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Mr. Trend: As I suggested earlier, perhaps when consultative councils are in London, a Select Committee may be able to interview their members on a regular basis. Also, we may be able to investigate whether people could come here from overseas at public expenseas they will be British citizensto give evidence to a Select Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman have any views on that?
Andrew Mackinlay: Yes, I certainly do and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking. I am mindful of the fact that other business has to be dealt with by the House and I do not want to delay it. I have got the signals from the person who is paid a large sum of money not to say anything in this Chamber. I will wind up in a moment. However, this is one of the few occasions when the thousands of people who are peppered around the globe in the territories have their limited day in the court of Parliament. As they cannot be here themselves, I and other hon. Members are obliged to protect and promote their interests.
The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend) asked me for my view. I regret that my colleagues on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs declined to consider this matter as a pre-legislative measure. That was a profound mistake. It also raises questions about the volume of work with which that Committee has to deal. If it is engaged with Kosovo and there are other things happening in the world, they cannot be considered simultaneously. Our obligations to people in the territories around the globe are always at the bottom of the pile.
If I cannot persuade the House to enfranchise those people, we should have either a standing sub-committee of the Foreign Affairs Committee to consider overseas territories or an overseas Select Committee to do so
I hope that we will see this Bill as the beginning. I also hope that, to whet the Minister's appetite, I can persuade him that he might make a name for himself by enacting legislation that would leave an enduring legacy for our British citizens around the world and which would give them a right of access to put questions herenot questions on Thurrock, Sedgefield or wherever, but on foreign policy, defence and the macro-issues to which they are entitled to answers, as well as issues relating to their constitutions.
This year, we shall be asked to rubber-stamp Orders in Council that will alter the constitutions of some of those places. The best we will get is a one-hour debate and nobody will have considered whether they have approval. In fact, I am so unsure of procedure that I am not certain that they will come before the House at all. The Minister may be able to confirm that we shall soon alter the constitution of the Falkland Islands, and there is an important proposal to alter the constitution of Bermuda by Order in Council. That serious issue needs to be addressed, and it should be dealt with by an overseas Select Committee.
The Minister may think that I am labouring the point about Bermuda, but there is still conscription there and he should consider the fact that the Bermuda Regiment still uses shackles for those who do not answer the call. I do not want to argue about whether conscription is good or bad, but those who do not turn up are not asked to get in a police carthey are shackled. I have had that confirmed in a parliamentary answer.
It is disgraceful that we are not dealing with such issues. We acquiesce by our silence, so the House of Commons must address those problems. Acquiesce by silence I will not; and I tell the Minister that when those people all have e-mail I shall beat the Foreign Office. I shall invite them to tell me what is going on and I shall table parliamentary question after parliamentary question. By attrition, I shall make the Government listen to them.
May I remind hon. Members why were are here today? The Bill has been comprehensively reviewed and has widespread support not only in the House but in the territories that it will affect. A number of important questions have been brought to the attention of the House and we look forward to the Minister's winding-up speech.
One cannot underestimate the value that our territories attach to British citizenship. The people of Gibraltar not only value their citizenship, as we know well, but have long sought the status that the Bill affords them. The Conservative party supports their right to citizenship just as it passionately supports their right to remain British.
A number of important and interesting speeches have been made in the Chamber today and, ultimately, this is a cross-party issue. The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) echoed the views and sentiments expressed in another place by Liberal Democrat spokespersons and, as always, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) made an eloquent speech. He described the spirit behind the legislation and the importance of the Gibraltarians having the right to vote. He also raised the question of the statelessness of children in British overseas territoriesan important issue which I hope the Minister will address. We need to know more about it.
The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin) made a thoughtful speech that questioned whether the overseas territories would be assured of self- determination should they so desire. He also touched on the importance of Gibraltar and normality of life there. A number of Members on both sides of the House alluded to the discrimination against black Bermudans. We want to get rid of it and the Bill is part of that process.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) showed considerable knowledge of the issues. He discussed educationI hope that the Minister refers to itand made a powerful point about access to tertiary education in this country for people from the overseas territories. He also referred to the contingent liabilities and the reciprocal arrangements between the United Kingdom and the British overseas territories. I hope that the Minister will respond to those important points.
I should like to tell the hon. Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) most sincerely that few hon. Members appreciated the plight of the Chagos islanders until they brought it to the House's attention. We have been moved by their passionate commitment to that cause. It has given all of us considerable food for thought. The House, and especially the Government, will need to consider the islanders' plight, given the issues that the hon. Gentlemen have raised. They have done us a service.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend) made an original and thoughtful speech. He is a distinguished governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and knows a great deal about many of the countries with which we have relationships. He made powerful points about the need for parliamentary scrutiny and the possibility of an annual report, an annual debate or a Select Committee. Parliamentary scrutiny would be most valuable in the new relationship that we have been assessing.
My hon. Friend also referred to the importance of Gibraltar and its right to sovereignty and self-determination. He talked about bringing UK law and, by implication, EU law into practice in the overseas territories, and the issues surrounding that.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) welcomed the Bill, and made a reasonable point about "belongership." He also talked about the imposition of UK law on overseas territories. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who is obviously knowledgable on this subject, referred to the widening of the family of British citizenship, and I thought that that was an apt description.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) made a refreshing speech. He reminded us that we have defended overseas territories at times of stress. That has been part of the relationship, and he was right to remind us of the deep historical links that we cherishas the residents of overseas territories cherish their links with usand of the essence of Britishness in that respect.
That leads me to the point about the democratic deficit, which was made with characteristic effectiveness by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). I mention in passingthis is only a personal observationthat we could explore this matter as we consider the role of an upper House in this Parliament of ours. I do not think that anyone objectively considers the recent proposals as anything other than a dog's breakfast. We could explore the democratic deficit in the upper Chamber if it is to be substantially directly elected. What is on offer is utterly unacceptable, but the Bill may provide an opportunity to incorporate the overseas territories in some arrangement.
The Bill has also given the House another chance to debate the building of an airport as a long-term solution to St. Helena's transport link problems. A number of hon. Members alluded to that. It would deal with the problem of distance and inaccessibility.
The Bill also gives the Minister a chance to set out his position on the opening of further opportunities for students. I referred to that, and I hope that the Government will look into it. As I said, my discussions with interested parties suggest that there are long-term gains for people receiving tertiary education in this country, given the links that are thereby established.
I hope that hon. Members will agree that addressing those issues would send a message that the Government intend to make the Bill the basis for a real and enduring partnership on a number of levels between Britain and the British territories. Like many hon. Members, I have raised questions in the debate, and we look forward to what the Minister now has to say. We shall pursue these issues in more detail in Committee.
Our aim is to ensure that the Bill best serves the people of the British territories and that it achieves a better relationship, which is what we all want. We welcome the Bill in principle. I wish it fair passage as we consider it and its implications in greater detail in Committee.