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Lord Henley: My Lords, I appreciate that, as the noble Lord said, the provision is not exactly earth-shaking. He described it as being .005 on the Richter scale of education Acts. He then moved on to the regulation itself. He quoted from the first sentence of paragraph 2. It is a first sentence of which Henry

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James himself would have been proud. The noble Lord, probably a great reader of Henry James, would be able to understand it perfectly well and, even given the lack of punctuation that he addresses, it is one that makes clear and sense.

The noble Lord then moved on to the explanatory document, and complained to some extent that the document is too long. I believe the explanatory document is the very model of what explanatory documents ought to be. I believe that it received some praise in Committee in another place in relation to how it is set out, what we had done, and how and whom we had consulted. I take great pride in the fact that we list at enormous length those whom we did have to consult. Because I do not have to emulate my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate in his activities of a night or two ago, I shall not take the trouble to read out the whole list of consultees in Annex 1. It stretches from page 7 to halfway down page 9. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, might like me to do so on some other occasion; should he wish it I will send him a copy.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, asked a number of questions relating to the cost, all of which can be addressed in a similar way. He asked first what was the cost of the order. I do not know; however, it was right that we should have proceeded on that basis. There was a burden on schools. Having done that, it was also quite right that we should have consulted. Having consulted, it was quite right that we should then have taken the opportunity to reduce the costs and burdens on schools, which is exactly what we are doing.

Quoting from paragraph 4 of the explanatory document, the noble Lord says that the savings will be minuscule. But he talked only about savings in the cost of reproducing paper. The noble Lord should also remember that there are enormous savings in staff time. The noble Lord knows how long it takes to photocopy a large number of documents. That staff time could probably be used in other ways.

Also, the noble Lord, as someone who is as "green" as myself, will also recognise that we should encourage schools to do their bit to reduce the number of forests that we have to chop down purely to produce these documents when they are not always so necessary.

The noble Lord then went on to ask why this provision was not included in the 1996 Act. The 1996 Act was a consolidation measure relating back to the 1993 and 1994 Acts. As Members of this House, the noble Lord and his noble friend Lady Farrington also had a duty at that time to remind us that this might impose an unfair burden on this House in that it is a revising Chamber. I am sure they would have "done their bit" if this proposal had been suggested at the time.

The noble Lord then went on to say that we could have saved an awful lot more money had we used Schedule 8 rather than this measure. I take the noble Lord's point. I do not know whether that is the case or not; but we have still to get that Act on to the statute book. I understand that the noble Lord and I will discuss that matter further on Monday. Nevertheless, the opportunity was available to us.

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Even had we decided to follow the Schedule 8 route as the noble Lord suggested, I believe he would also agree with me, as I believe would the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, that it would have been right to consult on this matter. So we should not have saved the costs of the consultation even had we pursued the Schedule 8 route rather than the deregulation Act route. For that reason, and having answered all three of his points, I hope that the noble Lord will accept that this order, though not a major one, is a worthy one and that he will be prepared to support it. I commend it to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill [H.L.]

7.45 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.--(Lord Willoughby de Broke.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line refer to Bill (90) as first printed by the Commons.]


Leave out Clause 1.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. In doing so, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 2 to 18.

One of the favourite expressions of the late Deng Xiaoping was,

    "It matters not what colour your cat is as long as it catches mice".
So although the amendments before your Lordships will substantially alter the original Bill, I am satisfied that even though the cat is a different sort of cat--a blow-dried, shampooed-and-set cat--it will still do its job and catch mice.

I was touched when I read the proceedings of the Committee stage in another place. Several Members of the Committee were kind enough to express concern in case I should be in some way hurt or disappointed that my Bill should be so severely altered. I assure the Members of that Committee that I am not at all disappointed. I am only delighted that it is going ahead as planned. It is important that the Bill be enacted as soon as possible. Pride simply does not enter into it on this occasion. I thank the Members of that Committee for the time that they gave to reviewing the Bill, and particularly my honourable friend the Member for Staffordshire South who so skilfully piloted it through its various stages in another place.

I also take this opportunity to thank my right honourable friend the Home Secretary for not being afraid to change his mind and for accepting the strong

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case that was made to him by everyone who supported the Bill. My thanks go, too, to the Home Office officials who have worked hard to produce an effective and acceptable Bill in a very short space of time.

Turning to the amendments, Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 omit Clauses 1, 2 and 3 in order to pave the way for new Clause 1 and make some consequential rearrangements.

The replacement clause in Amendment No. 4 provides for eligible people to have an entitlement to registration as British citizens on application, instead of an automatic claim to British citizenship. It also defines the requirements which applicants will need to satisfy in order to establish an entitlement, such as ordinary residence in Hong Kong at the time of application and immediately before 4th February 1997, the date on which the Home Secretary announced his intention to legislate. It excludes people who renounced or otherwise took active steps to give up another citizenship on or after 4th February 1997.

The clause makes provision for the inclusion of children born as British nationals on or after that date and of those whose applications for naturalisation or registration as Hong Kong British Dependent Territories citizens or other British nationals are only granted on or after 4th February. It also makes provision for registration to take place only from 1st July 1997 to ensure that all potential beneficiaries qualify for right of abode in Hong Kong automatically on that date.

Amendment No. 5 first removes subsection (1) of Clause 4 which provides for people becoming British citizens under the Act to lose British Dependent Territories citizenship (BDTC) and also British National (Overseas) BN(O) status if they have that status.

As far as the loss of BDTC status is concerned, British citizenship under the Act will only be granted from 1st July; by then the status of Hong Kong BDTC will have ceased to exist; therefore that element of subsection (1) is unnecessary.

As far as the loss of BN(O) status is concerned, depriving successful applicants of that status could mean that their children and grandchildren would not be able to benefit from Article 6 of the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986 and become British Overseas citizens (BOCs) if they would otherwise be stateless. Article 6 requires the person who would be stateless to be descended from a BN(O) or a BOC.

Secondly, this amendment removes subsection (2) of Clause 4, which provides for the anti-statelessness provisions in Article 6 of the 1986 order to cease to have effect. As I have just explained, while these provisions will not be needed for the beneficiaries of the Act, they might still be needed for some potentially stateless children and grandchildren. They therefore need to be left extant.

Thirdly, the amendment inserts the provisions contained in Clause 2 of the original Bill on the acquisition of British citizenship "by descent" and "otherwise than by descent". It adds provisions for British nationals other than BDTCs to acquire British citizenship by descent in all cases. Their present status is equivalent to a "by descent" status.

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Amendment No. 6 reinstates the power, given under Section 41(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981, to make regulations for the taking of fees. It will be necessary to charge applicants a fee in the normal way to meet the costs of providing them with citizenship.

Amendment No. 7 removes the reference to Section 44(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981. Section 44(1) says that any discretion shall be exercised without regard to the race, colour or religion of any person who may be affected by its exercise. This Bill has no discretionary provisions--registration will be an entitlement for those who meet the requirements. The reference to Section 44(1) is therefore unnecessary.

Amendment No. 8 ensures that where, in legislation pre-dating the British Nationality Act 1981 which introduced British citizenship, there are references to,

    "[citizens] of the United Kingdom and Colonies",
and their entitlement to do certain things or be eligible for certain things those references will automatically apply to people acquiring British citizenship under this legislation.

Amendment No. 9 deletes subsection (3) of Clause 5 which is a House of Lords privilege amendment. A money resolution has already been passed making subsection (3) redundant.

Amendments Nos. 10 to 17 are drafting changes which clarify Schedule 1 without affecting the substance. Amendment No. 18 deletes Schedule 2 which is not needed because the insertion of the reference to Section 41 of the British Nationality Act 1981 by Amendment No. 6--previously described--means that the British Nationality (General) Regulations 1982 would automatically prescribe how and to whom applications for registration should be made.

I am delighted that the Government have accepted the Bill and I congratulate them on doing so. I know that those affected by it are immensely relieved.

I end by thanking most sincerely all noble Lords from all sides of the House who have supported not only this Bill but the intention behind previous attempts to enact it. I think particularly of Lord Bonham-Carter. I know that he would be very pleased to see the Bill enacted, I only wish he were here with us. I am grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for her courtesy throughout all stages of the Bill. I warmly welcome her at last onto the side of the angels. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1--(Lord Willoughby de Broke.)

7.55 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, is unduly modest in what he said in introducing the amendments. He has every reason to be proud at having finally been able to steer the Bill to a successful conclusion. When we last discussed it on Third Reading on 29th January, I made a final plea to the noble Baroness that it was not yet too late. That was in a mood of some pessimism and I was quite astonished, a few days later, to read the

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announcement that the Government had decided to accept the Bill. We ought all to greet that change of mind very graciously.

I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, that although I am not a great expert on procedure in your Lordships' House, I suspect that he is making a little piece of parliamentary history. It is not usual for this House to accept Commons amendments that virtually abolish the original Bill and rewrite it almost totally and then to say what a splendid thing the Government in the other place are doing in making the proposals.

    "Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons".
There have been many just persons in all parts of both Houses and outside. They include distinguished former governors of Hong Kong and the present Governor of Hong Kong, I think one can now safely say. He felt that it was a point of honour for this country in dealing with the important minority of people in Hong Kong who have been loyal to this country and served it well. I notice from the proceedings in another place that the Minister there told us that there are probably 8,000 such people--a larger figure than some of us have used.

Therefore, the Government have agreed to do something important. I was touched by what the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, said about my former colleague, Lord Bonham-Carter, who was one of the pioneers in raising the cause. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and, no doubt, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in welcoming the change of mind on the part of the Government.

7.56 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said. Perhaps I may on my own part congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, on his single-minded dedication to getting the Bill through, the enormous amount of work he put into it and the able way in which he got us where we are. I am delighted that the Government have seen fit to change their mind. I was tempted to say that I always welcome the sinner who repents, but I do not regard the Minister as a sinner in that respect. I think that she had to do the bidding and was made to act as though she was a sinner, but I do not believe that she ever was. I do not expect her to comment on that but she was in a difficult position when the whole House was critical of the arguments that she put forward.

It is good that we are now all agreed and I am delighted that the Government have seen fit to change their mind. I know that a lot of work went on behind the scenes to achieve that end and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and his friends who went to much trouble to see that the case for the Bill was well put and listened to by the Government. The result is that we now have agreement on what is before us.

When I was in the other place, I had the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee dealing with the British Nationality Bill which became the 1981 Act. We spent much time considering the position of Hong Kong

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and all felt uneasy as to whether we had got it right. The passage of time has suggested that we did not get it right. Further changes had to be made of which this is an important one.

I do not wish to go through the details, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, has explained to the House what the new Commons amendments mean. I wish to make a comment about two of the changes. I think it is right that people should register to become British citizens rather than that there should be an automatic process. I believe that British citizenship is an enormous privilege, by whatever means one acquires it. It is right that for those who are not British citizens the process of becoming such should be an explicit and deliberate act rather than something that happens to them inadvertently so that they do not even know that they have got it. To that extent, the change is very much for the better and improves the principle underlying the Bill. I appreciate that many of the changes are technical and I do not wish to dwell on them.

I wish to ask the Minister one question. In the new arrangements under the Bill, the critical date is 4th February 1997. I understand that with the exception of children born after that date, that is the cut off date and anyone who gave up any other citizenship before 4th February would be entitled to become British citizens on that date, assuming that they qualify by reason of the provisions in the new Bill.

In the original version of the Bill, the cut off date was 21st November. I wondered what the reasons were for that change. I understood that the date of 21st November was chosen so that people would not have had any basis for renouncing their citizenship, whatever it was, in order to benefit. It gave a fairly long period so that the position would be clear. I wondered what the reason was for making the change. I do not dispute that there may be merit in it.

Beyond that, I repeat the welcome to the new Bill. I am delighted that we have got there and done it before the election so that it is on the statute book and the people of Hong Kong will know that we have done our duty by a small minority of people there who deserve well of us and who will receive justice as a result of the measure.

8 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke for accepting the savaging--it is the only way I can put it--of his original Bill. But as my noble friend said, the purpose of the Bill remains firmly intact and at the end of the day that is what matters.

When the Bill was last considered, I indicated that the Government remained opposed to new legislation to give British citizenship to the solely British ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. The House will now be fully aware that we have decided to withdraw our opposition. We have done so because, in the light of the views expressed in both Houses and by the Governor and others in Hong Kong, it has become clear that, however forcefully we emphasised the immigration guarantees which the ethnic minorities have been given, and

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however much we underlined the fact that they would not become stateless, we had ultimately not succeeded in assuaging the concern that the ethnic minorities felt about their position in Hong Kong after the change in sovereignty. It is plain that nothing short of British citizenship will put their minds at rest.

The Government are therefore now content to support my noble friend's Bill. As my noble friend said, the Bill as it has returned from another place is a rather different animal from the one which was before the House last year. However, it is different only in detail, not in its objectives. The amendments are all designed to ensure that the Bill properly meets its objectives. As amended, the Bill will ensure that, subject to certain safeguards to prevent abuse, all solely British nationals of whatever type in Hong Kong will be entitled to be registered as British citizens. It will also cover all those in the non-Chinese ethnic minority communities in Hong Kong who would have benefited from the immigration guarantee.

My noble friend has unreservedly welcomed the amendments before us this evening and I also commend them to the House. I hope now that we can see early enactment of this measure and the speedy establishment of the machinery for dealing with the applications in Hong Kong.

As regards the 4th February date mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the Bill, like the Government's earlier assurances, is aimed at the ethnic minorities living in Hong Kong when the Home Secretary made his announcement. It would be wrong for the Bill to apply also to people resident elsewhere who moved voluntarily to Hong Kong following the announcement by the Home Secretary. The cut-off date was pushed back, as it was thought only fair not to--I must pause there.

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