Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5.44 pm

Mr. Bradshaw: This has been an interesting and helpful debate, and I am grateful to all who have taken part. My overwhelming impression is that the Bill commands widespread support on both sides of the House. Its passage will send a welcome message to the people of the overseas territories, who, as I said earlier, have waited a long time for its introduction. I thank Members for their positive comments.

As was said by the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), many questions have been raised during the past five hours or so. Some were outside the scope of the Bill, so Members will have to indulge me if I do not reply to all their queries; I promise to reply to the rest in writing. I shall not be able to answer many of the questions that were within the Bill's scope because time will not allow it, but they will be addressed in Committee.

Mr. Trend: I know that a vast number of questions have been raised. I believe that before the Committee

22 Nov 2001 : Column 541

stage in the other place, and indeed before amendments had been tabled, the Minister met interested parties and officials, so that matters that were of no consequence or were susceptible of easy answers could be got out of the way. Will he bear that in mind?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am happy to do so, as are my officials.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) raised a number of issues. He questioned whether all overseas territories were similarly disadvantaged by the British Nationality Act 1981. I can confirm that those who were previously citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies—the form of citizenship that then existed—and who owed that status to their connection with an overseas territory became British dependent territories citizens under the 1981 Act. Because they are geographically within the European Union, the people of Gibraltar were in addition entitled to British citizenship by registration if they applied for it. That recognised their freedom of movement within the European Union. The Bill will entitle them automatically to British citizenship. Following the Falklands war, a private Member's Bill was passed giving British citizenship to 400 residents of the Falkland Islands who did not already have it.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk and others asked what progress had been made on human rights in the territories. I am pleased to be able to confirm that considerable progress has been made. We said in the White Paper that we regarded the establishment and maintenance of high standards of human rights as an important aspect of our partnership with the overseas territories. Our objective is that territories choosing to remain British abide by the same basic standards of human rights, openness and good governance that British people expect of their Government. We stated that, specifically, we wanted the abolition of capital and judicial corporal punishment where they were still on territories' statute books, and the decriminalisation in the Caribbean territories of homosexual acts in private between consenting adults.

All our territories have abolished capital punishment for murder. All have abolished it for treason and piracy except the Turks and Caicos Islands, with which we are in active consultation concerning abolition. Judicial corporal punishment has been abolished by both Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands, which were the last territories to do so. Following extensive consultation with the Caribbean territories, private homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalised by Order in Council on 13 December 2000.

We are funding a broad range of human rights programmes in all the overseas territories. They include examination of children's, women's and migrant workers' rights.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk asked whether the territories were in breach of the European convention on human rights. All overseas territories have legislation that complies with the convention as it extends to them. The hon. Gentleman and others raised the question of self-determination. It does not feature, being outside the scope of the Bill. As I said in my opening speech, the Bill is exclusively about nationality.

22 Nov 2001 : Column 542

A number of other issues that were raised—voting rights, taxation and education, for instance—are also outside the Bill's scope. There is some confusion over the difference between rights conferred on people as a result of citizenship and rights conferred as a result of residence.

I assure the hon. Member for West Suffolk that, in addition to discussions with the Department for Education and Skills on developing closer links with United Kingdom universities and colleges, we are discussing twinning arrangements and scholarships. I suggest that he and other hon. Members who are concerned about the education issue make their views known to colleagues who are involved in the review of higher education funding. We think that it is very important that educational links between the UK and the overseas territories are strengthened rather than weakened.

The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned the educational rights of young people in the overseas territories. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) pointed out, he seemed to be suggesting that British citizens who reside in overseas territories should have greater rights of access to education in the United Kingdom than young people who are born and bred in this country who do not fulfil the residence requirement. Education funding and the requirement to pay fees are based on a residence requirement; they are nothing to do with citizenship. If the hon. Gentleman's children who are born and bred here left the UK and lived in a non-European Union country for more than three years, they too would not be entitled to the same educational rights as those who had been resident here for three years.

Mr. Wilkinson: This issue concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House. Is the Minister saying that EU citizens have priority and more entitlement to obtain grants for higher education than British citizens who are resident in overseas territories?

Mr. Bradshaw: Their entitlement to education in the United Kingdom is the same as that for all EU citizens, but it is based on residency. The entitlement to education for British citizens, wherever they live, is based on residency, not on their citizenship.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk also asked about the cost of applying for a passport. The cost is the same throughout the territories; it is £46.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin asked how many overseas territories are in receipt of aid. There are six in total. Montserrat and St. Helena are in receipt of budgetary aid, while Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Pitcairn Islands receive contributions towards their public finances for specific programmes.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk and other hon. Members sought clarification on the position of an airport for St. Helena. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has assured me that she remains committed to meeting the lowest capital cost option for maintaining access to St. Helena. Consultation is still under way in and with St. Helena on which of the two options—replacement of the ship or an airport—it prefers. The Department for International Development has also agreed to assist the St. Helena Government in seeking funding from other sources to meet the difference in those costs.

22 Nov 2001 : Column 543

Various hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) and for Windsor (Mr. Trend) and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), raised the issue of parliamentary representation. Overseas territories are not constitutionally part of the United Kingdom; they are separate legal jurisdictions. It is therefore not appropriate for them to be represented directly in the British Parliament and to take decisions on British legislation and internal UK domestic matters.

Such an arrangement would represent a move in the opposition direction from the principle in the White Paper, which is that the people of the overseas territories should exercise the greatest possible control over their own lives. It would inevitably mean that they had to accept much greater integration within our Government system than they have at present. The overseas territories have wide autonomy and self-government, and that is more precious to them than any risk of compromising it to gain representation here.

Mr. Rosindell: Why is it not appropriate for British overseas territories to be represented here when the people of the Faroe Islands can send a Member of Parliament to the Danish Folketing and the French overseas territories can send representatives to the French National Assembly?

Mr. Bradshaw: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we have a relationship with our former colonies similar to that which France and other countries have with theirs. We have not had a similar relationship historically and we are not changing it. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock asked whether it was illegal that there was no parliamentary representation. I am assured by my officials that it is not illegal, but I shall ask them to have another look at the issue.

Andrew Mackinlay: They always get it wrong.

Mr. Bradshaw: Having listened to the debate this afternoon, I do not think that the territories need to worry that their concerns will go unheard. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock said that no one was a walking encyclopaedia on this issue. He surprises me, as I think there are several walking encyclopaedias in the House and they have made their knowledge and their care for the territories well known. As my hon. Friend said, he and others regularly raise these issues on their behalf.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk suggested that the territories could have some kind of representation in the other place. That is an interesting idea that he might like to feed into the current discussions on the reform of the second Chamber.

The hon. Member for Windsor and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) both referred to Cyprus. The hon. Member for Windsor asked why the Cyprus bases are excluded from the Bill. They are excluded because the treaty with Cyprus provides that they are for use as military bases only and not for the establishment of a wider community.

Next Section

IndexHome Page