British Overseas Territories Bill [Lords]

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Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): How do the asylum seekers arrive? Do they get in by coming along the coast? I ask the question from the point of view of security. The bases are military, and if asylum seekers can get in, one wonders who else can.

Mr. Bradshaw: They arrive by sea and most of them are accommodated in a refugee camp. As I said, the base in Akrotiri has expanded to envelop part of a village that has also expanded. Asylum seekers who are there at the moment do not pose any particular security risk. However, if we extended the treaty's provisions to cover the bases, there would not just be a handful of people who might be eligible for British citizenship. The fear is that more people would be attracted to go to Cyprus and make applications for asylum. I should add that none of the asylum seekers there has been granted asylum.

Jeremy Corbyn: What would be the British Government's attitude if a political arrangement was reached in Cyprus and there was a demand for the return of the bases to Cyprus sovereign territory? A previous president favoured that, and there is a body of opinion that there should be no British sovereign bases in Cyprus.

Mr. Bradshaw: I cannot predict what the Government's response would be, but the status of the bases is enshrined in the 1960 treaty, and their future would have to be agreed with the Government of Cyprus.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Commonwealth soldiers or Gurkhas could be serving in Cyprus. If their children were born there, would they have British nationality as they are on a British sovereign base in Cyprus?

Mr. Bradshaw: No, they would not, because sovereign bases are excluded from the provisions. Such children would, however, be entitled to British overseas territories citizenship.

Mr. Hoyle: I will press the issue a little more to ensure that I understand it. Would a Gurkha family based in Cyprus have the right to British overseas territories nationality?

Mr. Bradshaw: Not necessarily. My hon. Friend asked whether their children born there would have that right. The child would have the right, but the parents would not have the right just by residency.

Mr. Trend: That is an extremely interesting answer. May we return to the position of children born of uncertain parentage in the bases? The Minister said that such children would be entitled to British overseas territories citizenship, which, as I understand it, is the first stage in being granted British citizenship. However, in the case of the sovereign bases in Cyprus, I do not believe that there is a procedure to transfer BOTC citizenship into British citizenship. When such children grew up, would they be left in limbo, unable to progress to British citizenship? What would happen to them?

Mr. Bradshaw: In the vast majority of cases, they would also have dual citizenship as they would have Cypriot citizenship, but there is no procedure for them to gain British citizenship as the bases are outside the provisions of the Bill. They would simply have British overseas territories citizenship.

Mr. Trend: So it is theoretically possible for a child who was discovered in the sovereign bases to acquire British overseas territories citizenship but not Cypriot citizenship and to have to retain that for the rest of their lives without becoming any other sort of citizen.

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes. It is theoretically possible.

Mr. Trend: I am grateful to the Minister and intrigued and intrigued by his replies. I would be grateful if at some stage his office could fill me in a little further. I am particularly interested in how law operates on the sovereign bases and whether they operate under the law of Britain, the law of Cyprus or military law, as this is part of the legislative arrangements made for them.

I accept that we must adhere to the treaty with the Government of Cyprus. Matters will be made much easier by Cyprus joining the European Union and I am in favour of that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Jeremy Corbyn: I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 23, at end insert

    ''or the British Antarctic Territories''.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 7—British Antarctic Territories—

    ''This Act shall not apply to the British Antarctic Territories.''.

Jeremy Corbyn: The amendment and new clause would remove the British Antarctic territories from the purview of the Bill and thus create no further problems about the British territorial claim.

There are a number of reasons for this. British Antarctic territories are a claim on part of Antarctica. Chile, Argentina and many other countries also have claims, most of which overlap each other. Hardly any part of Antarctica has not been claimed by several countries at the same time.

This has created the potential for enormous conflict. I shall not weary the Committee with a full history of Antarctica, but say simply that there have been two pieces of legislation on it in the past 15 years: the Antarctic Minerals Act 1989 and then the Antarctic Act 1994.

The Antarctic Minerals Act was designed to allow for mineral exploration. After an environmental protocol was agreed, the Act was superseded by the Antarctic Act which was designed to put into British law the environmental protocol, which meant there would be no mineral exploitation and only scientific research would be done in Antarctica.

A large body of opinion in the United Nations and elsewhere has two beliefs. The first is that the Antarctic should be seen as a world wilderness park and not as the subject of competing territorial claims. That is reflected in the spirit of the environmental protocol. Secondly, it supports the rapid establishment of a secretariat and committee to protect Antarctica from overbearing tourism because it is a pristine environment that needs protection. Unfortunately, there has not been as much progress as there should have been on the implementation of the protocol, despite the principles behind it.

Removing Antarctica from the Bill would be seen as a step towards the principle of a world park. A theoretical case concerning potential British citizenship in the future could be incredibly complicated. What if a group of people pitched up in a part of Antarctica that had been claimed by Britain, Chile and Argentina? There are such territories. As the territorial claim is not widely recognised around the world, there is no point in having it in the Bill. I believe that for administrative purposes it has been dealt with by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office because no one could think of where to put the Antarctic office.

My hon. Friend the Minister is enjoying his position responsibility for British overseas territories, despite being terrified by the number of hon. Members who are walking encyclopaedias on the subject. I invite him to consider the amendment and thank him for a helpful letter and excellent map that he sent to me. If I may say so, the map proves my point, and he should encourage the Foreign Secretary to make arrangements for the Foreign Office to have an Antarctic office. I do not believe that there will be many takers for the role of high commissioner, although I imagine that the Government Whips Office could press for it to be a political appointment. I could see strong competition for a politically appointed high commissioner for the Antarctic. Will the Minister turn his attention to those matters?

Differently from the rest of the world during the 1950s, Antarctica was taken out of the cold war equation by a 1957 geophysical conference, which recognised it as a zone of peace. That principle was developed by the environmental protocol on the understanding that the pristine environment must be preserved and used only for limited eco-tourism and scientific research. Removing Antarctica from the Bill would be a helpful step in that direction.

I am sure that the Minister understands my point, and he is welcome to visit Antarctica with me so that we can look at it together.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am sure that we could invent a new Christmas game and discuss whom we would like to send to be governor of Antarctica. Several hon. Members from a sedentary position have already volunteered some of their colleagues.

The hon. Member for Islington, North is right, and hon. Members who have not seen the map should have a look. It is extraordinary as it looks like one of those cakes that we normally associate with shares of votes in general elections. There is no doubt that the situation in Antarctica is complex, and segments of the cake are claimed by more than one country. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that parts of the section claimed by the United Kingdom are claimed also by Chile and Argentina.

The amendments would exclude any person holding British overseas territory citizenship solely by connection with the British Antarctic territory from being granted British citizenship. New clause 7 would have the further effect of excluding British Antarctic territory from the change of collective name that the Bill effects. I am not sure whether that is my hon. Friend's intention. Citizenship is being granted to individuals, not to territories. It has no impact on the sovereignty of those territories or on our or anyone else's claims to sovereignty where they are disputed.

If we excluded the British Antarctic territory on the grounds that our sovereignty over it is in dispute, we should also, logically, exclude all other territories where sovereignty is similarly disputed. That would include the Falklands and the British Indian Ocean territory, whose people my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North strongly argued should, exceptionally, be included in the grant of citizenship. There is no reason to exclude such territories; on the contrary, there are good reasons in principle to include them.

10.15 am

Including the British Antarctic territory in the list of qualifying territories under the Bill has no impact on the international position of our sovereignty claim, which is held in abeyance along with all other pre-existing claims on Antarctica under article IV of the Antarctic treaty. Under United Kingdom law, the British Antarctic territory is treated as an overseas territory and as such should be included under the terms of the Bill. It should certainly be included in the change of collective name from British dependent territories to British overseas territories. As I said, that reflects our new relationship with the territories as set out in the 1999 White Paper.

My hon. Friend raised concerns about citizenship and the possible environmental impact of people flocking to live in the British Antarctic territory. Despite global warming, that is an unlikely prospect, even in the medium and long term.

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Prepared 6 December 2001