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The date of commencement will be appointed by my right hon. 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. For instance, we need 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 sets out how British citizenship can be acquired by people who become British overseas territories citizens after commencement of the legislation. There are, of course, many people living in the overseas territories who are not British dependent territories citizens. The automatic provisions of the new legislation do not apply to them. To qualify for British citizenship, they will first have to qualify for British overseas territories citizenship by connection with the territory in which they reside. If their application is successful, they will thereafter be free to apply for British citizenship.
Tony Baldry (Banbury): The Minister is talking about citizenship and passports. The White Paper, "Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories", published in 1999, was a series of quid pro quos. Will the Minister explain what the overseas territories and their legislative councils have given the Government in exchange for the citizenship that we are giving? As I understand it, this is a two-way deal that the Foreign Office has arranged. We ought to have some understanding of what is being given back.
Clause 5 and schedule 1 to the Bill further amend the 1981 Act to provide for acquisition of British citizenship by future generations having the requisite connection with any of the qualifying overseas territories. Those provisions will put the qualifying territories in the same position as the UK for that purpose so that, for example, a child born in a qualifying territory after commencement to a parent who is a British citizen or settled there will automatically acquire British citizenship in the same way as a child born in similar circumstances in the UK.
British citizenship will mean that British overseas territories citizens have the right of abode in the United Kingdom and the right of free movement and residence, and with that the opportunity to work, in European Union member states. In short, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they will have the same entry and residence rights as you or me. They will be able to visit friends and relations or travel on business or for employment without being subject to immigration controls. I know that that has long been a bone of contention.
British dependent territories citizens have never considered it fair that they are subject to immigration control and must pass through the non-EU channel on arrival at UK ports and airports. As British citizens under the Bill, they will not have to.
I should like to make an important point at this stage. The Bill is about nationality. British citizenship carries with it the right of abode in the United Kingdom and the right of free movement in Europe, but other rights and obligations, including the right to preferential rates for tertiary education, health and social security benefits and the vote in UK parliamentary elections and the requirement to pay income tax, all depend on residence in the UK, not nationality. Those matters are therefore not covered.
Furthermore, the Bill will have no impact on the constitutional relationship between the United Kingdom and the overseas territories or that between the territories and the European Union. That has been confirmed by the Constitution Committee in another place.
I am aware of concerns surrounding those issues, and also of continuing concern about reciprocity. Representatives of some territories are worried about what would happen if large numbers of British or European citizens were given the right to live in their territories, most of which are small islands that would be unable to cope with such an influx. They point out that granting British and European citizens the right of abode in their territories risks fundamentally altering the social, cultural and economic fabric of the territories.
We have already given assurances that the Bill is non-reciprocal, but in case there are lingering doubts, I am happy to reiterate that that is the case. Please do not think that support for the Bill will entitle you to retirement on Bermuda, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It will not.
Tony Baldry: I am partly at fault, as I was not sufficiently clear. That is not the trivial type of reciprocity about which I am concerned. The White Paper refers to fundamental principles of self-determination and the acceptance of responsibilities on both sides. As a consequence of the Bill, what new responsibilities, if any, will the overseas territories in the Caribbean and elsewhere accept?
Mr. Bradshaw: I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman a longer list when I sum up, but, for example, territories have changed their laws on money laundering, same-sex relationships and a number of human rights and judicial matters, which they would not have done had it not been for the Bill.
St. Helena will celebrate its quincentenary in May next year. How fitting for its people to be able to celebrate by having British citizenship conferred on them and residence rights in the United Kingdom restored to them.
Mr. Bradshaw: We hope so, but that depends to a certain extent on the rapidity of the progress we make in resolving the passport issue. My officials are confident that we will do so in time for the islanders' happy celebration.
Peter Bradley: In my previous intervention I sought clarification, as possession of a British passport does not of itself confer citizenship, but simply confirms it. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) is making the point that putting in place provisions on issuing passports is not necessary to granting British citizens' rights to the residents of St. Helena and elsewhere well before 21 May 2002. That point is extremely important to St. Helenians and their friends in the House and elsewhere, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister carefully considers what we are saying.
Mr. Bradshaw: I shall consider those points carefully. The time lag between the passing of this legislation through both Houses of Parliament and the issuing of passports is being discussed in the light of representations that my hon. Friend has made to me and colleagues in the Home Office. I hope that the islanders will welcome the fact that we are bringing the Bill through now. I know that they have waited a long time, but we have a heavy
I know that many right hon. and hon. Members take an interest in the overseas territories, and have urged the Government to deliver on the granting of citizenship. Given the pressures on the parliamentary timetable, we have been fortunate to secure an opportunity to debate the Bill. I am confident that hon. Members will share my desire to see it approved, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): The British Overseas Territories Bill contains many positive aspects, and I should like to express my party's support for its objectives. We have waited a long time for this Bill since the original proposals were made. I remind hon. Members that it was on 27 August 1997 that the then Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), announced a review of policy on the dependent territories. Those plans stayed for too long in the in-trays of Foreign and Commonwealth Ministers. It was not until March 1999 that a White Paper was published. It took until July 2001 for it to appear as a Government Bill, which is an inordinate delay.
John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead): It occurs to me that, if it were not for a previous Conservative Government taking away the rights of these people, we would not have needed the Bill in the first place.
Mr. Spring: Circumstances have changed somewhat in the past 40 years. Although there certainly was a powerful feeling that this issue needed to be addressed, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the difficulties that Hong Kong presented for the British Government.
We welcome the Bill, even though it has taken four years and three months to be introduced. We recognise that the people of the overseas territories are very much in favour of the Bill, and we fully support their right to this change of status. It is good to debate legislation that has such widespread support among those whom it will directly affect.
Britain's overseas territories include some of the most prosperous and some of the most remote islands in the world. They range from the barren wilderness of Antarctica to business, financial and tourist centres, such as some of the Caribbean territories and Bermuda. We understand the value that people in our territories attach to British citizenshiplike the people of Gibraltar, if I may remind the Minister. The people in our territories have long sought the status that the Bill will afford them. The Conservative party will support their right to citizenship, as we have supported the right of the people of Gibraltar to remain British. I refer in passing to the widespread consternation that the inept remarks of the Minister for Europe have caused in Gibraltar.
The main provision of the Bill concerns the granting of citizenship. We welcome this move, and so do the overseas territories. Many benefits will now be available to those who are soon to become full British citizens. At this time of terrorist threats from around the world, the overseas dependent territories are dependent on the United Kingdom for defence, just as in 1982 when Britain went to the aid of the Falkland islanders. Supporting the rights
However, it is not only close-to-home territories such as Gibraltar, or those further afield such as the Falklands, that depend on Britain for support. The Chagos archipelago, better known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, is claimed by both Mauritius and the Seychelles. The United States' lease is due to expire in 2016, and although that is 15 years into the future, we may be called upon to defend the rights of people who wish to return there.