HC Deb 06 July 1932 vol 268 cc447-50

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to the civil rights of British-born alien women. I can explain in a few sentences the aims of this Bill, and the reason why I produce it at this late stage of the Session. The piteous, helpless and tragic position of many British-born women who have married foreigners and who, through no fault of their own, have come back to live in this country and make it their home, has long been a matter of deep concern to many people and has created a general demand that some steps should be taken to assist them.

Some years ago I introduced a Bill known as the Nationality of Married Women Bill. The object was to give these women equal rights with men as regards nationality. Although the Government at that time and Governments since have given this Measure a good deal of sympathy, unfortunately, like many other Private Members' Bills, it has never proceeded further than the First Reading.

I appreciate the difficulties which confronted that Bill. If such a Bill were passed without similar legislation being enacted within the Dominions, we should be creating dual citizenship within the Empire, which would be very undesirable and bring about difficulties. The present Bill is of purely local and domestic appli- cation, but I wish to say, on behalf of all those who supported the original Measure, which was based on the broad and just principle of equality, that we do not retreat one step from the position we then took up that that was the right solution of the problem. Still, as no further steps along those lines are possible, I introduce this Measure to-day. It deals solely with the question of what civil rights should be given in this country to British-born women who have married foreigners and have come back to this country and intend to make it their home.

Consider for a moment the position of such a woman. She is an alien, she is subject to police supervision, she is forced to register and to inform the police of her movements, she is disqualified for certain benefits under the Insurance Acts, the Old Age Pension Act and the Widows' Pension Act, and although she may pay rates and taxes she has no vote. In other words, she is a foreigner in her own country. I know of hundreds of such cases, and I get a letter almost daily explaining the pitiful position of some women in these circumstances. Here I would like to say that when the attention of the Home Office is brought to any particular case it is my experience that they deal with it, so far as they can, in the most sympathetic and understanding mariner. This Bill will give to these women certain elementary rights of citizenship—freedom from the necessity to register, the full advantage of the social services and the right to vote at local and parliamentary elections.

Although the Bill will not give all that we desire it is a practical step forward in remedying some of the hardships under which these women suffer to-day. The reason I introduce it at this late stage of the Session is that a number of women's organisations are very anxious to see the Bill printed, as having passed its First Reading, before they have their meetings and conferences in the Autumn at which the subject will be discussed. I believe the Bill has the sympathy of the Home Office, and I hope and trust that next Session it will not only have their sympathy but their active support. I cannot imagine that a Measure which gives such elementary justice to this unfortunate section of the community will receive other than unanimous support from all quarters of the House.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Captain Cazalet, Miss Pickford, Colonel Wedgwood, Sir John Sandeman Allen, Mr. de Rothschild, Sir Alfred Beit, and Miss Cazalet.