§ 3.22 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I am delighted that one of my first tasks as Minister for the Overseas Territories is to introduce to this House the British Overseas Territories Bill. The Bill seeks to fulfil a commitment to grant British citizenship, and with it the right of abode in the United Kingdom, to British Dependent Territories citizens in qualifying overseas territories.
Many of your Lordships will be familiar with Britain's overseas territories. There are 14 of them. They are Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St Helena and Dependencies, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia on Cyprus and the Turks and Caicos Islands. They include some of the most prosperous and some of the most remote islands in the world. They range from the highly developed business, financial and tourist centres of some of the Caribbean territories and Bermuda to the pristine wilderness of Antarctica. They have many differences. But they have one thing in common: their link with Britain.
In March 1999 the British Government published a White Paper entitled Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories. The White Paper was the culmination of a wide-ranging review of our relationship with the overseas territories. It laid the foundations for a new relationship, built on the fundamental principles of self-determination, the acceptance of responsibilities on both sides and the 1015 greatest possible control for the people of the overseas territories over their own lives. It set out an agenda explaining what each side expected of the partnership in terms of support for good governance, sustainable social and economic development and protection of the environment.
Over the past two years, in close consultation with the territories, we have moved that agenda forward. The nature of our relationship has evolved in line with the principles in the White Paper, and we have made progress across a broad range of issues, including constitutional reform, human rights, the environment and financial regulation. An annual meeting of the Overseas Territories Consultative Council provides a forum in which Chief Ministers can to get to know their British ministerial counterparts and discuss with them, and with each other, common problems. The next meeting will be in September. Our relationship with the territories has changed, and continues to change.
A cornerstone of the new approach set out in the White Paper was the proposal to grant British citizenship to British Dependent Territories citizens in qualifying territories. to give proper recognition of their British connection and to lift the limitations which BDTC status carries with it. The Bill is a fulfilment of that commitment. The proposed citizenship provisions in the Bill apply to all territories except the sovereign base areas of Cyprus which are excluded by virtue of their special status as military bases.
We estimate that around 200,000 people could become British citizens on commencement of the Act. The number is an estimate because it is as yet impossible to tell exactly how many people will benefit. Nationality is a complicated area and beyond those who already hold British Dependent Territories passports will be others who will come forward after commencement on the basis of the naturalisation or registration criteria in the British Nationality Act 1981.
But I should make clear that there is no compulsion about acquiring British citizenship. We believe that most people will want it, but British Overseas Territories citizens, as the Bill proposes they be known in future, will have the option to renounce British citizenship, and to retain their current status, should they so wish.
The Bill at the same time formally changes the name of the territories to overseas territories, and British Dependent Territories citizens who live there to British Overseas Territories citizens. It is no longer appropriate to use terms such as dependent territory or colony, terms which are outdated and which fail to reflect the nature of our relationship and partnership with the overseas territories. The Bill alters those terms in the British Nationality Act 1981 and will add a new definition of British Overseas Territory in the Interpretation Act 1978 so that that term can be conveniently used in all future legislation.
Residents of the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar already have or are entitled to British citizenship, and we do not expect all BDTCs in other territories to want 1016 to apply for new passports describing them as British citizens. I have already said that those who prefer to continue with their British Overseas Territories passports will be free to do so. We expect the "take-up rates" to vary from territory to territory and according to circumstance.
Let me explain more fully the effect of the Bill and the timeframe we envisage. Most people living in the overseas territories are currently British Dependent Territories citizens. As soon as the Bill has passed through Parliament and received Royal Assent, Clauses 1 and 2, which deal with the changes of name to British Overseas Territories and British Overseas Territories citizen, will take effect. At that point all references to the territories will be formally changed. I say "formally" because the description "overseas territories" is already in common usage. Clauses 1 and 2 deal only with changes of name and involve no substantive change of law.
Clause 3 explains how British Overseas Territories citizens will automatically become British citizens, with the right of abode in the UK, on commencement of the citizenship provisions of the Bill. In other words, they will not have to apply for citizenship although they will have to apply for a British passport to show documentary evidence of their new status and to facilitate travel. The date of commencement will be decided by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs by statutory instrument, once we are satisfied that the practicalities for implementation of the citizenship provisions are in place. We need, for instance, to ensure that arrangements for passport issue are agreed and that the staff who will deal with passport and nationality questions are properly trained.
Clause 4 explains how British citizenship can be acquired by people living in the overseas territories after commencement of the legislation. There are of course many people living in the overseas territories who are not BDTCs. The provisions of the new legislation do not apply to them. To qualify for British citizenship they would first have to qualify for British Overseas Territories citizenship by connection with the territory in which they reside under existing nationality law as set out in the British Nationality Act 1981. If their application is successful they will thereafter be free to apply for British citizenship. There is no automatic entitlement to British citizenship for such people. The granting of British citizenship is at the discretion of the Home Secretary. That is the effect of Clause 4 of the Bill.
Clause 5 further amends the 1981 Act so as to provide for acquisition of British citizenship for future generations having the requisite connection with any of the qualifying overseas territories. British citizenship will mean that British Dependent Territories citizens will have the right of abode in the United Kingdom and the right of free movement and residence, and with it the opportunity to work in European Union member states. In short, my Lords, they will have the same rights as you or They will be able to visit friends and relations or travel for business or employment without being subject to immigration 1017 controls. I know that this has long been a bone of contention. BDTCs have never seen it as fair that they should be subject to immigration control and have to pass through the non-EU channel on arrival at UK ports and airports.
Some noble Lords may be wondering whether, after the passage of this legislation, they will have the right of abode in the overseas territories. I regret that the answer is no. The right of abode is non-reciprocal. The territories which fall within the scope of the Bill are for the most part small islands. In consultations on the content of the Bill the governments of the territories concerned made clear that granting British and European citizens the right of abode in their territories would risk fundamentally altering the social, cultural and economic fabric of the territories. They are simply too small to cope. The Bill does not mention reciprocity. I am therefore taking this opportunity to put on record, which may come as a surprise and disappointment to some noble Lords, that the provisions of the Bill on right of abode, for good reasons, are non-reciprocal.
This legislation is eagerly awaited. Ever since publication of the 1999 White Paper my predecessor, Patricia Scotland, and I have received a steady flow of letters from members of the public, from the people of the overseas territories. from the many friends and organisations that represent their interests in this country and from Members of both Houses urging the Government to deliver on the commitment to grant British citizenship. Many noble Lords and Members of the other place have put down Questions.
It has not until now been possible to make parliamentary time available in what has been, as I know noble Lords are aware, a busy legislative programme. But I am delighted that it has now been possible to do so. I hope that the support which noble Lords have shown in the past will now translate into support on the Floor of the House. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Amos. )
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Rawlings
My Lords, we on these Benches thank the Minister for her clear and explicit description of the Bill. This is indeed a very busy time for those involved in international affairs. Next week your Lordships will be in Committee on the International Development Bill, and the European Communities (Amendment) Bill will be in Committee in another place on Wednesday. That Bill will no doubt be hotly debated. I do not imagine that this Bill will be as contentious.
Before I move to the main body of my speech, I would mention that we wish that the Bill had not been so long in coming to the House. It has been eagerly awaited, as the Minister said. The White Paper was published in March 1999. It has taken until July 2001 to appear as a government Bill. The Government cannot take any credit for that delay. We believe that 1018 an explanation is due. After two years and three months, however, we welcome the Bill. But there are issues on which we shall be seeking clarification. I shall come to those shortly.
As we heard from the Minister, the main thrust of the Bill concerns citizenship and the right of abode. We are not wholly concerned with the change of name from "British Dependent Territories" to "Overseas Territories" other than to say that I suspect the Government have bowed, as usual, to the political correctness agenda. I notice that the Government have also abandoned all the human rights issues that were raised in the White Paper. Does that not send mixed signals? Are there not several overseas territories that would find it hard to survive without the support they receive from the United Kingdom? Indeed, are not all "overseas dependent territories" dependent on the United Kingdom for defence? I do not recall the United Nations coming to the aid of the Falkland Islanders in 1982.
The islanders of St Helena are dependent on the United Kingdom for their transport links with the rest of the world. The Chagos Archipelago, better known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, is claimed by both Mauritius and the Seychelles. The US lease is due to expire in 2016. While that is some 15 years in the future, we may well be called to defend the rights of those people who may wish to return there. Only a few weeks ago a court here in London ruled that the inhabitants were illegally removed and have the right to return. Most were originally removed to Mauritius, which will strengthen that country's claim. The islanders of Montserrat were dependent on United Kingdom aid when nature took its violent course, spewing volcanic lava and ash over half the island and leaving its capital destroyed. We do not begrudge such military assistance or such emergency aid, but it does reinforce the dependency theory.
To return to St Helena, the current problem faced by the island is one of dependency which can, to a degree, be broken. As we speak, a decision is being made as to the future transport link, which I mentioned earlier. The Government, sadly, are set on providing the cheapest option. That will mean spending some £26 million on replacing a passenger/cargo ship and will involve, as at present, a yearly subsidy to operate the service. A recent recommendation, which will cost some £38 million in the short term but holds out the possibility of earning revenue in the long term, is to build an airport on the island. The White Paper recognised the problem when it stated:In 1997, 8,698 tourists visited St Helena; but without an airport, no safe anchorage for yachts in heavy seas, and the limited capacity of the passenger/cargo ship RMS St Helena, tourism is unlikely to develop rapidly".In a Written Answer last week the Secretary of State for International Development stated:The St. Helena Leisure Company has held preliminary discussions with the St. Helena Government and my Department about its proposals to provide leisure facilities on the island. At the request of the St. Helena Government, we have made available to the Company a copy of the recent report of the 'Comparative Study of Air and Sea Access' for St. Helena. We understand that 1019 the Company wishes to take account of the study's findings in further formulating its proposals to the St. Helena Government".—[Official Report, Commons, 5/7/01; col. 264W.]It does not take a genius to work out the way that the dice will fall. No airport equals no tourism. Give the islanders an airport and the significant boost to the local economy which ensues will be greatly appreciated, not to mention the much speedier transport link. The Government have the opportunity to give the islanders more economic independence. I can assure the noble Baroness that, for the sake of an extra £12 million, we on these Benches would not stand in the way.
The main issue of the Bill concerns the granting of citizenship. We welcome the move, as do the overseas territories. There are many benefits which will now be made available to those who are soon to become full British citizens. First, from a development perspective, we should all welcome the easing of the education restrictions currently endured by those wishing to study in the United Kingdom. Noble Lords may not be aware of the differences in the fee structure.
For example, King's College, London, offers a very good degree in medicine. I should declare an interest here as the Chairman of Council of King's College. For a UK or EU citizen, the fees for the first four years amount to some £4,300, a figure set by the Government. For other citizens, the fees for the first year alone are £10,000, after which they rise significantly. Noble Lords may be astounded to learn that the total sum of the fees amounts to some £54,200. Through the Bill we shall be promoting tertiary education at an affordable level and that is to be welcomed.
Secondly, in 1998, my noble friend Lord Waddington, a distinguished former Governor of Bermuda, informed the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that the vast majority of white Bermudians of Anglo-Saxon descent hold British citizenship, but that the vast majority of black Bermudians do not. He went on to point out that,At Gatwick the whites go through the British and EU Channel. The black Bermudians, even Premiers and Cabinet Ministers, are lumped in with the foreigners and queue to obtain leave to enter. It is scarcely surprising that this causes immense resentment and black Bermudians simply cannot understand why as a matter of common courtesy those for whom Britain has a responsibility [belonging as they do in a British Dependent Territory] are not treated as favourably as foreigners for whom Britain has no responsibility".As the Minister said, this situation will no longer exist—and rightly so.
I said in opening that we welcome the Bill and would not seek to obstruct it. However, during its passage we shall be seeking clarification on several issues. They concern the fine detail of the Bill and I look forward to the Government providing the necessary assurances.
The Government claim that the number of people who will be eligible for UK citizenship is around 200,000. While that is the approximate population for the entire British Dependent Territories, does that figure include others who may qualify, for example, by rights of marriage?
1020 Perhaps I may put a number of questions to the Minister. What is the cost of bestowing British citizenship? The Explanatory Notes to the Bill state that,The intention is that the costs of implementation will he recovered from the fees charged for nationality registration and naturalisation and passport issuing".Will the price vary from territory to territory? What evidence will be required when applying for British citizenship? Will there be equality between the sexes? Will there be in place a framework for the settlement of disputes? To what will British citizenship actually entitle the holder? What voting rights will be acquired, both nationally and in Europe? How will the Bill affect the pension rights of those applying for British citizenship?
In the White Paper, much is made of human rights:Overseas Territory legislation should comply with the same international obligations to which Britain is subject, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN International Convention on Civil and Political Rights".Can the noble Baroness assure the House that the Bill will comply fully with those obligations?
Judicial corporal punishment still exists in some territories, as does capital punishment. Indeed, the use of the death penalty in the Caribbean would appear to be on the increase. Have all the overseas territories removed from their statute books capital punishment for treason and piracy? Have the concerns over homosexual discrimination been addressed?
Furthermore, what of the financial concerns that were raised in the White Paper? Several of the territories rely heavily on offshore banking. Are there to be any implications for them? Will they be affected by EU legislation in this field?
As I said earlier, we very much regret the delay in bringing forward the Bill. Your Lordships' House and the people of the dependent territories deserve an explanation as to the reason for this unnecessary delay.
We on these Benches support the aims of the Bill and hope that the Government can provide the House with the assurances that we have sought and that this long-awaited Bill can proceed to the other place. We do not expect to receive answers to all the questions that have been raised, but we look forward to hearing the Government's responses and to debating them in Committee.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, the first occasion on which I debated this issue was during the debate on a Private Member's Bill tabled by the late Lord Bonham-Carter who, from these Benches, tried to initiate a Bill strikingly similar to the Bill before us today. However, a few years ago that Bill was rejected under another administration—probably for the reason that, at the time, Hong Kong still came under the aegis of an overseas territory.
In contrast to the previous speaker, I should like to welcome the speed with which this Bill has been put forward, given how many other Bills have been dropped from the Queen's Speech. It is a positive move 1021 to have brought this Bill forward. Indeed, the speed with which it has reached this House has caused us a number of problems. I was hoping to be able to follow the lengthy debates in the House of Commons and then to read Hansard, thereby becoming an expert on the subject before it was brought before noble Lords, but that was not to be.
In the light of that, perhaps I may begin by thanking the Minister for our meeting, during which she provided the answers to many of our questions. That marked a positive way forward and has removed the need for us to table certain amendments.
Of prime importance is the fact that the Bill has been welcomed by the dependent territories. On that basis, it is clear that we shall have few difficulties with the Bill. Indeed, the Short Title of the Bill is tightly drawn, and it is those issues which have been left out of the legislation rather than those which are included that are causing us a degree of concern.
As an archaeologist, I know that citizenship has been a major issue in the past. I was reminded of the fact that, in 212 AD, Caracalla conferred citizenship on every person living within the boundaries of the Roman empire. However, the Roman writers of the time attributed this to the fact that it would increase the tax base of the empire. However, that is not the case with regard to the matter before us this evening.
I should like to raise one issue, which may be seen as slightly frivolous, although I did draw attention to it during my remarks on the gracious Speech. The Foreign Office has asked the dependent territories to pay for their governors' uniforms. At first I was tempted to leave the matter alone, but the briefing I have received informs me that, because of the terrible situation on Montserrat, the island is economically dependent on the largesse of DfID.
In her new role wearing two hats, can the Minister confirm that, if the governor requires a new uniform, he will have to approach the noble Baroness at DfID? However, the FCO is charging this amount of money, so what will be the situation in Montserrat if DfID is asked to pay for the uniform? I ask because there may be a slight conflict of interests.
I have a problem with the number of acronyms used in the Bill. The trend towards acronyms seems to grow exponentially with every Bill. It is something which started in the Army, and I must admit that I have a degree of difficulty with them. If Bills containing similar numbers of acronyms are to be brought forward in the future, perhaps we could have a foreword in the Explanatory Notes listing each and every acronym.
The Minister alluded to two areas of particular concern to us which lie outside the scope of the Bill. Our first concern relates to the issue of British overseas citizens, especially those in Uganda and Kenya. This matter has been on the boil for quite some time. Our major worry is that some children of British overseas citizens—especially in Kenya—are now stateless 1022 citizens. They are denied Kenyan citizenship under Kenyan law, and under our own rules they are denied the status of British overseas citizens.
Although it concerns only a small group of children, it is an issue which could be looked at in the area of human rights. I understand that a case may be going before the European Court. The matter obviously does not fall under the jurisdiction of the European Convention on Human Rights because it is happening outside Europe, but it is an issue of great concern. Kenya should be made aware of its responsibilities under the UN convention to reduce the number of stateless persons. However, if no other means can be found to achieve this end, will the Government bring forward a Bill to extend the right granted under this Bill to this small group of people? At the moment they are prisoners with no access to travel documents. They have neither a Kenyan passport nor a British passport.
The other area of concern relates to dependants in the British Indian Ocean Territories. When the ruling came about in November or December that the British Indian Ocean Territory (No. 1) Ordinance 1971 was unlawful, it raised a question in my mind. Under the law in Mauritius, those born after 11th March 1968 would become citizens of Mauritius. This affected the children of members of the Ilois tribe who were moved to Mauritius. However, if it turns out that they were moved illegally, does that not change their status? Would they not then be seen as dependent territory citizens? If such is the case, it is quite important because if they are to return to the Chagos Islands, they could be refused entry on the ground that they are Mauritian citizens rather than deported British dependent citizens. Those are the two issues I wish particularly to raise.
There are many positive aspects to the Bill. I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, that it will make life easier for many dependent territories citizens so far as concerns travel documents. I know that the citizens of Montserrat—3,500 of whom are resident in the United Kingdom at the moment—have had difficulty in travelling and have had to obtain a visa to go to France. This is because of the wording on their passports. The Bill will change that situation.
I have one final question—I promise not to ask any further questions—and that is: as the citizens of Montserrat have leave to stay in this country because of the natural disaster that is taking place there, will they be eligible to vote in this country? Obviously members of other dependent territories will not have the right to vote because their place of residence is outside this country. I merely wish to know because this Bill may very well change their status.
We on these Benches welcome the Bill. We very much hope that in the future there will be a Bill to correct the injustices and anomalies presented by the situation of some British overseas citizens.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister and the Government on the introduction of the Bill, even though we have had to wait a long time 1023 for it. I am sorry that the Conservative government did not introduce a Bill on these lines, but, when I raised this matter during my time in Bermuda, I had to accept the argument that action was not possible in the run-up to the handing over of Hong Kong to China. At the same time, have to say that in those days officials and Ministers alike made it fairly plain to me that after 1997 they would still take a lot of persuading that action was necessary, which makes me doubly appreciative of what has been done by this Government.
I shall touch on one matter mentioned by my noble friend Lady Rawlings. When I was in Bermuda I was made acutely aware of the resentment felt by Bermudians who, on travelling to Britain, found themselves waiting in the foreigners' queue at London airport while EU citizens were whisked through immigration ahead of them. In fact, the situation was even worse than that because some Bermudians did find their way into the fast lane—Bermudians with British citizenship or the right of abode in Britain by virtue of ancestry—and they, of course, were white. Bermudians in the slow lane were for the most part black.
There are other and very much more important ways in which the law at present harms race relations and the efforts to achieve equal opportunity in a place such as Bermuda. If bright young people working in the banks on the island do not get work experience in a far wider environment—in practice, in England—it will be that much less likely that they will be able to equip themselves, through experience overseas, for senior management. In short, opportunities to get more black Bermudians to the top in business, to share economic power with the whites, are being lost. I am sure that that is still the case today. It is something that this Bill will help to put right.
Bermuda is a prosperous place. There are other overseas territories which are far from prosperous. St Helena, which I visited a year or two ago, is one such. I agree with my noble friend Lady Rawlings about the need to press ahead with plans for an airport. But it will still be some years before those plans can come to fruition, and in the foreseeable future, "Saints" will continue to travel abroad in order to seek work. As everyone knows, at present they go to Ascension, the Falkland Islands and some to Britain. The Bill will open up more job opportunities for them. Again, that is a very good effect of the Bill.
In the case of St Helena, the Bill will get rid of a long-standing sense of injustice, the "Saints" believing—with much reason—that the immigration Acts of the 1960s and the British Nationality Act robbed them of rights bestowed on them by Royal Charter in the 17th century, a point made very clearly in the White Paper produced by the Government two or so years ago.
There is one thing that all the dependent territories apart from Gibraltar have in common: they have all had, and still have, the right to become independent states, but instead they have chosen to remain British. Bermuda held a referendum on the subject in 1995, 1024 when the people voted overwhelmingly against independence. They remain loyal to Britain. The least that we can do is to repay that loyalty in some measure by giving them a common citizenship with us.
I have only two questions to put to the Minister. The first relates to the position that will arise if, after the Bill becomes law, one of the overseas territories decides to become independent.
The White Paper published by the Bermuda Government prior to the referendum on independence in 1995 stated that those enjoying Bermuda status would be Bermuda citizens on independence; however, it was silent on what would happen to their citizenship of the British Dependent Territories. What would happen to the British citizenship granted by this Bill? Would those who have been granted British citizenship lose it? At first blush, it would seem very unfair if they did, but, on the other hand, it might seem very unfair if a favoured few living in that little clutch of dependent territories were allowed to keep their citizenship with the right of free entry into Britain, while the mass of people living in former colonies continued to be denied that right. There seems to me to be a real problem here and I should like some guidance from the Minister.
I was told the other day at the meeting that the Minister was kind enough to hold in the Foreign Office that what happened would be a matter of consultation and agreement between the British Government and the government of the territory in question. In other words, no assurance could be given that the people would keep their citizenship. I should appreciate the Minister's comments.
My second question is easier. It relates to Clause 4. I gather that this provision covers the situation where someone comes to, say, Bermuda and after a number of years is granted overseas territories citizenship by the governor and then applies for British citizenship. But does such a person have to apply for overseas territories citizenship first? Why cannot such a person apply direct to the Secretary of State for British citizenship with proof of residence as required by the British Nationality Act? I am not sure why there will not remain an alternative route to British citizenship without having to go through the formality of achieving British Overseas Territories citizenship first. Once again, I warmly congratulate the Minister and I wish the Bill speedy progress through Parliament.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Viscount Colville of Culross
My Lords, I wish to add a few words about St Helena, which has already been addressed by a number of speakers. A number of your Lordships will remember that, in 1997, a Bill was passed granting British citizenship to the people who live in St Helena and the dependencies. I regret that the Earl of Iveagh, who introduced the measure and guided it through this House, was the subject of the "cull". But the subject matter is, I think, fresh in your Lordships' memories and it is a pity that the Bill did not progress further at that time. The reason has been given, and I was very glad when the noble and learned 1025 Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on the first day of debate on the gracious Speech, said that this Bill would be introduced. It was, he said, a long-standing promise that would now come forward. I too welcome its appearance.
The people of St Helena and the dependencies have, of course, no voice in this Parliament; and I do not purport to speak for them. I do, however, commend to your Lordships, if I need to do so, the wisdom of consulting the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association if ever you visit any of the Commonwealth countries. I did this when I went in February this year to all the dependencies and to St Helena itself. I need declare no interest, because I paid for the visit myself. A very interesting and fascinating experience it was.
The result of the contact with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association was this. I was walking down the main street in Jamestown when I met the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, who said, "I hear you'd like to come and talk to the local branch of the CPA. When would it be convenient for you?". I said, "Tuesday afternoon next at 4.30". He said, "Right. I will lay it on". I turned up to find that there were tea and cakes; and, to my astonishment, in the council chamber were assembled the entire Executive Council, including the Governor, and the entire Legislative Council, sitting round the table. Their first point related to citizenship: when was this Bill going to come forward? I could only quote parliamentary Written Answers stating that it was ready, that the Government were waiting for parliamentary time, and so on. They, of course, were disappointed. Now, they will be delighted. The sooner Clause 3 comes into effect, the better.
They had other things to say as well. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, touched upon them. The result of this legislation is certainly not going to be that the entire population of St Helena and Tristan da Cunha, let alone Ascension, which has no indigenous population anyway, will arrive in this country. But it has been rightly said that this is the way to provide some employment. The noble Baroness is quite right about the malaise that presently afflicts not so much Tristan da Cunha but St Helena. The problem will not be cured by tourism. There is simply not the scope for tourists to arrive or to enjoy themselves without absolutely wrecking the island. What the access agreements and the various steps that have been taken in this respect will lead to are opportunities for people from other countries to invest in the island. There are plenty of things to invest in. There are a number of enterprises which are not run as profitably as they might be; consequently, they do not provide employment. It is not for nothing that many St Helenians have to earn their living in the Falklands and Ascension because there is not enough to do at home. Indeed, tertiary education is a major problem. So there are still many items on the agenda for these islands which cannot be touched in this Bill. The noble Baroness was right to mention them. They are urgent issues upon which depends the welfare of the island.
1026 Of course, citizenship is a matter of a long-standing grievance. The Royal Charter of 1673 has been mentioned and it is a pity that, since 1962, there has been no progress until now. But, while welcoming the Bill, let us contemplate the fact that we cannot stop here. A sensible decision must be made about how to move forward for the welfare of the people particularly of St Helena and of those who work overseas in order to provide them with a prosperous economy in their own domain which will enable them to carry forward the wonderful British traditions that can be seen in that island. I do not overlook the wonderful British traditions that can be seen in Tristan da Cunha as well.
We are taking a bold step forward and one that is overdue. But I pray of the noble Baroness: do not let the process stop here, and do not let us take a cheese-paring decision as between DfID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the access agreement. Let us, for goodness sake, take account of what the St Helena Government have to say about this. They are the people who know, and they are the people who are going to have to endure the disbenefits of the wrong decision. I am glad that the noble Baroness mentioned that, but I add my word, on behalf of those to whom I talked, about the welcome that should be given to the Bill. I hope that it gets rapid progress through Parliament.
§ 4.10 p.m.
My Lords, although it has been much delayed, I, too, should like to welcome the Bill and to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, for introducing it to the House. I begin by declaring an interest as the president of the West India Committee, but I should hasten to add that that is in no way a financial interest.
It is right that these micro-states, for which, as my noble friend Lady Rawlings pointed out, we have a continuing responsibility, should have their position regularised following both a decision in 1981 to grant British citizenship to citizens of British Dependent Territories, and one made in 1983 in respect of citizens of the Falkland Islands. I, for one, welcome the new nomenclature "British Overseas Territories", which reflects a better relationship between the countries. I am glad to see that that is the Title to the Bill.
Before turning to the main points that I wish to make about the overseas territories in the Caribbean, I should like to say how much I agree with the remarks made about St Helena in particular. When I served as a Minister in the Foreign Office, I had ministerial responsibility for the overseas territories, including St Helena—although, alas, I never had an opportunity to visit the island. However, I was very conscious of the great disadvantages that the people suffer, particularly in employment and in education. These are important issues that must be addressed. As far as I am aware, a large proportion of the population have no proper employment. This must be a very unsatisfactory situation. I am pleased to think that the Bill will do something to put right that situation.
1027 Perhaps I may have the temerity to commend to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, the possibility of an airport on St Helena. She would do well to read the comments of one of her late colleagues, Lord Shackleton, who was a great proponent of St Helena. He argued on many occasions in this House for an airport on the island. This is not a recent suggestion: it is a possibility that should be considered.
I began my remarks by saying that I welcome the Bill, and I do. However, like my noble friend Lady Rawlings, I believe that there are a number of matters that require clarification, especially as regards the Caribbean overseas territories to which I shall speak. I was, of course, glad to hear about the granting of the right of abode. That welcome applies also to the fact that we are to set right the particular problems about immigration, and to the clarification as regards passports.
The process of taking forward this legislation has been slightly erratic, with Chief Ministers first learning about such matters in 1998; and then in more detail when the Government published their White Paper in 1999. There has been very little in the way of further information since then. As a result, this Bill comes to the House with many questions remaining unanswered. There are a number of issues that I should like to raise, although I do not expect the noble Baroness to answer all of them this afternoon. Indeed, they are matters to which we shall return in Committee. I mention them today because they are questions that people have raised with me, and which require answers.
The Bill confers rights on the citizens of British Overseas Territories, but says nothing about obligations. To all intents and purposes, it implies that the people of the islands—I have in mind the Caribbean, in particular—will become more closely associated with the United Kingdom, but suggests nothing in the way of positive steps to achieve that aim. Citizenship entails rights and obligations. Some of those obligations have already been raised this afternoon; for example, the right to vote. But what about taxation? What about social security? What about standing for Parliament, or being represented in some way in Parliament? What about access to medical care under the National Health Service? All those issues have been raised with me, yet there is no explanation of how the Government intend to deal with them. The people have a right to know.
Only two weeks ago a respected and senior chief Minister from one of the Caribbean overseas territories, who had just read a copy of the Bill, told me that he was unable to discover what, if anything, the citizens of his territory might expect—or, indeed, have to give up—in return for the grant of citizenship. He suggested that it was less than fair that Britain should grant citizenship without recognising that it, too, had obligations towards its overseas territories. He felt, for example, that it should automatically follow from citizenship that matters such as the training of overseas territories' civil servants—he particularly singled out this point—should be undertaken in the United Kingdom. He suggested that, logically, citizenship 1028 should lead to the inclusion of a Caribbean overseas territories' civil servant in, for instance, the UK Permanent Representation in Brussels, so that he or she might look after the interests of the overseas territories in the European Commission. In view of the tremendous economic developments that will flow from the North America Free Trade Area. let alone from the WTO round, this has particular relevance to these small countries.
The Chief Minister also wanted to know whether students from overseas territories would now be treated as British students in respect of fees. Again, I was most interested to hear what my noble friend said on that point. I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, also indirectly raised the issue regarding the training of people from overseas territories in our universities. Surely that suggestion should be welcomed. It is most important for the future of those people. More significantly, he wanted to know how the British citizens of the overseas territories might be represented either in the UK or in the European Parliament. These are not idle questions; they are very serious matters to which we must return in Committee. As I said earlier, I do not expect to receive full answers to all, or any, of the questions that I have raised this afternoon. However, for the sake of clarification, it would be helpful if the Minister could write to me on some of those points before we reach Committee stage.
The representative from the overseas territories stressed the point that to grant citizenship and to continue to treat citizens of the overseas territories as in some way being second class meant that Britain had still not understood that its relationship with overseas territories should be based on the principle of a partnership between equals. Like his colleagues, he remained concerned—this point has already been raised—that Britain had imposed European social legislation in relation to capital punishment and homosexuality on both the government and the opposition parties of the country against the wishes of the vast majority of the island electorate; and that Britain had offered nothing in return. To his mind, this indicated that London still understood little about the benefits that could flow from a more mutual relationship.
I raise those points because I believe them to be most important. I have visited many of the overseas territories in the Caribbean, and understand many of the problems with which the people are faced. I have great respect for those people. On such an occasion, I believe it right to raise the issues that those people have drawn to my attention. It is in that spirit that I offer them to the House this afternoon.
It would be helpful if the noble Baroness could tell the House whether any discussions have taken place with the overseas territories since the Bill was published with regard to the rights and responsibilities implied by the granting of citizenship. It would also be helpful if she could indicate what steps are being taken more fully to assimilate citizens in the overseas territories into the UK structure of bodies such as the Civil Service. I have always felt that it would help in 1029 terms of improving the standards of government in the overseas territories for civil servants in those countries to gain expertise serving in this country.
Finally, will the noble Baroness inform us of any discussions which have taken place with the neighbouring Caribbean governments on the implications of offering British citizenship to those who reside in our overseas territories in the Caribbean? These small dependent overseas territories are very much a part of the whole family—if I may so describe it—of the Caribbean, closely linked one with another. Clearly the measure will affect the relationship between the independent countries of the Caribbean and the overseas territories.
I end as I began, by welcoming this important Bill. I am pleased that the Government have introduced it. It will certainly have my support in principle but there are a number of detailed matters to which we shall need to return in Committee.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I am delighted to add my welcome to this long awaited legislation. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, so early in her career as a Foreign Office Minister and building on her success as a Foreign Office spokesman in your Lordships' House, is now able to introduce a Bill which gives satisfaction and security to many people who, in spite of being excluded from the provisions of the British Nationality Act in the past, have loyally always remained "British". I thank the noble Baroness for arranging the useful meeting in the Foreign Office to clarify some of the issues. Over the past 16 years I have had the pleasure and privilege of introducing and participating in a number of debates on issues affecting the dependent territories, now the overseas territories. The new name is a definite improvement. I had tabled a Motion on the future security and wellbeing of the overseas territories which was thwarted by the holding of the general election. However, I may well introduce it once the Bill has passed through its various stages as a number of issues, which are not included in the Bill, some of which have already been mentioned, remain outstanding.
A number of issues discussed in the 1999 White Paper also remain outstanding. One concerns the human rights convention. It is important to ensure that the provisions of the convention are enshrined in the constitutions of the overseas territories which are currently under review. I refer in particular to the principle of self-determination.
An issue of particular interest to me—it has been mentioned by my noble friends Lady Rawlings and Lady Young— concerns the educational status of university students who currently have to pay overseas student fees. As I understand the position, the Bill could affect that situation as, in granting the right of abode, it enables people to fulfil the necessary residence requirements and so avoid the fees imposed on overseas students which can be a great burden. I should be grateful for any clarification on those 1030 matters that the Minister can give. There is a definite danger, in particular as regards the Caribbean territories, that all the young people will go north to the United States where there are greater opportunities. If that were the case, the British flavour which we all hope will endure would be lost.
In previous debates in your Lordships' House the one message that came through loud and clear was that of citizenship and the right of abode. That issue will be resolved through the Bill. Many noble Lords will remember—the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has already mentioned this—the sterling work of Lord Iveagh who, sadly, is no longer a parliamentary Peer. In the past he represented strongly and consistently the wishes of the Saints—the people of St Helena—in relation to British citizenship in particular. He must be rejoicing over the publication of the Bill and regretting that he cannot participate on this occasion.
This is a short, simple Bill which was clearly explained by the Minister. I hope that it will remain a short and simple Bill as it is important that we get the issues of citizenship and right of abode resolved. However, as has been mentioned, there are other issues outstanding. I have some further questions to add to those already posed. The Explanatory Notes refer to the right to renounce the citizenship granted; in other words, people will not be forced to become British citizens. There is no reference to that in the Bill; presumably it is a provision of the British Nationality Act. As the Falkland Islanders have had that right since 1983, when they acquired the right to British citizenship, can the noble Baroness tell me, as a matter of interest, how many, if any, have renounced that right since then?
Further, what effect will the Bill have on the relationship with the European Union? My noble friend Lady Young mentioned that point. Presumably, citizens from the overseas territories, who will be British citizens and will have the right of abode in this country, will also have the right of abode in other European Union countries.
I seek clarification on the commencement date, to which the noble Baroness referred in her opening remarks. It would be helpful to be given a rough idea of the time-scale involved. I refer in this connection to the matters raised by my noble friend Lady Young to which she desires a response from the Minister. What consultation will take place between the passing of the Bill and its implementation?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, I shall respond immediately to that point. Citizenship will be granted immediately the Bill receives Royal Assent. However, passports will be issued later because the relevant officials will need to be trained. That commencement date will be announced in an order presented to the House.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that speedy response. I was about to finalise my remarks by once again welcoming the Bill. I wish it a speedy passage.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, I join the general chorus of welcome for the Bill which is one of the later steps in the disposal of our empire in the interests of its citizens. I thank the Government whose record in this matter has been exemplary. I have no complaints with regard to delay. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that on the whole we should be grateful for the speed with which the Bill has been brought forward.
If I am prompted to intervene, it is because I was the first person to raise the problems of St Helena in your Lordships' House after a gap of about 15 years. I was followed by many others, including Lord Iveagh. Of the speakers in this debate, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and I are the only two who have been to St Helena and talked to the people there. I have addressed the CPA in much the same way as he did.
I shall concentrate on the citizenship of St Helena. Citizenship was granted irrevocably by Charles I. It was taken away, quite wrongly, by Parliament in surrender to the largely racist opposition to immigration at the time. This Bill will by no means be the last legislation on the issue. I understand that discussions with St Helena and its dependencies will examine their constitutional future. The relationship of Ascension to St Helena is particularly fraught. On the one hand, although many of the inhabitants are Saints they do not want to come under the St Helena Government who are regarded as remarkably conservative in outlook—not in the best sense of the word. On the other hand, if one is to encourage tourism—it must be one of the economic developments although it has to be limited for various reasons—Ascension and St Helena as a package is more attractive than either territory alone.
We must now be expecting an even greater influx of Frenchmen to St Helena given the latest theories about the death of Napoleon, an issue which has always been a fairly large factor in tourism. Has the Minister anything to say about the status of Longwood, the house and gardens where Napoleon lived? I understand that it had some kind of consular status. Is there a problem there? Have the French Government been consulted on that?
I hope that the Minister will be in place to deal with the many future problems which may arise. A large number of species threatened with extinction exist in the overseas territories, in particular St Helena and Tristan da Cunha. The Foreign Office has already acted well with regard to sooty terns. The issue seemed to cause the noble Baroness some amusement on the first occasion although I think that she has since come to terms with it. We need to act to protect endangered species in those islands.
It is clear that the debate could have been far greater in length. St Helena, the Indian Ocean territories and Gibraltar raise major problems, quite apart from the Caribbean about which I am not qualified to speak. Noble Lords have been somewhat conservative in their approach. We have not raised too many issues. The Minister's attitude to the problem is welcomed by all 1032 noble Lords. I hope that the noble Baroness will still be in place to deal with the problems which will undoubtedly arise in the future. I look forward to her reply and to future action once the Bill has been passed. I and my party give the Bill the heartiest of welcomes.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Lord Naseby
My Lords, I apologise to the Minister and the House for not being in my place at the opening of the debate. I confess that having had a knee operation I decided that I could not change my physio appointment. It seems right that there should be fit rather than unfit noble Lords in this Chamber.
I welcome the Bill. I do not criticise the Government for the time taken in bringing it forward. I welcome in particular the thrust of the Bill: that there should be a new partnership between the current dependent territories and the United Kingdom.
Two key elements arise from the Bill. The central element is that of British citizenship. Each of the territories mentioned in the Bill has its own form of local government, consultative council or whatever it may be. I am not expert enough to know whether it is appropriate to that territory's situation. The key element which will affect each territory is two-fold. First, every United Kingdom Bill which comes forward must be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. I imagine—the Minister may have announced or will announce—that those provisions will apply to each dependent territory.
Secondly—this needs re-emphasising—the convention contains nothing about self-determination. Self-determination is wrapped up in a UN charter. It was confirmed recently by the International Court of Justice. That affects two of the territories—Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands—and we never know who else may be affected. But self-determination and the right of the people in any one of those territories to decide for themselves what they wish to do is crucial.
I do not know St Helena. Assisted by Terry Waite, I have in the dark teed off a golf ball on Ascension Island in order to reopen the Ascension Island Golf Club on my way to Gibraltar. I would welcome an opportunity to go to St Helena. I hope that there will be a response to the plea—it may well be supported by noble Lords on other Benches—from my noble friend Lady Young for progress on an airport.
I also take an interest in further and higher education. I hope that the Minister will address the points that have been raised by noble Lords across the House on that issue.
The key point on which I should like to spend a few moments is the voice of the people from those distant parts of the world. I had a quick look at the arrangements for the French overseas territories and départements. I had forgotten the scale of their territories. Independence has not moved as swiftly in the French départements and territoires overseas as perhaps it has in the British Overseas Territories. I asked the French Embassy how many people there 1033 were in Guadeloupe. The figure—422,000—rather dwarfs the population of St Helena, as do the figures for Martinique, at 381,000, and Réunion, now estimated at well over 600,000.
The principle is that all those places, some of which are very distant, send deputies to the equivalent of our Commons and senators to the equivalent of your Lordships' House. One of them—Guadeloupe—also sends a deputy to the European Parliament. Numbers should in some ways affect the eventual resolution to the problem, but individual UK citizens have a right to have their voice heard.
I suggested in my written submission to what we now euphemistically call the Wakeham commission that this House should have one or more person particularly nominated to look after the interests of the territories. I do not believe that the provision of an address at the Bar is an adequate safeguard for the people of the territories. The introduction of people's Peers and the opportunities and changes of forthcoming consultation provide a wonderful opportunity to address the issue of the voice of those people.
With the exception of Pitcairn, there are four spheres of influence: the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; St Helena; the West Indies; and Gibraltar. Cyprus is a slightly different issue. There is no reason why there should not be four nominated Members of your Lordships' House who have particular interest or knowledge—hopefully both—to take on that role. I am sure that there would be volunteers across the Chamber. I do not wish to compete with anybody, but I would certainly volunteer for the area of the Falkland Islands and others would volunteer for other parts. One volunteer is worth half a dozen dragooned Peers one way or the other.
There is a particular problem with Europe. The territories have to have access to the debates in Europe on an elected basis rather than an executive basis. One has only to look at the equivalent of Hansard for the European Parliament to notice how often the interests of those parts of the world are debated. It is fundamental that they should have a voice.
I greatly welcome the Bill. I wish it a fair passage and I hope that the opportunity will not be lost to give those important British citizens their voice in our Parliament. I hope that we shall welcome them to this Parliament.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, this has been an interesting and extremely helpful debate. I am grateful to all those who have participated. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said, the Bill is relatively short, but nationality issues are always sensitive and often emotive. The Bill's citizenship provisions directly affect tens of thousands of people in territories as far apart as Bermuda and Pitcairn Island.
1034 The strong message that emerges from the debate is that the Bill commands widespread support across the Floor of the House. I thank noble Lords for their positive comments about the meeting that we had on the Bill and about my role in that.
The passage of the Bill will send a welcome message to the people of the overseas territories, who, as I said in my opening remarks, have waited a long time for its introduction. They will take a close and continuing interest in the progress of our debate.
I shall try to answer as many of the specific questions that have been raised as possible, but I shall write to noble Lords on some of the detail and put my answers in the Library of the House to allow all noble Lords to see what I have said.
I cannot agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, about the use of the term "dependent". The 1999 White Paper was called Partnership for Progress and Prosperity. I stress the term "partnership", because we want to reflect the reality of that partnership in the Bill. It is not about being politically correct. It is about reflecting the true nature of that partnership. I am pleased that other noble Lords have welcomed that change.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked about consultation with the overseas territories and whether our proposals had been fully discussed. The Bill was discussed at the annual consultative council meeting between Her Majesty's Government's Ministers from across Whitehall and the Chief Ministers from the territories. It was also discussed at a major seminar with representatives from all the overseas territories, which was held in the British Virgin Islands in September last year. I have sent all Chief Ministers a copy of the Bill and other information.
All those who have spoken have raised questions about rights, obligations and responsibilities. The Bill grants citizenship, and with it the right of abode. Other rights come into effect on the basis of residence. I shall write to those who have asked about education, social security and other provisions, because I have detailed answers in each case, but those issues relate to residence criteria rather than to citizenship. The points that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, raised about medical treatment and education fall into that category.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Rawlings and Lady Hooper, and the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, specifically pressed me on education. Access to education and differential fees is based on residence, not citizenship. However, it is open to individual universities to interpret the regulations on fee status. In that sense, I welcome the King's College initiative, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, also pressed me on human rights. The issue has not been abandoned. Capital punishment has been removed from the statute books of the overseas territories. 1035 Judicial corporal punishment has been abolished in all overseas territories. Homosexual acts in private by consenting adults have been decriminalised by Order in Council. We are funding a broad range of human rights programmes in all the overseas territories. That includes looking at children's rights, women's rights and migrant workers' rights.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, asked specifically about the opportunity to work in the European Union. British citizenship will mean that British Dependent Territory citizens will have the right of abode in the United Kingdom and the right of free movement and residence, and with it the opportunity to work in European Union member states.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked about costs. The change in citizenship status will occur automatically for most people and there will be no costs to cover. However, some cases may attract a fee. I shall write to the noble Baroness about that. I confirm to noble Lords that passport fees will be charged on the basis of the fees set by the Passport Agency world-wide. Therefore, the price will not vary.
With regard to numbers—a matter also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings—we estimate that approximately 200,000 people could become British citizens on commencement of the Act. The number is an estimate because it is as yet impossible to tell exactly how many people will benefit.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, pressed me on points relating to the environment. In March this year, it was announced that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would make available £500,000 to support a project to be implemented by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the administration of Ascension Island to restore the sea bird breeding colonies. In the last financial year, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's environment fund for the overseas territories successfully disbursed more than £0.5 million to fund 30 different projects spread across almost every overseas territory.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, the noble Baronesses, Lady Rawlings and Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, all asked me questions in relation to St Helena. Particular concern was expressed about the welfare of the people of St Helena. I make it absolutely clear that the British Government make a substantial contribution in terms of supporting St Helena. We have made £29 million available over the current three-year period. That assistance includes £1.5 million per annum to subsidise shipping services.
In relation to proposals for a new ship or airport at St Helena, we have always made our position clear. We have agreed to provide funding equal to the least cost solution—that is, a new ship or a new airport—to maintain physical access. The options report is now under consideration by the St Helena Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked me about governors' uniforms—a point that I believe he made in his response to the gracious Speech. The number of 1036 posts which require a diplomatic uniform is now very small, although most governors of overseas territories are still expected to wear them. Many people regard the traditional image of a governor in uniform as out of date. However, the governments and people of the overseas territories generally regard uniforms as an important symbol of the link to the United Kingdom. Uniforms are still expected to be worn on ceremonial occasions, such as Remembrance Day and the Queen's Birthday. The current policy is for territories which want their governors to wear uniforms to meet the cost themselves. However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will consider meeting the cost of uniforms for governors of territories which receive UK budgetary aid. That includes Montserrat.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, asked me specifically about renunciation of citizenship. The provisions for renunciation of British citizenship are, and will continue to be, made by Section 12 of the British Nationality Act 1981. Statistics are not kept in such a way as to enable me to say how many British citizens from the Falkland Islands have renounced that citizenship
. I was pressed by many noble Lords on the issue of parliamentary representation. Overseas territories are not constitutionally part of the United Kingdom; they are separate legal jurisdictions. Therefore, it is not appropriate for them to be represented directly in the British Parliament and to take decisions on British legislation and internal UK domestic matters.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked me about public service. The public servants of the overseas territories are employees of the overseas territories' governments. We are in discussion with all overseas territories with a view to developing a programme of secondment and training for overseas territories civil servants from the FCO's good government fund.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked me about the situation in Kenya. In 1985 the citizenship provisions of the Kenyan constitution were amended. In consequence, since 1985 persons born in Kenya acquire Kenyan citizenship automatically at birth only if a parent is Kenyan. Where that is not the case, the possibility arises of statelessness. Existing provisions in the British Nationality Act 1981—in particular, Schedule 2—provide for the acquisition of British nationality by the otherwise stateless children of British parents. Those provisions satisfy our obligations under the 1961 UN convention on the reduction of statelessness.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, also asked me whether people in Montserrat have the right to vote. All existing British Overseas Territories citizens and Commonwealth citizens have the right to vote in UK elections if they fulfil the residence and registration requirements.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, asked what would happen if one of the territories became independent. The nationality consequences of independence would be dealt with in a separate Act of Parliament. In the past, the usual practice was to withdraw British nationality from the majority of 1037 those acquiring citizenship of the new state on independence day but to provide for its retention where the person concerned had a residual connection—for example, through a parent or grandparent—with the United Kingdom or with a place which nowadays would be referred to as a "British Overseas Territory". However, it would be inappropriate to speculate on how such matters might be handled in the future, and the British Overseas Territories Bill does not give voice to any assumptions in that respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, also asked me specifically about Clause 4. In some territories there are problems with regard to illegal immigration. Those problems are such that we wish to ensure that a filter operates to prevent illegal immigrants using the new legislation as a stepping stone to the United Kingdom. Registration or naturalisation as a British Overseas Territories citizen will act as such a filter. I shall write further to the noble Lord if he wishes to have further information on that matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, asked me about the status of Longwood in St Helena. I have been passed a note by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, which I shall read and which I hope is accurate. I have been told by the noble Viscount that it is not consular territory. The land is owned by a foreigner; namely, the Republic of France, as is the site of Napoleon's empty tomb. The consul lives in his own house adjacent to Longwood. I thank the noble Viscount for that information. I can add that we have funded the establishment of the National Trust in St Helena. I believe that that organisation will take on some responsibility for the preservation of a major part of the heritage of St Helena.
The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, asked me specifically about the right of self-determination. The Bill does not affect that right; indeed, the right is reflected expressly in the constitutions of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.
I have been advised that, in my haste to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, my answer was not entirely accurate. The granting of citizenship will not be immediate as from Royal Assent. It will take effect when a commencement order is made by the Secretary of State once the passport issuing arrangements have been sorted out. We hope that that will be as soon as possible after Royal Assent. However, the change of name from British Dependent Territories citizen to British Overseas Territories citizen will take immediate effect.
I believe that today's debate will send a clear message to the people of the overseas territories that we have their interests at heart and that we are making progress towards delivering the commitment made two years ago to grant British citizenship. I commend the Bill to the House.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.