HL Deb 05 March 1998 vol 586 cc1294-6

3.16 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their plans for the future administration of the remaining dependent territories, and what changes to the nature of citizenship they have in mind for their peoples.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the future administration of the overseas territories will be based on the principle of a modern partnership with obligations for both sides. A White Paper will be published later this year which will contain details of the conclusions of the review of policy towards the overseas territories ordered by the Foreign Secretary in August last year. On citizenship, the Government are considering sympathetically offering full British citizenship to the remaining overseas territories which do not have it. But there are complex issues which need to be resolved before a decision can be made.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that many of us will find that Answer encouraging? Does she further accept that at a time when much parliamentary time is being devoted to the revision of our own constitutional processes and the regeneration of democracy within the United Kingdom, and at a time when much networking is being carried out internationally between states coming together to represent the interests of their citizens, there is a tremendous need to recognise that the citizens of our dependencies have every right to fulfilment, stakeholding and all the rest, as do any of us within the United Kingdom? All progress that can be made in this review is therefore to be encouraged.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his encouragement. I suggest that his remarks were also reflected by representatives of the dependent territories who attended the Dependent Territories Association meeting on 4th February this year when the Foreign Secretary outlined the interim conclusions of his review based on the modern contract to which I referred in my earlier Answer and a stronger and better partnership. The better partnership will be based on the four principles of self-determination, internal self-government, Britain's responsibilities to the territories and of course their responsibilities to Britain, and Britain's commitment to the territories to develop them economically and to assist them in emergencies.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, I give a warm welcome to the Answer that the Minister gave a moment ago because it is contrary to some of the press speculation which suggested that the territories might be offered second-class citizenship. Does she recognise that the small, non-viable territories are few in number but the good will and strategic gain for this country would be enormous if full citizenship were granted? Will the White Paper consider the possibility of any kind of representation in this Parliament?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his remarks. As I said in my opening Answer, there are complex issues to be decided. But the Foreign Secretary was clear that this was a matter that would be looked at not only sympathetically but urgently. The White Paper will also examine a number of different issues which the dependent territories have raised with us, including ways in which they can be better represented.

Lord Acton

My Lords, can the Minister say how many people are involved potentially in becoming full citizens?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, there are currently about 180,000 citizens in the dependent territories. Those from the Falklands and Gibraltar already have rights of abode in this country. The additional numbers are approximately 160,000.

Lord Naseby

My Lords, first, in preparing the White Paper, will the Minister consider the experience of the French Government with their dependent territories? Secondly, will the noble Baroness's department specifically look at possible representation in your Lordships' House and in another place?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, a number of different models for the relationship between a mother country and its dependent territories are under consideration. The French have a dual system. The départements d'outre mer are rather different from the territoires d'outre mer in the obligations between France and its dependent territories. However, different models have been put forward. All are under consideration at present.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, will the Minister be good enough to reiterate that there is no question that the administration of Gibraltar will be handed over to Spain without the consent of the citizens? Meanwhile, will the Government do everything possible to ensure that the Spanish authorities do not continue with their provocation and restrictions, with problems created at the border for those wishing to cross over?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am able to give my noble friend the assurance he seeks on the self-determination of the people of Gibraltar, as I have done on a number of occasions in your Lordships' House. I am also able to assure him that when incidents of provocation of the type he describes are brought before government Ministers, we take the matter up with the Spanish Government.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I do not know how many other noble Lords have received copies of a very moving letter written by two young people in St. Helena to the Prime Minister urging the case at any rate for the people of St. Helena to be given the possibility of citizenship so that the young can enjoy the full educational and career opportunities which coming to this country can give them.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am aware of the correspondence to which the noble Lord alludes. When the representatives of St. Helena were in the United Kingdom for the Dependent Territories Association Conference they were assiduous in pursuing the point that the noble Lord raises in relation to young people on the island. Her Majesty's Government have been left in no doubt about the strength of feeling on that point.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that the peoples of those territories will be left free to manage their own internal affairs, and that pressure will not be put on them to conform to someone's idea of political correctness which may or may not be suitable for this country but, in the judgment of those people, is not suitable for theirs?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we are in discussion with the governments of the overseas territories concerned about a number of different issues. They have left us in no doubt about their views; and we are also pursuing the views that we have with them. We shall be able to report on it further at the time of the publication of the White Paper.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, why have the Government blocked the Bill of the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, on St. Helena in the House of Commons?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it was felt wrong to single out one of the dependent territories at that time. We hope that the issue will be resolved by the White Paper. I reiterate what I said to your Lordships' House. It is being considered not only sympathetically but urgently.