Moved by Baroness Lister of Burtersett
11: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—“Provision for Chagos Islanders to acquire British nationality (1) Part 2 of the British Nationality Act 1981 (British overseas territories citizenship) is amended as follows.(2) After section 17H (as inserted by section 7), insert— “17I Acquisition by registration: descendants of those born in British Indian Ocean Territory(1) A person is entitled to be registered as a British overseas territories citizen on an application made under this section if they are a direct descendant of a person (“P”) who was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by virtue of P’s birth in the British Indian Ocean Territory or, prior to
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, for their support for the amendment. The amendment would extend the right to register as citizens to the descendants of Chagossians exiled from their homeland, subject to a time limit. I am grateful to Rosy Leveque of BIOT Citizens for her help with it, and to Chagossian Voices for its briefing.
To understand the case for this amendment, a bit of history is necessary. Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago—a British Overseas Territory which became part of the British Indian Ocean Territory—were evicted by the then British Government to make way for a US airbase on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands. They have never been allowed to return. Not only did they lose their homeland, but their grandchildren and other descendants have no right to British Overseas Territory citizenship and, therefore, to British citizenship. Only those born on the islands and the first generation born in exile have such a right. I should perhaps make it clear that the right to citizenship should not be confused with the quite separate right of return, which is not affected by this amendment, important as it is.
The Chagossians were deported to Mauritius and the Seychelles and now around 4,000 live in the UK, but because of the unjust citizenship rules many are undocumented and children have been and continue to be deported. Families have been broken up and communities are divided, as some members have access to citizenship rights while others do not. This has caused hardship for many and has aggravated the trauma associated with exile. The lack of citizenship rights has created insecurity and made it harder to integrate into local communities.
“the Chagossians present a unique case.”—[
He said he would “reflect further”. It all looked rather hopeful but when the Conservative MP, Henry Smith, raised the issue on Report, what looked like a half-open door was slammed shut by the Immigration Minister, Kevin Foster, which was very disappointing. Mr Smith emphasised the anomalies created, the injustices caused and that we are talking about no more than a few hundred to the low thousands of people who would benefit. So far, BIOT Citizens has identified 500 descendants. What is at stake is a small concession but one that would make a huge difference to the lives of those affected. It would also have symbolic importance for a people who have lost their homeland through no fault of their own.
Mr Smith’s amendment was rejected in a single paragraph. There appear to be two strings to the Government’s case. The first is that the amendment
“would undermine a long-standing principle of British nationality law … under which nationality or entitlement to nationality is not passed on to the second and subsequent generations born and settled outside the UK and its territories, creating quite a major precedent.”—[
I am sure noble Lords can spot what a specious argument this is in this context. The only reason the Chagossians in question do not meet this condition is because they are descended from people who were evicted against their will from a British Oversees Territory. Forced and continued exile prevents them from meeting these long-standing conditions. It is not clear that the Government really understand this, but as the Junior Minister acknowledged in Committee, it is “a unique case” so no precedent would be set, unless the Government have plans to evict others from their British Overseas Territory homelands. I hope and trust that, if the noble Baroness—I think it is the noble Baroness—the Minister has been briefed to use this argument, she will scrap it now.
The second government concern is more credible. They do not want to create an open-ended right in the way that the Commons amendment did, and I think that is reasonable. This amendment therefore creates a five-year time limit for applications, following the Windrush precedent in the British Nationality Act 1981. Those aged under 18 at the time of enactment will have up until the age of 23. I am offering the Minister an opportunity to add something positive, that would be widely welcomed, to a Bill that—with very few exceptions to be found in this part of it—has been widely condemned. If this particular way of capping entitlement is not to the Government’s liking I am, of course, open to discussions about alternative means, such as a generational cap. I very much hope that the Minister will accept the amendment or a revised version of it for Report. Is she willing to meet virtually with me and other signatories to the amendment and those advising me to discuss how we might proceed? I plan to return to the issue on Report to try to put right what Henry Smith MP correctly described as an “appalling injustice”. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thoroughly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has said, and I am very pleased to co-sign this amendment. In the first two groups that we discussed this morning, we talked a lot about righting injustices. This is an opportunity to right a gross historic wrong—a forced eviction and exile that was, indeed, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2019.
I was one of those who raised this issue very briefly at Second Reading. I do not think the Minister referred to it in her response, although I know she had a lot of issues to cover. It should be noted, though, that the amendment in the other place from Henry Smith MP at Report stage, which the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred to, had the sizeable support of 245 Members, displaying the strength of feeling about the trauma and hardship of the Chagossian community that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred to.
The all-party group on Chagos is a strong and active group that has long campaigned to right, in so far as is possible, the wrongs of the 1960s when, having resisted independence from Mauritius, of which Chagos was part, Britain secretly acceded to an American request to make one of the islands, Diego Garcia, available on a long lease as a “communications hub”. Of course, it later became notorious as a site for rendition flights. Anyway, the then British Government of, I am afraid, Harold Wilson, detached Chagos from Mauritius and then emptied Chagos, chucking out its inhabitants. This appeared, apparently, to be compensation for the Americans for the UK declining to get involved in the Vietnam War.
The saga is littered with lies and about-face. The UK told the UN that the Chagos Islands had no permanent population and the Chagossians were merely contract labourers. The British Indian Ocean Territory—BIOT—comprising all the Chagos Islands was detached from Mauritius and, between 1968 and 1973, the entire population of Chagos was removed. Some 2,000 people were deported to Mauritius, some went to the Seychelles and some arrived in the UK, particularly in Crawley, perhaps because it is near Gatwick, in Sussex.
As was discussed this morning, the purpose of Part 1 of this Bill is to address long-standing discrimination in British nationality law. I put to the Committee that Amendment 11 fits perfectly in this context. The original appalling injustice of the late 1960s and early 1970s perpetrated against the Chagossians has been compounded ever since, not only by their continuing enforced exile from their homeland but by the deprivation of their descendants of their citizenship rights. Had they not been evicted but had stayed in BIOT, they would have passed British Overseas Territory citizenship from generation to generation and some would have had the entitlement to be registered as British citizens or at least benefited from the Home Secretary’s discretion to so register them.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, Ministers in the other place have provided no justification for resisting the rectification of this injustice suffered by the Chagossians. The Government simply rely, in a sense, on the injustice of eviction to perpetuate the injustice. Because we had chucked them out, they were not BIOT citizens and so they cannot benefit from any subsequent citizenship rights. The Government now have an opportunity with this new clause to make substantial amends—hardly complete amends—for the wrongs done half a century ago. I suggest that it is wrong to seek to assert that correcting the nationality law consequences of this wrong would create any wider precedent, as the noble Baroness said.
By the way, if anyone wants to read the history of the UK’s perfidious treatment of the Chagossians, I recommend this booklet of a lecture by Professor Philippe Sands QC entitled Chagos: The Last British Colony in Africa – A Short History of Colonialism, a Modern Crime Against Humanity? and I will give this to Hansard so it can correctly identify it. I urge the Minister to give a positive response.
My Lords, I apologise for not being able to speak at Second Reading. I strongly support Amendment 11, which has cross-party support. I speak as a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands.
My noble friend Lady Lister explained powerfully and clearly the position of this small number of people, whose ancestors were wrongly deported from their island homes and who have been caught up in big-power politics, denying them the basic human rights that we in your Lordships’ House enjoy. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, gave the whole context.
The fact is that, although all UK Governments agree that the exile of the Chagossians from their island homes 50 years ago was wrong and unjust, the present Government continue not to allow resettlement. They cite a range of reasons for continuing this injustice, including conservation, finance, feasibility, security and defence. This is irrespective of the fact that it is well known that the American base on Diego Garcia would not be threatened or impeded by resettlement on the 54 outer islands. Indeed, the UK Government committed in their 1965 Lancaster House agreement to returning the territory
“to Mauritius when no longer needed for defence purposes.”
The outer islands are not part of the defence framework. Conservation could be maintained by the Chagossians, as happens in other marine conservation areas, and there are various avenues for assistance with resettlement costs.
It is political will and respect for human rights that are lacking. This Government are acting in defiance of the UN charter on decolonisation and United Nations General Assembly resolutions, and contrary to the opinion of the International Court of Justice and the decision of the tribunal of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, in their obdurate refusal to countenance resettlement for this, I repeat, small number of people.
The all-party group strongly supports the international rule of law and the right of return. In respect of this amendment, which follows from all the events we have set out, we firmly believe that, until resettlement is permitted, Chagossians should not have to endure having loaded on them the further injustices that this amendment would remove: the separation of families, deportation and the unreasonable costs of excessive fees. The Government adopting this modest amendment, Amendment 11, would at least go some way to ameliorating the acknowledged injustice that Chagossians have endured by their exile.
My Lords, as I did this morning, I express great sympathy for the point of view expressed so eloquently and passionately by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. As she rightly said, the amendment moved in the other place was voted down because it contradicted one of our long-standing, century-long principles for who becomes a British citizen. However, as she pointed out, the new amendment deals with the point made in the other place by putting a limit on the applicability of the proposal, which is good. So we are in a better place than we were then. The noble Baroness also offered to talk, if possible, to see whether there is any other way forward on this problem.
I am also a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands. I have great sympathy for their position; it is indeed a terrible plight. An evil deed was done to those people. We are talking about perhaps only 500 people now in this context; there are more Chagossians in history, but there are only about 500 of them in this particular category at the moment.
Of course, the real villain here—my noble friend the Minister will be glad to know this—is not the Home Office; it is the Foreign Office, which, frankly, behaved disgracefully. When it examined this matter, the International Court of Justice voted 116 to six against us. For heaven’s sake, you can hardly have a bigger majority than that; I suppose you could have 192 to one or something—that is how many nations there are in the United Nations—but it was a comprehensive defeat. Not only that but, as previous speakers have pointed out, the United States Government are helpful on this matter, and the Mauritian Government have pointed out that they are willing to give the US Government a 99-year lease if they wish to carry on having a base on the island. Every base is covered. There really is no case for the Foreign Office to resist doing the right thing. Frankly, it is costing us in the international arena when we are so completely in the wrong on this issue.
I happened to read—I am a bit of a nerd in this respect—Sir Alan Duncan’s diaries. I am probably the only person here to have done so—perhaps I see another who has, over there. They were quite interesting—too long, but interesting none the less. He indicated the contempt with which the Foreign Office holds this point of view: it simply says that the International Court of Justice’s decision was advisory. We know that, so why does the Foreign Office not take some advice for once? This is doing us huge damage internationally. There really is no downside to agreeing to a new deal, acceding to the demands of the Mauritian Government and dealing with the Chagossian case.
My noble friend on the Front Bench will be glad to know that, ultimately, this is not her responsibility. None the less, here is an issue that the Government could grasp at the right level, and should do so.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister, Lady Ludford and Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, on laying this amendment. I was not familiar with this issue until it was brought to my attention, but I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to take it seriously and address it.
I understand that the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 granted British citizenship to Chagossians who were resettled, but only if they were born in the 13-year window from 1969 to 1982. This has left families divided. For example, Jean-Paul Delacroix was born in 1968, and is the oldest of his siblings. At the age of 64, he wants, but cannot obtain, British citizenship; his siblings can. Having been refused, he is now here illegally and cannot even work to support himself.
In 2017, my honourable friend in the other place, Henry Smith, introduced a Private Member’s Bill—which has still had only its First Reading—and then laid in the other place the amendment to the Bill that has been referred to by noble Lords. As has been said— I find it difficult to understand their argument—the Government’s rationale for rejecting Chagossians’ right to British nationality relies on the cause of the injustice while refusing to correct it. Having forcibly resettled 3,000 individuals at the time, the injustice seems to be being compounded by refusing the small number of people who want, and I would argue deserve, to be in receipt of citizenship that opportunity. This Bill represents a chance for the Government to act on a long-standing injustice.
Amendment 11 would correct the nationality law consequences of exiling the Chagossians. Only those born there or born in that 13-year window can currently claim citizenship, but the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, would give the opportunity to all those who were born there. The five- year, time-limited window tries to address the Government’s concerns. Like my noble friend Lord Horam, I understand those concerns, but the Chagossians represent a unique case. It is hard to see this setting a precedent. I urge my noble friend the Minister to consider this concession before Report.
This is obviously a 50 year-old injustice, inflicted by the UK—by the Foreign Office, as the noble Lord, Lord Horam, suggests, so it might have been good to have a Minister from the Foreign Office here to answer our points. What was done to the Chagos Islanders—deprivation of their lands, dispossession of their community, chaos brought to individual lives—was not limited to one or two generations; it has gone on and on. True reparations would involve the right of return. This is not special circumstances or special treatment. This is justice that we can deliver, albeit very, very late. Simple justice ensures that we take responsibility for people whose lives we took control of without their consent. I hope the Minister can take this back and ensure that it becomes part of the Bill.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a founder member and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, a vice-chairman of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group. Having once had the pleasure of meeting the Chagos Islanders based in Mauritius, I rise to strongly support this amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Horam, have explained, this issue is an international scandal for which the Government are entirely responsible.
My Lords, I did not have the opportunity to speak at Second Reading and I apologise for that. I declare my interests in the register and want to clarify that I am speaking in a personal capacity, and I will keep my intervention very brief. I agree with every speech that has been made today, but I particularly want to reference some points made by the noble Lord, Lord Horam.
I gave a speech at the Mauritian Foreign Ministry in 2019 in advance of the United Kingdom’s court case. While my speech was wide-ranging about international affairs and Britain’s role in the world generally, I was astonished by the strength feeling that the people present, mainly civil servants working in the Foreign Office, had about this issue. They were not all affected by the Chagossians’ claims—some were, some were not—but there was a national sense of disbelief that a law-abiding, rules-abiding great power in the world was behaving in this shabby manner towards a very small number of people.
I want to pick up on one point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about the reason given by the Minister in the House of Commons as to why he would not support the amendment moved there. He said that it would overturn, and set a precedent over, years of British nationality law. My simple response to that is: the Government profess that we are increasingly bringing rights home, in terms of their assessment of the Human Rights Act and so on. But, as the noble Baroness knows very well, our courts are increasingly taking account of precedent with regard to Ministers’ intentions when they speak in both Houses of Parliament —and Parliament’s intentions when it decides to do whatever it decides to do.
So, if she has concerns similar to those expressed by the Minister in the House of Commons about setting precedent, all she would need to do when this Bill comes back to the Chamber on Report is to make it clear in her speech that she does not intend this Act—a humanitarian Act—to set a precedent in any other way. That is all she has do to reassure the House, and the courts will take account of that. I hope she will listen with great sympathy to the speeches on this matter across the House today, because that is what this small number of people deserve from us.
My Lords, as we have heard from my noble friend Lady Ludford, the Chagos Islanders were evicted by the UK Government in the late 1960s and early 1970s to make way for a US naval base, and they are still exiled from their homeland. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Horam, there are two separate and very distinct issues here. The first, as the noble Lord quite rightly says, is giving the Chagos Islands back to the islanders, which is very much an issue for the Foreign Office. This amendment is about giving Chagos Islanders nationality, and that is very much the responsibility of the Home Office, not the Foreign Office. I would also say, in response to the last speaker and to the noble Lord, that century-long precedents are not necessarily good precedents.
One impact of the eviction has been to deprive descendants of their citizenship rights. The Chagos Islands remain a British Overseas Territory and, as we have heard, were it not for the eviction, they would have passed British Overseas Territories citizenship from generation to generation. In certain circumstances, they could have acquired entitlement to be registered as British citizens and, since 2002, they could have benefited from a general discretion from the Home Secretary to register as British citizens.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, said, the Government’s objection in the other place does not hold water. The situation of the Chagos Islanders is unique and, while the other measures in this part of the Bill to address historic injustices are welcome, they are incomplete without the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, which we wholeheartedly support. As the noble Baroness explained, it is narrow in scope, focused exclusively on the Chagos Islanders’ direct descendants and limited to a five-year window, either from the date the amendment comes into force or five years from when the eligible person turns 18. The Minister will have to do more than simply repeat the words of her colleague in the other place to convince noble Lords not to pursue this matter further on Report.
I would like to express our support for this new clause. I wish to be clear about its objectives and will read from the Member’s explanatory statement:
“This amendment would allow anyone who is descended from a person born before 1983 on the British Indian Ocean Territory to register as a British overseas territories citizen. They may also register as a British citizen at the same time. Both applications would be free of charge. The application must be submitted within 5 years, or in the case of a minor born before the date of coming into force, before they reach 23 years old.”
As we have heard, the proposed new clause is intended to rectify a long-standing injustice which impacts descendants of the Chagos Islanders who were forcibly removed from British Indian Ocean territory in the 1960s. I too wish to express my appreciation and admiration of all those who have been raising and pursuing this issue over a number of years, not least my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker—although I know they are not the only ones who have been working on behalf of the Chagos Islanders.
The issue has significant cross-party support, and the case for this change was powerfully made by a Member of the Minister’s own party in the Commons, Henry Smith MP, who was supported by Members across that House. The clause, as I have indicated, would extend the right to register for citizenship to the grandchildren and other descendants of this population, and it would, as has been pointed out, apply to only a small number of people.
In the Commons, the Minister’s response was not too encouraging, suggesting that this would be too significant a departure from existing law. However, he did say that the Government had heard the strong points made and would
“continue to consider what more we could do, particularly given the low uptake of the £40 million Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office fund designed to assist this diaspora community, and we will certainly be keen to look at that and, potentially, at how it could allow those people to settle here in the UK.”—[
What consideration of this issue has since occurred across Government? What have Ministers settled on as to
“what more we could do”?
In recent years, we have raised significant concerns about this Government’s ongoing foreign and defence policy as regards the Chagos Islands. The Bill provides an opportunity for a distinct and limited change to our own law—one which would have a significant impact for those affected by half a century of injustice. This is surely a unique case. Frankly, we are not setting a precedent, which is what the Government seem to have been arguing to date.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I hope that, at the end of my response, they will feel that I have at least given a partly positive response. I am aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, did not refer to this at Second Reading, but I am very grateful for the discussion we had—I think only yesterday—about this and other matters. I found it very helpful.
I, too, understand the strength of feeling being expressed. I both sympathise and empathise with the residents of the Chagos Islands about how they were treated back in the 1960s and 1970s. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that return and citizenship are two different matters in relation to the Chagossians.
We recognise that some former residents of what is now the British Indian Ocean Territory missed out on rights to British nationality when legislation was last passed in 2002 to address the nationality of the Chagossians. Section 6 of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 granted British Overseas Territories citizenship and British citizenship status by descent to any child born on or after
Here is the partly positive response to these concerns. I am pleased to say that the Nationality and Borders Bill currently makes provision to extend BOTC and British citizenship rights to any second-generation Chagossians who were not able to acquire citizenship through their mothers or unmarried fathers, due to discrimination in nationality law.
The issues are complex. As one noble Lord pointed out, some family members in the same generation hold British nationality while others do not. I agree with my honourable friend the Minister for Safe and Legal Migration, who stated in the other place that the Government are keen to consider what more we can do to support families seeking to settle here under the current system. Minister Foster has said that he is open to considering how we might use the FCDO £40 million fund package to support the Chagossians settled in the UK.
I must point out the position that successive Governments have expressed on this point. Amendment 11 would undermine the principle in our nationality law that applies to all other descendants of British nationals. Second and subsequent generations, born and settled outside the UK and its territories, do not have a right or entitlement to register as British nationals. I know that the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, seeks, as she said, to limit the right to register as a British national to current generations who must apply within a limited timeframe. This does not alleviate the Government’s concern that offering this right is contrary to long-standing government policy. It goes further than the rights available to many other descendants of British nationals settled elsewhere around the world.
The noble Baroness requested that I meet her and others interested in this matter. I always follow up on requests from noble Lords and I am very happy to meet her. We will consider the point raised by my noble friend Lord Horam about what more we can do to address concerns about the Immigration Rules. My noble friend Lady Altmann raised a point about citizenship. Of course, those without citizenship become overstayers. These are complex issues. As I said in reply to my noble friend Lord Horam, we are happy to consider what more we can do through the immigration system.
I do not think that anybody in this Committee would say that what happened to the Chagossians was, by any means, acceptable to them personally. I do not think I was trying to make that case.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate. It is fair to say that there is unequivocal support across the Committee—perhaps not for the exact wording of the amendment, but for what it is trying to achieve. Noble Lords spoke very strongly. It is unusual for nothing to be said in opposition to what is trying to be achieved.
The Minister expressed her sympathy and empathy. I am afraid that butters no parsnips when it comes to what the Chagossians rightly want. As other noble Lords have said, this is a question of justice and human rights. My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti asked a pertinent question about the distinction between those who choose to leave a British territory and those who are forced out. The Minister has accepted that a wrong was done. Whichever Government were in power—I know it was my party—we share the shame. Here is an opportunity, not to put it right but at least to do something tangible that will go some way towards putting one aspect of it right.
I am desperately disappointed that the Government are still using the argument that, because the Chagossians are in the wrong place, they are subject to a long-standing principle of British law. What other group of people has been forcibly evicted in this way? As I said, we are not setting a precedent because I assume we are not planning to evict anybody else.
I thank the Minister for the offer of a meeting. Perhaps we could take a cross-party delegation to reflect the strength of feeling across the House. I hope she will think again. If not, I shall want to bring this back on Report.
My noble friend Lady Whitaker has been supporting the Chagossians for many years; I am relatively new to this issue and the legal position is extremely complicated. I may not have it completely right but there is a principle of justice and human rights, which has been recognised across the Committee. We must use this legislation to put it right. As a number of noble Lords have said, there is no better place than this part of this Bill, which is about putting right historical discrimination in nationality and citizenship law. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment for now.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clause 6: Citizenship where mother married to someone other than natural father
Amendment 12 not moved.
Clause 6 agreed.
Amendment 13 not moved.
Clause 7: Citizenship: registration in special cases