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Mr. Wilkinson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has clarified the matter. I imagined, perhaps over-optimistically, that when the US lease on Diego Garcia ran out, the reason for this forced transplanting of people would be a thing of the past and the islanders could return.
Jeremy Corbyn: Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. I think that he may be confusing Diego Garcia with the rest of the archipelago. A very large number of islands are situated some distance away. Diego Garcia is the largest and is, unfortunately, occupied by an American military base. The others are unoccupied at the present time and are, therefore, available for return.
Mr. Wilkinson: In an ideal world, they most certainly are. I referred to Diego Garcia because it is the island which is relevant to the United States lease. I am well aware that the territory is huge; it stretches for hundreds of miles and contains many islands. None the less, I should like the Minister to answer the citizenship point.
I want to deal with one final matter. If any of our overseas territories elect, by virtue of self-determination, to become independent, what will happen to the British nationals who are resident in those former British territories? Will they continue to enjoy the British citizenship that the legislation confers, or will we introduce an Act of Parliament that contains special provision? What will happen? This came up in the other place, where the Minister made no clear reply. We should have a clear answer before the Bill leaves the House of Commons.
I applaud the principle of the Bill, which is overdue. However, like so many other measures that the Government have introduced, it is ill thought through. Many gaps and inconsistencies remain. I am thankful that, unlike the more important and contentious constitutional measures, it has not been strictly timetabled. Perhaps we have time to get it right.
John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead): I welcome the Bill, which is long overdue. I congratulate the Government on finding time for it in a heavy legislative period. I welcome the Bill for the same reasons as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). It is one of the few occasions when such a measure confers rather than removes rights.
The British Nationality Act 1981 removed rights from the people whom we are considering today. In 1983, citizenship was granted to the people of the Falkland Islands as a result of a rebellion in the Tory ranks. It has taken another 14 years for the election of a Government who are prepared to extend that citizenship to the other territories. That is one year for each dependentnow overseasterritory.
I want not to dwell on the past but to look to the future, and to ask for clarification on one or two points. I should like the Minister to expand on his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) about self-determination. As hon. Members know, the right to self-determination is an intrinsic part of the United Nations charter; it is covered in the first article. Some of the overseas territories, the Falkland Islands, for example, have that right enshrined in the preamble to their constitutions.
I seek an assurance that, even though the right to self-determination is contained in a preamble, not the main body of the text, it has the same legal validity in international law. I also ask for an assurance about the reviews that are taking place of overseas territories' constitutions. Will territories be allowed to incorporate the right to self-determination in their constitutions?
During the debate, several points have been made about Gibraltar. Self-determination is important in the context of Gibraltar. The Order in Council that established the 1969 constitution of Gibraltar stated:
Hon. Members have referred to the United Kingdom being in breach of human rights legislation because the people of Gibraltar are not represented in the European Parliament. Of course, the Government intend to put that right as soon as possible. However, their attempts may be thwarted by another European Union member, which would try to block and veto them, thereby continuing to deny the people of Gibraltar their rights. We need an assurance that the Government will stand up to Spain, which is infringing the rights of the people of Gibraltar.
It has been said that approximately 200,000 people may be affected by the Bill. They will have the right to British citizenship. The right of abode in the United Kingdom is part of that, but it is right to point out that few of those citizens will avail themselves of it. Few Bermudans would give up their climate and higher standard of living for the
Hon. Members have referred to comments by Lord Waddington in another place about the injustice of the inequality in the treatment of black Bermudans and white Bermudans at British airports when they go through two separate channels. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) highlighted that problem in a debate in 1997 when the then Foreign Secretary announced the review of British citizenship and the overseas territories, and heralded the White Paper.
Discrimination does not only occur when Bermudans come through different channels at airports. Bermuda relies greatly on banking and financial services, and therefore many Bermudans need to travel and work abroad to gain experience so that they can progress in their careers. Black Bermudans, who are denied British citizenship, do not currently have the right, whereas white Bermudans, who may have British citizenship by descent, do. I am pleased that the Bill will create equality between black and white citizens in Bermuda.
Other territories are less fortunate in their economies than Bermuda. I acknowledge that we are not here to discuss the economy of St. Helena, but it is pertinent when it comes to explaining why British citizenship is so important to the people there. It has traditionally exported labour, and the money earned by Saints abroad has gone back to sustain their families and communities. It will be dependent for a long time on revenue and support from the United Kingdom.
I echo the comments of my hon. Friends who have more experience of St. Helena than I do. Few hon. Members have visited St. Helena; few people have visited because of transport difficulties. The Government acknowledged that in the White Paper, which referred to the lack of safe anchorage and the limited capacity of the passenger ship. St. Helena would benefit if it were to be opened up through the provision of an airport to make it less dependent on the United Kingdom and on work elsewhere.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the importance of May, which marks St. Helena's 500th anniversary, in the context of the commencement of the measure. I hope that procedural difficulties will not prevent commencement before St. Helena's celebrations, and that the Foreign Office and the Home Office will work together to ensure that there is no delay.
Will the Minister say what will happen to people who will become overseas citizens and may be abroad or in the United Kingdom with limited leave to remain between the Bill's passage and commencement. Will their position be secure? What is the position of people who will become British overseas citizens and wish to apply to come to the United Kingdom before the date of commencement?
I also wish to refer to the situation of the Chagos Islands and the British Indian Ocean Territory. In the original Government proposals, the BIOT was not to be included in the provisions for British citizenship. I suspect that that decision has been changed because of the High Court judgment to which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) referred. I am pleased by that judgment.
My hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Islington, North have championed the rights of the Chagos islanders for many years. The High Court judgment gives them the right to return and ruled that they were illegally removed. However, the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) is right to highlight the position of the children of the Chagos islanders in Mauritius who have been born since 1968 and who are automatically Mauritian citizens. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that the children of the Chagos islandersthe Iloisalso have a right to return, as well as a right to British overseas territory citizenship and thus to British citizenship.
I welcome the Bill for a variety of reasons, not least because it will remove the difficulties faced by my constituents from Montserrat if they wish to travel to France or other European countries. They have difficulty obtaining visas. Many of the Montserratians in my constituency would like to return to Montserrat. Unfortunately, some of them have no homes to return to. Some will remain in the United Kingdom, and it is right that if they are here, they are afforded full British citizenship and full rights as residents.
I said that the citizens of the BIOT were not originally to be included in the legislation, but they now are. It would also have been possible to include British nationals overseas, British overseas citizens and British protected persons. The number of those persons who have not exercised the right to come to the United Kingdom and now have no right to do so is very limited. It would not be difficult for the Government to provide British citizenship for those people as well.
I seek an assurance from the Minister that the children of British overseas citizens in Kenyathey have been mentioned by other hon. Memberswho are effectively stateless, will not be allowed to remain so by the United Kingdom Government and that they will have the right to British overseas territories citizenship and, through that route, to British citizenship.
My final point relates to Europe and to international bodies. Often, the interests of the overseas territories are affected by decisions taken in international and intergovernmental organisationsfor example, the European Commission, the European Union, the North American Free Trade Area and the World Trade Organisation. Will the Minister consider how the voice of the overseas territories may be heard in those organisations? The Government could consider adding a representative from the overseas territories to the UK permanent representation to the Commission in Europe.
Hon. Members have mentioned the way in which European legislation may affect the overseas territories, which are in a different position from the French dependent territories mentioned by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood. They are an integral part of France, with direct representation in the French Parliament. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Reunion and, since he is passionate about the euro, he may be interested to learn that, because of that island's position in the time zone, when the clock chimes midnight and the euro becomes legal currency in Europe, it will already be the legal currency in Reunion. Our overseas territories are in a different position, however.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) referred to financial services and banking in some of the overseas territories. He is right to stress that those services need to be regulated. No one is arguing against that. Regulation is different from taxation, however. A substantial part of the economy of some of those territories depends on banking and financial services. An EU derogation allows them to be excluded from EU tax regulations. Concern has been expressedI know that it is shared by the UK Overseas Territories Associationabout whether that derogation will be affected by the legislation. I do not think that it will, but it would be helpful if the Minister could assure the overseas territories that that is not the case in his response.
In his opening statement, my hon. Friend the Minister referred to the fact that there are 14 overseas territories. This legislation will be welcome to their citizens. I have visited only two of those territories, although other hon. Members have travelled more widely.
Returning to the problem of isolation and the needs of St. Helena, which my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin mentioned, I visited the Falkland Islands for a Commonwealth parliamentary conference on citizenship and immigration issues. There was a representative from St. Helena at the conference, which took place in January. For me, it meant a day's travel from the United Kingdom and a day for the return journey, although it is not particularly comfortable travelling there in a Tristar out of Brize Norton, via Ascension. We picked up the St. Helena delegate in Ascension. He had left St. Helena before Christmas and was unlikely to get back home much before Easter. That emphasises the need for better communication links and the importance of an airport for St. Helena. I hope that the Minister will also deal with that in his reply.