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Lord Whitty: My Lords, this is a very difficult and complex problem. Across the country as a whole, there are rather more sheep and lambs involved than the figure the noble Lord used. We are looking very seriously at the matter. I had lengthy discussions with the NFU yesterday about possible ways of dealing with the serious problems that the movement of sheep in the autumn from the "highlands to the
Lord Carter: My Lords, immediately after the Second Reading of the British Overseas Territories Bill my noble friend Lord Rooker will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on the disturbances in Bradford. After this my noble friend Lord Bach will, again with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on Type 45 destroyers.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I am delighted that one of my first tasks as Minister for the Overseas Territories is to introduce to this House the British Overseas Territories Bill. The Bill seeks to fulfil a commitment to grant British citizenship, and with it the right of abode in the United Kingdom, to British Dependent Territories citizens in qualifying overseas territories.
Many of your Lordships will be familiar with Britain's overseas territories. There are 14 of them. They are Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St Helena and Dependencies, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia on Cyprus and the Turks and Caicos Islands. They include some of the most prosperous and some of the most remote islands in the world. They range from the highly developed business, financial and tourist centres of some of the Caribbean territories and Bermuda to the pristine wilderness of Antarctica. They have many differences. But they have one thing in common: their link with Britain.
In March 1999 the British Government published a White Paper entitled Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories. The White Paper was the culmination of a wide-ranging review of our relationship with the overseas territories. It laid the foundations for a new relationship, built on the fundamental principles of self-determination, the acceptance of responsibilities on both sides and the
Over the past two years, in close consultation with the territories, we have moved that agenda forward. The nature of our relationship has evolved in line with the principles in the White Paper, and we have made progress across a broad range of issues, including constitutional reform, human rights, the environment and financial regulation. An annual meeting of the Overseas Territories Consultative Council provides a forum in which Chief Ministers can to get to know their British ministerial counterparts and discuss with them, and with each other, common problems. The next meeting will be in September. Our relationship with the territories has changed, and continues to change.
A cornerstone of the new approach set out in the White Paper was the proposal to grant British citizenship to British Dependent Territories citizens in qualifying territories, to give proper recognition of their British connection and to lift the limitations which BDTC status carries with it. The Bill is a fulfilment of that commitment. The proposed citizenship provisions in the Bill apply to all territories except the sovereign base areas of Cyprus which are excluded by virtue of their special status as military bases.
We estimate that around 200,000 people could become British citizens on commencement of the Act. The number is an estimate because it is as yet impossible to tell exactly how many people will benefit. Nationality is a complicated area and beyond those who already hold British Dependent Territories passports will be others who will come forward after commencement on the basis of the naturalisation or registration criteria in the British Nationality Act 1981.
But I should make clear that there is no compulsion about acquiring British citizenship. We believe that most people will want it, but British Overseas Territories citizens, as the Bill proposes they be known in future, will have the option to renounce British citizenship, and to retain their current status, should they so wish.
The Bill at the same time formally changes the name of the territories to overseas territories, and British Dependent Territories citizens who live there to British Overseas Territories citizens. It is no longer appropriate to use terms such as dependent territory or colony, terms which are outdated and which fail to reflect the nature of our relationship and partnership with the overseas territories. The Bill alters those terms in the British Nationality Act 1981 and will add a new definition of British Overseas Territory in the Interpretation Act 1978 so that that term can be conveniently used in all future legislation.
Residents of the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar already have or are entitled to British citizenship, and we do not expect all BDTCs in other territories to want
Let me explain more fully the effect of the Bill and the timeframe we envisage. Most people living in the overseas territories are currently British Dependent Territories citizens. As soon as the Bill has passed through Parliament and received Royal Assent, Clauses 1 and 2, which deal with the changes of name to British Overseas Territories and British Overseas Territories citizen, will take effect. At that point all references to the territories will be formally changed. I say "formally" because the description "overseas territories" is already in common usage. Clauses 1 and 2 deal only with changes of name and involve no substantive change of law.
Clause 3 explains how British Overseas Territories citizens will automatically become British citizens, with the right of abode in the UK, on commencement of the citizenship provisions of the Bill. In other words, they will not have to apply for citizenship, although they will have to apply for a British passport to show documentary evidence of their new status and to facilitate travel. The date of commencement will be decided by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs by statutory instrument, once we are satisfied that the practicalities for implementation of the citizenship provisions are in place. We need, for instance, to ensure that arrangements for passport issue are agreed and that the staff who will deal with passport and nationality questions are properly trained.
Clause 4 explains how British citizenship can be acquired by people living in the overseas territories after commencement of the legislation. There are of course many people living in the overseas territories who are not BDTCs. The provisions of the new legislation do not apply to them. To qualify for British citizenship they would first have to qualify for British Overseas Territories citizenship by connection with the territory in which they reside under existing nationality law as set out in the British Nationality Act 1981. If their application is successful they will thereafter be free to apply for British citizenship. There is no automatic entitlement to British citizenship for such people. The granting of British citizenship is at the discretion of the Home Secretary. That is the effect of Clause 4 of the Bill.
Clause 5 further amends the 1981 Act so as to provide for acquisition of British citizenship for future generations having the requisite connection with any of the qualifying overseas territories. British citizenship will mean that British Dependent Territories citizens will have the right of abode in the United Kingdom and the right of free movement and residence, and with it the opportunity to work in European Union member states. In short, my Lords, they will have the same rights as you or I. They will be able to visit friends and relations or travel for business or employment without being subject to immigration
Some noble Lords may be wondering whether, after the passage of this legislation, they will have the right of abode in the overseas territories. I regret that the answer is no. The right of abode is non-reciprocal. The territories which fall within the scope of the Bill are for the most part small islands. In consultations on the content of the Bill the governments of the territories concerned made clear that granting British and European citizens the right of abode in their territories would risk fundamentally altering the social, cultural and economic fabric of the territories. They are simply too small to cope. The Bill does not mention reciprocity. I am therefore taking this opportunity to put on record, which may come as a surprise and disappointment to some noble Lords, that the provisions of the Bill on right of abode, for good reasons, are non-reciprocal.
This legislation is eagerly awaited. Ever since publication of the 1999 White Paper my predecessor, Patricia Scotland, and I have received a steady flow of letters from members of the public, from the people of the overseas territories. from the many friends and organisations that represent their interests in this country and from Members of both Houses urging the Government to deliver on the commitment to grant British citizenship. Many noble Lords and Members of the other place have put down Questions.
It has not until now been possible to make parliamentary time available in what has been, as I know noble Lords are aware, a busy legislative programme. But I am delighted that it has now been possible to do so. I hope that the support which noble Lords have shown in the past will now translate into support on the Floor of the House. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Baroness Amos.)
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, we on these Benches thank the Minister for her clear and explicit description of the Bill. This is indeed a very busy time for those involved in international affairs. Next week your Lordships will be in Committee on the International Development Bill, and the European Communities (Amendment) Bill will be in Committee in another place on Wednesday. That Bill will no doubt be hotly debated. I do not imagine that this Bill will be as contentious.
Before I move to the main body of my speech, I would mention that we wish that the Bill had not been so long in coming to the House. It has been eagerly awaited, as the Minister said. The White Paper was published in March 1999. It has taken until July 2001 to appear as a government Bill. The Government cannot take any credit for that delay. We believe that
As we heard from the Minister, the main thrust of the Bill concerns citizenship and the right of abode. We are not wholly concerned with the change of name from "British Dependent Territories" to "Overseas Territories" other than to say that I suspect the Government have bowed, as usual, to the political correctness agenda. I notice that the Government have also abandoned all the human rights issues that were raised in the White Paper. Does that not send mixed signals? Are there not several overseas territories that would find it hard to survive without the support they receive from the United Kingdom? Indeed, are not all "overseas dependent territories" dependent on the United Kingdom for defence? I do not recall the United Nations coming to the aid of the Falkland Islanders in 1982.
The islanders of St Helena are dependent on the United Kingdom for their transport links with the rest of the world. The Chagos Archipelago, better known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, is claimed by both Mauritius and the Seychelles. The US lease is due to expire in 2016. While that is some 15 years in the future, we may well be called to defend the rights of those people who may wish to return there. Only a few weeks ago a court here in London ruled that the inhabitants were illegally removed and have the right to return. Most were originally removed to Mauritius, which will strengthen that country's claim. The islanders of Montserrat were dependent on United Kingdom aid when nature took its violent course, spewing volcanic lava and ash over half the island and leaving its capital destroyed. We do not begrudge such military assistance or such emergency aid, but it does reinforce the dependency theory.
To return to St Helena, the current problem faced by the island is one of dependency which can, to a degree, be broken. As we speak, a decision is being made as to the future transport link, which I mentioned earlier. The Government, sadly, are set on providing the cheapest option. That will mean spending some £26 million on replacing a passenger/cargo ship and will involve, as at present, a yearly subsidy to operate the service. A recent recommendation, which will cost some £38 million in the short term but holds out the possibility of earning revenue in the long term, is to build an airport on the island. The White Paper recognised the problem when it stated:
It does not take a genius to work out the way that the dice will fall. No airport equals no tourism. Give the islanders an airport and the significant boost to the local economy which ensues will be greatly appreciated, not to mention the much speedier transport link. The Government have the opportunity to give the islanders more economic independence. I can assure the noble Baroness that, for the sake of an extra £12 million, we on these Benches would not stand in the way.
The main issue of the Bill concerns the granting of citizenship. We welcome the move, as do the overseas territories. There are many benefits which will now be made available to those who are soon to become full British citizens. First, from a development perspective, we should all welcome the easing of the education restrictions currently endured by those wishing to study in the United Kingdom. Noble Lords may not be aware of the differences in the fee structure.
For example, King's College, London, offers a very good degree in medicine. I should declare an interest here as the Chairman of Council of King's College. For a UK or EU citizen, the fees for the first four years amount to some £4,300, a figure set by the Government. For other citizens, the fees for the first year alone are £10,000, after which they rise significantly. Noble Lords may be astounded to learn that the total sum of the fees amounts to some £54,200. Through the Bill we shall be promoting tertiary education at an affordable level and that is to be welcomed.
Secondly, in 1998, my noble friend Lord Waddington, a distinguished former Governor of Bermuda, informed the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that the vast majority of white Bermudians of Anglo-Saxon descent hold British citizenship, but that the vast majority of black Bermudians do not. He went on to point out that,
I said in opening that we welcome the Bill and would not seek to obstruct it. However, during its passage we shall be seeking clarification on several issues. They concern the fine detail of the Bill and I look forward to the Government providing the necessary assurances.
The Government claim that the number of people who will be eligible for UK citizenship is around 200,000. While that is the approximate population for the entire British Dependent Territories, does that figure include others who may qualify, for example, by rights of marriage?
Perhaps I may put a number of questions to the Minister. What is the cost of bestowing British citizenship? The Explanatory Notes to the Bill state that,
In the White Paper, much is made of human rights:
Judicial corporal punishment still exists in some territories, as does capital punishment. Indeed, the use of the death penalty in the Caribbean would appear to be on the increase. Have all the overseas territories removed from their statute books capital punishment for treason and piracy? Have the concerns over homosexual discrimination been addressed?
Furthermore, what of the financial concerns that were raised in the White Paper? Several of the territories rely heavily on offshore banking. Are there to be any implications for them? Will they be affected by EU legislation in this field?
As I said earlier, we very much regret the delay in bringing forward the Bill. Your Lordships' House and the people of the dependent territories deserve an explanation as to the reason for this unnecessary delay.
We on these Benches support the aims of the Bill and hope that the Government can provide the House with the assurances that we have sought and that this long-awaited Bill can proceed to the other place. We do not expect to receive answers to all the questions that have been raised, but we look forward to hearing the Government's responses and to debating them in Committee.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, the first occasion on which I debated this issue was during the debate on a Private Member's Bill tabled by the late Lord Bonham-Carter who, from these Benches, tried to initiate a Bill strikingly similar to the Bill before us today. However, a few years ago that Bill was rejected under another administration--probably for the reason that, at the time, Hong Kong still came under the aegis of an overseas territory.
In contrast to the previous speaker, I should like to welcome the speed with which this Bill has been put forward, given how many other Bills have been dropped from the Queen's Speech. It is a positive move
In the light of that, perhaps I may begin by thanking the Minister for our meeting, during which she provided the answers to many of our questions. That marked a positive way forward and has removed the need for us to table certain amendments.
Of prime importance is the fact that the Bill has been welcomed by the dependent territories. On that basis, it is clear that we shall have few difficulties with the Bill. Indeed, the Short Title of the Bill is tightly drawn, and it is those issues which have been left out of the legislation rather than those which are included that are causing us a degree of concern.
As an archaeologist, I know that citizenship has been a major issue in the past. I was reminded of the fact that, in 212 AD, Caracalla conferred citizenship on every person living within the boundaries of the Roman empire. However, the Roman writers of the time attributed this to the fact that it would increase the tax base of the empire. However, that is not the case with regard to the matter before us this evening.
I should like to raise one issue, which may be seen as slightly frivolous, although I did draw attention to it during my remarks on the gracious Speech. The Foreign Office has asked the dependent territories to pay for their governors' uniforms. At first I was tempted to leave the matter alone, but the briefing I have received informs me that, because of the terrible situation on Montserrat, the island is economically dependent on the largesse of DfID.
In her new role wearing two hats, can the Minister confirm that, if the governor requires a new uniform, he will have to approach the noble Baroness at DfID? However, the FCO is charging this amount of money, so what will be the situation in Montserrat if DfID is asked to pay for the uniform? I ask because there may be a slight conflict of interests.
I have a problem with the number of acronyms used in the Bill. The trend towards acronyms seems to grow exponentially with every Bill. It is something which started in the Army, and I must admit that I have a degree of difficulty with them. If Bills containing similar numbers of acronyms are to be brought forward in the future, perhaps we could have a foreword in the Explanatory Notes listing each and every acronym.
The Minister alluded to two areas of particular concern to us which lie outside the scope of the Bill. Our first concern relates to the issue of British overseas citizens, especially those in Uganda and Kenya. This matter has been on the boil for quite some time. Our major worry is that some children of British overseas citizens--especially in Kenya--are now stateless
Although it concerns only a small group of children, it is an issue which could be looked at in the area of human rights. I understand that a case may be going before the European Court. The matter obviously does not fall under the jurisdiction of the European Convention on Human Rights because it is happening outside Europe, but it is an issue of great concern. Kenya should be made aware of its responsibilities under the UN convention to reduce the number of stateless persons. However, if no other means can be found to achieve this end, will the Government bring forward a Bill to extend the right granted under this Bill to this small group of people? At the moment they are prisoners with no access to travel documents. They have neither a Kenyan passport nor a British passport.
The other area of concern relates to dependants in the British Indian Ocean Territories. When the ruling came about in November or December that the British Indian Ocean Territory (No. 1) Ordinance 1971 was unlawful, it raised a question in my mind. Under the law in Mauritius, those born after 11th March 1968 would become citizens of Mauritius. This affected the children of members of the Ilois tribe who were moved to Mauritius. However, if it turns out that they were moved illegally, does that not change their status? Would they not then be seen as dependent territory citizens? If such is the case, it is quite important because if they are to return to the Chagos Islands, they could be refused entry on the ground that they are Mauritian citizens rather than deported British dependent citizens. Those are the two issues I wish particularly to raise.
There are many positive aspects to the Bill. I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, that it will make life easier for many dependent territories citizens so far as concerns travel documents. I know that the citizens of Montserrat--3,500 of whom are resident in the United Kingdom at the moment--have had difficulty in travelling and have had to obtain a visa to go to France. This is because of the wording on their passports. The Bill will change that situation.
I have one final question--I promise not to ask any further questions--and that is: as the citizens of Montserrat have leave to stay in this country because of the natural disaster that is taking place there, will they be eligible to vote in this country? Obviously members of other dependent territories will not have the right to vote because their place of residence is outside this country. I merely wish to know because this Bill may very well change their status.
We on these Benches welcome the Bill. We very much hope that in the future there will be a Bill to correct the injustices and anomalies presented by the situation of some British overseas citizens.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister and the Government on the introduction of the Bill, even though we have had to wait a long time
I shall touch on one matter mentioned by my noble friend Lady Rawlings. When I was in Bermuda I was made acutely aware of the resentment felt by Bermudians who, on travelling to Britain, found themselves waiting in the foreigners' queue at London airport while EU citizens were whisked through immigration ahead of them. In fact, the situation was even worse than that because some Bermudians did find their way into the fast lane--Bermudians with British citizenship or the right of abode in Britain by virtue of ancestry--and they, of course, were white. Bermudians in the slow lane were for the most part black.
There are other and very much more important ways in which the law at present harms race relations and the efforts to achieve equal opportunity in a place such as Bermuda. If bright young people working in the banks on the island do not get work experience in a far wider environment--in practice, in England--it will be that much less likely that they will be able to equip themselves, through experience overseas, for senior management. In short, opportunities to get more black Bermudians to the top in business, to share economic power with the whites, are being lost. I am sure that that is still the case today. It is something that this Bill will help to put right.
Bermuda is a prosperous place. There are other overseas territories which are far from prosperous. St Helena, which I visited a year or two ago, is one such. I agree with my noble friend Lady Rawlings about the need to press ahead with plans for an airport. But it will still be some years before those plans can come to fruition, and in the foreseeable future, "Saints" will continue to travel abroad in order to seek work. As everyone knows, at present they go to Ascension, the Falkland Islands and some to Britain. The Bill will open up more job opportunities for them. Again, that is a very good effect of the Bill.
In the case of St Helena, the Bill will get rid of a long-standing sense of injustice, the "Saints" believing--with much reason--that the immigration Acts of the 1960s and the British Nationality Act robbed them of rights bestowed on them by Royal Charter in the 17th century, a point made very clearly in the White Paper produced by the Government two or so years ago.
There is one thing that all the dependent territories apart from Gibraltar have in common: they have all had, and still have, the right to become independent states, but instead they have chosen to remain British. Bermuda held a referendum on the subject in 1995,
I have only two questions to put to the Minister. The first relates to the position that will arise if, after the Bill becomes law, one of the overseas territories decides to become independent.
The White Paper published by the Bermuda Government prior to the referendum on independence in 1995 stated that those enjoying Bermuda status would be Bermuda citizens on independence; however, it was silent on what would happen to their citizenship of the British Dependent Territories. What would happen to the British citizenship granted by this Bill? Would those who have been granted British citizenship lose it? At first blush, it would seem very unfair if they did, but, on the other hand, it might seem very unfair if a favoured few living in that little clutch of dependent territories were allowed to keep their citizenship with the right of free entry into Britain, while the mass of people living in former colonies continued to be denied that right. There seems to me to be a real problem here and I should like some guidance from the Minister.
I was told the other day at the meeting that the Minister was kind enough to hold in the Foreign Office that what happened would be a matter of consultation and agreement between the British Government and the government of the territory in question. In other words, no assurance could be given that the people would keep their citizenship. I should appreciate the Minister's comments.
My second question is easier. It relates to Clause 4. I gather that this provision covers the situation where someone comes to, say, Bermuda and after a number of years is granted overseas territories citizenship by the governor and then applies for British citizenship. But does such a person have to apply for overseas territories citizenship first? Why cannot such a person apply direct to the Secretary of State for British citizenship with proof of residence as required by the British Nationality Act? I am not sure why there will not remain an alternative route to British citizenship without having to go through the formality of achieving British Overseas Territories citizenship first.
Once again, I warmly congratulate the Minister and I wish the Bill speedy progress through Parliament.
Viscount Colville of Culross: My Lords, I wish to add a few words about St Helena, which has already been addressed by a number of speakers. A number of your Lordships will remember that, in 1997, a Bill was passed granting British citizenship to the people who live in St Helena and the dependencies. I regret that the Earl of Iveagh, who introduced the measure and guided it through this House, was the subject of the "cull". But the subject matter is, I think, fresh in your Lordships' memories and it is a pity that the Bill did not progress further at that time. The reason has been given, and I was very glad when the noble and learned
The people of St Helena and the dependencies have, of course, no voice in this Parliament; and I do not purport to speak for them. I do, however, commend to your Lordships, if I need to do so, the wisdom of consulting the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association if ever you visit any of the Commonwealth countries. I did this when I went in February this year to all the dependencies and to St Helena itself. I need declare no interest, because I paid for the visit myself. A very interesting and fascinating experience it was.
The result of the contact with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association was this. I was walking down the main street in Jamestown when I met the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, who said, "I hear you'd like to come and talk to the local branch of the CPA. When would it be convenient for you?". I said, "Tuesday afternoon next at 4.30". He said, "Right. I will lay it on". I turned up to find that there were tea and cakes; and, to my astonishment, in the council chamber were assembled the entire Executive Council, including the Governor, and the entire Legislative Council, sitting round the table. Their first point related to citizenship: when was this Bill going to come forward? I could only quote parliamentary Written Answers stating that it was ready, that the Government were waiting for parliamentary time, and so on. They, of course, were disappointed. Now, they will be delighted. The sooner Clause 3 comes into effect, the better.
They had other things to say as well. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, touched upon them. The result of this legislation is certainly not going to be that the entire population of St Helena and Tristan da Cunha, let alone Ascension, which has no indigenous population anyway, will arrive in this country. But it has been rightly said that this is the way to provide some employment. The noble Baroness is quite right about the malaise that presently afflicts not so much Tristan da Cunha but St Helena.
The problem will not be cured by tourism. There is simply not the scope for tourists to arrive or to enjoy themselves without absolutely wrecking the island. What the access agreements and the various steps that have been taken in this respect will lead to are opportunities for people from other countries to invest in the island. There are plenty of things to invest in. There are a number of enterprises which are not run as profitably as they might be; consequently, they do not provide employment. It is not for nothing that many St Helenians have to earn their living in the Falklands and Ascension because there is not enough to do at home. Indeed, tertiary education is a major problem. So there are still many items on the agenda for these islands which cannot be touched in this Bill. The noble Baroness was right to mention them. They are urgent issues upon which depends the welfare of the island.
Of course, citizenship is a matter of a long-standing grievance. The Royal Charter of 1673 has been mentioned and it is a pity that, since 1962, there has been no progress until now. But, while welcoming the Bill, let us contemplate the fact that we cannot stop here. A sensible decision must be made about how to move forward for the welfare of the people particularly of St Helena and of those who work overseas in order to provide them with a prosperous economy in their own domain which will enable them to carry forward the wonderful British traditions that can be seen in that island. I do not overlook the wonderful British traditions that can be seen in Tristan da Cunha as well.
We are taking a bold step forward and one that is overdue. But I pray of the noble Baroness: do not let the process stop here, and do not let us take a cheese-paring decision as between DfID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the access agreement. Let us, for goodness sake, take account of what the St Helena Government have to say about this. They are the people who know, and they are the people who are going to have to endure the disbenefits of the wrong decision. I am glad that the noble Baroness mentioned that, but I add my word, on behalf of those to whom I talked, about the welcome that should be given to the Bill. I hope that it gets rapid progress through Parliament.
Baroness Young: My Lords, although it has been much delayed, I, too, should like to welcome the Bill and to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, for introducing it to the House. I begin by declaring an interest as the president of the West India Committee, but I should hasten to add that that is in no way a financial interest.
It is right that these micro-states, for which, as my noble friend Lady Rawlings pointed out, we have a continuing responsibility, should have their position regularised following both a decision in 1981 to grant British citizenship to citizens of British Dependent Territories, and one made in 1983 in respect of citizens of the Falkland Islands. I, for one, welcome the new nomenclature "British Overseas Territories", which reflects a better relationship between the countries. I am glad to see that that is the Title to the Bill.
Before turning to the main points that I wish to make about the overseas territories in the Caribbean, I should like to say how much I agree with the remarks made about St Helena in particular. When I served as a Minister in the Foreign Office, I had ministerial responsibility for the overseas territories, including St Helena--although, alas, I never had an opportunity to visit the island. However, I was very conscious of the great disadvantages that the people suffer, particularly in employment and in education. These are important issues that must be addressed. As far as I am aware, a large proportion of the population have no proper employment. This must be a very unsatisfactory situation. I am pleased to think that the Bill will do something to put right that situation.
Perhaps I may have the temerity to commend to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, the possibility of an airport on St Helena. She would do well to read the comments of one of her late colleagues, Lord Shackleton, who was a great proponent of St Helena. He argued on many occasions in this House for an airport on the island. This is not a recent suggestion: it is a possibility that should be considered.
I began my remarks by saying that I welcome the Bill, and I do. However, like my noble friend Lady Rawlings, I believe that there are a number of matters that require clarification, especially as regards the Caribbean overseas territories to which I shall speak. I was, of course, glad to hear about the granting of the right of abode. That welcome applies also to the fact that we are to set right the particular problems about immigration, and to the clarification as regards passports.
The process of taking forward this legislation has been slightly erratic, with Chief Ministers first learning about such matters in 1998; and then in more detail when the Government published their White Paper in 1999. There has been very little in the way of further information since then. As a result, this Bill comes to the House with many questions remaining unanswered. There are a number of issues that I should like to raise, although I do not expect the noble Baroness to answer all of them this afternoon. Indeed, they are matters to which we shall return in Committee. I mention them today because they are questions that people have raised with me, and which require answers.
The Bill confers rights on the citizens of British Overseas Territories, but says nothing about obligations. To all intents and purposes, it implies that the people of the islands--I have in mind the Caribbean, in particular--will become more closely associated with the United Kingdom, but suggests nothing in the way of positive steps to achieve that aim. Citizenship entails rights and obligations. Some of those obligations have already been raised this afternoon; for example, the right to vote. But what about taxation? What about social security? What about standing for Parliament, or being represented in some way in Parliament? What about access to medical care under the National Health Service? All those issues have been raised with me, yet there is no explanation of how the Government intend to deal with them. The people have a right to know.
Only two weeks ago a respected and senior chief Minister from one of the Caribbean overseas territories, who had just read a copy of the Bill, told me that he was unable to discover what, if anything, the citizens of his territory might expect--or, indeed, have to give up--in return for the grant of citizenship. He suggested that it was less than fair that Britain should grant citizenship without recognising that it, too, had obligations towards its overseas territories. He felt, for example, that it should automatically follow from citizenship that matters such as the training of overseas territories' civil servants--he particularly singled out this point--should be undertaken in the United Kingdom. He suggested that, logically, citizenship
The Chief Minister also wanted to know whether students from overseas territories would now be treated as British students in respect of fees. Again, I was most interested to hear what my noble friend said on that point. I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, also indirectly raised the issue regarding the training of people from overseas territories in our universities. Surely that suggestion should be welcomed. It is most important for the future of those people. More significantly, he wanted to know how the British citizens of the overseas territories might be represented either in the UK or in the European Parliament. These are not idle questions; they are very serious matters to which we must return in Committee. As I said earlier, I do not expect to receive full answers to all, or any, of the questions that I have raised this afternoon. However, for the sake of clarification, it would be helpful if the Minister could write to me on some of those points before we reach Committee stage.
The representative from the overseas territories stressed the point that to grant citizenship and to continue to treat citizens of the overseas territories as in some way being second class meant that Britain had still not understood that its relationship with overseas territories should be based on the principle of a partnership between equals. Like his colleagues, he remained concerned--this point has already been raised--that Britain had imposed European social legislation in relation to capital punishment and homosexuality on both the government and the opposition parties of the country against the wishes of the vast majority of the island electorate; and that Britain had offered nothing in return. To his mind, this indicated that London still understood little about the benefits that could flow from a more mutual relationship.
I raise those points because I believe them to be most important. I have visited many of the overseas territories in the Caribbean, and understand many of the problems with which the people are faced. I have great respect for those people. On such an occasion, I believe it right to raise the issues that those people have drawn to my attention. It is in that spirit that I offer them to the House this afternoon.
It would be helpful if the noble Baroness could tell the House whether any discussions have taken place with the overseas territories since the Bill was published with regard to the rights and responsibilities implied by the granting of citizenship. It would also be helpful if she could indicate what steps are being taken more fully to assimilate citizens in the overseas territories into the UK structure of bodies such as the Civil Service. I have always felt that it would help in
Finally, will the noble Baroness inform us of any discussions which have taken place with the neighbouring Caribbean governments on the implications of offering British citizenship to those who reside in our overseas territories in the Caribbean? These small dependent overseas territories are very much a part of the whole family--if I may so describe it--of the Caribbean, closely linked one with another. Clearly the measure will affect the relationship between the independent countries of the Caribbean and the overseas territories.
I end as I began, by welcoming this important Bill. I am pleased that the Government have introduced it. It will certainly have my support in principle but there are a number of detailed matters to which we shall need to return in Committee.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, I am delighted to add my welcome to this long awaited legislation. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, so early in her career as a Foreign Office Minister and building on her success as a Foreign Office spokesman in your Lordships' House, is now able to introduce a Bill which gives satisfaction and security to many people who, in spite of being excluded from the provisions of the British Nationality Act in the past, have loyally always remained "British". I thank the noble Baroness for arranging the useful meeting in the Foreign Office to clarify some of the issues. Over the past 16 years I have had the pleasure and privilege of introducing and participating in a number of debates on issues affecting the dependent territories, now the overseas territories. The new name is a definite improvement. I had tabled a Motion on the future security and well-being of the overseas territories which was thwarted by the holding of the general election. However, I may well introduce it once the Bill has passed through its various stages as a number of issues, which are not included in the Bill, some of which have already been mentioned, remain outstanding.
A number of issues discussed in the 1999 White Paper also remain outstanding. One concerns the human rights convention. It is important to ensure that the provisions of the convention are enshrined in the constitutions of the overseas territories which are currently under review. I refer in particular to the principle of self-determination.
An issue of particular interest to me--it has been mentioned by my noble friends Lady Rawlings and Lady Young-- concerns the educational status of university students who currently have to pay overseas student fees. As I understand the position, the Bill could affect that situation as, in granting the right of abode, it enables people to fulfil the necessary residence requirements and so avoid the fees imposed on overseas students which can be a great burden. I should be grateful for any clarification on those
In previous debates in your Lordships' House the one message that came through loud and clear was that of citizenship and the right of abode. That issue will be resolved through the Bill. Many noble Lords will remember--the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has already mentioned this--the sterling work of Lord Iveagh who, sadly, is no longer a parliamentary Peer. In the past he represented strongly and consistently the wishes of the Saints--the people of St Helena--in relation to British citizenship in particular. He must be rejoicing over the publication of the Bill and regretting that he cannot participate on this occasion.
This is a short, simple Bill which was clearly explained by the Minister. I hope that it will remain a short and simple Bill as it is important that we get the issues of citizenship and right of abode resolved. However, as has been mentioned, there are other issues outstanding. I have some further questions to add to those already posed. The Explanatory Notes refer to the right to renounce the citizenship granted; in other words, people will not be forced to become British citizens. There is no reference to that in the Bill; presumably it is a provision of the British Nationality Act. As the Falkland Islanders have had that right since 1983, when they acquired the right to British citizenship, can the noble Baroness tell me, as a matter of interest, how many, if any, have renounced that right since then?
Further, what effect will the Bill have on the relationship with the European Union? My noble friend Lady Young mentioned that point. Presumably, citizens from the overseas territories, who will be British citizens and will have the right of abode in this country, will also have the right of abode in other European Union countries.
I seek clarification on the commencement date, to which the noble Baroness referred in her opening remarks. It would be helpful to be given a rough idea of the time-scale involved. I refer in this connection to the matters raised by my noble friend Lady Young to which she desires a response from the Minister. What consultation will take place between the passing of the Bill and its implementation?
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