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Baroness Amos: I thank the noble Baroness for her kind words. I hope that our positive working relationship, established over many years, will continue. I hope also that I shall be able to demonstrate that the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness are not necessary.

Given the opening remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, in respect of the responsibilities attached to becoming a British citizen, it might be helpful if I were to read a paragraph of the letter that I sent to the noble Baroness, distinguishing between rights, responsibilities and obligations.

The offer in the Bill of British citizenship and, with it, the right of abode in the United Kingdom, is a free-standing offer made to all existing British Dependent Territories citizens who owe their status to their connection with a qualifying territory. It does not bring with it either obligations or benefits that pertain to residents of the United Kingdom, unless the holder chooses to take up residence here and subsequently builds up the relevant required period and/or contributes to the taxes and social security contributions in force in the United Kingdom. That applies to benefits, access to the health service, retirement pensions and fees for further and higher education.

The department has prepared a guide to the most commonly asked questions about the offer of British citizenship. That guide addresses these and other issues raised at Second Reading, including benefits relating to the European Union. A copy of that paper has been placed in the Library of the House.

The noble Baroness asked me a number of questions on, for example, the European code of conduct on tax measures. I need to draw the attention of the noble Baroness to her own amendment, which reads:

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The amendment is about United Kingdom tax regulations, and I shall reply to it in that context. Nationality legislation does not traditionally address the rights and duties associated with British citizenship, and the Bill will have no effect on the operation of UK tax legislation.

British citizens who reside outside the United Kingdom and the European Union are not subject to the direct tax regimes operated by member states, but current UK tax legislation will automatically apply to all British citizens who meet the required employment, residence and contribution thresholds. In other words, persons who become British citizens on commencement of the Act, and who exercise their right to live and work in the United Kingdom, will be taxed in the same way as all other British citizens. I repeat that they need to exercise their right to live and work in the United Kingdom before that has effect.

The granting of British citizenship to British overseas territories' citizens is a matter for individuals, wherever they live. The EU code of conduct, which the noble Baroness mentioned, is a matter for discussion between governments. I should add that overseas territories are fiscally independent and repeat that all people who take up residence in the United Kingdom are subject to British tax regimes.

I hope that in the light of my response the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Rawlings: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her detailed reply. It seems that the most important aspect of the Bill will hinge on the definition of residence and residing. In this case, it has been spelt out clearly that the Bill will not affect citizens who reside outside the United Kingdom. I thank the Minister for her answer and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings moved Amendment No. 2:

    Page 2, line 29, at end insert--

"( ) The rules governing European Union citizenship and member states of the European Community shall not extend to British overseas territories citizens who claim British citizenship."

I shall also speak to Amendment No. 3, which has been tabled in my name. These first amendments are quite long, but the later amendments are quite brief.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are probing amendments, which seek to address the broad questions of the relationship between Europe and those countries which will, under the Bill, become British overseas territories; how the legal system of each territory will be affected; and the way in which the relationship of each territory and its citizens will be affected. It is important to clarify these issues.

The Government have failed to address many of the issues that were raised in the White Paper Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories. It could be said that the Bill is more an exercise in political correctness than a serious attempt

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to give our territories a status that will benefit British Overseas Territories' citizens and address their concerns.

An issue that has been neglected is the question of European legislation, including human rights legislation and the impact that it will have on British Overseas Territories' citizens who claim British citizenship. The White Paper made much of the complications that may arise in respect of Britain's human rights obligations. It states:

    "Overseas Territory legislation should comply with the same international obligations to which Britain is subject, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights".

The Bill does not set out with any degree of clarity the mechanism through which Britain can comply fully with her obligations to the legislation, while granting its territories the status that they want--and one which we feel they deserve. Judicial corporal punishment still exists in some dependent territories, as does capital punishment. The use of the death penalty in the Caribbean would appear to be on the increase. Concerns about homosexual discrimination remain prominent issues.

I know from my consultation with the territories that many BOTCs desire British citizenship. They find the procedure that they have to go through to visit Britain or Europe embarrassing and even insulting. The White Paper concludes:

    "There is a strong sense of grievance in many overseas territories that the right of abode in Britain was taken away from them. That is felt particularly strongly in St Helena. The residents of the overseas territories are proud of their connection with Britain, but are often puzzled that Britain appears not to be proud to have them as British citizens".

It is right that a Bill to address these important concerns has at last been introduced on the Floor of our House, albeit belatedly. The Government can take no credit; they denied earlier discussion of an issue that means so much to so many. The Bill addresses little of the content of the 1999 White Paper, which makes this delay yet more frustrating for the territories' people.

We do not want to oppose their demands in any way. We recognise that for many territories the acquisition of British citizenship is too important to allow some of the less appealing aspects of the implications of the Bill to halt its progress. We must all remain aware that some overseas territories' governments would not welcome British citizenship if it came with conditions attached, such as an obligation to introduce British or European tax rates and regimes.

Will the Minister allay the fear held by many of the residents of our territories that a change of citizenship is not conditional upon such an obligation? Will she confirm that British citizenship will in no way threaten the rights of the people of these territories to determine their own constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom? Will the Minister say whether British Overseas Territories' citizens can have dual residence and dual nationality?

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The noble Baroness may be aware that the United Kingdom Government have imposed legislation on Caribbean islands such as the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos and Cayman, to abolish the death penalty and making it possible for homosexuals to co-habit after the age of 21 with the consent of both parties. The impositions have been vigorously opposed on the islands.

We require clarification as to how far the Government intend to enforce the suggestions in the 1999 White Paper, particularly with regard to the imposition of British law on its territories. Do the Government intend to impose further changes to the constitutions of our territories? If a territory is no longer dependent in status, I am sure that the Minister will agree that it should have a deeper level of independence.

How far the Government intend to become involved in the domestic affairs of the overseas territories is an important issue to BOTCs. It is only correct and proper that the Government set out details of their plans with a greater degree of clarity.

If the British Overseas Territories are truly to lose their dependent status surely it is only right that their constitutions are respected and a mechanism is put in place to make sure that a revision of their laws cannot be unduly imposed by external force. The Government have previously flagged up human rights issues in respect of which they claim to seek reform in some of the overseas territories. In January 2001 the UK scrapped laws making homosexuality a crime in Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Government also seek reform of judicial corporal punishment, which remains on the statute books of the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda. Capital punishment is still available to the courts in Bermuda.

Since Britain's overseas territories have unreformed laws regarding human rights it risks being in breach of important and fundamental international agreements, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition, this exposes the UK to an avoidable contingent liability for costs and possibly damages. Overseas territories should enact the necessary reforms themselves, but in the absence of local action legislation could be imposed on the Caribbean territories. Any imposition of legislation by external forces carries the danger of setting a worrying trend which BOTCs would oppose vigorously.

All along the Bill has held precious the aim to increase the rights of the BOTCs. It would be fundamentally wrong and against the spirit of the Bill for Britain, albeit indirectly perhaps, to impose upon BOTCs the same European legislation, including human rights legislation, as applies to their counterparts who reside in the UK. If this Bill provides for the imposition of such legislation it will contradict the very essence of, and motivation behind, the change in citizenship status. In such circumstances BOTCs are far from leaving behind their dependency.

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The Bill will give BOTCs the right to travel freely in the European Union. They will be British citizens. I have no doubt that the Minister has discussed at length the implications of the change of status for Britain's relationship with its overseas territories. However, many questions require clarification before the Committee. What representations has the Minister received from the UK's European partners regarding the change of status? Do the Government have any plans to give the overseas territories the same status as the other territories in the European Union?

The UK is alone in Europe in having separate nationality status for the populations of its overseas territories. Danish, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish nationality is indivisible and extends to all their territories. In particular, has the Minister discussed the question of the rights of citizens of British Overseas Territories to vote in European elections as EU citizens? If the BOTCs have such rights how will our European partners react to the non-reciprocal nature of the relationship? What will be the legal situation if a person has rights to British residency but his domicile is in a BOT?

Will European Union or British law apply to a territory or its individual citizens? What provision will be made should a situation arise whereby a British citizen and a citizen of a British overseas territory who has opted out of British citizenship commit a similar crime? It cannot be right that one is dealt with under European or British law and the other under the law of that territory.

If British citizenship is conferred on an individual does that affect the actions of a territory collectively? Will the citizen of a BOT who has claimed British citizenship and the right of abode be able to move freely between overseas territories? Such a situation may have vast implications for the financial and topographical status of each territory, yet the Bill fails to address those issues.

I reiterate that it is not my intention to oppose the change of status of the territories. I am well aware of the importance that many people attach to the successful passage of this Bill. I seek only to hold the Government to a full and comprehensive debate of the issues. Many of the avenues for debate within the Bill were raised by the Government themselves in 1999. I hope that the questions that I have raised today can be answered by the Minister. It may be that not all of the questions relating to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 can be dealt with today. It is only right that the passage of this Bill should be subject to a further White Paper the purpose of which is to clarify those issues which are left unanswered in the Bill.

Furthermore, the Bill must be carefully debated by all the parties concerned. In a later amendment I shall seek to insert a provision in the Bill to ensure that it is ratified by the government of each territory to which it applies. The Minister will appreciate that that is only fitting for a Bill which provides a platform to implement a partnership of progress. I stress "partnership". The Bill is an important step towards

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the new partnership between Britain and its territories. It is important, therefore, to be clear about its practical implications regarding the degree of influence that it allows the European Union and Britain in British Overseas Territories. Furthermore, clarification is needed regarding the possible impact of the Bill upon the relationship between the territories and their citizens.

As I have said on a number of occasions during the passage of this Bill, we on these Benches support the main thrust of this measure but believe that many of the details, which have not been thought through, may give rise to serious problems later if they are not clarified at this stage. I beg to move.

1.15 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: I speak to this amendment simply in the spirit of thanking the noble Baroness for describing this as a probing amendment. On reading the amendments I was slightly concerned that, while they conferred the benefits of citizenship, they would remove some of the obligations that that would entail. I am also very surprised that today we do not see in the Committee many of the diligent noble Lords who speak on European matters, bearing in mind that Amendment No. 2 would mean that citizens of British overseas territories would have a different status. I would have opposed these matters had the noble Baroness not made clear that they are probing amendments. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

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