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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Before I call the next speaker, may I remind the House that the Second Reading is principally about citizenship? One or two hon. Members have started to stray rather wide of the mark.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): I shall be brief, and I shall resist the strong temptation to reminisce to which the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) yielded all too readily, going back to the good old days of the 1981 Standing Committee that considered the British Nationality Bill. Let us deal with the points at issue, which were not all addressed with complete clarity or certainty by the Minister from the Dispatch Box.
The Bill deals specifically with the granting of British citizenship to residents of the British overseas territories. As British citizens, they are to be on an equal footing with us. This is all to the good, and there is unanimity about it across the House. However, the Bill is singularly deficient because it does not address the responsibilities as citizens which those new British citizens will enjoy. The omission is deliberate. On the key question of the franchise, the Bill says nothing. That is an issue about which democrats such as us care profoundly.
All the dependent territories listed are beyond the European continent, except for onethe dependent territory of Gibraltar. It is instructive for us to contrast the citizenship provisions of the Bill, and the attendant responsibilities, with those enjoyed, for example, by French citizens in the French overseas departements, especially the big onesReunion, Guadeloupe and Martinique. Those have been incorporated in metropolitan France
Mr. Wilkinson: No. I was about to point out an anomaly. The departements send deputies and senators to the French Parliament in a way that is not proposed in the Bill, unless, perhaps, some residents of the British overseas territories are fortunate enough to become people's peers and sit in the other placeanything is possible. Although the residents of the British overseas territories will be citizens in the fullest sense of the word, they will not be able to stand for election here in the territories where they reside or to take part in the democratic process for representation of those territories in the UK Parliament.
With regard to Gibraltar, it is noteworthy that the United Kingdom continues to be in breach of the European Court of Human Rights decision of 18 February 1999, which ruled by 15 votes to two that the residents of Gibraltar should have the right to vote in the European Parliament elections. For that reason, I thought it was casuistry on the part of the Foreign Secretary to declare in the preamble to the Bill that the Bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights. In a strictly logical and legalistic sense, he is right, but the spirit of the legislation is not compatible. Following the resolution of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe this year, it is high time that the United Kingdom found a means for Gibraltarians to vote in European elections.
Tony Baldry: Does my hon. Friend find it surprising that the Minister did not draw the attention of the House to a written answer given by one of his ministerial colleagues yesterday, in which the Government state that
Mr. Wilkinson: Yes, indeed. Perhaps the Foreign Office is not sanguine that the proposal will receive the unanimous approval of the other member states. The Government may envisage a blocking veto but be reluctant to admit it at the beginning of discussions with the Government of Spain about the future of Gibraltar.
Let us not be awkward, however, but return to the Bill and the more central question of citizenship. A most interesting principle is involved, as our conferral of full British citizenship on the residents of the overseas territories means that they will, ipso facto, become citizens of the European Union. The Minister denied it at the start of his speech, but then stood corrected, as he was not present for the exciting and interesting debates about the Maastricht treaty, which means that he missed a lot. The consequences persist: people can acquire citizenship of the European Union, whether they like it or not, by virtue of having citizenship of one of its constituent countries. This will also be the case for British citizens who live in our overseas dependent territories.
I mentioned a significant omission regarding the children of British overseas citizens. I think that only Kenya now regards children as stateless if neither of their parents is a national of that country. The issue arose in the other place. I am not sure whether the situation still exists, as Baroness Amos seemed to suggest that the children in question could somehow acquire British citizenship by virtue of the British Nationality Act 1981an answer which I did not comprehend. This is a most important point, not least for my constituents, as these are the sort of unaccompanied refugee children who end up at Heathrow, which is in the same borough as my constituency. My constituents have to pay for them to the tune of more than £1 million a year. They are a significant category not only in practical terms for my constituents, but also in terms of ethics. Nobody wants children to be stateless and therefore unable to enjoy the rights of citizenship in any country, especially if they owe their statelessness to a lacuna in British citizenship legislation.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I agree that we have a responsibility to avoid statelessness in respect of any category of British citizen, but does the hon. Gentleman have any evidence for his implication that the children of British citizens are arriving as refugees at Heathrow?
Mr. Wilkinson: All I can say to the hon. LadyI have not studied the figuresis that we seem to get unaccompanied refugee children from most parts of the world. I imagine that it would be easier for the refugees in question than for others to get around the visa stipulations of airlines, which are extremely vigilant, as they are liable to be fined if they allow passengers to board their aircraft without appropriate travel documents. I assume that Kenya is embarrassed about the situation, which is entirely of its own making, and will be all too happy to see such children elsewhere. Of course, once they arrive here, as do many other stateless children, we have a responsibility to fulfil. We do not shirk that responsibility in my boroughfar from it. Every effort, from social services to health and schooling, is made to ensure that stateless children who come into this country are well accommodated and provided for, and that the transition to British life is smooth and harmonious for them. We are not shirking our responsibilities, but the point is important and the Government should address it. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
I should like to make a couple of other points. They may appear to deal with matters of detail, but they are very important from the ethical viewpoint, which I have already mentioned. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has been more assiduous than any hon. Member in championing the rights of the Chagos
Jeremy Corbyn: I am puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's assertion that the Chagos islanders can return from the middle of the next decade. They currently have a right of return that was granted by a High Court decision of last year. The American lease on Diego Garcia expires in 13 years' time. So they have a right of return at the moment that has not yet been carried out.