HC Deb 16 August 1894 vol 28 cc1216-20

Order for Second Reading read.

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

SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

said, he did not rise to object to the Second Reading of the Bill, but to express the opinion that some steps should be taken to alter the law so that parties would not be exposed to the great cost of Private Naturalisation Bills, and the time of Parliament would not be wasted on them. The Naturalisation Act of 1870 provided for naturalisation in the case of married women and widows, but did not take cognisance of such cases as that arising under this particular Bill—namely, the case of a person who had been divorced. Though there might be some doubt in the case—though it might be held in certain quarters that the Act applied to such a case—there was certainly an omission in the Act which should be repaired by general legislation. That would have the effect of preventing these purely private matters from being brought forward in the House.

MR. DODD (Essex, Maldon)

said, he would ask the Home Secretary what was the reason for the Bill? They were entitled to some explanation, seeing that the Naturalisation Act of 1870 was passed to put the law on this subject on a sound and intelligible footing. He believed that the last time a question of naturalisation was before the House the then Home Secretary said that the Bill must be regarded entirely as an exceptional matter. He was not prepared to say that the right hon. Gentleman had declared that there never should be a Private Bill of this nature again, but that there should not be one except in a very special case. The lady in this case was entitled to the sympathy of the House. It appeared that she was born an English subject in Lambeth, in the County of Surrey; that she married a Baron Von Roomer; that by reason of his misconduct she was compelled to divorce him; that she then married another German gentleman, and by reason of his misconduct was obliged to divorce him also. Under the circumstances, no one could wonder that the lady desired to resume her nationality, and to cease to belong to the nationality of either of her husbands. He should like to know why it was necessary to have special legislation to meet the case, and why the Act of 1870 had failed?

MR COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

said, that some lour years ago he had called attention to the Naturalisation Law, and had expressed considerable doubt as to whether these Bills ought to be sanctioned by Parliament. By the Act of 1870 procedure was laid down for acquiring English nationality, or resuming it, and it was open to grave doubt whether these Private Bills should be allowed. By their means parties obtained naturalisation much more easily than they could under the ordinary law. The Home Secretary of that day came to the conclusion that Private Bills should be allowed where they were for the public interest, but that so far as they were desired to suit private convenience they should be no longer allowed. Therefore, when ho (Mr. Courtney) had seen this Bill in the Order Paper on Monday he had taken the liberty of getting it postponed so that it should be taken by Order. It appeared that the circumstances of this case were peculiar. The lady concerned was born in London of British parents. She married in Stuttgart, Würtemberg, a German gentleman, whom she had to divorce, and subsequently she married another German gentleman in Bavaria, whom she also divorced. She had been discharged from her nationality in Würtemburg on condition that she made her domicile in some country outside the German Empire. There was some doubt as to whether she could not resume her British nationality under the Act of 1870, but the highest authorities thought that the Act did not apply to divorced women. It made no reference to such cases, though married women and widows were referred to. The present Bill, however, would immediately on its passing into law confer all the rights and privileges of British nationality; while the Act of 1870 made the resumption conditional on a residence of five years, and on satisfactory evidence being produced to the Home Secretary as to character. He did not think they should allow this acceleration to occur. They should treat this lady as if she had been a widow or a German spinster who desired to acquire English nationality. Under the peculiar circumstances, he thought the Bill might be allowed to pass, if it could be so amended in Committee as to make the conditions, of resumption similar to those in the Act of 1870. He admitted that if the case were admissible it ought to be provided for in the general law. But an amendment of the general law would be a long time coming, although he should like to see it effected in order to prevent the recurrence of Bills of this kind in the future.


I think the House is very much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin for the steps he has taken in connection with this Bill. It certainly would be most undesirable that a Bill of this character should have been allowed to pass through this House without some notice being taken of the grounds upon which this lady asks for special legislation in relation to her case. As the Minister who is responsible for the administration of the general law of naturalisation, I desire to reiterate the expressions of opinion of my predecessors in Office to the effect that, inasmuch as Parliament has laid down a general scheme of law under which a person alien born can become naturalised, good grounds must be shown before the House can sanction any measure dealing exceptionally with any particular case. If it can be shown that this is a case which might have been dealt with under the ordinary law, I agree with my right hon. Friend that the House ought not to sanction the Second Reading of the Bill. The question, however, arises whether this particular case, which is, I believe, without precedent, and one not likely to occur again in the future, does come under the general law. I confess that I think it does, and that there is nothing in the 10th section of the Act of 1870 which ought to be regarded as cutting down the general terms of the 7th and 8th sections. But different opinions are maintained in other quarters which are entitled to the highest possible respect. It must, therefore, be conceded to be at least doubtful whether the lady, who is not a spinster, and yet is not a widow, can under the provisions of the general law resume her British nationality under the general conditions of the Act of 1870. The case of this lady, therefore, is one of hardship, and in default of the amendment of the general law—and the time of the House cannot now be occupied with the amendment of the general law—special legislation seemed the only way to get rid of this lady's hardship. Therefore, although I with some reluctance assent to the Second Reading, it must be clearly understood that a clause shall be inserted in Committee, providing that the Act shall not take effect unless and until the conditions prescribed by the Act of 1870 in relation to everybody else as to residence and otherwise are satisfied by this lady. I think it is most desirable that we should insist on a uniform law in relation to these matters, and that this antiquated and vicious system of proceeding by way of special legislation should never be tolerated unless in very exceptional cases.


thought it would be very undesirable that this lady by special legislation should be placed in a more favourable position than if she were a widow, and should have any advantages not enjoyed by other persons. He entirely approved of the course suggested by the Home Secretary, and if a clause of the nature referred to were inserted he should offer no objection to the Bill.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a third time, and committed.

Ordered, That Standing Orders 211 and 236 be suspended, and that the Committee have leave to sit and proceed forthwith.—(Dr. Farquharson.)

Bill reported, with Amendments; Report to lie upon the Table.