HL Deb 23 April 1986 vol 473 cc1268-70WA
Earl De La Warr

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are yet in a position to respond to requests made by the Legislative Council of Hong Kong concerning the draft Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order in Council.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur)

The Government have carefully considered the requests made by the Legislative Council and have held detailed discussions with the Hong Kong Government. We have also taken fully into account the views expressed in the debates in Parliament in January and in the Legislative Council, as well as representations put to us by organisations and individuals in Hong Kong.

The council's first request was that we should provide an endorsement in the British National (Overseas) passport making it clear that the holder did not require a visa or entry certificate to visit the United Kingdom. The Government will meet this request. As we have made clear on many occasions, visitors from Hong Kong are welcome to come to the United Kingdom. British Dependent Territories citizens do not have to obtain a visa in advance to visit the United Kingdom. This is the position under the current immigration rules and this Government have no intention of introducing any visa requirement for such visitors. This is understandably a matter of great importance to people in Hong Kong. In response to their wishes, therefore, the Government have agreed that an endorsement reflecting this position should be placed in the new British National (Overseas) passports. The endorsement will read: In accordance with the United Kingdom Immigration Rules, the holder of this passport does not require an entry certificate or visa to visit the United Kingdom.

A leaflet will be issued with each passport explaining the endorsement and the position under the immigration rules.

The council's second request was that former servicemen in Hong Kong who served in the defence of Hong Kong in the Second World War should be granted British citizenship. The number involved is about 270. In view of their particular service the Government will meet the spirit of this request. It is not possible under the British Nationality Act 1981 to confer British citizenship on them all regardless of the nature of their service or their present citizenship. But my right honourable friend will consider sympathetically applications for registration as British citizens under Section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981 from any who are eligible under this provision because they are British Dependent Territories citizens or other British nationals and because they served under the Government of Hong Kong, for example in the Hong Kong Volunteers. The number who might be eligible is likely to be about 60. We are also ready from today to accept and grant applications from any of the 270 or so former servicemen in Hong Kong together with their dependants who wish to come to the United Kingdom for settlement.

The council's third request was that those British Dependent Territories citizens who were not ethnically Chinese should be granted British citizenship rather than British Overseas citizenship if after 1st July 1997 they would otherwise be stateless. There are at present about 11,500 British Dependent Territories citizens who might be affected by this provision. The Government have carefully considered all the arguments put forward in support of this request, but we have concluded that the granting of British citizenship is not justified in the present circumstances. We are satisfied that we shall be able properly to meet the needs of these citizens, their children and their grandchildren for an accepted citizenship status and for a place to call their home. This will be ensured through the guarantees of right of abode in Hong Kong after 1997 provided in the Agreement with the People's Republic of China, and through the provision of British Overseas citizenship status for any who would otherwise be stateless, down to the second generation born after 1997. British citizenship would not strengthen the position of these communities in Hong Kong. If however any British national were in the future to come under pressure to leave Hong Kong, we would expect the government of the day to consider sympathetically the case for admission to the United Kingdom.

We believe our response to the Legislative Council has shown that we pay close attention to the views expressed by the council and the people of Hong Kong and that, as a result, the nationality provisions for Hong Kong have been clarified and improved. We believe it would be right now to put in place the nationality provisions which have been extensively discussed in Parliament and in Hong Kong so that detailed planning work can continue without delay. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary intends therefore to lay the draft order in council before the House in the next few days.