British Overseas Territories Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Moore: On Second Reading we debated the practical steps required for commencement. The Minister has subsequently written to Committee members to explain them. I am still confused about the practical difficulties that may delay commencement. We have heard about training, and presumably passports are an issue, but those issues have been mentioned since the Bill began its progress in the other place. Will the Minister tell us what progress has been made? My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) is concerned that the citizens of St. Helena should have a chance to become British passport holders before the island's 500th anniversary. Is that still on course?

Mr. Bradshaw: Although the hon. Gentleman says that the difficulties have been debated for months, we hope that the Bill will become law quickly. Territories have different views on how the passports should look and practical problems arise. We are confident that we will meet the 500th anniversary deadline that is so important to the people of St. Helena.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Acquisition by British overseas territories citizens by registration

Question proposed, that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Bradshaw: Clause 4 explains how British citizenship may be acquired by registration. It provides for future British overseas territories citizens to be registered as British citizens after commencement of the Act. It explains that the Secretary of State will have discretion to register British overseas territories citizens as British citizens, except in certain circumstances.

The exceptions include persons who owe their status solely to association with the sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia on Cyprus. They are excluded for the reasons that I have already outlined.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Acquisition by reference to the British overseas territories

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Bradshaw: This short clause introduces schedule 1, which details further ways in which British citizenship may be acquired after commencement through association with a qualifying British overseas territory. The general aim is to put the qualifying territories in the same position as the United Kingdom for the purposes of the provisions of the British Nationality Act 1981, which relate to acquisition of British citizenship through birth, adoption and ancestry.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester): This is the first Standing Committee on which I have served, and it is nice to serve on a Committee that has such unanimity. That is largely because the Bill is inclusive, and its most inclusive aspect is clause 5, which raises some interesting questions.

On adoption and abandoned children, the clause refers to an appointed day and the right of abandoned children to have British citizenship, which is positive. The Bill also closes some loopholes and allows the child of a couple who are British citizens to have British citizenship. However, what is meant by an appointed day? Could there be a time lag, especially in adoption, between the start of the process and an appointed day?

Mr. Bradshaw: The appointed day is simply the day on which the Bill is enacted—its commencement. Anyone who is found abandoned—a foundling—or who is put up for adoption will have those rights. I did not catch the second part of my hon. Friend's question.

The Chairman: Order. That relates to schedule 1, not clause 5. Clause 5 is the enabling clause to schedule 1, and there will an opportunity to debate such issues in the debate on schedule 1.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6


Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Bradshaw: The clause is self-explanatory. There are no issues of substance. The clause simply refers to schedule 2, which lists the enactments repealed to the extent specified in the schedule.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Short title, commencement and extent

Mr. Bradshaw: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 3, line 12, after 'Schedule 1,' insert—

    '(aa) section (The Ilois: citizenship)'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following: Government new clause 1—The Ilois: citizenship.

Amendment No. 8, in schedule 1, page 4, line 12, at end insert—

    '''; or—

    (c) and persons removed from the Chagos Islands and their descendants''.'.

Mr. Bradshaw: I take it that I will speak to amendment No. 8.

The Chairman: Yes.

Mr. Bradshaw: The amendment would exceptionally extend the granting of British citizenship to Ilois who are born outside the British Indian Ocean territory on or after 26 April 1969 and before 1 January 1983 whose father was not British, and who were unable to inherit their mother's British nationality under the law at that time. The amendment will grant to those persons British citizenship and British overseas territories citizenship. That will put them in the same position as all others who will become British citizens after commencement.

The Government recognise the unique double disadvantage faced by the Ilois that was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North and for Linlithgow on Second Reading. The Ilois will benefit from the amendment because they were excluded from the British Indian Ocean territory and the fact that the law at the time prevented them from inheriting British nationality from their mothers. We accept that there is a strong moral case for including them in the grant of citizenship.

After 1 January 1983, Ilois born outside the British Indian Ocean territory were able to inherit British nationality from either parent, subject to the normal restrictions on the transmission of citizenship to children born outside British territory. Before 26 April 1969, there was no policy of exclusion. Therefore, the Ilois who left the British Indian Ocean territory before that date are not subject to the same disadvantage as those who are prohibited by Government policy and British Indian Ocean territory law from returning. The Government cannot be held responsible for actions taken in individual cases before that policy was decided.

Will you allow me to speak to amendment No. 8, Mr. Butterfill?

The Chairman: Yes, it is in order.

Mr. Bradshaw: Thank you, Mr. Butterfill.

Amendment No. 8 would extend British citizenship to all Ilois born in and outside the British Indian Ocean territory and their descendants. All Ilois born in British Indian Ocean territory will be eligible for British citizenship under the Bill. Extending the grant of citizenship to future generations would put the Ilois at an advantage over all other overseas territories and British citizens by descent who cannot pass on their citizenship to future generations. In contrast, the Bill as amended by the Government will put the Ilois born outside British Indian Ocean territory, and therefore British by descent, in exactly the same position as other British citizens by descent.

In the light of my explanation, I ask the Committee to approve the amendment.

Mr. Spring: We welcome the new clause as it closes an important loophole in the Bill and goes some way to rectifying the sense of injustice felt by the islanders for their treatment by Britain in the 1960s. The arrangements made by the British and United States Governments saw the people of the Chagos islands removed from their homes and conveyed to other Indian ocean islands. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Islington, North for raising the issue on Second Reading and, with the hon. Member for Linlithgow, for bringing the matter to the attention of hon. Members. I think that most Members were ignorant of the islanders' plight.

As the hon. Member for Islington, North eloquently pointed out on Second Reading, the islanders feel dispossessed of what was their homeland and shabbily treated by Britain. The recent case in the High Court won them the right of return, but no date was set for it to be effective. The question remains whether it applies now or in 2016 when the lease expires. The judgment appeared to contain no qualifications. The Bill would have excluded those born while the Ilois were in exile from their islands from qualifying for British citizenship. That would have been unfair and unreasonable, and we welcome the resolution of the matter this morning.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Minister for moving the amendment this morning and for recognising the strength of feeling that was put forward on behalf of the Chagos islanders by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and myself on Second Reading and during an Adjournment debate in the House. My hon. Friend has, in particular, taken a long-term, consistent and honourable interest in the plight of the Ilois people from the Chagos islands. The least that we can do is put right as far as we can the wrong that was done to them.

I will not go into all the background, because it is not necessary. However, it is worth placing on record that it was a particularly shabby act as part of the cold war strategy in the 1960s for someone to decide that Diego Garcia would be a nice place for a base and to remove the islanders with minimal compensation. The Ilois have stayed together as a community—mainly in Mauritius, but some in the Seychelles and a few scattered around the world—in poverty and with a burning sense of injustice. The least we can do is pay tribute to Olivier Bancoult and the others for conducting the campaign and for taking the case to the High Court. We should put on record our appreciation of Richard Gifford of Sheridans for representing them and winning their case on right of return. I realise that it is not the burden of the Minister's amendment, but it should go on record that those people fought democratically, peacefully and legally and won their right of return. I look forward to a meeting that Mr. Bancoult is having with Baroness Amos next week when we will further examine right of return and practical financial support from Britain for education, social and economic purposes.

10.45 am

The Minister pointed to the past ridiculous imbalance because of gender discrimination on rights of dissent, and the amendment puts that right. Will he explain the selection of 26 April 1969 and January 1983? The concept of the British Indian Ocean territory was established in 1965 so it would be logical to use that date.

My amendment, which may be technically deficient, proposes a right of British citizenship by descent from a male or female Chagos islander. If we create a cut-off date of 1983, we suggest that people have to pay a penalty for being removed from the island. Everyone accepts that it was wrong to remove them, and they have a right to return, which is now established in Government policy and law. It is slightly perverse to put a limit on that.

Yesterday, we had a useful meeting with the Minister and his officials in the Foreign Office, for which I am grateful to him for arranging. It was explained to me that if a Chagos islander—an Ilois person—returns to their island on the agreed date of return, they can assume British citizenship by virtue of residency in a British overseas territory and any children are entitled to that as well. If a person born of a Chagos islander since 1983 were denied the right of British citizenship, that could create an exceptional loophole. That person would have Mauritius citizenship, but his or her children would have British citizenship despite the fact that their parents were living with them in the Chagos islands. That may sound complicated but it is not really: I am trying to simplify it. I am glad that everyone is so understanding. Will the Minister deal with that point?

If it is in order, Mr. Butterfill—I do not want to stretch your patience further—can the Minister clarify the progress of studies on the right of return and its environmental circumstances? I realise that that is stretching the amendment, but I would otherwise be forced to return to the point later, and no one would want that. Is the Minister aware of legal concerns about the American occupation of part of Diego Garcia? Does the right of return and citizenship extend to the people there, or are they excluded by the presence of the American base and the treaty between Britain and the United States?

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