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I do not often agree with Helen Clark, but on this particular occasion, I entirely agree with her concerns.

Andrew Mackinlay: I have listened to the hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) and have a considerable amount of agreement with them. Is it not a paradox, however, that many people in New Zealand and Australia are able to apply for an Irish Republic passport, by means of which they can live and work in London or even stand for this Parliament? A large number of folk can come here, work here, participate here and be enfranchised here not on the basis of a British passport, but by virtue of the paternal grandfather rights of Irish Republic citizenship. I shall elaborate further on that later.

Andrew Rosindell: That is a revealing point, and I hope that the Minister takes it on board. It is astonishing that people can come here via the Irish route, but might not be able to do so directly. Obviously, there are anomalies that need to be addressed. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

What do the Government hope to achieve by severing the historic ties with tens of thousands of Commonwealth nationals who currently have an automatic right, through descent, to live and work here? Immigration is a huge issue in this country, but if we are going to change the immigration laws, the last thing that most British people want to see is immigration from countries such as Australia and New Zealand curtailed. Many of our constituents would have views about immigration from other countries, but everyone accepts that immigration from those countries is welcome. I therefore ask the Government to reconsider.

New Zealanders, in particular, greatly value their connections with Britain, especially those whose grandparents were born here. I have been to New
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Zealand on several occasions; I was there in September. Of all the countries in the world that I have visited, it is probably the one that is most like the United Kingdom. Those people are deeply proud of their connections to Britain. Sadly, the republican movement in Australia is pretty strong these days, but thankfully it has not succeeded, and I hope that it will not do so. In New Zealand, that movement is much weaker, and no great desire exists to sever that link and turn the country into a republic.

If we make the mistakes that I refer to, however, we merely hasten the day when that constitutional monarchy that binds us together is undone. That will weaken the Commonwealth and our historic links with those countries. I hope that the Government will not make mistakes that could undermine not only Britain’s friendship with those countries but the monarchy itself.

The British high commission has said that it receives about 4,000 applications under the ancestry route from New Zealand each year. The removal of that route of entry would be a great betrayal of our Commonwealth cousins, many of whose parents and grandparents fought in world wars to defend this country and the world from tyranny. The United Kingdom’s relationship with our antipodean cousins in particular has always been strained by the geographical distance that separates us, at opposite ends of the globe.

Distance has been no bar, however, to the special bond that exists between our three great nations. We endanger that good will by even contemplating the removal of the ancestry route. Although the three countries often fall out over sporting rivalries, whether in cricket, rugby or sailing, our peoples have always shared a common heritage, bound together by a deep-rooted historical and cultural camaraderie. The friendship between the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and, indeed, Canada, is unrivalled.

Every year, I am proud to attend the open-air Anzac service in Whitehall, followed by the service in Westminster abbey. I encourage all hon. Members to attend the Anzac day ceremonies this year. All Members of Parliament would be very welcome to that event, and it is important that we show we stand shoulder to shoulder with our kith and kin, who lost more per head of population in those wars than we did. We must remember those people and never forget their sacrifice.

We are all English-speaking peoples. We share the same ideals as free trading nations. We believe in democratic governance and a constitutional monarchy under the rule of law. British students travel to New Zealand and Australia and, as we know, their students come here. Almost every student from Australia and New Zealand looks forward to visiting the mother country to work or to stay for a long period, and many school and university leavers from those countries opt to spend their gap year in the United Kingdom. It works both ways.

Perhaps the most significant commonality, however, is the fact that all our nations share similar constitutions based on the Westminster model, and proudly uphold Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as sovereign Head of State. All that has been furthered and helped by our common ancestry, as is exemplified so clearly in the ancestry route of immigration. As Members will know, the Immigration Act 1971
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introduced rules specifying who could come to the United Kingdom and in what circumstances. The Act consolidated previous rules, and in 1972 the ancestry route as it now exists was created. Originally, settled status was given on arrival, but now those arriving through that route must follow the standard procedure of applying for indefinite leave to remain after five years.

In 2006, the last year for which figures are available, 8,490 people arrived in the United Kingdom expressly through the ancestry route, an increase of 230 on the previous year. In the last five years, 44,000 people have arrived in the United Kingdom expressly through that route. An estimated 1,112,000 Commonwealth citizens currently live in the United Kingdom, although not all will have taken the ancestry route.

Given what I must call our Government’s abysmal record on immigration control over the past 11 years, it is appalling that they appear to have decided to block the entry of hard-working and legal Commonwealth immigrants, rather than targeting the rampant illegal immigration from across the globe from which we suffer today. I hope that that is not because they feel they must be seen to be acting to control immigration, and have concluded that the repeal of the ancestry route is an easy and uncomplicated option. I trust that the Minister agrees that that would not be the right reason to make such a decision. How can that decision be justified? Perhaps the Minister will tell us at the end of the debate.

I should like the ancestry route to be extended to great-grandparents, if not beyond. We must remember that these people are our kith and kin, descendants from these British islands who sailed the globe to lands far away to raise the Union flag and build a great empire. We cannot and must not betray those people.

I touched on the issue of immigration control earlier, and I want to return to it briefly now. As all Members know, on arrival at Heathrow airport citizens of the European Union are allowed to enter the United Kingdom through an almost unrestricted, uncontrolled area signposted “United Kingdom and EU nationals”, while those entering from such countries as Canada, Australia and New Zealand are forced to enter through the section marked “Others”. I raised that point in an Adjournment debate on Australia and New Zealand that I secured last year.

We have far closer relations and historical and cultural ties with Canada, Australia and New Zealand than with EU countries, and have more in common with them as Commonwealth nations. Moreover, they have stricter immigration and border controls than most if not all EU states. Yet we treat them almost as aliens, rather than as people to whom we are so closely related. I believe it is time we changed the rules and agreed special arrangements to allow citizens of Commonwealth nations such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand much easier entry to the United Kingdom and vice versa, and I hope the Government will give that careful consideration.

In my Adjournment debate of last year, I asked whether Her Majesty’s Government would explore the possibility of developing a reciprocal immigration policy, mirroring that currently in place between the
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UK and other EU member states. As might be expected, the Minister who responded to the debate made a number of non-committal mutterings, but he did say that he would look into it. Sadly, however, I have as yet heard nothing further, but I hope that the Minister replying to the current debate will address the point. I am sure that such a scheme could be made a reality by amending passport, visa and immigration control procedures. That would benefit the people of those countries, but it would also be of great benefit to the UK.

I wish now to make a few remarks about the citizens of British overseas territories and Crown dependencies. We have not yet discussed these territories in our debate on the Commonwealth, but it is important that we do so. There is confusion about the status of British overseas territories and Crown dependencies within the Commonwealth. I visited the Cayman Islands only two years ago, as part of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation. It had suffered horribly as a result of a recent hurricane that had devastated the islands. When I was there, great concern was expressed by the Government and the citizens whom I met about the British Government’s failure to go to their aid when they most needed it. It is a sad reflection on British Government policy that when a British territory is devastated by a hurricane, we are not there to assist. They did not need money; they had plenty of financial resources. What they needed was expertise: they needed British police to go there to help, and the assistance of the Royal Navy, but help was not forthcoming.

Sadly, when I went to Montserrat in 2003 a similar picture was painted of how little support the people there had been given following the volcano eruption of 1997. Much was made of the remarks of the now independent Member of Parliament, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), who was then the Secretary of State for International Development. She said they wanted golden elephants, but it is a British territory. Other countries with overseas and dependent territories look after them; they do not treat them as a nuisance—as foreign islands halfway around the world that they do not want to bother about—but that is how our Government seem to treat our overseas and dependent territories. It is time we treated them with greater regard than we have done in recent years.

What is the status of British Crown dependencies and overseas territories within the Commonwealth? They are not fully members in their own right. They are not allowed to send representatives to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings as equal leaders of countries, even though very small countries in the Commonwealth, such as Kiribati and Vanuatu, can do that; they can send a leader to CHOGMs, but Bermuda or Gibraltar, for instance, cannot send someone along on an equal footing, so they are disadvantaged in that respect.

What about great occasions such as trooping the colour? Every year I am pleased to attend that celebration of the Queen’s official birthday, and I always look at the flags on display around Horse Guards parade. The flags of every Commonwealth country are on display, which is right, but those of the overseas territories and Crown dependencies are not. Last year, there was the absurd situation, commented
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on in the national media, that during the trooping the colour celebration of the Queen’s official birthday, the flags of some territories that retain the Queen as Head of State—such as the Falklands Islands—were not flying, but the flag of Mozambique was.

Mozambique has never had the British monarchy; it has never had the same link as the Falkland Islands. That very weekend we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands, yet no Falkland Islands flag was displayed on Horseguards parade, whereas the flag of Mozambique was. The Mail on Sunday made a big feature of that, and Baroness Thatcher was quoted as saying she was surprised that the Falkland Islands flag was not flown.

I have raised the point before, but I say again to the Minister that surely the cost of putting a few extra flagpoles on Horseguards parade would be a small price to pay for ensuring that all our remaining overseas territories and our three Crown dependencies of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man—perhaps I should also include Sark and Alderney to make it five territories—are represented at trooping the colour and on any other day when Commonwealth nations and territories are being celebrated.

Again, I must ask why countries that have also sent their young men and women to die fighting for this country are not able to have a representative to lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday. Surely the British overseas territories should have at least one representative—even if it alternates and there is a different representative on each occasion—to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall once a year. How much extra would a wreath cost? I ask the Minister to examine the matter. I am sure that we would all chip in for the cost of a wreath, and I think that opportunity should be given.

Meg Munn: A wreath is laid on behalf of the overseas territories by the Foreign Secretary.

Andrew Rosindell: The Minister knows that I am aware of that. Since when should the Falkland Islands or Gibraltar be represented by the Foreign Secretary? I know that is what happens, but they are British territories. I do not understand what problem there is in changing the arrangement and allowing a different Chief Minister or a different Government representative from the overseas territories to lay that wreath in their own right once a year. It should not be done by the Foreign Secretary, who is elected to this Parliament and appointed by a British Prime Minister—the overseas territories have no vote in that. The Foreign Secretary may lay a wreath on their behalf, but they have not elected the Foreign Secretary. They have no Members of Parliament in this Chamber who contribute to a Government, who have a Foreign Secretary. I do not understand how the system has evolved. A simple change to allow the British overseas territories to lay their own wreath would be significant. I know that the Minister is aware of that because the territories have all raised the matter with her. Once again, I ask her to consider allowing that wreath to be laid by them rather than by a British Government Minister.

How about having an annual debate on British overseas territories and Crown dependencies? We make decisions on their behalf, yet nobody in any of those places has a
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vote in British elections. We sit here debating Gibraltar, as we did in 2002 when the joint sovereignty proposals were made by the then Government of Tony Blair, without the people of Gibraltar having any elected voice or legitimate voice present in this Chamber. I know that the hon. Member for Thurrock has raised this very point. There is a democratic deficit, given that so much is ultimately decided in this Parliament yet those people have no voice of their own.

The whole issue of overseas territories and Crown dependencies needs to be addressed. Perhaps there should be a small Select Committee to look at matters to do with overseas territories and Crown dependencies. Why does only the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs deal with them? Why is there not a better mechanism to address these very real issues?

Meg Munn: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office takes the lead on overseas territories, and I assume that is why the Foreign Affairs Committee decided to conducts its current inquiry into this area. Other Departments have responsibility for a range of issues in overseas territories—this is a Government-wide responsibility—so other Select Committees, such as the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, could specifically examine the issues in relation to overseas territories. There is nothing to prevent their doing that.

Andrew Rosindell: That is very helpful and I hope that that point will be taken on board. Issues relating to those great territories for which we have responsibility are often overlooked.

The Commonwealth is, as has already been said, a unique organisation, and we should be very proud of our role in developing it. As it develops still further, let us consider other countries that have a special link to Britain, although they may not have been part of the British empire. I am thinking especially of some Gulf states in the middle east. There is no reason why they could not decide to become part of the British Commonwealth. Hong Kong is of course now part of the People’s Republic of China, but we have very close links there still, and it retains much of what we left. If the Chinese Government decided to allow Hong Kong to join the Commonwealth, why should we not encourage that?

Let us expand the Commonwealth further. I know that the hon. Member for Thurrock intends to say a few words in a moment about the Republic of Ireland, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) mentioned it earlier. I would love to see the day when we could bring the Republic of Ireland into the Commonwealth of nations. Irish people have worked alongside the English, Welsh and Scottish to build this great Commonwealth. They sailed the world with us and helped to build democracies, constitutions and freedom in many other countries. I would love to see the Irish Republic take its place alongside the rest of us in the Commonwealth of nations.

Although I had not considered the point, my hon. Friend is correct to mention the United States of America. Why should it not have the opportunity to become part of the Commonwealth? That is a wonderful idea and I would certainly support that
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proposal. A future Conservative Government may wish to propose that to a future president. Who knows what the future holds?

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has no truer friends in the world than the Commonwealth of nations, especially Australia, New Zealand, Canada, countries in the Caribbean, India, the British overseas territories and all the nations that retain Her Majesty the Queen as Head of State. But we must develop links with the whole of the Commonwealth and value it for its diversity. We draw strength from it and we can be immensely proud of it. I hope that all hon. Members will continue to work with parliamentarians from, and the Governments of, all the countries in the Commonwealth to make this world a better place.

4.2 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I hope that hon. Members will bear with me, because I shall address the House without notes on an issue that I have been considering for some time. Before doing so, however, I want to pick up two points.

The hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) mentioned overseas territories and Remembrance Sunday. I know that I speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle)—he would have liked to attend this debate, but he has an overriding engagement in his constituency—when I say that it is churlish and silly of the Government not to grant the representatives of the overseas territories the right to lay wreaths on Remembrance Sunday. If the Minister gets her people to look into this, she will find that the London representative of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland used to lay a wreath. It was only after the federation broke up and Rhodesia declared independence that the Foreign Office started to lay a wreath on behalf of that territory. Putting aside the franchise issue, Gibraltar and Bermuda certainly have the same constitutional status as the old Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Constitutional status should be extended to all 14 or 15 other overseas territories, if they so wish, but Gibraltar and Bermuda have contributed so much to our armed forces and so on that they should certainly have it. It is silly for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to hold so resolutely to its position.

To elaborate on my earlier intervention, Ireland’s constitution and citizenship rights mean that people with parents or grandparents born before 1949 in any of the Republic’s 32 counties can claim Irish citizenship, even if those forebears moved to New Zealand, Australia or other Commonwealth states such as Canada and those in the Caribbean. However, the fact that the Irish Republic and the UK share a common status means that the descendants whom I have mentioned can come to London to work or even get elected to this Parliament.

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