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John Austin: As my hon. Friend will know, before the High Court action the Chagos islanders had a grievance relating not just to the loss of their homes but to the denial of an opportunity for them even to visit their ancestral burial grounds, which were very important to them. Does my hon. Friend know whether they have now been given that opportunity?
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Is not this the position? It had been agreed in principle that such visits would be allowed, but after 11 September, the use of the Diego Garcia basethe biggest base outside the continental United Statesmade that impossible for the time being.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am a little concerned. The debate seems to be moving away from the main content of the Bill; the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) seems to be pinning a different debate on this legislation. I should like him to move back to the main stream of the Bill.
Jeremy Corbyn: I am happy to move straight back to it, and suggest that these British overseas citizens have a right to visit Diego Garcia, at the very least to examine burial sites and other important memorials.
Will the Minister confirm that Chagos islanders born in places other than the Chagos Islands since the unlawful removal in 1965 will qualify for British citizenship? It is extremely important that that right is confirmed. Will he also confirm that the Government might adopt as their policy the amended clause 4, on the conferral of British citizenship on Chagos islanders, that was drafted by the citizenship expert Laurens Fransman QC? The Foreign Office has received a copy of the amendment, and Baroness Amos has been involved in correspondence on that technical but extremely important point. Will the Minister also tell us what other practical action the Department has taken on the issue other than to appoint experts to study the possibility of return?
Will the Minister give a date by which the islanders will be able to return? Does he accept that the United Nations human rights sub-committee was correct in its conclusions, in its report of 29 October 2001, on the British Indian Ocean Territory? In paragraph 38, the committee criticised the Government's failure to disclose information in their fifth periodic report, and it noted the unlawfulness of removing the population. The report also suggested that the Government
Although I could raise many other issues concerning the Chagos islanders, I have sought only to highlight the islanders' main concerns, which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and I have pursued both in an Adjournment debate and with Ministers. In the 1960s and 1970s, this country did a terrible wrong to those people by forcibly removing them. Earlier this year, in Paris, I spoke to a Chagossian family about the removal; the woman described what it was like to be dragged from her home as a child and shipped off to Mauritius, a huge
I think that we should applaud the Chagos islanders for the very peaceful and responsible way in which they have pursued their case. They have won their High Court case, and surely it is now time to settle the score. We should let them go back, give them the support that they need and recognise their children as British overseas citizens. That is what the Bill is about. I hope that, in his reply, the Minister will be able to help us on those points.
I shall deal briefly with two other points concerning overseas territories. I have frequently raised in the House the issue of Antarctica, and I was very active during the passage of the Antarctic Minerals Act 1989 and the consideration in Committee of the Antarctic Act 1994. In an intervention, I asked the Minister to confirm that, as there are no permanent residents in the British Antarctic territory, it is very unlikely that the Bill will apply to people living there. However, should anyone become permanently resident there, presumably the Bill will apply to them. The legal problem is that the Antarctic territories are a British claim and are not recognised by anyone else as a British territory. Indeed, most of the British claim is overlain by the claims of other countries, notably Argentina.
Will the Minister comment on that situation? It could be argued that those who spend a considerable time at a British research base might be entitled to claim that they are normally resident there. Equally important, will the Minister say whether there is a ratification and implementation process to establish a secretariat and protect Antarctica as a world park and as a place of peaceful scientific research, rather than as a place for exploration and the exploitation of mineral resources?
The Bill's inclusion of the British sovereign base areas in Cyprus raises some interesting issues. I think that Cyprus is the only place in the world where Britain has sovereign base areas in a national area. As the areas are surrounded by Cyprus, there is clearly a great deal of traffic between Cyprus and the base areas. What will happen to the British overseas citizenship that has been granted to the relatively small number of Cypriots on the bases if a future Cypriot Government decide that the sovereign bases should close and become part of Cyprus's national territory?
One previous President of Cyprus was persuaded that the bases should become part of Cyprus, and I am concerned that the citizenship issue could cause enormous future problems. I should therefore be grateful if the Minister will clarify the issue. Despite that dilemma, however, I generally welcome the Bill.
Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): I welcome the Bill, which all hon. Members agree should have been introduced years ago. I think that it is fair for me to say that the Bill has been a long time coming from the current Government because one was never introduced by the Government whom I supported. I very much regretted the omission at the time.
The Bill gives British citizenship to the inhabitants of the remaining overseas territories, comprising about 200,000 people. I have no quibble with the Bill's title; the new name overseas territories is a better general
The Bill puts an end to a long period of shameful inactivity on the international status of the citizens of those former possessions. My interest in the subjectlike that of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley)comes in part from a constituency case involving nationality. The case took years to resolve and, like the case cited by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin), involved a visa for a spouse who wished to travel in Europe. Although successive Ministers oozed sympathy at us, it seemed that nothing could be done about it. It was eventually resolved, for which I am grateful, but I suspect that that was only because Ministers had already decided to change the law.
As we heard, the Bill was preceded by a White Paper, "Partnership for Progress and Prosperity", which is a good document that raises many interesting and important citizenship issues. However, many of the questions asked in the White Paper are not answered in the Bill. We could avoid the problem that we have seen in the Chamber today, of hon. Members wishing to speak more broadly on those issues, by ensuring that the House is able regularly to discuss and debate the affairs of the overseas territories. Will the Government consider that proposal? May we have at least an annual opportunity to discuss and debate in Parliament the affairs of our new co-citizens?
The idea of an annual report on those affairs was suggested in the other place. Such a report would be helpful, as it is very difficult for Back-Bench Members to draw together information and views from around the world. If the Government do not agree to that proposal, would it not be possible for a Select Committee of the House to put aside one sitting per year to call representatives from the territories to give evidence? I have the honour of serving on the Public Administration Committee, and we have an annual appointment with the ombudsman and the Cabinet Secretary. We regard it as our job to maintain a strict programme of keeping in touch with those individuals.
Will the Minister say whether the rules of the House allow us to call witnesses from the overseas territories to the United Kingdom? Such meetings could coincide with those of the Overseas Territories Consultative Council. As I understand it, that council meets annually in London, but I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that.
The Bill addresses the question of citizenship. It says that it gives British citizenship to the former British dependent territories citizens, but that is not quite right. In fact, it gives those with British dependent territories citizenship the right only to a modified form of British citizenshipas most people would understand that term.
Unlike other European countries, we have not gone the whole journey with overseas citizenship. The inhabitants of overseas territories will still be a different class of citizen from those of us who live here. They will not have representation in the British or European Parliaments and will not enjoy the same benefits as those who live in Britain. They will not, as overseas citizens of other EU countries can, participate in the full democratic process of the country of which they are citizens. That is despite the fact that the British Government have imposed upon the territories European social legislation, sometimes against
It seems to me that the Government have been trying to have it both ways. On the one hand they have insisted on certain requirements to bring the territories into line with our national law and then, on the other, they have refused to extend certain benefits and duties that we regard as essential parts of citizenship. I fully understandand the point has been made frequently todaythat some territories do not want to enter into such a relationship, but some may. Why can we not ask each of the territories what they think, perhaps in a referendum?
The White Paper raised questions about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, which this Bill fails to answer satisfactorily. I hope that later in the Bill's progress through the House we can attempt to amend it so that the Government will have to explain why, henceforth, there will still be two classes of British citizens. I hesitate to say that the inhabitants of the overseas territories will be second-class citizens, but in some important respects that will be the case for inhabitants of some of the poorer territories.
Present-day British citizens in the United Kingdom understand that while we have obligations to the Government, the Government have obligations to us. This understanding will not be available to the individuals entitled to British citizenship under this Bill, but it is the basis on which trust is built up between the citizen and the state.
Indeed, to move for a moment from the general to the more particular, that is why the Government are currently in deep trouble with the people of Gibraltar. Whatever the Foreign Secretary says, he no longer enjoys the trust of the local people. If we really mean to guarantee the legal rights of Gibraltarians, what on earth have we got to discuss with the Spanish Government? The Government are clearly trying to tell the people of Gibraltar that they must alter their view on sovereignty. They are trying to put aside the fundamental principle of self-determination; and they are failing in their duty of trust.
I do not know how this will appear to those in the other overseas territories affected by the Bill. What will British citizenship mean to them if they see that it is a negotiable concept to the British Government? The current negotiations with Spain over Gibraltar are to be deplored; and their timing, in light of the appearance of the Bill, is even more unfortunate. For most people, the ambiguity so beloved of the Government when dealing with questions of nationality causes serious concern. We all need to know who we are, what rights and responsibilities we have and where we fit in. We accept the duties and responsibilities of civic life because we are clear about the duties and responsibilities that the state has towards us.
I know that in replying to a Second Reading debate the Government will not be able to answer all the questions that have been raised, but I would urge the Minister to consider the basic question of the trust that needs to exist between the citizen and the state. Why are we currently imposing obligations upon these new British citizens without giving them a voice here in our British Parliament? Are we prepared to offer them real
The Government must not think that I am wholly critical; I welcome many of the developments that are taking place in the overseas territories. After a distinctly wobbly start, the Government have done better with Montserrat and the offer of a new ship or an airport to St. Helena is also to be welcomed. I hope that it will be left to Saints to make this decision for themselves. I appreciate also that some territories will need further work to ensure a brighter future: I am thinking particularly of Pitcairn, which is going through troubled days.
I am concerned, however, by the piecemeal way in which these problems are addressed. There is no clear understanding of what the British Government are responsible for and to whom they are responsible. These matters go to the very heart of the concept of citizenship. In normal circumstances, the Government would be responsible to their electorate in any given territory, but that is not the case here. Nor is it true that, in dealing with the overseas territories, the Government are responsible to the electorate of the territory which did elect itthe voters of the United Kingdombecause the recent changes in the human rights legislation made in the territories were done by Order in Council, through the Privy Council, without any reference to Parliament. In my view, the Bill, to borrow a phrase from the European arena, exposes a serious democratic deficit.
I am aware that new constitutional arrangements are being discussed in some territories, but even under the terms in which the Government are operating their piecemeal policy there are still too many unsatisfactory loose ends. I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) had to say about the Chagos Islands. He raised some important questionssome of which I was not aware ofthat clearly need answers. For example, I would like the Government to explain why the sovereign bases in Cyprus are outside the scope of the Bill: we are always told that there is a good reason, but I have never heard what it is. I can imagine circumstances and so could the hon. Member for Islington, North in which that could become a serious problem, so I invite the Minister to tell us the reasons for excluding Akrotiri and Dhekelia.
It would have been preferable if the constitutional arrangements for the territories involved in the Bill could have been agreed by now. I would like the Bill to have covered all aspects of citizenship. We need to know if some basic standards will apply across the board. For example, will the right of self-determination, which we have heard about in the context of Gibraltar, be available to all territories? Will it be written into their constitutions? What about the idea put forward from St. Helena about some sort of association with Britain, modelled on the Channel Islands?
I would also like a clearer picture of what responsibility the Government feel for British citizens who, for obvious geographical reasons, have no access to higher education. In another place the Government implied that this could be an area where our universities might help. An uncertain nudge and a wink, however, is no substitute for clearly identifying where responsibility lies. An excellent recent paper to the Overseas Territories Consultative Council by
Current UK overseas student rates can cripple the economic and social development of those small island communities. The Government should be more specific. We should be clear about the rights and responsibilities instead of asking people to rely on uncertain discretionary handouts. Generous as they may be, they provide no certainty and no ability to plan for the long term.
The Government should be more specific about the possibility of making special arrangements for training civil servants, people who work in services that are vital to public life and people wishing to attend business courses, who could return to their islands better prepared to boost the local economy. I remind the House that in some of these territories there is, and will remain, a real dependency on us which will not disappear simply because we have changed a word in the description of their relationship to the United Kingdom.
Another question that always arises is whether the British Government have responsibility for defending the territories? To borrow the NATO doctrine, is an attack on one to be understood as an attack on all? Is there a responsibility here, and do we offer guarantees? Those and other questions must be returned to. For the moment, however, I repeat my welcome for the Bill, as far as it goes.
We have heard much today about Lord Waddington, who gave a number of excellent examples of the benefits of the Bill. I was struck by one that has not been mentioned today. Clearly he speaks with deep experience of the subject. He said:
In brief, the Bill takes one hugely desirable step in the right direction, but it leaves the way ahead unclear. It will put right a serious error from the past, but it will do little to map out the way ahead. I hope that we can have an