New Clause 3 - Application of European rules on citizenship

British Overseas Territories Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 6th December 2001.

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''European Union rules governing citizenship shall not extend to British Overseas Territories Citizens who claim British Citizenship, unless, and until, they become naturalised and exercise their right of abode in the UK.''.—[Mr. Spring.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The intention of the new clause is to clarify issues that have not been fully explained. The Bill raises broad and important questions about the overseas territories and their relationship with Europe. Alas, the Minister's letter of 3 December, which addressed some of the issues, reached me only after I had tabled the amendment. As I understand it, citizens of the territories will become EU citizens but will not be bound by EU law and regulations until such time as they take up the right of abode in the United Kingdom. However, there are still several grey areas. It would be useful to have a statement from the Minister that there are no EU obligations upon the governments of the territories or upon their citizens who are not resident in the EU.

We must be equally clear about threats of interference in the constitutional relationship between the UK and our overseas territories. Are dual nationality and citizenship possible, should citizens so wish? My noble Friend Baroness Rawlings, asked that question in another place but did not receive a reply. It is important that the Minister lets us know what representations, if any, the Government have received from the European Union about the legislation, and how it assesses its impact and issues of reciprocity.

I seek to make it totally clear that EU rules will not apply in the British overseas territories. I appreciate the point made by the Minister in another place that the new clause would deny freedom of movement and other EU rights to the citizens of the territories. That was not the aim of my new clause, which is intended as a probing amendment. I believed that a clarification of responsibilities and obligations under the Bill was necessary and that the new clause was the best way to achieve that. It should be made clear that EU law shall have no force in the territories or over their citizens, unless they are resident in the United Kingdom.

I find it difficult to believe that our EU partners, with reciprocity in mind, will be happy to allow new British citizens full EU rights without any obligations upon them in return. Such obligations would be entirely unacceptable unless acquiesced to by the governments of the territories concerned. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify the situation.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I shall go through the points that the hon. Gentleman raised one by one. No, we do not have a problem with dual nationality; it will be possible. We have received no representations at all from the EU or from individual EU countries. The Bill is about citizenship, not sovereignty or constitutional change. It has no effect on the constitutional relationship between the United Kingdom and the overseas territories or between the territories and the European Union. Any agreements that the territories have entered into with the EU stand; they are free to enter into more if they so wish. However, there is no obligation on the territories to adhere, for example, to EU directives.

As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the new clause would deprive the new British citizens in the territories of their full rights, until they are resident in the United Kingdom. I am sure that he does not want to do that. It would also take away the rights that British overseas territories citizens who have acquired British citizenship through the British Nationality Act 1981 but are not resident in this country enjoy as European Union citizens. Those rights cover free movement in Europe, setting up businesses in Europe and so on. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the motion.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

I am grateful to the Minister for making those points. It is vital that we understand the distinction, and I am happy that he has made it clear today. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.