HC Deb 14 November 1933 vol 281 cc822-7

7.10 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 14, to leave out the words twelve months," and to insert instead thereof the words "two years. This Amendment deals with Clause 1 (4) of the Bill, which carries out Article 10 of The Hague Convention. Article 10 reads as follows: Nationalisation of the husband during marriage shall not involve change in the nationality of the wife except with her consent. This, of course, means that when a foreign woman has married an English husband and thereby has become an English citizen, if her husband in the course of marriage should change his nationality, this foreign-born wife who has become a British subject need not, unless she wishes, follow the example of her husband and take on his new nationality. She is given under Clause 1 (4) a period of 12 months in which to state whether she wishes to retain her English nationality or whether she wishes to follow that adopted by her husband. My Amendment is to increase that period from 12 months to two years. When this Bill was originally introduced in another place, a period of six months had been inserted by the Government, and that was changed to 12 months, thereby indicating that their Lordships realised that there was some basis and foundation for lengthening the period given to the woman to decide what she desired to do. Our contention is that in many cases 12 months may not be sufficient.

We have had cases brought to our notice of husbands changing their nationality without informing their wives that they intended to do so. I do not wish to suggest what motive may have prompted them to follow any such practice, but there was a particular case brought to my notice in which a British citizen changed his nationality and became a Japanese, the idea being to get out of some obligation he owed to his wife. He did not inform his wife of the change, because he knew, no doubt, that to abstain from doing so would prevent a good deal of trouble. The difficulty is that in many cases where husbands wish to change their nationality for some purpose of this kind it is very likely that they do not inform their wives, and their wives do not find out that they have actually changed their nationality until, not many months, but many years have passed. We suggest, therefore, through the Amendment, that a wife should be allowed a period of two years before she makes her request to remain a British citizen.

I admit that in the latter part of the Sub-section the Secretary of State is given power in special circumstances to lengthen the period to any time he thinks right. If we felt absolutely certain that this Sub-section would always be interpreted with that generosity with which we are sure the present Home Secretary would interpret it, we should not be so anxious to press the Amendment. But we want to secure that there shall be a reasonable time in which women who have been deceived on this question by their husbands shall be able to discover it and to put in their claim to retain British nationality.

7.15 p.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Gilmour)

In the existing legislation there is no definition of the period during which a declaration should be made, and the Home Office is advised that it is desirable to have a period inserted. It is quite clear that the declaration ought to be made as soon as possible after the wife becomes aware of the change. As the hon. and gallant Member said, in another place the period was six months, but, after consideration, it was raised to one year. In a case such as the hon. and gallant Member has cited, where a husband desires to hide from his wife the change in his nationality, it is clear that he might be successful in doing so over a period of a great deal more than even two years. I would assure the hon. and gallant Member that we are satisfied that the period of a year will cover the very large majority of cases, and give ample time for action on the part of the wife. There remains, as he also knows, the further power which the Secretary of State has to deal at any time with a problem of this kind. If a wife has not made the declaration within the period of one year she will have to explain why, and if the explanation is a reasonable one I have not the slightest doubt that it will be accepted, not only while I am at the Home Office but when anybody else is there. I hope the hon. and gallant Member will withdraw his Amendment.


I am quite prepared to do what the Home Secretary suggests, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 (Short title, citation and printing) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment, to the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Sir J. Gilmour.]

7.17 p.m.


I cannot let the Third Reading of this Bill pass entirely unchallenged. I wish to put on record the very strong feeling that obtains among, I think, practically all the women's organisations in this country that this Bill is a totally inadequate way of meeting the difficulties. We do not deny that it will relieve a certain number of cases of hardship, but it will be deeply regretted if the passing of this Bill is treated as a reason for delaying further legislation.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)

The hon. lady is now talking about something which is not in the Bill, and she cannot do that on Third reading.


I will not enlarge on that point, but I think I am in order in asking, that the Home Secretary should not use this Bill as an excuse for going no further. If you rule that out of order, perhaps I shall be in order in discussing the defects of this Bill.


The hon. Lady can refer to what she may consider to be defects in the Bill, dealing with what is in the Bill, but she cannot deal with defects which are not in the Bill


Then I fear the only point I shall be able to refer to is the Clause which puts a limitation, such as has not existed before, on the period during which a woman may claim British nationality under special circumstances. I think we have reason to feel a grievance that this Bill, which professes to put this country into line with the proposed Hague Convention, lays down something which is not in that Convention, and is a Bill which not only does not do much that is desired by all who wish to see a woman free to retain her British nationality but actually limits such freedom as she already possesses. In view of your Ruling, I can say no more.

7.21 p.m.


I would like to say that we do appreciate the attitude of the Home Secretary in regard to certain aspects of this subject. We appreciate what was done with regard to registration some months ago, and also the fact that this Bill will bring relief to a very considerable body of women who to-day are suffering under an injustice. Although we had a full discussion, which cannot now be repeated, on the Second Reading of the Bill, we should like to have some word from the Home Secretary to say that the observations of the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) are true, and that this Bill will not be used by the Government as a reason for doing nothing further in this matter. With regard to the Amendment we discussed a few minutes ago, the Home Secretary used the words "as long as the woman is aware." He said that within one year after she is aware that her husband has changed his nationality she may claim British nationality. Of course, that does not meet the whole situation. The word "aware" is not in this Clause, and, therefore, we have to depend entirely on the good will of the Home Secretary to regard her claim as a reasonable one. I suppose it is impossible at this late stage to insert in the Bill the words he used just now; but we should like some declaration from him that the passing of this Bill will not be used, as has happened in other instances in the past, as an excuse for the Government to say that the time is not fit for proceeding further in these matters.

7.23 p.m.


I think I made it perfectly clear on Second Reading that nothing the House would do in passing this legislation would preclude further con- sideration of other aspects of this problem; that is, I think, quite clear. With regard to what has been said about this particular subject, I think it is quite dear that we are not taking anything away from a woman; in fact, we are rather improving her position by this alteration that we are making in order to carry out the letter and the spirit of what was settled at the Hague.

7.24 p.m.


I would like to ask the Home Secretary what happens in the case of a British woman married to an American during the first year or two of married life. I ask that question because I have a daughter married to an American, and when she was going away there was great difficulty about her nationality. According to our law she had ceased to be a British subject, and we had great difficulty in getting over the situation. A year and a-half afterwards she came back to this country and she had a baby three months old. The baby had a passport, but she had none, because she had no nationality at all. Sufficient time had not then elapsed for her to obtain American citizenship, which she has got now. In similar circumstances which may occur we want to know what is the position during the first year of a British woman who marries an American.


I am afraid that the Third Reading of this Bill, which is a comparatively small one, must not be used as an occasion for putting conundrums on the whole question of the law of naturalisation. I am bound to say that in the interests of order; but if the Home Secretary wishes to answer that question, and finds he can answer it within the terms of the Bill, I have no objection to his doing so.

7.25 p.m.


That point is dealt with in the Bill. It does cover that particular case.


I would rather have the Home Secretary's assurance.