|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I shall respond immediately to that point. Citizenship will be granted immediately the Bill receives Royal Assent. However, passports will be issued later because the relevant officials will need to be trained. That commencement date will be announced in an order presented to the House.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that speedy response. I was about to finalise my remarks by once again welcoming the Bill. I wish it a speedy passage.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I join the general chorus of welcome for the Bill which is one of the later steps in the disposal of our empire in the interests of its citizens. I thank the Government whose record in this matter has been exemplary. I have no complaints with regard to delay. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that on the whole we should be grateful for the speed with which the Bill has been brought forward.
If I am prompted to intervene, it is because I was the first person to raise the problems of St Helena in your Lordships' House after a gap of about 15 years. I was followed by many others, including Lord Iveagh. Of the speakers in this debate, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and I are the only two who have been to St Helena and talked to the people there. I have addressed the CPA in much the same way as he did.
I shall concentrate on the citizenship of St Helena. Citizenship was granted irrevocably by Charles I. It was taken away, quite wrongly, by Parliament in surrender to the largely racist opposition to immigration at the time. This Bill will by no means be the last legislation on the issue. I understand that discussions with St Helena and its dependencies will examine their constitutional future. The relationship of Ascension to St Helena is particularly fraught. On the one hand, although many of the inhabitants are Saints they do not want to come under the St Helena Government who are regarded as remarkably conservative in outlook--not in the best sense of the word. On the other hand, if one is to encourage tourism--it must be one of the economic developments although it has to be limited for various reasons--Ascension and St Helena as a package is more attractive than either territory alone.
We must now be expecting an even greater influx of Frenchmen to St Helena given the latest theories about the death of Napoleon, an issue which has always been a fairly large factor in tourism. Has the Minister anything to say about the status of Longwood, the house and gardens where Napoleon lived? I understand that it had some kind of consular status. Is there a problem there? Have the French Government been consulted on that?
I hope that the Minister will be in place to deal with the many future problems which may arise. A large number of species threatened with extinction exist in the overseas territories, in particular St Helena and Tristan da Cunha. The Foreign Office has already acted well with regard to sooty terns. The issue seemed to cause the noble Baroness some amusement on the first occasion although I think that she has since come to terms with it. We need to act to protect endangered species in those islands.
It is clear that the debate could have been far greater in length. St Helena, the Indian Ocean territories and Gibraltar raise major problems, quite apart from the Caribbean about which I am not qualified to speak. Noble Lords have been somewhat conservative in their approach. We have not raised too many issues. The Minister's attitude to the problem is welcomed by all
Lord Naseby: My Lords, I apologise to the Minister and the House for not being in my place at the opening of the debate. I confess that having had a knee operation I decided that I could not change my physio appointment. It seems right that there should be fit rather than unfit noble Lords in this Chamber.
I welcome the Bill. I do not criticise the Government for the time taken in bringing it forward. I welcome in particular the thrust of the Bill: that there should be a new partnership between the current dependent territories and the United Kingdom.
Two key elements arise from the Bill. The central element is that of British citizenship. Each of the territories mentioned in the Bill has its own form of local government, consultative council or whatever it may be. I am not expert enough to know whether it is appropriate to that territory's situation. The key element which will affect each territory is two-fold. First, every United Kingdom Bill which comes forward must be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. I imagine--the Minister may have announced or will announce--that those provisions will apply to each dependent territory.
Secondly--this needs re-emphasising--the convention contains nothing about self-determination. Self-determination is wrapped up in a UN charter. It was confirmed recently by the International Court of Justice. That affects two of the territories--Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands--and we never know who else may be affected. But self-determination and the right of the people in any one of those territories to decide for themselves what they wish to do is crucial.
I do not know St Helena. Assisted by Terry Waite, I have in the dark teed off a golf ball on Ascension Island in order to reopen the Ascension Island Golf Club on my way to Gibraltar. I would welcome an opportunity to go to St Helena. I hope that there will be a response to the plea--it may well be supported by noble Lords on other Benches--from my noble friend Lady Young for progress on an airport.
I also take an interest in further and higher education. I hope that the Minister will address the points that have been raised by noble Lords across the House on that issue.
The key point on which I should like to spend a few moments is the voice of the people from those distant parts of the world. I had a quick look at the arrangements for the French overseas territories and departements. I had forgotten the scale of their territories. Independence has not moved as swiftly in the French departements and territoires overseas as perhaps it has in the British Overseas Territories. I asked the French Embassy how many people there
The principle is that all those places, some of which are very distant, send deputies to the equivalent of our Commons and senators to the equivalent of your Lordships' House. One of them--Guadeloupe--also sends a deputy to the European Parliament. Numbers should in some ways affect the eventual resolution to the problem, but individual UK citizens have a right to have their voice heard.
I suggested in my written submission to what we now euphemistically call the Wakeham commission that this House should have one or more person particularly nominated to look after the interests of the territories. I do not believe that the provision of an address at the Bar is an adequate safeguard for the people of the territories. The introduction of people's Peers and the opportunities and changes of forthcoming consultation provide a wonderful opportunity to address the issue of the voice of those people.
With the exception of Pitcairn, there are four spheres of influence: the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; St Helena; the West Indies; and Gibraltar. Cyprus is a slightly different issue. There is no reason why there should not be four nominated Members of your Lordships' House who have particular interest or knowledge--hopefully both--to take on that role. I am sure that there would be volunteers across the Chamber. I do not wish to compete with anybody, but I would certainly volunteer for the area of the Falkland Islands and others would volunteer for other parts. One volunteer is worth half a dozen dragooned Peers one way or the other.
There is a particular problem with Europe. The territories have to have access to the debates in Europe on an elected basis rather than an executive basis. One has only to look at the equivalent of Hansard for the European Parliament to notice how often the interests of those parts of the world are debated. It is fundamental that they should have a voice.
I greatly welcome the Bill. I wish it a fair passage and I hope that the opportunity will not be lost to give those important British citizens their voice in our Parliament. I hope that we shall welcome them to this Parliament.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, this has been an interesting and extremely helpful debate. I am grateful to all those who have participated. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said, the Bill is relatively short, but nationality issues are always sensitive and often emotive. The Bill's citizenship provisions directly affect tens of thousands of people in territories as far apart as Bermuda and Pitcairn Island.
The strong message that emerges from the debate is that the Bill commands widespread support across the Floor of the House. I thank noble Lords for their positive comments about the meeting that we had on the Bill and about my role in that.
The passage of the Bill will send a welcome message to the people of the overseas territories, who, as I said in my opening remarks, have waited a long time for its introduction. They will take a close and continuing interest in the progress of our debate.
I shall try to answer as many of the specific questions that have been raised as possible, but I shall write to noble Lords on some of the detail and put my answers in the Library of the House to allow all noble Lords to see what I have said.
I cannot agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, about the use of the term "dependent". The 1999 White Paper was called Partnership for Progress and Prosperity. I stress the term "partnership", because we want to reflect the reality of that partnership in the Bill. It is not about being politically correct. It is about reflecting the true nature of that partnership. I am pleased that other noble Lords have welcomed that change.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked about consultation with the overseas territories and whether our proposals had been fully discussed. The Bill was discussed at the annual consultative council meeting between Her Majesty's Government's Ministers from across Whitehall and the Chief Ministers from the territories. It was also discussed at a major seminar with representatives from all the overseas territories, which was held in the British Virgin Islands in September last year. I have sent all Chief Ministers a copy of the Bill and other information.
All those who have spoken have raised questions about rights, obligations and responsibilities. The Bill grants citizenship, and with it the right of abode. Other rights come into effect on the basis of residence. I shall write to those who have asked about education, social security and other provisions, because I have detailed answers in each case, but those issues relate to residence criteria rather than to citizenship. The points that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, raised about medical treatment and education fall into that category.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Rawlings and Lady Hooper, and the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, specifically pressed me on education. Access to education and differential fees is based on residence, not citizenship. However, it is open to individual universities to interpret the regulations on fee status. In that sense, I welcome the King's College initiative, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, also pressed me on human rights. The issue has not been abandoned. Capital punishment has been removed from the statute books of the overseas territories.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, asked specifically about the opportunity to work in the European Union. British citizenship will mean that British Dependent Territory 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.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked about costs. The change in citizenship status will occur automatically for most people and there will be no costs to cover. However, some cases may attract a fee. I shall write to the noble Baroness about that. I confirm to noble Lords that passport fees will be charged on the basis of the fees set by the Passport Agency world-wide. Therefore, the price will not vary.
With regard to numbers--a matter also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings--we estimate that approximately 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.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, pressed me on points relating to the environment. In March this year, it was announced that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would make available £500,000 to support a project to be implemented by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the administration of Ascension Island to restore the sea bird breeding colonies. In the last financial year, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's environment fund for the overseas territories successfully disbursed more than £0.5 million to fund 30 different projects spread across almost every overseas territory.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, the noble Baronesses, Lady Rawlings and Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, all asked me questions in relation to St Helena. Particular concern was expressed about the welfare of the people of St Helena. I make it absolutely clear that the British Government make a substantial contribution in terms of supporting St Helena. We have made £29 million available over the current three-year period. That assistance includes £1.5 million per annum to subsidise shipping services.
In relation to proposals for a new ship or airport at St Helena, we have always made our position clear. We have agreed to provide funding equal to the least cost solution--that is, a new ship or a new airport--to maintain physical access. The options report is now under consideration by the St Helena Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked me about governors' uniforms--a point that I believe he made in his response to the gracious Speech. The number of
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, asked me specifically about renunciation of citizenship. The provisions for renunciation of British citizenship are, and will continue to be, made by Section 12 of the British Nationality Act 1981. Statistics are not kept in such a way as to enable me to say how many British citizens from the Falkland Islands have renounced that citizenship.
I was pressed by many noble Lords on the issue of parliamentary representation. Overseas territories are not constitutionally part of the United Kingdom; they are separate legal jurisdictions. Therefore, it is not appropriate for them to be represented directly in the British Parliament and to take decisions on British legislation and internal UK domestic matters.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked me about public service. The public servants of the overseas territories are employees of the overseas territories' governments. We are in discussion with all overseas territories with a view to developing a programme of secondment and training for overseas territories civil servants from the FCO's good government fund.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked me about the situation in Kenya. In 1985 the citizenship provisions of the Kenyan constitution were amended. In consequence, since 1985 persons born in Kenya acquire Kenyan citizenship automatically at birth only if a parent is Kenyan. Where that is not the case, the possibility arises of statelessness. Existing provisions in the British Nationality Act 1981--in particular, Schedule 2--provide for the acquisition of British nationality by the otherwise stateless children of British parents. Those provisions satisfy our obligations under the 1961 UN convention on the reduction of statelessness.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, also asked me whether people in Montserrat have the right to vote. All existing British Overseas Territories citizens and Commonwealth citizens have the right to vote in UK elections if they fulfil the residence and registration requirements.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, asked what would happen if one of the territories became independent. The nationality consequences of independence would be dealt with in a separate Act of Parliament. In the past, the usual practice was to withdraw British nationality from the majority of
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, also asked me specifically about Clause 4. In some territories there are problems with regard to illegal immigration. Those problems are such that we wish to ensure that a filter operates to prevent illegal immigrants using the new legislation as a stepping stone to the United Kingdom. Registration or naturalisation as a British Overseas Territories citizen will act as such a filter. I shall write further to the noble Lord if he wishes to have further information on that matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, asked me about the status of Longwood in St Helena. I have been passed a note by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, which I shall read and which I hope is accurate. I have been told by the noble Viscount that it is not consular territory. The land is owned by a foreigner; namely, the Republic of France, as is the site of Napoleon's empty tomb. The consul lives in his own house adjacent to Longwood. I thank the noble Viscount for that information. I can add that we have funded the establishment of the National Trust in St Helena. I believe that that organisation will take on some responsibility for the preservation of a major part of the heritage of St Helena.
The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, asked me specifically about the right of self-determination. The Bill does not affect that right; indeed, the right is reflected expressly in the constitutions of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.
I have been advised that, in my haste to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, my answer was not entirely accurate. The granting of citizenship will not be immediate as from Royal Assent. It will take effect when a commencement order is made by the Secretary of State once the passport issuing arrangements have been sorted out. We hope that that will be as soon as possible after Royal Assent. However, the change of name from British Dependent Territories citizen to British Overseas Territories citizen will take immediate effect.
I believe that today's debate will send a clear message to the people of the overseas territories that we have their interests at heart and that we are making progress towards delivering the commitment made two years ago to grant British citizenship. I commend the Bill to the House.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|