§ The following Section shall be substituted for Section ten of the principal Act which relates to the national status of married women:—
§ 10. (1) A woman who is a British subject shall, notwithstanding her marriage to an alien, remain a British subject unless she makes a declaration of alienage and thereupon she shall cease to be a British subject and shall become an alien.
§ (2) A woman who is an alien shall, notwithstanding her marriage to a British subject, remain an alien unless she makes a declaration that she desires to be a British subject, and thereupon the Secretary of State may grant a certificate of naturalisation.
§ (3) When a man ceases during the continuance of his marriage to be a British subject it shall be lawful for his wife to make a declaration that she desires to retain British nationality, and thereupon she shall be deemed to remain a British subject."—[Sir Willoughby Dickinson.]
§ Brought up, and read the first time.
§ Sir WILLOUGHBY DICKINSON
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."
I hope the House will excuse me if I put before it the considerations which have guided me in asking to be allowed to insert this new Clause in the Bill. I put it down for the Committee stage. Perhaps some hon. Members of the House will remember that we reached it at a very late hour. I withdrew it, because the Home Secretary stated that he could not accept it, and I did not want at that late hour to keep the House on this question. I am anxious to take this opportunity to set out the justification for this particular demand for an alteration in the law of nationality as particularly affecting married women. It is a matter I brought forward in 1914, and which at that time excited a very considerable amount of interest, especially among women's associations in this country. At the present time I can say that almost all the women's associations agree that some alteration should be made in the law with regard to the nationality of married women, and they are very anxious that something should be done. It is undoubtedly possible to make such 1344 an Amendment in this Bill, inasmuch as it professes to amend the Act of 1914 and inasmuch also as it includes specific proposals which affect married women. I should like, in the first instance, to express my appreciation of the fact that when we were discussing this question in Committee the Home Secretary met me to a very considerable extent by remedying very largely the proposal that the Bill originally put forward, and under which a British-born woman who had married a naturalised subject and had therefore never lost her British nationality, was to be liable, at the discretion of the Home Secretary or the Advisory Committee, to be turned into an alien because of some action of her husband who ex hypothesi had done something that was wrong to justify the Home Secretary in withdrawing the privilege of British nationality that he had given to him.
The Clause which the right hon. Gentlemen has inserted in the Bill provides that the Secretary of State shall not make any such order as aforesaid in the case of a wife who is a natural-born British subject unless he is satisfied that if she had held a certificate of naturalisation in her own right the certificate could properly have been revoked under this Act. That goes very far to meet my case, but at the same time I am sure he will excuse me if I point out that it still directly offends the great principle of the law that a British subject shall not and cannot be deprived of his or her British nationality, I believe, for any reason whatever, though it is possible that there still remains some vestige of the law of outlawry. At the present time you deal with a British subject according to your own criminal law. You punish him or her and you deal with his or her offence, but you cannot at the present time remove from a British man or woman his or her British nationality. That was so far accepted in 1914 that the Government agreed that when a British husband preferred to change his nationality his British wife should not be compelled to follow. She was given a definite right to retain her British nationality. This right is now being taken away from her. The question may appear, inasmuch as we have been led to such an extent by the Home Secretary, to be a small point, but it is not. It is the application of the very great principle that no action of an individual British subject entitles the State to take away his or her British nationality. This Bill 1345 says that if a British-born woman who has never been anything else but a British-born woman, who has married a British subject and who has British children, happens to have done something wrong under this Act—it may be very serious, but some of these acts may not be very serious—the Secretary of State can step in and say, "You now cease to be a British subject. You must go and accept some other nationality. It may be German, it may be French, it may be Italian, or it may be nothing at all, because we know that under certain circumstances a person can have no nationality." She may find herself annexed to her husband, who is not allowed to claim his nationality, and therefore she gets no nationality. It is a serious position which we are adopting at the present time, and I am very sorry indeed that the Home Secretary has failed to realise the extraordinarily important effect that this little change may make in the whole question of nationalisation.
Undoubtedly the women outside this House feel this question very strongly, and they must feel it more strongly as they get to understand it more and more. They say—and I believe quite rightly—that as a man has certain rights in changing his nationality, so a woman ought to have the same rights of changing her nationality. It is no answer to say that a woman by marrying an alien must change her nationality. If a man marries an alien he does not change his nationality, and if you are going to get real equality between the sexes you ought to give to the woman just the same right of saying, "I prefer not to change my nationality to my husband's nationality," as you give to the husband the right of saying, "I prefer to remain a British subject." It is no newfangled idea; it is the old historic law of the Anglo-Saxon race. The law for hundreds of years has been that a British woman shall not lose her British nationality if she marries an alien. It was so until 1880, when the law was changed simply for the purposes of convenience, because a certain Committee of experts thought it advisable to bring our law more into agreement with the Continental law. On that occasion no woman had any say in the matter. There was no woman on the Committee, and, so far as I have been able to judge from reading the Debates in this House, the question of the position of women was never even discussed. They never had a chance of 1346 giving an expression to their views. I mention that because I am very anxious now to get some assurance from the Home Secretary in connection with this Committee which he is setting up to consider the whole question of nationality that the case of the women will be thoroughly considered and investigated. I wish further to ask him to see that a woman is placed on that Committee. There are women who have taken a great interest in this question, and they are quite as much experts in the matter as any man.
I believe he will find, if he constitutes a Committee so that the women's views can be thoroughly ascertained and investigated, that not only here, but in all our Colonies, the same conviction has grown up that a married woman ought not to be compelled to accept the nationality of her husband simply because she has married him and for no other reason. I believe he knows—I know that the Colonial Office know—that the Act of 1914 is supposed to apply to the whole Empire. The Australian Commonwealth have refused to apply it on this particular question, and an Australian woman if she marries an alien has a right to retain her Australian and therefore her British nationality. He will find that in Canada also there is a strong feeling in favour of retaining what was the old Canadian law. Therefore, I do beg when this matter conies up for discussion and investigation that, with a view to the permanent settlement of the question, a woman may be placed on the Committee and the whole case of the women may be thoroughly investigated. I want to explain why I have put down this new Clause in this form. The Section which regulates this particular question is Section 10 of the British Nationality Act of 1914. It does it in three lines. It simply saysThe wife of a British subject shall be deemed to be a British subject, and the wife of an alien shall be deemed to be an alien.It is an extremely simple way of stating the law as it was altered in 1870. A woman becomes a British subject simply by the act of marriage. A woman loses her British nationality simply by the act of marriage. I cannot help flunking that in both those cases, if they are thoroughly well thought out, the House will see that the law at present has very great disadvantages. Take, for instance, the first provision, "The wife of a British subject shall be deemed to be a British subject." That means to say that at the present 1347 time all that a German who wants to receive the full rights of British nationality has to do is to marry a British subject. There are many British subjects who might connive at that sort of thing. It is not at all impossible to imagine in the present War. But you have the position that, by our present law, the nation hands itself over to a process by which a foreign and alien woman can become a British subject without any knowledge of the Home Office, unless they are able to investigate all the marriages that take place either in this country or elsewhere. I suggest that that consideration alone would justify a very full investigation of the advisability of retaining this simple law that the wife of a British subject shall be deemed to be a British subject. I propose in my new Clause to deal with it in another way. I propose to say:A woman who is an alien shall, notwithstanding her marriage to a British subject, remain an alien unless she makes a declaration that she desires to be a British subject, and thereupon the Secretary of State may grant a certificate of naturalisation.I believe that a Clause like that would be of the greatest protection to this country and to the Home Office. The Home Office at present has no discretion in the matter. I ask that, if any alien woman desires to become a British subject, she may make a declaration that she desires to be a British subject, and, if she makes that declaration, the Home Office shall investigate the case and be able to say Yes or No, according to whether or not it is in the public interest that that foreign woman shall be allowed to marry a Britisher and receive thereby the full advantages that British nationality gives. The full advantages British nationality now gives to people are very great, but the disadvantages to British women who marry foreigners are also very great. I have had several letters in connection with this matter, but I will give one instance in my own knowledge of a British woman who married an Italian subject. She separated from him because of his cruelty. He claimed the child under the law and she could not take it away. She has been in England all this time, while he has been in Italy. He is a friendly alien, but, because she is married to an Italian subject, she has been subjected to all the hardships of police inspection. Until quite recently, when the Home Office exempted her, she could not travel anywhere without a permit, and she could not change her address. She was 1348 treated exactly as an alien because she was an alien, although she had married a friendly alien and had been separated from him for several years. That is only one instance of thousands of cases. I have some others showing exactly the same thing. That brings me to my second point. The law saysThe wife of an alien shall be deemed to be an alien.I propose to meet that by sayingA woman who is a British subject shall, notwithstanding her marriage to an alien, remain a British subject unless she makes a declaration of alienage, and thereupon she shall cease to be a British subject and shall become an alien.That would be a perfectly justifiable proposal when a woman is marrying a foreigner, unless we say she must lose her British nationality because she marries a foreigner. I think that is a very unjust thing to say. She would have the right of saying, once for all, "It is quite true, I am marrying a foreigner, but I have lived in England all my life, my children are British-born, and I prefer to remain a British subject and have all the rights of a British subject." Upon that she would have the right to remain a British subject.
§ Sir W. DICKINSON
It would not be retrospective under this Clause. She would have that right. But if, on the contrary, she should say, as I have no doubt many women would say, "I am marrying a German or a Frenchman or an American"—it is not a question of Germans alone; it is a question of the whole world—"I think, on the whole, I should prefer to adopt the nationality of my husband. I am going to America, and I should prefer to be an American subject, therefore I will make a declaration of alienage and say I do not want to retain my rights of British citizenship." That would be perfectly justifiable. You would then be treating women with precisely the same measure of justice that you treat men. Really that is the reason why I raise this question now. I appeal to the House to recognise that there is nothing in the law of nationality which justifies us in refusing absolute equality of treatment as between men and women. The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) made a speech the other night in which he seemed 1349 to scout absolutely the idea that a woman would want to be of a different nationality from her husband, or indeed that it would be advisable to say that she might.
§ Sir W. DICKINSON
That is exactly the question. She marries for all sorts of reasons, and the one reason which in thousands of cases never occurs to her mind is the question of nationality. I am perfectly certain that hundreds and thousands of these unfortunate women who have been suffering all through this War, British-born women, who have been treated hardly because they became German citizens never realised when they married that they were giving up their nationality. In fact, I have letters with me here from women who have written to me thanking me for the action I have taken, and saying—they axe educated women—that they never realised when they married that they were going to give up the rights of British citizenship. The rights of British citizenship are very great and important—I need hardly emphasise that—especially to persons who live abroad.
§ Sir W. DICKINSON
Certainly, it would have an important effect all over the British Empire. My hon. Friend (Mr. Pringle) is labouring under a mistake under which so many people labour. They talk about nothing but Germany.
§ Sir W. DICKINSON
We are not dealing with Germany only, we are talking about the Argentine, America, and other countries. In all those countries it would be of advantage to some people to be able to claim their rights as British citizens.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Would this Clause have any effect in any country where the nationality law was different from the nationality law in this country?
§ Sir W. DICKINSON
Yes; I am perfectly certain it would. It is very difficult to dogmatise on the effect of nationality law, because it varies everywhere, but I can assure my hon. Friend that there are countries in which the very fact that we have allowed a woman who has married a 1350 foreigner to retain her British nationality would be of the utmost value to her. If he looks at the question and thoroughly studies it, he will see that there are many countries where women, if we pass this into law, would get the protection that British citizenship gives them. I am sorry if I have appeared to be taking up the time of the House unnecessarily, but I have done so because it is very rarely we get an occasion on which we can raise this important question. During the whole of my time in the House of Commons the only-time I was able to raise it was in 1914, when I was able to secure considerable alterations in the law. Never since then has there been an opportunity of raising the question. The whole question of naturalisation has never been dealt with by the Members of this House. It was referred to a Committee of the Home Office. That Committee brought up a Memorandum for the purpose of circulating it to the various Dominions across the seas. That memorandum contained no reference to the question of the nationality of married women. If I am not misinformed, it was not even relegated to the Colonial Governments, which have been considering the question. I understand this branch of the subject was not mentioned in the Report of the Home Office Committee, and was not laid before any of the Colonial Governments which are dealing with the matter, and, therefore, for the first time we have an opportunity of discussing it on this occasion, because the Home Office has naturally found itself bound to deal with it in some way or another in relation to this Bill. If my raising the question only results in getting a more satisfactory understanding on this general subject, I shall feel that I have achieved as much as I could hope for.
§ Mr. C. ROBERTS
I desire to support my right hon. Friend in his very persuasive and carefully reasoned speech. I think it is somewhat unfortunate that the Report stage of the Bill has been taken in such a great hurry. It is an important Bill. It was described by the Home Secretary as a drastic measure, entailing penalties upon offenders, and when a Bill of that kind is proposed it is very unfortunate that merely one day has been left to the Home Secretary among his many pre-occupations to consider the problems which have arisen, and that we ourselves were unable to see any of the Amendments last night. I got my Amendment paper about half an 1351 hour before I came to the House, and the Home Secretary, as far as I can see, has done very little except use this opportunity to withdraw one concession which he made to me.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
On this Clause I cannot but think that the remarks I have made have some relevance, because the House had no opportunity to discuss it in Committee, and has only had half an hour before the House met to consider more fully the points which were put by the right hon. Gentleman in Committee two days ago, and I cannot but think, for that and for other reasons, that we might have had a little more time.
§ The Secretary of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir George Cave)
It is no part of my duty to decide what measures shall be taken in the House.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
In that case, what I have said does not apply to the Home Secretary, but to the Leader of the House. The Home Secretary met this proposal by suggesting an ordinary shelving expedient. He wishes to appoint a Committee of experts, mostly lawyers, I suppose, to deal with this very difficult question. The Committee will consider the matter and report. What possible guarantee is there that the House will ever have an opportunity of dealing with the problem again? We know committees, we know the value of their reports, and we know how few of their recommendations get carried through. The alteration of the law which we are objecting to was laid down in 1870. There had been no chance of dealing with it until 1914. That is forty-four years, and now, in the middle of a war, we get another chance. In spite of the Committee of experts, I rather imagine it will be another forty years before some measure comes up on which we shall get another chance of dealing with it, and, therefore, I am very strongly in favour of dealing with it now and considering it in the time which has been given by the Leader of the House. The main point which we have complained about is that the question of the status of married women has been dealt with by the application of a mouldy and moth-eaten lawyers' shibboleth which appeals to the legal mind. The woman is either under the control of the father or the husband. 1352 That often happens as a matter of fact. But the legal principle is different, and the objection to dealing with this on the mere abstract principle of Roman law or some earlier law probably—it is the Hindu law, too—is that it leaves out of account the fact to which my right hon. Friend makes reference. You have to consider it far more in relation to the facts.
I think the Mover of the Clause was on very strong ground when he pointed out the absurdity which comes from treating the wife of a British subject as a British subject even though she may have been born a foreigner. After all, the privileges of British citizenship are very considerable. In the case of an alien who desires to be naturalised he has to comply with a great number of formalities. He has to reside here for five years. He has to satisfy the Home Secretary that he has a good character, that he has an adequate knowledge of the English law and intends to reside in His Majesty's Dominions or to continue in the service of the Crown, and even then the Home Secretary is not bound to grant it. But in the case of a woman who marries a British subject you dispense with all those precautions and safeguards, and say that the mere marriage satisfies all the requirements. It does not. It does not necessarily satisfy the requirements that she should be of good character, that she knows the English language, or that she has resided here. Take the case of a German woman who marries a British subject. Then war breaks out between the two countries. She is a British subject through no expression of her own opinion. She may not have resided here long enough to get any attachment to the country. The old ties survive. You have compulsorily, by an automatic process, turned her into a British subject, but her sentiments of allegiance to her old home naturally remain, and, in spite of this legal principle, which is the only ground for this action, one knows perfectly well that these sentiments of attachment to her own country survive, and the mere fact that she marries a British subject does not make her lose the love of her own country, and we know perfectly well cases where German women married to British subjects have had to be interned. So the legal principle in virtue of which the present position is determined does not get you over very serious difficulties. And, after all, she might fairly say, "I do not ask to be a British subject. Your law compulsorily turns me into a British 1353 subject, but perhaps my brothers have been fighting in Germany, and I cannot clear my mind from the ties which bind me to my own country." That is the fault of the law. Do not make her into a British subject unless in her own mind she wishes to belong to this country. The position of a German female spy married to a British subject is certainly very advantageous——
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I am not quite certain whether that is carried out by the Clause, but I think she should comply with the same requirements that any foreigner has to comply with. I think if you had any ground for assuming that in spite of five years' residence in this country she was not British in sentiment, the Home Secretary ought to have the same right of excluding her from British nationality until he is satisfied as in the case of other aliens. She ought to be treated just like other aliens in that matter. Somebody may say, "Why does she marry a British subject?" She marries him because she is in love with him and not because she is in love with his British nationality. She may have various reasons for marrying him.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
That does not come in. That is a separate question; but by virtue of your abstract legal principle there is attached to it a consequence which has nothing whatever to do with the mere wish to marry. The wish to marry does not necessarily involve the wish to transfer your nationality. We know perfectly well from cases that have occurred that it does not mean that. A German wife may wish to marry a British subject, but one knows of several cases where that does not in the least alter the natural ties of affection for their own country. The pedantic adherence to this ancient chivalry upon which we are acting leads to grave difficulties, and I think for the protection of the State we ought to revise it and really base the claim to nationality primarily on the wish of the person affected. We come to that position in the case of the man 1354 by a long process. I think I am right in saying that you cannot get away from your nationality. You owe your allegiance to the Crown, and the Crown declines to surrender the claim upon the subject. But the man's nationality depends upon the will of the subject. You allow a transfer. You do not retain unwilling subjects. In the old days we had a great fight with the United States in regard to subjects who lived there after the declaration of American independence. We claimed their nationality, but we gave that up. We have accepted the principle in the case of the man that the nationality should really rest on the state of the man's mind. We ought to accept that in the case of the wife and say that her nationality should depend upon her state of mind and not upon the mere accident of marriage, which depends upon other considerations. If the matter dealt with that branch of the subject only, the House would probably wish to revise the law. It is the other branch of the subject which would probably cause more difficulty.
Take the case of a British-born woman who commits the indiscretion of marrying a foreigner. That appears to be regarded as a crime or an offence or a fault on her part which is to be visited upon her by the imposition of what the Home Secretary calls the drastic penalties of this law. She loses her citizenship. I cannot see why we should exclude her from British citizenship, if she wishes to retain her British citizenship, merely because she marries an alien. Take the case of a foreign woman who marries a Britisher and who does not mean to become a British subject, but who means to live in this country. There will be a dual nationality there between the husband and wife. I do not believe any real difficulties follow from that. The question of property depends upon domicile. The question of children is determined under the ordinary law. It is no more difficult that there should be a difference of nationality between the husband and the wife than that here should be a difference of nationality between the wife and her eldest son, nor do I see the least difficulty—there is no practical difficulty—in a woman having a double nationality, being an Italian by Italian law, say, and English by English law. Those cases occur at the present time. I know several people who have a dual nationality. I do not see why we should exclude from British citizenship a British-born woman 1355 merely because she marries a foreigner. If she wants to join her husband's country—if, like Ruth, she wants to follow her husband's people and belong to her husband's nation—then let her make her declaration and let her go; but if she wants to retain her British citizenship, and she is proud of it, I cannot see why she should be deprived of it. I do not think anybody would have thought of attaching this penalty to her if it had not been for this mere legal principle which hangs about the lawyer's mind. If you read the Report of the Committee in 1870 they did not argue it. The legal mind accustomed to the application of this law naturally follows out the consequences, and says that these are the consequences which must follow from this general principle. But that has nothing to do with the real facts, and it leads to great difficulties.
I hope the House will take the opportunity of putting the law not upon the basis of an ancient legal fiction, not upon the basis of a shibboleth, but upon the ground of common sense. Certainly in the case of a foreign wife marrying a British subject there can be no doubt as to the common sense of the matter. There may be some difficulty in hon. Members' minds on the other side, but the more you think of it you must realise that it is really unjust, by this compulsory and automatic process, to deprive people who have done no harm, and ought never to come under the penal Clauses of this Act. If you have got any overt ground against them; if you consider that the wife by marrying a foreigner, especially if the country is at war, has shown hostility to the country of her origin, and that she is not a good subject and a good citizen, then the Home Secretary has power under this Bill to deal with her on her merits. Deal with her on her merits by all means, but not because she happens to be the wife of a foreigner. The difficulty of the view which is expressed in the position that we have come to is whether the wife is a kind of handbag which the man carries about with him to and from a foreign country. She is treated as a mere chattel and appendage with no will of her own. That, I confess, does not correspond to the new facts of the time. I think we had better bring the law into accordance with common sense, and I ask the Home Secretary to take the trouble to make up his mind. He says he has 1356 his mind open on the subject. At all events, he was not positive on the main question. If he hands it over to a committee of experts that will postpone it to some indefinite time, and there is no security that this Committee will ever have action taken on their advice. In the circumstances I think we should explore this problem a little more, and I think that after a little more investigation the House might come to the conclusion that it was a desirable change and that this was an opportunity for making the change and that we are not likely to get another.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I regretted to hear the references by my right hon. Friends to this Bill being taken to-day. When to-day was fixed no objection of any kind was taken. I think that the House is anxious to pass this Bill as quickly as possible. Certainly that is my position. I have a long waiting list of persons who would be dealt with under this Bill when it becomes law, and I want the Committee to get to work at the earliest possible moment. As regards the Amendment, of course it has no bearing on the present War, because it is not retrospective, and no marriages with alien enemies take place during the War.
§ Sir W. DICKINSON
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that a German woman in this country cannot marry a British subject?
§ Sir G. CAVE
This Amendment raises a big question affecting the law as to the status of women, and, as I stated in the Committee stage, I hope that advantage will not be taken of this Bill to enter into what must be a long controversy on this matter, because I am afraid it may affect the chances of the rapid passage of the measure. I know that feeling on this point is very strong, and I think it would not be reasonable to encumber the Bill with a discussion on a big subject of this kind. This Amendment would mean that 1357 if a British woman marries a foreigner and goes to live in a foreign country she remains a British subject and entitled to the protection of this country. On the other hand, it means that if a foreign woman marries a British subject and comes to live here she shall be entitled, though living in this country, to the protection of that foreign country.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I am not saying that it is right or wrong. I have expressed no opinion. I do not pretend to express an opinion, except that I think it undesirable to deal with the matter in this Bill. Apart from that, some time ago a law was passed on the subject of nationality, and most of our Dominions have agreed to it. They have adopted our Act of 1914. Australia has not adopted it, but most of them have done so. Before proposing this Bill we consulted them, so as not to break in on the uniformity that has on the whole obtained, and without such consultation I would be unwilling to make any change in the law on the subject of women marrying foreigners. Canada has dealt with this question, but on different lines. I hope, therefore, that the House will not agree to this Amendment. I agree that that is a plea for postponing it, but I do ask to have it postponed. So far as my right hon. Friend asks that this matter should be considered by a Committee, I am entirely with him. I intend to propose at the Imperial Conference that a Committee shall be appointed at once, representing not only this country but the Dominions, to consider all the big questions that have been raised affecting the law of nationality. So far as I am concerned, I can say that this certainly will be one of the questions. I have every intention of in-chiding this question in the reference to the Committee. I do not think that my right hon. Friend expects us really to deal with the question of women's rights. He is entitled to raise it and argue it and give it prominence, but having done that and obtained from me an assurance that the matter shall be brought before the Committee, I hope that he will consider that sufficient and not press this Amendment, and so incur some risk as to the speedy passage of this Bill.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
I have very considerable sympathy with this Amendment, 1358 but the speech of the Home Secretary has convinced me that it is quite impossible to deal with a matter of this magnitude in this Bill. After all, this is in the main primarily a war measure, and the proposal is not even germane to the primary purpose of the Bill. But a consideration which, to my mind, is conclusive against dealing with this matter now is that a question of this magnitude, affecting the law of nationality, must, so far as possible, be settled in concurrence with all our Dominions. There can be no opportunity of discussing the subject with the Dominions at present, and I think that the Home Secretary has indicated sufficiently that the matter is not going to be relegated to the obscure and indefinite future.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I am sorry that the Home Secretary has not seen his way to accept this Amendment. It does not seem to me to be necessary to leave this question over until the whole question of nationality is dealt with, nor can I think that it can be said that the things dealt with in this Bill are only war questions. But even if they were war questions, the position of women under the present naturalisation law, which makes them become foreign subjects by marrying a foreigner, is a war question, and involves great hardship. We do not regard it as any crime for a woman to marry a friendly alien at the present time, and we must remember that it was equally no crime before the War to marry an alien of any kind, because at that time we were on friendly terms with all of them. Hon. Members do not consider sufficiently how great a hardship this is considered to be by women. Suppose that men in this country had no votes and that the women had, and that a man was compelled to adopt the nationality of the woman whom he married, I think that the man would certainly regard that as a very gross hardship, and he would certainly feel that it was not an answer to be asked, "Why did you marry?" That is exactly the position of women. They are compelled to take the nationality of the man they marry, and then the question is put to them by some hon. Members, "Why did you marry him?" Women feel that to be a very great hardship, and I hope we shall be able to put it right now. We know it is the position that within a short time the women of this country, 6,000,000 or so of them, will 1359 have votes, and I think it is quite certain that when they get the vote there will be opportunities for this injustice to be put right. I think, however, it would be very-much more worthy and gracious if we dealt with the injustice now, and not wait until political pressure is put upon us from outside.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I do not think there is any half-way house in this matter, though I do not know how far the Mover of the Amendment will press his proposal after what has been said. I think it should be clearly understood that we want this question properly defined at some time or another in the near future, so that there may be equality of treatment between the sexes. The argument that a woman should not marry a foreigner unless she loses her nationality would be held by women voters and by others outside as a differentiation of treatment between the sexes, and I am entirely in favour of equality of treatment. The right hon. Gentleman says he does not like to make an alteration in the law without consultation with the Dominions. That argument was adduced in 1914, but it did not prevent the Goversment from accepting a change without consulting the Colonies. The right hon. Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon), when he was on the Front Bench, accepted an Amendment which has been operative all through the War, and has been a great boon. It was urged on that occasion that the Colonies had not been consulted, but the right hon. Gentleman accepted the Amendment because it enabled the widow of an alien to revert back to her British nationality. That has been a very great boon to the women of this country during the War, and it was accepted without jeopardising the Bill, and without consulting the Colonies. I think something more might be done on this occasion, but I do not know how far the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment will press it.
§ Mr. C. HARMSWORTH
May I make a suggestion to the Secretary of State? He is going, I understand, to set up immediately a Committee to consider the whole question of naturalisation. May I suggest to him that he should direct the special attention of the Committee to this question of the status of women, and possibly he might exercise his influence with the Government to bring in a short Bill after the Recess, in order to give 1360 effect to what is obviously the wish of this House. I know from communications, I have received, that women are very keenly interested in this subject. I presume that all hon. Members have received a memorial, which seems to me to be backed up by every women's organisation in the kingdom, and I must say this—that if we had had women Members of this House, it is quite obvious that two or three of them would have persuaded us to embody the Amendment of my right hon. Friend in this Bill, as, with women Members present, it would have been almost impossible for the business of the House to be conducted. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider this suggestion which I make, of bringing in a short Bill after the Recess, embodying the results of the findings of the Committee on this subject.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
I desire to associate myself with the argument put forward by the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. I quite appreciate the position of the Home Secretary, and if we could have some assurance that this matter would come before the House again on definite proposals within a reasonably short time, the situation would be very different. As the matter is before the House now, it seems to us the right time to consider it, and, unless, before the discussion closes, we can have some assurance that the matter will come before the House again within a reasonably short time, we ought to divide on the question now.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
After the two last speeches made pressing the Home Secretary to bring this matter before the Committee, and to follow that by bringing in a short Bill after the Recess, I think it is necessary to enter a caveat in regard to the whole proposal. My general attitude in regard to the question in which women are involved is one of sympathy with the position taken UP by my right hon. Friend the Mover of the Amendment; but, in my view, I do not think the question of the equality of the sexes comes into this discussion at all, still less is it a question for the legal mind, as stated by the right hon. Gentlemen. The real question is simply a practical one. Although I should be sorry to say anything or take any action which would even have the appearance of being derogatory to the position of the right 1361 hon. Gentleman, yet, to my mind, it is inconceivable, as a matter of practical convenience, that the man and the wife can be of separate nationality. If the right hon. Gentleman had moved an Amendment which proposad some proceeding by which there might be an option so that any family might decide whether the nationality should be that of the husband or the wife, there should be something to say for it, but to propose that the husband should be of one nationality and the wife of another seems to me perfectly impracticable. When we do come to review the whole question of the nationality and status of aliens, we shall find ourselves up against another very important difficulty in regard to this proposal. Until the time comes, as I hope it may, when the natural-born British citizen will be a person who is born of British parents, and not a person merely born on British soil, the question arises should the child follow the nationality of the father or that of the mother, and to those of us who are anxious to see equality between the sexes no doubt the claim of the mother to give her nationality to the children is as strong as the claim of the father, and on that a fresh difficulty would arise in a very acute form. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, at all events, will not at present give any encouragement to the particular proposal embodied in this Amendment, although I should be grateful for any device that might be brought in to put, as I said, the option of the woman's right to impress her nationality on the family on an equal footing with that of the man.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
This Amendment raises a very large question, and I shall not enter upon a discussion of its merits. I simply wish to say that it seems to me that not only are the people of this country affected by this proposal, but all the Dominions throughout the whole of our Empire, and possibly it might to some extent affect relationships with foreign countries. In these circumstances the proposal to deal with a question of such magnitude, in a House, consisting of thirty or forty Members, should not be insisted upon, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, whose moderation and great ability we all recognise, has made a suggestion which seems to be a perfectly reasonable one. I am sure that we shall arrive at a 1362 sounder result if we wait until the proposed Committee which is to be set up, has concluded its deliberations.
§ Sir R. NEWMAN
I am only going to ask two questions upon which, not being a lawyer, I should like to have enlightenment. The right hon. Baronet who proposed this Amendment said that the Home Secretary by this measure deprived women of rights which they had up to now under the Act of 1914. With all due respect, it is hardly fair to say that the opposition to this Bill is not justified if it really is taking away a right which British subjects had, as the right hon. Baronet has suggested. The other question is this: Am I right in imagining that if this Amendment is not accepted, supposing a woman's husband becomes a Turkish subject—for I suppose there is nothing to prevent him taking up Turkish nationality—would she then become a Turkish subject unless she got a special authority from the Home Secretary? It seems an important matter in itself.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I am not aware that I have taken away any rights at all, having regard to what we did on Wednesday. As regards the second point it would be so, for the rule is that a woman takes her husband's nationality, and if she married a Turk——
§ Sir R. NEWMAN
I do not say married a Turk, but if he became a Turk—took up the Turkish nationality—would she then be so bound?
§ Sir G. CAVE
Not at all; there is a provision made for that in the Act. May I add one word. I give an assurance that the matter will be considered, and it is before the Imperial Conference at this moment. I should regard it as a disaster if, in spite of that, the House insists upon this Amendment.
§ Sir W. DICKINSON
The right hon. Gentleman said it would be a disaster if the House settled this matter. If he means by that that he does not wish us to have a Division, I am afraid I must ask for a Division.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I meant when I said a disaster that it would be a great pity, when proposals are being submitted to the Imperial Conference, if the matter could not be reserved to be settled by agreement.
§ Sir E. CARSON
May I say that I have listened to this Debate, and I cannot but have considerable sympathy with the Amendment. I think it is one of the natural consequences which flow from the equality of rights, which I have always opposed with regard to the franchise in the case of women, but at the same time the idea of this House, on a Friday sitting, settling a question of this kind, which involves the Dominions as well as ourselves, and settling it in a sparse House of some two dozen Members, is little less than a