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I pay tribute to the Minister and those who advise him. If government were always so simple and it was always so simple to do the common-sense thing, we would probably all be out of a job. The news will be greeted, I am sure, with great approbation in St. Helena and by those in this country who have supported their cause over many years. This is a very good Bill, whose consideration has reached a happy conclusion in the House. I thank the Minister again, and beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I have listened with interest to the points made on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report. Nationality is a fascinating and emotive subject. The Bill may be short, specific and contain few clauses, but the debate surrounding it has opened windows on different aspects of life in territories with close and long-established cultural and traditional links with the United Kingdom, but which are geographically far removed from these shores, and in some cases isolated.
The passage of the Bill will mean that British dependent territories citizens will be full British citizens. They will be able to apply for British passports, to live, study and work in the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union, and to share the benefits of British citizenship that we all take for granted.
I have noted with pleasure that the Bill commands widespread support in the Chamber, and I am extremely grateful to the many right hon. and hon. Members who have welcomed its introduction and spoken in favour of its speedy and successful passage. I know that for many people in the overseas territories, Royal Assent and commencement cannot, as we have just discussed, come quickly enough. I hope that commencement will be very soon after Royal Assent.
The Bill was first introduced in another place in June last year. It came to this House after thorough and wide-ranging debate, but without amendment. It has provided opportunities for hon. Members to raise a number of issuesnot always central to the Billabout the overseas territories, and in the process it has raised the profile of the territories themselves.
The legislation is of great importance to the citizens of the 16 British overseas territories, which include Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, British Antarctic Territory, Bermuda, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Chagos Islands and South Georgia. The legislation enjoys their full support and, as always in this House, we should pay
Hon. Members will be aware of questions surrounding an airstrip on the island of St. Helena. The issue has been raised on a number of occasions, particularly in another place by the Earl of Iveagh, a constituent of mine. I am glad that it has been aired. In making decisions on such issues, we of course bear in mind the economic development of the area. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) has sought to raise the profile of the island, and we are all grateful to him for doing so.
I am grateful to the Minister for the clarifications that he has offered on Second Reading and in Committee on various areas of concern. I am pleased that he has clarified the status of abandoned infants under the Bill, making it clear that citizenship granted to an abandoned infant will not be grounds for any parent or guardian who subsequently comes forward to claim it.
I am also grateful to the Minister for clarifying European Union citizenship rules as they relate to the Bill. As I understand his answers, the EU's regulations extend to territories, not to people. Therefore, citizenship regulations would apply only if a British overseas citizen who became a British citizen took up abode in the UK. That is welcome news.
There are still, however, one or two areas that we would note for future reference. One is the question of overseas fees for higher educationa matter that has been brought to the attention of the House before. It is understood how the rules work; it has become something of an EU matter. However, I should like to take this opportunity to say that the such education has a knock-on effect. It impacts on the lives of a number of young people who are able to study in this country and then return home with the knowledge that they have acquired. Such education also establishes great links with this country and most particularly benefits students' respective homelands.
The education of such young people is a tremendous investment, not only for those involved but in establishing the affection and ties that inevitably arise when part of one's education is in this country. We must continue to bear that in mind and to monitor it.
Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman will know that there is widespread support for that point of view. Many of us who represent universities and others hope that the necessary cross-departmental efforts can bring about the change that he has advocated and that many of us want. That will be very important and another sign of our support for the next generation of people in overseas territories.
I am pleased that EU citizenship regulations, as they relate to the Bill, have been clarified. The relationship of the overseas territories with the EU and general nationality rules continue to be important. I truly hope that the Government will keep a wary eye on that.
I reiterate my party's full support for the amendments made in Committee, as I did during those proceedings. I once again pay tribute to the hon. Members for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for raising the issue of the Chagos islanders. The injustice was insufficiently recognised in the House, and hon. Members will be grateful to both hon. Gentlemen for drawing the matter to their attention in a compelling way. I hope very much that the right of return of the islanders, as recognised in a recent High Court case, will be clarified further and that the process will be taken on accordingly.
Overall, this is a very important, welcome and much supported Bill. It works towards a partnership, as the White Paper desired, and demonstrates our commitment to the citizens of British overseas territories, wherever they may be. Once again, I commend the work that has been done on the Bill and the Minister's courtesy while navigating its passage through the House and clarifying its clauses. We fully support the Bill's objectives and welcome its Third Reading.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I thank the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) for his kind remarks about the Chagos islanders and the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and I have raised the matter in the House. I understand that the Minister is suffering some discomfort, so I shall be as brief as possible. So that he can get away, I shall not ask any complicated questions.
I enjoyed serving on the Committee that considered the Bill. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for sending me a lengthy and full answer to my interminable questions on the role of Antarctica in the Bill. Particularly since nobody lives there, it was very helpful of him to discuss at some length the possible citizenship of people who might at some point live thereapart from if they are in some terrible Channel 4 programme and are stuck there. That could be a good idea. I am grateful to the Minister for that. I am not sure that I wholly agree with him on the Antarctic, but I promise not to discuss it further this evening, save to say that I have a whole box of papers on Antarctica from the time that I have been in the House. The former right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale and I raised the matter during consideration of the Antarctic Minerals Bill and at other times.
I agree with the hon. Member for West Suffolk about the right of access to further and higher education in this country for overseas citizens. I do not pretend that there is any simple, logical answer, but some way should be found for us to ensure that people who, after all, will be given British citizenship as soon as the Bill is enacted, should have access to higher education institutions in Britain. That seems proper and sensible, and I hope that some means can be found to achieve it.
I welcome the amendments that the Minister moved in CommitteeI subsequently withdrew mineconcerning the British Indian Ocean Territories, the Ilois people and their right of access to citizenship. As my hon. Friend well understands, there is a good deal of resentment among the Ilois people about the way in which they were removed from the islands by secret interstate negotiations in the 1960s and 1970s, and deposited on Mauritius or, in the case of some, on the Seychelles, given minimum compensation and forgotten about.
Once again, we should reiterate our thanks to Olivier Bancoult and all who have campaigned so successfully and so well for so long, culminating finally in a successful High Court action which allowed the Ilois the right of return to the Chagos islands. That is an important step forward and has been warmly welcomed.
However, I ask the Minister to bear in mind that the right of return has been authorised by the High Court in this country. There is the possibility of a class action being taken in the United States on behalf of those who were moved from Diego Garcia, which is currently a US base, and that to date no Chagosians have been allowed to return to the islands. I understand that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is sponsoring an environmental impact study and a study of the economic viability of a return to the islands. We look forward to the results of those studies.
Just before Christmas, I took part in a lengthy and useful meeting with Baroness Amos in the Foreign Office with Olivier Bancoult, Richard Gifford, his solicitor, and a small delegation. We discussed all these issues. It is strange that the Chagos islandersthe Ilois peopleare not allowed to return to the islands, yet I understand that the British Indian Ocean Territories police do nothing about passing millionaire yachtsmen drawing up their yachts alongside the outer islands of the archipelago and staying there for a considerable time without being told to move on.
Any Chagos islander trying to go back gets stopped by fishery protection vessels on their way to the islands. There seems to be something wrong there. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) says, there could be a bit of class politics going on. Although such notions are not supposed to be popular among those on the Government Benches, some of us still understand them[Interruption.]and even practise them.
I do not ask the Minister to respond immediately, but I hope that he will look into the matter. Will he also assure me that when the assessments are complete and we have a meeting with Baroness Amos in April, when Olivier Bancoult is returning to the UK, we will be able to discuss the practicalities of returning to the archipelago as a whole, the support that will be given to the community to do that, the employment practices of the United States on the base, and importantly, the opportunity for the islanders to visit the islands, to visit their burial sites and their ancestral homes, and to see the place from which their parents and grandparents were so brutally plucked away in the 1970s?
I hope that my hon. Friend can ensure that the British Indian Ocean Territories authority will arrange for that return to take place, initially as a visit, and that when we finally have our meeting in April with Baroness Amos, which I hope to attend, we can explore the practicalities of return.
My final point relates to the islanders themselves. Had they remained on the Chagos islands, had Diego Garcia never become a base, and had the cold war never happened, the islanders would have had an elected authority of some sort. They would now be residents of those islands and they would be receiving passports, just like the people of St. Helena and all the other places. The Chagos islanders were plucked away, so the Bill had to be specially amended in Committee, and I am grateful to the Minister for that enormous step forward.
Had the Ilois people remained on the Chagos islands, their elected authority would have been supported by public funds, as is the case in all the other territories. Apart from the minimal compensation given to the Ilois on settlement in Mauritius, they have received no support whatever. We should be grateful to the Mauritius Government for the support that they have given, but the Ilois have lived in poverty. For Olivier to come to this country, they must arrange a collection among the community to buy him an air ticket so that he can negotiate with the British Government on behalf of his people. I hope that when we meet in April, there will be some recognition of the need for practical support for the community, and in addition, for pensions for the older members of the community, and access to further and higher educationprimary education is provided by the Government of Mauritius.
I welcome what has been achieved so far. It has been a great step forward, but we are not quite there yet. A ghastly injustice happened. It has not yet been put right. The Americans are not allowing Chagos islanders to work on the base. The British Indian Ocean Territories police are not allowing them to return to the islands, and the impact assessment seems to be taking rather a long time.
I assure my hon. Friend the Minister that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and I are well seized of the matter and have no plans to let it go. We will keep on raising it in the House. We recognise the importance of what has happened, but there is a way to go. Justice will finally happen when the Chagos islanders can make a genuine choice to continue living in Mauritius or the Seychelles or to return to their ancestral homes, with the right to see the graves of their ancestors and the place from which they were so brutally taken away. A horrible injustice happened; let us put it right.