HC Deb 06 March 1929 vol 226 cc386-8

I beg to move: That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law with respect to the status of married women. This is a very simple Bill, and the principle has already received the unanimous support of the House. It deals with four points. It provides that the British woman who marries a foreigner shall not thereby lose her nationality unless she makes a declaration that she wishes to do so. It respects equally the nationality of a foreign woman who marries an Englishman, but provides a much simpler arrangement if she desires to acquire English nationality. It is retrospective as regards British women. They will automatically resume their British nationality if they have been married to an alien unless they make a declaration that they wish to keep the nationality of their husband. It is not retrospective with regard to foreign women who are married to Britishers, as this might cause hardship. I do not think the principle of the Bill needs very much recommendation. As a matter of fact, when British women had very few other rights they had this one. They enjoyed the right to their own nationality until the law of 1870.

Now that women have been granted the vote on the same terms as men and are in every way equal citizens with men, surely it is not logical to deny as great a right, the right to their own nationality. Of course, the obvious reply might be made that the way to keep her own nationality is not to marry a foreigner, but that in itself constitutes an inequality, as a man cannot be deprived of his nationality whomever he marries or whatever he does. At present, we have a large number of other countries which have made great strides in this matter since the War—the United States of America and most of the other American republics, Russia, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the other Scandinavian countries. The difficulties of the British Empire are usually used as a screen for not granting this modest request of British women to their nationality. The British Empire is used as a screen by Departments which do not want any change in the present law. The law was passed by Canada until it was intimated that the British Government were not in favour of it, and the Canadian Act was then revoked. The women's organisations of all parties in Australia, Africa, Canada and New Zealand have passed resolutions in favour of this principle. Many members of the Imperial Conference have approved the principle, but we understand that the home Government have been in most cases the stumbling block.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks) indicated dissent.


The right hon. Gentleman has always shown himself a strong champion of the equality of women, and I trust that we shall have this little Bill passed.


I can only speak in opposition to the Bill, and I do not want to oppose it; but, if the hon. Lady will allow me to answer her question, I can perhaps give the explanation. I happen to have been the chairman of a sub-committee of the last Imperial Conference on which all the Dominions were represented. According to my recollection, all but one Dominion, including the home Government, were favourable to the proposal which I understand the hon. Lady makes, but, because one Dominion stood out—on various grounds I understand—they came to the conclusion that it was so undesirable to have a different nationality law throughout the Empire—although nine-tenths of the Empire might be one way—that we allowed it to stand over to the next Conference, when I hope the Dominion that did not agree will fall into line. I and the Government are in favour of the Bill.


If my little Bill does nothing else it has drawn from the Home Secretary a valuable statement for which I thank him and which, I am sure, the Women's Organisations that are backing the Bill will regard as equally valuable. I feel, under the circumstances, though I have a long argument which would take the rest of the ten minutes, after the Home Secretary's statement there is no further need for me to inflict the rest of my speech on the House or to push open an already open door. I will therefore end by welcoming the declaration of the Home Secretary and I hope the Bill will be given a First Reading as an indication of the spirit of the House and that we welcome the assurance of the Home Secretary that he will give his warm personal support to the Measure at the next Imperial Conference.


I assume the Home Secretary was intervening to answer a question. If not, he would have been out of order in making a speech.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Miss Wilkinson, Miss Bondfield, Miss Lawrence, Viscountess Astor, Mr. Pethick-Lawrence, and Mr. Kingsley Griffith.

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