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2.33 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): As our spokesman in another place said when the Bill was introduced there, the Liberal Democrats support the Bill, and—more importantly—so do the dependent territories. It is important that its passage through Parliament is swift so that the important changes it makes to citizenship can be established as soon as possible.

The rights of abode, of employment and of movement are fundamental rights that go with citizenship. It is right that the people of the dependent territories—which are to be renamed overseas territories—are to have those rights, that those rights are to be automatic and that they are to be capable of being passed on to those people's children. As the Chief Minister of Gibraltar put it earlier this year, in contrast to some of the measures on offer, the Bill gives "first-class British citizenship" to the people of the overseas territories. We, too, welcome that.

Several interesting themes have run through the debate, including that of self-determination. I do not want to get sidetracked by the issue of Gibraltar, but it is worth noting that in another place Baroness Amos confirmed that the Bill would not affect the right of self-determination, saying:

We must hope that the Government never lose sight of that fact.

The important changes made under the Bill and their effects have already been explored by other speakers. Separate channels at airports are particularly humiliating, so it is welcome that they are to go at last. There is some confusion about the rights relating to education: universities will have discretion to decide whether to treat the new British citizens from overseas territories as though they were resident. That is important, but I hope that the Government will go further and encourage people to do that, rather than leave them uncertain about what financial burdens and opportunities would be open to them if they came to this country to pursue further or higher education.

The other substantive change made by the Bill is the change of name, which is right and proper as it reflects the practical reality of how the territories are already described. It was not specifically mentioned by the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) today, but Conservatives in another place attacked the change of name, saying that it reflected some sort of political correctness. I hope that is not the hon. Gentleman's view. It appears that all of the—soon to be officially—overseas

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territories support the change, so right hon. and hon. Members on both side of the House should be able to agree.

The number of people affected by the Bill is relatively modest—the current estimate is 200,000—so many have speculated about the reason for the delay in its appearance. We have already gone over that territory, so I shall not dwell on it too long. Suffice it to say that during the 1980s and 1990s the previous leader of the Liberal Democrats, Lord Ashdown, fought a fairly lonely battle on the issue of citizenship on behalf of the residents of Hong Kong. That issue may have been the practical reason why the Bill could not appear under a Conservative Government. We opposed their treatment of Hong Kong, and we feel that it is not appropriate for the Conservatives now to make a big deal of the delay between the publication of the White Paper and the introduction of the Bill.

There is a separate issue relating to timing which has been touched on by previous speakers: the crucial and practical issue of implementation. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) said that the rights are conferred and are not dependent on a passport having been issued. My understanding is that at the point that the commencement order is passed following the Bill completing all its stages, all those in the overseas territories will have those rights of citizenship; none the less, it is important that they are quickly issued with their passports. Technical issues relating to passport provision and the training of staff have been mentioned.

Peter Bradley: The point I was trying to make is that commencement is not conditional on the structure for issuing the passports being in place. I hope the hon. Gentleman will support me in urging Ministers to ensure that commencement is not delayed by delays in producing passports.

Mr. Moore: I wholeheartedly endorse that. It is most important that the commencement order is introduced as soon as possible after the Bill has completed its stages and received Royal Assent.

Having said that, I hope that there will not be many practical problems that might cause a lengthy delay between commencement and the issuing of the passports. I am sure that the people of St. Helena, whose 500th anniversary has been mentioned, would be delighted to be able to flourish British passports as a symbol of their British citizenship.

The Minister's explanations of the problems are similar to those given by Baroness Amos in another place in July. Some months have passed since she made those observations, so I hope that the Minister can assure us that the problems are close to resolution and will be sorted out before too long.

There have been brief references to points that are missing from the Bill: for example, the issue of stateless persons and British overseas citizens in the Cayman Islands, in east Africa and elsewhere. The Minister was strangely silent on that point. Will he inform the House of the state of discussions with the Kenyan and Cayman Islands authorities, in particular, and give us his assessment of the likelihood that that loophole will be

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closed within those countries? Will he make a strong statement of intent that, if the countries will not fulfil those duties, the British Government will fill the vacuum?

In response to an intervention, the Minister briefly mentioned some of the welcome human rights developments that have taken place in certain overseas territories during the past few years and which he directly attributes to the prospect of the Bill. He promised to give a fuller list at the end of the debate. I hope that he will take the opportunity to do so.

The Bill is short, but it has huge significance for the people who will be affected by it. As the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) pointed out, for years rights have been stripped away from people who live in the dependent—now to be overseas—territories. The Bill restores those rights and Liberal Democrats support it.

2.41 pm

Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): I, too, welcome the Bill—not least because it is short, simple and straightforward. It rights wrongs that have been festering for the best part of 40 years. I had hoped that there would be a measure of consensus for the Bill, so I am sorry that some of the contributions from the Opposition Benches have been contentious, especially that of the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), the Opposition spokesman. It would have been appropriate, opportune and gracious had the hon. Gentleman—rather than drawing a veil over the past and making only a grudging concession about the implications of the British Nationality Act 1981—taken the opportunity to issue some words of apology to the 200,000 people in the overseas territories who were not only disadvantaged but insulted by that legislation.

I am especially pleased because, although the Bill may not attract much public interest, it is of huge importance to the territories that will be re-enfranchised and to many of the 200,000 people who will have their nationality rights restored. They enjoyed those rights until the legislation of the 1960s and, finally, the 1981 Act, which rendered them second-class citizens. In future, they will enjoy the right of British citizenship and, most importantly, the right of abode in this country.

I suspect that few of the 200,000 people involved will take advantage of that right, however. Mercifully—not least because of the progress made in establishing higher standards of human rights in the territories—few people are likely to be victims of persecution in those territories. Few of them are likely to be economic migrants: about 70 per cent. in the territories enjoy a gross domestic product that is higher than ours.

Lord Waddington, a former Governor of Bermuda, made the point in another place that white Bermudans who had the benefit of British citizenship passed through the "British" channel when they disembarked at British airports, whereas their black compatriots all too often had to pass through the "other nationalities" channel. In future, I hope that insult will be removed.

The restoration of citizenship rights will have a practical meaning for other people, especially St. Helenians. They will have open access to opportunities that were previously denied them; in particular, for education and training in this country and in the European Union.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): The hon. Gentleman said that the measure would bring an end to second-class

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citizenship, but citizenship, as we understand the word, will continue to be second-class for St. Helenians in relation to education. As Saints will have to fulfil residency requirements, and as they have no opportunity to take up tertiary, higher, or further education in their own islands, they will still suffer discrimination.

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