British Overseas Territories Bill [Lords]

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The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is now going too wide. I have been tolerant but he has already strayed into his new schedule, which we cannot consider because of the lack of a money resolution. I have been tolerant but he has already strayed into his new schedule, which we cannot consider because of the lack of a money resolution. He is now referring to matters that are without the scope of the Bill.

Jeremy Corbyn: I shall swiftly move back into the scope of the Bill. What does the Minister believe the situation would be of persons resident on the American base in Diego Garcia, which is clearly within the purview of the British Indian Ocean territories? I assume that all persons resident, occupied and working for the base, some of whom are civilians, will be excluded from the provisions of the Bill but I think it is important to have that clearly on the record.

We should also put on record our thanks to all those who have brought about the beginnings of a sense of justice for a people who have been so grievously wronged by the arrogance of various Government's in the 1960s and 1970s. These people were ignored and forgotten for far too long.

Mr. Trend: I have one question but I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Islington, North and the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Linlithgow who have fought tirelessly on behalf of this population for some years. In connection with the loophole, are the Government now confident that they have complied with the High Court judgment last year?

Mr. Bradshaw: I will start by answering the question from the hon. Member for Windsor. Yes, we are satisfied.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North and thank him for all his hard work and for drawing this loophole to the Government's attention. Like all Committee members who have taken the trouble to find out about the plight of the Chagos islanders, I can only feel shock and incomprehension that people could have been treated in that way in my lifetime. One of the positive signs that we have moved forward on human rights, thanks to the pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North and others, is that such treatment would be impossible today. We are going a long way to make good the damage that was done in the past.

The reason for the cut-off dates is that 26 April 1969 was the date when the Prime Minister of the day signed off the policy of exclusion from the British Indian Ocean territory. So we are not going back any further because anyone who left the British Indian Ocean territory before that date did so voluntarily. Using 26 April 1969 as the cut-off is generous because the vast majority of Chagos islanders who did leave left significantly later. We have drawn the measure as widely and as generously as possible.

The reason for the cut-off in 1983 is that that was the date at which people could begin to inherit British citizenship or British dependent territories citizenship, as it then was, through their mother, which they could not do before if they did not have a father with British citizenship. The provisions would bring back in—probably only a few hundred people at most—those who otherwise would have been excluded from the Bill.

The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North would extend indefinitely the inheritance of British citizenship for the Chagos islanders. We do not believe that is necessary because, as of November 2000 they have the right to return, and future generations will inherit British citizenship by virtue of their residency in the British Indian Ocean territory. The amendment is not desirable because it would set an enormous precedent for British citizens and British overseas territory citizens all over the world who will then ask why they cannot inherit British citizenship through the generations even if we are not resident in a British overseas territory or in the United Kingdom.

The Bill will not disadvantage the Chagos islanders. Under the Government amendment, the children of the Chagos islanders who were forced to leave will automatically be granted British citizenship. If those children go back to the Chagos islands, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will automatically become British citizens.

Finally, my hon. Friend asked about progress on the feasibility study. It is still on course for completion by the middle of 2002. Any further phases will depend on the outcome. He also asked whether the Bill covers people resident in Diego Garcia. It covers only those who are currently British dependent territory citizens; anyone who is not will fall outside the Bill's scope.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am grateful for the Minister's reply. I was asking specifically about the Ilois people—their rights of descent and the adoption of British citizenship. It is recognised in law that these people were wrongfully removed and it is perfectly clear who they are. Records have been assembled and only a limited number of people are involved. I see no reason why the Bill cannot make specific provision—analogous to the amendments and the new clause proposed by the Minister—to acknowledge the Ilois people's rights to British citizenship, on the basis of the legal recognition that they were wrongfully removed from the Chagos islands. That would not affect any other people who freely chose to move from one British overseas territory to live somewhere else. It would be specific to the Ilois people.

Mr. Bradshaw: The Government amendment is narrowly drawn because we felt that the children of Chagos island mothers had suffered a double injustice. They would not otherwise have been included in the Bill. My hon. Friend is asking for a much wider extension in the light of the acceptance of the principle of return. That is unnecessary and would open us to claims from other British overseas territory citizens for the same right now that the impediment for the Chagos islanders to return—their right to inherit British citizenship through subsequent generations—is no longer in place. I therefore ask my hon. Friend to withdraw his amendment.

Jeremy Corbyn: I hear what the Minister says. The Government amendment represents an enormous step forward and I thank him and the Foreign Secretary for it. Many people are happy, particularly those in the Chagos islands and Mauritius, who are visiting the Foreign Office next week for further discussions. I am not, however, satisfied with the Minister's final point. We had the same discussion yesterday and no doubt will debate the matter again. Although I may return to the issue on Report, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Chairman: Order. Although we are debating the hon. Gentleman's amendment together with the Government amendment, he does not need to withdraw it now. It needs to be moved formally before it can be withdrawn. If, when we reach amendment No. 8, the hon. Gentleman does not move it, that will be sufficient for it to fall.

Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you, Mr. Butterfill. In that case, I will not move the amendment, but simply reiterate that I may wish to return to the issue on Report.

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman does not have the opportunity to move the amendment at this stage of our proceedings and, now that he has assured me that he does not wish to move it, I shall not need to call it.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

The Ilois: citizenship

    '(1) A person shall become a British citizen on the commencement of this section if—

    (a) he was born on or after 26 April 1969 and before 1 January 1983,

    (b) he was born to a woman who at the time was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by virtue of her birth in the British Indian Ocean Territory, and

    (c) immediately before the commencement of this section he was neither a British citizen nor a British overseas territories citizen.

    (2) A person who is a British citizen by virtue of subsection (1) is a British citizen by descent for the purposes of the British Nationality Act 1981 (c.61).'.

    (3) A person shall become a British overseas territories citizen on the commencement of this section if—

    (a) subsection (1)(a) and (b) apply in relation to him, and

    (b) immediately before the commencement of this section he was not a British overseas territories citizen.

    (4) A person who is a British overseas territories citizen by virtue of subsection (3) is such a citizen by descent for the purposes of the British Nationality Act 1981 (c.61).—[Mr. Bradshaw.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

11 am

New Clause 2

Abandoned infants

    'Citizenship conferred under the terms of this Act upon any abandoned infant shall apply to that one person alone.'.—[Mr. Spring.]

Mr. Spring: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I want to be clear that there are no loopholes by which those who are not otherwise claiming citizenship could do so. It must be spelt out that the abandonment of an infant, who then acquires British citizenship, would not lead to the granting of citizenship to his parents or guardian if they later reclaimed that child, unless the adults were entitled to it in their own right. I am grateful to the Minister for writing to me about the matter on 3 December.

We are pleased that there is provision for abandoned infants found in a British overseas territory, however we must be sure that there no loopholes that benefit the unscrupulous through the manipulation of infants, and we should note that in our proceedings.

The noble Lord Rooker in another place replied to a similar amendment tabled by my noble Friend Baroness Rawlings. He stated that there would be no grounds for such parents or guardians claiming citizenship under the measure, but I should be grateful if the Minister would make it crystal clear that the proposal is explicit about it.

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