My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Amos.)
I begin this Committee stage by expressing the hope that the Minister, unlike during proceedings on the International Development Bill, may be able to concede some of our amendments to save us from dividing. I understand that that may well be a pious hope.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, for her constant courtesy. At all times when we have worked together, the Minister has been most helpful. At this late stage, having missed the chance in earlier debates, I congratulate her on becoming a Minister of State, covering both Foreign Office affairs and international development portfolios. I know she will carry out the task admirably as she has always done. I wish her the best of luck. It amused me to see that the Government, who took away the international development ministry from the Foreign Office, have found it necessary to put it back together again.
I am also grateful to the noble Baroness for sending me a letter with many details concerning the Bill. Unfortunately, it arrived only late yesterday afternoon, well after we had tabled our amendments. It answers some of our questions, but I would like further clarification as much of the Bill is complex; for example, on the right of residency, as mentioned in the International Criminal Courts Bill and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, where even the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, could not come to an exact agreement on the definition of "residence". This is an important subject, especially for the 200,000 people concerned.
In the section on rights and responsibilities, there are, as we thought, many rights but few tangible responsibilities. Will the Minister in her answer spell out to your Lordships the nature of those responsibilities? Forgive me if I repeat some of the questions that the Minister has already answered in her personal letter to me. It will, however, enable them to be recorded in Hansard.
I now speak to Amendment No. 1, which seeks to address the tax implications of this Bill. British Overseas Territories citizens attach a great deal of importance to the control they have over their fiscal regimes. It is important that the Bill should not give excessive control of our territories' tax structures to alien influences. Many general financial issues were raised in the Government's 1999 White Paper, several of which have not been addressed in the Bill.
Some territories rely heavily on off-shore banking. Are there any implications for them? Will they be affected by EU legislation in this field? In November 1997 the European Commission published a report on unfair tax competition, proposing three separate measures to deal with this problem: the harmonisation of cross-border payment of interest and royalties made between associate companies; the harmonisation of cross-border interests on savings--the so-called withholding tax; and a political agreement between member states to refrain from any business taxation provisions harmful to the Community interest--a "code of conduct for business taxation". "Harmful tax competition" encompasses tax measures that distort the operation of the single market and, in particular, those which damage or distort the tax base and so lead to an excessive loss of tax revenues.
In December 1997 a draft code of conduct was agreed at an ECOFIN meeting. A code of conduct group was subsequently set up, chaired by Dawn Primarolo, to examine tax measures throughout the European Union which may fall within the scope of the code, and to report back to ECOFIN. The 1999 Government White Paper, Partnership for Progress, states:
"Member states with associated or dependent territories are committed, within the framework of the constitutional arrangements, to ensuring the principles of the Code are adopted in those territories".
Given the status of British Overseas Territories, will the Minister outline how under this Bill the European Union code of conduct on tax measures will affect those territories?
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report in May 1998, Harmful Tax Competition, an Emerging Global Issue, which proposed that all OECD states should agree on a list of tax havens and act to ensure that any political or economic links with them, such as tax treaties, did not promote harmful tax competition. In June 2000 Bermuda and the Cayman Islands made a commitment to end harmful tax practices by 2005. Will the Bill in any way change the implications of this report for our territories?
Crown dependencies, such as Jersey and Guernsey, are fiscally independent of the United Kingdom. That means that EU tax legislation does not extend to them. Will the Minister clarify the position of the European Union tax legislation regarding those territories which, under the Bill, would become British Overseas Territories?
Furthermore, it is necessary for the Government to clarify the tax implications for BOTCs taking British citizenship and right of abode. Broadly, the United Kingdom charges tax on income arising in the UK, whether or not the person to whom it belongs is resident in the UK, income arising outside the UK which belongs to people resident in the UK, and gains accruing on the disposal of assets anywhere in the world which belong to people resident or ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom.
However, the issue of status is more complicated than whether or not a person has British residence in the UK. There are questions that need to be addressed. Will the Minister outline the specific tax implications arising from the Bill for BOTCs who become British citizens under the provisions of the Bill and, first, take residency in the UK; secondly, become ordinary residents of the UK; thirdly, have resident status both in Britain and in one of the territories; fourthly, are resident in the UK but whose domicile remains in a territory? Will a citizen of a territory who has accepted British citizenship and whose domicile is Britain be subject to the same tax laws as a citizen who has taken British citizenship but whose domicile remains in that territory?
On a more general level, is it possible for a British citizen from an overseas territory to live in the United Kingdom without being subject to UK tax regulations? Do the Government envisage an opt-out system? Would the rate at which tax is paid depend on the duration of the individual's residence in the United Kingdom? It is important that this House be made aware of the nature of the tax regimes and tax laws of each of our territories and how those structures will be affected by this Bill.
The tax issues that I have raised are very complex. Will the Minister ensure that those British Overseas Territories citizens who become British citizens are made aware of the implications for their tax contribution arising from that change of status? I beg to move.
I thank the noble Baroness for her kind words. I hope that our positive working relationship, established over many years, will continue. I hope also that I shall be able to demonstrate that the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness are not necessary.
Given the opening remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, in respect of the responsibilities attached to becoming a British citizen, it might be helpful if I were to read a paragraph of the letter that I sent to the noble Baroness, distinguishing between rights, responsibilities and obligations.
The offer in the Bill of British citizenship and, with it, the right of abode in the United Kingdom, is a free-standing offer made to all existing British Dependent Territories citizens who owe their status to their connection with a qualifying territory. It does not bring with it either obligations or benefits that pertain to residents of the United Kingdom, unless the holder chooses to take up residence here and subsequently builds up the relevant required period and/or contributes to the taxes and social security contributions in force in the United Kingdom. That applies to benefits, access to the health service, retirement pensions and fees for further and higher education.
The department has prepared a guide to the most commonly asked questions about the offer of British citizenship. That guide addresses these and other issues raised at Second Reading, including benefits relating to the European Union. A copy of that paper has been placed in the Library of the House.
The noble Baroness asked me a number of questions on, for example, the European code of conduct on tax measures. I need to draw the attention of the noble Baroness to her own amendment, which reads:
"A person who claims British citizenship by virtue of this Act and who exercises his right of abode in the United Kingdom shall be subject to United Kingdom tax regulations".
The amendment is about United Kingdom tax regulations, and I shall reply to it in that context. Nationality legislation does not traditionally address the rights and duties associated with British citizenship, and the Bill will have no effect on the operation of UK tax legislation.
British citizens who reside outside the United Kingdom and the European Union are not subject to the direct tax regimes operated by member states, but current UK tax legislation will automatically apply to all British citizens who meet the required employment, residence and contribution thresholds. In other words, persons who become British citizens on commencement of the Act, and who exercise their right to live and work in the United Kingdom, will be taxed in the same way as all other British citizens. I repeat that they need to exercise their right to live and work in the United Kingdom before that has effect.
The granting of British citizenship to British overseas territories' citizens is a matter for individuals, wherever they live. The EU code of conduct, which the noble Baroness mentioned, is a matter for discussion between governments. I should add that overseas territories are fiscally independent and repeat that all people who take up residence in the United Kingdom are subject to British tax regimes.
I hope that in the light of my response the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her detailed reply. It seems that the most important aspect of the Bill will hinge on the definition of residence and residing. In this case, it has been spelt out clearly that the Bill will not affect citizens who reside outside the United Kingdom. I thank the Minister for her answer and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 2, line 29, at end insert--
"( ) The rules governing European Union citizenship and member states of the European Community shall not extend to British overseas territories citizens who claim British citizenship."
I shall also speak to Amendment No. 3, which has been tabled in my name. These first amendments are quite long, but the later amendments are quite brief.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are probing amendments, which seek to address the broad questions of the relationship between Europe and those countries which will, under the Bill, become British overseas territories; how the legal system of each territory will be affected; and the way in which the relationship of each territory and its citizens will be affected. It is important to clarify these issues.
The Government have failed to address many of the issues that were raised in the White Paper Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories. It could be said that the Bill is more an exercise in political correctness than a serious attempt to give our territories a status that will benefit British Overseas Territories' citizens and address their concerns.
An issue that has been neglected is the question of European legislation, including human rights legislation and the impact that it will have on British Overseas Territories' citizens who claim British citizenship. The White Paper made much of the complications that may arise in respect of Britain's human rights obligations. It states:
"Overseas Territory legislation should comply with the same international obligations to which Britain is subject, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights".
The Bill does not set out with any degree of clarity the mechanism through which Britain can comply fully with her obligations to the legislation, while granting its territories the status that they want--and one which we feel they deserve. Judicial corporal punishment still exists in some dependent territories, as does capital punishment. The use of the death penalty in the Caribbean would appear to be on the increase. Concerns about homosexual discrimination remain prominent issues.
I know from my consultation with the territories that many BOTCs desire British citizenship. They find the procedure that they have to go through to visit Britain or Europe embarrassing and even insulting. The White Paper concludes:
"There is a strong sense of grievance in many overseas territories that the right of abode in Britain was taken away from them. That is felt particularly strongly in St Helena. The residents of the overseas territories are proud of their connection with Britain, but are often puzzled that Britain appears not to be proud to have them as British citizens".
It is right that a Bill to address these important concerns has at last been introduced on the Floor of our House, albeit belatedly. The Government can take no credit; they denied earlier discussion of an issue that means so much to so many. The Bill addresses little of the content of the 1999 White Paper, which makes this delay yet more frustrating for the territories' people.
We do not want to oppose their demands in any way. We recognise that for many territories the acquisition of British citizenship is too important to allow some of the less appealing aspects of the implications of the Bill to halt its progress. We must all remain aware that some overseas territories' governments would not welcome British citizenship if it came with conditions attached, such as an obligation to introduce British or European tax rates and regimes.
Will the Minister allay the fear held by many of the residents of our territories that a change of citizenship is not conditional upon such an obligation? Will she confirm that British citizenship will in no way threaten the rights of the people of these territories to determine their own constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom? Will the Minister say whether British Overseas Territories' citizens can have dual residence and dual nationality?
The noble Baroness may be aware that the United Kingdom Government have imposed legislation on Caribbean islands such as the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos and Cayman, to abolish the death penalty and making it possible for homosexuals to co-habit after the age of 21 with the consent of both parties. The impositions have been vigorously opposed on the islands.
We require clarification as to how far the Government intend to enforce the suggestions in the 1999 White Paper, particularly with regard to the imposition of British law on its territories. Do the Government intend to impose further changes to the constitutions of our territories? If a territory is no longer dependent in status, I am sure that the Minister will agree that it should have a deeper level of independence.
How far the Government intend to become involved in the domestic affairs of the overseas territories is an important issue to BOTCs. It is only correct and proper that the Government set out details of their plans with a greater degree of clarity.
If the British Overseas Territories are truly to lose their dependent status surely it is only right that their constitutions are respected and a mechanism is put in place to make sure that a revision of their laws cannot be unduly imposed by external force. The Government have previously flagged up human rights issues in respect of which they claim to seek reform in some of the overseas territories. In January 2001 the UK scrapped laws making homosexuality a crime in Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Government also seek reform of judicial corporal punishment, which remains on the statute books of the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda. Capital punishment is still available to the courts in Bermuda.
Since Britain's overseas territories have unreformed laws regarding human rights it risks being in breach of important and fundamental international agreements, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition, this exposes the UK to an avoidable contingent liability for costs and possibly damages. Overseas territories should enact the necessary reforms themselves, but in the absence of local action legislation could be imposed on the Caribbean territories. Any imposition of legislation by external forces carries the danger of setting a worrying trend which BOTCs would oppose vigorously.
All along the Bill has held precious the aim to increase the rights of the BOTCs. It would be fundamentally wrong and against the spirit of the Bill for Britain, albeit indirectly perhaps, to impose upon BOTCs the same European legislation, including human rights legislation, as applies to their counterparts who reside in the UK. If this Bill provides for the imposition of such legislation it will contradict the very essence of, and motivation behind, the change in citizenship status. In such circumstances BOTCs are far from leaving behind their dependency.
The Bill will give BOTCs the right to travel freely in the European Union. They will be British citizens. I have no doubt that the Minister has discussed at length the implications of the change of status for Britain's relationship with its overseas territories. However, many questions require clarification before the Committee. What representations has the Minister received from the UK's European partners regarding the change of status? Do the Government have any plans to give the overseas territories the same status as the other territories in the European Union?
The UK is alone in Europe in having separate nationality status for the populations of its overseas territories. Danish, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish nationality is indivisible and extends to all their territories. In particular, has the Minister discussed the question of the rights of citizens of British Overseas Territories to vote in European elections as EU citizens? If the BOTCs have such rights how will our European partners react to the non-reciprocal nature of the relationship? What will be the legal situation if a person has rights to British residency but his domicile is in a BOT?
Will European Union or British law apply to a territory or its individual citizens? What provision will be made should a situation arise whereby a British citizen and a citizen of a British overseas territory who has opted out of British citizenship commit a similar crime? It cannot be right that one is dealt with under European or British law and the other under the law of that territory.
If British citizenship is conferred on an individual does that affect the actions of a territory collectively? Will the citizen of a BOT who has claimed British citizenship and the right of abode be able to move freely between overseas territories? Such a situation may have vast implications for the financial and topographical status of each territory, yet the Bill fails to address those issues.
I reiterate that it is not my intention to oppose the change of status of the territories. I am well aware of the importance that many people attach to the successful passage of this Bill. I seek only to hold the Government to a full and comprehensive debate of the issues. Many of the avenues for debate within the Bill were raised by the Government themselves in 1999. I hope that the questions that I have raised today can be answered by the Minister. It may be that not all of the questions relating to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 can be dealt with today. It is only right that the passage of this Bill should be subject to a further White Paper the purpose of which is to clarify those issues which are left unanswered in the Bill.
Furthermore, the Bill must be carefully debated by all the parties concerned. In a later amendment I shall seek to insert a provision in the Bill to ensure that it is ratified by the government of each territory to which it applies. The Minister will appreciate that that is only fitting for a Bill which provides a platform to implement a partnership of progress. I stress "partnership". The Bill is an important step towards the new partnership between Britain and its territories. It is important, therefore, to be clear about its practical implications regarding the degree of influence that it allows the European Union and Britain in British Overseas Territories. Furthermore, clarification is needed regarding the possible impact of the Bill upon the relationship between the territories and their citizens.
As I have said on a number of occasions during the passage of this Bill, we on these Benches support the main thrust of this measure but believe that many of the details, which have not been thought through, may give rise to serious problems later if they are not clarified at this stage. I beg to move.
I speak to this amendment simply in the spirit of thanking the noble Baroness for describing this as a probing amendment. On reading the amendments I was slightly concerned that, while they conferred the benefits of citizenship, they would remove some of the obligations that that would entail. I am also very surprised that today we do not see in the Committee many of the diligent noble Lords who speak on European matters, bearing in mind that Amendment No. 2 would mean that citizens of British overseas territories would have a different status. I would have opposed these matters had the noble Baroness not made clear that they are probing amendments. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, I am grateful that some of those noble Lords who are very diligent in dealing with European matters are not here to ask me questions about the Bill.
It may assist the Committee if I deal with the general point concerned with human rights with which the noble Baroness dealt at some length. I shall then go on to deal with the content of Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. A number of issues were raised by the noble Baroness. She also said that a number of issues remained unanswered. We need to distinguish between those issues which it is appropriate to deal with within the legislation and the huge raft of issues which relate to the application of the legislation on the ground. We have sought to deal with those issues by way of a paper which has been sent to the overseas territories. As I said earlier, that document has also been placed in the Library of the House. If having looked at the paper and Hansard there are any outstanding questions, I undertake to write to the noble Baroness.
As to human rights, the Bill will fully comply with the United Kingdom's international obligations. The establishment and maintenance of high standards of observance of human rights is an important aspect of our relationship with the territories. The European Convention on Human Rights was extended to the territories in 1953, with their agreement. Since then, the core UN Human Rights instruments have been or are being extended in the same way. Most territories have fundamental rights chapters in their constitution which protect these rights.
We have recently commissioned a review of these chapters and a model human rights chapter. These have been sent to the territories to feed into their constitutional review processes. In addition, we have served on foreign and commonwealth offices funding jointly with the Department for International Development a territory-wide project on the realisation of human rights for vulnerable groups; another on children and women's rights in the eastern Caribbean territories and the Turks and Caicos Islands; a major human rights conference in the Cayman Islands, to which all Caribbean territories were invited; and various individual programmes in other territories.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. Amendment No. 2 would in effect deny to British Overseas Territories citizens the rights to freedom of movement in Europe to which they would be entitled as British citizens, and therefore take away an important advantage of British citizenship.
By granting British citizenship to British Dependent Territories citizens we would in effect be lifting the limitations that that status currently carries with it, especially with regard to freedom of movement. The amendment places persons who as a result of the Bill have been granted British citizenship at a disadvantage compared with other British citizens when travelling, working, studying and living anywhere within the European Community.
We are very keen to avoid that. We have made clear that the citizenship provisions of the Bill remove the very restraints, such as exclusion from EU free movement and established rights, which the amendment seeks to impose.
I turn to Amendment No. 3. British Dependent Territories citizens who become British citizens as a result of the Bill will also be British Overseas Territories citizens. Their relationship with their territory of origin will not change, and we expect them to be treated no differently within that territory.
The Bill will not alter the definition of overseas territory "belongership", which is a concept of territory nationality. That confers the right of abode, voting rights, the right to hold public office and in many cases to own land in the territory. This status is automatically acquired by the indigenous population and normally by those born in the territory to people settled in the territory. Under local immigration laws, "belongership" can be conferred on a discretionary basis on long-term residents who meet certain criteria. None of that will change as a result of the Bill.
There will be no compulsion about taking up the benefits of British citizenship. Those who choose to do so will in any case retain their British Overseas Territories citizens status. The noble Baroness's proposed amendment risks creating doubt about the position post commencement, where, as matters stand, there is none.
In the light of this explanation I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Perhaps I may ask a question. My noble friend Lady Rawlings raised a number of very important constitutional questions. I recognise that the Minister may not be able to answer them all immediately. I also recognise that these are probing amendments. But one of the issues which very much worries people living in the dependent territories is exactly what their responsibilities and obligations are under the Bill.
My noble friend pointed out a number of really very big issues. Of course one issue is human rights. Indeed, part of the answer about that is set out in the many pieces of paper. However, if one takes the two issues to which my noble friend referred--the death penalty and the decriminalisation of homosexuality--whatever one may think about them, and I am not here discussing their relative merits, they were actually imposed on countries. In the case of homosexuality, that was introduced against the wishes of the government, the opposition and virtually everyone in the territories. Once the Bill becomes law, will the whole panoply of what the overseas territories describe as "European political correctness" automatically be forced on these islands, or are we actually saying that there is a new relationship; that they are entitled to their point of view; and that they will not necessarily have these changes imposed on them? Of course other things will flow if that is the case.
Both these measures were introduced by Order in Council through the Privy Council without any discussion in this Parliament, let alone anywhere else. I ask about this matter because I believe that we should have a very clear explanation of what actually is intended and what is meant. We need to know that, but, much more important, people living in the dependent territories need to be absolutely clear about their rights and responsibilities under this new set up. I am afraid that they are not set out in the Bill. If the noble Baroness cannot answer immediately, I should be very grateful if she would write to all of us on this matter.
In my response to the noble Baroness on Amendment No. 1, I set out very clearly the distinction between rights and responsibilities. I made it absolutely clear that we are here talking about the responsibilities of individuals who become British citizens. Once they become British citizens and have the right of abode in the United Kingdom, these matters apply to them if they take up the right of residence in the United Kingdom.
The questions about the relationship of an Overseas Territories Government to the governments of the European Union are a different set of questions. I am quite happy to write to both noble Baronesses about those constitutional matters. But those matters are far outside the scope of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness.
I thank the Minister for her reply and for her undertaking to write to us on any unanswered questions. I understand from what the noble Baroness says and also from what is stated in paragraph 22 of her notes that the provision applies to individuals but not to territories. We find this issue quite confusing. Therefore, we may well return to the matter on Report. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 4 is a probing amendment. The Minister said at Second Reading that the Bill sets out a new relationship between ourselves and our overseas territories and that the Bill also establishes the acceptance of new responsibilities on both sides. The amendment seeks to establish more fully that new relationship and the new responsibilities concomitant with it. It probes the question of how much control individual territories have over the process of naturalising citizens within their territories. As the Minister explained at Second Reading, those not yet currently holding a British Overseas Dependent Territories passport will need to apply in the first instance for a British Overseas Territories passport and then, should they wish, a British passport.
I should be grateful for clarification on the following points. Do overseas territories currently make their own arrangements for naturalisation? Does that vary from territory to territory; and are the territories free to change this process?
Before the Minister responds, I should explain what we are trying to achieve with the amendment. We seek to establish whether overseas territories, which will no longer be dependent territories, will, in losing their dependent status, gain any independence? I beg to move.
At the start of my remarks, perhaps I may confirm to the noble Baroness that the change of name from "dependent territories" to "overseas territories" is a change of name. The noble Baroness asked whether the territories will no longer be dependent. As I said in response to the debate on Second Reading, the Bill seeks to reflect the partnership which exists between ourselves and the overseas territories and also it seeks to recognise that the world has changed. It is no longer appropriate to refer to "dependency" in this way.
Amendment No. 4 would preserve the arrangements whereby responsibility for registration and naturalisation as a British Dependent Territories citizen is delegated to Governors of overseas territories. In other words, it would preserve the territories' autonomy in this respect. The Bill makes no provision for change from the existing arrangements and will not affect the present arrangements in the overseas territories; nor are there currently any plans to make such a change.
I believe that the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness is unnecessary and I ask her to withdraw it.
I am a little concerned about this matter. Can the noble Baroness help me on the following point? A person may have been living in Bermuda for a considerable time, but would not achieve Bermudan status. Bermudan status carries with it very real privileges; the right to live there and property rights which others do not possess. Presumably the Bill still delegates to the Governor the right to confer on a person citizenship of an overseas territory, but the Governor may still be conferring on that individual a form of nationality which carries no real rights in the territory because the territory, through its own domestic legislation, has stated in its wisdom that even though a person may be a citizen of a British overseas territory, he would not automatically qualify for Bermudan status. Is that correct?
I believe that I addressed this point in my response to Amendment No. 3, but it may be helpful to the noble Lord if I were to repeat it. The Bill will not alter the definition of overseas territory "belongership", a concept that covers territory nationality, to which I believe the noble Lord is referring. That confers the right of abode, voting rights, the right to hold public office and, in many cases, to own land in the territory. That kind of status is automatically acquired by the indigenous population, normally by those born in and settled in the territory.
The amendment before the Committee seeks to preserve the arrangement whereby responsibility for registration and naturalisation as a British Dependent Territories citizen is delegated to the Governors of the overseas territories--the noble Lord's second point. Furthermore, this amendment would preserve the territory's autonomy, but I think it is important that noble Lords understand that no provision in the Bill seeks to change the arrangements which currently obtain. That is why the amendment is unnecessary. There are no plans to make such a change. The Bill does not alter the existing arrangements.
It is hoped that it would never happen in practice, but in theory a Governor, using his delegated powers, could grant a person overseas territory citizenship and then, under a later provision contained in the Bill, that person would appear to qualify for British citizenship and could be granted such citizenship by the Secretary of State. The effect of that person having been granted British citizenship by the Secretary of State surely would mean that that person would then have the equivalent of Bermudan status. One could hardly say that a full British citizen would then not have the right to live in the territory.
I think that the noble Lord has forgotten that, under the terms of the Bill, the rights are non reciprocal. Thus although citizens of the overseas territories have the right to British citizenship, British citizens in the United Kingdom, along with citizens of the European Union, do not have reciprocal rights.
I should like to try to understand the point being made by the noble Lord.
If the Governor can grant Overseas Territory citizenship to a person who, because of domestic legislation does not hold Bermuda status, then the Secretary of State, on the basis of that Overseas Territory citizenship, could grant British citizenship and therefore a full British citizen, by virtue of his residence in an overseas territory, may not hold the full rights of citizenship in that territory.
That is the logic of the noble Lord's point. However, I think that it is important to remember that that is why we have made clear in the legislation that this is at the discretion of the Secretary of State. It is precisely so that these kinds of cases can be looked at on an individual basis by the Secretary of State.
I thank the Minister for her explanation: a change of name, but not in meaning. I believe that is what she has said. That is interesting because it returns to what we put forward at the beginning. I was under the impression that the central point of the Bill was to grant British citizenship and rights of abode as soon as the Bill passes through to any of the citizens of the British overseas territories. I believe that there is a major change in the procedure, because at present those citizens do not hold British citizenship or the right of abode. I hope that I am correct in saying that.
That is absolutely correct, but the noble Baroness referred specifically to the use of the term "dependent" and whether the granting of citizenship would then cause the territories to become independent. The Bill specifically addresses citizenship; it does not concern dependence or independence. I think that it is important that we distinguish between the part of the Bill which concerns the change of name from British Dependent Territory to British Overseas Territory--a name that we have already been using--and the grant of rights of citizenship which carries with it the right of abode. These are two separate matters.
In speaking to Amendment No. 8, I ask whether it is the Government's intention to allow these newly "independent" territories to confer citizenship on whomever they choose?
I should be interested to learn what responsibilities the Government envisage for the Governors of the overseas territories--a point referred to earlier by my noble friend Lord Waddington--after the commencement of the Act. If an overseas territory chooses to grant British Overseas Territories citizenship to an individual, will the Secretary of State need to endorse every new citizen? We on these Benches feel that this could be very demeaning for the new British Overseas Territories citizens. I beg to move.
While we on these Benches do not believe that there will be a flood of people being given citizenship, especially in countries such as the Bahamas, I should like to ask the Minister one question. If the amendment was agreed to, it would raise the spectre that the governor would be responsible to the Home Office and not to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Is it the case that the Governors of the overseas territories will be still seen as answerable to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or will the Home Office take responsibility for the Governors?
I cannot support the amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness and the Minister will agree that the clause goes a long way towards meeting the mischief which I feared could arise under the Bill. Unless we have a clause of this nature, we could have a governor following a policy which would result in a lot of people obtaining British Overseas Territories citizenship who were not "belongers" in the territory. They would then ostensibly qualify for full British citizenship. Their applications would then come before the Secretary of State and he or she would say, "This is a nonsense. We cannot possibly grant this person British citizenship. He should never have been granted British Overseas Territories citizenship because he is not a "belonger" in the territory". We could not possibly delegate to the Governor the right to grant British citizenship, which may be on the back of a wrongly granted citizenship of the British Overseas Territories. That is the way I look at it. Am I right?
I hardly need to rise following the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington.
Amendment No. 8 raises an important point of principle. As the Committee will know, nationality is often complicated and is sometimes an emotional matter. Some people will inevitably attempt to acquire British Overseas Territories citizenship status after commencement as a stepping stone to British citizenship, and with it the right of abode in the United Kingdom. We need to ensure that those who qualify do so within the provisions of the Bill.
We believe that it is right that the grant of British citizenship after commencement should remain a matter for British Ministers answerable to Parliament, as it is now for all applications for British citizenship under the British Nationality Act 1981. This enables us to decide British citizenship applications not only on the basis of technical expertise but also on the geographical and emotional detachment which sometimes may be lacking in governors.
We are also keen to ensure that applicants are, for instance, of good character, and that we generally maintain consistency of decisions. We believe that that would best be achieved by having a single decision-making authority. For those reasons, I would ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
As to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, collective responsibility is the order of the day. We have used throughout British Ministers, and that is the way that it will be done.
The amendment raises the spectre of the "may" and "shall" argument, an issue that has been raised many times. However, this is a probing amendment; I do not expect the Minister to accept it. I am bringing it forward with a specific intention in mind.
I tabled a number of amendments which, using sneakiness and guile, I managed to get the Public Bills Office to accept before it spotted their inadequacies, when they were immediately thrown out or withdrawn. The purpose of those amendments was to institute British citizenship for British overseas citizens, a group of people which has been specifically and carefully excluded from the short Title of the Bill. As this has been an opportunity lost, I plan to bring forward a Private Member's Bill at a later stage in an attempt to rectify the situation. However, that is a matter outside the terms of the amendment and I obviously understand that the Minister will not respond to it. I beg to move.
As the amendment has been moved, I shall respond to it. I understand why it is in the Marshalled List. Obviously I shall not comment on the plans of the noble Lord in respect of his proposals for future legislation.
Amendment No. 8A would limit the discretion of the Home Secretary to refuse to register people seeking registration as British citizens subsequent to the commencement of the legislation. As I have said before, some people will inevitably attempt to acquire British Overseas Territories citizenship status after commencement as a stepping stone to British citizenship, and with it the right of abode in the United Kingdom. We need to ensure that those who qualify do so within the provisions of the Act.
As I said before, immigration policy is not in the control of the British Government. This is a devolved responsibility to locally elected governments, who have different considerations in mind when establishing and operating such practices. Limitation of the Home Secretary's discretion could potentially open the way for backdoor entry to British citizenship. In the light of that explanation, I hope and trust that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
moved Amendment No. 11:
After Clause 5, insert the following new clause--
"COST OF CLAIMING CITIZENSHIP
The Secretary of State shall by order require that in each British overseas territory the cost of claiming British citizenship, either by nationality registration, naturalisation or the cost of issuing passports, shall not be so prohibitive as to prevent British overseas territory citizens from exercising their right to British citizenship conferred by this Act."
The amendment relates specifically to average income per head, which varies significantly throughout the overseas territories. It would be highly undesirable for a British Overseas Territories citizen to be denied the opportunity to claim British citizenship due to the prohibitively high cost of doing so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, informed the House that:
"The change in citizenship status will occur automatically for most people and there will be no costs to cover. However, some cases may attract a fee... I confirm to noble Lords that passport fees will be charged on the basis of the fees set by the Passport Agency world-wide. Therefore, the price will not vary".--[Official Report, 10/7/01; col. 1035.]
Any British overseas territory citizen who wishes to benefit fully from the conferral of British citizenship by this Bill will, I assume, wish to acquire an appropriate passport. By "citizens who wish to benefit fully", I mean those citizens who wish to enjoy the right to freedom of movement throughout the European Union and so on. Yet the cost of doing so will mean different things to different people in different territories. Let us take, for example, two territories at the extremes of prosperity. The GDP figure in 1999 for the British Virgin Islands was £17,226; in St Helena it was £2,536.
Many existing British Overseas Territories citizens feel a sense of injustice that they cannot travel freely through the European Union; others will welcome the opportunity to visit Britain and Europe to gain valuable skills that they cannot acquire at home. In the White Paper, Partnership for Progress and Prosperity, we are told that the Government anticipate that some people may like to come to Britain for training and work experience, and will be welcome. My noble friend Lord Waddington raised the issue of work experience as a means of achieving more of a level playing field in the employment market.
It is clear that we must ensure that every British Overseas Territories citizen who wants both the identity of a British citizen and the more tangible advantages of this identity can acquire the necessary documents and registration. I should appreciate some assurance that this will be the case. I understand that they will not need a work permit in the UK or in the European Union, but that they will have to abide by all the European Union rules. I beg to move.
I merely want to ask about the situation of those citizens of Montserrat who are living in this country. They are presently suffering financial hardship and the DfID is providing aid to Montserrat. Who will provide the cost of their travel documents?
The amendment would have the effect of limiting the flexibility of both the territories and the British Government to set charges that reflect the true costs of registration and the issuing of passports.
British Dependent Territories citizens who become British Overseas Territories citizens will automatically become British citizens with a right of abode in the United Kingdom on the commencement of the provision in Clause 3. Most residents of the territories will not incur additional costs unless they apply for a British passport. The cost of a British passport is the same world-wide when issued from a British embassy or high commission. The fee is governed by the consular fees regulations. Overseas territories citizens will in no way be disadvantaged over other British citizens who acquire their passports overseas.
Perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness that passport fees are the same in the UK for whichever British citizen applies for a passport here. There is no differential that is dependent on where a person lives or on his or her income. We do not distinguish between different groups of applicants according to ability to pay.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked specifically about Montserrat. It is cheaper to obtain a British passport in the UK than it is to obtain one in a British embassy or consulate. As I understand it, citizens of Montserrat are not adversely affected by the legislation. I hope that in the light of that explanation the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for her reply, but we are disappointed. I hoped that the Minister might be able to agree to the amendment and that the humanitarian side of the Government might play a part. The situation is now very different from that of a British citizen residing in the UK who applies for a passport, given the new provisions regarding British Overseas Territories. The amendment is important: the disparities that I have mentioned are grossly unfair and we should like the Bill to be amended. I therefore wish to seek the opinion of the Committee.
moved Amendment No. 11A:
After Clause 5, insert the following new clause--
"BRITISH OVERSEAS TERRITORIES: RIGHTS OF BRITISH CITIZENS
Any person who qualifies to be recognised as a British citizen under this Act is entitled to receive such rights and benefits as if he were settled in the United Kingdom."
This is a probing amendment. It is widely drafted and I recognise that the point to which I wish to draw attention is not stated as clearly as it should be. Nevertheless, the issue is extremely important. I hope that it will receive sympathetic support from all sides of the Committee.
A matter that has been raised consistently with me by people from British Overseas Territories is the whole question of student fees. They presently have to pay the overseas student rate, which is considerably more than the home student rate.
I have travelled extensively in the Caribbean. Many of the islands have extremely good educational institutions, and there is also the University of the West Indies. However, leaving all that aside, very many people from the Caribbean, especially those from dependent territories, want to study in British universities or in British institutions of higher education of one sort or another. It is terribly important in today's world that they should have the opportunity to get the essential qualifications that they require in order to get a job back home, let alone anywhere else. We could provide such an opportunity by making it possible for them to attend British universities on a home-student's-fee basis, which is not possible at present.
When I spoke at Second Reading, I carefully questioned the noble Baroness about what actual obligations and responsibilities would flow from the Bill now before the Committee. Quite frankly, although the legislation will confer British citizenship--which is very important; and I do not in any way underestimate that--one of the most worrying aspects is that it does not seem to give those concerned any of the kind of rights that they would have were they to be British citizens living in this country. That is how I understand the position, but this is perhaps where I need the help of the noble Baroness.
I can see that the position could be quite difficult as regards many matters; indeed, I previously raised the question of taxation, representation in Parliament, and so on. One could go on to cite innumerable matters, some of which my noble friend Lady Rawlings mentioned when dealing with her earlier amendments. But the question of education seems to me to fall into a completely different category by itself. I believe that I am correct in saying that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, spoke at Second Reading about the situation of overseas students in, for example, St Helena. There is very little work on the island and very little opportunity to gain the kind of education qualifications that these youngsters need to get a job anywhere else in the world, let alone gaining the kind of professional qualifications that they need to improve the lot of their own people.
We are dealing with an extremely important issue. I hope that the Government will feel that it is worth considering this matter as a sort of sui generis issue. There are many of us--I believe that I speak for probably everyone here--who feel that it is most important to keep the British link with the British Overseas Territories. I have in mind the Caribbean in particular, but there are other territories. If students come to our universities, there is no doubt at all that that will maintain the link. Of course, the alternative, especially for the Caribbean, will be for those students to apply to both Canadian and American universities, as some of them do at present. Anyone who travels in the Caribbean knows how powerful the influence of those universities can be. I am not saying that it should not be so. But if we believe, as I think we do, that our British universities offer a first-class educational opportunity, we ought to consider those in our overseas territories who will receive British citizenship under this Bill. Once they have received that, they should know that they really have something that will be of huge benefit to their young people. I beg to move.
I cannot support the specific amendment. However, I lend support to my noble friend's plea that we should consider again the question of student fees. In the old days there was a common nationality. We were all citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies. A mockery was made of the common citizenship by the immigration Acts of the 1960s, with some citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies having rights and other such citizens having fewer rights. We tried to get rid of the anomaly by the British Nationality Act at the beginning of the 1980s.
We do not want to return to the mess we got into over the citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies, granting everyone British citizenship but saying that some are better British citizens than others and that some have rights which other British citizens do not have. It would be a very unsatisfactory outcome if we passed this important Bill conferring important rights on people who live in the overseas territories. We must avoid saying, "You will not be treated in the same way as other citizens when you come to Britain". Therefore, while I do not support the amendment, I hope that before the Bill becomes law the Government will consider again the matter of student fees.
The Committee will know that I often speak on behalf of the citizens of St Helena. I am sure that I do so on this occasion. It may be reasonably easy for citizens of the Caribbean to get education and gain qualifications. It is almost impossible to do so in St Helena. Therefore, it is important that the Bill should not pass into law before we have arranged that British citizens in these territories have rights to get the same education and training as those resident in this country.
For a UK student the sum is approximately £4,300 for the four year period. For an overseas student the amount is over £54,200. The difference is enormous. We on these Benches fully support my noble friend.
The effect of the amendment would be to give all British Dependent Territories citizens from qualifying territories who are granted British citizenship under the provisions of the Bill the right to all benefits of that citizenship without meeting UK residency requirements.
Entitlement to the domestic rate for education fees and to other benefits is based on residency qualifications not nationality. Although the education fee structure is governed by the Education Fees and Awards Regulations 1977, because of the high degree of autonomy enjoyed by universities and colleges, it is open to them to interpret always the regulations as they choose.
I think that it would be wrong to give the same rights and benefits automatically to a British citizen from an overseas territory as are enjoyed by persons who are resident in the United Kingdom. The effect of the amendment would be to place British citizens from the territory who do not take up the rights of abode in the United Kingdom in a better position than British citizens living here. They would enjoy access to all benefits but would not be subject to British contribution payments for taxes.
The Bill makes no distinction between British citizens provided that they first meet the residency requirements. The removal from immigration control and the grant of right of abode in the United Kingdom for British Dependent Territories citizens from qualifying territories as a result of this Bill will make it easier for them to satisfy those residency requirements.
We would not be consistent in our treatment of British citizens if we accepted the amendment. I accept the noble Baroness's recognition that the amendment is somewhat wider than the intention. I ask the noble Baroness, therefore, to withdraw the amendment.
Before the next stage of the Bill, perhaps the Minister will consider again her reply that it is up to the academic organisations to interpret the regulations. It does not sound a satisfactory answer. We would like some assurance from the Government that the need for education and training of those who have been denied them in the past because of the implications of lack of citizenship will now be met.
I realise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, acknowledges that this is not the right amendment. However, before the Bill is passed we should have some assurance from the Government on this important matter.
It may be helpful if I say to the noble Lord that the position with regard to education fees and awards is the reality; it is what we are living with.
I come back to the issue of consistency. We support overseas territories in a number of other ways. The noble Lord referred to the need for education and training. At Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, raised the issue of training for civil servants from the overseas territories and I replied to her on that point. We support citizens from the overseas territories in a number of ways with regard to training. That is a separate issue from what should be put on the face of the Bill.
I thank my noble friend Lord Waddington, my noble friend Lady Rawlings and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for their support.
As I indicated, I shall withdraw the amendment. I do not think that it is appropriately drafted. However, I was disappointed with the Minister's reply. She says in effect that only those who are formally resident in this country can have the home student fees. It is suggested that universities might be able to do something to help students from overseas. Of course, they can and they do. But let us picture a prospective student in St Helena or some small island in the Pacific who would like to come to the United Kingdom. The idea that he would be able to identify a university and then obtain a scholarship as a result appears to be most impractical. He may be lucky, and the governor or a friend may provide help. However, it is not a very practicable proposition. I am not sure what is meant by the argument that we cannot help those people because, by coming here, they would receive the benefits of the country. I suppose that we mean that they would be able to use the health service without paying tax. If I am wrong on that, I stand to be corrected.
Perhaps I make may a point regarding consistency which may help the noble Baroness. If I, as a British citizen, chose to live in another country, I would not have the same rights as I would have as a resident in the United Kingdom. I would give up those rights if I lived elsewhere. If I then returned to the United Kingdom, depending on the length of time that I had been away, I should have to requalify by making contributions and paying taxes in order to have the right to access benefits.
The noble Baroness's amendment would give people access to those benefits without a right of residence. That cannot be fair. We cannot say that the granting of British citizenship to people who currently reside in overseas territories will provide them with access to benefits which British citizens do not have until they qualify.
But surely there is a fallacy in the argument advanced by the noble Baroness. In the old days, despite the fact that overseas students were not residents, they benefited from the same fees as did people who were resident. Therefore, if we were to grant to those British citizens the benefit which is sought by my noble friend, we should be returning to the situation which appertained in the 1970s.
That is not the case. The entire situation has changed, and it is not a matter of returning to a position that once existed. For example, on reaching university age, the children of a British citizen living abroad would have to return to this country and qualify in terms of a resident's qualification before gaining access to home fees. That is the current situation.
The analogy produced by the Minister is not a fair one. She is comparing citizens who voluntarily go abroad and who must return to this country in order to obtain entitlement with people who are born in, and are natives of, their own country. Such people are in a totally different situation because they have not chosen to be in that country; the situation has been thrust upon them.
Perhaps I may confirm that this legislation grants a right of abode as well as a right of citizenship.
I invite the noble Baroness to reconsider the matter. I may be hopelessly wrong, but I believed that all the controversy which occurred over the past few years arose from the fact that in the old days overseas students did not pay different fees for their time at university from people who were resident here. Therefore, we would be returning to the situation which used to appertain.
I believe that there is concern in the Committee in relation to this matter, and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, will look at it again. The argument that is put forward is always one of consistency. It is a good administrative argument which aims to introduce tidiness.
Perhaps I may give an example of the type of situation to which I refer. Let us suppose that a young man or woman living in St Helena is clever and would like to qualify as a doctor. Today, that would be a very expensive proposition to undertake on home student fees, but it would be even more expensive on overseas student fees. The noble Baroness is saying, "All right, you can qualify as a doctor, but you must come and live in Britain". One may well argue that the doctor was needed most not in Britain--although I believe that we do need plenty of doctors--but in St Helena, to which the student would like to return.
Under those circumstances, in a country where there is no university and no prospect of qualifying for that type of job, is my proposition unreasonable? In any event, we cannot possibly be talking about an enormous number of cases or about vast sums of money. I forget the exact population of St Helena, but I believe that it is well under 10,000. Therefore, a very small number of people would be involved. However, we are saying that we shall deny to people in those places scattered around the world an opportunity to receive higher education.
This matter appears to be most important not only for the benefit of young people in the overseas territories but for anyone who cares about education and about helping people to climb the educational ladder, from wherever they may come. I recognise that my amendment is not correctly drafted, but I give notice now that I shall return to this matter at a later stage. In the meantime, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, will consider what has been said this afternoon. I should be more than happy to talk to her further if there were a prospect of reaching an agreement whereby a measure such as this might be included in the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In the interval between this and the next stage of the Bill, will the Minister be good enough to consider the case of, say, an American or EU citizen who is resident in Great Britain and who, therefore, presumably is entitled to higher and further education at the lower rate? Is such a person not being preferred to British citizens who happen to live in an overseas territory? If that is the case, it appears to be a serious anomaly and is relevant to what has already been said.
Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I believe that what is being proposed is outside the scope of the legislation as it currently stands. However, I shall be happy to talk to the noble Lord about this matter after the conclusion of our Committee stage.
In speaking to Amendment No. 12 I shall be brief. We shall be interested to learn whether the Government intend the Act to come into effect immediately the Secretary of State has made a commencement order or whether the Act will also need to be ratified by each territory. The need for the Act to be ratified by the territories would seem to be in keeping with the "partnership principle" that is so much a part of the thinking that lies behind the Bill. I beg to move.
British nationality is exclusively a matter for Parliament at Westminster; it is not for the overseas territories to ratify British legislation. From the date of Royal Assent the changes in nomenclature will automatically take effect. From the date of commencement of the provisions relating to citizens, British overseas territories citizens will automatically become British citizens.
I can confirm the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and that we have consulted widely. I am confident that the Bill will be widely welcomed in the overseas territories. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Our aim is not, as I have said several times, to delay the Bill. We feel, however, that this matter is important in relation to self-determination, which the Minister has mentioned so many times. She gave an interesting answer but we feel that this is an important amendment, which should be included in the Bill. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 3, line 18, at end insert--
(a) the number of British overseas territories citizens taking up British citizenship,
(b) the number of disputed claims,
(c) the number of British overseas territories citizens taking up right of abode in the United Kingdom,
(d) the cost per applicant of nationality registration,
(e) the number of new applicants seeking British overseas territories citizenship per territory, and
(f) any other such information in relation to this Act as he shall think fit."
I am sure that the House would welcome a report on the number of new British citizens from the overseas territories. As it is, as yet, impossible to know exactly how many people will benefit from the provisions of the legislation, it seems appropriate that we should find out how many people have been able to acquire British citizenship within a year of commencement.
Similarly, it seems appropriate that the House is made aware of any cases in which an individual's claim to British citizenship is in dispute. That would enable the House to see how effectively the framework for nationality registration and passport issuing is operating, and whether there are a significant number of claims which appear sufficiently tenuous to warrant a dispute.
One of the most desirable aims of this Bill is to enable British citizens in overseas territories to come to the UK, we thought, for education, training and work experience. Those who expressed a particular interest in further education, which we discussed on an earlier amendment, will, I am sure, welcome any information regarding the number of British citizens who have been able to pursue higher education courses in the United Kingdom. Additionally, it is important that we know the extent to which emigration is seen as a viable option within the overseas territories.
To follow on from what I have already said about the cost of claiming British citizenship, I should be interested to know what is the cost of acquiring a new passport once the system is up and running. It would be helpful to know also whether the individual territories believe that the cost of acquiring British citizenship is in any way prohibitive.
In answer to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, informed the Committee that the purpose of requiring an individual to claim British overseas territory citizenship, before being permitted to claim British citizenship, is to ensure that a filter operates to prevent illegal immigrants using the new legislation as a stepping stone to the United Kingdom. Registration or naturalisation as a British overseas territory citizen will act as such a filter. Whether that will prove an effective means of preventing those without a legitimate claim to British citizenship from acquiring it remains to be seen. Are the BOTs allowed to give citizenship to whomever they want? What are the rules? Once you are a BOT citizen, can you automatically become a British citizen?
The Bill has commanded widespread support on all sides of the Chamber. I understand that it marks a significant step in the evolution of the new relationship based on partnership between Britain and overseas territories. Therefore, I should be interested to hear how the provisions of this legislation have enabled further progress to be made in the areas of human rights, financial regulation and environmental conservation as described in the White Paper of March 1999, and in areas as the Government see fit. Furthermore, what is the right of appeal for someone who has been rejected? I beg to move.
Amendment No. 13 would commit us to producing and publishing annual progress reports. We shall, of course, want to monitor implementation of the Bill when it becomes an Act.
Some of the statistics requested in the amendment--namely, the number of people applying for British passports and for British overseas territory citizenship status after commencement--are relatively straightforward to provide. However, others, such as recording the number of disputed claims, will be less easy as we shall first need to decide whether such claims refer to nationality registration or passport applications, and to agree on the definition of what constitutes a disputed claim.
It will not be possible to provide figures for the number of people who exercise the right of abode in the United Kingdom. The new British citizens created by the Bill, who arrive here with full British passports, will not be subject to immigration control. They will enter the country as British citizens. Therefore, no data will be collected in relation to that.
The date of commencement of the citizenship provisions of the Bill will be set by statutory instrument once satisfactory arrangements are in place for processing passport and nationality applications. We shall ensure that those include arrangements for recording numbers where it is possible to do so and that those figures are made available to noble Lords.
It is not appropriate that this should be on the face of the Bill and I hope that, against the background of my explanation, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Perhaps I may raise with the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, a question which I raised on Second Reading. She was good enough to write to me on most of the issues which were raised but the point to which I refer is important. What consultation has there been with the other independent countries of the Caribbean, in particular about the provisions of this Bill, because both the other countries of the Caribbean and the overseas territories are linked closely together in that part of the world?
As I explained in my previous answer, there has been a great deal of consultation with the overseas territories themselves. The independent Caribbean countries are aware that we want to put in place this legislation, especially as that was flagged in the 1999 White Paper. However, there has been no formal consultation as such with the independent Caribbean countries.
Is it not a matter of concern that those living in the overseas territories who will now acquire British citizenship will be in a completely different position from those in the other countries of the Caribbean who, of course, would not automatically have British citizenship should they wish to come and work in this country?
We are talking about the difference between the independent Caribbean countries and the overseas territories. The relationship is quite different.
moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 4, line 19, at end insert--
"( ) After subsection (2) there is inserted--
"(2A) Citizenship conferred under subsection (2) on any infant found abandoned in a qualifying territory shall not subsequently be a ground for conferring British citizenship on that infant's parents, guardians or siblings unless they qualify in their own right.""
We believe that it is important to take into account all eventualities. We welcome the provision for infants found abandoned within a British overseas territory. However, it is important to be clear about the conditions of a legitimate claim to British citizenship. If an abandoned infant were to be reclaimed by his natural family or taken into the care of a guardian, under this legislation there is no sufficient grounds for anyone other than the infant to claim British citizenship.
British overseas territories citizenship, under the current regulations, can be acquired only as a result of a connection with one or more territories; for example, by birth, adoption, naturalisation or descent. It should remain the case that an individual can claim British citizenship only if he qualifies in his own right. I beg to move.
We do not believe that there is a need for Amendment No. 14. The circumstances in which a child found abandoned in an overseas territory would be deemed to have acquired British citizenship are clear. If it subsequently emerged that the child was born of parents who were not themselves settled in the territory or British citizens at the time of the birth, the child would no longer be entitled to the nationality it had been deemed to acquire.
Parents, guardians and siblings will indeed have to qualify for British citizenship in their own right. That is clear from the Bill as introduced, and from the provisions of the existing nationality legislation. If the parents come forward and are shown not to qualify, they could, of course, put at risk the child's own claim. In the light of that explanation I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
moved Amendment No. 15:
Page 6, line 34, at end insert--
"( ) In the event of a dispute over an individual's claim to British citizenship, an appropriate framework shall be set up by the Secretary of State, in consultation with the overseas territory concerned, in order to resolve such a dispute.
( ) The final decision in relation to any dispute shall lie with the Governor of the territory concerned.""
In relation to this final amendment we would like some clarification. While the criteria that must be satisfied for the acquisition of British citizenship are clear, I do not doubt that some cases will arise where an individual's claim to British citizenship is far from straightforward. I believe that there should exist, from the commencement of this Act, a framework for settling such disputes. That framework should be common to all the British overseas territories. For that reason the Secretary of State should work in consultation with the territories to ensure that conditions are the same throughout. The final decision in relation to any dispute shall lie with the governor of the territory concerned.
As I have already said, it is desirable that the governor of a particular territory has the capacity to decide who is eligible to claim British overseas territory citizenship and subsequently British citizenship. I believe that this amendment satisfies the notion of partnership in every sense. If the framework for settling disputes is formulated by both the Secretary of State and the overseas territories, it seems fitting that the governor of the territory to which the application refers remains the arbiter in individual cases.
Many of the problems raised by this Bill are a direct result of the Government's omission of several areas covered by the White Paper. Important questions remain unanswered. The Government want to remove any traces of the notion of dependants, yet are unprepared to state explicitly what the granting of British citizenship will mean in practical terms for the people of the overseas territories. The redefinition of the UK's relationship with the overseas territories cannot be limited to a change of name and the granting of British citizenship to the British Overseas Territories' citizens. I look forward to hearing clarification of the implications of these important changes.
We support this Bill and I am grateful, as I said earlier, to the Minister for all her letters and helpful notes. However, I repeat that we are deeply concerned that in reality this Bill is just politically-correct rhetoric, the only change being in name, as the Minister said. We feel that these overseas territories are not the "independents" that we thought was implied by the change of name introduced under this Bill. I beg to move.
I venture no opinion on the first subsection of this amendment, but I believe that the second subsection is probably inappropriate. Many of the territories that we are considering are, at the moment, either in the course of, or are about to be in the course of reconsidering their constitutions. I believe that it is inapposite that the governor of a territory should have a final decision from which there is no appeal. In the event of the rest of this amendment being accepted, any decision as to who has the final decision should await the determination of proper constitutional arrangements for all territories.
I hope that this is an amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, may feel able to accept. It may not be absolutely correctly drafted, but I believe that it would be inappropriate in a Bill such as this not to have a procedure for dealing with disputed cases, and inevitably there will be some. How that should be dealt with and what the mechanism should be is a matter for decision, but I hope that the noble Baroness will accept the principle of the amendment and, if necessary, return with an amendment appropriately drafted.
This amendment is an attempt to put something on the face of the Bill. It reads:
"In the event of a dispute over an individual's claim to British citizenship", and so on, the final decision shall be taken by,
"the Governor of the territory concerned".
That would be quite outrageous, for reasons that I shall explain.
The objective of the amendment--it is seductive--is to put in place a mechanism for dispute settlement. Such a mechanism already exists. Unsuccessful applications for passports or registration can be challenged at judicial review. Where a certificate of entitlement has been applied for, there is a right of appeal under the immigration legislation to an adjudicator and thence, in appropriate cases, to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal or Court of Session.
We have made clear in comment on earlier suggested amendments that discretion on disputes about British citizenship rests with the Secretary of State and not the governor of a territory. The matter has to rest with British Ministers who are answerable to Parliament. Therefore it follows that we cannot accept an amendment the effect of which would be to leave a final decision on disputed applications for British citizenship or claims to governors of territories.
Nor do we want to disturb the present arrangement that discretionary decisions under the British Nationality Acts cannot be challenged on their merits. The judgments that have been made in those cases, relating to such matters as character, associations and future intentions, are essentially subjective.
Every time when speaking as a Minister in the past I have had to say that there is a problem in regard to resources. In this case the problem of resources would mean that the costs of servicing a tribunal would add to the cost to be paid by the applicant. That is not the reason for not accepting this amendment. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment due to the points that have been made from various sides of the Committee. It would be invidious to leave a decision on British nationality and British passports to a governor of a territory. Therefore, with that explanation I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.
I thank noble Lords for contributing to this short debate and the Minister for his explanation. We still feel that this Bill and most of these amendments have turned on semantics and the complication--as I said at the beginning--of not being able to acquire a clear understanding of the difference between "residence", "right of abode", "citizenship" and "passport holder". At later stages, on Report and at Third Reading, I hope that we shall be able to finalise those matters. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.