HC Deb 18 July 1890 vol 347 cc201-6

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."

*(3. 10.) MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

I am sure the House is much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees for having drawn attention to this Bill, and I think that, whatever opinion the House may now have as to allowing this and the next Bill to pass, we ought to hear from the Home Secretary that the House will not be troubled with Bills of the same character in future. It is a Private Bill which asks the House to do that which can be done easily enough under the general law. There is this peculiarity in the Bill as distinguished from that which succeeds it, that there is no reason assigned in the preamble as to why the measure should be passed. The Chairman of Committees was, however, good enough to tell us that he has ascertained that a lady desires to obtain this Naturalisation Act because she wants to dispose of certain property. Now, if that is the reason why the lady wants this Bill, she certainly ought not to have it, and I will show the House what the position of things is. Until the Naturalisation Act of 1870 was passed, the state of the law was—I will not say in a complicated condition—but governed by a number of Statutes and by the Common Law, chiefly deduced from Calvin's case reported in Coke's Reports. The Act of 1870 gave greater facilities for naturalisation than had previously existed, and by the 2nd section it gave power to aliens to hold real and personal property of every description in the same manner as a natural born subject, and to make a disposition of it, so that it might pass by succession, and so on, extending the previous Statutes which imposed limitations upon the holding of real property. Therefore, Madame Martin does not need this Bill at all in order that she may be enabled to make a good will. She does not even need a certificate of naturalisation, so that if that be her real and only reason she must have been deceived by her legal advisers, and put to enormous expense in coming to this House for an enactment, all of which might have been spared. I wish, however, to point out that there may be a difficulty connected with the matter in which this House ought not to help Madame Martin. Suppose, instead of the enfranchisement sought by the Bill applying only to property within Great Britain, that it is intended to apply to property abroad, the effect of this Bill might be most prejudicial. I believe I am right in saying that Madame Martin has children, and children who have attained their majority. It may be that she has property in Spain, which property is governed by Spanish law, and that in promoting this Bill she is seeking to escape from the consequences of Spanish law, and may be doing an injustice to persons who would under other circumstances be entitled to impeach the testamentary disposition of the property. There is this further difficulty: Under the Naturalisation Act of 1870, the consequences following a certificate of naturalisation are very clear. The old law, which obtains still, is that which is laid down in Coke's chapter on villeinage, Section 198, but when the present Bill is passed it will have a retrospective effect, governing the whole of the property acquired prior to the enactment, and might enable this lady—although I do not suggest that it does—to be the means whereby her children might be able to perpetrate a legal fraud upon other persons entitled to claim the property. At the same time, although I think this is a Bill which ought to have been opposed at an earlier stage, I do not think it is right, seeing the great expense which has been incurred, to throw out the measure now. I am quite prepared to admit that I should not have noticed the nature of its provisions at all if it had not been for the observations of the Chairman of Committees in calling attention to the matter; but I think there ought to be an expression of opinion on the part of this House, either by Resolution or by an express declaration from the Government, that no exemption from the Act of 1870 shall be made, specially in the case of rich persons. That Act is broader than any Naturalisation Act that ever existed in this country before, and the 7th section gives to the person who is naturalised all political and other rights, powers, and privileges that would accrue if he were a natural born British subject. In the second case—Pohl's Naturalisation Bill—the petitioner tells us very frankly that he wishes to enter into a stock-broking partnership, and the contention is that before he can do so he must be naturalised. I say that it is beneath the dignity of this House in such cases as these to be called upon to pass special Acts simply for the purpose of enabling a lady to dispose of her property, or to enable a gentleman to become a stockbroker. If the House has been made acquainted with the whole truth, Madame Martin will gain nothing by this Act, but if there are property considerations in Spain behind, of which the House knows nothing, a grievous injustice may be done by passing this Bill.

*(3. 20.) SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

The hon. Member has gone very fully, and, as he always does, very fairly into the case before the House. I agree with him that the House is greatly indebted to the Chairman of Committees for having brought the circumstances under the notice of the House. If I remember rightly the right hon. Gentleman's Report was presented in pursuance of the Standing Orders which give leave to the Chairman of Committees to make a communication to the House in such circumstances. Now, these Bills have also been introduced in compliance with Standing Orders, for, notwithstanding the general law, these Standing Orders still exiss. I think that fact should be regarded as an acquiescence in the right of a suppliant to initiate such proceedings for the purpose of obtaining naturalisation. If that be so, then I think that if any change is to be made in our procedure we ought, in the first instance, to re-consider the Standing Orders. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) has, however, fairly put the real gist of the matter before the House when he says that it is inexpedient at this stage of a Private Bill, which has already passed through another House, and has. entailed considerable cost, to reject the measure. The hon. Member has referred to matters in connection with the disposition of property which do no exist in this case.


I simply put them to the House as hypotheses in. reference to questions of which the. House might purposely have been kept in ignorance, and in regard to which we, ought not to legislate.


There are no such circumstances in the present case. This branch of the law is an extremely intricate one, and the legal advisers of Madame Martin no doubt consider that. they were justified in advising that lady to proceed by way of special enactment. No legal gentlemen would advise a client to incur unnecessarily the large expense of bringing into Parliament a Bill of this nature, and we may assume that good reasons for that course probably exist.


If there are? such reasons, I think it is the duty of the House not to pass the Bill, because they could only be reasons affecting the disposition of the property.


I cannot say whether there are or are not such reasons, but if there is any assumption to be made it is that the suppliant in this case has been properly advised. I hope that the Bill will be allowed to pass now that it has reached the final stage, and the heavy expense of its promotion has been incurred.

* SIR R. FOWLER (London)

I have had some representations made to me in regard to the next Bill to which the hon. Member has alluded, after it has been carefully considered in another- place, and I think it would be a great hardship to reject the measure. I must, therefore, express a hope that in the circumstances the Bill will be allowed to pass the Third Reading.


I do not think the House will be induced to give up the powers it possesses of naturalising foreigners on the spot and without delay. The Act of 1870 was passed rather to lay down a general rule of naturalisation than to prevent special and exceptional cases being dealt with by special Acts. At the same time, I fully agree with the hon. Member for Northampton that special Naturalisation Bills should not be brought before the House simply for personal reasons or desires, such as in the case in question. I believe that in the case of Madame Martin she married a Frenchman.


No, a Spaniard by birth.

MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

Who was subsequently naturalised as a Frenchman.


Whether he was a Spaniard or a Frenchman is immaterial. She desires to become naturalised, and I see no ground of objection, although I agree that she might get all she wants by becoming domiciled.


I have pointed out that one evil is the retrospective effect of the Bill. Injury might be done by a Bill of this kind to persons who have now legal rights and who have had no opportunity of being heard.


I can hardly see how that question can arise. It is true that the distribution of property in this country would be affected, but the English law would apply.


What I want is a declaration from the Government as to the practice of introducing these Bills.


Then I will not pursue the matter further. I can assure the hon. Member that the matter shall not be lost sight of by the Government. In the circumstances, however, it would be proper that the House should pass this Bill.


I have no right to address the House again, but I hope I may be allowed to say that I dissent from the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Islington (Sir A. Rollit) to alter or re-consider the Standing Orders in regard to such Bills. It may be understood from what has fallen from the Home Secretary that these exceptions to the general law should not be made for purposes of private convenience, and probably that expression of opinion will meet the case.

Question put, and agreed to.

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