HC Deb 25 February 1930 vol 235 cc2056-8

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to allow women marrying foreigners freedom to retain their nationality. I hope I shall be able to prove to the House, in a very few sentences, that this Bill is one that deserves the support of Members in all quarters. On several previous occasions, Motions and Resolutions based on the same principle as underlies this Bill have received the unanimous approval of the House. Hon. Members are no doubt aware that by the Nationalisation Act, 1870, a British woman, on marrying a foreigner, loses her right to British citizenship, and this Bill seeks to restore to women the rights that were taken away from them by that Act. The inequalities between men and women that exist to-day in relation to nationality form one of the most glaring anomalies of our social system. The day has gone by when it was true to say: A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree, The more you beat them, the better they be, but to-day women are still included in this matter among minors and lunatics, in that they are under a disability as compared with men.

Clause 1 of this Bill gives to an Englishwoman on marrying a foreigner the right to retain her nationality if she desires to do so, and the other Clauses of the Bill merely carry out the logical consequences of Clause 1. Their object is to make the conditions and regulations for women, as regards the acquiring and retaining of British citizenship, the same as are enjoyed by and applicable to men to-day; in other words, that there shall be no distinction based on sex in the law and practice relating to nationality. Many other countries, including the united States of America, have already taken legislative action along these lines, and therefore if an Englishwoman marries a citizen of one of those countries, she is in a peculiarly difficult and awkward position.

May I give the House one illustration? Supposing an Englishwoman marries an American, she thereby loses her British citizenship, but she cannot acquire American citizenship until she has resided in the United States of America for 12 months. Now it often happens that her husband is engaged in some business in Europe, or some other part of the world other than the United States, in which case she cannot fulfil the qualification necessary to attain American citizenship, it may be, for a long period of years, and I think that in those cases she exists on the promiscuous charity of some Consul who gives her a temporary passport. Those of us who support this Measure realise that there may be certain difficulties, and as long as the law in foreign countries is different, difficulties there will be. Difficulties there may be, but we maintain that injustice and inequalities there should not be; and if we can remove the latter, as it is in our power to do, I think we can go a long way towards solving the former.

4.0 p.m.

The choice which the House has to make to-day is between legal conveniences on the one hand and human rights on the other, and I think that public opinion will endorse the decision of this House when it comes down on the side of human rights. In conclusion, we desire that this Measure should pass at this moment, because on 13th March next there will be held, at The Hague, a Codification Conference which will discuss this matter, and we desire our delegates to that Conference to go armed and fortified with the unanimous approval of this House upon this matter. We also desire this subject to be discussed by the Imperial Conference when it meets in October, and that the principle underlying this Measure should be extended throughout the British Dominions. Finally, I would like to say that no fewer than 70 women's organisations within the Empire and 52 women's organisations in this country give their hearty support to this Measure, and the only surprising thing to me is, that that being the case, why it has not become the law of the land a long time ago. For these reasons, I hope that the House will give this Measure not only a passive acceptance, but a clear and heartfelt welcome.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Captain Cazalet, Miss Wilkinson, Miss Picton-Turbervill, Countess of Iveagh, Sir Gervais Rentoul, Mr. Llewellyn-Jones, Mr. Marjoribanks, and Mr. Hannon,