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Hong Kong Military Veterans: Settlement

Volume 829: debated on Wednesday 29 March 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Murray of Blidworth on 22 January (HL4546), when they will decide whether to grant Hong Kong military service veterans entitlement to British citizens passports and right of abode in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I am pleased to confirm that, from this autumn, eligible Hong Kong veterans and family members will be able to apply for settlement. Settlement allows people to live and work in the United Kingdom without restriction. They would then be able to apply to naturalise as British citizens after living in the UK for five years.

I hope your Lordships will indulge me in a slightly longer Answer than usual, because I would like to pay tribute to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and my honourable friend Andrew Rosindell MP, for ensuring that Parliament rightly debated what support should be granted to Hong Kong veterans and for holding us to account on progressing to a reasonable solution. I also pay tribute to Mr Roger Ching and the Hong Kong Military Service Corps Association for their campaigning on this issue. I express my gratitude to every Hong Kong veteran who has served in the British Armed Forces, and I am delighted that this announcement recognises their service.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that announcement. Veterans of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps are watching live at this very moment. Does the Minister recall that this issue was first raised in January 1986, over 37 years ago? It would fit in the Guinness book of records as one of the slow-lane bureaucracies of this House. Will the Home Office now respond to the 63 applications that I forwarded on behalf of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps in March 2020? If a new form is required, when will it be available for new applications?

I thank the noble and gallant Lord. Of course, in 1997, 50,000 heads of household and their families were granted British citizenship. That number included all commissioned officers in the Hong Kong Military Service Corps and all but 100 commissioned officers, as well as 500 of other ranks, serving with the Royal Navy. I was under the impression that the noble and gallant Lord had written 64 letters; I believe they were asking for right of abode. All applications for citizenship or visas need to be made to UK Visas and Immigration through the relevant form. That form will be available in the autumn, via GOV.UK.

My Lords, far be it for me to trump the noble and gallant Lord, but is my noble friend aware that, over 40 years ago, on Report for the British Nationality Bill in 1981, the nomenclature for those relevant was changed to “British Dependent Territories citizen” after 100 amendments were accepted by the Government? Did this not presage today’s excellent announcement?

I was not aware of that, but I am delighted that my noble friend was so successful in his campaign all those years ago, and it is certainly worth remembering now.

My Lords, when these issues were first raised, I was still at school. Why has it taken His Majesty’s Government so long to do right by the Hong Kong veterans? In the light of the Statement made yesterday by the right honourable Johnny Mercer about the Afghan refugees, will the Minister commit to the idea that those who have worked shoulder to shoulder with the United Kingdom in Afghanistan, putting their lives at risk, will not be kept waiting for 37 years for us to do right by them?

My Lords, the Hong Kong Military Service Corps Association has been running this campaign since 2012. Of course, the noble Baroness’s party was part of the Government for part of that time.

On ARAP, we are continuing to support the movement of eligible people out of Afghanistan and into the safety of third countries ahead of onward movement to the UK. That work is ongoing. There are currently just over 1,150 cases in third countries, of which a significant proportion are in Pakistan, being looked after by the British high commission in Islamabad. I very much hope that that fact, and the lack of availability of appropriate housing, are taken into account during the debates on forthcoming Bills.

My Lords, it is right that we should congratulate those who have driven this forward. It is nearly 35 years since my noble friend and I served together in Hong Kong, he as an inspector in the Royal Hong Kong Police and I as an officer in the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers. We served with these volunteers, and I am delighted by today’s news.

To answer the noble Baroness’s question on why this is finally being done today, the drive of my noble friend has pushed it through. The House should congratulate him on making sure that it has happened. I ask my noble friend one further question: how many are we anticipating will apply, and can we ensure that it is done as quickly as possible?

I thank my noble friend for those warm words. He is quite right: we met 35 years ago in a small place called Tsim Bei Tsui. Luckily, we have aged so well that we recognised each other immediately.

The estimated number is difficult to arrive at because records were not particularly well kept back in those days. However, the Hong Kong Military Service Corps Association estimates about 1,000 people, which includes dependants. As I said, forms will be available in the autumn. To forestall muttering of “Why so long?”, I am afraid that it is because the necessary changes to the Immigration Rules have to be made first before this can be put into action. Applications will need to be made online at GOV.UK.

My Lords, I join the Government and others in welcoming the statement that the Minister has made today. I congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and I join the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, in pointing out that I know how much this means to the Minister, from his experience. He deserves a lot of congratulation on this. As we go forward, will the Government ensure that we can have clarity in the statement around terms such as “eligibility” and “families”?

I thank the noble Lord very much for his warm words. I guarantee that we will commit to providing the clarity he seeks in due course.

My Lords, is it also fitting, 41 years on, that we honour those 50 or so Hong Kong veterans who fought in the Falklands War?

My Lords, I will raise an issue that I think was raised when I was at school too. Does the Home Office have any plans to address the long-standing issue that exists whereby UK residents, voters and taxpayers born in the Irish Republic who have lived for many years in Northern Ireland and made it their home do not have an automatic right to a British passport without going through a long and winding process, including paying a substantial fee of £1,300? This was first raised in the other House in 1985. The Government seem reluctant to deal with this issue.

My Lords, obviously, this goes widely beyond the remit of the Question, so I am afraid that I am unable to answer the noble Lord, but I will make sure that he is written to.

My Lords, obviously, this is a very welcome announcement. I note what the Minister said about the number of potential applications. We understand why the forms will not be available until the autumn but he also said that the records are not in a very good state. Is he able to say how long the average application will take? Will the Home Office set performance indicators? Will those be reported to this House?

I am unable to give precise details on that but the noble Lord should rest assured that I shall be keeping a watchful eye.

My Lords, the support for this measure by this House is particularly welcome and encouraging. Soldiers from Hong Kong are different from others in many ways. They have risked their lives to fight for this country for well over 100 years. I too congratulate the Minister on having organised what has been announced.

My Lords, there is no doubt that these people from Hong Kong have fought for us for many years. I had a Chinese laundryman onboard my ship that was sunk in the Falklands. I was very worried that he had lost all his money and everything, with the ship being sunk. If noble Lords will excuse my phraseology, he had stuffed all his cash in a prophylactic that he had stuffed in his belt. I said, “That was very clever of you”. He said, “No, sir, I learned from my father. He was sunk in the Royal Navy in the Second World War”.

My Lords, clearly, this is welcome news. Can the Minister say anything about the pensions that these veterans will receive? I should declare an interest: I have advised the Gurkhas on their arrangements and I am aware of the problems there. Will the pensions be commensurate with these veterans’ new situation?