§ 2.—(1) The Secretary of State may grant a certificate of naturalisation to an alien who makes an application for the purpose, and satisfies the Secretary of State—
- (a) that he has either resided in His Majesty's dominions for a period of not less than five years in the manner required by this Section, or been in the service of the Crown for not less than five years within the last eight years before the application; and
- (b) that he is of good character and has an adequate knowledge of the English language; and
- (c) that he intends if his application is granted either to reside in His Majesty's dominions or to enter or continue in the service of the Crown.
§ (2) The residence required by this Section is residence in the United Kingdom for not less than one year immediately preceding the application, and previous residence, either in the United Kingdom or in some other part of His Majesty's dominions, for a period of four years within the last eight years before the application.
§ (3) The grant of a certificate of naturalisation to any such alien shall be in the 1473 absolute discretion of the Secretary of State, and he may, with or without assigning any reason, give or withold the certificate as he thinks most conducive to the public good, and no appeal shall lie from his decision.
§ (4) A certificate of naturalisation shall not take effect until the applicant has taken the oath of allegiance.
§ (5) The secretary of State may in any special case, if he thinks fit, grant a certificate of naturalisation, although the four years' residence or five years' service has not been within the last eight years before the application.
§ Mr. GLYN-JONES
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), paragraph (b), to leave out the words "an adequate knowledge of the English language," and insert instead the words "a sufficient knowledge of the English language to enable him to fulfil the duties of an ordinary British subject." This Bill is entitled a Bill "to consolidate and amend the Enactments relating to British Nationality and the status of aliens," The Colonial Secretary emphasised the fact that it is a consolidating Bill, but it is also, as the title indicates, an amending Bill. Even if it were a consolidating Bill I think that is no answer why a great subject like this should not be dealt with. This provision in paragraph (b), Sub-section (1) is an amendment of the existing law. The Clause lays down conditions with which a person who applies for a certificate must comply. At present there is nothing in the Statute to require any standard in any language, though it is true in practice the Home Secretary does investigate whether a person applying for naturalisation can read and write; but the test is not educational, but simply some evidence that the person has given an indication of his intention to settle in this country by making himself acquainted with the language.
If there were no alteration being made in the Bill I should have no complaint, but for the first time you are proposing as a statutory requirement that the person shall have an adequate knowledge of the English language. I want to know what is meant by adequate knowledge? It might well be that a Home Secretary if he was not particularly anxious to naturalise an applicant might say that the applicant had not an adequate knowledge of the English language if he was not able to take English in a degree of the 1474 University of London or pass matriculation. The phrase adequate knowledge is one which I think is open to abuse on the part of a Minister anxious to use it as an excuse to prevent people becoming naturalised. I have come across cases in my own Constituency in which even the present language test which is not statutory has worked hardly. I remember an applicant who apparently was refused a certificate on the ground of lack of knowledge of English coming here. I gave him one of our Order Papers, and he read it. If I had given him this Bill to read I am sure he would not have shown an "adequate knowledge" to understand it. I am not at all sure that there are not Clauses in the Bill which even Members of Parliament may not have an "adequate knowledge" to comprehend without a great deal of trouble. I then asked him to put in writing what he had come to see me about. He did so, and I looked at it. It was the most extraordinary looking stuff I had ever seen. For a moment it was quite incomprehensible, and then I saw that it was in the most perfect phonetics, and I could read it perfectly well. It would be absurd to say that that man, if in every other respect a desirable citizen, should not be allowed to become naturalised simply because his way of writing English was not the normal. He had an absolutely sufficient knowledge of the English language to enable him to fulfil the duties of the average citizen in the East-end of London, and a very much better knowledge than many of our English-born subjects.
If we are going to make any alteration in the law, I should prefer that we had no reference to the English language at all; but if we are going to put it in the Statute, I think it is quite sufficient to say, as my Amendment suggests, that that knowledge should be sufficient to enable the applicant to fulfil the duties of an ordinary British subject. It is very curious that, as the Bill stands, it will be quite possible for a person who does not speak a word of English to become naturalised. If he is a Frenchman, he can go to Canada, where under this Bill they will accept French in lieu of English; he may become naturalised there, and then if he comes to this country he is accepted as a fully naturalised British subject, although he may not be able to speak a word of English. In the same way a Dutchman may go to South Africa where Dutch would be accepted in 1475 lieu of English; and he would be accepted here as a full British subject, although he could not speak a word of English. I do not go so far as that. I say that it is perfectly right to expect a person who is throwing in his lot with us to have that knowledge of the English language which we should expect the average man in his position in life to have.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think it is much better that we should leave the law as it is, and that the granting of certificates of naturalisation should be in the absolute discretion of the Secretary of State. In the exercise of that discretion, the Secretary of State, when a man makes application for naturalisation, makes such regulations as he thinks fit in regard to a knowledge of the English language. I think we had better leave it there rather than insert a statutory obligation which will have very far-reaching effects. In my opinion, this matter requires a great deal more consideration and explanation than it had when it was rushed through an impatient Committee in an incredibly short space of time. I wish to call the attention of the House, not to the case of this country, nor to that of the great Dominions, but to the case of the British Empire at large, which covers an enormous area of the world and contains a population reckoned by hundreds of millions. My hon. Friend reminds me of a quotation that was first made by the Emperor Nero, that he had an Empire on which the sun never set. Although that was not true of the Empire of Nero, it is literally true of the British Empire.
This Clause introduces for the first time a statutory obligation that the applicant for naturalisation shall have an adequate knowledge of the English language. If we turn to Clause 8 we find that naturalisation may be granted by the Government of every British Possession on the same terms in effect as they may be granted in this country by the Secretary of State. Therefore, if naturalisation is granted in any British Possession remote from this it would seem to be the law that an adequate knowledge of the English language must be required from the applicant for naturalisation in that Possession. In India we have a population of 300,000,000, all of whom are British subjects, and probably none the worse British subjects because most of them have no adequate knowledge 1476 of the English language. If you turn to Nigeria, Canada, Sarawak, or the Straits Settlements you will find millions of persons who are excellent British subjects and who have little or no knowledge of the English language. It is with them a valued accomplishment, and I hope that it may grow. But if a man has become a British subject in one of those Possessions where the English language is not spoken, surely the important thing that he should know is the language of those who will be his fellow-subjects?
If I am right in the construction that I put on this Clause, and on Clause 8, and infer that it is made an obligation by Statute that an adequate knowledge of the English language shall be required of every applicant for naturalisation in any of our Possessions, however remote, then I think the matter requires some explanation or justification which I never received in Committee and never heard from anyone. Let me make it perfectly clear that I am not considering the case of our great Dominions, which can make their own regulations in regard to the English language as the Secretary of State can make them here. I am not concerned with these Dominions, where, as we see in Clause 8, certain cases are on an equality with the English, namely, the Dutch in South Africa and the French in Canada. I am concerned solely with the great population that does not know the English language. If it is right that all the persons who do not know the English language and who purpose living in these Possessions ought not to attain the great boon of British nationality then I think we ought to have some explanation and justification of what I understand is the new policy.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. McKenna)
I cannot help thinking that my hon. Friends are under a misapprehension as to the nature and scope of this Bill. The desire was expressed in two successive conferences by the Dominions that there should be a general Imperial law of naturalisation. In order to get stated the general law it obviously would be necessary to reduce the existing law to writing. The British law of naturalisation consists partly of Statute law, partly of common law, and partly of practice. If all these sources of British nationality law are to be embodied in a Statute it is necessary that what was hitherto practice should become a statutory enactment and what 1477 was hitherto common law should become a statutory enactment. We could not lay before the Dominions the British law of nationality unless we put the whole body of the law, whether Statute law, common law, or practice, into written form. My hon. Friends complain that for the first time, what hitherto has been practice, is now to be made statutory. That is an essential condition of passing a Bill which is to make the law and practice uniform throughout the Empire.
There is no change in the law. I must, however, make one slight qualification here because there are very slight changes in the law, but so slight that I do not think there is a single Amendment on the Paper with regard to any change of the law. They are very slight and trivial and only such changes as it is desirable to make in the interest of the Dominions and ourselves in the existing law. This Bill does not purport to be a Bill amending the existing law of naturalisation. It purports to represent in statutory form the existing practice, the existing common law and the existing Statute law. If we are to present to the Dominions in the form of an enactment the sum total of our existing law we must put into a statutory provision what hitherto has been simply practice. Is the practice a reasonable one? The practice so far as this country is concerned consisted of an adequate knowledge of English to fulfil the requirements. We, in practice, insist, as we are entitled to, in the administration of the law at the Home Office, that every applicant for British nationality in this country shall show that he or she has the intention to associate himself or herself with British law and institutions, and we say that as a first evidence of that intention a man or woman who comes to live here must learn the English language. That is not an unreasonable requirement. We say there should be adequate knowledge here.
§ 12.0 M.
§ Mr. McKENNA
In England—not in the Empire. This Bill is simply a summary of the existing English law and practice. When we take Clauses 8 and 9 there we adapt this Bill to the requirements of the Dominions and our Possessions. This is our law, and we insist that there should be an adequate knowledge of the English language. That is not altering the law 1478 because the Home Office already insist upon that. In practice we say that a man must speak English, and in general he must read or write English, but we make exceptions. We say for instance that in the case of an applicant for nationality who has never learned to read or write in his own language it would be most unfair to ask him to learn to read or write a foreign language. We ask that a roan should show such evidence before he can adopt our nationality and identify himself with us and our institutions should take the trouble to learn our language. I do not think my hon. Friend's Amendment makes the law any clearer. Who is to be the judge of an adequate or sufficient knowledge? In either case it is going to be the Home Secretary, and the hon. Member does not assist in the slightest degree by the addition of those words.
§ Mr. GLYN-JONES
The right hon. Gentleman says he accepts the reading or writing of English as an adequate knowledge. Is it not likely that in the future there may be some other Home Secretary who may decide that unless a man can both read and write English he has not an adequate knowledge?
§ Mr. McKENNA
This Amendment does not help the hon. Member's intention. This is an administrative point, and really you cannot administer by Act of Parliament. The control of administration is not by legislation but by criticising the action of the Minister and to put into the Clause these details believing that you can control administration by so doing is a mistake. I have stated what is the general practice of the Home Office and the true remedy of taking the judgment of the House. The Bill represents the existing law and as such it is presented to the Dominions, now to become, we trust, the Imperial law.
§ Mr. GLYN-JONES
If I can have a Parliamentary assurance that our practice is not going to be altered and that a person who can either read or write may be naturalised I should be willing to accept that.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I think the Home Secretary has forced his argument too far. In dealing with this measure I hope we shall cast aside the idea that we are dealing with this matter Imperially. The Dominions have a right to consider this 1479 Bill in regard to their own circumstances, and already Canada has departed from the Bill as presented to us. Australia has power, not only now, but any time, to deal with this matter. The Imperial Conferences have no sanction whatever; they are only advisory bodies, and we should be extremely sorry to see any such powers taken from the Dominions and merged in any Imperial body. We must dismiss any other factor from our minds, except in so far as it affects legislation and the good working of the provisions in this country, and this country alone.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Dr. CHAPPLE
I beg to move in Subsection (2) to leave out the words "United Kingdom" ["residence in the United Kingdom"], and to insert instead thereof the words "British Islands." This is a more comprehensive term.
§ Mr. McKENNA
This point is really covered by Clause 8. If the Amendment were made, it would include the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. These being British Possessions, they are really covered by Clause 8, and it would be bad drafting to deal with the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man in Clause 2 and then deal with other British Possessions in Clause 8. It is far better to deal with them all in one Clause.
The next Amendment [in Sub-section (4) after the word "oath" to insert the words "or affirmation"] standing in the name of the hon. Member for Islington (Mr. Radford) is unnecessary. The interpretation of the word "oath" covers "affirmation."
§ Mr. RADFORD
I am perfectly aware of that point, but I propose to move to insert the words "or affirmation" for reasons which I should be glad to explain.
I beg to move, at the beginning of Sub-section (5), to insert the words, "In the case of a woman who was a British subject previously to her marriage to an alien and whose husband has died, or whose marriage has been dissolved, the requirements of this Section as to residence shall not apply and."
I have already explained this Amendment to the House. It deals in conjunction with another Amendment which appears later with the case of the English woman who marries an alien and becomes a widow and enables her rapidly and cheaply to resume her nationality.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I have put down an Amendment, after the word "dissolved" to insert the words "by divorce or judicial separation," in the hope that the Colonial Secretary may see his way to accept it, but I do not wish to enter into any conflict on this question if he cannot do so. The word "dissolved" refers to divorce, and it is quite as essential from the point of view of the woman if she is judicially separated from her husband that she should have the same right of reverting to her citizenship as if she is divorced. A great many of these poor people go in for a judicial separation which is practically divorce, but if the right hon. Gentleman cannot see his way to meet me I shall not press him.
I am afraid that a judicial separation is not a dissolution of marriage, because either of the parties can resume cohabitation at their own will, and therefore it would be altogether inconsistent with the provisions of the Bill.
§ Mr. GLYN-JONES
I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman will explain to the House why it is that, now he is going to remove one grievance which women have under this Bill he cannot deal with them in exactly the same way as he deals with a child under Section 12. The provision which the right hon. Gentleman is now making is this—that a woman on becoming a widow may revert to her British nationality if she goes through all the forms of naturalisation—applying for the certificate and so on. It is quite true that later on in the Bill it is proposed that the fee payable shall be 5s. instead of £3, and that the five years' residence qualification is not to be strictly enforced. The 1481 extraordinary thing is that under Section 12 of the Bill you provide that although when a man becomes an alien his children naturally follow his nationality, yet any child who has ceased to be of British nationality may within one year from obtaining his majority make a declaration that he wishes to resume British nationality, and he will thereupon become a British subject. When you are going to give something to women why not treat them as favourably as you treat children? Here you provide that a child who has been forced against his will to become an alien because his father has done so may, when he reaches twenty-one years of age—
I do not see how the hon. Member's argument in relation to the child is applicable to the case of women who are. British subjects previously to marriage. The hon. Member is not entitled now to argue the case of the child.
§ Mr. GLYN-JONES
I am sorry I failed to make my point clear. My argument is this: A woman, by reason of her marriage, is forced because her husband ultimately becomes an alien to take his nationality. The same thing happens to the man's children, but when the child becomes twenty-one years of age he can, merely by making a declaration, revert to British nationality. I want to know why the right hon. Gentleman cannot enable the woman to revert to British nationality in exactly the same way?
§ Mr. McKENNA
The only difference is this. In the case of the woman the Home Secretary has to exercise discretion, and he has to be satisfied that she is of good character.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I should have thought it was unnecessary to argue the point. There are cases in which English women have married foreigners who are spies. Or they may be very undesirable persons to have as British subjects, and in these cases it is well the Secretary of State should have power to refuse British nationality. That is the sole reason for this provision, and I think it is an adequate reason.
§ Mr. McKENNA
This practice is not based a priori on assumption: it is based upon experience. We do not have cases of children claiming to be British subjects who have been acting as spies. Neither do we get immoral characters among children. But we do get certain women who have been married to aliens who wish to become British subjects.
§ Further Amendment made: In Sub-section (5), after the word "any" ["any special case"], insert the word "other."— [Mr. Harcourt.]
The next Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for East Islington [Clause 3 in margin, leave out the words "33 Vict.," and insert "33 and 34 Vict."] is not in order.
The hon. Member may take it from me that the words form no part of the Bill, and would be struck out if it became an Act