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Mr. Chidgey: I thank the hon. Lady. I know that she is an expert on these matters, but I have described the situation in which Mr. Stenning found himself. I do not know the details of his case law, but that was the position. The real issue is that the Bill removes the obstacle to living and working in the UK.
A former director of the Red Cross in the Caymans, who is now a volunteer in exile, was forced to leave, with his Caymanian wife, to seek work in Bahrain because he could not work in the Cayman Islands. The Bill will allow both Mr. Stenning and Dr. Dobson to settle in the UK with their wives, but surely there is an infringement of human rights if citizens of overseas territories who marry UK citizens are forced into exile for their economic survival.
The key consideration is how the Government intend to enforce the suggestions set out in the White Paper on the imposition of UK law on the overseas territories. That is clearly a controversial issue in the overseas territories. What action are the Government taking to persuade and to ensure that the overseas territories enact the necessary reforms in local legislation, especially on intermarriage, so that the rights of all UK citizens in international law are maintained?
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): There is a small number of hon. Members in the Chamber, but it is a big issue. We need to recognise that the Bill, which is welcome, deals with one of the most important issues that politicians determinepeople's nationality and their citizenship. It is not insignificant that the first thing that Hitler did to the Jews was to remove their German citizenship. That recognised the significance of people's citizenship to their identify.
We cannot be too proud of the history of British citizenship because we have frequently taken the opportunity to narrow the group of people who can share a full identity with Britain. We should be proud that the Bill is moving in the opposite direction and once again widening that family of British citizenship. There has been much criticism, which I share, of the British Nationality Act 1981. In error, I once typed it as the "Brutish Nationality Act", and that is how I always think of it, because it is an accurate description of its effect.
The decision behind the 1968 Act was entrenched in the 1981 Act. The 1968 Act removed the right to reside in and travel to the country of one's citizenship, which is the most important right of citizenship. The European Court of Human Rights condemned that decision as a breach not of article 5, but of article 3, because it amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment by the British Government of the citizens of the UK and the colonies who were not able to travel to the country of their citizenship. Our response was to allow a limited number of people to come to Britain through a scheme granting 5,000 vouchers a year to heads of households who were citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies. That scheme continues today for that handful of people, who are now British overseas citizens, if they wish to exercise that fundamental right of British citizenship, the right to travel to the UK. These are people who have no other citizenship.
Although there is still a worldwide quota of 5,000 vouchers, the average take-up for each of the past five years has been some 200. That is not a proper right. I am representing the relative of a constituent who sought a quota voucher to come to the United Kingdom but was refused one because the British high commission does not believe that she is divorced, despite the fact that she has provided it with her divorce certificate. Because she has no rights deriving from her citizenship, but is merely the beneficiary of a discretionary scheme that is not entrenched in law, there is no way for her to appeal against the high commission's decision. She has had to turn to me to press the high commission to fulfil the obligation that it obviously has to her.
Although we have done the right thing by deciding that, following the slicing up of British citizenship, we should bring some of those slices together, we have failed to grasp the opportunity to extend the process to other people who have one of the residual forms of British nationality which they cannot exercise. Those people whose only nationality is British overseas citizenship or British protected person's status should benefit from a secure form of citizenship. I urge the Minister to find out whether it is possible to take that further step.
It is not only those with British overseas citizenship or British protected person's status who have connections with my constituency. Slough has probably the largest Anguillan community in Britain and a substantial Montserratian community who are directly affected by the benefits of the Bill. Will the Minister give an undertaking that, before commencement, information about how the Bill will work is targeted at those communities? Only three weeks ago, an Anguillan came to my advice centre to ask for help in registering as a British citizen. I was required to tell him that that is not a sensible use of his money at present because when the Bill comes into law he will not need to pay for that process. Citizens of overseas
There has been much talk in this debate about the rights that accrue from citizenship, and it is important that we are clear about the origin of some of those rights. The Conservative party introduced many of the barriers to what they called "benefit tourism", requiring people to be resident here for several years before they could qualify for benefits and education. The Conservatives introduced checks on people's resident status which inhibited immediate access to health care for pre-existing conditions when they were visiting the United Kingdom. We should not take any lessons from Conservatives suddenly seeking to reconnect rights with citizenship. We in this country take the right approach to public services, which is that people's access to public provision depends on their residence here, not on their citizenship. We do not ask people to produce their passport to prove their eligibility to attend school or to receive hospital treatment.
We have a responsibility toward those overseas territories that have no higher education facilities for their residents. There are fewer than 10,000 residents of St. Helena and of the Falklands. The issue is not within the scope of the Bill, but it is covered by the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. I hope that the Minister will confirm that within those Departments there is a recognition of the education needs of people in the dependent territories, and that help will be targeted on those people who are least able to access further and higher education and who cannot afford to travel to nearby universities and further education establishments. I hope to hear that schemes will be created to enable such people to benefit from higher education at a price they can afford.
The Bill is an important step. Its message is that whether we are from the overseas territories or born in the United Kingdom, we are British together; it is that we value all sorts of Britishness. I urge the Minister to take a further stepeven if he is unable to do so under the Bill, let us not end our journey here. Let us correct the mistake that we made in 1968 and state that everyone who is British is equally British and deserves equal rights.