HC Deb 06 October 1944 vol 403 cc1401-10

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Pym.]

5.1 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe (Brighton)

After the excitement and the turbulence of the last hour or two, I wish to draw the attention of the House to a matter which, though not of such universal interest, is of very burning interest to quite a large number of people who are affected. The matter has reference to the plight of those unhappy women who are British-born, who lose their British nationality by marrying an alien. It may well be, and it may properly be, said that any woman who undertakes that does so with full knowledge of the consequences, and that she cannot complain if she thereby loses her British nationality. I would not quarrel with that as a general proposition. When she undertakes that marriage she sees what is ahead for her. But I am concerned for the woman who is not able to see that she may become not merely an alien, but may become an alien of an enemy nationality, and it is the case of these women which I wish to bring to the notice of the House on this occasion.

Under the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, 1914, a woman loses her nationality, and under that Act, as amended by the 1933 Act, such a woman is given the right to make an application for her British nationality to be restored to her. The determination whether that application is granted or not is exercised by the Home Secretary. The particular reference which I wish to make is to the exercise of that power which the Home Secretary has under that Act of 1933. There are, as I say, quite a large number of people affected, and it is obvious that the Home Secretary cannot himself give proper attention to every case which arises, and I have no doubt he deputes people to consider on his behalf each case and to report to him. But it is an unfortunate fault in the machinery, namely, the person most vitally affected, that the applicant, is not allowed to be heard.

I have always believed that anybody who has an application to make before anyone who has power to affect the status of that person, should be allowed to be heard in his or her own cause. But that is not what happens here. The Home Secretary has the power to make a decision of vital importance as to whether a British-born woman remains an enemy alien or not, and yet the woman has no opportunity to state her case. The Home Secretary is being, in fact, a judge in his own cause. I suggest that he should appoint an independent tribunal to advise him in these matters, and that the woman affected should have the opportunity of appearing before that tribunal, stating her case, explaining why she requires restoration of her British nationality, and justifying the grounds upon which the application is made. It is quite a foreign procedure in this country for a person to make decisions completely ex parte, with out the person affected being able to plead her cause. The Home Secretary, in consequence, is, I think, not really in a position to discriminate between one case and another, and may sometimes go wrong.

No doubt, the Under Secretary will have in mind a particular case which I have brought to his notice. I am not going to deal with that case at length, but only refer to it as an illustration of the general principle. I do not propose to mention the name of the woman involved, because she does not wish her name to be mentioned. She is a woman now aged about 30, who went to Munich to learn. music when she was about 19. She was merely at a finishing school there. She married a German there, in 1932 or 1933. This woman has spent only about six months in Germany; that was when she went there as a student. She returned to this country the same day as she married, and she has lived in this country ever since. That woman, who was born British, whose loyalties are entirely British, who has no other connection with Germany than that she went there for six months as a student, is condemned as an enemy alien. I regard that as an injustice, and one which the Home Secretary, who has it in his power to do so, ought to put right.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

How was she condemned under the original Act? She was a British subject: does my hon. and gallant Friend mean that her British citizenship has now been taken away from her?

Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe

Perhaps my right hon. Friend did not hear my opening words. A British woman who marries an alien becomes an alien under the 1914 Act. The power to restore British nationality under the 1933 Act is exercised by the Home Secretary. I do not want to recapitulate what I have said already, as there is very little time; but by marrying a German she became a German. The power to restore her British nationality is there, but only the Home Secretary can exercise it. My complaint is that the Home Secretary, in exercising that power, ought to have independent advice, and that each individual case should be properly examined, so that it can be determined whether it was a proper case for the restoration of British nationality or not, and I was merely putting forward, as an example, the particular case of a woman—really a child—going abroad in 1932 or 1933, marrying a German, being there, merely as a student, for six months, but being, from that moment onwards, condemned as an enemy alien, because she is, in fact, now a woman of German nationality, although, by every principle, understanding, instinct and loyalty, she is entirely British.

The Home Secretary has, in the course of correspondence in this matter, indicated the principle upon which the Act works, but I think I can satisfy the House that it is not entirely a satisfactory manner of dealing with these applications. I do not want to recapitulate the correspondence I have had, but I think I can broadly refer to it in this way. On a number of occasions, the Home Secretary has said to me that he cannot exercise this power in any way which would lead to a belief that any sort of influence or pressure has been brought upon him. That went on over a number of letters, and I was never able to understand what the Home Secretary meant by that reference. I told him, on a number of occasions, that this particular case had been brought to my notice by a solicitor who is a constituent of mine, and who was acting for the woman concerned, whom, incidentally, I had never met. I understand it to be the normal procedure that Members of Parliament may bring a grievance to the notice of the Minister concerned, and I could not understand the relevance of the answer given to me, that there must be no appearance of pressure being brought or influence exercised. I explained that I exercised the same kind of influence which any other Member of Parliament exercises when he brings a matter to the notice of a Minister.

I subsequently discovered that the matter had been previously brought to the notice of the Minister by a Member of another place, and then, for the first time, I understood what he had had in mind. What it comes to is that the Home Secretary was anxious—quite properly, I agree—to make it plain that mere influence could not achieve this restoration of British nationality. I have never suggested that it should be otherwise, but it becomes a little alarming when one finds that the effect of it is that the Home Secretary has granted many of these applications and granted them in cases where they are people who have not approached their Members of Parliament, or made representations to them through any other channel. My only interpretation of it must be that the Minister is afraid if application is made on behalf of a person not in humble circumstances. That, to me, is a rather alarming trend, and if I am justified in thinking that that is what has taken place in this case, it makes it all the more necessary to have an advisory tribunal and have cases heard by an independent body.

That is all I am asking for, and I do not put my case any higher than that. It is, however, rather an alarming thing that, in respect of the most dangerous aliens, the aliens who are interned under Regulation 18B, the Home Secretary has an advisory tribunal, but, when it comes to a British-born woman who is British throughout, there is no advisory tribunal at all. The consequence is that the Home Secretary is able to exercise his power without any independent advice. It may well be that, in doing so, he may, from time to time, go wrong, and, if he does so, it must result in injustice to the person affected. I believe that an injustice has been done in this particular case.

I have quoted to the Home Secretary two other almost precisely similar cases. In a letter, I invited him to distinguish the case to which I had made reference from two other almost identical cases, but he did not accept the invitation. Although I asked him again in a subsequent letter, he did not distinguish between the cases but again refused to comment on the matter. The result is that in two out of three cases applications have been granted and in the third the application has not been granted. I believe them to be indistinguishable but, nevertheless, the Home Secretary has, for some reason, drawn the distinction. When that happens, no one knows what is the kind of distinction and why there has been discrimination against one particular person in favour of another.

It is very undesirable in the administration of a judicial function that there should appear to be a difference between one particular person and another. It is, on the contrary, desirable that there should be consistency in the discharge of a duty of that kind, so that each may feel he or she has been fairly treated. It leads to a sense of unfairness when people find that a case indistinguishable from their own has been treated in a precisely opposite way. I suggest that the only proper way in which this function should be exercised is by setting up some advisory body to hear the applicants and giving them an opportunity of stating their case. The particular case I have in mind has been shelved in this way from time to time and I suggest that this lady ought no longer to be deemed to be of enemy alien nationality.

5.17 p.m

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

I am in a slightly embarrassing position. I do not know what the constitutional aspect is, but I do certain very important work for the Government in connection with aliens and alien refugees. It would, however, be wrong—if this does not appear to be pompous—to disagree with what my hon. and gallant Friend has said but it is proper to say that I heard with very considerable concern what he told us. A very important principle is involved, and I therefore ask my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to give very sympathetic consideration to the point that my hon. and gallant Friend has made.

5.18 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)

My hon. and gallant Friend has raised a matter which is undoubtedly of some importance. Under our nationality laws, as he pointed out, a woman generally takes the nationality of her husband. That has been a subject of grievance and contention for many years, and there are many people who think that the law in that respect is defective and would like to get it altered. But for the purposes of this Debate and of administration by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary we must take the law as we find it. It was in 1918, and not in 1933 as my hon. and gallant Friend suggested, that the Amendment was made which is now embodied in Section 10, Sub-section (6) of the Act. That was put in at the end of the last war on account of the hardship which was felt to be inflicted on British-born women under the Aliens Act by the fact that they were married to aliens of enemy nationality. That Section provides that where an alien is the subject of a State at war with His Majesty it shall be lawful for his wife, if she was at birth a British subject, to make a declaration that she desires to resume British nationality, and thereupon the Secretary of State, if he is satisfied that it is desirable, that she be permitted to do so, may grant her a certificate of naturalisation.

When this war began, there were considerable numbers of British women who had married aliens of enemy nationality, and this Section of the Nationality Act immediately became operative. I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that it is a Section that is only operative whilst this country is at war, and, in consequence, the Home Secretary of the day—the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—made a statement in the House in November, 1939. He was asked what steps he was prepared to take to enable British-born women married to subjects of a State at war with His Majesty to regain their British nationality. He said: I fully recognise the importance of this matter to many women whose loyalty to their country of birth is strong. Whereas in the last war naturalisation"— that is naturalisation under this Section— was granted only to women separated from their husbands, I do not propose to adopt the same restriction now, but will limit my discretion only to the extent that is necessary to avoid impairing measures of control which must be maintained in time of war over persons of enemy nationality. If a British-born woman is living with a German or Austrian husband whom it is necessary on security grounds to subject to the special restrictions applicable to enemy aliens it would not as a rule be right to naturalise the wife and therefore to relax the restrictions which are applicable to such a household; but many of the Germans and Austrians now here are in sympathy with this country in the struggle in which we are engaged, and arrangements have been made to exempt such persons from the special restrictions… My right hon. Friend finished his statement by saying: I have accordingly decided that any Such woman may, as soon as her husband has been exempted from the special restrictions, apply for naturalisation and that arrangements shall be made to deal with such applications expeditiously."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1939; Vol. 353, c. 1397.] That is the policy which has been followed. It is a much more liberal policy than that followed in the last war. During the last war there was some time between the enactment of this Section and the date of the declaration of peace, and only a handful of cases were dealt with and only cases where women were separated from their husbands. In the present war the policy enunciated by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has been followed, and as a result some 3,000 applications have been granted under Section 10 (6) of the Act, and I think something less than 300 applications have been rejected.

Now, I am by no means clear whether my hon. and gallant Friend who has raised this matter accepts the policy enunciated by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in November, 1939, in arguing that it was the only policy to follow. This Section gives a special right to British-born women who have married aliens and who become, through the outbreak of war, of enemy nationality. It would be quite wrong, in my view, if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary decided automatically to grant every application made to him under this Section. How could one justify the British-born wife of an ardent Nazi being granted re-naturalisation when the wife of one of our Allies—a Pole or a Dutchman—cannot even make an application at all?

Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe

I accept that—

Mr. Peake

I am very glad to hear that my hon. and gallant Friend accepts the policy laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1939 which has been followed throughout the war—

Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe

With respect, I said that I accepted the right hon. Gentleman's last contention, that the Home Secretary should not grant naturalisation in the case of the wife of an ar lent Nazi.

Mr. Peake

Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend is not prepared to go as far with me as I understood. That policy was accepted in 1939. The announcement was greeted with cheers in the House and, as far as I know, it has never to this day been challenged. My right hon. Friend under this policy, as I say, has granted a very large number of applications and a very small number has been rejected. As regards the individual case to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred, it would not, I think, be in the public interest that individual cases should be discussed in public. In fact my hon. and gallant Friend expressly said that he would not name the case he had in mind. That case, I can assure him, has been considered at the very highest level at the Home Office. As regards individual cases, we have a very difficult task to perform. Each case is most carefully weighed in the Home Office. What we are not prepared to do is what my hon. and gallant Friend would like us to do. We can assess, difficult though it is, the national affiliations of the husband.

As my Noble, Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) knows, every enemy alien has been subjected to very careful scrutiny by the authorities, and we have by now got a very good idea of where the sympathies of these people lie. But what we cannot and are not prepared to undertake is the task of weighing two conflicting loyalties in the balance, one against the other. The spirit of nationality is among the strongest of motives in the world at the present time. On the other hand, the marriage tie also gives rise to very strong feelings of personal devotion and loyalty. It is where there is a conflict of loyalties that we, as individuals, have a difficulty in making up our minds as to how we ought to act. What my hon. and gallant Friend would like to do is to endeavour to make us make up our minds as to how someone else would act in a case where there are conflicting loyalties. It is impossible for us to assess the devotion of a wife towards her husband and weigh that in the balance against the devotion of a wife to her country. For that reason we cannot consider tackling the problem from that aspect. We were bound to lay down a rule for ourselves, and we have laid it down that where we are convinced that the sympathies of the husband are with the Allied cause we are prepared to re-naturalise the wife, assuming, of course, that there is nothing personal against her, as is so in the vast majority of cases. But where we are not so satisfied in regard to the feelings of the husband then we are not prepared to operate Section 10, Sub-section (6), in the interests of the wife. It would not, in our view, be a reasonable course to pursue.

My hon. and gallant Friend asked, first of all, that an independent tribunal should be appointed to consider these cases. At first I thought the independent tribunal was to decide these cases, but as his speech proceeded I gathered that it was to be of an advisory character. As I have pointed out, it is not the sentiments or the feelings of the wife with which we are mainly concerned; it is the feelings and sentiments of the husband. Those sentiments have in all cases been subject to very careful inquiries in the Home Office, and in almost all these alien cases there has been one or more hearings by the tribunal. Therefore, a new advisory tribunal would not assist us in deciding these difficult cases. My hon. and gallant Friend suggested that in the course of the correspondence he had with the Home Office it was shown that we were not prepared to consider cases where influence or pressure might be thought to have been brought to bear. My hon. and gallant Friend said, "If you cannot deal with this case in accordance with your policy, can you deal with it exceptionally?" In reply to that letter we said "We cannot deal with any case, in a difficult matter of this kind, exceptionally." We can only deal with cases on principle, because if we were to deal with cases exceptionally the suggestion might come about that we had acted in response to pressure. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that there was nothing further from our minds than to suggest that if he or any Member of this House should put forward a case, that case was in any way prejudiced.

It being half-past Five o'Clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.