|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Waddington: I am a little concerned about this matter. Can the noble Baroness help me on the following point? A person may have been living in Bermuda for a considerable time, but would not achieve Bermudan status. Bermudan status carries with it very real privileges; the right to live there and property rights which others do not possess. Presumably the Bill still delegates to the Governor the right to confer on a person citizenship of an overseas territory, but the Governor may still be conferring on that individual a form of nationality which carries no real rights in the territory because the territory, through its own domestic legislation, has stated in its wisdom that even though a person may be a citizen of a British overseas territory, he would not automatically qualify for Bermudan status. Is that correct?
Baroness Amos: I believe that I addressed this point in my response to Amendment No. 3, but it may be helpful to the noble Lord if I were to repeat it. The Bill will not alter the definition of overseas territory "belongership", a concept that covers territory nationality, to which I believe the noble Lord is referring. That confers the right of abode, voting rights, the right to hold public office and, in many cases, to own land in the territory. That kind of status is automatically acquired by the indigenous population, normally by those born in and settled in the territory.
The amendment before the Committee seeks to preserve the arrangement whereby responsibility for registration and naturalisation as a British Dependent Territories citizen is delegated to the Governors of the overseas territories--the noble Lord's second point. Furthermore, this amendment would preserve the territory's autonomy, but I think it is important that noble Lords understand that no provision in the Bill seeks to change the arrangements which currently obtain. That is why the amendment is unnecessary. There are no plans to make such a change. The Bill does not alter the existing arrangements.
Lord Waddington: It is hoped that it would never happen in practice, but in theory a Governor, using his delegated powers, could grant a person overseas territory citizenship and then, under a later provision contained in the Bill, that person would appear to qualify for British citizenship and could be granted such citizenship by the Secretary of State. The effect of that person having been granted British citizenship by the Secretary of State surely would mean that that person would then have the equivalent of Bermudan status. One could hardly say that a full British citizen would then not have the right to live in the territory.
Lord Waddington: However, in the case that I have posited, a full British citizen might be in the position of not having the full rights of a citizen in the territory in which he lives, and which founded his application for British citizenship. Is that what the Minister is confirming?
Lord Waddington: If the Governor can grant Overseas Territory citizenship to a person who, because of domestic legislation does not hold Bermuda status, then the Secretary of State, on the basis of that Overseas Territory citizenship, could grant British citizenship and therefore a full British citizen, by virtue of his residence in an overseas territory, may not hold the full rights of citizenship in that territory.
Baroness Amos: That is the logic of the noble Lord's point. However, I think that it is important to remember that that is why we have made clear in the legislation that this is at the discretion of the Secretary of State. It is precisely so that these kinds of cases can be looked at on an individual basis by the Secretary of State.
Baroness Rawlings: I thank the Minister for her explanation: a change of name, but not in meaning. I believe that is what she has said. That is interesting because it returns to what we put forward at the beginning. I was under the impression that the central point of the Bill was to grant British citizenship and rights of abode as soon as the Bill passes through to any of the citizens of the British overseas territories. I believe that there is a major change in the procedure, because at present those citizens do not hold British citizenship or the right of abode. I hope that I am correct in saying that.
Baroness Amos: That is absolutely correct, but the noble Baroness referred specifically to the use of the term "dependent" and whether the granting of citizenship would then cause the territories to become independent. The Bill specifically addresses citizenship; it does not concern dependence or independence. I think that it is important that we distinguish between the part of the Bill which concerns the change of name from British Dependent Territory to British Overseas Territory--a name that we have already been using--and the grant of rights of citizenship which carries with it the right of abode. These are two separate matters.
I should be interested to learn what responsibilities the Government envisage for the Governors of the overseas territories--a point referred to earlier by my noble friend Lord Waddington--after the commencement of the Act. If an overseas territory chooses to grant British Overseas Territories citizenship to an individual, will the Secretary of State need to endorse every new citizen? We on these Benches feel that this could be very demeaning for the new British Overseas Territories citizens. I beg to move.
Lord Redesdale: While we on these Benches do not believe that there will be a flood of people being given citizenship, especially in countries such as the Bahamas, I should like to ask the Minister one question. If the amendment was agreed to, it would raise the spectre that the governor would be responsible to the Home Office and not to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Is it the case that the Governors of the overseas territories will be still seen as answerable to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or will the Home Office take responsibility for the Governors?
Lord Waddington: I cannot support the amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness and the Minister will agree that the clause goes a long way towards meeting the mischief which I feared could arise under the Bill. Unless we have a clause of this nature, we could have a governor following a policy which would result in a lot of people obtaining British Overseas Territories citizenship who were not "belongers" in the territory. They would then ostensibly qualify for full British citizenship. Their applications would then come before the Secretary of State and he or she would say, "This is a nonsense. We cannot possibly grant this person British citizenship. He should never have been granted British Overseas Territories citizenship because he is not a "belonger" in the territory". We could not possibly delegate to the Governor the right to grant British citizenship, which may be on the back of a wrongly granted citizenship of the British Overseas Territories. That is the way I look at it. Am I right?
Amendment No. 8 raises an important point of principle. As the Committee will know, nationality is often complicated and is sometimes an emotional matter. Some people will inevitably attempt to acquire British Overseas Territories citizenship status after commencement as a stepping stone to British citizenship, and with it the right of abode in the United Kingdom. We need to ensure that those who qualify do so within the provisions of the Bill.
We believe that it is right that the grant of British citizenship after commencement should remain a matter for British Ministers answerable to Parliament, as it is now for all applications for British citizenship under the British Nationality Act 1981. This enables us to decide British citizenship applications not only on the basis of technical expertise but also on the geographical and emotional detachment which sometimes may be lacking in governors.
We are also keen to ensure that applicants are, for instance, of good character, and that we generally maintain consistency of decisions. We believe that that would best be achieved by having a single decision-making authority. For those reasons, I would ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
As to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, collective responsibility is the order of the day. We have used throughout British Ministers, and that is the way that it will be done.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page