Amendment 76

Nationality and Borders Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 10:24 pm on 8th March 2022.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool:

Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool

76: After Clause 78, insert the following new Clause—“British National (Overseas) visas: eligibility(1) Within two months of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must amend the immigration rules to ensure that all persons meeting all the conditions set out in subsection (2) are eligible to apply for the British National (Overseas) visa. (2) The conditions in this subsection are that—(a) the person has at least one parent who is a British national (overseas),(b) the person was born on or after 1 July 1997,(c) the person is aged 18 or over on the date of application, and(d) the person is—(i) if applying to enter the United Kingdom, ordinarily resident in Hong Kong, or(ii) if applying for permission to remain, ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the Bailiwick of Jersey, the Isle of Man or Hong Kong.”

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to introduce Amendment 76, whose equivalent was moved in Committee but had its inception in the House of Commons. The amendment stands in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, so it is an all-party amendment. It affects BNO eligibility for visas for young people; that is, those who were born after 1997, whose parents qualify but they themselves do not. This was in many respects an omission from the original scheme. I declare my interests as a patron of Hong Kong Watch and as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong.

The original plan was launched on 31 January as a bespoke immigration route for BNO status holders and their family members. It was something that we could all welcome, reflecting our moral and historic commitment; and, indeed, it has been a great success, with over 100,000 applications made to date. However, some 18 to 24 year-olds were unable to access this route. as your Lordships know, this amendment would enable individuals born on or after 1 July 1997 who have at least one BNO parent to apply to the route. As I said, the amendment had its genesis in the House of Commons. I pay particular tribute to the right honourable Damian Green for the work that he put into it, but also to the support of Lady May and other notable members of the Conservative Party, as well as the support of the Commons from all Benches on all sides, so this is bipartisan, and bicameral as well.

I pay a special tribute to and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who has already been congratulated quite a lot today on her notable elevation to the Privy Council—perhaps because of what she did on this amendment. She and her noble friend Lord Sharpe have engaged very much with those who have signed this amendment. He has significant experience in Hong Kong, so this was close to his heart.

The noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, made a very memorable speech in Committee, which was followed by many people in Hong Kong, let alone in this country, and it says an awful lot that someone who has held such high office in the past is willing to commit so strongly to this, to show that his affection and commitment to the people of Hong Kong remain completely unchanged. Like me, he continues to be concerned about those who will not qualify for this scheme, but that is not the point of the amendment. It is something that others must step up to the plate to do something about, but I hope especially that those living in other Commonwealth countries can follow the example that the British Government have set in issuing a Written Statement which was the upshot of conversations that we had in Committee; the Government

“intend to lay the changes to the Immigration Rules in September with the changes expected to go live in October”.

The Written Statement also details the welcome programme led by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Its tone and what it says at the end I particularly welcome:

“We look forward to welcoming applications from those individuals who wish to make the UK their home”.

The Government have taken a positive approach. They have engaged constructively, and this decision is worthy of this country and its special relationship with Hong Kong. It will allow young Hong Kongers who were not eligible for a BNO visa to avoid languishing in the asylum system, unable to work or study. This change of policy will allow these young people to settle more quickly and enrich British society.

I do not need to say very much more, other than to comment on one development in Hong Kong this week which underlines why life has become so difficult for people such as Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and others to whom we referred in Committee. Paul Harris, the former chair of the Hong Kong Bar Association and a veteran human rights barrister, and a man of great standing, has had to leave Hong Kong after police questioned him. It marks another dark day for human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong. His steadfast defence of Hong Kong’s beleaguered democracy and his opposition to the draconian national security law provoked the ire of the Chinese Communist Party and made him a marked man. For those young people who joined many of the protests and demonstrations, this scheme will literally be a lifeline. I hope that we will then use our standing to convince other countries to follow our example and do the same by extending these lifeboat provisions to enable settlement—other Commonwealth countries especially, such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which already have significant communities of people drawn from Hong Kong.

I hope that I have been relatively brief, since the House has a lot of other business to accomplish. I beg to move Amendment 76.

Photo of Lord Patten of Barnes Lord Patten of Barnes Conservative 10:30 pm, 8th March 2022

I support the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I will be even more brief. It may have been obvious that I have been able to contain my enthusiasm during much of the discussion of this Bill to within the bounds of public decorum, but on this occasion I want to say without any reservation how strongly I support what the Government have done.

We have a continuing moral responsibility to the people of Hong Kong. Hong Kong has been hit by a mendacious Government in Beijing—including Mr Putin’s best friend, we are now told—who have set about comprehensively and vindictively destroying the freedoms of a great and open society. It is particularly appropriate that we have recognised some of those who have been more affected, particularly with the charges that have been levelled at them in recent weeks around civil disobedience and freedom of speech. This amendment and the proposals of the Government will help those who have been most affected: the younger Hong Kongers who are the children of people already able to get a BNO passport but who unfortunately are in the group born after 1997. It is a very important amendment. I am delighted that the Government have accepted it and that they continue to assert our continuing moral responsibility for Hong Kong.

I expect, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said in our earlier debate, that the young people who come here will make a really significant contribution to this country. One day, I hope, they will be able to return to Hong Kong as a free society. That is not entirely in our hands, though the more we behave like a liberal democracy that believes in liberal democracy, the more likely it is to happen.

I am delighted that I am able on this occasion to say how much I support what the Government have done, and I look forward to doing so on many future occasions—there have not been quite enough in the past. Maybe that has been my fault or maybe the fault has lain elsewhere, but that is a subjective judgment. I thank the Government very much and hope they will continue to be as open-minded and gracious in the way they respond to good arguments.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I declare my position as the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong. I am in the rare position of congratulating the Government very warmly and thanking them for listening to campaigners, including on their own Benches, in taking this step for the younger people of Hong Kong who have at least one BNO passport-holding parent. I also join the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in congratulating the Government on the welcome programme for the BNO passport holders coming here. The APPG heard from the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, this week and we appreciated his enthusiastic words on that programme.

I will make one extra point. The all-party group held an inquiry into the treatment of young medics and humanitarian workers in Hong Kong during protests. Those young people had to have their voices disguised to testify to us. I remember one of them, who as he was talking to us on the Zoom call was glancing at the door, saying, “I don’t know if the police will come through that door at this moment.” I have no doubt that some of those young people speaking to us had parents who were BNO passport holders, but some of them did not, yet they were young people who had made similar contributions to that society. My simple question to the Government is: will they in future, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton said, work with Commonwealth countries to see that all of those young people who have made brave contributions to democracy and the rule of law in Hong Kong are able to find a route out if they need to?

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, I will even more briefly strike a slightly different note. This proposal—I know it has virtually gone through—is very unwise. We have a scheme which already applies to rather more than 5 million people. That is surely enough, and we should leave it at that.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, I give the Liberal Democrats’ support for this amendment and pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Patten of Barnes, for their repeated campaigns to support Hong Kong and in particular young Hong Kongers.

It is perhaps right that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, is on the Front Bench when, for once, we are saying, “Actually, you’ve got this right”. So often, we seem to give her such a hard time, although we say, “We think that she is probably with us but having to give the government line”. The fact that the Government have now acknowledged the importance of supporting young Hong Kongers is very welcome. Alongside the privy counsellorship, we are very keen to welcome that.

I am afraid that these Benches disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington—actually, this is the right thing to do. It is not about to open the floodgates to mass immigration, but it does give an opportunity for young Hong Kongers who feel the need to come here to do so.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

I express our wholehearted support for the amendment and the extension of the BNO scheme to young Hong Kongers. I congratulate all noble Lords around this Chamber, from all parties and no party, who have campaigned on this issue. I thank the Government for their decision and the progress that has been made, which has led to agreement all around the House.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank noble Lords and pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, who tirelessly campaigns on this and other issues. I thank him for his kind words, and I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate on Amendment 76.

We recognise that the BNO route is creating unfair outcomes for the families of BNO status holders, with some children able to access the route independently because they were old enough to be registered for BNO status, while their younger siblings, aged between 18 and 24, are unable to do so. That is why, on 24 February, the Government announced a change to the BNO route to enable individuals aged 18 or over who were born on or after 1 July 1997 and who have at least one BNO parent to apply to the route independently of their parents.

The policy change addresses the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and other Members of both Houses. It will ensure that we are addressing potentially unfair outcomes for families of BNO status holders and ensure that the UK meets its ongoing commitment to BNO status holders.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I say that there are of course other routes for those who are not eligible under this particular scheme. We intend to lay the changes to the Immigration Rules in September, and they are expected to take effect from October.

In the light of these assurances, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, in the light of what the Minister has been able to say to the House, and of the debate and the excellent contributions from all who have spoken—including my noble friend Lord Green, with whom I have a good friendship but often disagree—I think that young Hong Kongers who come to this country will enrich our lives. I have seen for myself, in my own city of Liverpool, the great contribution that Hong Kong people have made over many generations. I know that these will be patriotic and loyal citizens, who will care for this country and enliven our society.

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, and I am grateful to all who have spoken in tonight’s debate.

Amendment 76 withdrawn.