British Overseas Territories Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Bradshaw: I can reassure the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring). It is right that abandoned infants and foundlings who are discovered should have the right to British overseas territory citizenship and in this case British citizenship under the Bill. That right would not extend to relatives who subsequently popped up; indeed, if parents, guardians or relatives did so and it was then discovered that the child had no right to British citizenship because the parents were not British overseas territory citizens or British citizens, the British citizenship that had been conveyed on that child could be removed.

An impact of the new clause would be to deny the right of a foundling or child then to confer British overseas territory citizenship or British citizenship on their own offspring, which I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want. I therefore ask him to withdraw the proposal.

Mr. Dhanda: Will my hon. Friend clarify the position in the case of an orphaned child, or a child who had been abandoned but who had some records, such as a passport? I am aware that those circumstances would be rare.

Mr. Bradshaw: In the case of any child whose origin is uncertain, the question is whether they were abandoned in this country. The Bill brings the British overseas territories into the same system as we enjoy in this country, where the assumption is that the child has a right to be a British citizen; that remains the case. If a foundling is discovered with a passport, which I imagine would be rare, the assumption must be—I am taking advice from my officials— that they have another nationality, which would exclude them. They would keep their nationality.

Mr. Spring: I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation and do not wish to pursue the matter further. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 3

Application of European rules on citizenship

    ''European Union rules governing citizenship shall not extend to British Overseas Territories Citizens who claim British Citizenship, unless, and until, they become naturalised and exercise their right of abode in the UK.''.—[Mr. Spring.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Spring: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The intention of the new clause is to clarify issues that have not been fully explained. The Bill raises broad and important questions about the overseas territories and their relationship with Europe. Alas, the Minister's letter of 3 December, which addressed some of the issues, reached me only after I had tabled the amendment. As I understand it, citizens of the territories will become EU citizens but will not be bound by EU law and regulations until such time as they take up the right of abode in the United Kingdom. However, there are still several grey areas. It would be useful to have a statement from the Minister that there are no EU obligations upon the governments of the territories or upon their citizens who are not resident in the EU.

We must be equally clear about threats of interference in the constitutional relationship between the UK and our overseas territories. Are dual nationality and citizenship possible, should citizens so wish? My noble Friend Baroness Rawlings, asked that question in another place but did not receive a reply. It is important that the Minister lets us know what representations, if any, the Government have received from the European Union about the legislation, and how it assesses its impact and issues of reciprocity.

I seek to make it totally clear that EU rules will not apply in the British overseas territories. I appreciate the point made by the Minister in another place that the new clause would deny freedom of movement and other EU rights to the citizens of the territories. That was not the aim of my new clause, which is intended as a probing amendment. I believed that a clarification of responsibilities and obligations under the Bill was necessary and that the new clause was the best way to achieve that. It should be made clear that EU law shall have no force in the territories or over their citizens, unless they are resident in the United Kingdom.

I find it difficult to believe that our EU partners, with reciprocity in mind, will be happy to allow new British citizens full EU rights without any obligations upon them in return. Such obligations would be entirely unacceptable unless acquiesced to by the governments of the territories concerned. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify the situation.

Mr. Bradshaw: I shall go through the points that the hon. Gentleman raised one by one. No, we do not have a problem with dual nationality; it will be possible. We have received no representations at all from the EU or from individual EU countries. The Bill is about citizenship, not sovereignty or constitutional change. It has no effect on the constitutional relationship between the United Kingdom and the overseas territories or between the territories and the European Union. Any agreements that the territories have entered into with the EU stand; they are free to enter into more if they so wish. However, there is no obligation on the territories to adhere, for example, to EU directives.

As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the new clause would deprive the new British citizens in the territories of their full rights, until they are resident in the United Kingdom. I am sure that he does not want to do that. It would also take away the rights that British overseas territories citizens who have acquired British citizenship through the British Nationality Act 1981 but are not resident in this country enjoy as European Union citizens. Those rights cover free movement in Europe, setting up businesses in Europe and so on. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the motion.

Mr. Spring: I am grateful to the Minister for making those points. It is vital that we understand the distinction, and I am happy that he has made it clear today. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 5

Report

    'Within 12 months of the commencement of this Act, and annually thereafter, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs shall lay a report before Parliament setting out—

    (a) the number of British Overseas Territories Citizens taking up British Citizenship;

    (b) the number of these taking up right of abode in the UK;

    (c) the cost per applicant;'.—[Mr. Spring.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Spring: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss new clause 6—Annual report—

    'The Secretary of State shall make an annual report to Parliament on the British overseas terrorities'.

Mr. Spring: I want to talk mainly about openness and transparency. We would all welcome news of the numbers of new British citizens as a result of the legislation. We have taken into account the Government's response in another place and have included information that we feel it would be possible for Her Majesty's Government to collate and make available. As yet, we do not know how many British overseas territories citizens will benefit from the legislation and how many will exercise their new rights to live in the United Kingdom. It would be appropriate for the House to be made aware of such figures under the new clause, so that we might monitor the procedures' effectiveness. I recognise that every citizen will automatically become a British citizen, but the number acquiring a British passport as confirmation of status would be an adequate indicator.

An annual report on progress would serve the vital functions of monitoring the effectiveness of procedures and the legislation and of keeping this very important issue on the agenda.

The Minister was kind enough to inform the House on Second Reading that the cost of applying for a passport would be a uniform £46 across the territories. We had concerns about that, so we welcomed the information. However, we should be updated at regular intervals, as costs tend to increase over the years and we must ensure that the price remains reasonable.

I welcome the Government's undertaking in another place to provide as much information as possible, but we must ensure that we are provided specifically with statistics. They will assist the House to build up an accurate picture of the viability and popularity of emigration from overseas territories and the success of this move forward in our partnership with them.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am afraid that I cannot give the exact numbers that the hon. Member for West Suffolk requested, but it has been said in many places that 200,000 people will benefit from the Bill. It is worth reminding hon. Members, particularly those who have not been involved in previous debates on the subject, that 70 per cent. of the people under discussion enjoy a higher gross domestic product per head than we do. Therefore it is highly unlikely that we shall suddenly face a huge influx of people coming to live in this country, particularly given the difference between our climate and that of places such as the Cayman Islands.

As the hon. Gentleman said, new clauses 5 and 6 would commit the Government to producing and publishing annual progress reports. We shall, of course, want to monitor the implementation of the Bill, and some things that he asked us to do are fairly straightforward, such as publishing the number of people who apply for British passports. I expect that that will be self-financing, because the fee levied for issuing the passport will cover the cost.

The figures for registration and naturalisation will also be published. It will not be possible to provide figures for those who exercise their right of abode in the United Kingdom, because the Bill will create new British citizens who can come into the country on full British passports as freely as Committee members can. They will not be subject to any immigration controls.

As I said to the hon. Member for Windsor, there are many opportunities in this House and in the other place to discuss making a provision for an annual report that would cover the British overseas territories. Such a report goes beyond the scope of the Bill, and I hope that the hon. Member for West Suffolk will withdraw his new clause.

11.15 am

 
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