§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Dr. ETHEL BENTHAM
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill which I am asking the House to consider has been before this House on former occasions, and has many supporters on all sides. It has also an extremely wide and increasing support in the country. It seeks to remedy an illogical and mischievous situation. This situation gives rise to endless personal hardships and injustices; it very often increases and endangers the domestic relations and happiness of families; and it definitely imposes upon women a condition of inferiority as citizens which they resent more emphatically with every month that passes. It also may, and does, provide opportunities and causes of friction in international relations.
The principle of law which it seeks to reverse, that is to say, the principle which regards women as holding an entirely inferior status, classing them with lunatics and criminals, is not one of very great antiquity. It does not date back to Magna Carta; it is not even as old as Queen Anne. It is not embedded in the British Constitution, but is at variance with the old English common law, which for this purpose did regard a woman as a citizen. It seems probable that in its first partial introduction it was a well-meant attempt to remedy an injustice and a hardship. The Code Napoleon bad enacted in 1804 that a Frenchwoman who married a foreigner followed his nationality. That, of course, left the Frenchwoman who married an Englishman without the protection of either State, and it would almost seem as though the Act of 1844 sought to remedy that by admitting to the protection of English citizenship those who, by marriage with British nationals, had lost their own nationality.
That Act of 1844, however, did not deprive of citizenship She Englishwoman who married a citizen of another State. It was not until 1870 that that mischief was done. The Naturalisation Act of that year made a woman entirely de- 1676 pendent on the nationality of her husband as far as this country was concerned, entirely regardless of the fact that she might be, and usually was, left stateless, and was deprived of all civil rights and privileges in both countries. A woman who married an alien under She Act of 1870 lost her British citizenship.
Since then, public opinion has altered very materially, both here and in other countries; but, although the original sinner, France, has done much to remedy this injustice and illogicality, although States comprising something very close to half the population of the world, and amongst them the United States of America, give almost full citizenship in this respect to women, and many other countries have advanced to some extent in that direction, this country and all its Dominions have taken no effective step to remedy that great injustice. We ask Britain and her Dominions to take it now.
It has been said that this demand has no reality behind it, but is an agitation got up largely on sentimental grounds of theoretical equality by feminist societies, who find themselves, since women's suffrage was achieved, without a grievance to exploit. That has been said. It is not the case. All women s associations are, inevitably, concerned to gain full citizenship for women. That, of course, is natural and inevitable. But there are many men and women entirely outside the ranks of these societies who realise to the full, very often through their own bitter experience, the injustices and hardship that fall upon them and the dangers to the social organisation that flow from them. I wish I could give to the House some idea of the letters which have reached me recently from all kinds of women—letters in polished English from university graduates, letters ill-spelt and ungrammatical, and hardly expressing their meaning, from very humble people indeed; but that would take too long. I should like, however, to give to the House a few typical instances of the hardships that are entailed. Many more flagrant and obvious cases could be given than those which I am going to cite, but I am confining myself to those that have come within my own personal experience.
1677 An Englishwoman, a university graduate of same distinction, married a foreigner resident here. She must register as an alien; she must suffer all the disabilities and inconveniences, both here and abroad, that are attached to that; she can only practise her profession here in very humble and unofficial ways; and although, as I have said, she is a distinguished graduate of her university, no promotion of any sort is open to her in her own professional life.
The English widow of a foreigner, who had very few years of married life, has never been able to regain her citizenship. She was very nearly "repatriated" during the War, although she had never been across the Channel and did not know one word of any language but her own. That woman, by reason of her poverty, has had a very sore struggle ever since.
An Englishwoman married an alien early in 1914. At the time when war broke out, he had actually applied for naturalisation. His interests were here, they proposed to live here, and he bad actually applied for naturalisation when war broke out. She had to join him in his country after the war, but, as might be easily realised in that state of affairs, the marriage was very unhappy. After 18 months of ill-usage, not so much by her husband, perhaps, as by his relatives and those surrounding her, she was obliged to try to get home. I do not know how it was managed, but, after many months of anxiety and worry, the British Consul found a method of giving her some kind of temporary passport and bringing her home. She was a poor woman, but had she been entitled to any property or if, as was possible, she had got some later on, there would have been very great difficulty in settling her rights. A woman who was under my professional care was so determined to retain the protection of her country's laws and her own nationality that she and the man she was proposing to marry deliberately determined to live together without marriage in order that she might retain her nationality. A woman should not have to choose between her nationality and the legitimacy of her children.
The Bill is short and simple. It would enact two things. The first is that a British woman shall not lose her nationality by the mere fact of marriage, and it will restore to a British woman the 1678 status that she enjoyed prior to that ill-conceived Act of 1870. The other is a protection to the State, that a woman shall not receive British citizenship by the mere fact of her marriage with a British national; that she shall have to apply for citizenship and to receive it or not to receive it on the same grounds on which a man's application is considered. In 1914 and 1918 the question of the status of aliens resident in this country and of the laws concerning nationalisation was considered, but those two Acts, although it was evident that many people concerned by them felt uneasily that they were not envisaging the whole position and were leaving these illogicalities and opening the road to continuing the injustices and hardships that were incidental to them, did not do anything to remedy this condition of things. The law of 1914, however, did one very significant thing. It reintroduced into English law the possibility of separate nationality for husband and wife. It definitely provided that a change in a man's nationality during marriage should not affect the wife's nationality against her will. This appears to me to decide the principle. If a separate nationality is permissible by the choice of the woman in one event, why should it be impossible to give her that choice in slightly different circumstances?
Section 7 (a) of the Act of 1918 also says that the Secretary of State may direct, in the ease of a change of nationality during marriage, that the wife and children are to be aliens, but that they shall not be aliens in that case unless the Secretary of State so directs, and that the Secretary of State shall not so direct unless he is satisfied that the wife has done something to deserve or to risk that deprivation, or unless she makes a declaration that she would prefer to follow the changed nationality. The League of Nations first conference for the Codification of International Law, held in April this year, also recommended a convention which contemplates the principle of separate nationality for wife and husband. It provides, in Article 8, that, if the national law of a wife causes her to lose her nationality, this shall be conditional on her acquiring that of her husband. Article 9 says the same thing if it occurs during marriage, and Article 10 says it shall not happen during marriage except 1679 with the wife's consent. The final Act of that international conference not only contemplated the possibility, and in many cases the justice, of separate nationality for husband and wife, but emphatically recommended a further study to relieve equality of status between men and women. Therefore, the objection to two nationalities in a family is not thought to be an impossible bar by international jurists, and it is recognised by our present law as possible.
Probably no one would think of separate nationality in a family as a thing in itself desirable, but in this life we very often have to say of two evils, let us choose the less. In any event, this double nationality in a family cannot create more difficult conditions than the marriage of people of different religions, and that is a thing which no Church and no religious denomination has ever been able, whatever they have tried to do, to prevent. It would be certainly of two evils the lesser. I have given only instances which have been within my own personal knowledge. I could give many more. As I have said, I have received many letters from all kinds and conditions of people, not only women of all classes but men, who are concerned in this way with the domestic unhappinesses, the difficulties that may be created and the possibilities of friction which may come between nations in this matter. Therefore, I ask the House to give the Bill such a powerful and sympathetic support that it may be able to remedy many cases of evident hardship and injustice, and that we may also do something to satisfy the quite legitimate aspirations of women for equality of status, already in principle and theory conceded by this House, and to stand on an equality with their brothers before the law; and that we may also do something to smooth out the relations between nation and nation and to lessen the opportunities of friction and difficulty which these anomalous conditions must often create.
The matter is more than ever urgent, because of the fact that with increased trade and intercourse, with foreign travel increasing every day that passes, the opportunities for these difficulties are increased. The practical inconveniences of life are also increased enormously with every week that passes. I therefore ask 1680 that the House will consider and support the opportunity that it now has to remedy these things and give to women that equal status which, I think, they may legitimately demand, and by remedying most of these things, to take a long step—perhaps it is not such a long step, but it is an appreciable step—towards the coming of that good day when lions and lambs may lie down together in the shelter and happiness of national and international peace.
§ Captain CAZALET
I beg to second the Motion.
I have very great pleasure indeed in seconding the Bill which has just been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Dr. Bentham). I do so for two reasons: First, because I think that the principles which underlie the Bill should, and in fact do, find support in all political parties both in this House and outside it; and, secondly, for a personal reason, because this very Bill was for some years my own pet child. I am very glad to see that to-day it has been taken up by the hon. Member for East Islington, and I hope and trust that under her able guidance and care it will prosper to an even greater extent than it did under my care. She has, in very lucid terms, outlined the objects of the Measure. It is a small and simple Bill, and, if I may use the metaphor of the racecourse, it always takes the first jump easily. Everybody applauds it, and everybody wishes it well. But then it is not that it falls down; it never really manages to reach the second fence.
§ Captain CAZALET
I very much hope that with strong Liberal support we may see it arrive at the winning post. I also hope that whoever may be going to reply on behalf of the Government—we fully realise that in this matter, as in many other matters, we are entirely in their hands and that they can say "yes" or "no"—will not put forward all those old arguments as to why it is not possible to do anything. We hear those arguments to-day in regard to a variety of subjects, but this is a matter upon which. I hope, they will not consider it necessary to repeat them. We know the old arguments, that the time is not opportune 1681 and that we must wait and see what other countries and what other parts of the Empire wish to do. For the last six or seven years we have heard those arguments, with the result that nothing has been done, and those women who are suffering, we believe, under an intolerable injustice to-day continue to suffer.
During the past fifty years each decade has seen some definite step in the emancipation of women in this country. Each generation has witnessed the steady progress towards equality between the sexes. To-day, women sit in this House of Commons, practise at the Bar, and form the majority of the electors of the country. It is generally supposed that they have equal rights with men, and to-day any inequality as regards their sex is looked upon as an anachronism. This Bill shows that there are still grave discrepancies in the law, and it also tries to remedy some of them.
We are all, I think, irrespective of our political parties, deeply pledged to this Bill, and I am glad that no party is more deeply pledged than the party which forms His Majesty's Government. The Prime Minister, in an interview with a deputation of various societies, including representatives of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship, in April, 1929, gave his opinion on the issues and questions at stake in this Bill. It was to the effect that the right hon. Gentleman agreed that a British woman who married an alien should not automatically lose her nationality; that a foreign woman who marries a British subject should not have British nationality conferred upon her unless she makes an application to be admitted as a British subject; and that a married woman should no longer be classed with minors and lunatics as a person under a disability, but that she should be deemed competent to apply for, and be admitted to, British nationality in her own right. If that interprets the feeling of the Government and the party behind the Government front bench, then we may all hope to see some further progress made with this Bill in the present Session.
There have been Bills and Resolutions on this subject before; it is no new matter. Two Bills were introduced, one in 1921 and another in 1922. The subject was relegated to a Select Committee and 1682 the Members representing the House of Commons on the Select Committee were unanimously in favour of immediate steps being taken. A Resolution, against which no voice was raised, was again introduced in February, 1925. As I have said, all parties have for a number of years committed themselves—whether they knew what exactly they were committing themselves to I do not know, but they have definitely, in public, in print, and in the House of Commons, committed themselves to the principles underlying the Bill.
The hon. Member for East Islington (Dr. Bentham) has explained the principles of the Bill, and if anyone wishes to know what they are they are set forward in the Memorandum in easy and intelligible language. All that we are asking is the return to the conditions which prevailed before 1844. Before that date, no doubt, a woman was handicapped in many ways, but, at any rate, on the question of nationality she had greater liberty and greater freedom than she has to-day. The three points in the Bill, very briefly, are these: It restores to woman the right which she possessed before 1844 to retain her British nationality on marriage. The Bill also provides that an alien woman does not acquire British nationality simply by marriage with a British subject. I will give the reason for making that provision. We are informed to-day that this privilege has been much abused, and that there are women who come over to this country from Continental countries, and go through a form of marriage in this country, and thereby become possessed of that valuable article, a British passport, and then leave the country and use that passport for other ends. This Bill provides that an alien woman, in those circumstances, should be prepared to go through some formalities before British nationality is conferred upon her. That takes a married woman out of the category of persons suffering under a disability.
I am not going to quote to the House the innumerable eases that have come to my notice of hardships which are being inflicted upon British women Owing to the unequal position in which they stand. Ever since I have been connected with this Bill my post bag has been considerably increased. Many details of the miseries of numerous people, owing to 1683 this disability, have been sent to me. I do not think I have had so many letters on this question as the hon. Lady the Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson), who has been so long connected with this subject, and has done so much hard work in trying to remedy, through her influence and exertions at the Home Office, some of the difficulties under which these people have been suffering, and the hon. Lady will be in a better position to give instances than I am. I do not wish to enlist the sympathy of the House because of the particular hardships of individuals, but I support this Bill on the broad principle of equity, and because I believe that that is the right principle upon which to support it, and not the hardships of individual cases.
What are the arguments against the Bill? A few days ago a distinguished Member of this House said to me in reference to this Bill: "What are you going to do about the children, because I see great difficulties in that respects? What will happen supposing a child was born on board ship?" Births may be accidental, but at any rate they are foreseeable, and parents must realise that if it is likely their child is going to be born abroad they must inquire what are the laws affecting children in other parts of the world. To urge that as a serious argument against this Bill seems to me not to realise the importance and gravity of the situation. Difficulties are one thing and injustices are another, and I am perfectly certain that if you can remove the latter we shall be able to solve the former. As I said on a previous occasion, you have to decide whether you prefer legal difficulties or human rights. The Bill conies down strongly on the side of human rights and leaves legal difficulties to find their own solution.
What about other countries? The hon. Lady the Member for East Islington has already given to the House some illustrations. In the last 10 years, almost every other country in the world has taken some step in regard to the proposals contained in the Measure, while we have done nothing at all. The fact is that in countries with a population of more than 350,000,000 a woman who marries a foreigner does not automatically lose her nationality. In the case of countries with a population of more than 300,000,000 a 1684 woman does not automatically lose her nationality on marriage with a foreigner. In countries with a population of 650,000,000 progress has been made in regard to the question dealt with in this Bill, while no progress has been made in this country.
Take the case of an English woman who happens to marry an American, possibly one of the commonest examples that can be given. What is the result? Probably she marries an American in some occupation in this country or in Europe. Automatically, on proceeding to America, she loses her British nationality. What does she get? She cannot gain American citizenship until she has resided in the United States for 12 months, with what result? The man probably goes back to the United States and gives up his occupation in this country or in Europe, or else the woman has to exist on the promiscuous charity of a Consul who gives her a bit of paper which signifies that she was once a British citizen and hopes to become an American citizen. Hon. Members may say that that is the fault of the law of the United States of America, but it reacts on English women who marry Americans, and it places them in an invidious position. We desire that there should be unanimity in this matter throughout the Empire. I regret to see the laconic report made by the Imperial Conference on this question, which ends with this sentence:The Conference was satisfied, however, that any proposal of this kind would fail to secure unanimous agreement.It follows that the Conference was unable to make any recommendation for a substantial amendment of the law, except the one which refers to certain articles which were signed and agreed upon at a recent Conference at The Hague. We regard that as a disappointing result of the Imperial Conference. Every time we have urged this matter forward we have been told that we must wait until we hear from the Dominions, and I regret that at a recent conference they have not found it possible to come to any agreed solution of this problem. We do not, however, believe that is an adequate excuse for our own Government doing nothing in the matter, and we claim that, if the Dominions will not act with us, we must lead the way, and, by doing so, we feel sure that they will follow our 1685 example. We must lead the way and demonstrate once again, as we have done in the past, that in this country, at any rate in the matter of nationality, we will not allow a question of sex to be the ground for discrimination and injustice.
§ Sir GERALD HURST
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now", and at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
I suggest to the House that it is quite inaccurate to regard this merely as a question of treating women as chattels or as a simple question of human rights. It is, in fact, a most intricate and complicated subject and I put it to hon. Members most seriously that it is not an isolated English question. It is essentially an international question and it is impossible to look upon it from a national and isolated point of view. With the underlying principle of the Bill I confess that I have some sympathy. I have never spoken in support of this Bill but I have supported some change in the law. Owing to the War one was very conscious of the abominable injustices inflicted on English women who had married Germans and one felt that the existing state of the law was absolutely impossible. Since then, however, my views have somewhat altered, and I will tell the House why. I beg hon. Members not to regard the experience of English women during the War as furnishing any guide as to how they should vote on the Second Reading of this Bill.
In the first place, the position in war is very different from the position in peace. The normal life of a family is a life of peace, and we must not allow our minds to be coloured too much by the experiences of the war. The real cure for the injustices of the war is not to abandon, as the nations did in the last war, the old principle of international law which left private property safe. The great mistake was to interfere with private property at all. A third reason why we should not attach too much to the war experience is this: Assuming that the law had been different during the war period, that is to say, that the law foreshadowed by this Bill was then in vogue in Europe, the result would have been to spare a certain class of people from injustices but it would have exposed another class of people to identical misfortunes. 1686 Take the case of English women married to Germans. They were left quite free, but if they had been regarded as English their property would have been confiscated in the same way as English-born wives of German nationality had their property confiscated in England.
We must treat this question more in the light of the conditions under which we are now living than in the very exceptional circumstances of the last war. I cannot think that anyone who has any experience of these cases can treat this matter from the British point of view, as if we must go our own way regardless of what other countries do. Since 1870 our law has been crystallised as it is now, and it is a law which substantially we have in common with all the great countries of Europe. Subject to very slight modifications our law is substantially that of Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Norway, and with a slight difference from the law of New Zealand it is the same law as obtains in all our Dominions and Colonies. It is rather misleading to count the number of heads in the different countries which practise the same law as we do and those which do not, because if you count barbaric countries and Russia, where the law is different, you arrive at a large population. You should not regard population in. block but rather take into account those countries with which intermarriage is more likely.
The case of the United States does not really arise on this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Capt. Cazalet) has stated that under the Cable Act of 1922 passed in the United States everybody who marries an American citizen does not automatically become an American citizen herself; therefore, she is stateless. Her grievance ought not to arise at all to-day. The paragraph which the hon. and gallant Member read from the Report of the Imperial Conference refers to a proposal in regard to the case of those women who become stateless by reason of the Cable Act in America, and that same paragraph states that it is assumed that all members of the Commonwealth will introduce such legislation as may be necessary to give effect to certain articles of the Convention. Those articles meet the special difficulty to which the hon. and gallant Member referred. One of them reads thus. 1687If the national law of the wife causes her to lose her nationality on marriage with a foreigner, this consequence shall be conditional on her acquiring the nationality of the husband.In order to avoid becoming stateless she will remain a British citizen. If the Government implement the promise given at the Hague and to the Imperial Conference this grievance in regard to English women who marry American citizens disappears.
We are left, therefore, with the real problem which the House has to decide—namely, the case of an English woman who marries a foreigner, whose country practises the same law as is now practised in this country, and I hope to satisfy the House that the result will be absolute confusion and hardship if you alter the law in England so as to bring it into conflict with the law of our Dominions and Colonies and all the great continental countries. You cannot force our conception of the law upon these foreign countries.
Take the case of an English woman who marries a German and goes to live with her German husband in Germany. If this Bill is carried she retains her British nationality. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] She does if she desires to do so. She remains a British citizen and enjoys the protection of the British Government and British laws. But she is living in Germany, and by German law she is a German. She has two nationalities. She is English by English law and is entitled to the protection of our Government and our laws; she can have a British passport and owes allegiance to the British State. At the same time she is living in Germany, married to a German husband, and she is a full German citizen according to German law. That is really an impossible position. She is a citizen of Germany and of Great Britain. What protection can British law give her if she is living in Germany with a German husband?
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
I do not see the difficulty the hon. and learned Member has in mind. Clearly any person living under German jurisdiction is subject to the laws of that jurisdiction. What exactly is the difficulty?
§ Sir G. HURST
It is perfectly clear. If, for instance, war should break out between Germany and England, which Heaven forbid, by English law this woman is a British citizen and if she sides with Germany she commits an act of treason. By German law she is a German citizen and if she sides with England she commits an act of treason. By our law she is English; by German law she is German, and in fact, if the German courts choose to exercise their jurisdiction over her we have absolutely no power of interposing our view of the law, because by the German view of the law, which is at this moment our view of the law and has been so since 1870, she is a German citizen.
§ Captain CAZALET
In regard to the case of American women, can the hon. and learned Gentleman give an instance where the law has caused great difficulty in the last few years? They have the right to retain their nationality.
§ Sir G. HURST
I am taking a general view. I do not say that these practical inconveniences often arise, but if you are making a change in the law you have to consider the practical effects, and in actual fact the system with regard to America has caused inconvenience with passports. It is because of this inconvenience that a change in the law with regard to America was recommended and accepted by the Convention, and the Government are pledged to give effect to alterations in the law with a view of remedying actual inconveniences which have arisen. Let me come back to my point. I ask the promoters of the Bill how they propose to explain away the very great practical disadvantages and the very great confusion of divided allegiance which must always flow from double nationality.
Take another case, the case of a German woman who marries an English husband, comes to live here, does not become naturalised and elects to remain a German. By German law that woman has become English because she has married an Englishman. By the new English law which supporters of this Bill seek to bring about, that woman remains a German. What State is to protect her? We say, "You are not English. You have not taken steps to naturalise yourself here. 1689 You have married an Englishman, but by our new law you do not become English." Germany says, "You cease to be German. Because you married an English husband you have become English." That is one of the principal provisions of the Bill—the provision that a foreign woman who marries an Englishman, unless she takes steps, by declaration or naturalisation, to become English, remains a foreigner of her own volition. It is a clear pathway to double nationality. If a German or French woman, or an Italian or Danish woman marries an Englishman, she has no nationality at all, because by the laws of her native country she ceases to belong to that country and becomes English, but under this Bill she does not become a British citizen and remains a citizen of a country by the laws of which she has become British. It is an impossible dilemma. An Englishwoman who marries a Frenchman or German becomes subject to double nationality.
I do not say that the present law is perfect, but it is incontrovertible that if we change the existing law we must do it in concert with other countries. It is not an isolated English question; it is an inter-Imperial question and an international question. It. is vital that changes of this sort in the law must be done in collaboration with other countries. I suggest that the first step which ought to be taken is to give effect to the recommendations of the Hague Convention, and to bring about the amendment of the law referred to in page 22 of the Summary of Proceedings of the Imperial Conference. That met the practical inconvenience caused where Englishwomen marry Americans. But it would be very difficult to graft that particular Amendment in the body of this Bill. It seems to me that it would be very much better to bring about the change in a separate Bill. So far as this Bill is concerned, I urge that it can lead only to hardship and confusion unless preceded by some arrangement with other countries. It would be a very good thing if the Government could set to work to arrange an international agreement on this question of married women, as well as on many other outstanding questions of private international law which are not very clear now.
§ Captain CAZALET
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that in at least eight countries in Europe the law has been already changed, and therefore that we, having done nothing, are lagging behind all those countries. I will hand my hon. and learned Friend a list of the countries marked.
§ Sir G. HURST
Certainly in 1923 the law was that in the vast majority of civilised countries the status of a wife depends in all matters on that of her husband. It consequently follows that the principle that the nationality of a married woman depends on that of her husband has been adopted by all States with very few exceptions. There were exceptions—the United States, the Argentine and Chile.
§ 12 n.
§ Sir G. HURST
There have been minor changes since. But do not hon. Members realise that the divergence makes it all the more necessary to have some international agreement? It is a bad thing to have the law in confusion. When you have such infinite variation in private international law, it is all the more important to get some uniformity of principle and of ideals. That is my submission on the question of the desirability of legislating for this country independently of the action taken by other component States in the British Commonwealth and by other countries; but of course all that argument is on the assumption that it is desirable that husbands and wives, where they belong to different States of origin, should prima facie retain their separate nationalities on marriage.
I am not satisfied that it makes for the harmony of families and for the real wellbeing of children if the fathers and mothers belong to different States. It is quite true that husbands and wives differ about politics, and I can imagine that it is very irritating when that happens. It must be trying, for instance, for a Conservative husband to be married to a Socialist wife. Of course, it is very trying in a family where the parents have different religions. But, after all, politics and religion are questions of faith, of intellect, of emotion and of tradition. There is no virtue in adding what may be 1691 a very real dividing line in a family—the dividing line of nationality. May I read a passage from the evidence given before the Select Committee on this question by Sir Robert Younger, as he then was, now better known as Lord Blanesburgh? He said:It is of vital importance, socially, I think, that in those cases the wife and the husband should be of our own nationality and that the wife should be induced and led to accept this country, the country a her husband and the country of her children, as her home for all purposes and should look to this country as her own home and there should be no room for divided allegiance.Where there are children, it seems to me a very great advantage that they should feel that there is unity in the family, and that, whatever differences of opinion and of ideas there may be between them, they at all events all belong to the same nation. I think that it is a good thing if a foreign woman marries an Englishman, that she, living here, should acquire the nationality of her husband, and that an Englishwoman who marries a foreigner, knowing the disadvantages, should follow the old principle:Thy people shall be my people.But even if I am wrong on that point, I submit that we ought not to pass legislation of this kind offhand. To call this a "simple" Bill, having regard to the vast complexities and conflicts of private international law which are involved seems to me a misnomer. I suggest that this is not the time for such a change in our law, and that this Bill, or any similar Bill, ought to await the result of an international conference at which our Government can arrive at some understanding with the other great countries of the world, to whom this is just as material and pressing a matter as it is to our own country.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
I beg to second the Amendment.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) has clearly shown the change which is involved in this Bill, and I think he has shown also that the complications which are proposed by it are at least as great as the complications which it is designed to meet. In other words, in trying to escape from one difficulty, we should, by this Bill, be landing ourselves into other 1692 difficulties. That is not necessarily any reason why we should not take the lead in introducing an improvement of the law in this respect. Those of us who are progressively minded, are very keen that this country should take the lead when it can, but I think we are too much inclined, either to take a lead blindly because of political prejudice, or else to sit down and take no lead at all, and wait for events to move us. We have seen too many instances of that kind under the mismanagement of the present Government during the past 18 months. But that is no reason why we should not calmly envisage whether or not this proposal represents a move forward, and, if so, whether it is apposite that we should lead the forward movement.
My hon. and learned Friend has dealt with the difficulties involved in dual nationality and I think we are all agreed about those difficulties. I want to deal with the human side of the question which was only touched upon in a few words by my hon. and learned Friend. The supporters of the Bill take up the position that they wish to remove individual hardships and I am sure all hon. Members would be in favour of removing individual hardships and particularly those hardships attaching to sex. The question of such hardships and difficulties has come to the front since the franchise was given to both sexes equally, bringing a large number of women on to the voting register, as a result of the legislation of the last Government. It is right that we should look into this matter from the point of view of women themselves, in order to see that they have a fair deal with the men, in that most essential and critical phase of human life, namely the marriage state. So far, this question has been argued merely from the point of view of individual hardship, but I wish to approach it from the point of view of family hardship. It is not, to my mind, primarily a question of the hardship involved for the two individuals who enter into the marriage contract. We have also to consider the family which they are establishing, and the hardships which may be involved to that family. We have to remember that they are founding a family which may go on for countless generations.
If it were merely a question of the rights of the two individuals, one could 1693 see a great deal in the arguments in favour of the Bill, but, if two individuals make a contract of marriage for better or worse, to unite their lives for the future, they have to make up their minds in what way they are going to achieve that unity in the home and the family which is to be aimed at above all else. They have to consider, not merely questions of mutual attraction, of likes or dislikes, not merely questions of monetary resources, but also the root differences which may exist between them. They must give proper consideration to those things in advance. If there is a lack of decision between the two to come to an agreement as to what differences there are between them, we often see those differences, later on, seriously affecting the family life and producing melancholy results in the home. It has been said that politics is one of the important things which divide families, but I am sure many of us know of families where such is the unity prevailing that even heartfelt differences in politics have not brought about the break-up of the family life. They understand each other and they agree to differ.
It may be said that the same thing would apply to differences of nationality and that the two parties to the marriage contract can agree to remain of different nations, and with their affiliations deeply rooted in different nations. But if we are to achieve the utmost good in family life, we must try to insist that the two partners shall settle these differences on a firm and definite footing when they enter into the marriage contract. That end is achieved to a large extent in cases where they are of different nationalities if they make up their minds under which flag they are going to serve. Let us hope there is going to be no war to divide such partners but, if there is a war to divide them, then, I think, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, the hardship would be greater or at least as great if they had the divided nationality, as it would be if they had the single nationality. We hope however that that is a possibility which we may not have to envisage.
There is also the question, under which flag will they serve in peace time? Surely it is not for hon. Members opposite to suggest that there is so much in nationality, that a great grievance would be involved in having to live under 1694 another nationality. In fact, the general conclusion that we and, I believe, most of the country have with regard to hon. Members opposite is that they think there is nothing in nationality at all and that internationalism is everything. That is constantly being brought up on the opposite side, if only as an end in view, and if they have that end in view, surely the question of nationality is of no importance. From that point of view, therefore, they should not try to stamp people as of different nationalities. It would be the very worst foe to any international arrangement to stamp two people in the intimacy of their private home as having a divided allegiance.
But there are many of us who think that there is a great deal in nationality and that it corresponds with nature in many ways. Take two extremes. Suppose you have the Anglo-Saxon nationality on the one side and an Oriental or semi-Oriental race on the other. There you have the most extreme difference, and in such a case is it a good thing that you should accentuate that natural difference by putting them under different laws, with different rights, and under different tutelage? Surely the best thing to get them together is that they should settle that for practical purposes they should live and abide under one nationality, whichever it is.
With regard to children, my hon. and learned Friend turned only for a brief moment to that aspect of the question. I am one of those who, fortunately having been extremely happily married, have perhaps an excessively exalted idea of the marriage state, but I believe that that is the state towards which everybody has to work. I believe that the family is the unit of the nation and that by promoting the happiness and what is sometimes called the sanctity of married life, you are promoting the wellbeing of the foundation of society and the nation as a whole. I do not think we should differ on that point on either side, and, therefore, I think it is germane to consider in what way this Bill would affect the happiness of the family.
I have already dealt with the question as between the parents, but I want now to consider the next generation and to think of the children who are growing up. Are the children to follow father and say, "I believe in Turkey", or are they 1695 to follow mother and say, "I believe in England"? How can you imagine unity or a proper direction of the infantile and juvenile mind if they are divided in their absolute allegiance between the one nation and the other? It is an extraordinarily difficult thing for the parents to make up their minds in what way they will unite their nationalities when they differ. I believe it can be done, though it is very difficult. Indeed, I know it has been done in countless international marriages. I know many between England and America and between England and the Continental nations, and if they are on the right lines, they pick out the best in each nation and agree to deplore and work against the worst in each nation, but as regards their responsibilities, they are definitely under one flag and one nation.
That is the ideal towards which to work and any tendency to break them up should be done away with. That is the ideal towards which to direct the young mind of the next generation. The young mind goes to school, either here or in America, or Germany, or France, and there meets with others who are keen on singing the National Anthem of that particular nation. They have to make up their minds on which side they will serve, and it is impossible for them to take a definite line unless they belong to one definite nationality. Even on educational lines, one wants the child's mind to be directed definitely towards its responsibilities in life, and those responsibilities must be clear cut. It must know, as far as possible, that there is one particular code, one particular community towards which it has to direct its attention and within which it has to fit its ideals, and those ought to be the ideals of one nation rather than of another. One hopes that for the most part they do not clash, but where they do clash, let them have one particular ideal towards which to work. I want to move in the direction of family unity and to be quite clear with regard to our responsibilities.
I maintain that the proposal in this Bill is muddle-headed, that it is not true progress, and that the Bill is introduced simply with the idea of removing certain difficulties and shutting our eyes to the other difficulties into which it will lead us. It is not a matter of progress, and, 1696 above all, I say that it is one which I am surprised to find my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet), as a Conservative and a follower of the Disraeli mottoes, backing up, because if there is one thing in the canons of Disraeli that we should carry on, surely it is the maintenance of our institutions. The greatest of all institutions is the family and family life, and I maintain that it is not for our side to introduce any break-up in the family life. That being the case, I say still more clearly from our side of the House—
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
I say, our side of the House. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) in many cases is an exception.
What about my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore), on my left, who is a real die-hard Conservative?
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
The foundations of the greatest institution of all, family life, must be respected, and it is only very slowly and by degrees that any interference with them should ever be allowed. If any interference is to be made, it must be made in concert with the other Dominions and parts of the British Empire. Therefore, I endorse again the appeal of my hon. and learned Friend that we should accept the findings of the Imperial Conference, that at the most we should go forward on those lines in order to ensure that there is no gap in any change of nationality, and if anything further is to be done, I appeal with confidence to the other side, as well as to my own side of the House, to say that the proper tribunal to which to appeal is the League of Nations in Geneva, which should try to introduce whatever change is required in this must fundamental question of human life that goes to the roots and far behind all political questions.
§ Miss WILKINSON
The last two speakers really are delicious, and it would be gorgeous to read their speeches a decade hence, as we can amuse ourselves now in dull times in this House by reading some of the speeches that were made against the first Suffrage Bill. With regard to the antediluvian speeches made by those two hon. Members who have opposed this Bill, I am not surprised that the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) thinks the honour of her party necessitated some protest. The whole burden of those speeches was that good old motto that there is only one head of the house and only one person in the house to be considered, and that is father.
The feeling of nationality is supposed to be inherent in human nature but a woman is not supposed to have that feeling, or at least that she can change it. Surely, if there is this deep feeling, though I admit you can exaggerate it, nationality is something that cannot be changed except by the will and consent of the person concerned. There may be a large number of women who prefer to take the nationality of their husbands, and it seems to me there would be an equal number of men who would prefer to take the nationality of their wives. But why should it be assumed that the woman must take the nationality of the man when his whim, caprice or business instincts lead him to change his nationality? Suppose the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) proposed to marry a German lady, and I to marry a German husband. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady opposite has set an example.
§ Miss WILKINSON
Yet the mere fact of going through that ceremony means that I lose my seat. I, automatically, become incapable of representing East Middlesbrough, but the hon. and learned Member, in spite of his German, American, or whatever wife he has, is still capable of sitting in this House. I say that that, obviously, is unjust. I put it to the hon. and learned Member that the net result of these two marriage ceremonies is that he would fall under the influence of his German wife, and, therefore, would not be really as com- 1698 petent to represent the electors of Moss Side as I should be to represent East Middlesbrough, having put under my influence my German husband.
§ Miss WILKINSON
Let us carry the analogy a little further. Supposing the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side has been fortunate enough to marry a lady with large estates in Germany. He may not wish to live in Germany, though his financial interests would then be in that country. My equally hypothetical German, who is to be the object of my affection, has his whole business and financial arrangements in this country. He is going to remain in this country, as I say, under my influence.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I am not speaking from experience. The fact is that the woman is supposed to be a mere reflection of her husband, whereas she has a distinct personality. People have got more and more to be regarded as individuals.
Having dealt with that, may I be allowed to correct some of the facts which the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side put forward? He spoke as though only Russia and the United States had granted this right. In the last 12 years China, Russia and the United States have given full nationality rights. Rumania, Belgium, Turkey, and Yugoslavia give a woman the right to retain her nationality on marriage, and similar rights have been given by many other countries, some of the most important in the world. You cannot dismiss them by a wave of the hand, I submit that it would be very much better if all the countries recognised the simple, fundamental fact that a woman is a person and an individual, but, even in the present unsatisfactory state of things, 300,000,000 white women in the world have the right to retain their own nationality.
The main difficulty as between this country and America is not that an American woman in this country has two nationalities, British and American, though she finds that extremely convenient; the real trouble occurs when an English woman marries an American. She does not attain to the American nationality, and she loses her own. I 1699 know of a case which illustrates this difficulty, A university woman married an American in this country. The marriage was not a particularly happy one, and the man returned to America. The woman could not qualify for American nationality, because she had not the means to go to live in America, and she remained in this country. Her husband in America got an American divorce. That divorce is valid in America, and he married again. The divorce, however, is not valid in England, and, if that woman married again, she would be liable to imprisonment for bigamy. If the woman was able to appeal to the courts, this could no doubt be sorted out, but she is almost penniless. Quite recently, she obtained a post as secretary-chauffeur to a woman who was going abroad. That job would have meant a great deal to her, but she could not get a passport, for she was neither British to the British nor American to the American. Only by means of a tremendous amount of influence, that ought never to have been necessary, she managed to obtain a permit to allow her to go abroad for a comparatively short time under police supervision. By the time all these formalities had been gone through, her prospective employer had to go abroad, and she lost the job. That is the case of a woman who had never been out of this country.
§ Sir G. HURST
Does not the hon. Member agree that that case would be covered if the recommendations of the Imperial Conference were carried through?
§ Miss WILKINSON
I agree, if she did not keep her nationality. I know of a very pathetic case of a girl who was married to a wealthy and elderly foreigner by her parents. She went to Spain, and discovered that he was an undesirable person. She wanted to get home, and he declared that she left him in order to live an immoral life. His declaration held good, although there was no truth in it, and she was held up at Channel ports in France for a long time before she was able to get to this country. She returned to her parents in this country, but only after a good deal of influence, and she is now not only an alien, but a suspected alien. That would never have arisen if she had been allowed to keep her own 1700 nationality. There are a great number of other disabilities which the hon. and learned Gentleman did not mention, for he only dealt with the question of happily married women. These difficulties do not arise in those cases. The great majority of people hardly ever have contact with the law at all. The problem arises in the margin of cases where they do come into contact with the law, and where very real tragedy happens.
Take the question of pensions. A teacher who bad taught for many years in a London County Council school wrote to me recently. She had gained her pension, to which she had contributed. She married a Frenchman, and some time after she applied for her pension, and was told that she could have it in the following January provided that she was a British subject. Because she had in the meantime married a Frenchman, however, although she had gained her pension as an English woman, and had contributed to it, she was not allowed to have it because she had lost her nationality by marriage. The hon. and learned Gentleman speaks as if we must sacrifice so much for consistency. Take the question of old age pensions. If a woman marries a foreigner who is domiciled in this country, she does not lose her right to a non-contributory old age pension. If that can be done for the non-contributory old age pensions, why cannot it be done for the teacher's pension, to which the woman has substantially contributed?
Then there is the very serious position of deserted wives. The English woman married to a foreigner has not the same rights as a. foreign-born woman even to get naturalisation, if she wants it, while her husband is alive. Take the case of two women whom I know and who are engaged in business. One is Swedish born and the other is a Swede by marriage and deserted by her husband. These women found for purposes of their business and other personal reasons that it would be much better if they were both British. The Swedish-born woman applied for naturalisation papers, and got them through without any difficulty. The English-born woman, because her husband is alive, and his whereabouts known, although he does not contribute a penny to her maintenance, and they have not seen each other for years, cannot get 1701 her naturalisation papers. That is a real hardship, and one can find a very large number of cases like that where nationality is a serious drawback. In the case of the happily married woman, where there is not a rift in the lute, no one suggests that she and her husband, when they are about to be married, will solemnly sit down and discuss the question of nationality. I do not speak from experience, but I should assume that that is not one of the subjects that comes up under such circumstances.
§ Miss WILKINSON
The Noble Lady has much more experience than I have. You cannot argue from the case of the happily married woman, where this matter no more enters into the situation than the colour of the husband's hair. You cannot argue from such cases to the real cases of hardship of women who are left on their own, of women who are widows and have to struggle for themselves and their children. The hon. and learned Member also said that you must not argue from war-time cases. Not one of the cases which I have given is a wartime case. Everyone is a peace-time case. It all comes back to this fact, that I, as a woman, claim in law in this country to have exactly the same rights as any man. That has been admitted by the law of my country, and I Gay that my nationality is as much a part of me as any of the other rights that I have in law.
I maintain that no man has more right to get British nationality than I have. Why should I or any other woman be deprived artificially of that right while a man who marries a foreigner can bring into this country a woman who knows not a word of its language, knows nothing of its laws, customs or traditions, and who is yet able, theoretically, to be elected to this House of Commons and help to make the laws of this country on the very day after her marriage? I suggest that such a position is utterly illogical and I would urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to take a bold stand on this matter.
We shall be told, probably, that the Imperial Conference has decided this, and, therefore, that nothing can be done. Really, I do not know whether we are always to be dragged at the heels of the 1702 Imperial Conference. Before very long we in this country may be driven to assert our rights against other parts of the Empire. In my view, it is not fair to saddle the Empire with the responsibility for opposition to this Bill. When I introduced a similar Measure in 1928, I think it was, Lord Brentford, who was then Home Secretary, got up and warmly supported it; but the next day he had to come along and make a lame apology, saying that he was very sorry but that he had not consulted his Department, who had afterwards pointed out that there were difficulties in the way. We now have a Labour front bench, and I would remind the Home Secretary that the pledges of the Prime Minister and of the Foreign Secretary on this point are absolutely specific, and that the Foreign Secretary has in no way concealed his very strong views on this question.
Canada has a law giving a woman the right to retain her nationality. It was the British Government and the Home Office that brought pressure to bear on her to repeal that law. Australia herself has raised the matter in the Imperial Conference on two occasions. Australian, Canadian and New Zealand women are all very keen on this Bill, and although I do not want to scold the right hon. Gentleman for something he has not yet said, I would point out to him that we in this House will not be satisfied if he says that the Empire as a whole does not want this right. Two of the largest and most influential parts of the Empire have already made it very clear that they want it. What we have to face today is the opposition of officials in the Home Office. They want to be nice and kind, they want to know where they have got the women, so to speak, or where they can pick them up. They do not want complications. The official mind likes everything nice and tidy, likes the position to be such that they know what to do about it, especially where women are concerned; but we in this House will not be satisfied with that state of affairs, and I am looking forward to hearing the Home Secretary, who for so long has fought for justice for oppressed people, get up and say that, so far as he and his Government are concerned, they are determined to see that this Bill is passed in the present Parliament.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I would like to congratulate the hon. lady who introduced this Bill for her courage in doing so and for the clarity with which she explained the provisions of it. At the same time I do not think the House should forget the part which has been played by the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet), who has with great tenacity introduced and re-introduced a Measure of this kind. He has added honour to his name by doing so. We may also congratulate him on being able to extricate himself from certain associations on his own side of the House. We must felicitate, also, the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) on his own happy home and on his hopes, with which many of us can sympathise. He seems to know as many happy homes as the hon. Lady for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) seems to have met unhappy married people. I do not propose to follow the hon. Lady in dealing with all the unhappy cases which she has put before the House. We ought to keep in view the main principles of the Bill and the reasons why it ought to receive the approval of the House. In this matter, so far as I have been able to ascertain the views of my colleagues, the Liberal party will be found to be united. [Interruption.] That is net so rare an occurrence as hon. Members opposite seem to indicate. We Liberals regard as one of the glories of our beliefs, one of its fundamentals, the value of individual liberty, and this Bill is simply a facet in the diamond of truth. Accordingly, we give this Bill our sympathetic support, because of the principles which it embodies as regards the equality of the sexes and the right of a women to declare for herself what her nationality shall be. That is of the essence of the Measure.
The observations of the hon. Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) indicate that he still retains much of the war mentality. Most of the instances he submitted to the House deal with difficulties which might arise in the event of war. Many difficulties might occur in war time, but I think they are points which ought to be left to the Committee stage. For example, there may be questions about passports, and the question of a British 1704 woman married to the national of another country with which we are at war being placed in the age-long dilemma of choosing between the love of her husband and the love of her country. As I have said, those are rather matters for Committee. What we have to keep in view is the general principle of the Measure. The hon. Member for Moss Side said the question was complicated. Of course it is, but we must not allow the details of the problem to become more prominent in our minds than the general principles involved. He said it was a problem which was international in character, but I do not think that can absolve the British House of Commons from dealing with a question which is pre-eminently its own. British women look to us to see that justice is done to them, and I would remind the representatives of the Government that a very large body of women in this country will watch very carefully the attitude taken up by the Government on this Measure.
I would like the Home Secretary to say how this country stands in relation to the other Dominions on this question. For example, I want to know whether any agreement has been entered into between the Dominions and the Mother country which would give any of the Dominions the power of veto, give them the right to obstruct this country in carrying a Measure of this sort into effect. I hope there is none. I hope he will be able to assure the House that the Government are free to see the Bill passed and carried into effect. I do not regard the conclusion that he read from the Imperial Conference as finally disposing of the matter. I agree with the hon. Member for Middlesbrough East, that we ought not to be dragged at the heels of the Dominions in a matter of this sort. The British people should take the lead not only with regard to the Dominions but with regard to other nationalities. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans sought to pour cold water on the Bill by suggesting that we could not do anything without international agreement. Let Britain give the lead and the other nations will be the more ready to follow.
§ Mr. SCOTT
Our representatives at Geneva will find their hands stronger if 1705 the British Parliament has passed this Bill. I hope the hon. and gallant Member, on reconsideration, will take that view. Last night we asserted the right of the British people to take their own view in regard to the fiscal system. Is it to be said that on a question of the nationality of women we should take any less decided stand than we do in regard to the fiscal system? I think not. Although I am a lawyer and I am exceeding obliged for the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) that a great deal of the details and difficulties that may arise if we pass the Bill should be left to the lawyers to decide, for the edification and profit of the lawyers, I think the House of Commons in Committee could obviate a great many of those legal difficulties that my hon. and gallant Friend thinks may arise. The hon. and learned Member for Moss Side is too much impressed by the necessity for legal symmetry in this matter. That ought not to influence us too much in a matter which affects British women. The House should look upon this matter not as a question of chivalry or patriotism. I hope the day will never come when men will be moved less by chivalry than they are at the present time, or that they will have less regard for the interest of their own country as patriots, but I maintain that this matter ought to be decided purely on the question of justice and equity in the interests of women.
Sir RENNELL ROOD
I had not intended to speak on this Bill, but in view of several things that have been said I have been tempted to rise. I do not think it is true that this question is regarded on this side of the House in any way as a party issue or that there are not plenty of people on this side who sympathise with the proposals of the Bill, of whom I am one. I am aware that this Bill must lead to very considerable difficulties and that it will require very careful supervision and Amendment in Committee. But in matters of this kind one weighs, on the one side, the difficulties which we have to encounter and on the other side the injustices and miseries which, in a long experience of life in all parts of the world, one has seen arise from mixed marriages, without any protection for the women.
1706 1.0 p.m.
I have not time to enter into individual eases, but hon. Members can well imagine that in a life of some 40 years spent in different parts of the Continent and all quarters of the world these eases have been continually brought to my notice. This Measure is optional. It is open to any woman on marriage within a year to option to retain her own nationality. If she does not exercise that option and feels drawn to the nationality of her husband, she has only to leave the matter alone and she will take her husband's nationality. The difficulty in these matters is that the law in almost every country is different. So far as I have had experience women have constantly rushed at marriage with subjects of other countries without in the least studying the conditions under which they will be placed. They are carried away, naturally, at such moments and do not trouble to think of the consequences and, unfortunately, they find themselves involved in all sorts of disabilities from which there is no escape for the rest of their natural life. There is even no escape in widowhood for five years if they are domiciled on the Continent. They are obliged to return to this country, which is not always possible when their children are at foreign schools or at foreign universities, and until they have got statutory residence here they cannot resume their nationality and the control of their own affairs, which they have left behind in this country.
The question is undoubtedly an international one in a great many respects. I have been talking over this matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. Campbell) who has, perhaps, a closer experience than I have in his long life in consulates in the East, because this question comes before the official view of consuls more than it does before the official view of the legations and embassies. We both agree that our foreign experience leads us entirely in support of this Bill, in principle. We see the difficulties, but I feel no doubt that if this country gives a lead in the matter other countries will follow. The United States of America and Great Britain are perhaps the two countries most concerned, because owing to certain conditions and the material prosperity which exists in both countries the rights of nationality in those countries are most 1707 desired. The United States has already taken this step, and if we do so we shall give a lead to the rest of the world and the number of countries who take up the matter will increase until it becomes a real issue to be considered in the international arena. Therefore, with such qualifications and the possibility of amendment in Committee, I desire to give my support to the Bill.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I desire, in a few sentences, to express my support of the Bill from a point of view which has hardly been raised this morning. The House has been asked to bring about through this Bill some concurrence between the constitutional and the civil rights of women. The mover of the Second Reading, in a very interesting speech, glanced at the history of woman and the State and, although she took rather a rosy view of the position of woman in the past days under English law, it is certainly true that during the last century very considerable improvements have been effected in the relationship of woman to the State. Up to the late years of the last century woman was regarded as a chattel of her husband; she had no individual personality in the eyes of the law. The first break in that relationship occurred in the '80's, when by the Married Women's Property Act, she was allowed to possess property in her own right, and, from that time onwards, this extension of the relationship of women to the State went forward by leaps and bounds, although, curiously enough, it has lagged in certain respects.
Someone in this discussion referred to the emancipation of women. The day will come, I hope quite shortly, when a movement will begin for the emancipation of men, because it is an extraordinary fact, in these days of agitation by feminists, with whom in the main I agree, that they frequently overlook the anomalous position of the husband with regard to his wife. At this moment the husband is responsible in law for all the slanders and written libels which his wife may commit. It is no answer to this to say that such actions are infrequent; it must be our experience that incidents of that character are pretty common, and the only relief that an ordinary husband finds is that he is not brought before the Courts to answer for those explosions with regard to other women and other 1708 persons in which, it is said, women frequently indulge. So long, however, as that liability of the husband for the torts of his wife remains, it is a very serious drawback to movements which seek to improve the relationship of women to the State.
Definite steps forward were taken by this House on two historic occasions within recent years, and I ask the House to consider this matter from the point of view of those two remarkable facts. There was, first of all, the step taken in 1918 in admitting women to the franchise; and there was the second step, taken two years later, of opening all sorts of functions within the State to the practice of women both in the professions and with regard to jury service. Indeed, that Statute proceeded upon the principle that marriage and sex were not to be a statutory disqualification in defining the position of women in the State. I want to make this suggestion to the House. This Bill, in essence, seeks to resolve this conflict which now continues between the constitutional position of women and their civil position. In a sentence, this House has concurred in placing upon woman the highest responsibility which the citizen can carry out. Woman now has a constituent part in the exercise of the highest duties of the citizen, in taking part in the election of Members to this House. Is it consistent with that relationship of woman to the modern State that she should remain under the curious disability that she is not free to elect whether or not she will undertake that responsibility?
I am putting the matter quite hurriedly and briefly, but I want to make this plea to the House. I appreciate the difficulties recited by the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst). Those difficulties will have to be considered by His Majesty's Government, in consultation with the governments of the Dominions and other national governments, but the fact that those difficulties remain should not be a bar to this House taking the step which it is invited to take to-day. Whatever happens to this Bill to-day, it cannot determine the law; it is a stage in the discussion and resolution of those difficulties to which the House should not hesitate to proceed, because the difficulties will still remain for discussion. On the other hand, hon. Members talk about domestic difficulties— 1709 domestic difficulties in families, and even the domestic difficulties, as I understand, of His Majesty's present advisers. We are reminded that influential Members of the present Administration have publicly committed themselves to approval of this Measure.
We shall hear very shortly from my right hon. Friend who presides with such distinction at the Home Office what exactly is the attitude of the Government towards this Bill. If I may say so, after some considerable experience of the Home Office, I hope that the present Government will not be disposed to lean altogether on the advice which they may receive from the distinguished officials of that Department. My mind goes back to a whole series of Acts during the last 25 years to bring the law into accord with modern ideas, and on nearly every occasion the officials of the Home Office, where they were concerned, opposed those steps; but this House in its wisdom took those steps, and I hope that to-day the Government will not be precluded from taking a course which is in accordance with their own professions by reason of advice which they may receive—very well informed and documented advice, I know —from certain officials of the Home Office.
To bring the House back to the main issue on which I desire to invite its support, it has been said that we should proceed upon the principle of equality; but there is a higher principle than equality, and that is the principle of personality. We have, by a series of Statutes, made the modern Englishwoman a person within the meaning of the law. We have given her a right to participate in the election of representatives to this House; we have given her the right to be elected to this House; and within that large ambit of responsibility, I submit to the House that we should at last concede this natural and just right that she should be in a position to determine her own nationality. I beg to support the Bill.
This is a very interesting day for me, particularly as a woman, because I see at last that the women Members on the Government side are roused and are together in pressing their Government to keep one of their pledges. I do not suppose that any Government has been more pledged than this Government is to the object of this 1710 particular Bill. The test of the Government is how they deal with their permanent officials, and, if we get this Bill through, I shall respect the Home Secretary, because I know, as all who have been in this House for any length of time know, that to get things through the Home Office is really a triumph. I am just watching. I think that everything has been said for and against the Bill. I regret that I did not hear the speech of the Mover, but the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) made a most cogent and telling speech, and dealt, I think, with every single argument that has been put forward from this side of the House. I only want to say "ditto" to every word that she said. I would say, however, that I have had some experiences which she has not had. I am peculiarly in a position to speak with real feeling on this Bill.
The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst), in opposition to the Bill, was very interesting. I do not know whether many Members of the House realised that he quoted from the Book of Ruth. It was very wise of anyone taking the view that he did to quote from the Book of Ruth, but I would like to tell him that we have passed from the Mosaic Law, and have gone a good deal further. With due respect to him, I do not think he was opposing the Bill from the point of view of a man who is not deeply interested in all questions affecting women, because, although he has been in this House for many years, this is the first time that I have ever seen him take a wrong turning. I think that he will turn again. As far as women are concerned, I can truthfully say that years ago, when I was almost alone in this House, the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side was one of the men Who brought most heart to questions affecting women, and I think that to-day he is merely taking the point of view of a lawyer, and looking at the difficulties. He spoke about the difficulties of passports, and of course, dwelt good deal on the question of war, and spoke about divided allegiance. I myself am still a passionate Virginian. If I were away from my country for a hundred years, I should still be a Virginian. That does not affect my being a good citizen in England. If I had at this moment the right, I would take on English citizen- 1711 ship, because I happen to be happily married and belong to a country which is in line with my own country, but it might be a perfectly different thing if I found myself in a country whose laws were entirely opposed to what I have been brought up to look upon as right and just. In that case, I doubt very much whether I should want to take the nationality of my husband. So it is really an individual question and one that women should be allowed to decide for themselves. I have not an international complex at all, but, even from that point of view, surely this country wants to give its women just as fair a chance as it does its men, because it is always the women who influence the men. A foreign woman marrying in this country has full rights of nationality, whereas an English woman who marries a German residing in this country has no rights at all. There is no logic in the whole thing. The clever speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Moss Side left the House unmoved.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) spoke of the beauty of family life. It is an extraordinary thing that, whenever we ask for equality and justice for women, up comes the old family life. Women, of all people, want harmony and peace in their families, because they suffer far more from disharmony than men. What do we know about his family life? We have only heard the hon. and gallant Gentleman's side. I should hesitate to speak about the beauty and harmony in my family life, because I should be afraid my husband might say something quite different in another House. Still, I should not expect the House to take it simply on my saying so. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said, if only the family are quite united, the children grow up with a sense of service to their country. I feel that there is something bigger than a sense of service to your country. Family life is not based on service to your country but on something very much higher. I am trying to bring my children up with a code which will make them good citizens in any country. I am certain the law has nothing to do with how I bring my children up. The hon. and gallant Gentleman talks as though the law affected family life. Not 1712 at all. Family life will affect the law, but the law cannot affect family life unless there is disaster. We are not asking this for the people who are happily married. We are simply asking for justice for English women who may find themselves in very different circumstances.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the time will come when men will be asking for justice. We want complete equality of the sexes because we know in our hearts that men will never be free until women are free. No matter where we live, we want complete freedom under our laws, and when we get that, so much that is wrong in the world will right itself. I am very fond of men. If I had not been, it would have been impossible to spend nearly 12 years in this House. It is because I am so interested in the social and moral progress of men that I want to free women. The moral progress of men depends on women. You will never have good men until you have good women, make no mistake about that.
I want now to come back to the Prime Minister. He is pledged up to the hilt. He could not wriggle out of this to save his soul. It is no good his telling us about the Imperial Conference. We want to know what he told the Imperial Conference. He gave a deputation of women a very definite pledge in 1929. It was one of those things that make people trust him and believe in him, and I hope they will go on doing it. We want to know what line he took at the Imperial Conference. But, no matter what the Prime Minister thinks, when you get to the high officials in the Home Office, you have got to the rock of Gibraltar. It will want big guns to blow it up, but you have the big guns. You have the whole of your women. Think how patient the women of the Labour party have been. You have a great increase among unemployed women and everything going wrong in the country. They sit there as still as lambs. They have not said a word until to-day.
I admire their patience. Sometimes I deplore it, but often I admire it. I have never been able to show it with my party. If my party did not keep their pledges, I should have to get up and speak against them often, and sometimes vote against them. I have never seen that happen with the ladies on the other side of the House.
I know parties too well. By the time the hon. Lady has been in her party as long as I have been in mine she will believe less in parties and more in principles. I can tell her that. She believes in her party. It is almost pathetic to see that blind belief in party. It is tragic. It is pitiful, but it shows faith and endurance.
There are many hon. Members on this side of the House who are pledged to support this Bill. When I asked some of them if they were going to be here today they said, "What is the use"? The Government are pledged to it. Did not the Prime Minister make a promise? Surely they are going to pass the Bill because it has been brought in by one of their own party." Did I see the hon. Gentleman opposite shake his head? [An HON. MEMBER: "Get on with it!"] I am getting on with it. Many hon. Members are not here to-day because they told me that the Prime Minister had given his promise. This will be a real test. We are not asking for anything that is unjust or unfair. We do not want to wait and, as an hon. Member said, be pulled at the heels of the Imperial Conference. We ought to give a lead. Until now English women have led the world in most of their social reforms, and we want them to go on doing so. I hope that the House will not be put off by any promise or by it being said that the time is not convenient. There never is a convenient time when it comes to the Home Office. I do not want to be too bitter towards them, but I want hon. Members opposite to go on pressing the Home Office. You are not pressing the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister, you are pressing the Home Office, and, when the Home Office see that the House of Commons is beginning to move, per- 1714 haps they will move, too. It is about time that they were moving where this particular question is concerned.
I believe that Lord Brentford was far more courageous at the Home Office than the present Home Secretary, and so do you. [Interruption.] You do, if you will only tell the truth.
There are a lot of licences which I would like to take away. [An HON. MEMBER: "In the name of Liberty."] Not in the name of Liberty, but in the name of Sobriety. I hope that hon. Members opposite will press the Home Secretary and keep at him, because we feel keenly about this matter. The women of the country are thinking about it. Hon. Members should not be put off by a few speeches on the beauty of home life or by anyone quoting from the Book of Ruth.
§ Miss PICTON-TURBERVILL
Nearly everything that can be said on this Bill has been said, but I find from my postbag and also the statement made by the Mover of the Amendment, which certainly might mislead us, that the public are inclined to think that the Bill will compel a woman to retain her own nationality when she is married. It cannot too strongly be made clear that all that we ask is that a woman shall be allowed to choose whether or not she has to take her husband's nationality. I should like to say that, not twice nor three times, but half a dozen times, because there is continual misrepresentation on the point. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), with whom I am in profound agreement upon most outlooks of life, has at least given us very sound advice to-day and also good advice to the Home Office. It is true that the Prime Minister is pledged to this reform, and 1715 the Government representative at The Hague Conference on Codification made a definite statement that the British Government was in favour of this reform. I would remind the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary, and the Home Secretary, who, I regret, is not here just now, that this is a question upon which the party are united. Ever since I came into the House of Commons, when I have balloted for Bills or Motions, it has been down on the official paper given to me by the Whips that this was the Bill for which the party asks us to ballot. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will honour me by giving me his attention.
§ Miss PICTON-TURBERVILL
I trust he will drive home to the Home Secretary, who, unfortunately, is not now in his seat, that this is a reform for which the whole party have stood and that the request to ballot the Bill has been made upon official paper given to us by the Whips. The hon. and learned Member who moved the Amendment spoke all the time of the inconveniences which this Bill would cause to various officials. Frankly, I canot find anything in his speech except the fact that the Bill would be inconvenient to officials. He assumed that an English woman who married a German and lived in Germany would herself necessarily remain an English woman, but our whole point is that we want a woman to have a choice. We do not want to have her treated as a chattel. If she went to Germany and lived all her life in Germany no doubt she would have the sense to choose to take her husband's nationality. Therefore, all the difficulty which the hon. and learned Member dwelt upon would pass away because of the woman's own common sense. We only claim that a woman shall be allowed to use her judgment and common sense without any alien nationality being forced upon her. It seems to me that the hon. and learned Member, in moving his Amendment, dwelt almost entirely on the inconvenience of officials.
§ Sir G. HURST
If the hon. Lady really recalls what I said, she will realise that I did not mention any officials, but individuals, the subjects of two nationalities.
§ Miss PICTON-TURBERVILL
I will accept that explanation. Inconvenience then was the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. The hon. and learned Member made me feel inclined to move to ask leave to introduce a Bill under the Ten Minute Rule, that all men upon marrying alien women should themselves adopt the nationality by law of the alien woman. I do not know whether he would then dwell so very feelingly merely upon the subject of inconvenience. I should like to remind the Home Secretary that in all probability those who would avail themselves of the power to retain their nationality in this country upon marrying an alien would be the women who were going to live in England with their alien husbands. In all probability the vast majority of them would do this.
We have spoken of the tragedy or inconveniences of husband and wife having different nationalities. Take the case of an English woman who marries a German. Perhaps he has lived most of his life in England. She herself becomes German, but here you have another tragedy. The children being born in England, are British and therefore they have a different nationality from that of their mother. A book has recently been published which I would ask all hon. Members to read. I cannot claim that the author is a friend of mine, so it must not be thought that I am trying in any way to advertise the book. The book is called "Mrs. Fischer's War" and gives a most graphic account, not only of the physical discomfort, but of the mental and spiritual agony of a woman who because she married a German, and in spite of the fact that she had lived all her life in this country, was herself looked upon as a German, not only during the War, but afterwards, while her children were British. To compel nationality upon any human being is surely a denial of human rights.
Let us look on the other side of the picture. If a foreign woman marries a British man, no matter what her character may be, no matter however unwilling she may be to become British, she automatically becomes a British subject. Any foreigner being a man wishing to become British must take the oath of allegiance. He has to go through certain formalities and take the oath of allegiance to the country whose nationality he adopts, but the alien woman who marries a British 1717 man, no matter how undesirable she may be or how bad a character she may be, no matter how strong the passion and devotion she may have for her own country, automatically becomes British. That which compels a woman to be British is a degradation of nationality. I agree that nationality is a great thing. A foreigner being a man, married or unmarried, may apply for nationality, and an unmarried woman may do the same, but the moment the woman is married she becomes classified on this point with minors and lunatics as one without reason. If the woman's husband dies or she divorces him, that woman immediately regains her reason and is permitted to apply for nationality under the British law.
I was pleased to read that the British representative at The Hague Conference stated that the British Government were strongly of opinion that a woman ought not on marriage to lose her nationality or acquire a new nationality without her consent. Is it possible after that admission for the Government not to afford facilities for the passing of this Bill into law? I hope the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, when he replies, will be able to tell us why the Government hesitate with regard to this reform. Can it be that there are difficulties in the way? Everybody who knows the record of the Home Secretary is aware that he has overcome many difficulties during his life time.
This Measure is supported practically by all the organised women in the Empire, and, by making this change, the Home Secretary would only be carrying out his own principles and doing something consistent with his own character. I hope on this subject the Government will consent to do what other nations have done. The women of Turkey, of China, of Rumania, of Belgium, of Yugoslavia, of the Argentine may choose their own nationality, but not British women. This is a right that must be no longer withheld. The Prime Minister has given his pledge, the British representative at the Hague Conference has pronounced in favour of the principles of this Bill, and the whole party is in favour of it. In these circumstances, I call upon the Government to grant facilities for the passage of the Bill.
§ Mr. MORRIS
While we may be in favour of the object of this Bill and the reforms which it proposes, we must look at what the Bill does, and see whether it really carries out the aspirations of its supporters. In my opinion, the Bill will be very far from producing the reforms desired. Every Clause of the Bill, if it is really intended to put women in a similar position to men, may be very desirable, but the question the House has to ask itself is: Does this Bill produce that result? I do not think it does. The difficulties have already been referred to. Under this Bill if it became law you would have this position: Suppose that a German woman marries an Englishman, she becomes a British subject under the English and the German law, but that will not be so after the passage of this Bill. If a German woman marries an Englishman she remains British under British law, and she remains German by the exercise of her own will under the Bill, and the German and the English nationality gives her a double domicile. In case war breaks out, what is the position of that woman? If she is living in this country she may be committing treason under the German law, but, if she is in Germany, she may be committing treason under the English law.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I understand the hon. Member to suggest that in the case he mentions the woman would retain both nationalities under this Bill?
§ Mr. MORRIS
I will deal with that point in a moment. She can exercise her choice in one way, but, if she exercises it adversely to the law of this country, she does not alter the law in Germany. Under Sub-section (3) of Clause I another position would arise. That Sub-section provides:(3) An alien woman who, after the corning into force of this Act, shall marry a British subject, shall not by reason of such marriage be deemed to be a British subject.Suppose that a man falls in love with a French woman and desires to marry her, and the Home Office does not grant a permit for her to land in this country, then you have this position. To-day if that man marries a French woman, she becomes a British subject, and she can enter this country. The position would be that the Home Office might refuse a 1719 permit for her to land, and then the man would have to leave this country and go over to France. The case of Russia affords a better instance. If a Russian desires to marry an English woman, the Home Office can refuse a permit to land and compel the British subject to go to Russia. In this respect, the Bill seems to me to be perfectly hopeless, and will work an injustice on all those who come under it. Therefore, a double domicile is impracticable, and affords no protection to the man or to the woman, and in this case, under Sub-section (3) of this Bill, you would penalise the citizens of this country.
That is my objection to the Bill. I do not object to the reforms which the supporters of this Measure desire to carry out, but this Bill in no way achieves that object. While I agree with the objects of the Measure, I hope the House will not give a Second Reading to it, not because of the difficulties which are presented to the Home Office, but because of the injustice that will result to the women who exercise their choice under the Bill if it becomes law.
§ Mr. MARJORIBANKS
It is somewhat refreshing after the heat and turmoil of yesterday's debate to find an atmosphere of calm prevailing in our discussion to-day. There are some questions upon which one is entitled to look away from party and legal difficulties and consider the object for which the measure is introduced. This Bill is to affect a small number of people who have a very great grievance against the working of the present law, and I only intervene in order to draw the attention of the Home Office and the House to a particular case in my own constituency. I have a constituent, an English lady, who married a Russian officer in 1914. She went to live in Russia, and by that marriage lost everything she had. During the war she returned to this country. Her husband may or may not be alive in Russia to-day. She has heard vague rumours of his existence but she cannot produce enough evidence to satisfy the Home Office that her husband is dead and there is no relief for her whatever. In a gallant way she is trying to earn her own living but she is handicapped by having to register herself as an alien, by the difficulty of getting a passport, and by having to use a foreign 1720 passport. All this has a material effect upon her employment. This is a concrete grievance which the Home Office would do well to consider. This lady is neither wife nor widow. She cannot produce evidence to show that she is a widow, therefore nothing can be done to cure the ill which that marriage created.
Life is composed of different emotions, loyalty and love. The free choice of love may clash with the great virtues of loyalty and patriotism. This Bill is designed to cure the disharmony which may arise between these great virtues. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) hopes the House will not give a Second Reading to the Bill. He knows how difficult it is to get a place in the Ballot and to initiate private legislation, and he asks us to forgo all the luck of the Ballot and rely upon some remote contingency in the future when perhaps he himself will produce a better Bill. This is not a party question. This Bill should appeal to two parties in the State, even if it does not appeal to the Liberal party. It is the good old Conservative idea of a British woman retaining her own nationality; that should please the Conservatives. On the other hand, it is put forward on behalf of the advanced idea of hon. Members opposite that a woman should be entirely free to have her own nationality apart from any nationality of her husband. I desire to support the Bill.
§ Dr. MARION PHILLIPS
There is no doubt that this House is quite prepared to give a Second Reading to this Bill, because nearly every hon. Member who has spoken has expressed himself or herself in favour of it. The only objection has come from hon. Members of the legal profession. It is easy for hon. Members of the legal profession to find holes in the Bill, indeed, in any Bill which is brought before the House. There are always difficulties, which only the lawyers will find, and find long after the Bill has been put into force. This Bill is the result of two great changes. We took calmly enough the pre-war situation, because British women then had no political rights as citizens, and their civil rights were considerably smaller than they are to-day. She was in a position of legal inferiority. Now that her legal inferiority is much less she naturally resents this particular inferiority in regard to 1721 nationality. That is one side. The other side is even more important from the practical point of view.
Since the War we have had legislation with regard to aliens which makes the position of a British woman married to an alien much more burdensome, much more unpleasant, than before the war. I know of no greater indignity than a law which compels a British woman who has married an alien to change her passport and her manner of proceeding from this country to another, to lose in her own country the elementary right of being a voter and have to register at a police office in her own country as an alien. This difficulty has arisen because of our legislation in regard to aliens, which makes the lives of British women who have married aliens a burden. Take the practical point of view. We have definitely worsened the position of British women; the position of a British woman who became an alien on marriage was not, from the practical point of view, as bad as it is to-day. I have friends who are members of distinguished families, who, because they happen to have married persons of foreign birth, are now outside the public life of their own country in which they previously took part.
I have among them a friend whose father was a distinguished Member of this House. She married a man of Polish nationality, lived in this country, and her children were born in this country. But she had to register at regular intervals at the police station, cannot vote, or belong to a certain organisation to which she formerly belonged, because she is now a Polish and not a British woman. These things are very real disadvantages, and if the gentlemen of the legal profession who pick holes in this Bill will kindly devote themselves to see how we can remedy these grievances, we shall be grateful to them, and happy to see them in the Lobby in favour of this Bill, not against it. There is a further difficulty which is still buried in mystery—the difficulty that may have arisen in the course of the Imperial Conference. When this Bill was introduced on a former occasion by the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) the Dominion difficulty was specially referred to by the Home Secretary. He said that there was one Dominion which was against it, but not more than one. What we have now to get from the Home See- 1722 rotary is whether after the last Imperial Conference there is still only one Dominion against the proposal or whether there are more; whether the position of the Dominions is such that we cannot act together in this matter.
Last night, a certain section of this House asked that the whole House should censure the Government for not having accepted the views of the Dominions. The House refused. To-day we have to ask whether we are to accept on this very important matter the views of the Dominions when we would much rather accept the views of this House. That is one of the difficulties we have to face when we become part and parcel of the British Commonwealth and have no longer that complete domination which we had in an earlier period of the Empire. I hope the decision in this case is not going to be detrimental to British women in whatever part of the Empire they may reside. There is also the further question, whether we cannot in implementing the agreement come to at The Hague Conference, which the Covernment will have to do, bring together the two separate points which have been put forward to-day and any of the features of The Hague Agreement which will be necessary to carry it out in the most complete way. It is quite clear that some legislation must be introduced. The Government would do well to accept this legislation and to add to it whatever is necessary to implement the agreements reached either with the Dominions or at The Hague Conference.
I took part a little while ago in an international discussion between Socialist women of different countries on this very question of the nationality of married women. There was complete agreement amongst them all that a woman should be free on marriage to choose her nationality; but I noted in the discussion that the women who came from countries which had conscription and countries which had only land boundaries, felt very much more strongly on these matters than even we do in Great Britain. Yet when I look at the list of countries which have already improved their law, I find that some of those in which the necessity is greatest are those that lag most behind. We hope very much, that on this occasion, as the Noble Lady the Member for the 1723 Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) said earlier, we shall be in agreement on the Bill. We would like to be again in this position of leading the way on a question of this sort. We can never be before the Scandinavian countries or such a small country as Finland, but we can at least be before some others that are still left lagging behind. On many occasions in this House the Noble Lady has criticised with extreme severity her women colleagues who sit upon the Labour benches, but I notice that she either criticises them when they are absent, or, after making her criticism, she retires while they take part in the Debate.
§ Dr. PHILLIPS
I indicated that she was absent. I cannot see her; if she is there on the benches opposite she is not obvious.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Dr. PHILLIPS
The Noble Lady may or may not lack courage; I am not concerned with that. What I stated was the perfectly obvious fact that she is very fond of attacking her women colleagues on this side of the House. She has several times attacked me personally when I was not present and when I did not know that she was going to attack me. On this occasion, having attacked us, she is absent during the period when replies are being made. That is all I desire to say on that point. I hope that when the Home Secretary makes his reply—I wish he were present—he will be able to make a statement which will satisfy the very definite and unanimous demand of women's organisations in this country and in other countries.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
It is very satisfactory to be able to discuss a topic which is non-political and non-party, though the fact that a subject is non-party does not mean that it is not of international interest. The basis of this Bill is in- 1724 volved in international politics. Broadly speaking, I am in favour of the Bill, and shall vote for it. I believe it is just, and that in many cases it will be advantageous, and decidedly so in the case of widows or British women who are divorced, who are faced with great difficulties owing to the fact that, being in foreign countries they cannot return to their own nationality until they have been in this country at least five years. I am not a lawyer, but as a British Consul I have had many cases of men and women who have come to ask my advice and help. Unless we can get our foreign friends to adopt similar legislation. I can promise that this Bill will bring about extraordinary complications. Therefore it is the duty of those who are promoting the Bill and of the many women's organisations which are interested in the Bill to lose no time in letting foreign countries know the views of this country, so that in the near future some international agreements may be reached. This could be done either through the League of Nations or through the women's international associations. What is wanted is an international agreement and an agreement with the Dominions.
It is very easy to say that a few countries have already adopted what the Bill proposes. The fact is that those are countries which do not particularly affect British women. It is the other countries that we have to bring into line. I was for many years connected with the Dutch Colonies. My brother married a Dutch woman. My wife's sister, who is British, married a Dutchman. In one case my sister-in-law is Dutch. My brother is dead and his widow remains British. In the other case my sister-in-law divorced, and she remains Dutch. These are complications which can be put right only by international agreement. I am sorry that the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) is not present at the moment. I would say to her, not exactly what "Punch" said to those who were about to marry—"Don't"—but I would certainly say to young women who are about to marry, "Don't marry foreigners, and then you will not have these complications."
I recognise that behind the proposals in this Bill there is a great deal of justice, and, for that reason, I intend to vote in favour of the Second Reading, 1725 but let us not imagine that it is a perfect Bill because it is not. Do not let us rush into anything which may possibly make the position of British women in this respect worse than it is at present. Let us try to secure amicable arrangements with foreign countries so that all women while having the right to choose other nationalities may remain, if they wish, in the nationalities in which they have been born. Let us at any rate try to have some system which will be mutual throughout the world. My hon. and learned Friend for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) cited many legal difficulties in connection with this matter but I think he did so, not so much in antagonism to the Bill as in a desire that the House should realise the possible effects of the Bill if carried into law without a great deal of consideration. As one who has had experience of many cases of this kind in foreign countries I know the difficulties which arise. As I have said, I regard these matters not from the point of view of a lawyer but from the point of view of one who has acted as a British consul, and a British consul is looked upon as the friend of all British people in the country in which he happens to be serving. Speaking with that experience I support, generally, the Second Reading of the Bill, while warning those responsible for it that it will be necessary to consider carefully the operation of its provisions so that they may be carried out in the best interests of the people whom it is intended to benefit.
§ Dr. BURGIN
The difficulties of the international situation have been freely expressed during the debate, and, as one who has had a considerable practice in matters of the kind, I desire to emphasise some of those difficulties but at the same time to express the opinion that this Bill might profitably receive a Second Reading in order that it may be discussed in Committee and actual detailed evidence upon these points produced. The main difficulty arises from the fact that the British conception of domicile is so different from the Continental conception. The whole international private law of England centres round the fact that husband and wife have the same domicile. I am aware that domicile and nationality are widely different topics and that, in terms, this Bill only deals with nation- 1726 ality. But once you provide by the law of England that a wife may have an entirely different nationality from that of her husband, you are bound to entrench on the rules that the husband and the wife have the same domicile. We are face to face with a conflict which every practitioner in private international laws meets every day of his working life. The world is divided into two great legal systems, one based on the English conception, and the other based on the Code Napoleon and the Continental conception, and, wherever these competing conceptions come into conflict, there are international difficulties of the kind so fully explained this afternoon.
Clause 1, Sub-section (3) of the Bill provides that an alien woman who marries a British subject shall not thereby become British. That is a reflection of the Cable Act of the United States. Assume that it is passed into law. Take the case of a husband who is a British subject and his wife an alien. It is very hard for the courts, unless the parties are living together so that the facts speak for themselves, to infer that the domicile of the wife is to be that of the husband. Endless difficulty is caused by these two entirely different systems of law applicable to status, applicable to contractual capacity, applicable to the right of making a will and the parties living under the same roof. These are not light difficulties, but difficulties of a fundamental and formidable kind. Those of us who speak in this way are strongly impressed with the desire of married women to be completely enfranchised, to be under no disability and to be able to order their lives as they think fit. With that aspiration, I am in complete agreement, but I desire to be practical, and, when this matter is discussed in Committee, I hope that proper safeguards and limitations may be introduced to deal with facts which are of every-day occurrence, and within the knowledge of those who have experience in these matters.
Clause 2 of the Bill provides: that a woman, notwithstanding marriage, shall be able to apply for a certificate of naturalisation under the same conditions as a man. It means that where there is a husband and wife, both British subjects, the wife can, under this doctrine of independence, at any moment, apply for and obtain a certificate of naturalization 1727 as a subject of another country. It is true that we cannot legislate in regard to what other countries would do with such applications, but take the reverse case of a husband and wife both of foreign nationality living together here. The wife, under the doctrine of independence, may decide to apply to the Home Secretary for a grant of naturalisation as a British subject. We can legislate for that set of circumstances and that is what Clause 2 purports to do. This matter has been raised time and time again and there has been a large body of popular opinion behind the demand for such legislation but there are some serious difficulties in the way of its working in practice. Our desire on these benches is that the subject should be referred to a Committee, and that the Committee should have attached to it some of those who are experienced in these matters and who can bring to its notice the actual practical difficulties. The way to achieve that end is for the Bill to receive a Second Reading.
§ Mr. KELLY
I suppose that whatever Bill came before this House, hon. Members of the legal profession could find many legal points to justify its rejection—points which interfered with precedent, or points which involved some disadvantage to individuals. But, despite all that we have heard from the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst), the disadvantages under which women are placed at present are, in themselves, sufficient to warrant the passing of this Bill. References have been made to the differences which might be created in a family. I suppose that if we are going to recognise the rights of women there are bound to be differences. There will be differences, if a woman is to be free to express herself, and if that expression happens not to square with the opinion of her husband, but surely that is not a justification for the rejection of this Measure. Many women who married here but who belonged to other countries and who had devoted themselves to work in this country, found themselves in great difficulties by reason of the operation of the law which said that they must take the nationality of their husbands immediately upon marriage. If for no other reason than that, even allowing for the difficulties with regard 1728 to domicile which have been pointed out, I think we should pass this Bill. A warning to those about to marry was given by the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Campbell), but I would urge that even from his point of view this Bill is necessary. As the matter now stands, from the evidence that he gave us as an ex-British Consul in Java, I think the necessity for this Measure is shown and that a penalty is placed upon marriage at present. If there were some disability applying to men in this country, a remedy would have been found for it long enough since, and I suggest that fear of legal decisions, or of the Law Courts, or of all the dangers that the lawyers can point out should not stand in the way of women having a free choice as to what nationality they should have on marrying. I therefore hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and remove this injustice from women.
§ Major GEORGE DAVIES
I differ entirely from the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly). We are discussing what is really an extraordinarily difficult problem and one which can be approached from two sides, as has been made quite clear during this debate. There is the point of view emphasized by the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) about the personality and individual rights of the woman, and there is the other point of view of the welfare of the State or the country as a whole. I do not want, in anything I say, to be classed as an anti-feminist, but I maintain that the important and fundamental basis of the welfare of any State is the home, because that is the organisation on which the whole State is built up. If that be the case, I do not think the consideration is whether a woman should follow, by compulsion, the nationality of her husband or vice, versa. The two things are arguable, but I wish to enforce the point of view that if you have a dual nationality in the home you will have all kinds of difficulties in its train. Legislation in different countries varies very much in this matter, as in others, especially with regard to the disabilities of women.
If I may for a moment mention my own experience, my wife happens to have been born in India, the daughter of a Colonel in the Army. I have lived with her for many years in the United States. 1729 Being now a resident of and domiciled in England, if I go over there with her, I can go into that country, where I have lived many years and where she also has lived, but she has to go in under the Hindu quota. That is not a desirable state of affairs, and I mention it just to show the complications of legislation in this matter.
§ Major DAVIES
I do not think it interests anybody, but potentially I have; that is to say, with regard to the necessary oath to fight against all foreign countries, and in particular Great Britain, I do not have to take that oath if I choose to assert another nationality. That, however, is neither here nor there. While there are these difficulties and complications, if this Bill ever reaches the Statute Book, they will be very greatly exaggerated, and that is particularly the case with regard to children, who, after all, are the mainstay of the home, and the home is the mainstay of the State. "Home" is a word, I believe, that has not got its equivalent in any other language, and the best definition that I have ever been able to get of the word "home" in English is the definition "where mother is." That goes right down fundamentally to the family.
I know very well that with modern developments of rapid transportation between different countries, international marriages are becoming much more common than they were decades ago, and therefore the question becomes very much more vital to womenfolk particularly. I cannot see, however, that we are going to help that problem by this Bill, not only from the legal point of view, which I am not competent to discuss, but from what I consider is the practical, common sense point of view. After all, the function of the home primarily is to rear children who shall ultimately become the citizens of the State. If we speak merely of the status of married women from the individual aspect, there is something to be said for this Bill, but the home does not stop with the husband and wife; you have to think of it in wider terms.
What, then, is the position of children if their parents have each of them a separate nationality? There is the real 1730 crux of the matter. Are they, from birth until they are old enough to make a selection, to be without nationality, or are they to take the nationality of the father, or of the mother? If the argument of the individuality of the woman is the main consideration, there is just as good an argument in favour of the child taking its mother's nationality as there is for its taking that of its father; but the fact is that under the law as it is at present the woman takes the name of her husband and identifies herself with him, though it might be argued that the man should take the name of his wife. For the family, however, there should surely be one nationality.
If this Bill is passed—and there are many arguments in favour of it from one point of view—then inevitably you are damaging the homogeneity of the family home, and it would come as a corollary from that that at a special date, whether at 16 years of age, or over or under, a child should be called upon to make an assertion as to what nationality it would take. That is a development which to me is unthinkable in the interests of the State. Though there might be great hardships in many of these cases—and there must be, in these international questions —I am satisfied that the balance of advantage to the State is in leaving these measures and the legal position as they are, and that, while trying to remove certain very great difficulties, we might be plunging ourselves into still greater difficulties, which will ultimately inure to the disadvantage of the State.
§ THE SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Clynes)
The least that can be said of the discussion which we have had so far is that it has been intensely interesting and informative, and a most helpful debate as a contribution to the solution of a very difficult problem. I have to say, on behalf of the Government, that we are wishful to go a long way towards giving effect to the substance of the Bill. I have been asked by two or three speakers not to say that we cannot do anything. I can give straight away the assurance that I am not going to say we cannot do anything, and, although, I shall have to detain the House, perhaps, a little longer than I should personally desire, I think I shall be able to satisfy most 1731 hon. and right hon. Members of our earnest desire speedily to change many aspects of the law in this matter. The hon. and learned Member for the Moss Side Division (Sir G. Hurst) is an experienced Member of this House with whom I seldom agree, but while some of my hon. Friends behind me found fault with his speech, I unhesitatingly say that it was a speech of very great penetration and proof of knowledge of the great legal difficulties lying behind this problem. We are concerned with a change in the law as we are concerned with the law as it now is. That is to say, we are not concerned with the sentiment of the question. We are not concerned, say, with individual disabilities and suffering except in so far as we desire to remove them. We are concerned with making the law not worse but better for aggrieved persons if a change is to take place. I, therefore, say that the hon. and learned Member did exhibit the inwardness of the difficulties in this matter.
I pass from that. Having to face these difficulties, we should try to remove them, and the worst that can be said about this Bill is that the Government feel that it is an effort to do the right thing in the wrong way, and, accordingly, we shall have to outline the way in which alone, as we think, changes that are helpful might well be made. The hon. Member who introduced this Bill, in a speech of great restraint, but not less powerful because of its restraint, explained the objects of the Bill, and I shall not repeat them, but I shall add to that explanation the statement that the Bill has a retrospective effect, since it provides that a woman, who has in the past lost her British nationality by marriage to an alien, shall be deemed to be a British subject, unless she herself makes a declaration of alienage. The Bill has been drafted to give full effect to the demands made by the women's organisations for full equality of the sexes in the sphere of nationality law, and the speeches made in support of this proposal are a proof of the complete absence of any party feeling on this question, and a general desire to change the law for the better.
For the Government, I have to say that we needed no convincing, that as a matter of abstract justice, the case for applying the principle of equality of the sexes in 1732 the field of nationality has been fully made out. The attitude of the Government on this question has already been publicly expressed by a Member of the United Kingdom delegation at the Conference on the Codification of International Law, at The Hague, in March and April of this year. At the outset, therefore, I should like to express in the most emphatic terms the approval of the Government of the principles embodied in this Bill—[Interruption.]—I shall give a little attention to certain statements of the Noble Lady before I have finished, and, therefore, I would ask her not to be impatient. It is not that husbands or men are wrong in regard to this question; it is the law which is b wrong. Things had grown to be what they are long before we were destined to handle them. I agree that the law does throw the balance of advantage on the side of the man. There is no conflict of opinion about that, and the hon. and learned Member who moved the rejection of this Bill did not, I think, claim any perfection in the law as it is. Indeed, he suggested that we might well go the length of passing legislation that would give effect to the decisions at The Hague and to the decisions of the recent Imperial Conference. The hon. and learned Member himself is a very powerful advocate of substantial reform. The Noble Lady alluded, I think quite improperly, if I may say so, to the position of the officials of the Home Office in respect to this legislation. Usually I find that Members of this House who refer in terms of disparagement to the work and attitude of officials, have never been fortunate enough to have had the experience of working with them. They really do not understand their position, and if they did, instinctively Members of this House ought to avoid reproaches on officials who are not in a position to answer for themselves, and the very condition of whose office makes it impossible for them to offer any reply.
Might I say that the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) did precisely the same?
§ Mr. CLYNES
The Noble Lady, therefore, was following a bad example. Let me inform the Noble Lady, who twice referred to the Department, that the present Home Secretary is not speaking the mind of the officials. He is speaking the 1733 mind of the Government. He is speaking his own mind, and he is speaking without regard to what the officials may think or advise on this matter. Their advice and experience are essential.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I realise what the right hon. Gentleman says about officials, but, if I may, I would quote an example. The Home Secretary's predecessor almost accepted this Bill, but the Department pointed out difficulties.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I leave that subject by saying it is the duty of the officials not to concern themselves in proposals to change the law. That is a matter of policy. It. is a matter for Ministers, but it is the duty of officials to see that while the law is what it is, that law is observed, and to see that proposals to change the law are in harmony with the decisions that Ministers or their representatives may have reached. The hon. Member for Kincardine (Mr. Scott) asked me definitely to answer a particular question. The question was as to whether agreement had been reached between the Dominions and the Government on this subject. The only agreement of which I am aware will be found at the top of page 22 of the Summary of Proceedings of the Imperial Conference. I will read the paragraph to the House:If any changes are desired in the existing requirements for the common status, provision should be made for the maintenance of the common status, and the changes should only be introduced after consultation and agreement among the several Members of the Commonwealth.That is the only agreement on this subject reached at the recent Imperial Conference between representatives of the Dominions and His Majesty's Government.
There are wide issues at stake and I hope the House will bear with me while I make plainer at least some of these issues. They cannot be resolved in the simple principle of the equality of the sexes. This country has been among the first to accept equality as between the sexes, and the Government would not shrink from carrying that principle to its 1734 logical conclusion, were it not for the fact that questions of nationality affect not this country alone, but all the other members of the Commonwealth. The law with regard to the nationality of married women is the same throughout the British Commonwealth. It is part of the general body of uniform law relating to British Nationality. Since 1914 it has been the settled constitutional practice, accepted by all parts of the Commonwealth, that no change in the law relating to British nationality should be made except after previous consultation and unanimous agreement. The question was considered by the recent Imperial Conference, and the discussion of the general principles affecting nationality within the Commonwealth gave rise to many difficulties, into which I shall enter later.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I cannot inform the Noble Lady. If she will put down a question she will no doubt get the information. Certain conclusions were reached by the Conference on the general question of nationality. Among these conclusions is an emphatic reaffirmation of the existing practice in the form of the declaration which I have read. The Conference assumed that, as all the Members of the Commonwealth represented at the Hague Conference had signed the Nationality Convention there concluded, such legislation as was necessary would be introduced to give effect to the relevant articles of that Convention. The Imperial Conference was, however, satisfied that any proposal for the further modification of the principle of the existing law would fail to secure unanimous agreement, and they therefore felt themselves unable to make any recommendation for the substantive amendment of the law on this subject, which went beyond what was agreed at the Hague Conference.
It is not unnatural that the advocates of the reform proposed in this Bill should feel considerable disappointment at the result of the Imperial Conference, and should urge His Majesty's Government to take independent action. I do not think that those who urge this course on the Government fully realise the grave consequences that would follow. Let the House remember that yesterday we had 1735 a Motion of Censure on the Government for not agreeing with the Dominions at the Imperial Conference; now we are censured because we do agree with them.
What links the component parts of the Commonwealth together is that allegiance which every individual citizen owes to the Crown. Whatever we may think of it, there it is, the most stubborn fact which we have to face in relation to the many aspects of this question. That allegiance is the basis of the common status possessed by all subjects of His Majesty, a status not confined to the United Kingdom, but operative throughout the Commonwealth. The existence of this common status has long been established under the common law. Its present statutory basis is to be found in the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, 1914. It was laid down as an axiom in the 1929 Report of the Conference on the Operation of Dominion Legislation that no member of the Commonwealth could or would contemplate seeking to confer on any person a status to he operative throughout the Commonwealth, save in pursuance of legislation passed by common agreement. What happened at the Hague Conference and at the recent Imperial Conference showed that it has not so far been found possible to Teach agreement on the proposals embodied in this Bill. It follows that for the Parliament of this country to pass this Bill into law in its present form, would be in effect to take independent action, causing a breach in the common status, a breach which, as has been repeatedly declared is not to be contemplated.
It will be seen, therefore, that the proposals in this Bill are not simply confined, as its promoters have argued, to giving a measure of justice to a few hundreds or even thousands of women on whom the existing law bears very hardly, as we all agree. If that were the only issue at stake, every one would give the Bill wholehearted support in its present form. In addition to the constitutional question, which is of fundamental importance, it is no exaggeration to say that the honour of this country is involved. The recent Imperial Conference emphatically reaffirmed the existing constitutional practice in the form of the Declaration which I have already read. The Conference was unable to reach agreement on any proposal for the modification of the existing 1736 law, beyond what was agreed at the Hague Conference in the relevant articles of the Convention. In these circumstances, if Parliament were to pass this Bill, we in this country would be open to the accusation that immediately after the Conference we had taken the first opportunity of committing what can only be described as a clear breach of faith with those with whom we made this agreement. Moreover, among the recommendations of the recent Imperial Conference is one that the Colonial Laws Validity Act should be repealed. On the repeal of that Act, it would be open to any member of the Commonwealth, if it chose to ignore the pledge by which all are bound, and to enact any legislation it pleases on the subject of nationality law. If we pass this Bill into law in its present form, our example of independent legislation would be a direct invitation to every other member of the Commonwealth to do the same in disregard of the principle which was unanimously approved.
§ Miss RATHBONE
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us to what extent the specific question of the nationality of married women was considered at the Imperial Conference?
§ Mr. CLYNES
I am bound to say that personally I can give no more information than is contained in the pages of the report. That is my only information, and, as I have already indicated, if further information is required, a question to the Prime Minister would no doubt elicit it. I want further to remind the House that, in view of the fact that the Dominions have not agreed to the proposals in the Bill, the women in question would not in fact enjoy throughout all parts of the Empire the status which the Bill seeks to confer upon them. That is an important point. The anomalous position therefore arises that these women, who would be British subjects in this country, would not be regarded as British subjects in another part of the Commonwealth. The House will appreciate, without any further elaboration, how prejudicial the creation of such anomalies would be to what is, in fact, the existing system of Empire-wide nationality.
We have had to consider the Bill not merely from the point of view of its own merits, with which we are all in sympathy, but from the point 1737 of view of the wide constitutional issues which would be involved by its passage into law. I hope the time will soon come when common agreement on the lines of this Bill will be reached throughout the Commonwealth, and those in favour of the principles of this Bill will be rendering the best service to the cause which they have at heart if they direct their energies to instructing public opinion on this question, and so hastening the day on which legislation in the direction desired will be the result of spontaneous and of common agreement.
Our attitude does not mean that the Government proposes to follow a policy of inaction. Substantial agreement has been reached with the Dominions over a considerable part of the ground, and the Government are prepared, at the earliest opportunity, to promote legislation to give effect to that agreement. The Bill would include various amendments of the British Nationality Act, which were recommended by the Imperial Conferences of 1923 and of 1926. Among these amendments is one which facilitates the resumption of British nationality by a British-born woman, who having lost her British nationality by marriage, is living apart from her husband. That deals with a grievance which was expressed in the course of the debate to-day. Under the existing law, a British woman married to an alien can only recover her British nationality if the marriage has been legally dissolved. If the amendment to which I refer were passed, the wife, in the circumstances I have indicated, would be able to recover her British nationality by the grant of a certificate of naturalisation, even though the marriage still subsists.
In addition to these alterations of British nationality laws His Majesty's Government has under consideration a proposal which, if carried, would, I think, go a considerable way towards removing the disabilities and inconveniences suffered by British women who are aliens in consequence of marriage. I followed with the greatest attention the recital of the irritants and disadvantages due to changes in the life of both men and women, but particularly women. The proposal we would make is that any woman who becomes an alien by reason of marriage shall, in the United King- 1738 dom, be entitled to all the rights and privileges she would enjoy if she was still a British subject. For example, she would be enabled to qualify and to vote as a registered voter, and she would be relieved of the necessity to register as an alien and to comply with the provisions of the law relating to aliens. A reference was made to the disability which makes it impossible for a woman married to an alien, although of English birth before marriage, to seek a place in this House. The Government quite agrees with that criticism. All such disabilities due to the act of marriage can no longer be defended and ought not any longer to be continued. That refers to public usefulness, old age pensions, or any one of the other grievances mentioned in the discussion. I hope the House will appreciate that the Government are eager to command the co-operation of all sections of the House to remove those disabilities without delay. There are things which, in the circumstances, we cannot do, but there are things which, in the circumstances, we ought to do, and, given that co-operation, I think in a very short time we might very well succeed
Finally, let me refer in a little detail to the decisions of the Hague Conference, for in regard to them, also, the Government are well disposed to effective legislation. That conference was held in April. Article 8 made the following declaration:If the national law of the wife causes her to lose her nationality on marriage with a foreigner, this consequence shall he conditional on her acquiring the nationality of her husband.Article 9 says:If the notional law of the wife causes her to lose her nationality upon a change in the nationality of her husband occurring during marriage, this consequence shall be conditional on her acquiring her husband's new nationality.Article 10 says:Naturalisation of the husband shall not involve a change in the nationality of the wife except with her consent.I have to say to the House that the Government are prepared to give effect to these Articles in a Bill which, with the good will of all parties, they are hopeful of introducing, and legislation will, no doubt, be passed by the Parliaments of the Dominions on similar lines. I will try to describe the effect of these three Articles being transformed into 1739 legislation. Under the existing law the national statue of a woman follows that of her husband, with the consequence that a British woman who marries an alien ceases to be a British subject whether or not upon her marriage she acquires the foreign nationality of her husband.
The effect of Article 8, if transformed into law, would be that a British woman who marries an alien will not lose her British nationality unless by reason of her marriage she acquires the nationality of her husband. This goes a considerable way in the direction of meeting demands made by several women's organisations. One of the disadvantages of our existing British law is that a British woman who marries, for example, a citizen of the United States loses her British nationality, but under the law of the United States she does not, by reason of her marriage, acquire the citizenship of that country. The effect of Article 9 is to apply the principle of Article 8 to the case where, under existing law, the wife would lose her British nationality as a result of, for example, the naturalisation of the husband in a foreign country during the marriage. Article 9 would alter the existing law and make the loss of the wife's British nationality dependent upon her acquiring her husband's new nationality. Finally, as to Article 10, that provides that even in the case where a wife would acquire the new nationality of her husband who is naturalised in a foreign country during the marriage a British born woman shall not lose her British nationality except with her own consent.
Let me finally add that during the Hague Conference one of the United Kingdom delegates made a statement to the effect that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom was in favour of applying the principle of the equality of the sexes in matters of nationality, and expressed the hope that a large majority of the States represented at the Conference would be ready to go a considerable distance towards giving effect to that principle. The discussions at the Conference showed, however, a very great divergence of view. Divergences were expressed by representatives form many different countries.
No one has opposed the principle and the substance of the Bill this afternoon. 1740 Everyone has been anxious to recognise the justice of the demand for equality, and, if a Second Reading is given to the Bill, I shall regard it as a demonstration in favour of a principle which is acceptable to all. All I can add is that I think the Government have gone as far as it is possible in the circumstances to meet the wishes of all sections of the House.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
The conclusion of the Home Secretary's speech almost left me gasping. Having explained at great length why this Bill was impossible and how it would violate an obligation of honour to the Imperial Conference, he concluded by saying that if it were given a Second Reading he would regard it as a vote of confidence in himself.
§ Mr. CLYNES
No. I said that I would regard it as a demonstration on the part of the House in support of the principle.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Having said that the Bill was a breach of an honourable obligation to the Dominions, the right hon. Gentleman declared that if it were given a Second Reading he would regard it as a demonstration in favour of a principle with which he agrees. If that is the kind of advice which the Government give to the House of Commons on a vitally important matter of this kind, I do not know what use it is for any Member of the Government to intervene in a debate like this. The right hon. Gentleman said that we on this side of the House sought to censure the Government yesterday because they would not agree with the policy proposed by the Dominions. He is mistaken. We on this side sought to censure the Government because, not being able to agree from their point of view with the policy proposed by the Dominions, they could not produce any alternative policy of their own. That is what we have seen again this afternoon. The Dominions, apparently, hold certain views on this subject and the Government, being unable to agree with the Dominions, cannot apparently produce, so far as we know, any clear policy of their own on this question of nationality.
The Secretary of State for the Dominions (Mr. J. H. Thomas), who has just come into the House, had better 1741 hear me before he intervenes. I should like to tell him that the Home Secretary has given the House to understand that he could give it no information beyond what was contained in the report of the Conference, because that was his own only source of information, which means, I suppose, that in so far as the Imperial Conference discussed this matter of nationality at all it discussed it in the absence of the Home Secretary. Is that the way in which His Majesty's Government in this country lay down a policy and offer it to the Dominions for their agreement? Is that the way to act? The hon. Member for Middlesbrough East (Miss Wilkinson) said something with which I cordially agreed. She asked how long were we to be dragged at the tail of the Empire. I agree, but if you have no policy of your own, if you will not state any policy of your own, there are only two alternatives before you, either to be dragged at the tail of somebody else, or to be left in the lurch. If you wish to avoid those alternatives you must take the lead yourself; an alternative which this Government never by any chance adopts. We are, therefore, left in the position that the Government cannot give us any advice on this Bill. They are perfectly willing to allow us to pass the Second Reading, on the strict understanding that the Bill is never to go any further. There must clearly be something wrong about an attitude of that kind.
I will make a suggestion purely personally and not as a Member of the Front Opposition Bench. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not making notes in order to quote what was said by Lord Brentford. We have already heard of that. Lord Brentford expressed his personal agreement with the principle and then later he said that he could not carry it out because of the Imperial question. There was an Imperial Conference in the future when he said that, but the Imperial Conference is now a thing of the past and the Secretary of State for the Dominions has apparently tried, we do not know how hard, to settle this question in the absence of the Home Secretary. Having been left in the lurch by the Government, and the Imperial Conference having ended in a deadlock on the matter, the Government can only say that they quite agree with the principle 1742 of the Bill, and that they quite agree with the idea of the equality of the sexes, but that they cannot get these hardhearted Dominions to agree with them; therefore they can do nothing. Is it not possible that when you cannot get members of your own race to agree with you in regard to such questions there is something wrong with a principle which the Government so cordially endorse but are unable to carry out? There is something wrong, and something very wrong.
This Bill proceeds on the principle of the equality of the sexes. It proceeds logically on the basis that a woman marrying should be treated exactly like a man, and that principle is pitilessly carried out, regardless of consequences. I could hardly believe my own ears when I heard the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough telling the story of her friend who had lost all nationality, for that is precisely the position in which this Bill will place any German woman who marries an Englishman. You are preparing the most terrible hardship, until the whole world agrees to the principle, for any alien marrying an Englishman. That woman cannot get British nationality except by going through all the laborious, processes of naturalisation.
§ Lord E. PERCY
The hon. Member says that it is worth it. Because a man has to go through it, we are going to say that no alien woman who marries an Englishman shall get off one day or one hour of those formalities, just because that will make her like a man. In the same way, an English woman who marries an alien cannot divest herself of her British nationality after the passage of this Bill. There is no means in this Bill of her doing so.
§ Lord E. PERCY
If the Noble Lady will look at the Bill she will see that it is optional for the woman who is married before the passage of the Bill, but any woman who marries in the future says "good-bye" to any chance of getting her husband's nationality.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Can any hon. Member who is supporting the Bill tell me that an English woman who marries a German can obtain German nationality under the law?
§ Lord E. PERCY
What does the hon. and learned Gentleman mean? This Bill says that, so far as the British Government is concerned, an Englishwoman marrying a German shall be deemed to be a British subject.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Really, in that case, "may" does mean "shall". [Interruption.] The Bill says:A woman who is a British subject shall not lose or be deemed to lose her British nationality by reason of her marriage with an alien.How is that woman to divest herself of British nationality? [An HON. MEMBER: "We do not want her to do so.''] That is the only answer that I get: you do not want her to do so.
Is it, not true that if an Englishwoman marries an American, she knows perfectly well what she is doing—that she keeps her nationality, and that, if she goes there, she can become an American citizen in due course if she so desires?
§ Lord E. PERCY
She can become an American citizen if she so desires, but never, so far as I know, under this Bill, can she cease to be a British citizen.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I quite appreciate what the Noble Lord is saying, and am very interested in his argument. We are asking for the same terms for men and women, and we realise that women have to stand on their own independence; but, surely, if a woman marries a German and wants to become a German, or vice versa, she can apply for naturalisation exactly on the same terms as a man?
§ Lord E. PERCY
That is quite true; there is no means under the Bill except 1744 the ordinary procedure of applying for naturalisation, which is a long and laborious process.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I know that that is precisely what the hon. Member wants done, but the point is that that view does not seem to appeal to the Dominions, and, after all, the people of the Dominions are people of our own race and our own traditions. If you cannot get agreement on this subject—I agree that the inefficiency of the Government may have contributed to that, but, disregarding that, if you cannot get agreement on this subject, is it not possible that there is something wrong with your principle and is it not possible that you would get agreement if you changed your principle, and said: "We do not care about the equality of the sexes or anything of that kind, but what we want to do is"—I know that this is a revolutionary and almost absurd proposal—"what we want to do is to facilitate the woman concerned doing what she wants to do"? In other words, if an alien woman marries a British subject, she should be able to become a British subject by a declaration at any time, and, if an Englishwoman marries an alien, she should be able to renounce her British nationality by a declaration at any time, leaving to her the option of doing the one or the other.
The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) said that she did not suppose that questions of nationality formed a very important subject of conversation between engaged couples. Of course, they do not now, because it is automatic, but I think that they would in those circumstances, and that the result would invariably be the same, namely, that the wife would always take the nationality of her husband by preference. If she wants to do that, why should not we facilitate her in doing it? I would equally facilitate the regaining by an Englishwoman of her British nationality by a declaration, at any rate in the event of her husband's death or of divorce. That seems to me to be the sensible and common-sense way of proceeding, and, as the Government have shown themselves to be incapable of making any declaration of policy or giving us any lead as to how we can have on 1745 this matter a common British Empire nationality law, let us in this House say that it is most important that we should have a common British Empire nationality law, and that it is also most important that we should not change the law of this country unless the Dominions change their law too. But that does not relieve us of the necessity of giving the Dominions a lead. Let us try to pass legislation experimentally, for submission to the Dominions, beginning that it shall not come into force until there is an agreement with the Dominions, in order to show them, as the Government are totally incapable of showing them, what on the whole the Parliament of this country wants to do. That seems to me to be the only course open and, so far as this Bill is concerned, again speaking solely for myself, if its supporters were prepared to consider amending it in Committee on the lines I have suggested, simply directed to facilitating the wife doing what she likes at the time of her marriage and having some way of escape after her marriage in case things go wrong, I might join myself with the Home Secretary and suggest that we should pass the Second Reading.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
I had not intended to intervene, but the Home Secretary's speech seems to me to leave the matter in so wholly unsatisfactory a position that I am bound to address a few words to the House. I held some years ago the position held by the right hon. Gentleman, and I know how complicated and difficult is the tangle of considerations that have to be dealt with in treating questions of nationality, and, particularly since my term of office was during the time of the war, and in time of war these matters are most acute and difficult. I know full well that the matter cannot be easily dealt with merely by laying down general rules or formulae. But the position the right hon. Gentleman has taken up seems to me a very unsound one. If the Bill is wrong, say that it is wrong and ought not to be passed. If it is mistaken in some of its details or proposals, say what they are and suggest that it should be amended.
It may be that the Noble Lord who has just spoken has touched upon real weaknesses in the Measure. I should be sorry to pronounce an opinion without 1746 very full consideration, and none of us would be expected to do so. But it is possible that, while accepting the principle of the Bill, it might give greater latitude in its fulfilment if the options to wives in the cases he has mentioned were made wider than is proposed in the Bill. That is a possible course, but the Home Secretary has not taken any of those courses. He has said that the Bill is perfectly sound in principle, but it ought not to be proceeded with until we can get unanimity throughout the Empire, and apparently no very strenuous efforts are being made to secure unanimity. He pays homage to the principle, but nothing else.
There was a cynical observation made by Prince Bismarck that, when anyone expresses approval of the principle of a Measure it indicates very strongly that he has no intention whatever of doing anything to carry it out in practice. I am afraid that may be so hi this ease. The Home Secretary Las mentioned that there has been disagreement in the matter at the Hague Conference and that efforts were made by the British representatives to secure general agreement on the point and that they failed. But does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that an amendment of the law of the British Empire must wait until there is absolute unanimity on the point throughout the world in every detail? There has never been complete unanimity with regard to naturalisation laws and the law of nationality throughout the world, and, although it is very desirable that we should approximate to it as far as possible, the House of Commons cannot be expected to refrain from legislation until unanimity has been obtained in all the countries of the world. As far as the Hague Conference has accepted amendment of the existing law to be of universal application, they seem to be of comparatively minor importance, and do not touch the larger issues which are involved in this Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the matter was submitted to the Imperial Conference, and unanimity was not obtained there. The Conference decided that changes should not be made unless there is unanimity, and that principle is a mere reaffirmation of the principle previously laid down. I think we ought to 1747 know to what extent there was failure to reach unanimity. Was there a general agreement among all the Dominions that the view expressed by the United Kingdom Government was wrong, or was there only one, or were there possibly two Dominions who, without fuller consideration of all the elements of the case, had refused their consent? Is the present position this, that any one portion of the Empire is to exercise a veto over the actions of all the rest, and, in all these matters, is the opinion of the United Kingdom Government itself not to be taken into account and to carry very considerable weight in the deliberations of the Imperial Conference?
I confess that I heard with much astonishment, as did the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), the statement of the Home Secretary, that all that he knew as to what transpired in the Imperial Conference was derived from the printed report of the proceedings. Here is a matter of very great importance on which the Prime Minister himself has given undertakings. The women of this country are keenly interested in it through their organisations. There is a remarkable unanimity of opinion among all the principal women's organisations of this country taking interest in public affairs in favour of a reform of this character. It is the execution of that reform, as everyone knows, that is dependent upon general agreement, if it can be obtained, throughout the Empire. The occasion arises on which that agreement might, at all events, be promoted. The Imperial Conference meets here in London. The matter is brought before them, and the Home Secretary, who is the Minister most deeply concerned, ought, one would have imagined, to have been there to have presented with the utmost cogency, the case in which his own chief and his own Government agrees, and which has been supported by the women's organisations of this country, and to endeavour to secure unanimity on that occasion. What was done? We know nothing. All that we know is that unanimity was not achieved.
I think that we ought to hear why it is that no more strenuous efforts were made to secure agreement. Which of the Dominions have dissented, and on what 1748 grounds? The Dominions would, no doubt, be moved by very much the same considerations as this country, as the Noble Lord has said. If the great democratic communities, such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which accept, most of them, the principle of sex equality before the law, have dissented from a proposal of this character, what is the reason for that dissent? If, as the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting, the reason may be a sound one, it may be that there is some difficulty in a particular proposal of this legislation which may be modified so as to secure agreement.
§ Mr. CLYNES
May I inform my right hon. Friend that it is quite a wrong impression to draw from my statement to say that the Home Secretary or the Home Office had no particular part in the conduct of the discussion on this question by the Imperial Conference. I took an active part in the preparation of material, in the submission of the case and in presenting the facts to the Cabinet and to the Conference. I was answering questions which I understood to mean actually what period of time was spent by the Conference in a discussion of the subject. All I say is, that my information must he drawn from what appeared in the report.
§ Mr. CLYNES
It is quite a wrong impression to imagine that the Home Secretary and the Home Office took no part in the discussions of this question at the Imperial Conference. I took an active part in the preparation of the material for a statement of the ease.
When I asked the Home Secretary what the Prime Minister said, the right hon. Gentleman stated that he did not knew what had happened.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
Will the Home Secretary answer my question as to what extent there was disagreement? Was it grave and serious, or was it limited to one or two members of the Conference on small points?
§ Miss RATHBONE
Was the fact mentioned that the Prime Minister and the Government were pledged to deal with this subject?
§ Mr. CLYNES
I think the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that it would be most improper to make any announcement in that form. The report states that there was complete agreement as to the course which should be taken.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I understand that complete agreement was attained on the proposition that there should be no action unless there was unanimity? We have had no indication as to the extent of the disagreement at the Conference.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
I want to make it clear that it is not a question of being dragged at the heels of anybody. What happened was that there were two subjects considered. One was the general question of nationality, and the other was the nationality of married women. On the question of nationality, the House is well aware that the 1926 Conference created a new situation. Up to that time, we all assumed that the definition of nationality by using the word "British" was sufficient and that "British subjects" covered the point. We discussed the question under those headings, and, when it came to nationality, the Dominions wanted the word "British" excluded, because it savoured too much of British domination. That discussion took place on the question of nationality. The House knows that when we came to the question of nationality of married women the British Government were supplied with the whole of the arguments of the Home Office.
The view of the British Government on this particular question was that the experience of the War compelled us to say to the Dominions that we were not content to allow women to suffer as they did to our knowledge during the War, and, although there was a compromise arrived at during the discussions at the Hague Conference, we told all the Dominions that in our view we did not think that the House of Commons would even look at the Hague compromise as a full satisfaction of the position of women. That was made clear and definite both by the Home Office and the British Government. When the discussion took place with the heads of delegations, those views were expressed by the British Government. We went beyond them. We said that we 1750 should feel ourselves compelled to accept what we believed to be the views of the British House of Commons, and that they would want to go beyond the Hague compromise. We realise that we are dealing here with what is called a common status, and that if we could get a definition of nationality for women accepted on a common basis within the Commonwealth it would be much better, because it would clear the whole situation as far as the Commonwealth is concerned.
There were very strong and fundamental objections. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and the Noble Lord know very well that strong views with regard to divorce are held in certain of the Dominions. It is not for me to discriminate by saying that this Dominion took this view and another Dominion took that view. All I have to say is that we took the broadest and strongest possible ground and were met by these objections. A committee was appointed to deal with the matter. The Home Office was represented on the committee, and the compromise arrived at was the Hague compromise. But as far as the British Government were concerned we left the Dominions in no doubt whatever that we took a much more forward view on this subject than they did, although we did not minimise the fact that on the question of divorce certain of the Dominions took a very strong view which we were unable to accept.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I must thank the right hon. Gentleman for his elucidation of the matter. Are we to assume from what he has said that there is to be no change in this matter until certain of the Dominions have altered their views with regard to divorce laws? Surely not. Some arrangement must be made to overcome or obviate that difficulty. In the meantime the question is what action is going to be taken, and what action this House should take to-day. It is quite clear that the duty of the House of Commons, with the vast majority of Members holding the views they do on this matter, is to pass the Second Reading of this Bill, not only as a demonstration in favour of a principle, as the Home Secretary declared it to be, but as an intimation that we desire speedy action in this matter, that it should not be left, as the Home Secretary 1751 has left it, with the vague declaration that some day and somehow, possibly something might be done it may be in the near future, but that real importance is attached to this question, that it is a cause of genuine grievance and that in our view it is the duty of the Government to proceed with vigour after passing the Second Reading of the Bill, to deal with the difficulties, which have been illustrated by the Home Secretary, in Committee. I urge the House to pass this Bill and reaffirm the conviction that in our view there is injustice and anomaly in the present law and that we wish to see this somewhat lethargic Government—I am bound to say that—take more vigorous action in order to fulfil a policy which the Prime Minister himself has declared is the policy of the Government.
§ Miss RATHBONE
The supporters of this Bill on all sides of the House, although party loyalty on the part of supporters of the Government make it a little difficult for them to give expression to their opinions, must surely be filled with bitter disappointment at the statement made by the Secretary of State for the Dominions. The position is this: We have a Bill which has been before the House for four or five years at least, a Bill the principle of which all three political parties are pledged to support and on which the present Prime Minister has given a special pledge. We have had an Imperial Conference at which this question was discussed. After all an Imperial Conference does not take place every year and another is not likely to take place in the lifetime of the present Parliament. The Imperial Conference offered a unique opportunity. The representatives of His Majesty's Government at the Conference knew the position, knew the pledges that had been given by the parties and knew of the promise by the Prime Minister. All that they were able to exact from the Conference, at a meeting at which the Home Secretary was not able to be present, and as to the result of which he was rather vague when questioned in this House, was that the whole Conference was pledged not to take action on the main principle except—I took down the right hon. Gentleman's words—"after previous consultation and unanimously."
1752 The Secretary of State for the Dominions has told us that the Conference was left in no doubt as to the forward position of His Majesty's Government in their opinion on the subject. What is the use of assuring a conference that you hold a forward position if at the same time you give a binding pledge that you will keep pace with the slowest member of the team? By the time the next Imperial Conference meets, I suppose it is not unlikely that India may be one of the self-governing Dominions to take part, but if India objects and the Hindus are not convinced on the subject of married women's nationality, Great Britain and all the other members of the Commonwealth will have to wait until Indian opinions on that subject are able to materialise. I suggest that there is every evidence that the Government did not put very much fervour into their advocacy of this subject.
§ Miss RATHBONE
I think we know too much of the general attitude of the Dominions on this kind of question. After all, we followed and did not lead the Dominions in granting the suffrage to women. On nearly every question the Dominions have been before us rather than behind us on questions affecting the equality of the sexes. I find it exceedingly hard to believe that if a real effort had been made and a special committee appointed to go into detail through all the objections and difficulties—
§ Mr. THOMAS
I have already told the House that there was a special committee appointed and that the matter was not only discussed by the heads of the Delegations but that it was referred to a special committee for this purpose alone.
§ Miss RATHBONE
The Home Secretary was not present, and it is to the Home Secretary that the women's organisations and those specially interested in this question have generally made their representations. We ore all united in saying now that there is no reason why the Bill should not have a Second Reading, even after the criticisms that have been brought forward. Even the difficulties raised by the Noble Lord the 1753 Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), and the idea he put forward that women should be given a choice of nationality on making a declaration, could be considered. Those difficulties are to a great extent difficulties that could be smoothed out in Standing Committee. If this Bill is not now in a workable form it ought to be put into a workable form, and, therefore, I think we are all agreed that it should receive a Second Reading and go to a Committee.
I wish to make one strong appeal to the Government. I think I can speak upon this matter plainly and in a way in which, perhaps, few ether Members of the House can speak, because I have never had any political ties and yet I have been from the beginning of my public life very closely identified with the women's movement. I entreat the Government not to let women feel that this is one more of those questions in regard to which Governments, and political parties, are willing to pay lip service to their cause, willing to allow Second Readings of Bills so long as they are sure that the subsequent proceedings shall be purely academic. There are two things which may be offered to us, but we shall not be satisfied with either or with both of them. The one is a barren Second Reading victory; the other is the offer of practical reforms of the kind which the Home Secretary foreshadowed which simply deal with particular hard cases, such as the case of the woman who has lost her own nationality without acquiring the nationality of her husband. We ask for something which satisfies the broad principle to which we cling, namely, that if a woman has a passionate sense of her own nationality, if she feels that she is British in blood and wants to remain British until she dies, she shall be able, of her own free choice, to gratify that sense of her passionate attachment to her own nationality.
May I remind the Government that the Labour party have always boasted, and with some justification, of being forward in the women's movement, and many of our best friends during the suffrage struggle are now members of the Labour Government? The Chancellor of the Exchequer, for example, was one of our best friends in that struggle. But in the two periods during which a Labour Government has been in office we have 1754 had many disappointments. When they were in office in 1924, they talked about widows' pensions, but they did not give us widows' pensions. They promised equality between husband and wife in the matter of the guardianship of children, but they did not carry out their promise. They talked about equal franchise, but they did not give it. They left it to their successors, and I am glad to have this opportunity of paying a tribute, which I have often felt should have been paid more publicly than it has been, to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin). Whatever our opinions may be in our individual capacities as citizens about the politics of the right hon. Gentleman, it must be said that, as far as the special demands of the women's movement are concerned, I cannot remember a single promise which he made to us which was not fulfilled—and we know the unceasing opposition with which he had to contend not only from the members of his own party, but from the Rothermere press.
I warn the Government against letting the women of this country have any reason to feel that Codlin is their friend and not Short. Women, in spite of a popular opinion to the contrary, are, on the whole, an inarticulate section of the community, with the possible exception of a few rebels among them. Like Mary, they keep all these things and ponder them in their hearts. They observe closely all the time, not only what parties promise, but what they perform, and the organised women of the country—[Interruption.] Here is the women's champion. I was saying, before the right hon. Member for Bewdley took his place, that I felt that, as an old member of the women's movement, who never has belonged to any political party, I would like to take this opportunity of paying the tribute to him that he has kept every pledge, so far as I know, that he has given to the women of the country, and I am warning the present Government that they had better do likewise. [Interruption.] Let us send this Bill to Committee upstairs, and let us hammer out the best Measure that we can put forward. I hope the Government will change its mind to the extent at least of letting it pass into law this Session. Let us at least press the Measure through its Committee stage, and then place it before 1755 the Dominions and press for an immediate decision. I cannot believe that there is any insuperable difficulty in the way of arriving at a real measure of common agreement in this matter.
I wish to protest against the allegation made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) that I was a renegade from the policy announced by Disraeli. In point of fact, I am a more sincere follower of Disraeli over this Measure than he is. Disraeli on many occasions, and very generously, gave tribute for all his success in life and in politics to his Mary Anne, and we want to-day to give that same tribute to Mary Anne's successors.
There is only one point, to my mind, before this House to-day. Are we, according to the fear expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst), going to give women a dual nationality, or are we, according to the fear expressed by the promoters of the Bill going to give women no nationality at all? There is only one answer to that question. Dual nationality at any rate confers the privilege on a woman of deciding which nationality she shall take. We want to give women the right to decide for themselves, but to give no nationality to a woman is unworthy of this House, and I hope the House will follow the advice given by the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone), who has just sat down, and let the Bill go to Committee, so that the points in dispute can be thrashed out and the Bill made a workable Measure.
Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.