HC Deb 01 August 1946 vol 426 cc1208-12
46. Major Symonds

asked the Prime Minister if the exchange of views between His Majesty's Government and the governments of the Dominions on the question of the nationality of married women has yet been completed; and if he has any statement to make.

Mr. H. Morrison

Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend would await the statement which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Honk; Department proposes to make at the end of Questions.

At the end of Questions—

Mr. Ede

I am glad to inform the House that agreement has now been reached between the United Kingdom Government and the Governments of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as to the principles on which legislation governing the nationality of married women should be based.

The principles accepted by the five Governments are that the law should provide in effect that a British woman on marriage to a foreigner, whether she does or does not acquire his nationality under the law of his country, shall not lose her British nationality unless she takes some active step to renounce it; and that a foreign woman on marriage to a British subject shall not automatically acquire British nationality, but shall have the right to apply for it, subject to the exercise by the Minister concerned of a discretion as to the grant or refusal of the application.

It is contemplated that a conference of experts should be convened later this year to examine various questions affecting nationality law in the several countries of the Commonwealth. This conference will afford an opportunity of considering the detailed provisions required for effecting the changes now agreed upon in the law relating to the nationality of married women,

Captain Sir Peter Macdonald

Will the Home Secretary say whether the same rules will apply in the Colonial Empire?

Mr. Ede

We are taking into consideration what repercussions there will be in this matter in the Colonial Empire if we are in a position to promote legislation together with the Dominions.

Major Symonds

With regard to those alien women who acquired British nationality by marriage to British subjects, will the right hon. Gentleman take into account the desirability of imposing exactly the same kind of restrictions on these women married to British subjects as are required for those single women and alien men when they seek British nationality?

Mr. Ede

Of course, these matters are very complicated, and it is exceptionally difficult to give, in answer to a supplementary question, an answer with sufficiently guarded qualifications to make it desirable to continue it on this basis. We are exceedingly anxious that the general principle which I have enunciated in the statement I have made shall become effective, but there will be a very large number of detailed complications to which we shall have to have regard in framing the legislation and in applying it.

Mr. Oliver Stanley

Is it clear that this House will have an opportunity of debating this question? There are some of us who feel most strongly on the last part of the principles enunciated, that is to say, that for the first time a British subject will not be free to confer British nationality on an alien by marriage.

Mr. Ede

In this matter, I think we arc bound to proceed on the doctrine of the equality of the sexes, which, I thought, had by this time been generally accepted.

Mr. Stanley

Are we going to get an opportunity to discuss it? I do not want that silly sort of observation.

Mr. Ede

I have endeavoured to give a perfectly courteous answer to the question that was put by the right hon. Gentleman. Certainly, this matter cannot be dealt with except by legislation. I made that clear in my original statement, and I think the right hon. Gentleman might have done me the honour of listening to what I said.

Mr. H. D. Hughes

In view of the considerable number of British women married to members of the Allied Forces during the war, will the right hon. Gentleman examine the position to see if it is at all possible to give the new arrangements retrospective effect from the beginning of the war?

Mr. Ede

That, again, is a matter we shall have to discuss in conjunction with the Governments of four self-governing Dominions. We are, at the moment, discussing the questions involved. The present position is that the law regarding the acquisition of British nationality on marriage differs in the self-governing parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations. We desire to bring it under one system, and, quite clearly, it would be wrong for me to make a definite promise here today which might be objected to by one or other of the Dominion Governments.

Mr. Pickthorn

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, and of the difficulty of this House taking a free decision on Bills which have been, in substance, already agreed with His Majesty's other Governments, will the Government consider, in this case, the old fashioned but not obsolete procedure of beginning by Resolution?

Mr. Ede

That is a question which should be addressed to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Churchill

I will now address it to the Leader of the House. Deferring to the request of the Home Secretary, I should like to ask the Leader of the House the question which he suggested should be directed to him.

Mr. H. Morrison

I gather that the question is whether the House will have an opportunity of having a Debate by Motion. It would, I think, be a somewhat unusual course, because there would have to be legislation and a Bill in due course. Nevertheless, I would be willing to consider representations on the point.

Mr. Churchill

Anyhow, in the negotiations with the Dominions, will the Government make it perfectly clear that the full discretion of the House of Commons over their affairs is not prejudiced thereby?

Mr. Ede

Certainly, and, of course, I shall have to make a similar concession during the discussions to each of the Dominions represented.

Sir Ronald Ross

May I ask what is the position in regard to Eire, which, I understand, is still considered to be a Dominion, and the obvious desirability of all parts of the British Commonwealth following' the same course in this very important matter?

Mr. Ede

The position of Eire is one of very great difficulty in this matter. It will have been observed, I am quite sure, by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) that the Eire Government were not among those who had been invited to the Conference that we are holding, but the position of Eire in this matter does give some considerable difficulty at the moment, and I do not think it would be helpful if, at this stage, they were invited to come in.

Sir T. Moore

In view of the fact that a number of our girls have been married to men from Newfoundland in this war, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether that Dominion is included in that arrangement?

Mr. Ede

It has not been included so far.

Mr. Benn Levy

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if this proposal relates only to future marriages or to existing marriages?

Mr. Ede

That, again, is a matter which will have to be the subject of consideration at the Conference. What I desire, and what I imagine every hon. Member of the House will desire, is that, as far as possible, there should be one system for each of the self-governing parts of the British Commonwealth.

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