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Any person who qualifies to be recognised as a British citizen under this Act is entitled to receive such rights and benefits as if he were settled in the United Kingdom."

The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment. It is widely drafted and I recognise that the point to which I wish to draw attention is not stated

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as clearly as it should be. Nevertheless, the issue is extremely important. I hope that it will receive sympathetic support from all sides of the Committee.

A matter that has been raised consistently with me by people from British Overseas Territories is the whole question of student fees. They presently have to pay the overseas student rate, which is considerably more than the home student rate.

I have travelled extensively in the Caribbean. Many of the islands have extremely good educational institutions, and there is also the University of the West Indies. However, leaving all that aside, very many people from the Caribbean, especially those from dependent territories, want to study in British universities or in British institutions of higher education of one sort or another. It is terribly important in today's world that they should have the opportunity to get the essential qualifications that they require in order to get a job back home, let alone anywhere else. We could provide such an opportunity by making it possible for them to attend British universities on a home-student's-fee basis, which is not possible at present.

When I spoke at Second Reading, I carefully questioned the noble Baroness about what actual obligations and responsibilities would flow from the Bill now before the Committee. Quite frankly, although the legislation will confer British citizenship--which is very important; and I do not in any way underestimate that--one of the most worrying aspects is that it does not seem to give those concerned any of the kind of rights that they would have were they to be British citizens living in this country. That is how I understand the position, but this is perhaps where I need the help of the noble Baroness.

I can see that the position could be quite difficult as regards many matters; indeed, I previously raised the question of taxation, representation in Parliament, and so on. One could go on to cite innumerable matters, some of which my noble friend Lady Rawlings mentioned when dealing with her earlier amendments. But the question of education seems to me to fall into a completely different category by itself. I believe that I am correct in saying that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, spoke at Second Reading about the situation of overseas students in, for example, St Helena. There is very little work on the island and very little opportunity to gain the kind of education qualifications that these youngsters need to get a job anywhere else in the world, let alone gaining the kind of professional qualifications that they need to improve the lot of their own people.

We are dealing with an extremely important issue. I hope that the Government will feel that it is worth considering this matter as a sort of sui generis issue. There are many of us--I believe that I speak for probably everyone here--who feel that it is most important to keep the British link with the British Overseas Territories. I have in mind the Caribbean in particular, but there are other territories. If students come to our universities, there is no doubt at all that

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that will maintain the link. Of course, the alternative, especially for the Caribbean, will be for those students to apply to both Canadian and American universities, as some of them do at present. Anyone who travels in the Caribbean knows how powerful the influence of those universities can be. I am not saying that it should not be so. But if we believe, as I think we do, that our British universities offer a first-class educational opportunity, we ought to consider those in our overseas territories who will receive British citizenship under this Bill. Once they have received that, they should know that they really have something that will be of huge benefit to their young people. I beg to move.

Lord Waddington: I cannot support the specific amendment. However, I lend support to my noble friend's plea that we should consider again the question of student fees. In the old days there was a common nationality. We were all citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies. A mockery was made of the common citizenship by the immigration Acts of the 1960s, with some citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies having rights and other such citizens having fewer rights. We tried to get rid of the anomaly by the British Nationality Act at the beginning of the 1980s.

We do not want to return to the mess we got into over the citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies, granting everyone British citizenship but saying that some are better British citizens than others and that some have rights which other British citizens do not have. It would be a very unsatisfactory outcome if we passed this important Bill conferring important rights on people who live in the overseas territories. We must avoid saying, "You will not be treated in the same way as other citizens when you come to Britain". Therefore, while I do not support the amendment, I hope that before the Bill becomes law the Government will consider again the matter of student fees.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I support the plea of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. It is important to give these people the possibility of education and gaining qualifications.

The Committee will know that I often speak on behalf of the citizens of St Helena. I am sure that I do so on this occasion. It may be reasonably easy for citizens of the Caribbean to get education and gain qualifications. It is almost impossible to do so in St Helena. Therefore, it is important that the Bill should not pass into law before we have arranged that British citizens in these territories have rights to get the same education and training as those resident in this country.

Baroness Rawlings: I support my noble friend Lady Young on this amendment. I had flagged this issue at Second Reading.

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For a UK student the sum is approximately £4,300 for the four year period. For an overseas student the amount is over £54,200. The difference is enormous. We on these Benches fully support my noble friend.

Baroness Amos: The effect of the amendment would be to give all British Dependent Territories citizens from qualifying territories who are granted British citizenship under the provisions of the Bill the right to all benefits of that citizenship without meeting UK residency requirements.

Entitlement to the domestic rate for education fees and to other benefits is based on residency qualifications not nationality. Although the education fee structure is governed by the Education Fees and Awards Regulations 1977, because of the high degree of autonomy enjoyed by universities and colleges, it is open to them to interpret always the regulations as they choose.

I think that it would be wrong to give the same rights and benefits automatically to a British citizen from an overseas territory as are enjoyed by persons who are resident in the United Kingdom. The effect of the amendment would be to place British citizens from the territory who do not take up the rights of abode in the United Kingdom in a better position than British citizens living here. They would enjoy access to all benefits but would not be subject to British contribution payments for taxes.

The Bill makes no distinction between British citizens provided that they first meet the residency requirements. The removal from immigration control and the grant of right of abode in the United Kingdom for British Dependent Territories citizens from qualifying territories as a result of this Bill will make it easier for them to satisfy those residency requirements.

We would not be consistent in our treatment of British citizens if we accepted the amendment. I accept the noble Baroness's recognition that the amendment is somewhat wider than the intention. I ask the noble Baroness, therefore, to withdraw the amendment.

2.15 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: Before the next stage of the Bill, perhaps the Minister will consider again her reply that it is up to the academic organisations to interpret the regulations. It does not sound a satisfactory answer. We would like some assurance from the Government that the need for education and training of those who have been denied them in the past because of the implications of lack of citizenship will now be met.

I realise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, acknowledges that this is not the right amendment. However, before the Bill is passed we should have some assurance from the Government on this important matter.

Baroness Amos: It may be helpful if I say to the noble Lord that the position with regard to education fees and awards is the reality; it is what we are living with.

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I come back to the issue of consistency. We support overseas territories in a number of other ways. The noble Lord referred to the need for education and training. At Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, raised the issue of training for civil servants from the overseas territories and I replied to her on that point. We support citizens from the overseas territories in a number of ways with regard to training. That is a separate issue from what should be put on the face of the Bill.

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