the idea that all of them would suddenly arrive in Dover at one moment seems to be silly. Is the Minister saying that the Government will look at the possibility of all members of our dependent territories becoming proper British subjects? If that is the case, it seems to me to be a very good thing. However, if that is not the case, I believe that we should support my noble friend's Bill.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am saying that there will be a review of every aspect which relates to the 150,000 people in the dependent territories. Nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out. The whole point of a review is to approach all such questions with an open mind to see whether changing circumstances require changes in our legislation relating to right of entry and right of abode in the United Kingdom.
Most importantly—and I hope your Lordships will agree; indeed, this refers back to what the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, has said—we shall listen with great care to every representation put before us. However, I am not sensibly able to indicate any conclusion which may or may not be reached by the review body.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, will the Minister say whether his reference to a possible Statement in February amounts to a definite assurance that there will be a government Statement in February covering the matter?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, my right honourable friend has already announced that the review is in hand and he hopes, I believe with every confidence, to be able to make such a statement at the conclusion of the review, which should not go beyond February. I hope that that response is of assistance to the noble Lord.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ The Earl of Iveagh
My Lords, I should like, first, to thank all speakers for their kind words of support. We have indeed heard some most convincing arguments for St. Helena citizenship; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, accepted that the island was a special case. I must agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, in that I believe the ideal situation would be to review the status of dependent territories citizens as a whole, although there is obviously a most pressing need for St. Helena in that respect.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for her kind words of support. I should like to make one point of caution here. The figures for budgetary aid are indeed 855 high for the island. However, we must calculate how much of that budgetary aid actually stays on the island and how much returns to Britain in one way or another.
I should like ultimately to thank the Minister for outlining the Government's position. I believe that it is right for me to proceed with the Bill at this stage. Therefore, I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.