Shadow Home Secretary Jack Straw today called on Home Secretary Michael Howard to stop blocking a Bill to give British citizenship to 8,000 Asian residents of Hong Kong, who will otherwise be effectively stateless when the colony is transfered to China in July.
Mr Straw said: "Common sense and common humanity demand that we give these people full British citizenship. The limbo in which they will find themselves in July arises directly from the agreements which Britain made with China.
"Labour is supporting the Private Member's Bill which has all-party backing. The Government should do the same."
Here is the text of Mr Straw's letter to Mr Howard:
BRITISH NATIONALITY BILL
I am writing to ask you to reconsider your opposition to this Bill, and instead to help ensure its speedy passage through the Commons so that it can become law before the General Election.
This Bill, sponsored in the House of Lords by Lord Willoughby de Broke, would provide full British citizenship for approximately 8,000 "non-Chinese British nationals", mainly of South Asian descent. These people cannot acquire Chinese citizenship when Hong Kong is transferred to Chinese sovereignty in July because such citizenship is based on ethnicity. At the same time, they have been denied full British citizenship by the law as it presently stands.
All that these people have so far been offered is the status of "British nationals (overseas) (BNO) if they apply for it, or as "British overseas citizens (BOC)" if they do not. The claim was made in the Lords by your Minister of State, Baroness Blatch, that this amounted to "British nationality" (Lords Hansard, 12.12.96, col 1228). But this is pure sophistry. "British nationality" is not, as you well know, the same thing as full British citizenship, which carries with it the right of abode in the United Kingdom. In any event, as Fransman's British Nationality Law states: "A person who is a BNO, like one who is a BNO, possesses not so much a nationality as a qualification for UK travel facilities".
In a speech made last March the Prime Minister evidently accepted that this group could face profound difficulties. But all he could offer as a solution to those difficulties was warm words that "if against all expectations any solely British nationals come under pressure to leave Hong Kong, the British government of the day would consider with considerable and particular sympathy their case for admission to the United Kingdom".
I believe that this group deserve more than sympathy. What they need is the assurance now that they can come and settle in the United Kingdom if they wish. The practical effect of the current provision for them is that they have no right from citizenship to live anywhere.
By Baroness Blatch's own admission this is a small group, of no more than 8,000. Even if they were granted British citizenship they are very unlikely indeed to wish to enter the UK at once. Indeed, the very grant of British citizenship would almost certainly give them greater security in Hong Kong. Nor do I see any serious risk of such a grant creating any precedent. Every other British colony has been given independence. Hong Kong is the only one of which I am aware which has been transferred to another state.
I shall be releasing the text of this letter to the press.
I shall look forward to hearing from you.
Jack Straw MP
Note to Editors:
Labour has consistently supported the grant of citizenship for the Asian residents of Hong Kong, and argued for it when the Hong Kong Bid was before the last Parliament.
SOURCE The Labour Party