As holders of British national overseas passports with no right to
reside in the UK, up to 8,000 non-ethnically Chinese residents of Hong
Kong faced the prospect of being stateless when Britain hands over Hong
Kong to China on 1 July this year.
Many of Indian and Pakistani origin have links with Britain going back
to the 1840s when around 2,000 Indian soldiers were deployed when
Britain took over the colony.
In 1996, John Major gave a guarantee of resettlement in the UK if these
people were asked to leave, but the UK Government stood by its policy of
not granting full British passports.
Home Secretary Michael Howard was particularly opposed to a change in
policy because he reportedly saw this as an immigration issue.
To gain full British citizenship for Hong Kong residents who after the
handover would have no full citizenship of any country in the world.
LSA used a mix of Parliamentary lobbying and media activity to try to
get the Government to change its stance.
Lobbying began by identifying key opinion formers who already supported
the issue such as the Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten, ex-governors
such as Baroness Dunn, and Baroness Thatcher.
Media activity started in September when Christine Loh from Hong Kong’s
Legislative Council, came to the UK to talk about the ethnic minorities
A second wave of media activity surrounded the UK visit of Vandana
Rajwani, a 26-year-old barrister and member of the ethnic minority
campaign, whose application to attend a Bar course in the UK was
rejected because she did not have a full British passport.
A Private Members bill was prepared and introduced in the Lords by Lord
Willoughby de Broke on 21 November and given cross-Party approval.
During the passage of the bill through the Lords and then into the
Commons, LSA produced a newsletter giving an update on developments and
asking for further support which was widely circulated to MPs and Peers.
In a third media campaign in January, Ravi Gidumal, leader of the Indian
Resources Group was brought over to the UK. He also hosted a briefing
session in the House.
LSA coordinated media activity in Hong Kong through the Indian Resources
Group, helping to ensure there was no confusion about who was eligible
for a full British passport.
The three principle media initiatives all led to interviews on Radio 4’s
Today programme. A Sunday Times article about the issue, said that a
letter from the Queen had made clear her personal concern, and further
broadsheet coverage resulted.
Vandana Rajwani’s visit to the UK gained widespread coverage in the
Asian media including Sunrise Radio, Asian cable station Zee TV, and the
The Financial Times and the Independent ran leaders at the end of
January giving their support.
Extensive lobbying led to a Commons debate on Hong Kong in November and
Labour MP Robin Cook announced that Labour would grant full
As a result of continued lobbying, several Parliamentarians also spoke
to Home Secretary, Michael Howard, the main opponent of the Bill, about
On 4 February, bowing to pressure from all sides, Michael Howard
announced a climbdown and said the affected people would get full
The climbdown gained wide coverage in the broadsheets, but little
interest from the tabloids.
At the outset of the campaign, leading figures had suggested to LSA that
there was no way the Government would change its policy.
Extensive lobbying was successful in getting a significant number of
opinion formers to speak up on the issue. Well staged media visits at
key moments in the campaign also helped swell public support.
In the Guardian, Vivek Chaudhary and Rebecca Smithers acknowledged the
role of ’sustained lobbying by Tory MPs and representatives of Hong
Kong’s non-Chinese community’ in getting Michael Howard to change his
Client: Hong Kong Indian Resources Group
PR Team: LSA
Campaign: Hong Kong Ethnic Minorities Passport Campaign
Timescale: July 1996 - February 1997
Budget: just over pounds 20,000