HC Deb 08 March 1843 vol 67 cc427-41
Mr. Hutt

said: In moving the Second Reading of the Naturalization Bill, I trust I may ask for a few moments the indulgence of the House. There are some misconceptions abroad respecting the nature of this bill, which, I think, a short statement, if I may be favoured with the attention of the House while 1 make it, must have a tendency to remove. The advantage of inducing foreigners to establish themselves in this country, though it is a subject new to this House, is by no means new to the Government of this country. Some legislation in its favour may be observed at a very early period of history. There are traces of it in Magna Charta, and the laws made by the first Princes of the house of Plantagenet, and especially by Edward 3rd, for encouraging foreigners to settle in this country, and for throwing open our markets and our harbours to the unrestricted intercourse of the world, will ever remain conspicuous monuments of their early wisdom, and fitness for the task of government. From the time of Richard 2nd to the Revolution, with some exceptions, indeed, in the reign of Elizabeth, and of Charles 2nd, a very different policy prevailed. Foreigners were then regarded, as they usually have been regarded by nations imperfectly civilized, with strong feelings of jealousy and aversion. They were, accordingly, subjected to fantastic and odious restraints, and they frequently bore the imputation of occasioning ridiculous and impossible evils. At the Revolution, wiser sentiments were entertained; the writings of Sir Josiah Childe, of Algernon Sydney, of Sir William Petty, and Sir William Temple, had greatly disabused the public mind respecting the malignant influence of foreign settlers. But considerations of a political character still produced a continuation of the former policy, and, indeed, they partly justified it. Accordingly, all the old laws against foreigners were retained, and they received an additional sanction by the celebrated Act of Settlement, which was passed in the latter part of King William's reign. Mr. Hallam remarks in the third volume of his "Constitutional History':— The experience of William's partiality to Bentinck and Keppel, led to a strong measure of precaution against the probable influence of foreigners under the new dynasty; the exclusion of all persons not born within the dominions of the British Crown from every office of civil and military trust, and from both Houses of Parliament. No other country, as far as I can recollect, has adopted so sweeping a disqualification; and it must, I think, be admitted, that it goes a greater length than liberal policy can warrant. And this, indeed, appears to have been the opinion of the very parties by whom the Act of Settlement was framed. For, in the seventh year of the reign of Queen Anne, they procured the sanction of the Legislature to an Act for the General Naturalization of Foreign Protestants. This measure gave to strangers a much wider latitude of naturalization than I have thought it advisable now to adopt. By its provision any foreign person, being a Protestant, might obtain all the rights of a British subject, without exception, by taking the oaths of supremacy and allegiance before any court of justice, and by paying the fee of 1s. This act was repealed tinder very peculiar circumstances. The party by whom it was passed having been dismissed from office, and Mr. Harley being in favour with the Queen, in 1711, a bill for repealing the Naturalization Act was sent by the House of Commons up to the House of Peers, and by that body it was rejected. In the following year, when Mr. Harley had destroyed the independence of the House of Lords by a large creation of Peers, the repealing bill was sanctioned by both branches of the Legislature, and became law. In the year 1751, a Naturalization Bill was again brought before Parliament, and received the earnest support of Lord Chatham, then Mr. Pitt. It passed through a committee of this House without much opposition, when, the Session of Parliament being hurried to a close in consequence of the sudden death of the heir to the Throne —the father of George 3rd — the bill was abandoned, and it has never since been revived. It is a great satisfaction to me, in bringing forward a measure of this consequence, to reflect that I have such high authorities in my favour; and that, whatever view the House may take of the proposition, that I cannot be open to the censure of occupying the time of the House by agitating any strange or ill-considered scheme of legislation. Indeed, Sir, if any reverence be due to the beacon of illustrious names—a principle for which Sir Francis Bacon, one of the greatest and wisest of mankind, contended within the walls of this House—a measure which was sanctified by the wisdom and patriotism and constitutional authority of Lord Cowper, Lord Somers, and Godolphin, and which, forty years after, was vehemently recommended to Parliament by the first and greatest of the Pitts, such a measure will receive from this House a candid and favourable consideration. Our laws in regard to foreigners residing in this country, which remain in nearly the same state as they were left on the death of King William, are more rigid, more inhospitable, than those of any other civilized country in the world. We have not, in fact, greatly travelled in this respect beyond the liberality of Pekin; and, unless we make haste, we shall, probably, be overtaken by the superior civilization of China. We seem still desirous to vindi- cate the description given of us when we were sunk in barbarism, Penitus toto divisosorbe Britannos, Our laws respecting foreigners at present stand thus:—No alien can hold land, or any place of trust or emolument under the Crown. By taking out letters patent of denization, a foreigner is permitted to hold land, but neither to inherit it, nor to transmit it to his children born prior to his denization. But he may still come to Parliament, and obtain a private Naturalization Act. The indulgence will cost him from 150l. to 200l. He can now hold lands, inherit them, and bequeath them to any of his children, but he is still cut off from most of the advantages, and all of the distinctions of social life. He can hold no place of trust or emolument, civil or military, under the Crown. He cannot have a seat in either House of Parliament, or at the Council-board, and, if he is a merchant, he cannot obtain the advantages of a British subject in his dealings with other countries unless he can show that he has resided in this country for seven years from the passing of this act, never having been out of it for more than two months at a time. These various restrictions and disqualifications are continually productive of the severest hardship and palpable injustice, especially in the event of marriages between foreigners and British subjects. I could mention many instances of this nature, which I am sure would command the sympathy of this House, but I think it better to confine my observations to the general principles with which we have to deal. Sir, I would ask, what is the use of these painful restraints? It is pretended that they are necessary precautions and safeguards against foreigners intermeddling with our national institutions, it is all a farce. We don't believe it. Certainly the Members of the Houses of Parliament cannot affect to believe it; for when ever a case occurs against which these statutes were specially meant to provide, we prove by our conduct that we consider those statutes to be, what at this time of day they certainly are, utterly idle and supererogatory. Here is a foreign person, a small merchant, the utmost attainment of whose ambition would be the office of exciseman or petty constable. I admit that we take adequate care that the constitution shall not be overthrown by this formidable character. By-and-by comes a foreigner of high dignity, of royal blood—husband to the Queen—al- most wears a crown—capable of exerting, more than any other man, a prodigious influence on the political condition of the country: and what do we do? We immediately" shove aside all these precautionary and protecting statutes, and we admit him by acclamation into all the rights and privileges of a British subject, without limitation or restriction. Of course, I am not objecting to this customary proceeding. I refer to it only to contend that if we can, with safety, and with advantage to the State, repeal these statutes, and dispense with these provisions, in regard to one so exalted and so powerful, that it is a mockery to pretend they are necessary for our safety in the case of the humble traders and the artisans. I have been asked whether, if we should induce foreigners to establish themselves in this country, any practical advantage would result from it, and whether we should not thereby aggravate that competition which is already so urgent among us in all the operations of active life? Sir, I not only admit that these are just and legitimate inquiries, but I fully concede that, unless I can answer them satisfactorily, I have no ground to stand upon, and that I have no pretence whatever for asking the sanction of this House or countenance of the Government to my bill. Assuredly it has been from no desire to parade an empty and abstract liberality of opinion that I have undertaken to advocate the measure. I do sincerely believe that it is a measure of real good and of sound practical advantage. I conceive, for reasons which I will immediately state, that the foreigners whom a ready access to our rights of citizenship would attract to this country would almost exclusively be merchants, manufactures, and artisans, and that they would never present themselves in this country in numbers which could justify any rational apprehension. Strangers settling in a foreign country, and especially in this, must always be exposed to many disadvantages as compared with the native inhabitants. Even when the law made no distinction between them, the social isolation in which they would be placed, their ignorance of the laws, the language, and customs of their new neighbours, must always be, not only extremely irksome, but positively injurious in all the business and occupations of life. Consequently, I imagine that few foreigners would ever come to this country for the purpose of settling here, unless they were confident they possessed some expertness in business, some proficiency in the arts, some skill in manufactures superior to what might happen to prevail here, the exclusive possession of which would more than counterbalance those other drawbacks to which I have referred. Foreigners settling now in this country, though usually distinguished by intelligence, industry, and activity, are not of the class whom an alteration in the laws of naturalization would be likely to attract here. They have usually come over to this country in very humble circumstances, as workmen in particular manufactures, or as clerks in mercantile houses. We seldom or enver hear of any master manufacturer or superior artizan settling in this country. Formerly, driven by the religious and political prosecutions of other states, they came here in crowds for refuge, and those refugees it was, those emigrants from the north of Italy, from the Netherlands, and from France, who laid the foundations of almost all we can now boast of in the manufacturing superiority of England. Such persons have no occasion now to seek an asylum in this country, and the harshness and jealousy of our laws present them no other inducement to come here. On the other hand, Englishmen settle freely in other countries, carrying with them and disseminating a knowledge of those arts to her proficiency in which Great Britain owes so much of her power and her station. For it is the policy of other states to encourage foreigners to settle among them— it is the policy of Great Britain to deter them. Now, Sir, I know that I should be wrong, I know that 1 should be overstating my case, if I attributed to the rigour of our laws only the infrequency with which foreigners of skill and capital establish themselves in this country. I am well aware that several causes conspire to produce that effect; but unquestionably the most powerful, the most influential, of those causes is the state of alienation and proscription to which they are condemned by our laws. In my opinion, this system is fruitful in nothing but evil. We know what has been the result of the reverse system whenever it has been tried. The history of Venice, the history of the Hanse Towns, the more recent history of Holland, the astonishing and romantic history of these and of all other states which have freely enrolled strangers among the body of their citizens, affords the most instructive evidence of the wisdom of such a policy. In an official document recently laid on the Table of the House, and drawn up, I believe, by the able pen of Mr. Macgregor, on the commercial statistics of Holland, there is a remarkable passage, which I will take the liberty of reading to the House. [Mr. Hutt read the passage, showing that the prosperity of Holland was in a great measure owing to the strangers who took refuge in that state.] Such was one of the secrets of the manufacturing and commercial prosperity of Holland: and so, Sir, it has ever been, and the great Creator of the world has surely not excepted this country from the common laws of nature. We should derive from a more generous treatment of foreign settlers what every other nation has uniformly derived from it—fresh facilities for manufactures, fresh resources for our commerce, and additional means for giving employment to our industry. But, Sir, the competition! Would not the influx of strangers increase the competition which is already pressing hard on domestic industry? Sir, two kinds of competition are before us. That which may take place within our own borders, among individuals—a competition stimulating ingenuity, promoting industry and exertion, suggesting improvements, and, by enhancing the quality of our commodities, enlarging the markets for disposing of them. This kind of competition is before us, and this we may take, or we must prepare ourselves for a competition far more formidable—I mean that which we must engage in with the superior skill of rival nations in the other markets of the world. If the foreigner is our superior in the fabrication of silks, of shawls, of velvets, of dyed goods, printed muslins, glass, &c., we must deal with that superiority in one way or another; we must either give way before it, withdraw from the market whenever it confronts us, or we must admit the foreigner to our homes, receive him as our instructor, and learn from him the secret of that excellence which has given a superiority to his countrymen. The latter course surely is the one which prudence and a sense of our best interests suggests. To me, indeed, it appears, that a ready interchange of abode among the inhabitants of different countries is the appointed means by which new arts, new discoveries, new additions to the comforts and conveniences of life, must diffuse themselves. It seems to me one of the benevolent instruments of the wise purposes of that Provi- dence which has laid, in the reciprocal necessities both of individuals and of nations, the firmest groundwork of human society. This is the case which I venture to submit to the House. I presume to think that I have partly proved to this House that our laws relating to foreign settlers are at variance with the judgment of some of the wisest men who have ever adorned this country—that if at any time they were useful as safeguards to the state, they are useless now; and that we prove that we think them useless by constantly suspending and disregarding them—that they are repugnant to the policy of the most flourishing communities of other times, and to that of all the civilized countries of the present day—and, lastly, that while they are useless to our political institutions they are seriously detrimental to every other national interest, by obstructing that free introduction of foreign improvements and discoveries which is essential to our manufacturing and commercial prosperity. Now, Sir, if I wanted any other argument to recommend my bill to the House, I should draw it from the present circumstances of the country. There are persons who, looking at the economical evils that surround us—at our social, financial, and commercial difficulties—persuade them-selves that we are approaching one of those great changes to which other states and empires have submitted before us. I do not share in any such dark apprehensions. In the unequalled energy of our people — in the yet unshaken resources of our industry—in our vast colonial dependencies —and, I will say it, in the honour, rectitude, and integrity of public men—I think the welfare of our country is yet secure. But of this I am quite sure, that if we are to hold on in our course of prosperity, it can only be by adapting every part of the machine of society to that increased exertion which it must be called upon to make, and by taking care that every incumbrance which clogs the free action, either of individuals or the community, is carefully and prudently removed. The right hon. Gentleman has announced it, as one of the objects of his policy, to increase the demand for labour, and to extend the commercial prosperity of the country. Who will refuse to acknowledge the wisdom of such a purpose?—who will refuse to co-operate in such an undertaking? It is from a belief that I am promoting that great national object that I have submitted this bill to the judgment of the House. I trust that the House and the Government will give it their sanction, for I know that the history of ages will attest that the progress of nations in the arts of civilization, and in all that ministers to the highest interests of mankind, has been more dependent on the freedom of their commerce, and on the liberality with which they have treated foreigners, than on any other circumstance beside. The hon. Member moved that the bill be read a second time.

Sir James Graham

said, that, perceiving the auxious impatience of the House, which, considering the important subject that was coming on for discussion was most natural, he should trespass upon their indulgence for a very short time. He begged to assure the hon. Gentleman, that it was not from any want of respect for the elaborate observations which he had addressed to the House, if he failed to follow him upon all the topics he had touched upon. It was enough for him shortly to state to the House the reasons why, upon full consideration, it appeared to him and his colleagues that it was not expedient to give their assent to the further progress of this bill. He really must be excused for stating, that he was clearly of opinion the hon. Gentleman had failed to demonstrate any practical inconvenience arising from the law as it now stood. Every facility was given to aliens coming to this country to obtain from the Crown, by letters of denization, the enjoyment of most important rights. By that means, an alien was enabled to hold real and piersonal property, and to enjoy every rght, as regarded property, possessed by British subjects, except that of being able to take property by inheritance. If an alien sought to enlarge those rights, and obtain the right of inheritance, it then became necessary for him to get the consent of Parliament. Now, with regard to the difficulty of obtaining an ac of naturalization, he was really not quite certain as to the accuracy of that which he was about to state, but he believed that the process unde this bill would be as tsrdy, or at least as expensive as the process of obtaining from Parliament a bill of naturalization. He was of opinion that the course proposed by the hon. Gentleman would neither be more speedy nor less expensive than the course of proceeding by bill. In the first place, he must decidedly object to referring the question to a particular portion of the Privy Council; namely, the judicial committee of the Council, which was precisely that portion of the Council which was not responsible for advising the Crown. If reference ought to be made to any portion of the Council, it should be to that portion of it which was subject to responsibility, and at the same time possessed the special confidence of the Sovereign. But these were minor objections, on which he did not rely. Since the Revolution of 1688 the law had stood in the main as it stood at the present day. There was a short period in the reign of Queen Anne when the Act of Settlement passed at the Revolution was repealed. But that experiment made against the case of the hon. Gentleman. The experiment was tried for three years, but it did not meet with the approbation of the country, and the original enactment under the Act of Settlement was re-enforced. A natural jealousy was felt at that period against the possibility of foreign councillors being introduced to high stations in this country by court favour. Precautions were therefore taken against the possibility of such an occurrence, and no attempt had since been made to alter the law as then settled, except on one occasion during the reign of George the 2nd. Well, what was the shape in which the question now presented itself, no attempt having been made to alter the Act of Settlement since the reign of George the 2nd? He could not understand what was the practical grievance which was not met by the two arrangements he had already mentioned, namely, letters of denization, or the means of obtaining of further privileges by an act of naturalization, which in 999 cases out of 1,000 passed without opposition. But there did remain that great and important privilege which, according to the act of William the 3rd, no act of naturalization could confer, namely, the right of silting in Parliament and at the Council-board. Now, his real objection to the bill was, that it went to repeal a provision in the Act of Settlement which he considered most wholesome. The hon. Gentleman had alluded to the opinion that we were at the eve of great and serious changes. Now, in his opinion, one of the simplest means of preventing great, and fearful, and awful changes, was to give resistance to petty and small changes like those now proposed, which were perfectly uncalled for, and which could not be defended upon any plea of necessity. He was convinced that it was the general feeling of the country—it might be a vulgar prejudice, but still he confessed he partook of it, and he believed that the people of the United Kingdom felt, that it was fitting, that the Members of their Legislature should be native-born subjects, and persons capable of taking into consideration their habits, their feelings, and their associations. The hon. Gentleman had made a quotation from Virgil, who spoke of this country, when its inhabitants were in a savage state, as being —toto divisos orbe Britannos. He would answer the hon. Gentleman by a quotation from the same authority, and say Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento; Hæ tibi erunt artes. He was for British subjects being the Legislators of Britain.

Dr. Stock

said, he had seconded the motion from a knowledge of the beneficial effects which had been produced by a similar system in Ireland. He doubted the accuracy of the right hon. Baronet's opinion as to the difficulty of obtaining naturalization by means of the authority of the Privy Council being as great or as expensive as by an Act of Parliament. But these were matters which could be better considered in committee.

Mr. Aglionby

feared that the effect of the bill might be to sow discomfort in many families, and to unsettle the titles to many estates. He hoped, therefore, that it would not be pressed to a division. He entertained many objections to the bill; but after the opposition which had been offered by the right hon. Baronet, he would not state them to the House. Under the present system an Act of Parliament might be obtained, giving to aliens many of the advantages proposed by this bill, and giving them full protection. He greatly objected to any measure which would interfere with the contingent and vested rights of British-born subjects; and this bill would certainly have that effect, unless very stringent clauses were introduced to guard against it. He would not consent to an alteration of the law which would give to foreigners more extended rights than they had at present, but he would go as far as possible with the hon. Member to diminish the expences which were incurred in obtaining bills of naturalization.

Captain Pechell

did not agree with his hon. Friend in his praise of the right hon. Baronet, who he thought had treated the hon. Member for Gateshead uncourteously, by stopping the bill in the present stage. Neither could he agree with that right hon. Gentleman, that the bill of the Member for Gateshead was for petty purposes. One of its objects was to get rid of the excessive amount of fees paid to the Attorney-general, the Solicitor-general, and other officers, which were a monstrous grievance. The lowest amount of these fees was 98l., but seven persons might join in the same bill. That number had on one occasion, he believed, been exceeded, when the whole musical band of George the Third was at once naturalized. And was it not a monstrous grievance, that a man who had fought the battles of this country throughout the whole of the Peninsular war, and lost a limb, should lose the franchise because he was born of English parents in Germany. He knew of such a case, where the man who had been allowed to vote under the Reform Act, was objected to by the Conservatives. He thought, after the industry shown by his hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, the Government would see the necessity of doing something on this subject.

Mr. Labouchere

would support the second reading by his vote, if the hon. Mover carried the question to a division. His experience taught him, that there were many particulars in which the law pressed upon foreigners with unnecessary severity. As Government was determined to do nothing, he would vote for the second reading of the bill; not that he approved of all its details, but because he thought that it might in the Committee be reduced to a shape which would be unobjectionable. There was a broad distinction between admitting foreigners to seats in Parliament, and in the Privy Council, and allowing them the rights of property belonging to British subjects, and of which they were now deprived. Seats in the two Houses and in the Privy Council, he admitted, ought to be reserved to British subjects; but still much might be done to lessen the expense of naturalization, so that not only rich foreigners, but comparatively poor shopkeepers, should enjoy the advantage.

Mr. Smythe

supported the motion. The right hon. Baronet had that night shifted his ground of opposition to it. On a former occasion the right hon. Baronet had opposed the measure, because he thought it would transfer a power from the Parliament to the Crown, which Parliament ought to retain. He now gave up that ground of opposition, and opposed the Bill because, he said, he wished to carry out the spirit of the Act of Settlement. The right hon. Baronet had appealed to prejudices which he was glad were almost if not quite obsolete. It was a proof of the enlightened and advancing spirit of the age that indifference to the subject had taken the place of that previous hostility which had been manifested against foreigners in bygone times. Hostis apud majores invocabatur, quem nunc peregrinum vocamus. No foreigner ever came to settle amongst us who did not think he possessed some advantages over the inhabitants of the country, and if he really did possess those advantages his settlement could not but be of advantage to the country. Mr. M'Culloch had stated, that such were the natural advantages possessed by the natives over foreigners, that no foreigner, unless possessed of superior skill, would ever come and settle amongst us; and he added, that the influx of such foreigners could not but be of advantage to this country. In the reign of Charles 2nd. no less than 126 foreign weavers had settled in Canterbury. The king had given them a charter, and their descendants were living at Spitalfields at the present day. This was one of those small changes which, if granted in time, was wisely granted—and the granting of which was necessary to prevent greater changes being demanded in our internal economy. The bill should have his cordial support, for it might be considered one more link in the happily lengthening chain of universal toleration.

Mr. Ewart

said: Amidst the interruptions which the dinner-hour always produced in the House, he was only induced to rise for two reasons. First, he wished to confirm the statement of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Smythe) who had preceded him, on the good results which might be expected from this measure; and that from a sufficiently-faithful authority—their own records — the "Parliamentary History" itself, which he would read, It was there Stated, on the introduction of the bill in the year 1709, that Other countries had vastly increased in riches by the French refugees settling there, but principally Great Britain, where, by the industry of the said refugees, several new manufactures had been set up, and others improved, to the great advancement of trade, and the total turning the balance thereof to the prejudice of France and benefit of this nation. And further, that these foreigners Had greatly contributed towards the support of the Revolution settlement, by their contribution to the public funds, having subscribed nearly 500,000l. to the Bank of England, and being reckoned to have nearly 2,000,000l. sterling in the Government. So much for one point, the evidence of the past—in favour of the present measure. His next point was this—to correct (if it might be allowed him) the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham). The House knew that a measure similar to this in principle was introduced and passed in the year 1709. It was brought in by Mr. Wortley Montague. The right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) had stated, and stated truly, that it was repealed three years afterwards; but he had stated incorrectly that it was repealed because "it did not give satisfaction to the nation." The real reason for its repeal was, because it was introduced by the Whigs in 1709, This was a sufficient cause why it should be repealed by the Tories in 1712. Bolingbroke's party were then in power. The Whigs and Marlborough had been ejected, and this, not the "dissatisfaction of the nation," caused the repeal of the measure. A similar bill was introduced in the year 1751. Here again the Bill was dropped, but it was not dropped for the reason assigned by the right hon. Baronet—that it did not give "satisfaction to the nation." It was dropped because in that year Prince Frederick of Wales died, and, though brought in by the Duke of Newcastle's administration, the death of the prince interrupted, and, in fact, extinguished the measure. He (Mr. Ewart) had thus disposed of these two points; and now he came to the objections of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cockermouth. He admitted his hon. Friend's objection, as far as it went. But it was an objection of detail, It was an objection for the committee. It could not be urged as an objection to the second reading of the bill, which involved only the assent of the House to the principle and spirit of the measure.

Mr. Hutt

was about to reply, when

The Speaker

stopped the hon. Member. An amendment was, he believed, to be moved.

Sir J. Graham moved that the bill be read a second time that day six months.

Mr. Hutt

in reply, observed that he had never conversed with any man who did not think the present state of the law was unjust to foreigners, and unworthy of the country, and of the liberality of the age. He read a passage from a petition, in answer to his (Sir J. Graham's) assertion that nobody had complained of the present state of the law. He thought that the right hon. Baronet had made a sneering speech, full of misstatements, though unintentional.

Amendment carried. Bill put off.