§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is usual for a Minister in moving the Second Reading of a Bill to indicate that he will explain its provisions to the House and defend them. I regret that, owing to the alterations made in this Bill in another place, there are two Clauses which no one can explain—Clauses 11 and 12—and I do not propose to defend them. I have to intimate to the House that for the reasons I shall give in the course of my speech, the Government will ask the House to remove from the Bill those Amendments which were carried against the Government in another place, and to restore the Bill in that respect to its original drafting.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he meant the Amendments to Clauses 11 and 12 or all the Amendments?
§ Mr. Ede
All the Amendments which were carried against the Government advice. There were some Amendments that were made by another place on the advice of the Government, and those we shall ask the House to retain if an effort should be made here to remove them.
This Bill is one of the utmost constitutional importance. I think that will be agreed on both sides of the House. The passing of the Statute of Westminster in 1931 created a number of problems which have become increasingly acute as the years have passed. We are now engaged in watching the working of that remarkable Act of Parliament, which I believe is unique in the history of the world. The people of this country and the people of the self-governing Dominions should from time to time consider how the working out of the provisions of the Statute of West- 386 minster will affect their relationships with one another and their relationships with the inhabitants of the various parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations and the British Empire.
We believe that this Bill is a natural sequel to the Statute of Westminster of 1931, and what has happened in quite recent years reinforces our opinion on that point. Our present nationality law derives from the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, 1914, which was a codifying and amending statute, and in the course of the years that followed the passing of that Act other Commonwealth countries enacted similar legislation. Thus there came into existence an almost identical set of laws in the several countries of the British Commonwealth. There was some minor differences but, substantially, the laws were the same and we had practically achieved what I think has been the aim of all who have dealt with the matter, a common status. But, of course, the common status rests on the laws not merely being the same but remaining the same or, if they are amended, being amended by agreement and by mutual action in each of the constituent self-governing parts of the Commonwealth.
It was a principle of the system that alterations to it should only be made as the result of consultation and agreement between the members of the Commonwealth. Now this has had its disadvantages, particularly with regard to the position of married women. It has meant a delay in securing agreement on what many of us have regarded for many years as a much needed amendment of the law. A further drawback is that as the United Kingdom has not defined by law its nationals or citizens, and that the only status possessed by the people of the United Kingdom is that of British subjects, there has grown up a tendency to regard the term "British subject" as meaning a person belonging to Great Britain, and to obscure its true meaning of a person belonging to any country of the Commonwealth who is a subject of the King. We think it highly desirable that a definition should be discovered which will make it quite clear that that is a term which applies to every person in the British Commonwealth and Empire who owes allegiance to the King.
A minor inconvenience resulting from the absence of any specific definition of 387 United Kingdom nationals or citizens has been that, in treaties or in legislation, when it has been necessary to refer to such persons, this country has been obliged to use some such phrase as "belonging to the United Kingdom." While satisfactory for ordinary colloquial purposes, such a phrase lacks the precision desirable in an Act of Parliament or an international agreement. These inconveniences, however, would not in themselves have necessitated altering the present system which, as I have previously stated, has had many positive advantages. The reason for making the change is that the common code system, which was beginning to break down a few years ago, has, in fact, now broken down.
In 1945 Canada passed a Canadian Citizenship Act which completely altered the position and introduced an entirely new principle. The Canadian Act established a citizenship for Canada and declared all Canadian citizens to be British subjects. Section 28 of that Act reads:A person who has acquired the status of British subject by birth or naturalisation under the laws of any country of the British Commonwealth other than Canada to which he was subject at the time of his birth or naturalisation shall be recognised in Canada as a British subject.I need not go into all the technical differences which have arisen, as the result of the Canadian Act, between Canadian law and our own, but I will give one example. The acquisition of nationality by descent is now different in this country from what it is in Canada. If a person who is a British subject by reason of his birth in this country goes abroad and has a son born abroad, that son is a British subject. If that son has a son, the grandson of the first man is not a British subject unless his birth is registered at a consulate. Under the Canadian Act, if a Canadian citizen, who is a British subject by virtue of being a Canadian citizen, goes abroad and has a son, that son is not a Canadian citizen if born abroad; but he may well be a British subject by our law.
I am quite sure that every one who recollects some of our difficulties immediately after the war over the exact nationality of William Joyce and other people will recognise how undesirable it is that there should be people in the world whom British law might regard as British subjects but 388 who by Canadian law might not be regarded as British subjects. It is highly desirable, therefore, that we should, if possible, arrive at an arrangement with all the countries of the Commonwealth whereby the wide family of "British subject" should be a body of persons who can be easily recognised as such in all parts of the King's Dominions, and also be so recognised without doubt by themselves and by the people of the country in which they happen to be residing. The essential feature of the Bill as we introduced it—
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
I think the right hon. Gentleman said that the so-called common code had broken down. So far he has given only one country as an example and only one instance of the way in which it has broken down. Are there no other countries and no other examples?
§ Mr. Ede
No. This is the first country which has so legislated, but we know that other Dominions are contemplating legislation; in some cases it is in draft. It is highly desirable that the complication introduced by Canada should not be further complicated, if we can avoid it, by, let us say, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa also introducing legislation of their own in which the status of citizen and British subject may differ in each of those countries from what it now is in Canada and from what it is under the law here. It would become very serious if that were so.
The essential feature of the Bill is that each of the self-governing Commonwealth countries shall determine by its own legislation who are its citizens and shall declare these citizens to be British subjects; and shall recognise as British subjects the citizens of all the other countries of the Commonwealth. The structure of the edifice thus created would be the same for all the countries. Each would confer its citizenship, and through citizenship of a country—and through citizenship alone—will a person become a British subject. It would be contrary to the scheme—and this is one of the most disastrous Amendments made in another place—that a country should create British subjects without passing them through the gateway of its own citizenship.
I have some difficulty in dealing with this matter because I must not allude to a Debate in another place during the current Session, but it is almost impossible 389 to explain the present plight of the Bill without in some way indicating what transpired there. It has been suggested that what we are proposing is a revolutionary change, hastily made by officials without adequate—
§ Mr. Ede
I notice that the noble Lord agrees, as usual, with something that is completely untrue—that the change was made hastily by officials and without adequate public discussion. Since the noble Lord has now undertaken to defend that proposition I think I may take it as coming from him and, therefore, I am relieved of the difficulty I had anticipated.
Let me say to the noble Lord, through you, Sir, that this is not at all a correct picture of events. This constitutional issue was raised as far back as 1930 and 1937 during the Imperial Conferences of those years. The Statute of Westminster, 1931, was the outcome of the 1930 Conference and the problems in the field of nationality which would arise from that Statute were very much present in the minds of the persons who attended that Conference. It was known that some of the Commonwealth countries wanted a citizenship of their own and one that would be recognisable for international purposes. When we are dealing with great, thriving countries like the Dominions, with their legitimate ambitions for nationhood, it can be well understood that this kind of problem is one which confronts them acutely.
Do not let us forget, also, that some of these countries have their own internal difficulties, because many of their inhabitants are not people of British descent. Therefore, we are dealing with a subject which is vital to the maintenance of the connection and which has to be handled very delicately unless considerable prejudice is to be aroused in the minds of people who may well desire to remain quite loyal to the connection with the Commonwealth, but who sometimes find the word "British" rather irksome.
The Government of 1930 went into the matter most thoroughly and reached the conclusion that there were only two ways of maintaining the common status. The first was the existing method of each country having identical status and the other was the method now in the Bill, 390 namely, for each country to define its own citizens and then to declare that the citizens of the other countries shall have the common status of a British subject. The second alternative was not the one put forward by the British Government at the Conference in 1930 because, apart from other considerations, it was realised that the creation of a separate citizenship for the United Kingdom and the Colonies presented many difficulties.
The Statute of Westminster—I am now talking of the time when that Measure was still a Bill—was itself a great step forward in the development of the Commonwealth idea. No one then knew accurately what would be its repercussions on Commonwealth relations and, with the British dislike for making more changes than are necessary, and knowing that events would shape themselves, this country thought it best to continue the old system, which we knew, as long as it could be made to last. However, there was discussion at the Conference about the difficulties to which this system gave rise and it was realised that it could only be maintained by the common agreement of the countries to keep their laws more or less identical.
The subject came up again at the Imperial Conference in 1937 and the question of a separate citizenship for each area was discussed. But, again there was no general desire for change, and this country itself was inclined against it because of the difficulties inherent in the creation of a citizenship for ourselves. Then the war years intervened and the next chapter opened in September, 1945, when Canada advised the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth countries that it found it desirable to introduce legislation to lay down the conditions for the acquisition and loss of Canadian citizenship. The Canadian Citizenship Act, 1946, was in fact framed on the second alternative which we had realised in 1932 to be one of the two ways of keeping the common status. What we have foreseen in this country in 1930 has, in fact, come to pass. The Canadian Act means the end of the old system and if agreement can be secured we must follow the Canadian lead.
The matter was, therefore, brought before the Prime Ministers' meeting held in London in May, 1946. I was invited to attend that meeting to discuss this 391 subject with the assembled Prime Ministers. I was a very small minnow among those great Tritons, but I can assure the House that each of the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth countries represented at that Prime Ministers' meeting regarded this subject as of the utmost importance and one with which it was necessary to deal without any unnecessary delay. The Prime Ministers' meeting authorised the calling of a meeting of experts in nationality law from each of their countries. There was a general expression of views by the Prime Ministers, who had been informed that the matter would be discussed, in favour of changing over to the Canadian system, but it was decided that this meeting of their experts on nationality law should be held to consider the matter in detail, for while it is quite easy to arrive at the conclusion that there should be a common status as a general principle, when it comes to drafting the necessary legislation it is a matter of very considerable complication.
The conference was held in February, 1947. It was held under the chairmanship of the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Home Office, Sir Alexander Maxwell, a very distinguished public servant of great experience. Of all the great services he has rendered this country none has been greater than the way in which he handled that conference and managed to get from persons of most diverse views and descent an agreement that could be embodied in a Bill in this country and could be recommended to each of the Dominions as a suitable model for them to follow.
The conference lasted from 3rd to 26th February, 1947. The main issues were considered in full conference and details of parts of the scheme were worked out by three committees on all of which the older Dominions were represented. There were 11 meetings of the full conference, and eight in all of the committees. These delegates could not commit their Governments, but a complete report of the proceedings of the conference was drawn up and submitted by them to their respective Governments. Subject to points of detail, the scheme in the Bill as introduced in another place is the scheme prepared at the conference, and we have reason to believe that it commands the support and adherence of each of the other Governments of the Commonwealth 392 Three important changes have been made by another place and I must draw the attention of the House to those changes. The first was an addition to Clause 1 of the expression "Commonwealth citizen" as an alternative to "British subject." That was an addition made at the suggestion of His Majesty's Government. We now have India, Pakistan and Ceylon as Dominions within the British Commonwealth of Nations, and while I imagine no one in this House feels the slightest indignity at being called a British subject—in fact it is a term we all hold in honour as something which signifies a great deal of history and tradition—it can be well understood that these people who are not of British descent find it a rather difficult term to reconcile with the granting to them of nationhood and their recognition as independent sovereign powers within this great Commonwealth.
To them also the word "subject" unfortunately has the significance of being a member of a subject race. That of course is not what the word means to us. In fact, it is the reverse of what happened in the Channel Islands during the war, when the Germans tried to stir up animosity against us amongst the islanders by saying that they had come to relieve them of the conquest that the British had imposed upon them. They were amazed when the Channel Islanders said "You have got your history quite wrong. The British never conquered us, we conquered them." These words and phrases which to those of us in this country who have grown up with them and understand their exact significance are quite harmless, may, in certain connotations among others of the population of the British Commonwealth of Nations, have meanings and associations that may be very detrimental to the maintenance of the ties that bind us. That was the first Amendment, and it was made by the Government in an effort to deal with the problem of those—and there may even be persons of Dutch descent in South Africa and of French descent in Canada—who would sooner call themselves Commonwealth citizens than British subjects.
The second Amendment was made against the advice of the Government, and it removed the term "citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies" and substituted therefor "British subject of the United 393 Kingdom and Colonies." That is bringing the people in the United Kingdom and Colonies into the general family without their passing through what we believe ought to be a common gate of citizenship of one of the parts of the Commonwealth. I realise that I should get into great difficulty if I commented too much upon the arguments that have been used. I am not quite sure how much the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), while he appears to accept the result, would accept the means that led up to the result. I do not know whether he would feel that the word "citizen" has a republican flavour and is therefore undesirable to him.
I would remind the House that probably the greatest Debate that ever took place in this House, at least the most historic Debate, on the question of nationality, the Don Pacifico Debate under Lord Palmerston was one in which Palmerston justified his defence of that, I think, somewhat undesirable character Don Pacifico, on the ground that he was a British subject; and he quoted in support the famous claim to Roman citizenship of days gone by. Therefore, I do not think that there is anything derogatory or revolutionary in a person being called British citizen. After all Bunyan in "The Pilgrim's Progress" refers to the citizenship of heaven, and as far as I know heaven is not conducted on republican principles. Up to recent times it was believed that Bunyan soldiered in the Royalist Army, but he has recently been discovered in the muster rolls of the Parliamentary Army, as any one who has read "Mansoul" would realise would be likely to be the case. There is nothing derogatory in a person in this country or in the Colonies entering British subject-hood through the gateway of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies.
The change that has been made here has in fact wrecked the Bill or would do so, if it were allowed to remain in the Bill, for it is something more than a mere matter of words. We must have a scheme so that our fellows in the Dominions can understand and can realise that we are in fact recognising the equality of status with this country of each of the Dominions that has been created by the Statute of Westminster. I know there are also some who feel that it is wrong to 394 have a citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Some people feel that it would be a bad thing to give the coloured races of the Empire the idea that, in some way or other, they are the equals of people in this country. The Government do not subscribe to that view. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who does?"] I gather now that the noble Lord has parted company from some other people.
§ Mr. Ede
I thought I heard an interruption from the noble Lord. If I did not, I am sorry for the House and for him.
We believe wholeheartedly that the common citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies is an essential part of the development of the relationship between this Mother Country and the Colonies who are administered in varying degrees of self government and tutelage by the Colonial Office, and we do not subscribe to the doctrine satirised in the "Biglow Papers":If we say'n our pletform thet all men are brothers,We don't mean thet some folks ain't more so'n some others;We believe and we hope it will be understood that citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies means that when we talk for example of the development of the Colonies, etc., we recognise the right of the colonial peoples to be regarded as men and brothers with the people of this country. In our view that is essential to any proper understanding of the Measure. We shall therefore ask the House to re-insert the original words in the Bill and to delete from the Bill those words which appear to us to make complete nonsense of the idea of the development of this country and the Colonies which has been gaining ground in recent years.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)
Some of us have not got the Bill in its original form before us. Would the Home Secretary state the exact words which will be re-inserted there?
§ Mr. Harris
Is not that the point which the right hon. Gentleman has been discussing for the last few minutes?
§ Mr. Ede
Clause 1 (1) of the Bill as now drafted says:Every person who under this Act is a British subject of the United Kingdom and Colonies. …We propose to make it read again "citizen." [Laughter.] It is very unusual for a Minister explaining a Bill to be asked a question like that or to have to explain a Bill which has been so drastically amended elsewhere. We propose to make the Bill again read:Every person who under this Act is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. …instead of "a British subject." That means that in order to become a British subject a person will have to be, in the category we are now considering, a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. If he is such a citizen he will become a British subject, just as a Canadian citizen under the existing Canadian law, through Canadian citizenship, becomes a British subject.
The third change made in the Lords was carried on a Division against the Government, and relates to the status of Eire citizens. The Eire Government was represented at the Conference in London in 1947, and there has been subsequent correspondence with them on the subject of the Bill. It would be too much to say that they agree with every provision of the Bill, or that it fully satisfies the desires which they expressed. But it is no secret that they regard the Bill, as introduced in another place, with Amendments moved there on behalf of the Government and accepted without opposition, as an improvement on the present position, which they feel—and in this His Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom sympathises with them—to be most unsatisfactory. On the other hand, the Amendments which were carried against the Government would, it is clear, take away much of this improvement, and I cannot doubt that the Eire Government would think it unfortunate if in this respect the Bill was passed in the form in which it has reached this House. We shall, therefore, ask the House to re-instate the Bill to the condition in which it was introduced. I hope that that is the end of the controversial matters connected with this Bill.
396 There is in this Bill one other important change in the nationality law to which I wish to allude, and that is the position of the married woman. The Bill carries out the promise which I made to the House in 1946 that that law would be amended. Under the existing law a British born woman, on marriage to an alien, loses her British nationality if she acquires the nationality of her husband. Under the Bill this will no longer be the case. Any woman who has lost her British nationality by marriage, or during the continuance of marriage, will automatically re-acquire it on the commencement of the Act.
Conversely, and quite as important, an alien woman will no longer, as at present, automatically acquire British nationality on marriage to a British subject. If she desires to acquire British nationality she will have to make application to the Secretary of State who will have power to refuse. It is notorious that there are numbers of women in this country who have no other real connection with the national life of this country than that they paid some Englishman a sum of money to go through a ceremony of marriage with them and thereafter, no matter how great a danger they may be to the community, it is impossible for the Secretary of State to deport them. We propose that a British born woman shall remain a British subject unless, of her own choice, she elects to take some other nationality.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
I understand the position with regard to women who are British subjects by birth reverting to their British nationality, but what is the position, when this Bill becomes an Act, of women of foreign birth who acquired British nationality through marriage? Do they revert to their foreign nationality?
§ Mr. Ede
We have come to the conclusion that it would be impossible to make that particular part of the Bill retrospective, much, may I say, as in some cases we should like to do so, and much as we feel that no great injustice would be done. It would, however, be very difficult to justify it completely, and therefore we have left that subject alone. But we have made retrospective the law with regard to British-born women, who have become aliens, regaining their British status.
397 I have detailed to the House the provisions of the Bill in the difficult circumstances which confront me, owing to the fact that I am really asking the House to give the Bill a Second Reading in order that I may ask the House to make drastic Amendments in it. But I do wish to commend the Bill, as it is advocated by the Government, most warmly to the consideration and support of the House. The maintenance of the British Commonwealth of Nations as a great, loyal confederation of people, enjoying in each individual part self-government and liberty unexampled in the history of the Empires of the world, is one of the duties that this generation owes to the world and to the generations to come. This is a living, growing organism, and we must expect that, from time to time, its growth will entail our having to consider very considerable changes in the structure and relationship of this magnificent political edifice. We feel that as a result of the negotiations I have described in detail to the House, these changes which we now propose carry the good will of every part of the self-governing Dominions of the Crown.
In the lifetime of this Parliament we have seen the creation of the Dominions of India, Pakistan and Ceylon. They, after all, represent the adhesion to the British Commonwealth of Nations of great historic nationalities who are not British in their descent, but of whom this country may well be proud, in that it has trained them so that they are able to participate in this great self-governing group of nations. We therefore ask the House to give this Measure a Second reading. We shall ask in Committee that the Bill be restored on the controversial issues I have mentioned, to the form in which we drafted it, because we believe it is essential to the maintenance of the British Commonwealth. It alone allows a sufficient scope for the development which can already be seen as likely to occur.
I would say one last word on this question of a citizen of the Colonies being linked with the United Kingdom. I recollect as a lad being told by my mother of the arbitration on the Venezuelan dispute, and of the fact that the final and clinching evidence that the boundary was where the British Government said it was, was the evidence of certain very primitive people, who said that their fathers had 398 told them that if they swam a certain river they were free from the slave hunters, because they were on British soil.
It is true that we cannot admit all these backward peoples immediately into the full rights that British subjects in this country enjoy; but wherever the British Dominions are, what Lowell called, "the homespun dignity of man," is at least recognised to the extent of the denial of the right of anyone to have a chattel slave. By linking the United Kingdom and the Colonies, we must give these people a feeling that on that homespun dignity of man we recognise them as fellow-citizens and that our object, as far as they are concerned, is to hope to raise them to such a position of education, of training and of experience that they too shall be able to share in the grant of full self-government which this House has so generously given during the last few years to other places. It is in the full faith that the future development of this great bulwark of democratic civilisation will be helped and strengthened by the Measure that we commend it to the House.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
Before I address myself to the arguments on this Bill, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think it an intrusion if I venture to convey from his colleagues in every part of the House our deep sympathy with him in his recent loss. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this Bill is one of the most far-reaching Measures affecting the British Commonwealth and Empire which has ever been presented to Parliament. The Statute of Westminster, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, merely gave legislative recognition to a long existing practice in fact. The present Bill replaces the entire existing structure of nationality law by a new one. The right hon. Gentleman said that it is the natural sequel to the Statute of Westminster. It has certainly had a very different period of gestation. The Statute of Westminster was enacted after a series of Imperial Conferences and in consequence of their deliberations and conclusions. The present Bill is being brought before Parliament on the eve of the first such Conference for over 10 years.
399 It is necessary to observe that the Prime Minister's announcement of 28th June was the first time it was made clear that there would be an Imperial Conference in October. His announcement of 5th May had merely stated that there would be a Conference when the necessary people could be got together to attend. Therefore, the date of the Conference was still quite uncertain at the time when this Bill received its consideration in another place on 11th May and on 21st and 24th June. The conception of developing British nationality and adjusting it to the situation in the Dominions is not at all a new idea. The earlier changes, however, did come about through Imperial Conferences; that is, they came about through Conferences at which there were represented the statesmen who were the leaders of the great self-governing States of the Commonwealth. More than that, the proceedings of these Conferences were published so that everyone might know what had happened, and what views had been exchanged, and might form his or her opinions in the full knowledge of such expressions of opinion.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the meeting of experts that preceded this Bill. It has several odd features. Its report was not published. Nothing was heard before the introduction of this Bill of the discussions among the different Commonwealth Governments that had been pursued before and after. I suggest that this secret manner of considering a subject of the greatest importance to the whole Commonwealth and its individual citizens emphasises how much has been lost by the lapse of the Imperial Conferences. That has been mentioned often in this House, and the Prime Minister has made the very poor defence that Prime Ministers are too busy to meet in Imperial Conference and consider the great affairs of our Commonwealth and Empire.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned in his argument that up to two years ago it had been possible to make the necessary changes by agreement. Of course, it is impossible to secure the necessary agreement that will make changes in the common status if the machinery of the Imperial Conference is ignored and postponed as it has been by His Majesty's present advisers. I believe that we have felt the loss in every aspect of our national 400 life. I am certain that we have felt the loss in the consideration of the subject now before the House. I suggest that it would be far better to place this matter on the agenda of the forthcoming Imperial Conference and then let this House debate it with the views of the leaders of the constituent parts of the Commonwealth before us.
But the right hon. Gentleman has made his argument, and I grant at once that he used the most careful and tentative language as to whether the self-governing Dominions had agreed to this Measure or not. He certainly gave the impression, and I think he desired to give the impression, that they were favourably disposed. There is an immediate answer to that. Why not, so that the House will have it for consideration, include the terms of any agreement that has been reached? The right hon. Gentleman was tentative. Beside him, paragraph 6 of the White Paper is caution itself. I remind the House of the words:The United Kingdom Government has subsequently been in correspondence with the Governments of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Eire, Newfoundland, India, Pakistan, Southern Rhodesia and Ceylon, and subject to what is said below with regard to Eire it is believed that legislation on the lines of this Bill will be acceptable to the other self-governing countries of the Commonwealth, and is likely to be followed by legislation on similar lines in many of these countries.If anyone were to plead an agreement based on circumstances of that kind, you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will appreciate more than most that they would not get far in any proceedings; but beyond that is an offence more important. There has been no statement from the Government or from any other source upon the objects which any or all of the Dominions desire to be achieved by the proposed United Kingdom legislation. In these circumstances, in that tentative state of affairs, the claim of Parliament to legislate on such a matter as this only after the views of the Dominions have been ascertained in full Imperial Conference is, in my view, unanswerable.
But the Bill is before us, and I propose to consider it. I want to start, before our ways part, from the same attitude of mind as the right hon. Gentleman, because I am deeply anxious that everything should be done to maintain the 401 intimacy between the various parts of the Commonwealth, and I believe that the view that we are not foreign to each other inside the Commonwealth involves two aspects. In matters of high politics, we reserve the right to deal with each other in our own way, which is different from that in which we deal with other countries. Equally, we go far beyond the "most-favoured-nation" clause or anything of that kind. We have our own diplomatic machinery of High Commissioners as opposed to Ambassadors and in various other forms of activity we have the same special arrangements.
But there is a second aspect, which is just as important, and that is the common basis of personal status, so that individual as well as public relations are un-foreign, and I believe that the second idea helps the first. I believe also that the lapse of strict constitutional bonds, such as the Colonial Laws Validity Act and matters of that kind, makes it all the more important that the practical elements should be strengthened, because, without such strengthening, the practical value of the Commonwealth in the modern world may be doubted by those whom we do not want to take that line.
Therefore, I want to follow the right hon. Gentleman for a moment in his historical analysis, because I certainly get a very different result from an examination of what has happened up to now. The right hon. Gentleman said quite accurately that the Act of 1914 was the basis of our present nationality law, but I remind the House that that Act defines a British subject, substantially, apart from minor matters, as a person, or a descendant in the male line of a person, "born within His Majesty's Dominions and allegiance." That was expressing the common law—again broadly, with exceptions which hon. and learned Members will realise—but it is from this allegiance that the status of a British subject derives in United Kingdom law, and it is the common acceptance of this basis of allegiance by the States Members of the Commonwealth which confers on their people and ourselves a common status. This common status of British subjects in all parts of the Commonwealth, which has hitherto rested, independently of statute, on the common allegiance of the countries of the Empire to the King, will, if this Bill is carried into effect in the form which the right hon. Gentleman 402 desires, rest only on the declaration in Clause 1.
The Dominions all adopted the same nationality law, and enacted in their own Parliaments Acts identical with, or almost entirely similar to, the British Acts to which I have referred, and so we have it that their law of nationality and their view of the matter has been based on our law and statute and bound up with the concept of British subjecthood. That was the common status, and no other domestic nationality was known to the law of this country, nor, indeed, until two years ago, in Canada, to that of all the other self-governing Dominions of the British Commonwealth, but they have always reserved the right—and with this no one quarrels, but every one entirely agrees—to prescribe what qualifications were required of British subjects for local rights, such as immigration and voting.
What is important for this Parliament to realise is that British subjecthood was not a shadow. There were definite and concrete ties which gave substance to the statement of Lord Palmerston, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—Civis Britannicus sum. The first was—and this is most important—that constitutional law is not an abstraction to be bandied about but an important matter which affects the intimate lives of the people. It is that all citizens of different parts of the Empire, up to this Bill becoming law, had the right to intermarry without problems of losing or changing nationality or complications as to the marriage of their children. Secondly, it helped that immense body of unofficial or all-Commonwealth associations confined to British subjects in so many different aspects of life, and, in the official sphere; and, this is my third point, it freed official and military collaboration from many legal and administrative difficulties. Fourthly, do not let us forget that it provided an open career in the public service and professions of the United Kingdom for people of the Commonwealth just as widely as for the people at home. Lastly, but I do not think least, it assisted our diplomatic and consular system abroad to protect British subjects and British protected persons in the absence of representatives of their own locality.
I do not think that any one will say that any of these reasons are lawyers' abstractions and certainly some of them 403 are not. All are matters connected with the true rights of men and women, and let us say, without any boastfulness but with modest pride, that we had much to offer the people of the Dominions, and more to people of the racially distinct and smaller countries of the Commonwealth, because, and I think the right hon. Gentleman and I are at one on this, we were proud in this country that we imposed no colour bar restrictions, making it difficult for them when they came here. These people, broadly, in so far as the matters I have discussed are concerned, found themselves as privileged in the United Kingdom as the local citizens.
I want to meet the right hon. Gentleman's argument fairly. He said there were certain defects in this idea of common status, and I agree with him that there were anomalies in the law of naturalisation. There were differences in the law as to the nationality of married women, and, in 1946, there came the Canadian Act, but I do not think there was anything else. I think that is exhaustive of the difficulty as far as my reading on this subject has been able to find.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Imperial Conferences of, 1930 and 1937. The Imperial Conference of 1930 laid down twin principles. First, it said:It is for each member of the Commonwealth to define for itself its own nationals, but so far as possible, those persons should be persons possessing the common status. …The second principle was:The possession of the common status in virtue of the law for the time being in force in any part of the Commonwealth should carry with it the recognition of that status by the law of every other part of the Commonwealth.Those were the resolutions of 1930. The 1937 Conference approached the problem, gave more precise attention to it and passed this resolution:It is for each member of the British Commonwealth to decide which persons have with it that definite connection which would enable it to recognise them as members of its community, It is desirable, however, to secure as far as possible uniformity in principle in the determination by each member of the Commonwealth of the persons being British subjects to be regarded as members of its community.Thus there was no doubt that the basic and original nationality was still assumed to be a British subjecthood. Local 404 nationalities were derivative and secondary. That was the position, and the Canadian Act was passed, in accordance with these principles and in accordance with our recognition. The Canadian Parliament is perfectly entitled to attach all the conditions it likes to those whom it specially regards and desires to be considered as members of its community. But, having only the Canadian Act before him, the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Clause for details of which an hon. Friend of mine asked, and it did four things. It first of all assumed a citizenship of each of the nine Dominions mentioned in Subsection (3). Secondly, it created a citizenship of the United Kingdom and the Colonies to cover the remaining area of the Empire, and, thirdly, it equated the sum of these citizenships with the body of British subjects. Fourthly, as the right hon. Gentleman told us, it made the term "British subject" interchangeable with "Commonwealth citizen."
I do not think that is a blemish. In one way it gives me a purely verbal point, as the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to appreciate, because he always appreciates the importance of words—namely, that as the state of the Bill which I am defending includes "subject" in both the genus and the species, so the state which he is defending includes "citizen" in both the genus and the species. In spite of all the other points which we can throw at each other, we cannot throw tidiness with very great effect. I think he will agree with me that that is the effect of the Clause.
What I am worried about is that the assumption behind the principles which I have quoted from the Imperial Conferences was that British subjecthood was the basic nationality, though members of the Commonwealth could define their own nationals or citizens, confining them "so far as possible" to British subjects, and British subjects within any member country had the real privilege that their basic British nationality, the common status, would be recognised "by law" throughout the Commonwealth.
The right hon. Gentleman's Clause which he is commending to this House makes citizens of any member State of the Commonwealth a privileged class of British subjects. He reverses the position. Hitherto, the operative nationality 405 has been British. Henceforth the operative nationality in each country will be its own local citizenship. In the United Kingdom, more than anywhere else, there would be no point in passing such a Measure unless—and I ask the House to appreciate this—this new category of the right hon. Gentleman, "citizens," were to have privileges and duties more extensive than other classes of British subjects—that is, unless the old idea of the common status and our proud boast of the open door in this country to people from all the Colonies were to be destroyed.
It does not stop there. The anomalies under this form of the Bill are manifest and many. Under Clause 13 of the Bill as introduced, provision is made for "British subjects without citizenship." This phrase would have been completely obnoxious to the old system which claimed and stood for the rights of British subjects everywhere. Under the provisions of the Bill as introduced, a person excluded from citizenship of a Dominion ceased to be a British subject under the law of that Dominion. Let me give an example. Suppose that South Africa were to exclude Indians from their citizenship, or, to take another example, suppose that in Ceylon they were to exclude incoming Tamils or something of that kind. Under the Bill as introduced, they would not only lose their right of franchise in that Dominion, but they would lose the status of a British subject in that Dominion. It is quite true that the Bill contains a Clause allowing them into another citizenship, but in that Dominion by the law of the Dominion, they would not be regarded as British subjects.
The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shavvcross)
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that we have any power to alter the law of that Dominion in that respect?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Up to now, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, the plan has been to secure recognition of British subjecthood by all the Dominions, whatever they might do in regard to citizenship. Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates the point—because he must have considered it—that if under the form of the Bill as it was introduced, the first gateway—to use the right hon. Gentleman's phrase—is closed upon the Indians in South Africa, and they do not become 406 citizens of South Africa, then they do not pass through the gateway into British subjecthood, and they would not be recognised as British subjects in South Africa.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman really understood the point that I was putting to him. I asked him if he was suggesting that this Parliament would have any power to override a statute of the South African Parliament if that Parliament did take the course which he indicates of excluding Indians from the citizenship of South Africa. What we have done by this Bill is to open a fresh door to such persons to acquire British nationality.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
No. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is putting the horse a long way after the cart. If he will look at the estimable volume which I see beside him, and which I gather is the same one which is beside me, Mr. Mervyn Johns' book on British Nationality, he will get the point quite clear. I think it is somewhere about page 230 or thereabouts, which probably he has already looked at.
The position is that up to now, as I think I have convinced the House by my arguments, the basic nationality and the operative nationality was British subject-hood and, therefore, it did not matter what one put on top in order to establish a local citizenhood; that British subject-hood and nationality remained because it was based on an allegiance to the Crown in accordance with the declaratory provision in Section 1 of the Act of 1914. The point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman put to me is, therefore, completely irrelevant, because that is unchanged so long as it depends on subjecthood and allegiance—unchanged by the local legislation with which—I entirely agree with him; it is an elementary point—we cannot interfere. That is the fallacy, and it is the disregard of the resolutions of the Imperial Conferences of 1930 and 1937 and their true meaning, which is implicit in the interruption of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which we on this side are deploring in the Bill.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
May I be quite clear on this? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that no 407 Parliament in any Dominion should have any power to say what is British subject-hood as regards the citizens of that Dominion?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If I may explain once again—because I am anxious to take with me those who are considering the matter carefully—what I am asking for is the maintenance of the old basis of subjecthood, based on allegiance. I say that if one keeps that conception then, on top of it, one can have any rules and regulations one likes for localities and that is exactly the principle expressed in the two resolutions I read from the Imperial Conference of 1930 and the one resolution I read from that of 1937. That is the difference of approach between us.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am anxious to get on, but I will willingly give way to the hon. Member. I am conscious that this is an intricate subject which takes a little time. If he will forgive me, so that I do not need to give way, I shall be grateful, but if he thinks the point is urgent he has only to rise and I will give way.
§ Dr. Morgan
It is important. The British citizen in, say, the West Indies has the right to have his citizenship observed in the Dominions, yet if he goes to Australia he will be excluded in Australia by the right of the Australian Commonwealth Parliament to decide that he is not to have the privilege in that Commonwealth.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
This is a very difficult point. May I make the distinction once again? I am dealing with the status of a British subject. That comes from birth within the allegiance, but since the Statute of Westminster one cannot deny to the Dominions the right to fix on top of that the rules of immigration, franchise and the like, but that does not affect the basic point that the man remains a British subject.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me, but I have had four interruptions already and I have already given way to him.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not want to prolong what is probably a Committee point, or will become a Committee point, but it is a matter of fundamental importance in the relationship between this country and the other Commonwealth countries. I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say explicitly whether he is really doubting that the Parliament of South Africa, or the Parliament of Australia, or of Canada, can by their own legislation say that such and such a person—it may be an Indian or it may be somebody, an alien, who has married one of their nationals—is not, in those countries, to be a British subject under the existing law?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Of course, as their right under the Statute of Westminster, they could do that. Of course they could. They could pass a law just as this House could pass a law, but what I am objecting to is the reasoning of the Attorney-General, that because other Dominions could pass such a law, this House must pass such a law. It is neither good sense nor has it any logical sequence.
I hope I have exhausted the interruptions to my enumeration of the anomalies, and I congratulate those who interrupted me on choosing such a tactical, if not strategical, moment for interruptions. I only hope the House will bear with me a little longer.
Perhaps I may just point out two anomalies in the Bill as it is commended by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. In dealing with registration provisions the Bill provides that a citizen of the Dominions may be registered if he is ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom and has been so resident for 12 months, or if he is in the Crown service under the United Kingdom Government. As the Home Secretary told us, it provides for the registration of women from the Dominions who marry United Kingdom citizens. Let us look at how that works. A Canadian would have to wait 12 months to take up a job which was open to citizens of Britain and the Colonies. The friend of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan)—he mentioned 409 someone from the West Indies—need not wait at all. A Canadian woman who marries a United Kingdom citizen must choose between two citizenships. A Maltese woman who does the same has no change in citizenship at all. That is introducing an unnecessary complexity and trouble, and the result can be broadly put that these provisions in the Bill subtract from the benefits of Dominion citizens and add benefits to nobody at all.
It might be that these new anomalies would be excused if they eradicated the old anomaly. This old anomaly is a point which became apparent through—if I am not being disrespectful—what I might term the cross-talk of a few moments ago, that each self-governing member of the Commonwealth will legislate for its own citizenship and provide for the naturalisation of aliens, the nationality of married women and similar matters in its own terms, and its own citizenship will automatically confer British subjecthood, according to the Bill as the Government want it.
Therefore, the paradox of the common status and the different methods of acquiring it remains as paradoxical as ever, because it is for the different parts to fix the size and the pillars and the texture of the gateway and, therefore, we shall have, just the same as we have at the present time, these different methods of obtaining the common status. Really, the only plea—and this is the tragic part of this Bill—for instituting this approach is that the common status is so emasculated by these provisions that it will have much less importance than it had in the past. That is why I condemn the Bill.
The Home Secretary asked us why we objected to his idea of a citizenship for the United Kingdom and the Colonies and I would like to tell him why as shortly as I can. He will appreciate that it must be only an outline at the moment, because I am conscious that I am taking a long time. Why do we not like that idea? I hope he will recognise that it was imputing an approach to us which we do not make, and which is not necessary in order to hold the view that we do on this part of the Bill. We stand by the present form, that is, "British subject," with the addition of the words "of the United Kingdom and Colonies," because we want to keep the term "British subject" as descriptive of His Majesty's lieges as it was of old, and to have some words which will describe 410 those whose nationality is conditioned by the laws emanating from this Parliament. Whatever view the right hon. Gentleman ultimately takes, I want him to consider these points on their merits and reject them, if he will, after considering them in that way.
I do not think "citizenship" is really an appropriate word for describing the relationship and geographical situation of this country and the Colonies. Citizenship essentially means the common enjoyment of civic rights and the acceptance of civic responsibilities. When it is chosen by Canada—as she is entitled to choose; and we have no objection to her choosing—it is applicable to something like Canada, which is a geographical entity, but it is inapplicable to the immense variety of people, with the immense varieties of status of forms of Government, and civic rights and responsibilities, which are included in the group which the Home Secretary has chosen for them. The right hon. Gentleman has only to consider the great number of protected persons in various African Colonies, through treaties which have, no doubt been brought to his attention, to realise what I mean. It is unreal to use a term like that to describe a geographical and political layout.
I come to my next point, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think it too subtle. We are not proceeding, and my information is that it would not be popular in the Colonies if we did, on the approach of assimilation. The Attorney-General will know from his experience of cases in the Privy Council that we go a long distance towards preserving local religious or cultural matters whether we agree with them on these bases or not; we accept that they are allowed to continue. Our method of dealing with the Colonies has not been to try to assimilate terms. One of the striking examples is Malta, where we have a small Colony which has been given great opportunities for its own development. That is what our trusteeship has developed along the line of decentralisation and improvement of the Colonies, in each case at the end of the particular string which attaches them to Whitehall.
I suggest that whereas "subject" suggests that sort of relationship, "citizenship" does not, and might well be taken as being thought to be suggesting a tendency towards assimilation which would 411 not be popular in many of our colonies today. I put this fundamental point to the right hon. Gentleman, and I make no apology for its stark and naked character; to a great number of the people of our Colonies, especially our African Colonies, the allegiance is not to a political system; it is to the King in person. Many colonial troops who fought in the war fought for the King. That is not imagination on my part; I have consulted people at all levels, from ex-Colonial Secretaries and Governors to those at a lower level who have been in personal contact with colonial peoples.
The next reason why we object to "citizenship" is one which I have already developed vis-a-vis Dominion citizens—that we deprecate any tendency to differentiate between different types of British subjects in the United Kingdom. We feel that when they come to the United Kingdom there ought to be an open door and a reception for every type. If we create a distinctive citizenship for Britain and the Colonies, inevitably such differentiation will creep in. We must maintain our great metropolitan tradition of hospitality to everyone from every part of our Empire. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with the position of the Dominions, and I will say only this: there is no suggestion on this side of the House that the Dominions cannot, or should not, take any legislative action they like, but I cannot think of any further example than that given by the right hon. Gentleman of any unilateral enlargement of British subjecthood. Broadly, up to now the changes in British subjecthood have kept step between the different parts of the Empire, and legislation against particular classes of their own nationals has been by discriminating legislation and not by changing the status of any particular inhabitant.
I will leave that point rather quickly, because I want to say a word or two about the difficult position of Eire, and why we maintain that the Bill in its altered form is preferable to that which the Home Secretary supports. The effect of the Bill in its original form is to recognise, for the first time, that citizens of Eire are not in the allegiance of His Majesty, and are not British subjects. The law of this country—and the Attorney-General will correct me if there has been any recent decision which I have 412 been unable to find—remains as it was in the case of Murray v. Parker, namely, that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have never recognised the termination of Eire's allegiance to the Crown.
It is only because His Majesty's Government's present advisers have thought it necessary to introduce the Bill in this form that it becomes necessary either to include or exclude Eire from Clause 1, and to define a relationship hitherto happily left undefined. The effect of the Bill, by not including Eire in Clause 1, and making specific provision for it, is that the secession of Eire has thus been explicitly recognised for the first time. Members of this House, in doing this, must consider, in their hearts and conscience, the effect on the people of Eire, and especially on those who, before and after 1922, have been proud of the fact that they have recognised and believed themselves to be loyal subjects of the King.
I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the wording of the Eire Act of 1935. He will remember the point was made by his noble colleague in another place, when expressing the Government's policy, that that Act says only that a man will lose Eire citizenship if he acquires the nationality of another country. I am arguing, as his noble Friend argued in a slightly different context, that one must take that word strictly and differentiate between the change denoted by the word "become" and the continuance of the present position for which I am standing today.
We say, just as the right hon. Gentleman said in his moving peroration—I mean that, his moving peroration—that it is a great thing that the structure of the British Commonwealth and Empire should have no sealed pattern but should constantly alter and evolve to meet changing needs. So this particular aspect should have been left elastic and undefined. I believe that it is through that ability to improve through change that our Commonwealth and Empire has lasted while other similar institutions have gone with Nineveh and Tyre. I believe that this is a disastrous change, when we have a modus vivendi with Eire that has worked.
After all, it is 13 years since they passed that provision in their nationality 413 law. The general position between the two countries has improved. There is no hostile feeling between the peoples of the two countries today. It has worked perfectly well. We impose our interpretation of the law; they impose theirs; and we have never clashed on it. That is the position that the Government are changing, and changing in a way which is likely to inflict a severe and unnecessary affront on the deepest feelings of a section of the population of Eire who have always stood by us in fair weather and foul, and who are proud to regard themselves as loyal subjects of the King.
In these circumstances, what have they got to do? These people whom I have just mentioned have to write a personal letter to the right hon. Gentleman and ask that their immemorial rights should be continued. They have to justify their claim—I agree, only their claim—by showing that they come within certain fixed categories. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is nothing personal in this: it is not the writing of a letter to him that is objectionable; it is the having to write to anyone. When these people are in that position and hold those views it is, I suggest, a humiliation which this House of Commons should not impose on them, and certainly should not go out of its way to impose on them at the present time.
What the status of Eire nationals under this Bill is to be, heaven only knows. By Clause 31 they are not aliens; they are not British subjects. No doubt, the skill of the right hon. Gentleman will find some new term which will please his powers as the reincarnation of the lamented Abbé Siéyes, but certainly will not please the people in Ireland who are caught by this provision. That is why we say, "Why not let alone what has worked perfectly well for 13 years, and let it go on?"
I am very conscious of the patience of the House, but I think the House will agree that this is a difficult matter, and that unless one tries to give ordered consideration to one's argument one cannot convey it, good or bad though it be; but, in view of the time I have addressed the House, I do not now want to follow the details of the position which the right hon. Gentleman so lucidly explained of married women. He knows as well as I do that the married women's societies have 414 been considering this for some time. I feel that this is a point which might be considered before the Committee stage and before we express the views on the various matters put to us. Therefore, I shall not go into that today.
I now want to say one concluding word. I do not advise my hon. and right hon. Friends to vote against the Second Reading for the converse of the reasons which the right hon. Gentleman, as a "knight of dolorous countenance," advanced in defending the Bill. We approve of the alterations of the Bill. They obliterate the obnoxious United Kingdom and Colonies citizenships. They have refused to cut the painter attaching us to our friends in Eire. They leave the workable position of the last few years. I do say, however, that if the right hon. Gentleman persists in his attempt to restore the obnoxious provisions we shall resist, and, if we are defeated, we shall hold ourselves free to take any action at a later stage.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)
I can be brief as I do not wish to develop an argument so much as to express a feeling which I believe to be widespread concerning this Bill. We are tonight dealing with one of the intangible bonds of the Commonwealth which it is dangerous to disturb, and which should be disturbed only if an overwhelming case is made out. It is not, I think, a matter which need engage party feelings, nor is it a matter which should be treated as a dispute between this House and another place. So far as I can see, the alterations made in another place, though they may be controversial, were made in an attempt to find the best solution for a very difficult constitutional question.
I am no lawyer, and, although I was fascinated by the display of forensic eloquence between the two right hon. Gentlemen, I hope very much that the Debate will not be treated as a lawyers' holiday, for this is a matter which concerns all persons in the Commonwealth. It appears to me as a layman that the position under the existing law is that the common status throughout the British Commonwealth is the foundation on which local rights are built, and that under the Government's present proposals the local rights are to be the foundation on which the common status will be built. 415 If this is so, it is a fundamental change in the constitutional doctrine of the Commonwealth. It may be necessary, and in that case I should feel reluctantly bound to support it; but I shall need a great deal of convincing that it is necessary.
The only reason I have seen for the introduction of these proposals is that Canada has already passed a similar Act. I think the utmost effort should be made to preserve the existing position, but I am prepared to concede that the other Dominions may follow the example of Canada. If Sir Alexander Maxwell, to whom a deserved tribute was paid, did not succeed in getting the old position retained, I have no confidence that I should have succeeded. I will concede that other Dominions may, in the course of time, follow Canada in taking such a step, although I should do the utmost myself to persuade them otherwise. Is that any reason why we should follow, and be the first to follow, the Canadian example? It may be argued that if we retain the existing law we should give to citizens of the Dominions certain rights which we should not ourselves receive in those Dominions. I see no objection. We are the Mother Country of this great Commonwealth, and it is quite common for mothers to give to their children benefits which they do not themselves receive.
It may be argued—it has been argued by my right hon. Friend—that such a position would lead to a great deal of anomalies. I am not frightened about that possibility, because the British Commonwealth is full of anomalies. It is, indeed, the great anomaly in politics, and yet it works in practice. I should be willing to put up with all the anomalies that exist if we could retain, even though some of the Dominions may not do so, this conception of a common status which exists at the present time. In any case, my right hon. Friend's proposals do not leave us without anomalies. His proposals have this anomaly, that a citizen of one of our Colonies will be in this country in a more favoured position than a citizen of the Dominions. It would ill-become me, with my late connection with the Colonies, to complain, but I think that it is certainly anomalous that one of the West Indians referred to by another 416 of my hon. Friends should be in a more favourable position in this country than someone who comes here from Australia or New Zealand.
I do not wish to develop that argument, but simply to express my regret that my right hon. Friend should have felt compelled to introduce such a Measure to the House. I hope that it will be debated here and in Committee, not as an issue between this House and another place, or as a party matter, but as a constitutional question to which we all ought to make the best contribution that we can.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas), who has had recent and important experience of the Empire, has made a speech which, I think, we on these benches find most encouraging; if other hon. Members on the other side follow suit, now and in the Committee stage of this Bill, we shall develop pressure on the Government, and, I hope, induce them to modify the Bill very substantially. I have no particular qualifications to address the House this afternoon. I am no authority on the law of nationality nor, indeed, do I propose to dilate on the principles of the British Constitution. I have, however, not long since returned from a tour of the world which took me to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and, therefore, I can give some impression of the feelings of our brothers and sisters in the Dominions about the home country and its way and aims.
I re-read not long ago that famous work of Walter Bagehot, where he draws attention to the two great parts of the British Constitution—what he calls the dignified part: the Throne, the Monarch, subject-hood, and allegiance; and what he calls the efficient part: the Government, the Executive, the power of the Civil Service. I think that in this Bill there is evidence that, in some respects, we are allowing ourselves to do a thing which Bagehot said should never be done. That was to allow the executive part of the Constitution to have undue weight. What, after all, brings the thoughts and minds of our fellow subjects throughout the world to centre upon England? It is the concept of the Crown, it is allegiance to the Throne, that dignified force in our constitution which enlists and equips the Army 417 of our people for the battle of life, a battle which, as Bagehot puts it, later passes into the hands of the executive, for prosecution and direction. I fear that in this Bill we may be reducing the attachment of the people of the Commonwealth and Empire to the Throne, making them less willing to be enlisted and joined in the battle of the Commonwealth, the battle of ideas and purposes, if we can so describe it.
I was most struck while I was in those distant parts by the thrill and pleasure which the thought of British subjecthood created in the mind of all our people out there—the fascination of the ceremony of the Royal Wedding, the feeling of warm sentiment which they had towards the Throne and the Monarch, the respect for our institutions, the desire for emulation. They were proud to be British subjects. The Home Secretary this afternoon discoursed extensively on British subject-hood. He sought to put it in terms of British citizenship, but I do not think that there is any quarrel between us. What he encountered in the Channel Islands was British subjecthood. They said that they had conquered us, but they knew they were subjects and were proud of it. The same is true of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They know that they are subjects of the King and are proud of it. They have never thought of themselves as a downtrodden and wretched people. At any rate after the Statute of Westminster was granted there was no thought of that kind in their minds. They think that they are citizens, subjects, leiges of His Majesty.
In this Bill there is too much evidence of undue intervention by executive Ministers, of a desire of separate Governments, with their bureaucracies and officials behind them, to interfere with this shadowy and insubstantial link, to drive a wedge in, to settle things nicely, tidy them up and produce a status for the individual people of these countries which, if they could be asked as individuals, they would not wish to see. I do not want to make this a party matter, but at home it is a Socialist Government that is doing this thing. They always have had the idea of a planned purpose for their own country, and it was a Liberal and, in some ways a rather radical Liberal Government in Canada that first asked for it. No doubt if this is pressed 418 by the home Government, the Socialist Governments of New Zealand and Australia, will probably fall into line, by same tidying, planning inclinations. I am not convinced, having seen the people of the Commonwealth in the last six months, that they have any desire for the kind of thing this Bill purports to do.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I do not like the phrase "Commonwealth citizen." My right hon. and learned Friend has given the example of the Tamils in Ceylon and the natives in South Africa. This Bill operates against the interests of such persons. They are now British subjects, but if we pass this Bill we destroy their allegiance and their subjecthood; we break that indefinable link; we hand them over to the new Dominion of Ceylon and the new and more radical Government in the Dominion of South Africa, who can impose upon them some status of their own which deprives them of equal rights against our own citizens. Either Tamils or natives in South Africa might come to this country at some stage and find themselves at a disadvantage as regards right of entry to the United Kingdom compared with those who are now resident in the Colonies.
Then, again, I think this Bill might operate against the interests of the Dominions themselves. I am not happy about the phrase which is used throughout, the phrase "United Kingdom and Colonies." I regretted also to see this phrase reintroduced in another place by my noble Friends, if I may so refer to them. At various times there have been suggested schemes to give the Dominions a share in the management of Colonies in their own geographical areas. Lord Altrincham, who moved this Amendment in another place, has expressed himself in that sense. It might well be the case that Australia and New Zealand would wish to take—perhaps suzerainty is too crude a word—exercise some supervision over Fiji, or another of His Majesty's Colonies in the Far East. Under this Bill the citizens of Fiji remain British subjects, while by that time the citizens of Australia and New Zealand might have some other status and title. Are we then to say that, because of this Bill, the citizens of a Colony which was itself under the supervision of a great British 419 Dominion had a higher nationality than the people of that Dominion itself? The same thing might work out to the general disadvantage in General Smuts's plan of South Africa exercising greater authority over the Colonies in Africa—British subjects in Nigeria and Northern Rhodesia would then be preferred above the English and other white races in South Africa.
Least of all am I an authority upon the status of alien women marrying British subjects, or, for that matter, British women marrying aliens, but I should like to say shortly to the House that I do not welcome at all the provisions of this Bill in that regard. So far as concerns alien women marrying British subjects, until 1844 an alien woman marrying a British subject remained an alien; but by the Naturalisation Act, 1844, she obtained British subjecthood automatically upon marriage. And that is the existing law today. We are now going to change it, so that the Home Secretary himself has the right of arbitrating whether the marriage is genuine or not, and whether the wife a British subject has seen fit to marry is, in his opinion, fit to be a British subject. I should have thought that marriage ought, in itself, to confer British status. It is a bad principle to legislate for bad cases. Here we have a Government which shows increasing signs of not wishing to trust the people, and I should have thought it was far preferable to leave the law as it stands, expecting an Englishman in marrying a woman to transfer his British status to her automatically, without some political Minister intervening and saying whether or not that is a good thing.
The same thing is true, in my view, of British women marrying aliens. Until 1870 British women who married aliens remained British subjects, but by the Act of 1870 a married woman is deemed a subject of the State of which her husband is, for the time being, a subject. And that is the law at the present time. This Bill reverts to the common law before 1870 by providing that a British woman marrying an alien shall retain her nationality until she renounces it. That, surely, introduces very undesirable complications in the event that war were impending between us and a foreign Power; and I should have thought that the retrospective action given to this 420 provision by Clause 13 is of very doubtful advisability, since under it a woman married, say, 20 years ago to a national of some country, with whom we are not at present particularly friendly, becomes automatically, in the eyes of the British law, a British subject without her knowledge or consent. That might have very undesirable implications in any action that might be taken against her by those in power in that country should a dangerous or serious situation arise between the respective Powers.
Why do we have to have this Bill now? We have had a long Session, with a big programme of legislation, and right at the end of the Session the Government introduces a new Bill. Why do we have to have it, not after a series of Conferences, as my right hon. and learned Friend has said, but prior to a Conference? Would it not be infinitely better to wait just a few months, until the Prime Ministers of the Dominions have assembed here and discussed this? I should like to ask the Attorney-General, if he would be good enough to reply, whether it is not the case that this Bill was framed and introduced before the Imperial Conference was settled upon. If that is so, what is his view about the possibility of deferring this Bill, having regard to the fact that it has now been found possible to convene this very important Imperial Conference, which the majority of the Dominion Prime Ministers will attend?
Secondly, I ask: who wants this Bill? I have read through the White Paper. My right hon. and learned Friend has already referred to paragraph 6. Paragraphs 5 and 7 both continue the same line of thought which he brought out. Paragraph 5 says:It appeared to the United Kingdom Government that the question ought to be considered whether the citizenship principle introduced by the Canadian Act should be extended by agreement.Again:At the Conference agreement was reached as to a general scheme which the representatives of each country were prepared … to submit to their respective governments for consideration.The whole tenor of this White Paper is that something might be done at some future stage. There is no demand, as far as I can see, for this to be done now. The chief authorship of this Bill seems 421 to reside in a little collection of civil servants who have done some work upon it in recent months.
§ Mr. Ede
That is quite wrong. The civil servants of this country and of the Commonwealth were instructed to hold these conferences by the meeting of Prime Ministers. The responsibility for this Bill being prepared and submitted at this time rests with His Majesty's Government in concert with the meeting of Prime Ministers.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The Prime Ministers met in 1946, and since then there have been considerable changes in the Commonwealth and in the status of the Member Governments concerned. I stick to my point, that since then there has been consultation in the Civil Services of these countries about this Bill, and that it has been produced largely as a result of their deliberations. I am not at all happy about the way civil servants increasingly direct the course of our affairs. Working in secret, these mute, inglorious persons are becoming masters of our society. It is for the high and important political figures of the great Dominions and of the United Kingdom themselves to deliberate in solemn conclave and pronounce upon the future status of British subjects, and then some months after, when the Press has been properly prepared, we could come to consider the matter in this House by Bill.
No one wants this Bill except, so far as I can see, the Liberal Government of Canada, basing their support mainly on the Eastern Provinces. No doubt the C.C.F. party are also glad to see it. As for the Conservatives in Canada, I doubt whether they have any opinion, and if they have it is entirely the other way. There has been no demand for this Billl in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, nor as far as I know from India or Pakistan. Almost the entire body of Peers are against the Bill, including such important and experienced Peers as Lord Salisbury, Lord Simon and Lord Altrincham.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
There are a number of other authorities who have given a great deal of attention to the constitutional and nationality laws who are against the Bill. I have not seen a single article in the Press or in any publication in favour of this Bill. The reverse is true. There is an important article in the "Round Table," written by Mr. Hodson, which puts the best case I have seen against the Bill; I hope Members will read it before the concluding stages. I have no more to add, except to express the hope that if it be the case that we shall not vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, we shall amend the Bill in an important sense in Committee, and that if the Government reject the Amendments we introduce and insist on introducing their own Amendments which were rejected by another place, we shall divide against the Bill on Third Reading. I am convinced that our view will be upheld not merely by Governments in the Dominions, but by the millions of British subjects throughout the world, with their warm feelings of attachment and regard to our Sovereign and our Constitution.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mrs. Ayrton Gould (Hendon, North)
I welcome this Bill, except for the Amendments which have been inserted and will, I hope, be taken out. I particularly welcome what it is doing about the nationality of women. I regret that the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) takes such a disingenuous view about British men and women. He apparently thinks that no British man is capable of marrying an alien woman who is not entirely fitted to become a British citizen. On the other hand, he apparently believes that no British woman who marries an alien can possibly be worthy of remaining a British citizen. There are many millions of people, not only in this country but in other countries, who entirely disagree with him. I am sorry to wreck his illusions, but I think it is time that we were a little realistic about the matter.
423 This Bill is long overdue, and is particularly overdue on the question of married women. Some very fine British women have had some very bitter pills to swallow, especially during the war, because before the war they were married to aliens and had become aliens through marriage which made them unable to carry on useful work in this country in helping to win the war. It made them even more bitter to see alien women, some of whom were not at all desirable, helpful or loyal, automatically becoming British citizens simply because they happened to be married to British men. It is also an excellent thing it has been decided that alien women shall not automatically become British on marriage, but that they must apply for British citizenship and will then, if they are fitted and are suitable to become British citizens, be allowed to do so.
But there is another side about which I am rather puzzled. I cannot understand for the life of me why an alien man on becoming a British citizen has to take the oath of allegiance but an alien woman does not. It seems obvious to me that every alien adult who becomes a British subject ought to have to take the oath of allegiance. It is just as important for a woman as for a man. I can understand the case being made out, although I should not agree with it, that no one should take the oath of allegiance. It could be argued that if an alien becomes a British subject for nefarious purposes and does not intend to be loyal, a dozen oaths of allegiance will not make him into a loyal subject; but that argument is not put forward by the Government, because they argue that all alien men becoming British citizens should take the oath of allegiance.
Surely, then, if that is true, it is equally important that all alien women should take the oath of allegiance. We can be no more sure of their loyality, because of their marriage to a man who has taken the oath of allegiance, than we can be of the loyalty of anyone else. It seems very important to me that there should be equality in this matter, all the more so because it can be argued that if a woman remains with her husband who has become a loyal British subject she will remain loyal; but she will not necessarily remain with her husband. What happens 424 if she leaves her husband and joins up with disloyal and undesirable people? The woman who has left her husband and has become a British citizen without having taken any oath of allegiance may possibly be consorting with some very questionable people from the point of view of loyalty to the country, and if the oath of allegiance has any value surely she should have taken it. I would therefore urge the Government to add to the Amendments which they are to make this small additional one—that any adult who becomes a British subject can only do so on condition that he or she takes the oath of allegiance. With that I think we shall have a long overdue and welcome change which will gladden the hearts of many people, especially a large number of fine and desirable women who have suffered grievously under the fact that they were unable to remain British subjects.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
I am glad to follow the hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) as I take much the same view as she does. I do not regard this Bill in quite the same light as does my noble Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). I find this Bill a most complicated and difficult Measure, mainly, I think, because the Empire and Commonwealth have been built in the past with no foundation or basis other than that of equality and freedom. It is, therefore, to my mind made unduly complicated if one tries to define the status of a British national. I find it particularly difficult in the cases which have already been cited of the Canadian Act of 1945 and of the way in which this Bill proposes to deal with the citizens of Eire.
My main interest in this Bill which prompted me to rise to address the House concerns those women mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon. I was in Prague at the end of last September and I found there many British women who during the war had married Czech officers and men and had lost their British nationality. I remember one particular instance of a British born woman, the daughter of a Dorset farmer, who was extremely exercised in her mind as to how she would get out of that country in the event of a Communist putsch. She was quite convinced that it was coming and 425 she did not know how she and the other women, approximately 1,000, in Czechoslovakia who had lost their British nationality would achieve the sanctuary of Great Britain.
There is also in my constituency a constituent who has written saying that her daughter married a German at the end of the war and she, of course, had lost her British nationality. Therefore, I very much welcome that part of the Bill which makes provision for restoring British nationality to those British-born women who have lost it, and which will enable those women who in future marry aliens to retain their British nationality.
There is a question I would like to ask. I dare say it is easy to answer, but it has puzzled me. I refer to the question of children, under Clause 6. What is the position of children of a British-born woman who is married to an alien in this country? Can those children become British nationals before they are 21 years of age? Perhaps the Attorney-General could, in his reply, clarify that point. It is one which has exercised the minds of many people. It is not particularly clear in the Bill, nor was it made clear by the Lord Chancellor in another place.
In conclusion, I would again welcome that part of this Bill which deals with the status and nationality of British women who are married to aliens. I also agree with what the hon. Lady said with regard to the refusal of British nationality to those alien women who have married British subjects. It should be left to the Home Secretary to decide whether or not they shall be accepted by this country as British nationals. This would have been a considerably simpler and a much better Bill, and it would certainly have been more acceptable to me, if the question of citizenship were not to be given this new meaning and definition with a view to attempting to settle who is or who is not a British subject. In my opinion, the introduction of this vexed question of citizenship is what has made this Bill so complicated and so difficult to understand in its terms, and what has given rise to the controversy which there is on the Bill between parties. I entirely agree with those who hold the view that this Bill had much better be considered 426 after the Conference of Empire and Commonwealth Prime Ministers, rather than now before that Conference takes place.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Mackay (Hull, North-West)
I do not propose to deal with the Clauses relating to Eire and married women. I wish to look at the problem of British nationality, which is exceedingly important, and in a personal sense the more important because, as a result of this Bill, I shall now have to register, whereas up to the present time I should not, on coming from a Dominion to this country, have had to register.
§ The Attorney-General
My hon. Friend will not have to do so. He could become a Member of this House without doing so.
§ Mr. Mackay
I appreciate the fine distinction, but the point I am raising is that 10 years ago, one could come to this country and take one's part as a citizen of this country without having to perform an overt act. Now someone coming from a Dominion may have to perform an overt act if he or she wishes to take his or her part as a United Kingdom citizen in this country.
The points with which I wish to deal are a general one and a specific one. The general one is one which hon. Members in this House and the people in this country must appreciate much better than they do at present. The technique of the Imperial Conference as a means of organising the Commonwealth and Empire has broken down. I am not saying that that is good or bad. I think it is bad but it is part of the general problem of growth. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) made quite a lot of this point in the early part of his speech. He even suggested that His Majesty's Government have not done all they might have done in the last few years to secure an Imperial Conference such as we used to have in the old days. That is a most unfair criticism. It is founded upon a lack of knowledge and small-mindedness. The last Imperial Conference took place in 1927. In those ten years there was a Labour Government for two and a half years, a Coalition Government for four to five years and a Conservative Government for three years, and if there is any blame, it lies on other 427 shoulders. During the period of the war, which was obviously the right time to have an Imperial Conference and when the need was greater than at any other time—greater than it is now—it was thought impracticable to have it.
It was considered impracticable for a number of reasons. In the first place, conditions operating in some Diminions differ from those operating here. The very geographical situation of the Commonwealth as a whole makes the thing very difficult. A time that suits New Zealand does not suit Canada and when it suits Canada it does not suit Australia. With the Dominions situated as they are, it is an exceedingly difficult problem to get together the responsible Ministers, and we can only have Prime Ministers at an Imperial Conference. It is exceedingly difficult to have an Imperial Conference of this kind at which they can all be present at the same time. Hon. Members will realise that when an Imperial Conference takes place this year all the Prime Ministers will not be present. The Prime Minister of Australia is arriving today or tomorrow, and he will not be here when other Prime Ministers are here in the later part of the year. This is a practical problem, because they are all democracies.
We have heard a lot about the organic growth of the Commonwealth of Nations, and growth involves change, among other things. It may also involve decay, but it certainly involves change, and the fact remains that the Dominions, as such, and their Prime Ministers, as such, are not, as interested in an Imperial Conference as they were in the days before the war of 1914–18. They wish to settle their problems themselves. They are nothing like as interested. We have only to look at the records of Imperial Conferences prior to 1931 and then at the records from 1931 to 1937, and then at what took place during and after the war, when at any rate some of the Dominion Prime Ministers were here, to see their complete inability to agree. The problems of New Zealand are different from those of Australia. The problems of Australia are different from those which concern Canada, and the problems concerning Canada are different from those of Australia. New Zealand's problems are different from those of Great Britain.
428 I do not raise this point by way of criticism, or because I want to see the Commonwealth and Empire coming to an end, but because it is essential, if we are to deal with the problem underlying this Bill, that we should understand and have a correct picture of the background. The background of the British Commonwealth and the relationship of the Dominions to one another has changed enormously in the last few years. I will give one simple illustration of many, and that is the defensive act between Canada and the United States. Canada was willing to create a new defence policy, set up a new Defence Board, and take overt action with regard to the United States, in association with the United States, which she would never do with Great Britain. That is not a criticism of the Canadians. It is a recognition of their geographical position. It is also a recognition of the limits of Dominions association at a period in their history, or in their life, when they have achieved a certain amount of independence, both politically and economically.
I ask hon. Members to realise the changing position of Canada. I have spent the greater part of my life in four Dominions. I have mixed with a lot of people from the Dominions and I know the way those people view this problem. It is because of these changes that the Imperial Conference method has broken down, and we have to devise some new method. We have had suggestions in the last few years and a number of different proposals, none of which has achieved acceptance or recognition by the other members of the Commonwealth. That is why the system of Imperial Conference, as a whole, has broken down.
I was rather amazed by one fact which I hope will be dealt with by whoever is to reply for the Government. After the last Imperial Conference and after the discussion which took place in regard to this Bill, a committee of experts met in February of last year. Why is it that the report that went back to each of the Dominions, and, I assume, to the United Kingdom as well, as being a Dominion in that sense, has not been published as a White Paper so that we could have had an opportunity, in the period between February, 1947, and the Debate today, to discuss and consider it? It may be that the report is similar to 429 the White Paper published in February this year. I do not know, but I think the Government should tell us. If we are to give up the Imperial Conference method and have a committee of experts, which, in effect, is what we did have, and the experts make a report which has gone to the Dominions for their consideration so that a Bill could be passed at a future time, surely that report should be available for consideration before the Bill comes before the House.
The noble Lord raised a question in the course of the Home Secretary's speech when my right hon. Friend cited the Canadian Act as something which made action necessary, and asked whether anything else had been done before. The answer is that many things have been done before. Quite frankly, a coach and horses has been driven through the conception of British nationality since the Nationality Act was passed in 1914. One important example is that both the Australian and New Zealand Governments have amended the British Nationality Act to provide, in effect, that if an Australian or a New Zealander marries an alien, and thereby loses his or her British nationality, he or she can acquire Australian or New Zealand nationality or citizenship at once and thereupon probably—I do not know, it is a legal matter—re-acquire his or her British nationality.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
The hon. Member is a little in error. Australians or New Zealanders who marry aliens lose their British nationality, but retain in Australia or New Zealand all the rights and obligations of citizenship.
§ Mr. Mackay
If I put the thing any higher than that, I am sorry. The right hon. Gentleman has put it exactly as high as it should be put. I was arguing that the whole basis of British nationality was the common suzerainty of the King. In order to make it of any value, that must be the same in every part of the Empire. But we find that we are starting to depart from this, because a United Kingdom subject living in Great Britain who marries an alien, loses her British nationality and rights, which an Australian in Australia maintains, because of the Australian Act which is a departure from the British Nationality Act. So, to that extent, the Dominions, before Canada did it, were already starting to break away 430 from the common conception. I have read the article in "The Round Table," and so obviously has the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby, since he read from it from time to time with great skill. That article deals with this matter in a very good way.
At first I thought this was a mistaken Measure and I thought of voting against the Bill, but when we think it out and see the problem with which the Government are faced today, in view of the discussions which have taken place with the Dominions and in view of the demands which the Dominions are making to have their own nationality, we must realise that some solution has to be found to the problem. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) put the matter very shortly when he said that in the old days there was a common nationality and a common basis and then there was a second citizenship for the Australians, the New Zealanders or the Canadians. Now we are going to create, first of all, eight or nine citizenships and then we shall bring them together and merge them into a secondary nationality, whether it be a British or Commonwealth nationality, whichever version we take.
Several hundred years ago we had an island which has become Great Britain. The people have gone out to other countries and acquired the right to govern themselves and to look after themselves, and now they want their own nationality. What are we to do? No doubt the Australians and the New Zealanders will follow the Canadians. A big factor in the introduction of this Bill was the problem of dealing with India and Pakistan. We have five or six of the Dominions all wanting to be, not British first, but Canadian or Australian first. I think that the British in England, Scotland and Wales could have said, "Right, you do that if you want to, but we are going to remain British. We have been British for several hundred years. Why should we become United Kingdom people?" That would have been a perfectly fair proposition. If that had been said to the Australians, the New Zealanders and the Canadians, it would have been very difficult for them to object on theoretical grounds and on practical grounds quite impossible.
We have to decide as a matter of principle whether we stick to the old method 431 whereby we have a common nationality and Canadian or Australian citizenship second, or have a new principle. If we decide on a new principle we are confronted with the fact that the component parts of the Commonwealth are desirous of having their own individual nationality. It is not a question which concerns us at all in that way. We are faced with the decision: are we to give effect to this new desire? It is no good hon. Members getting up and saying what a great thing the Commonwealth is because it is flexible and because it is an organic growth and can develop, and that it is a great political experiment, unless we face the consequences of this political experiment, this flexibility and this Bill. We then come to a consideration of the details which should be dealt with in the Committee stage.
I ask the House to support the Government in the Second Reading of this Bill. It is a very interesting example of the way in which the older Dominion or the older country of the Commonwealth is prepared to face the changed position which has come about and to acquiesce in the wishes of its partners in other parts of the world—there are eight of them—so that they can have the status and nationality they want. They can only have the status and nationality they want if this country is prepared to pass a Measure of this kind which makes them, not British subjects first, but United Kingdom subjects first and British subjects second, in the same way as other parts of the Commonwealth will be.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
First of all on behalf of my colleagues and myself I should like to express our sympathy for the Home Secretary, and confirm what the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby, (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) said—it may be easier to say in his absence that we realise the undoubted stress under which he was speaking today. Realising that, I should like to congratulate him on the manner in which he dealt with the Bill.
The Home Secretary had a difficult task. He was presenting a Bill which he said has been "wrecked" in another place. The object of the Bill is entirely praiseworthy but as the Bill now stands, 432 the methods by which it seeks to achieve that object are bad. The White Paper presents the only logical and possible approach to the new problem created by the fact that the Dominions are autonomous communities. What was missing from the speeches of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby and the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) was any alternative plan with which to deal with that situation. The first ground of criticism for the suggestion in the White Paper of a dual nationality, a common nationality for all British subjects on the one hand and particular Dominion citizenship on the other, was that it was not made as a result of an Imperial Conference. Let us be quite clear that there is not going to be an Imperial Conference in the old sense. We are making a great mistake if we talk as if there were to be one shortly. As the hon Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay) has reminded us, there will be talks with various Prime Ministers, but that cannot be described as a formal Imperial Conference of the pre-war type.
The Government have gone as far in reaching agreement and in the method of seeking an agreement as it was reasonable to expect. The Home Secretary said there was a discussion between the Dominion Prime Ministers out of which the whole thing sprang, and then, it being a technical matter, it was referred to a meeting of the experts, who were people of authority and standing. I deprecate entirely the remarks of the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset in his references to civil servants who are called upon to undertake duties of this character. If we are placing heavy duties on our civil servants, it is wrong for us in this House to refer to them as our "mute, inglorious masters" when they have no chance of replying. When we had a working basis between the official representatives of every Government, the matter was naturally referred back to the Governments. I am sure the hon. Member for North-West Hull would agree that it would not be right to publish a report on these discussions until the Dominion Governments themselves had considered the report. As I understand it, this White Paper was presented as soon as the Dominion Governments had considered that report and indicated agreement.
433 The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby rather bemoaned the fact that the conception of British subjecthood, the common code of nationality for the Empire as a whole was going, and that all conceptions of Dominion citizenship should be based, first of all, on the conception of an Imperial subjecthood. I do not think that approach fits in with the spirit prevailing in the Dominions which for lack of another term I would call a new nationalism—the feeling that they are self-governing communities. Once we accept that they themselves are the people who know what is good for them and what they want, and not the people in this House, and that they themselves are the masters of their own destinies, then we must throw overboard the old conception of a British subject as something imposed from above, and we must then come to the new conception of the common factor based on Dominion citizenship, the terms of which shall be enunciated by each Dominion.
This is a matter to be approached with some delicacy, because we must remember the variety of Commonwealth nations—not only the people of Dutch descent in South Africa and the French-Canadians; but we have to be very careful indeed because of the new members of the Commonwealth—the peoples of India, Pakistan and Ceylon. These people do not always feel as the English people do on these matters. I think that I myself, as a member of—I will not say a subject race, but a minority race—can testify to that, though I may say that it is a race which has a longer title to the designation "British subject" than the inhabitants of any other part of this country.
What I feel was underlying the speeches of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby and the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset was that, somehow, we in this country know what is good for the people of the Dominions in a manner that they themselves can never know. It is terribly important to avoid giving that impression. I do not want to bring in party considerations, but the point was brought in from above the Gangway that one of the chief objections to this Bill was that it was introduced by a Socialist Government of Britain apparently after a Liberal Gov- 434 ernment in Canada had taken the initiative. There is a great difference between Liberalism and Socialism, but they have this in common. They both differ from the Tory conception of Empire, which is to purport to know what other people want better than those peoples know themselves.
I think that what I have said was exemplified in the speech of the noble Lord. One of his criticisms of the Bill was that it would operate against the interests of the Dominions themselves. Presumably, we can assume that the Dominions themselves know their own interests better than we do. As I see it, once we depart from having one code of British nationality—and we have to depart from it because some Dominions, like Australia and New Zealand, were varying the definition to suit local needs, and then Canada took an entirely novel step and set up a Canadian citizenship—once we depart from the old common code, there was only the path which was set out in the White Paper—that of particular citizenship for each country and a common designation for nationality of the Commonwealth as a whole. But the first Clause of this Bill makes nonsense of that differentiation. It states:Every person who under this Act is a British subject of the United Kingdom and Colonies or who under any enactment for the time being in force in any country mentioned in subsection (3) of this section is a British subject or citizen of that country shall thereby have the status of a British subject.In other words, it says that every British subject shall have the status of a British subject.
§ Mr. Roberts
It makes nonsense of the approach in the White Paper which is the only sensible one. It is far better to make these changes in advance rather than have them forced upon us.
As regards dealing with Eire in particular, this Bill is very unfortunate. As it now stands, the effect of its provisions is to force British nationality down the throats of the citizens of Eire whether they want it or not. That is what Clause 1 (4) means. It is no use saying that we had better leave the question of our relations with Eire in the air. That argument is quite inconsistent with the argument 435 that we should discuss these matters at an Imperial Conference, because, if we discussed these questions with representatives of the Dominions, obviously, we must discuss them with representatives of Eire. It is far better, I suggest, in this Bill to treat the feelings of people in Eire, which are so sensitive, with the greatest care, and to leave the Bill as it originally stood. Let Eire citizens who want British nationality apply for it. The mere fact that the Eire Government has agreed to that procedure was a considerable advance, but this Bill is a considerable regression from that advance. For those reasons, we on this bench will support the Government Amendments designed to frame the Bill in the way in which it was originally introduced.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Crawley (Buckingham)
When this Bill was first published, there was a great deal of misunderstanding about it, one newspaper even going so far as to say that the inhabitants of this country would lose the right to call themselves British subjects. I am not quite sure that the matter has been made very much clearer by this Debate, and, in one of his last sentences, I thought the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) said this Bill discriminated against the inhabitants of the Dominions. I think that is what he said, but I think he must have meant something else. As I understand the Bill, there is no British subject today who will lose any rights under it; nor does this Bill make it any easier for any foreigners to become British subjects. It assists certain people who are British subjects now to retain that nationality.
This achievement is brought about by establishing a common formula by which the fully responsible Members of the Commonwealth decide who are to be their citizens, and decide that these citizens shall be British subjects or citizens of the Colonies. In other words, we have the genus of British subject and the species of the Australian—or other Dominion—citizen, and so on. That seems to me to be a reasonably simple idea and a desirable idea, because at the moment, owing to the position of Eire and Canada, it is not in fact clear, and as my right hon. Friend said, it might become much less clear if certain legislation which is forecast is introduced. It is also desirable because the 436 status of British citizen has great value in the world, and also has a different value. It has been mentioned that an Indian citizen at the moment is a British subject and has free entry to this country, though not to South Africa. These matters are of great interest to many Members of the Commonwealth, and it is obviously desirable that they should understand exactly the basis on which their rights are based. That, as I understand it, is what this Bill originally set out to do.
Although it is a simple idea, it is not an easy idea to put into words, for the reason that words mean such very different things to different people. I looked up the definition of "word" in the Oxford Dictionary, and I find that it says that it is a sound or a combination of sounds to convey an idea or an alternative idea. I suppose that in a community as large and as varied as the British Commonwealth, almost every other word conveys an alternative idea. As the Home Secretary said, to an Englishman the word "British" conjures up various images, perhaps beginning with the colour of red which is so often seen on the map, Trafalgar Square, a game of some sort, and a passport, of which he is very proud, on leaving these shores; but to an Indian who has spent his life fighting against the British Raj and has spent many years in prison, the word "British" means something entirely different. Therefore, the controversy which has already been aroused in the Press, and to some extent in the country, over this Bill is really about words—in particular the words "British subject" and "citizen." The Bill, as it now stands, is a compromise between the various views about those words. In my eyes it is a very poor compromise.
The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) referred to Clause 1. I entirely agree with what he said about Subsection (1)—that all it really says is that a British subject is a British subject, a true but not a very profound remark. But with Subsections (1) and (2) combined, the Clause seeks to set out the formula which is the basic object of the Bill. That could best be put in to a riddle, "When is a British subject not a British subject?" with the answer, "When he is a Commonwealth citizen." That is what it amounts to, and as it stands it does not make very good sense. 437 I hope that when we come to the Committee stage, we shall not only put back some of the words that have been left out but that, if we can find an alternative to the Amendment which was introduced in another place, which would blur the idea of genus and species by introducing the words "Commonwealth citizen"—
§ Mr. John Foster (Northwich)
Does the hon. Member realise that Clause 1 says that every person who is a citizen of the Dominions… shall thereby have the status of a British subject,which is the opposite to what he said?
§ Mr. Crawley
It throws in the words,or citizen …but says,… as a British subject or as a Commonwealth citizen.That qualification adds nothing and prevents any inhabitant of this country from being a citizen of this country. We are "British subjects" according to this Clause—which does not make sense. Then it goes on to say that for "British subject" we may substitute the words "Commonwealth citizen." Obviously these are matters for the attention of the Committee.
I would like to inquire into some of the ideas behind the dispute over the use of these words, because I think that, as far as this country is concerned, it is mainly the use of the word "citizen" that has given rise to controversy. It shows a profound difference between the outlook of hon. Members opposite, towards particularly the Colonial Empire, and of ourselves. We need not take too seriously the views expressed that in French and American history the word "citizen" has republican associations. No doubt it is unfortunate that countries in the Commonwealth use the British language and that other languages use words similar to the British with slightly different meanings. Some British words have unspeakable meanings in other languages, but we do not rule them out of the dictionary for that reason. The objection that the word "citizen" has a republican trend reminds me of the attitude of a friend of mine, a cricketer, who was wearing a garish cricket tie—its colours being black, red and yellow—in New York. Walking down Fifth Avenue he saw a window full of braces, socks, belts and ties in those 438 identical colours. In a furious temper he walked into the shop, asked to see the manager and demanded to know by what right the shop was exhibiting his club tie in New York. To certain words there is not only a British meaning. It might be argued in the same way that because the words "Duke" or "Earl" are the favourite Christian names of dance band leaders and cowboys in America, they are no longer suitable to denote the higher grades of our aristocracy and that we ought to substitute the words "Morgan" or "Baruch" or something similar.
The argument goes further—that not merely citizenship, as citizenship, has a republican trend; but, as was hinted again today from hon. Members opposite, that it is a dangerous word to use in the Colonies and will give food for agitators. That argument is really nonsense. What, in fact, are we trying to do throughout every Colony in the Empire? We are trying in every Colony forms of local government; we are trying to induce every subject in the Colony to acquire a sense of civic responsibility, in however primitive a form. We are asking them to undertake, from the humblest to the most complicated way, the obligations of—what? Of citizenship. I cannot think of any word which better describes the whole effort of British policy throughout the Colonial Empire at this time than the attainment of citizenship. Yet, when the party opposite, and their leaders in another place, come to consider the suitability of this word to denote the differences between the members of the British Comonwealth, they feel that "citizenship" is something which will be explosive, food for agitators and will disrupt the Empire. They have entirely failed to keep abreast of what is going on in the Empire, of which they say they are so very proud.
I will go further. It seems to me to be a mistake—perhaps not avoidable now, but I hope it may be possible to deal with it in Committee—that we have had to lump together the citizenship of the United Kingdom and of the Colonies. I know it is argued that because the Colonies are dependent territories we could not let their inhabitants call themselves citizens of their particular place. I do not see the force of that argument. Citizenship implies obligations but it need not imply the same obligations in every 439 place—indeed, it does not. I cannot see why the inhabitants of Fiji or Nigeria, who every day are being exhorted to realise their duties as citizens of their country, which has its own Government and passes its own laws—which they are encouraged to know all about—should not under this Bill, be citizens of Fiji or Nigeria and be "British subjects" or "Commonwealth citizens." This would not make a great difference to the drafting of the Bill and would make more sense. If countries like Nigeria, the Gold Coast and others attain to fuller responsibility, it will become more and more absurd to call the citizens of those countries "citizens of the United Kingdom." They will be more essentially citizens of their own country and will become more fully so. I hope all this will be considered again in Committee.
Lastly, I wish to speak about Ireland. Having read about the obviously difficult Irish disputes, it has always seemed to me that any step which began to get the Governments of Ireland and of this country thinking along common lines was a step in the right direction. I remember reading all the intricate and difficult "discussions over external associations"—the phrase, I think, with which Mr. de Valera tried to describe the relationship existing between the two countries from 1935 onwards. It was described as a happy relationship by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby, but I should have thought it had all the seeds of constant friction. When one hears—no doubt I shall be contradicted if I am wrong—that, even if there was not the fullest agreement, there was at least no violent disagreement about the terms of the present Measure and that the Irish Government did not regard it with great antagonism, that seemed a very hopeful sign that, perhaps because of the lapse of time and the recognition of Ireland's desire to be an independent country, we were coming to a state of affairs where even on difficult constitutional points, we might be able to reach agreement.
But, apparently not so, according to hon. Members opposite. It seems to me that about Ireland their attitude really is conservative. Having in the past refused to recognise our responsibility, they intend to continue in their attitude. The position is that we in this country now insist that 440 every Irishman is a British subject, whether he likes it or not. Every man and woman living in Ireland is, in the eyes of this country, a British subject; and it has been argued in another place that there is nothing wrong about that because a Canadian citizen is no less loyal because he remains a British subject, and therefore why should the position not be the same in Ireland?
The answer is that Irish law expressly lays down that if an Irish citizen becomes a citizen of another country, ipso facto he ceases to be an Irish citizen Therefore, what we are doing is to encourage Irish citizens to be disloyal. By the insertion of this provision in Clause 1, that is what the party opposite wish to continue. If we are to obtain a sound relationship with Ireland, we must fully realise their desire to be an independent country. Difficult though that may be, it is time we made a beginning. I think a beginning was made tentatively by this Bill as it stood and there was a measure of agreement which I hope will be restored.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)
I can point out a perfectly simple way by which agreement would always be obtained with the Government of Eire—one which is so simple that I am surprised the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) has not found it obvious—that is, to give way on every point; then, of course, we would get agreement. The question of nationality is one with which those unfortunate people, students, who are about to suffer under the Inns of Court or the Law Society, are faced in moments of considerable apprehension when they have a really well thought out question on nationality produced for them by an examiner. I do not think this Bill is going to make their position any easier. In fact, I think it will give the examiner some rather encouraging opportunities for exercising his ingenuity.
No doubt there had to be a Bill of this kind, although the time is inopportune, and I think a good deal of this Bill is unfortunate. As many hon. Members wish to speak, I will address myself almost entirely to one aspect—the Bill in relation to Eire. In moving the Second Reading, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary admitted the difficulty in which he and all of us are placed owing to 441 the fact that his intentions are to chop the Bill into pieces to a considerable extent. By one such cut he will deprive citizens of Eire of a right they have always enjoyed, and enjoyed with us, so far as I know without a single protest, that is, to remain British subjects. That right is apparently to be taken from them. Who are most affected by this?
It is not a new situation; we have had it for 13 years. In 1935 the Dail passed an Act in which they established Irish citizenship and said that if an Irish citizen became a British subject he would lose his Irish citizenship. At the same time, a very large number of citizens of Eire enjoyed privileges of British citizenship, many doctors and people in Government service, and there were certainly no protests about that. The people who valued their position as British subjects more than anyone else were those whom we used to call the Southern Irish Loyalists. The Southern Irish Loyalists looked upon themselves as British subjects, and considering their small numbers, I do not think any class of British subject has done more for the British Commonwealth at large. From the time of the first Duke of Wellington, who definitely was one of that class, there has been a whole list of people to whom the service of the British Commonwealth was their first interest. The Southern Irish Loyalist is not particularly friendly to me, or my constituents. He always looked on the largely working-class communities of Ulster as rather crude.
I have lived in Southern Ireland a good deal and I know their point of view and I am not entirely unsympathetic. They have a passionate attachment to England, but they are being deprived by this proposed alteration of their status as British citizens. What do they get in exchange? So far as I can see they are placed in the position of those who do not wish to subscribe to the political fund of a trade union and they have to opt out. They have to make an application in writing to the Home Secretary in order to retain their British citizenship and can only do that in certain circumstances. It is a humiliating position. They were the bulk of those who came from Eire and fought so gallantly in the war and they are very much attached to this country. It is humiliating for them to be put into the position of having to apply in writing to retain what they consider their birthright.
442 The whole matter rests on what is the position of Eire. I hope that when he replies, the Attorney-General will deal with the situation and that we shall not have some enigma of variations but will be told Eire's position. Has it ceased to be a Dominion? Up to the present there has been a dual view. The British Government have always considered citizens of Eire to be British citizens and have given them those rights and considered that Eire still owed allegiance to the Crown. About 1942 a legal authority held that the allegiance of Eire to the Crown had never been repudiated. What is the consequence if the proposed alterations are made? It is the cutting of the painter, it is breaking the last connection between Eire and the United Kingdom. Is it the acknowledgment of an entirely separate nationality, or is it not?
In the course of the Bill it is laid down that the expression "alien" will not be applied to any citizen of Eire. Why not? Do they not fulfil every description or definition of alien to be found in any dictionary, as being citizens of another country? I hope we shall have some elucidation on that point, because it seems a matter of grave importance. Up to the present, although the position was difficult and perhaps a divergent view was taken, the enthusiastic Erse-speaking Eire citizen has considered himself a citizen of Eire, while the Southern Loyalist, as we usually called him, considers himself a British subject. So far as I know no harm is done. Now not only can there be no more British subjects, because the children of the present generation cannot qualify if they live in Eire, but those who have been British subjects all their lives will cease to be so, unless they apply in writing and can secure the necessary qualifications.
There are one or two questions I would like to ask. A citizen of Eire is now to be granted most of the rights of a British citizen. There is in the White Paper a suggestion that British subjects can count on reciprocal treatment, and that those in Eire will enjoy the rights that are enjoyed by the citizens of that country. What guarantee is there of that? Have we any certainty that that will happen? We can remember that in the recent war there was a definite discrimination against soldiers of the United Kingdom vis-a-vis Dominion troops, because British soldiers, if they went to Eire or even were natives of 443 Eire, could not go there in uniform whereas the Dominion soldiers could.
What undertaking have we that this arrangement is reciprocal? What is the advantage beyond that of sentiment to those who apply for and obtain British citizenship? They will have to go to considerable trouble in order to retain the right of British citizenship, and in some districts they will become rather marked men. What advantage will they gain in so doing over that of a citizen of Eire? These points are really material, and certainly a most important point in the whole Bill is whether this is an acknowledgment by the Government that Eire is an entirely separate community and has no connection with, as it admits it has no allegiance to, this country, for I cannot see that any connection will be left if the Bill goes through in the manner in which it is proposed.
The only thing that I would say in conclusion is that those whose political ideas are governed by a desire for geographical symmetry had better know that, as regards the part of Ireland which I have the honour to represent, in addition to the many other obstacles and reasons why we certainly would not join as part of Eire, this Bill is adding a further and very high barrier indeed. We are determined to be and to remain subjects of the King. That we will do.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Delargy (Manchester, Platting)
It is always a very great pleasure for me to follow the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross), because normally I can guess beforehand what he is going to say, and, therefore, it is fairly easy to prepare a reply. I know that normally, for example, he will talk about the late war and how the men from his part of the Province of Ulster overcame the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese. I was wondering how he would bring it into the present Debate, but he has done it. I will not follow him in his arguments about the late war, but he has said that he has a great amount of sympathy for the citizens of Eire, because this Bill, if it is amended as the Home Secretary wishes it to be and as I am sure it will be, will deprive the citizens of Eire of certain rights. I do not think we need waste too many tears about that, in view of the fact that the enormous majority of the citizens 444 of Eire—about 98 per cent.—do not want any such rights, and, indeed, have gone to very great lengths in the past, including even armed revolt, in order to make it perfectly clear that they did not recognise the rights which Mother England, with tender solicitude, endeavoured to force upon them.
The only people concerned—and the hon. Member for Londonderry is perfectly right about them—are the very small body of people known as Irish Loyalists—very worthy people with political views that are not mine. They can have British citizenship merely by applying for it. The hon. Gentleman thinks this is a humiliating procedure. I fail to see anything humiliating about it. Is it humiliating for these Southern Irish Loyalists, with all their vaunted pro-British traditions and with all their deep love for the English people and Crown, merely to send in a form to the Home Secretary? Earlier in the Debate the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) also mentioned the same point about the new position of this country and Eire. He said he was very unhappy that the vague and undefined position, which so far has existed between the two countries, will now no longer continue. For myself I am never happy observing things which are vague, loose, undetermined, and undefined. I am not a lawyer. I have a tidy mind. I like a definition and I like to know precisely where I stand, and where everybody stands.
This Bill, for the first time, seeks to clarify the position between the two countries. Eire passed their Citizenship Act in 1935. There was nothing to stop them, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman almost inferred that it is necessary for us to approve of that Act before it will have any effect. No such approval, of course, is necessary. We could not stop Eire any more than we could have stopped Canada from passing their Act in 1946. He went on to say that hitherto this undefined position enabled us to impose our interpretation on the Act, and Eire to put their interpretation on the Act so that there was no clash between us. We are still doing that. The Irish are still putting their interpretation on the Act; His Majesty's Government now seek to put an interpretation on the Act, and lo and behold! there is no 445 clash between us. That is a happier position than before when things were so ill-defined.
The Irish technicians were present at the February Conference in 1947 and were delighted with the efficiency and the impartiality of Sir Alexander Maxwell, who presided at that conference. With the rest of us they will be pleased at the well deserved tribute paid this afternoon by the Home Secretary to that distinguished public servant. The Irish at the Conference agreed with the general provisions arrived at. That indeed is something to be pleased about, because it does not always happen that the negotiators from across the Irish Sea find themselves in agreement with our negotiators here. It would be a pity if this large measure of agreement, arrived at by civil servants on both sides of the Channel and approved of by the Home Secretary and by His Majesty's Government as well as in Eire by the present Government and by the former Government, which is now the Opposition, were broken by an Amendment from another place, which, with all respect to that august assembly, is rather narrow and out of date.
Most Irishmen, of course, dislike being thought of as British subjects. There is no need to tell the House the reasons for that. There are hundreds of reasons spread over hundreds of years. Irishmen are not alone in that dislike. The Home Secretary has reminded us that there are thousands of people in Canada and South Africa who have a similar repugnance. The Bill makes provision precisely for that situation. Indeed, who they shall be who are to be described as "citizens" or "subjects" will be finally decided by the people themselves in those other countries, and not by us. I hope that the Bill, with the Home Secretary's, recommendations, will be passed unanimously. It is a good Bill and we ought to accept it.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
At the beginning of this Debate the Home Secretary said that in his opinion the Bill was necessary as an immediate Measure. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) suggested that the Bill could be delayed until after the next Imperial Conference of Prime Ministers. It is also stated that it would be better if we had 446 a distinct view as to the attitude of Dominion Governments towards the recommendations of the representatives of the Dominions, but I do not think it is possible for this House to foretell or to suggest what legislation should be passed in a Dominion Parliament.
The danger of making such a suggestion is another indication that the Bill is an extremely difficult one to discuss and is one which every hon. Member should approach, not from a party point of view, but in order to try to understand the evolution of the British Commonwealth. I did my best to understand the Debate in the House of Lords, but I confess that I could not understand all the grounds of objection. The more I tried to follow it the more difficult it became. The main points have been rather smudged over and slurred by some of the discussions that we have heard, and the Debate in this House has shown that there are still confused issues.
I want to ask the Home Secretary or the Attorney-General to make something clear to me on which I am not clear at all. The case was cited of the position of a British subject who was an Indian, and who might find himself in South Africa. By the laws of that Dominion he might be deprived of South African citizenship. It is assumed to follow from that that he would cease to be a British subject. As I understand the Bill, if such a man belonged to Pakistan or to India—we assume that those States are going to pass similar legislation—he would be a citizen of either Pakistan or India, and therefore he would be a British subject in that way. I want to know whether that interpretation is right. It would mean that an Indian in South Africa would not lose his status as British subject as has been suggested, provided that he was a citizen of either India or Pakistan. That is a very important point.
We have a responsibility in this House to see that nobody who is a genuine subject of the King, and has held the position of British subject, is deprived of that position. It is something of which we really are custodians. Some of the proposals in the Bill as it has emerged from another place will not help us. It would be a terrible mistake, at this juncture when so many changes are taking place, if we tried to assume that we know better than the Dominions what they want. I 447 understand that they have all asked for this legislation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I want to know, and I am asking the question. I know that I am taking a line which may be unpopular with my own party. I have been in this House for a long time and I remember that in 1920 we had many cases raised concerning Ireland. Anything which can be done to bring about some understanding after all these years of controversy, is of the very greatest importance. It is unique in my recollection for any representatives from Ireland to agree with any body of people in this country, let alone in common with all the Dominions.
Our responsibilities are far greater than that. My right hon. and learned Friend said, as I understood it, that if the political complexion of the Government were changed, it might be possible for the party then in office to restore the Amendment that had been made in another place. I beg the House to remember that continuity of policy in regard to the Commonwealth is absolutely vital. If we are going to chop and change, I think it will be the end of the association of free nations that has made the British Commonwealth. In regard to the term "citizen," there is nothing derogatory about being a citizen. I do not think that it is a revolutionary term. It is an evolutionary term. I believe that the whole policy of our country has been to try to bring the Colonies forward to greater knowledge of citizenship. We are doing it every day. Why, therefore, have a contradiction in terms in this matter? I should look forward to the time not when a man would be described as a citizen of a particular place—I think the Gold Coast or Gambia has been mentioned—but of one of a number of groups of Colonies which will eventually be merged into the Commonwealth. That surely is common to all parties in this country. I have never heard any responsible Member of the Opposition declare that the policy of the party is against such progress. I believe that we are united—or I hope so—in every party in the House in regard to this kind of evolution.
There is another matter which has not been touched upon. In visits which I have paid to different parts of the Colonial Empire I have always observed 448 the curious fact that those who live in a Protectorate cannot be British subjects. We have talked a great deal in the House today about the status of a British subject; how many hon. Members realise that in a large part of West Africa the large majority of the people are debarred from being British subjects? Under the Bill they may become British subjects. That will be a tremendous step towards producing a better situation. Some of the more enterprising men are willing, under British tutelage, to learn our way of life, but are unable to do so, because they are not British subjects.
As I read the Bill—I hope that the Home Secretary or the Attorney-General will contradict me if I am wrong on this point—and paragraphs 13, 14 and 15 of the White Paper, about the position in British Protectorates, it seems clear that we bring into the status of British subject a large number of persons whose status is at present in dispute. Is not that so? I believe that it is on the nomination of the Government that that will be so. At any rate, the point is that if it is not so, I hope it will be made so in the Bill. We are anxious, so far as I know, to encourage everybody to be proud of being a British subject and that people who are desirous of becoming British subjects should not be debarred.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I thought we were going half way towards it. I thought that the whole purpose of the Bill was that we and they are common citizens of the United Kingdom and the Colonies. I hoped that it would be all-embracing and able to include those people. I hoped that we should be able to push on an open door and find that the Colonial Secretary and His Majesty's Government would be willing to accept an Amendment to give effect to that.
There seems to be a great opportunity in this Bill for us to consider the way in which the Commonwealth is going forward and the lines upon which it is proceeding. I have had very long talks with friends of mine in different Dominions about this Bill. I have been very worried about it. 449 It is one of the most important Bills that has come before Parliament. If we make a mistake now, we may do irreparable harm. It is a Bill about which everybody must act according to his conscience. The position of the King as the figurehead of the whole British Commonwealth and Empire is a wonderful conception. As we are proceeding, we are going more and more towards the status of a sort of Crowned Republic which may be a contradiction in terms but which is no more strange than the whole conception of the British Commonwealth.
We are proceeding on something which is very new, something about which we have confidence. The senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) probably knows more of the historical background than any other hon. Member, but I have always believed that one of the real links of the British Commonwealth and Empire is the position of the Privy Council. Every Minister in Canada has to be a Member of the Canadian Privy Council, and the advice offered to the King in the person of the Governor General is given by them as Members of the Privy Council. In some of the great Dominions, of course, it is not necessary to be a Member of the Privy Council, but the conception of Kingship plus the idea of the Privy Council seems to be the basis of the whole of our form of Government and the great hope of the future.
I think that I agree with the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay) that the conception of the Imperial Conference as we used to know it is passing, partly on account of easier communications and also because of the immense growth of the Dominions themselves. The people in Canada, indeed in British Columbia, are proud not only of being Canadians but British Columbians. It is a great thing to be a Canadian. Canada is a young, virile splendid country, and we are not going to deprive them of being British subjects. We must not give them the impression that we are trying to deprive them of their rights and freedoms as to what they themselves shall consider their own nationality. I do not think that any hon. Member wishes to give that impression. If one knows Quebec, as many hon. Gentlemen do, one cannot pretend that the enthusiasm of the French Canadian for the term "British subject" is exactly what we would like it to be. On 450 the other hand, the more we give and the more they take which gives them still their position under the Crown and in the Commonwealth, the more sure I believe the future of the British Commonwealth to be.
I suggest that as a result of the Statute of Westminster, we should not always think that Prime Ministers should meet in London. Why should not the British Prime Minister occasionally go to Ottawa or Australia? The whole conception of the Commonwealth is that we are equal States and we have our common claim of brotherhood and allegiance to the Crown. I am sure that there is not one single soul, either in the United Kingdom or in the Colonies, who really minds being called a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, but I think that it would be a real test of accomplishment in the future, that this Commonwealth may give to the world, at a time when it wants it so much, leadership, that there should be the absolute right for each of the Dominions, the great member States to say what they want so that we can go forward fearing nothing. I believe that this Bill is an essential Bill as it was originally introduced, because it was agreed by all the representatives of the Dominions. I think that is sufficient for us, provided that we believe that it will not be against the interests of any individual, coloured or otherwise. I think that Pakistan and India will look at this Debate and positively decide whether they remain or do not remain inside the Commonwealth according to how we act and the suggestions we put forward.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Symonds (Cambridge)
I am sure that the whole House will welcome the most constructive approach of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). His speech stands out in contrast to the attitude of most of those who so far have spoken in opposition to the Bill. They have shown themselves to be what I can only describe as Canute-minded. No matter what happens in the Commonwealth, no matter what changes take place, they wish everything to remain the same. I would instance the remarks of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) who seemed to suggest that, no matter what laws the Eire Government might pass affecting the citizenship of Eire nationals, those Eire citizens would 451 remain British subjects. Then the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), in his reminiscences of his visits to some of the senior Dominions, seemed to resent the fact that not only had we a Labour Government here, but there was a Labour Government in New Zealand and Australia and that there was a Liberal Government in Canada which had produced its objectionable citizenship Bill. Somehow, one felt that between them, South Dorset and South Africa would maintain the ancient ways. I consider that the changes made in the Bill in another place make it almost meaningless. I am not a lawyer, but as far as I can see the beginning of the Bill now says that anyone who is a British subject is a British subject and shall have the status of a British subject, which leaves us just where we were before.
It is suggested that this Bill has been a rushed affair, that it has been drawn up entirely by officials and that, instead, we should have waited for an Imperial Conference. It is untrue to say that this was merely a matter for officials. It was made clear during the discussions in another place that both Field-Marshal Smuts and Mr. Mackenzie King had personal conversations with the Lord Chancellor on these matters. As has already been pointed out, these matters cannot wait for Imperial Conferences which are so exceedingly difficult to arrange. It is no use blaming the Prime Minister of this country for not calling an Imperial Conference. He cannot summon the Dominion Prime Ministers to a Conference here or anywhere else. If the respective Prime Ministers find it impossible to get together at a particular place at a certain time, that is just too bad, and we must try to make alternative arrangements.
This was a good Bill in its original form, because it represented agreement between a wide variety of countries. Therefore, I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement that he intends to restore the Bill to its original form during its progress through this House. It arose, I would say, from two things: first, there was the long continued agitation on the subject of the nationality of married women, a matter which has been brought to the notice of Governments, not only here but in the Dominions, in season and out of season. Also there was the 452 Canadian Citizenship Act of 1946. The agitation for a change in the status of married women has gone on ever since the year 1870 when, for the first time, British women lost their nationality on marriage to an alien. In 1931 the Government of the day declared at Geneva:The British Government considers that it is right that all disabilities of married women in matters of nationality should be removed and that, in so far as nationality is concerned, a married woman should be in the same position as a man or any single woman.That declaration has never been repudiated by any subsequent Government, but it was difficult to get anything done about it because it was felt essential to get common action among the Dominions Governments. The matter was not mentioned in the proposed agenda for the first postwar meeting of the Dominions Prime Ministers, and when it was raised in this House the Prime Minister said that as this was not a full Imperial Conference, it was hardly a suitable occasion to raise this issue. Shortly afterwards, however, the Australian Prime Minister said he would be raising it and so, in answer to a Question I put on 18th April, 1946, the Prime Minister said that if the Dominions desired to raise this issue, he would be happy to have it put on the agenda.
Once it was put on the agenda, however, it was found that this issue of the nationality of married women could not be dealt with in isolation, and in June of 1946 the Prime Minister said:As a result of discussions at the meeting of Prime Ministers, arrangements were made for informal talks between officials of the Governments of the Dominions represented at the meeting and United Kingdom officials on nationality questions generally with special reference to the particular problem of the nationality of married women."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th June, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 1801.]It was found then that the question of the nationality of married women could not be dealt with in isolation, even though it was at that time becoming more and more of an acute problem. At that time, remember, the ban on marriages between British soldiers and German women still existed, and there was a difficult situation in Germany because British women who, before the war, had married Germans, had no status at all among our own people, whereas women of Allied countries married to Germans before the 453 war found themselves recognised by those Allies when they entered Germany. There was a further difficulty that at this time the licensed houses were being closed down in France, and there was great fear of an increase in that traffic, which had been known before, of women coming to this country, making a marriage of convenience, and acquiring British nationality simply in order to get to this country.
The Dominions Prime Ministers thus arranged for this matter to be investigated, and it was soon found that there was no longer any dispute on the issue of married women, but they felt that a further conference was required by experts on the matter of nationality generally. Eventually a draft Bill, so the Home Secretary said on 3rd July, 1947, was prepared for circulation among the Dominions Governments, and the proposals with regard to the nationality of married women are those we have in this Bill. The Act of 1870 is reversed but there seems to be still one difficulty. Alien women, when marrying British subjects become registered in this country and not naturalised; in other words, they do not take any oath of allegiance and it is simply a matter of signing a register. Women feel that that is really not enough, because it is making the taking up of British citizenship a rather casual affair. The Home Secretary himself said on 15th November, 1945:It will, I am sure, be generally agreed that the high privilege of British citizenship should not be conferred rashly and without adequate investigations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1945; Vol. 415, c. 2307.]But it has been for the past 100 years granted automatically on marriage. It would surely be better if alien women were put on exactly the same basis as alien men and had to take an oath of allegiance when becoming British citizens.
There are one or two questions I would like to ask in regard to that. What happens if the Home Secretary declines to register such an alien woman? Is she then stateless if her former country is one which says she loses her nationality on marriage? There is a further point: what is to be the nationality of the children of parents who are of mixed nationality—that of the father? And will that happen automatically, or will there be any option in the matter? A further general point arises out of this issue. 454 There are still numerous discrepancies, even after this Bill, between the arrangements we make and the arrangements made in other countries of the world. We have the difficult question of the Russian brides, and I would like to feel that somehow, somewhere, steps were being taken to try to sort out these matters in order to get some form of agreement. I do not think the draft Commission of Human Rights goes into sufficient detail, and I feel that these issues of nationality, complicated as they are, really should be looked into on a general basis by some organ of U.N.O.
As it was found that the question of the nationality of married women could not be dealt with in isolation, and the broader issues of nationality had to come up, we then produced this Bill. It has been stated that the Bill is unnecessary and creates difficulties, but surely that is putting the cart before the horse, because the Bill simply arises because there have been these difficulties, increasing in number in recent years. I need not go into detail of the new concept which appears in this. Bill, as that has been already fully explained. The idea of nationality through the door of citizenship is one which it is very simple to understand. A Dominion, say, Canada, says to us, "We create citizens; you create citizens, and we add them together and they become Commonwealth citizens." That involves us in the task of creating, for the first time, our own citizenship, to put up on exactly the same basis as the countries of the Commonwealth.
The consequences of all this are very far-reaching. It means that new Dominions like Pakistan, India and Ceylon can define their own citizenship without any by your leave. Unless they choose to do so they need not label themselves "British subjects" if they dislike, as some do, both the word "British" and the word "subject." They can call themselves "Commonwealth citizens" because the two phrases "Commonwealth citizen" and "British subject" are considered equally valid. The French-Canadians, the Dutch South Africans simply do not regard themselves as "British subjects," and I quite expect that the inhabitants of Pakistan, India and Ceylon would prefer to be called "Citizens of the Commonwealth" simply because to them, even if not to us, 455 "British subject" implies some form of subjection.
There was a further consequence of this new concept. It offered, for the first time for many years, a basis of agreement with Eire. The arrangement arrived at may sound rather Irish, but it can work. The Eire Commonwealth and Citizenship Act, 1935, Section 21, says:Every citizen who except by marriage becomes the citizen of another country ceases to be a citizen of Eire.The Bill proposed that, in Eire, a citizen who wished to remain a British subject could claim to do so simply by writing to the Home Secretary, the distinction being that to remain a British subject is not the same as to become a British subject. The Eire negotiators therefore accepted it as no infringement of the 1935 Act. We said that as far as we were concerned all Eire citizens could have rights as though they were still British subjects, even though, by Eire law, they might not be British subjects. Eire accepted both those propositions, and so, for the first time for years, we had an agreement between this country and Eire.
The Amendments moved in another place make complete nonsense of the whole of the agreements. By putting "British subject" into the first part of the formula, instead of citizenship leading to nationality the Amendment says that people are to be called "British subjects" whether they like it or not. No matter what India, Pakistan and so on, decide they would like to be called, they are to be known as British subjects so far as we are concerned. The word "citizen" has been objected to because of its republican flavour—memories of 1789, I suppose. From the discussions in another place I felt that in the minds of some noble Lords there was not much difference between the word "citizen" and the word "comrade." It was almost as though the Bill was proposing to establish a new kind of person, a "comrade of the United Kingdom and Colonies." Indeed, one noble Lord actually said that the establishment of the word "citizen "would create a fertile ground for political agitators.
If, with regard to countries formerly under direct government from this country, the principle is to be that no matter what they choose to call themselves they 456 are, from our point of view, to be British subjects, I wonder that there has not been a move to go back still further, to 1776, and to say that no matter what the citizens of the U.S.A. choose to call themselves they are, from our point of view, still British subjects. There is now no more reason for labelling as a British subject, unless he so chooses to be labelled, a citizen of Bombay than there is a citizen of Brooklyn.
As a result of the Amendments in another place, the whole of the agreement with Eire is torpedoed. Agreement between such diverse countries on these complicated matters might well have seemed impossible of attainment, but agreement was reached and we arrived at a common understanding. If countries like South Africa, India or Eire can all agree with us on the methods of tackling these problems, anyone who torpedoes such an agreement does a disservice to Commonwealth relations. That has been done in another place, where their Lordships seem to claim to know better what the Commonwealth wants than does the Commonwealth itself. It is now the duty of this House to reverse the decisions of another place, to put back into the Bill the arrangements worked out after lengthy discussions and in full agreement with the Commonwealth and Colonies, and to show itself more concerned to preserve the harmony of the Commonwealth than is the majority party in another place.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Symonds) who, in this House, represents me, I think and I hope, no better than I in this House represent him. I fear that it is too late at this stage to try to teach even a schoolmaster the truth about Canute, but it is really almost time that a Canute Indemnity Bill was passed by this House, because there is hardly a week in which somebody here does not accuse that unfortunate and defunct monarch of vices and mistakes precisely the opposite of the truth.
I did make some attempt, rather like Laocoon wrestling with two serpents simultaneously, to master the technical details of both forms of this Bill, as introduced and as amended. I am bound to say that I did not make so much effort 457 as I ought to have made, and that some of the effect of what effort I made has vanished in the last five hours. Therefore, I propose to do something which it is always dangerous to try, to talk about what seems to me the general upshot without being certain that I have fully mastered the exact details. I am sure the Attorney-General will correct me if I fall at any rate into gross errors of fact or of legal interpretation.
This Bill, so far as I can see, seems designed to meet two points, and I take the minor one first because it was the main burden of the speech to which the House has just listened. One is the woman's nationality point and the other is what might be called the Dominions sensitivity point. Is there anything else? Are not these the two main points? The Attorney-General shakes his head. I am not sure whether he thinks there is a third point or whether he thinks these are not major points. I think these are the two main, major points of the Bill—
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Member invites me to intervene. I do not want to interrupt, but by my silence I do not mean it to be thought that I am acquiescing for one moment in his proposition.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I should be the last to desire to break the Attorney-General's silence if, at the same time, I could prevent the mandarinisation of his top-piece, which takes charge at critical points in my rather unprepared argument—ambiguous becking without any explicit utterance is what leaves me rather befogged. I think those are the two main points of the Bill—I approach the women's point the more readily because it has been assumed by almost every speaker that that is outside controversy. I am on the Blimp side of the controversy. I think somebody should so avow himself—perhaps one better than I—on that side of this question. I understand, to be candid on this question, that the Bill is returning to the common law. Nine times out of ten I am for the common law and against whatever Bill or statute is being proposed, but on this occasion I am against the common law. I am only guessing here—but I think the only reason for the common law rule in the matter must have been the extreme tenderness in feudal times about landed property, the great unwillingness on grounds of 458 public policy that a woman not in every sense English should hold English land. It is a rather curious paradox that at this moment and on these grounds we should be going back to this rule, if those were the original grounds.
It seems to me that what we are now doing about married women is wrong on obvious grounds. First of all, if this Bill is passed, we are giving the Home Secretary an entirely new power over Englishmen. Where an Englishman marries anybody not a British subject the Home Secretary will be able to say, "No, that woman looks to me"—I do not know how he is going to guess—"as though she might very easily turn into a harlot," and then she cannot be made a British subject and cannot have the right of entry into this country. That is the power we are giving to the Home Secretary and it is important that we get it clear. I disapprove as much as any man of whore-mongering and harlotry; they are very horrid things, and if I could be sure that by doing this we were going to abolish prostitution from our island shores and, indeed, from the rest of our islands, too, I should think it worth while; but I do not see—and I cannot believe—that anyone supposes that is going to be the result. If we are merely going to alter by some small percentage—three or five or ten—the number of foreign-born women who live here in the worst way, that seems to me to be too small a reward for giving up what has been the law now for two full generations.
Secondly, it seems to me that the Bill is wrong in what it does about married women with foreign husbands. I think it a real misunderstanding of the essential nature either of marriage or of nationality to suppose that a woman married to a foreigner, a man who has a foreign allegiance, could in every sense, and completely, preserve her devotion to the British Crown. It seems to me not really to be facing the facts, which we have been adjured to do several times today from the other side of the House, to assume that they twain can be one flesh although they cannot possibly have one passport. Those are the objections to the Bill, on both the married woman points.
The other main part of the Bill is to try to get away from the feeling, on the part of other portions of His Majesty's Dominions or by some inhabitants, that 459 there is some kind of inferiority of status or undesirability of title in the present arrangements. I think that is a fair way of putting the second main object of the Bill and I am prepared to be convinced—although I am not yet convinced—that the Bill, either as amended, or as it now stands, might be the best way to do that. It seems to me it is not, on a general ground which I hope to be allowed shortly to explain to the House.
Hitherto, in all our history, nationality has depended upon allegiance. That fact has had very great benefits. The greatest benefits have been those which have not been foreseen beforehand, and they have occurred more than once at critical times. I think there is no doubt, for instance, that the growing together of the English and Scottish populations which happened in the 17th century and made possible the statutory union in the 18th century, could not have happened if it had not been for the judicial decision in the Post-nati case upon the basis of the doctrine of allegiance, a decision which enabled the children of Scottish parents born on Scottish soil, after the accession of James to the English Throne, to do what any English subject could do, own English land or English ships. That had an enormous, necessarily unpredictable but, on looking back on it, enormous, effect on the future for the whole of this island.
Similarly, we tend to forget that although no doubt George III was disliked, the fundamental thing about the American rebellion was that it was a rebellion against statutory omni-competence rather than a rebellion against the Crown, in the sense of the prerogative or any part of it. What made it possible for a new British Empire to grow up—a second Empire—after what seemed to most contemporaries, and certainly to most contemporaries abroad, towards the end of the 18th century, as the end of the British Empire and greatness, what made possible the growing up of a second and quite different sort of Empire in the succeeding generation, was again largely the effect which the doctrine of allegiance had upon the nature of nationality and the possibilities of developing it.
Those great benefits happened in the past. I cannot now predict what similar great benefits may happen in the future from the close connection between nationality and allegiance. Perhaps I may put 460 the point a little more specifically if the House will bear with me for another paragraph or two. Of course,. I do not admit the reproaches from the other side, and I am sure that nobody upon these benches doubts the omni-competence of this Parliament as it concerns the inhabitants of this country nor the omni-competence of the Dominion Parliaments as they concern the inhabitants of those countries. Nobody here challenges that at all. Nobody here is trying in any way to limit any freedom claimed or claimable for the Dominion Parliaments.
But the most important things in political life—I do not mean the political life of a man but the political life of a human community—are those things which can be taken for granted, those things which go on, as it were, biologically and not by dint of requiring conscious and ex-cogitated consent except at the rarest possible intervals. That has been the concept of English and, since the Union, of British nationality. However this Bill is amended—whichever form we take, or into whatever hypothetical form it may be amended in the next fortnight, it cannot but very much reduce that. I think that reduction of the allegiance principle must be the effect of this Bill. That seems to raise a heavy presumption against the Bill—I do not say an irebutable presumption, but I think a very heavy presumption. We have been told more than once—we were told by the Secretary of State and by other speakers opposite—that we must follow the example of Canada. I admit that I am not giving his exact words, but I am right in the purport of his remarks, and I think if he looks in HANSARD he will see I fairly represent what he actually said.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I entirely agree. Of course, we cannot disregard any relevant matter, but, with respect, what the right hon. Gentleman did say—I have now found my notes, which I would not have done if he had not interrupted me—was that we "must follow the Canadian lead." I took down his words in inverted commas. I am as willing to follow the Canadian lead as any one, and perhaps more willing to follow the 461 Canadian lead than anybody else's lead, or as willing. But look where the argument takes us. We are told that we are not being sensitive enough in recognising the full right of each Dominion Parliament to do exactly as each Dominion Parliament chooses, and simultaneously we are told that we must follow the Canadian lead.
I say that a kind of bargain or agreement which tries to work that way really cannot work long. I say that it is part of the Home Secretary's duty, before he gets this Bill, to convince us that the Canadian lead is, in every sense and in every effect, a Canadian lead; that is to say, that when the Canadians passed this Statute it was after the fullest possible discussion in Canada and it was after the fullest possible discussion between Canada and this country. I do not see how that really can be when one thinks of the date: it was immediately after the war. It was when right hon. and hon. Members opposite were still enjoying being "the masters now"—when, indeed, there was still something to be masters of. It was in those days, and I cannot believe that the two Governments at that point put down everything else and hammered out all the possible ways of dealing with the difficulties that had arisen, and of avoiding anomalies which were then current, without creating new anomalies. It is quite difficult to believe that.
If that did not happen, then it is quite plain that it ought to happen at some stage, and I would like here to answer a point which has been put by at least two speakers from the other side—the argument that the Imperial Conference of this Autumn is not so full and formal and pompous an Imperial Conference as has sometimes happened before, and that, therefore, it will not do. That seems to me to be a very odd argument. If it is not full and pompous and political enough, how can a Committee sitting on the official level have been important enough for the purpose? Reference to the new Conference seems to me necessary.
The right hon. Gentleman began by saying that this is a Bill of the utmost constitutional importance, and I agree, although I do not think he made it very clear why it is of the utmost constitutional importance. I think it is of the utmost constitutional importance. If it is 462 of the utmost constitutional importance, surely we ought not to let it go forward for His Majesty's consent until we have been certain that all that the people in England likely to be interested in such things—I admit that most people in four ale bars will not worry about this rather intricate legislation, but until we have made certain that all the people in England who are likely to be interested in such things have had a full and fair opportunity of long and complete public discussion.
Secondly, we ought to be absolutely dead certain that every one of the Dominions, whom we are continually being adjured to please, is in fact going to be better pleased by this than by any other conceivable alternative. We have not had anything like that assurance yet from the right hon. Gentleman. He said—this was on the Irish part of it—that it is "no secret" that the Eire authorities are all for it. That is no way for His Majesty's principal Secretary of State to talk. He must not come here and say, "I learn in authoritative circles that," or "it is no secret that," or what not. He surely must tell us specifically. His supporters, including the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) who, so to speak, was one of his supporters, though he had to stretch across from this side of the House, have told us that all the Dominions have asked for this, and I think the right hon. Gentleman nodded his head. But we ought to have, before the evening is out, something more specific than a nod, however Jovine. Is it true or is it not? We ought to know before the evening is out.
I have one other thing to say, and it is by way of repetition, I am afraid, though perhaps that is what an unpremeditated peroration ought to be. It is this. None of us can foresee how nationality is going to develop in the immediate future. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, even those who are the least traditionally minded, will, I think, admit that if we want to foresee how a human society or concept is going to develop, we cannot, of course, reach omniscience or infallibility, but our best chance of making a reasonable guess is to look back and see how it has developed in the previous two, three, four, six or seven generations. If we look back at the development of nationality in this country, I think everybody will agree that the prin- 463 ciple of allegiance has been both the fruitful and the safe part of that story. I think, whatever else may be said about this Bill, it cannot be doubted that this Bill very much weakens that principle, and especially very much weakens two things—one, its matter-of-courseness, and, secondly, its capacity for development. That, I think, puts a very great weight of proof upon the Treasury Bench, and I submit that that burden of proof has not yet been discharged.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)
I hope the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the whole length of his argument, but I would prefer to pay attention to the more constructive speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), who seemed to me to be alive to the position which confronts us today—namely, that the British Commonwealth is not something of a static nature but is constantly developing, and that we shall have to give full recognition to the people in the several Dominions. I thought his contribution was most helpful.
In another regard I think the present proposals are a great advance on the position with which we find ourselves confronted in terms of legislation. We are told under this Bill that a British woman will not lose her citizenship on marrying an alien; with certain exceptions, she has lost it hitherto. The Bill restores that right, though she is married to an alien now. But an alien woman does not automatically acquire British nationality by marrying a British citizen. This is a matter for the discretion of the Home Secretary. I think that in sorting out these difficulties in respect of aliens, particularly the women, and also some of the difficulties which have arisen in respect of children born abroad out of wedlock and who have later been made legitimate, one finds some improvements in the proposals which are before us this evening.
The point to which I wish to pay particular attention concerns one aspect which I have not heard discussed very much. Although I have searched the Bill I cannot find a reference to it, though it seems to me apposite to the subject of nationality. This Bill contains no provision against dual nationality. Some 464 people are opposed to dual nationality because of their war experience. In this connection I would mention the difficulties of, for example, the Anglo-Italians. When war broke out between us and Germany many of these Anglo-Italians hurried to sign declarations of alienage whereby they divested themselves of their British nationality and became Italians. Thus, they were neutral until Italy came into the war on the side of Germany, whereupon they were rightly interned as enemy aliens. They all stated that they were British by the accident of birth, having been born in this country of Italian parents. Other Anglo-Italians stuck to their dual nationality, but they still refused to fight for this country, in which many of them had lived most of their lives. My information is they were detained under Regulation 18B. Some of the Anglo-Italians so detained asked to be repatriated during the war. Then there were the Anglo-Germans who had a dual nationality. Of course, since the war was immediately with Germany those men, unlike the Anglo-Italians, did not have time to take out declarations of alienage. My information is that some of them certainly would have done so had they had the chance.
I think that in the event of war, which we all hope will not happen, but the possibility of which we have to take into account, we shall find ourselves in a very difficult position in respect of the people holding dual nationality. Many of those people contracted out of the obligations to this country and they would have been glad to go back to their own country—in the case of those I have mentioned, back to Italy and Germany. The point I am making is that we can treat this giving of British nationality to aliens too lightly. I think British nationality is a great privilege. It is a thing which has great spiritual and other advantages which defy definition. I believe that we should be most careful to whom we give it. I hope that the Home Secretary, when he has the new powers under this Bill, will accept into our family as many desirable people as possible, but that he will have an eye to some of the points that have been made here today.
We are told that British citizenship means freedom from the disabilities and restrictions which apply to aliens—freedom to enter or to leave the country at 465 any time; and a man who comes into this country as a British citizen may qualify for the franchise, and, I believe, can stand for Parliament and even become a member of the Privy Council, and even sail a British ship. We might get sentimental about this British nationality. It is not my duty tonight to become sentimental about British nationality, but I would say that we who have our roots in the soil of Britain are proud of our nationality, and are very jealous that it should be not lightly given away. That is not to say we are unmindful of the great contribution which men and women of other nations have made to the industry, the culture and the life of these Islands. I think, therefore, having examined the Bill as a layman, that there is much in it to commend it to the House; and I think that with the alterations which we propose to make in Committee it will be a great step forward in the constitutional evolution of this country.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Foster (Northwich)
Before I come to my main point, I should like to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. A. E. Davies) about double nationality. I ask him to suspend his judgment as to whether double nationality is or is not an advantage. I think he will find that during the last war the double nationality of British and American nationals was a great help in the war effort, and that the double nationals acted as a kind of unofficial representatives between Britain and America. If we are aiming at a greater communion between peoples, it is an advantage that they should be nationals of two countries at the same time. While I can see that there may be instances of people—though I think the hon. Member was unduly harsh about the Italian colony in England—who, when war comes, will want immediately to renounce their allegiance to England in order, probably, not to fight for either side, I think that those few instances do not outweigh the advantages of dual nationality. I ask the hon. Member to suspend his judgment until the matter is, perhaps, more fully discussed in Committee.
I want to deal for a moment with the argument the Home Secretary put forward that we were in this Bill doing something more for the people in the Colonies. 466 I also want to deal with another argument put forward, that the opposition to this Bill is founded on the desire to impose the will of this country on the Dominions and to ask them to do something which they do not want to do. Both of those arguments are fallacious. At the present time the term "British subject" in this country includes everything which is included in the new term "citizen of the United Kingdom and the Colonies." I fail to see how, by restricting the "citizens," as we call them, of our Dominions by this Bill, we are helping the people of our Colonies. After this Bill has passed—I am assuming the Amendments of another place are rejected, and the old provisions put in again—after the Bill has passed thus, the citizen of Australia will be in a worse position than he is now, because he will not have the advantages—if there are any—of being a citizen of the United Kingdom. If, on the other hand, it is answered to me that there is no difference between a citizen of the United Kingdom and a British subject in the United Kingdom, then the Bill is unnecessary. It is entirely unnecessary because, ex hypothesi, the two are the same.
I cannot see how, by saying that the people in the Colonies, who are now British subjects and have every advantage, are to be called "citizens," we are advancing their case. We are not. But by distinguishing between Australians and New Zealanders in this country and restricting them, by putting upon them a technical difference—namely, that they will be Australian citizens, and, in order to become United Kingdom citizens, must fill up forms and make application to become United Kingdom citizens—we do not give an advantage to the people in the Colonies. We do not help them by placing restrictions upon Australians and New Zealanders.
Let us examine the position as it will be on 1st January, 1949, if the Bill goes through with the Amendments of another place omitted. On 1st January, 1949, there will be United Kingdom and Colonies citizens, and then, because of this unnecessary distinction between United Kingdom citizens and British subjects, we shall find that there will be United Kingdom citizens dotted about among the Dominions—against their will—because the Bill provides that where 467 people are born British subjects in, say, Australia, and do not automatically become Australian citizens under their law, they become United Kingdom citizens. We also find people with double citizenship. We find a woman, born in England, married to somebody in Australia, and she will be both a United Kingdom citizen and an Australian citizen. All that is an unnecessary distinction.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we want the greatest co-operation with the Dominions, but I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) that the Dominions had been asked to do something which they did not want to do. The point is that it is entirely unnecessary, because of this distinction, to create United Kingdom citizens throughout the Dominions, and for United Kingdom citizens to be persons who are also Australian or South African citizens. The sensible thing to do, as is done in the Bill now without the Amendment of another place, is for the United Kingdom to regard all British subjects, that is, all citizens of other parts of the Dominions, as British subjects, enjoying the fullest rights in this country.
In order to show that this is a distinction without a difference, the Attorney-General said to the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay) that even if he were not a United Kingdom citizen he could stand for Parliament, vote and have all the advantages of a United Kingdom citizen in this country; so what is the point of saying to him, "You are now a British subject, the same as everyone else in this country who is a British subject, and, after this Bill is passed, you will not be a United Kingdom citizen but you will have the same advantages?" Surely, that is a distinction without a difference.
It could not be required by the Dominions because they feel that we are imposing something on them which they do not want, because the Dominions will be free, after this Bill is passed, to diverge from us, just as they are free now. After this Bill is passed, a Dominion Government can pass a law saying that a certain class of people will not be citizens of that Dominion. If they are not citizens of that Dominion, they will not be British subjects, and will be eligible 468 to become citizens of the United Kingdom by virtue of their presence in the Dominion. They can diverge after the Bill and before the Bill, but we shall get the anomalous position after this Bill is passed in the form proposed that, because this Bill abolishes the universal conception of British subject by allegiance, we shall have people dotted about the Dominions who will not be citizens of the Dominions, and, therefore, there is the saving Clause in this Bill to make them United Kingdom citizens.
To take the instance given by the hon. Member for Abingdon of an Indian in South Africa, the hon. Member assumed that South African law precluded that Indian from becoming a citizen of South Africa, and he was assured by the right hon. Gentleman that if that citizen was a citizen of India he would be a British subject by virtue of that. Let me assume that because of long residence outside India, that Indian is neither a citizen of South Africa nor a citizen of India; under this Bill he would be a citizen of the United Kingdom. The Government have to do that because they do not want to deprive him of his British nationality. He is still a British subject; but this is all an unnecessary complication. If they said that anyone who is now a British subject shall remain a British subject and added the Clause as it is now, that no one who is a British citizen of a Dominion shall be a British subject, then the whole scheme would be co-ordinated with the Dominions and we would not have to have this unnecessary "catchall" of making artificial United Kingdom citizens in the various Dominions.
That is the disadvantage of this Bill, and it is unnecessary, because I think the Treasury Bench will probably agree that for practical purposes there is no difference between a United Kingdom citizen in this country and a British subject in this country. So why not merge the two conceptions, as in the Bill as at present drafted, and use the term "British subjects" in both cases? In case any Member has any doubt about my thesis, there will be United Kingdom citizens dotted all over the Dominions after this Bill is passed. I think that the rather complicated instance at the bottom of page 8 of the White Paper might be cited.
A woman born in Canada of a father born in Australia who herself has married 469 a citizen of New Zealand and secondly married a citizen of South Africa will only become a citizen of the United Kingdom if she is not a citizen of any of those Dominions. She will be a citizen of the United Kingdom if she does not happen to be a citizen of any of those Dominions. She may have no connection with the United Kingdom. She may be born abroad or born in a Dominion and have no connection with the United Kingdom, but under the Bill—quite rightly as the Government have drafted it and have got into this position—once the Government's premise is admitted, they have to have this "catch-all" in order to preserve her British subjecthood.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, if he agrees with me, will correct the misconception which I believe has existed among the supporters of the Government when they appear to think that a citizen of a Dominion would not automatically be a British subject. Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Symonds) said that under Clause 1 there were people all over the British Commonwealth who did not want to be British subjects; they would be citizens of dominions X or Y, but would not be British subjects. As I read Clause 1 anyone who is a citizen of any Dominion is, for United Kingdom purposes, a British subject. The people of Quebec the man in Ceylon, the revolutionary in Bombay—
§ Mr. Ede
I think that the hon. Member has misunderstood the argument which I put forward. There are certain people who are not British by descent who feel it is anomalous now that they have achieved a nationhood, to be called British subjects. Many of them associate the word "subject" with being members of a subject race, and for those people who have an objection to the two words "British subject," the alternative of "Commonwealth citizen" has been provided. It is true, as the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) said, that the reintroduction of the word "citizen" at the stage when normally people are subjects is intended to meet the susceptibilities of certain people to the implication of the words "British subject," an implication which we in this country do not draw from those words.
§ Mr. Foster
I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but I think I should be right in saying that under Clause 1 (1) they have the status of "British subject."
§ Mr. Foster
I appreciate that, but it seems an awful lot of complication, to result, in the end, in this revolutionary Indian being told, "You have the status of a British subject but you need not call yourself that." I agree he can do so; but if he objects to being a British subject, he would equally object to having the status of a British subject. He would be a very subtle man if he said, "I hate the word 'British.' 'Subject' means a subject race, but I do not mind having the status of a British subject." If he objects to and hates the word "British" he does not want the status of British. If he dislikes the conception of being subject to anything, he also dislikes having the status of a subject. I cannot see that this man from Quebec would be satisfied, if he loathed the idea of "British subject" "so much, being well content to have the status of a British subject. But that is a matter of opinion which cannot really be argued; it is a matter of opinion on both sides.
I do want to reinforce the argument which I have raised on the White Paper by showing that this creation of what I call artificial United Kingdom citizens would be unnecessary if we in this country, because we are the "catch-all" country—and that is the point; we are the country saying that British subjects in Australia and New Zealand do not lose their British subjecthood by local legislation—catch all who ought to have British subjecthood in that way, instead of a dual artificiality of having United Kingdom citizens created artificially, who then get through that gateway and stay British subjects. That, I think, is the difficulty the Government have got into.
I should like to say one more thing on nationality on marriage. I agree with the provision that a British woman who marries an alien should not become a foreigner but I should like to ask the Home Secretary to consider at a later 471 stage, with regard to a woman who marries a British subject—although I see his argument for not allowing her to become a British subject automatically when she is still abroad—whether it is not wrong to give the Home Secretary complete discretion to exclude the wife of a British subject living in this country, or a wife who wants to come to this country, and whether he should not fetter his discretion by giving the woman who is refused leave to come to this country—because of perhaps some hearsay evidence on the part of the Home Secretary that she is a prostitute—an opportunity of appealing to some tribunal on the lines of the tribunal for the de-naturalisation proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman knows the tribunal to which I refer.
I know that the Home Secretary has the liberty of the subject at heart, and while he may or may not think that tribunal is the best tribunal to decide these things, some kind of appeal to a body like that is very necessary, otherwise the Home Secretary, when he hears of the marriage of a British subject to a woman in a very obscure part of the world where there is a white slave trade carried on, may jump to the conclusion that that British subject has married the woman for the usual sum of £5 so that he may bring her to this country in order to enable her to ply her trade. In these circumstances, I hope the Home Secretary would feel that he should perhaps have some independent body to advise him, or to control his discretion. I hope he will consider that for what it is worth. I also hope, however, that the House, when it considers the Government Amendments, will reject any Amendments which seek to restore the Bill to the form in which it was originally introduced.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I am sure the House listened with a very great deal of interest to the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster); but I feel also that the House will agree with me in repudiating his expression, the "catchall" country, as applied to this country. We should much prefer to use Shakespeare's words about this England:… that pale-fac'd shoreWhose foot spurns back the ocean's roaring tides,And coops from other lands her islanders.472 That is a much better way of describing what he calls the "catch-all" country.
I do not propose, if the hon. Member will forgive me, to follow him into the labyrinthine argument he presented to the House. Rather would I say a few words about the very interesting, careful and detailed argument presented by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). So many aspects of his speech have been discussed in the course of the Debate that I propose to confine myself to one or two. He contrasted the Statute of Westminster with the present Bill for one express purpose. He did so for the purpose of showing that the Statute of Westminster had followed a long course of constitutional development in the British Empire and British Commonwealth of Nations. He went on to argue that this Bill does not follow any such long course of development. In fact, he said that it was wrong to bring forward this Bill at this time, just on the eve, as he said, of an Imperial or Commonwealth Conference; that it would be much better to postpone it until it was discussed at such a Conference.
It is right to remind the House that this subject has been discussed at Imperial Conferences for at least 40 years. Being a lawyer, I like to rely on reported decisions, and I therefore want to refer the House to what happened at the Imperial Conference of 1911 when the Earl of Crewe, then Secretary of State for India, showed that this very topic was under discussion so far back as that time. He said:I recognise fully—as His Majesty's Government fully recognise—… that as the Empire is constituted … nobody can attempt to dispute the rights of the self-governing Dominions to decide for themselves whom, in each case, they will admit as citizens of their respective Dominions.There we see in the year 1911 the idea as represented by the Earl of Crewe. I pass on to 1923, when we find General Smuts, at the Imperial Conference of that year, saying:There is no equality of British citizenship throughout the Empire. On the contrary, there is every imaginable difference, and it is quite wrong for a British subject to claim equality of rights in any part of the Empire to which he has migrated, or where he happens to be living. Each constituent part of the Empire will settle for itself the nature and incidents of citizenship. The common kingship is the binding link between the parts of the Empire. It is not a source from 473 which private citizens will derive their rights. They will derive their rights from the authority of the State in which they live.The Home Secretary of that day replied:Imperial nationality is indivisible. Local citizenship and the rights and privileges attached thereto may be diverse.In the same year, 1923, General Smuts again discussed this subject at the same Imperial Conference, and said:There is no common equal British citizenship in the Empire … There is no indignity or affront at all in the denial of such equality … The newer conception of the British Empire as a smaller League of Nations, as a partnership of free and equal nations under a common hereditary Sovereign, involves an even further departure from the simple conception of a unitary citizenship. British citizenship has been variable in the past; it is bound to be even more so in the future … The composition and character and rights of its people will be the concern of each free and equal State of the Empire. It will not only regulate immigration from other parts of the Empire as well as from the outside world, but it will also settle the rights of its citizens as a matter of domestic concern.There were other Imperial Conferences in later years that discussed this topic and that have used the word "citizenship," which has been deprecated by the Opposition in the Debate here and in another place. That being so, I think the House will agree the suggestions of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that this Bill is premature and that this discussion is premature are something which will not weigh with Members. His second point was that British citizenship is not a shackle. I think he must have put up that argument for the purpose of knocking it down. No one on this side has suggested anything of the kind. On the contrary, the Home Secretary today said that British citizenship and the term "British subject" are something to be proud of.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say that there are five advantages of British citizenship which we are in danger of losing under this Bill. He said that citizens of different parts of the Empire would be unable to inter-marry with the same ease under this Bill. I can find nothing in the Bill to support any such argument. The second advantage he seemed to think would be imperiled by this Bill which he mentioned was when he spoke of the various component parts of the Commonwealth hitherto having been able to seek helpful association without let or hindrance. His third point was 474 that up to the present we have had free military association between the various parts of the Commonwealth. The fourth point was that the freedom we have enjoyed before this Bill was presented provides an open career for the people of the British Commonwealth as much at home as abroad. His fifth point was that British citizens in various parts of the Empire and Commonwealth can seek the assistance of British consulates in a way that will be difficult after this Bill has been passed. Since the right hon. Gentleman made his speech I have re-read the Bill, and I can find nothing in it which puts any of these rights in peril. I am inclined to think that here again he must have put up these arguments for the purpose of knocking them down.
I pass from the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which contained a great many critical points that have been dealt with by other Members in the course of the Debate, to say in closing that I welcome this Bill, that it is long overdue and that if enacted it will perform a very useful service; it will adjust the facts of the growing organism, the developing British Commonwealth of Nations, to the law as it should be today. A misunderstanding seems to have arisen in another place about this Bill which, when it was first presented, was described as a Bill:To make provision for British nationality and for British citizenship in the United Kingdom and Colonies; and for purposes connected therewith.Now it appears before us with the reference to "British citizenship in the United Kingdom and Colonies" eliminated. That seems to be irrational, and, as the Home Secretary said in his opening speech, this omission spoils the Bill. I hope that the House, before it parts with this Bill, will see that that defect is cured, that it retains its pristine effectiveness and that it appears on the Statute Book in the more useful and workmanlike form in which it was originally presented.
We must remember, in considering this question, that each component part of the British Commonwealth of Nations is to all intents and purposes an independent nation with many freedoms, including the right to secede from the Commonwealth if it chooses. It is worth while, on an occasion like this, to recall the official definition of the Dominions as being 475autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by their common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth, of Nations.That being so, I think that this Bill is a most beneficent Measure, and I hope it will pass with the improvements I have suggested.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
The hon. and learned Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hector Hughes) has just made a quotation which includes two vitally important principles, which I hope he and other Members will not forget between now and the important Committee stage of this Bill. The first is that we in this country are equal in status with our partners in the Dominions, which infers that we have an equal right to legislate for our people and those immediately dependent upon us, as they have to legislate for their own people. The other principle we should not forget is, that with the immense diversity of people within the Commonwealth and Empire with whom we are dealing and especially the immense diversity of native peoples within the Colonies, the one thing that binds them together is the common allegiance with the Crown. I seriously beseech Members on both sides not to allow anything to be included in this Bill which might even on the surface or superficially appear to weaken that allegiance.
To make my point a little more specific, it has not been an easy matter to keep together so many of the diverse and often primitive races of the world under the British flag. How has this been done? We have given them an easy conception, first, in the days of good Queen Victoria of a great Queen in a distant land, who would give them protection, who would give them prosperity, who no doubt would expect them to work in return, but whose subjects they were. It was in that way that we got loyalty and obedience from them. That simple conception has been handed down; and "British subject" has no doubt been translated into a hundred or more different languages. It means that, if we are to abandon that term and use a new term, even though there may be no equivalent 476 to be found in these languages, some other term than "British subject" will have to be found. I sympathise with and respect our friends in Canada for wishing to use the word "citizenship." I see no reason why they should not use that term; but, because they use it in regard to their people and particularly the French-Canadians, I do not think we should necessarily apply the same term to the diverse primitive peoples in the British Commonwealth of Nations.
May I now turn to another matter, which has not been mentioned in detail in this Debate or in Debates which took place in another place; and that is the position of British communities in parts of the world outside the British Empire. I do not know how many of such people there are, but there may be as many as half a million British people domiciled in different parts of the world. I know there are 30,000 of them in Egypt, a country which I know well, and I want to speak about these 30,000 people. They seem to me to be of three main types. The first are British in the full sense. Mostly British born, they are racially British and are recognisable as such. They speak English, and for the most part they are business people, who spend most of their working life there and come home to England when they retire. They have United Kingdom nationality, although they are Egyptian domiciled. We need not be troubled about them on this occasion. They can look after themselves.
The second type with which we have to deal are those whom I would commend to the protection and sympathy of this House. They are the descendants of the British pioneers in Egypt, whose ancestors went there first at any time between the Battle of the Nile and the end of the British occupation in 1922. It was not the custom of their ancestors, nor was it practicable in the early days, to send the children home to school in England. Those early pioneers had to make their own lives in Egypt. They maintained themselves racially pure for several generations, and their families have spent their lives there. Their sons have enriched Egypt by their culture: the Cairo Museum was largely a British conception. They provided technical skill in the country; and above all they enriched it by their character and by their integrity. 477 They were found to be useful, and still are, by the Egyptian Government, particularly in the police force. Most of the senior officers in the police force are still British.
Then there are those who are in the railways. I speak with some feeling on this subject, because my great grandfather was a British officer, who was told to go to Egypt to build the first railways there. He happened to marry twice and had nine children born in Egypt and the Lebanon. Mostly they stayed there and married British or other wives. His grandchildren and great grandchildren are now living there. They served in the British Forces during the war, but now they find themselves in a position of some difficulty. They are proud to call themselves British; but their roots have been for several generations in Egypt; and in Egypt today there is a growing xenophobia and they may find themselves without employment and oppressed. I should like to ask whoever is to reply on behalf of the Government, how this Bill will affect these people, because I feel we owe something to their ancestors. It seems to me that unless a wise and generous use is made of the power given under Clause 4, which is a discretionary power, harm may be done to those people. It would be of value to the House to know what policy we are going to expect; and, if we do not know the policy, we may have to move some Amendments in order to tie the Government down to some kind of policy.
I come now to the third group of British people in Egypt. They are people of British nationality only on a technical view of the law. They have little or no British blood in them. They do not often speak English and they do not look English or, for that matter, Scottish, Irish or Welsh. They cannot claim to have served the King and the British people; and they have no real right to our protection. They are really the Don Pacificos of Egypt and of the other places in the Middle East where such people are found. They solemnly turn up at the British Consulate once a year to sign on as British subjects. I have no idea how some of them acquired British nationality, and I believe in many cases they do not know themselves.
It is high time, in order that we do not cheapen this status of British subject, British citizen, or whatever it is going to be, that these people were put where 478 they belong and told where they belong. I should like to know what the position of those people will be under the Bill and whether the farce of their being called British is to be perpetuated. Again, this is a matter of policy, which can be narrowed down and tied down by the terms of the Bill. Reading Clause 4 (1, b) it seems that, unless something is done, this farce can be perpetuated from generation to generation, or for ever and ever, or until Parliament does something about it. As we are considering this very important and very great subject, I should have thought that this was a good opportunity for tidying these things up and, without any meanness on our part, for ensuring that the whole conception of British status will not be abused.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
A great deal of the discussion in this Debate has centred round the Amendments that were made in another place. As they have been discussed, and as the hour is late, I do not propose to deal with them now. Presumably they will come up for deliberation again at a later stage. I should prefer to turn to an aspect of the Bill which I do not think has yet been mentioned in this Debate.
It happens that a substantial number of the residents of East Islington, which I have the honour to represent in this House, are British subjects by naturalisation, or are in the process of becoming British subjects by naturalisation. As the House knows, the Home Secretary has granted something like 30,000 certificates of British nationality during the last two or three years to people who were formerly German, Austrian, Czech, Polish, etc., and to many others who were stateless. I can testify to the joy, relief and gratitude which these people who have received for themselves and for their families certificates of British nationality have experienced when they have learned that they have acquired British nationality. I know with what patience over long years, and with what uncertainty, they have awaited the result of their applications to the Home Secretary, who, in his discretion, has had to decide whether or not in each particular case to grant the certificate of nationality. When, at long last, after waiting for two or three years and after being in this country perhaps for seven or even 10 years, these 479 applicants have received a letter intimating that their application has been accepted, I know that their lives have been literally transformed. These certificates of British nationality mean something very real. They acquire the rights of a British subject with immense and justifiable pride.
When this Bill was introduced in another place the Lord Chancellor said that it would require the skill of an Athanasius to understand it. Listening to some of the Debate tonight I think we have travelled far beyond the realms of abstruse jurisprudence into the regions of metaphysics, in dealing with the question of citizenship of "the United Kingdom and Colonies," and with distinctions which exist without differences that it is easy to appreciate, but I would remind the House that there is a sense in which, to the large and important part of our people who get naturalised, British nationality means something very real and substantial. I am confident that this large and recent influx of alien blood, now admitted to British nationality will be rapidly absorbed and integrated in our community. They are anxious to acquire and assimilate the traditions and sentiments of our country. I mention this matter because I am very glad to see that the provisions with regard to naturalisation are perpetuated in the Bill, and that in one respect the conditions of eligibility are relaxed. While the qualifications as to residence, and service under the Crown are maintained, I am very glad to note, though it is only a small point, that an alien who has been in the service of the Sudan Government can now qualify for naturalisation.
I would like to say a word on the question of married women. We have heard about the origin of this Bill. I listened with attention to the observations of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) and other hon. Members opposite criticising the necessity for this Bill. Speaking for myself, I have come to the conclusion that the Bill is necessary and desirable. It forms part of the natural evolution of the British Commonwealth and is one of the steps we have to take in order to bring the law of the country into conformity with the changes that have taken place in practice throughout the Commonwealth. However, I would agree with those hon. 480 Members from all parts of the House who have referred to the omission to publish the report of the expert committee which ha:, preceded the introduction of this Bill. In view of the fact that we all agree that this is a Bill of great constitutional importance, I hope that before we conclude our discussions on the Bill the Home Secretary will consider the desirability of publishing the report for the benefit of the House and the country so that all can understand the significance of this Bill and so that some of the misapprehensions that have been voiced may be removed. I would also urge that any communications which have been received from the Dominions asking us to introduce this Bill or making suggestions about it should be published.
I would also ask the Home Secretary to publish the communications which have been received from the Government of Eire about this Bill, both with regard to the Bill as introduced into another place and the communications which, I understand from the Irish Press, have been received since the changes were made in another place. The House may know that there have been long and well documented articles in the Irish Press purporting to quote communications both from the De Valera Government or from the present Government of Eire with regard to their attitude towards this Bill. There have been hot debates in the Irish Parliament as to whether those reports are authentic or not. The matter has raised a great stir there. Hon. Members are entitled to know what is the attitude of the Irish Government on this matter.
Be that as it may, this Bill should be welcomed and endorsed by this House if only for the reason that at long last it removes the sense of grievance and hardship from which British women who have married aliens have been suffering. I know of numerous cases of poignant suffering on the part of British women who lost their nationality by marriage to a German, an Italian, a Frenchman or some other foreigner, who thereby not only lost the privileges of British nationality and the right to vote, but during the war suffered considerable inconvenience and hardship through the loss of British protection. While I realise that the corollary of this change is that alien women should not automatically become British on marriage to a British subject, 481 I think the House is entitled to much more clarification than exists in the Bill at present as to the principles which will be applied by the Home Secretary in admitting foreign women to British nationality on their marriage to British subjects. We all understand that the reason, as given by the Home Secretary, for this provision in the Bill is to enable the Government to exclude from the privileges of British nationality certain number of alien women who come here either for scandalous and immoral purposes or as spies and who pay British subjects to marry them merely in order that they may qualify as British subjects. I agree that that is something which should be remedied, but we are entitled to see what are the consequences of the step which is being taken to remedy that grievance.
I want to ask the Home Secretary to announce the principles that he will apply in considering applications by alien women who marry British subjects. Will there be any residence qualification before the application is considered? Are the same principles to be applied irrespective of whether the marriage takes place in this country or abroad? I would ask the House to note that a woman who in the future marries a British subject and does not receive a certificate of British nationality will suffer for the rest of her life under a great stigma and reproach—she will be branded either as being of questionable moral character or as having doubtful political affiliations. She will be classified and stigmatised as unworthy of British citizenship. Therefore that is a matter on which the House is entitled to have much more information than we have at present.
In that connection, may I draw the attention of the House to this: that this is not a matter which ought to depend on any legal technicalities. We have heard a great deal in this country recently about the scandal of the 15 or 16 British wives who are detained by the Soviet Government in Soviet territory. We have made protest after protest to Soviet Russia to have those wives sent over here to join their husbands in this country because they are British subjects and ought to be with their husbands. I would ask the House to note that, when this Bill has become law, the situation will be that if those women in Russia had married British subjects, they might not 482 have become British at all However, I should hope that the indignation which has been aroused in this country by the attitude of the Soviet Government would not be regarded as resting upon the mere technicality that they are British subjects, but that in a similar situation protests would be based on the ground that it is contrary to the fundamental basic principles of human rights that husband and wife should be separated.
That leads me to make the suggestion that the entire question of the nationality of married women is not merely a question for this country or indeed for the Commonwealth, but is a matter on which sooner or later I hope we shall have international agreement. Therefore, I would urge the Home Secretary or the Attorney-General, at the earliest convenient opportunity, to have the question of the international recognition of the status of married women raised on an international plane, preferably through the aegis of U.N.O. I must not detain the House longer, and I will conclude by saying that while we all endorse and welcome this Bill, for myself, I shall hope to make certain suggestions on the Committee stage.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
I must admit, having listened to almost the entire Debate, that I still wonder what on earth this Bill is for. I do not think all the speeches I have heard have made that any more clear. Even the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) has only produced one reason why it should have been introduced. I think there may be something in that one, and that is, the position of British women married to aliens. For the rest of it, what is the purpose of bringing in this Bill, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, at the end of a Session when the programme is admittedly overcrowded and the Government do not know how to push things through?
I think that this is an effort to establish uniformity. I cannot believe that that is a desirable thing. I do not believe it is ever a desirable thing, except in very limited spheres of uniformity. When it has been attempted in history it has usually split either Christendom or Kingdoms into two. I do not think that the effort to make it 483 uniform throughout the British Empire will ever come to anything successful. We already have the status of "British subject," which means that that man or woman owes allegiance to the British Crown. That is the basis of the Empire and the Commonwealth and it will always remain so. It is established already and recognised in the words "British subject."
It is of the utmost importance that we should realise how much allegiance to the British Crown means in these faraway places. I do not think it is fully realised how much it does mean. People who have lived overseas will vouch that it means an immense thing for a man to say he is a subject not of the British people, not of the British Empire, not of England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales, but that he is a subject of the King or the King-Emperor. That and nothing else is what has held, and will continue to hold, the Empire together. It is most unfortunate at this stage, when it is more important than ever before that the countries of the Empire should stand together in the face of the world today, that this disturbing matter should be brought into play when, I think, there is no reason whatsoever for it and none has been produced so far.
I think it was the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay) who mentioned how different today is the outlook upon Empire matters among the different parts of the Empire from what it was before the war and even before then. That is perfectly true. Every thinking person in any one of the Dominions, including this country of ours, must realise that the particular country to which he belongs, by itself in the world today, is a comparatively small thing and a very dangerously situated thing wherever it happens to be. But if we speak as an Empire, all speaking together, we are not small things at all—we are the greatest thing in the world today and, what is more, the best example of government in justice and in freedom that this world has ever known. These things are worth sticking to and at the summit, above everything else, stands the dignity of the British Crown, the cementing factor in this British Empire of ours today.
It will be deplorable if this Bill is allowed to go through and in any way changes in any of the Dominions the fact 484 that a man or woman is a British subject—that is, a subject of the Crown. We must be very careful in dealing with the new Dominions. I entirely disagree with the Home Secretary in one thing—that there is any considerable body of people in, for instance, India, Pakistan or Ceylon who object to the words "British subject." There are certain ones, I quite agree, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was not intending to say there were a great many—
Believe me, the type which does take exception to the words "British subject" is the rather frothy student type. We ought to realise that behind these student types—I am not saying that disrespectfully but everybody knows, in all countries, that students are the more excitable while they are students, however staid they may become later—are the people who object to the word "British subject" because they think, quite wrongly, it has something to do with subjection. It is nothing of the kind. We ought to make it perfectly clear that, if they wish to be Dominions within the great British Empire and Commonwealth, they must accept what we all believe and know to be a fact—that being a British subject implies no form of subjection at all in the way of repression.
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)
If that be so—and I entirely agree with the hon. and gallant Member—would it not be better to alter the word "subject" because the word "subject" must imply subjection?
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
No, because I think that the subjection, or recognition of the overlordship, of the Crown is the sole meaning of "British subject." If certain people in the British Empire outside this country do not realise that, it is our job to teach them that that is one of the privileges of being a Dominion in the great British Empire. I do not think we ought to alter this excellent rule in order to pander to those who have not quite reached those heights. Rather let them reach the heights and join us. They are a very small minority in any of the countries concerned.
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) mentioned a certain community 485 of 30 odd thousand in Egypt. I have in mind another community which is on a bigger scale, known as the Anglo-Indian community which used to be called Eurasians. There are vast numbers of them in India and they are in an unhappy position. No one seems to want them. They are despised by the Indians and now there are few British left in India to support them. What will be their position if the Bill goes through as the Government desire it to go through? The same state of affairs obtains there as in Egypt and I hope we shall get a distinct statement of what will be the position in each of these unhappy situations if the Bill passes into law.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)
I wish to reinforce a plea which has come not only from this side of the House; I am thinking particularly of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas), who made similar criticisms to those that we on this side have tried to express. There are many interesting questions on which I could embark if there were time—for instance, the important proposals dealing with married women—but they can wait for the Committee stage. I merely say of them that I can assure the Home Secretary, as he must know already, that they are not uncontroversial.
The Home Secretary quite rightly said that the Bill was of great constitutional importance. I am sure he and the Attorney-General would agree that, although the Bill is legally difficult, the main points of controversy are such that, if they are explained, they can be appreciated by people who are not lawyers. Those points are of the very first importance. Nearly everything which I could have said has been said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) and in what I thought was a very forceful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster).
One of the principal arguments put forward in good faith by the Home Secretary is really fallacious. He gave an example of an anomaly resulting from the Canadian Statute, namely that there was some discrepancy in the view of English and Canadian law about certain people who derived nationality from descent. I agree there 486 is that anomaly, but the right hon. Gentleman implied that if we passed this Bill there would be no risk of such an anomaly in the future. That is not the case. There will be exactly the same possibility of anomalies of that kind in the future unless the Dominions pass legislation in the precise form for which we hope.
It may be that the Government are confident that they have an agreement to that effect, but, if that is the case, their security rests on the agreement, and not on the House passing this Bill. The tidiness the Home Secretary seeks will not be guaranteed by this Measure. The Home Secretary assumed that the Amendment made in another place by which British subjects in the United Kingdom and Colonies remain described as "British subjects" and not as "citizens" must be a bad Amendment and one which wrecks his Bill. I suggest that it is a good Amendment; but in any event it does not wreck his Bill.
Let me give an example. I think I am right in saying that New Zealand has not yet legislated at all on these lines. Are the Government quite certain that, when the New Zealand Government come to legislate, they will not use the words "British subject of New Zealand"? I do not regard that as at all impossible. If they did use that phrase, it certainly would not wreck the scheme in any way. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) may think he knows everything, but I was addressing myself to the Government, of which he is not yet a member. I wonder whether the Government are quite confident that the New Zealand Government, when they legislate, will not use such a phrase. If they did use such a phrase, could it possibly be said that it would wreck the scheme of the Bill as at present laid down—
§ Mr. Blackburn
I am sorry to interrupt, but I would like to point out that New Zealand is a country which has been Socialist for 15 years. As a Socialist Government, the Government of New Zealand are most unlikely to be particularly addicted to a form of words which would attempt to perpetuate an idea of subjection to the Crown.
§ Mr. Strauss
I am rather astonished that a gentleman who once held His 487 Majesty's commission should regard subjection to the Crown as an ignominious position. I yielded to the hon. Member because I thought that perhaps he had some observation to make relevant to an argument adduced in the course of the Debate.
I hope that when the Attorney-General replies he will say whether he agrees, as I think he does, that this Measure gives no security against a repetition of the sort of anomaly which the Home Secretary gave as one of his reasons for the Bill. I hope he will also deal with the point that it is certainly not injurious to his Bill, and that it certainly has not been proved wrong in any way, for British subjects in the United Kingdom to retain that description. I hope that these matters will be considered by the Government and that they will be dealt with tonight.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
We have had an interesting Debate and a number of contributions, some more and some less illuminating than others, upon this highly complex subject of nationality. One cannot spend, as I did, nearly five years in the Home Office in time of war without learning at any rate some of the elements of this difficult problem. It is one upon which it is easy to see so many trees that one loses the wood, and in my short remarks this evening I will try to stick to what I think is the main point raised by this Bill.
In 1943 it fell to my lot to introduce in this House the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Bill of that year, and although I have never quoted from one of my speeches before, on re-reading this one I found a sentiment so admirable and, no doubt, so aptly phrased by the advisers in the Home Office who now advise the present Home Secretary, that I cannot refrain from quoting a sentence or two from it to the House:The conception of British nationality is based partly on common law and partly on Statute. The common code of law on this subject is one of the most important links which bind together the British Commonwealth of Nations, and in regard to any change in our nationality laws we attach, and shall continue to attach, the greatest importance to securing the assent of the self-governing Dominions; and, as hon. Members know, this is a subject which is almost invariably placed on the agenda when an Imperial conference takes place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1943; Vol. 387, c. 1258.]488 Whether we like it or not, we must recognise that the passage of this Bill will mark the end of the era of the common code of nationality law within the British Commonwealth of Nations, and few, I think, can view that prospect with anything except a certain amount of foreboding and regret. From now onwards, if the hopes expressed in the White Paper are fulfilled, there will be a separate code of nationality law in each of the self-governing Dominions.
Why, we ask ourselves on this side of the House, are we invited to pass this Bill at the present time? The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, following upon the White Paper, attributed the necessity for this Bill to the passage of the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1946. That may be a contributory reason, but it seems to me it surely cannot be an all-compelling reason because it is no less than 13 years—1935—since the Government of another Dominion, Southern Ireland, passed its own nationality law and laid it down that there should be a Southern Irish citizenship and that persons of Southern Ireland who became naturalised elsewhere should lose their Southern Irish nationality. Therefore, the Canadian Act of 1946 surely cannot be an all-compelling reason for the introduction of this Bill at the present time.
It may well be a contributory cause, but what I should like to know in regard to the passage of the Canadian Act is this. The Home Secretary described to us quite fully in his speech this afternoon the attitude of His Majesty's Government in the Imperial Conferences of 1930 and 1937. I think we might have been told what was the attitude of His Majesty's Government to this proposal by the Canadian Parliament or the Canadian Government that they intended to enact their own citizenship law in 1946. We should like to have been assured that His Majesty's Government pointed out the effects of this proposal in the Canadian Parliament when it was first mooted—that is to say, September, 1945, two or three months after the present Government took office here—that they made some representations to the Canadian Government upon this question, and that they pointed out to the Canadian Government the serious effects of a departure from the common code which had been upheld throughout the Dominions hitherto by general consent.
489 I think we should also like to have been told whether any request was put forward to the Canadian Government to defer their proposals until a Conference of Empire Prime Ministers or Empire representatives could have been assembled. But we have not been told anything of the sort. It is baldly stated in the White Paper that Canada advised the United Kingdom that it found it desirable to introduce legislation. There appears to have been quite unilateral action by Canada upon this issue. We, of course, could not have prevented that occurring, but I do think that the British Government could have used their best endeavours to have secured some delay and some inter-Imperial consultation.
Let us suppose that the common code is now irremediably destroyed. Then, I think, arises the second question: why are we proceeding with this Bill at this particular moment? It has been announced that the Dominion Prime Ministers are to meet in London in October of this year. The White Paper gives us some very vague statements upon the issue as to what legislation will be undertaken in the Dominions if we pass this Bill. Surely, it would have been better to have delayed the passage of this Bill until after the Dominion Prime Ministers had assembled in London? They will then be all round the table together. That, surely will be the time to get firm assurances as to the corresponding legislation which it is hoped will be introduced in the Dominion Parliaments? I should have thought that this was just the wrong moment to be pushing this Bill through the House. It would have been far better, and no harm whatever would have arisen, if this Bill had been delayed until next Session and introduced in November or December this year.
I want to refer to a matter referred to by two hon. Gentlemen on the opposite Benches, and that is that this Bill, which is of supreme constitutional importance, arises out of a conference of experts. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say today that that conference was presided over by Sir Alexander Maxwell. However, I am surprised—and hon. Members opposite, too, have expressed their surprise—that the report of this conference has never seen the light of day. Nobody knows what the report contained; nobody knows what was 490 agreed. So far as I am aware, whenever there has been an Imperial Conference in the past a report has eventually been published. I should have thought that, unless there is something to be hidden in this matter, we might have had a report from the conference, and that it should not have been left to the Government to tell us for the first time that agreement had been reached when they published the White Paper in February this year.
This White Paper is, I think, a most admirable document. The law of British nationality is set out with extreme clarity in the Appendix. But there is an obscurity in the White Paper which I can hardly believe is accidental; and I ask the Attorney-General, when he comes to reply, to make this matter clear to the House. We are told in paragraph 5:At the conference agreement was reached as to a general scheme which the representatives of each country were prepared … to submit to their respective governments for consideration.In paragraph 6 it is stated:It is believed that legislation on the lines of this Bill will be acceptable to the other self-governing countries of the Commonwealth.I want to know whether it is a fact that the only matter which is agreed between the various members of the Commonwealth is Clause 1 of the Bill, which is the agreed common Clause; or does the White Paper say that the Dominions intend to pass Bills corresponding in virtually every detail to all the Clauses contained in the Bill now before the House. For example, are the Clauses and provisions relating to the nationality of married women agreed with the Dominions? Are they going to enact similar legislation to this respecting married women? Or take again the acquisition of British nationality by descent, jus sanguinis as opposed to jus soli, is it intended that the British Dominions overseas should introduce Clauses in their Bill such as Clauses 4 to 2 of this Bill, dealing with the acquisition of British nationality by descent?
Are all these matters the subject of agreement with the Dominions, or is it merely that the Clause 1 which has been agreed is Clause 1 of the Bill, the Clause which enables each Dominion to make its own code of nationality law, and then to declare that its own citizens under that 491 law are British subjects, and for the recognition of such persons as British subjects throughout the Commonwealth? I think it should be clearly stated to the House whether agreement is really to Clause 1 of the Bill—what is called the agreed common Clause—or whether it extends to the whole scheme of the Bill, because it certainly appears from the phraseology of the White Paper that it is the scheme of legislation contained in the Bill which has been agreed with the Dominions and which is likely to be enacted throughout the Commonwealth.
I pass from that subject to deal with a matter to which the Home Secretary devoted a great part of his speech this afternoon—the alterations which were made in the Bill in another place. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was making rather heavy weather of this question, and that he was anxious to disagree with the alterations in the Bill and to amend it accordingly in its passage through this House largely because of prejudice or a feeling of injured pride that a Bill of his should have been altered in any respect in another place. What do these Amendments amount to? They relate to two matters. The first is little more than a matter of phraseology. The Bill as it now comes to us contains the phrase in Clause 1:Every person who under this Act is a British subject of the United Kingdom and Colonies … shall thereby have the status of a British subject.The right hon. Gentleman seeks to amend that so that the phrase becomes:Every person who under this Act is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies … shall by virtue of that citizenship be a British subject.It seems to me that that is little more than a matter of phraseology. We are undertaking, for ourselves and the Colonies, to create a citizenship of our own, separate from that of the other self-governing Dominions. It does seem to me, however, that "citizenship" is really an inappropriate word to use in this connection, for 'citizenship' surely denotes equal rights and equal obligations, and nobody taking even a casual glance at the British Colonies could for one moment imagine that it will be possible, for several generations, to introduce equal rights and equal obligations throughout them, or even in very many of them.
492 There are Colonies like Bermuda where there is a considerable degree of self-government; but even in Colonies like Bermuda there is nothing approaching equal citizenship. For example, there is a very strict property qualification for the franchise. When one gets to the African Colonies there are, of course, large numbers of people there who enjoy no civic rights at all at the present time, as we understand those words. It, therefore, does seem to me that this phrase "citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies" is an inappropriate one, and for this reason, in the main, we should like to retain the words "British subject," which we think much more apt for what we want to describe.
I turn for a moment from that subject, which is little more than a matter of phraseology, to the provisions relating to Eire. In this regard I ask myself: is it really worth while making the change which the Bill proposes to make? Since 1935 Eire has had her own nationality law; she has not recognised her citizens as British subjects, but we have continued to do so. This anomaly has continued for 13 years, and in my experience it has not done anybody any harm. In point of fact, we know the tremendous contribution which Southern Ireland made to the war effort. I believe it to be true that more people from Southern Ireland volunteered to help this country than actually came from Ulster for that purpose. Of course, there is a considerable disparity in their populations, and it would not be in the least surprising were that the fact. But enormous numbers of people, being proud to be British subjects, came from Southern Ireland to help us in the war.
I cannot see what we shall gain now by telling those people that they are British subjects no longer. What do we get by appeasing people who do not like us and betraying those who do? I cannot myself see that anything whatever is gained, except perhaps giving a certain amount of satisfaction and pleasure to a certain number of people in Southern Ireland who are not friendly disposed to us, by simply saying now, "Citizens of Southern Ireland will henceforward not be regarded as British subjects."
For two or three moments I turn to another very important subject covered by the Bill, namely, the position of 493 married women. This is a matter of immense difficulty. Of course, there is bound to be conflict of loyalties wherever there are mixed marriages. It can be said, either that the nationality of a married couple shall be the same, or that each shall be free to retain his or her own nationality; but in either case there is bound to be a conflict of loyalties, and this is a matter of which I saw a tremendous lot during the war. These changes are now apparently to be made, and we want to be informed by the Government of the proposals regarding the nationality of children born of mixed marriages in the future.
In the ordinary way, when an alien woman marries an Englishman, she will come to reside here, and the children being born here will be British subjects, but what is to happen in the obverse case, which is not an uncommon case at all, of the British woman who marries an alien and resides abroad? Under the Bill, she is to retain her British nationality. I think we ought to be told upon what principle the Home Secretary is going to work in deciding what the nationality of the children of such a marriage will be. There is a wide power under Clause 7, which gives the right hon. Gentleman more or less a carte blanche to register any child as a British citizen, or rather as a citizen of the United Kingdom or Colonies.The Secretary of State may, in such special circumstances as he thinks fit, cause any minor to be registered as a British subject of the United Kingdom and Colonies.The powers are absolutely unlimited. It has always been an outstanding difficulty, on this question of permitting married women to retain their nationality on marriage to aliens, as to what nationality the children of such marriages shall be. I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman cannot be introducing this tremendous alteration in the law without having given careful thought to this problem.
Let me end, as I began, by saying that the day of the common code will have gone when this Bill becomes law. No longer will birth within the King's Dominions and allegiance automatically confer the proud status of a British subject. For the future, each Dominion will decide for itself who will be its citizens and, by virtue of that citizenship, British subjects. It will be in future, as far as 494 I can see, a free-for-all, and unless there is local recognition as a British subject or as a Commonwealth citizen, which is the same thing, no one will be so recognised elsewhere. It may be that this is the only solution now available. It may be that there is no alternative if the appearance of concord and unity throughout the Commonwealth is to be preserved, but let no one imagine that this Bill does not mark an end of the chapter and a leap in the dark as far as concerns one of the most important of the links of sentiment which has bound us to our Dominions overseas.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)
In the careful and moderate speech which he has made about this matter, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) appeared to take the view that the provisions of Clause 1 of the Bill—the key Clause of the Bill—really involve little more than a matter of words. That was not the view taken at the commencement of our discussion by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). Members opposite must decide on which of these two legs they intend to stand. Most Members opposite seemed to prefer the leg upon which the right hon. and learned Gentleman rested himself, and as the note he struck then has been re-echoed in a number of the subsequent speeches, I want first to deal with this matter from that point of view, although I shall endeavour to deal as faithfully as I can with the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman made an eloquent speech upon the manifest and traditional advantages of the status of a British citizen. I, for my part, fully agree with that. But rhetorical flourishes about the glories of British nationality may lead to the impression that this Bill is going to alter all that. It does nothing of the kind. The fact that a person who is a citizen of a Commonwealth country will not also be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies will not, as the law stands at present, deprive him of any of his existing rights at all. He will still continue to be a British subject; he will still be entitled if he so desires to stand for Parliament; he will still be eligible for membership of the 495 Privy Council; he will still be able to hold shares in a British ship; and he will still enjoy the countless other privileges which, under various previous statutes, are restricted to British subjects. As a British subject, who is at the same time a citizen of a Commonwealth country, he will be entitled to come here and enjoy precisely the same rights as he has previously enjoyed.
Whether he will enjoy those rights in any other Commonwealth country is, of course, a matter which depends entirely on the Parliaments of other Commonwealth countries. We cannot lay that down; that is a matter for them. He will be a British subject in all Commonwealth countries, it will be for them to say what in their particular circumstances are the rights and privileges that they will attach to that status. As for our own country, I cannot, of course, bind future Parliaments as to what they may think right to do about this matter, but here as the metropolitan centre of the Commonwealth and the historical Motherland I hope that we shall always accord to the citizens of other Commonwealth countries the full rights and privileges that we are prepared to extend to our own citizens.
This Bill does not alter the existing rights of existing British subjects. It does not destroy in the slightest degree the allegiance to a common Crown, which, we all agree, has undoubtedly been so important a tradition in the development of the Commonwealth. These things remain exactly as they were before. What this Bill seeks to do is to deal with the machinery by which the status of a British subject should be obtained in future, and subject always to the legislation which any particular Commonwealth Parliament may think it right to pass, the Bill retains and proceeds on the general principle that birth within a Commonwealth country will result in such persons becoming citizens of their own country, and through becoming citizens of their own country will become British subjects throughout the Commonwealth and throughout the world, owing allegiance to His Majesty the King just as British subjects owe it today.
But—and this is one of the fallacies which underlay the very subtle speech of the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster)—this Bill does not, of course, say that those who would in future 496 have become British subjects if the Bill had not been passed will become British subjects in future or will be "caught up"—I think that was the expression used—by the provision in the Bill, which provides transitionally that those who do not acquire citizenship of a Commonwealth country will be given the citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies and would thereby become British subjects. That applies to those who are British subjects at the present time. What will happen in future in regard to matters like the line of descent, application of the jus sanguinis and the jus soli, or other principles, will depend on the legislation of the different Commonwealth countries. Nor does it follow—this is another fallacy underlying that very interesting speech—that the status of citizenship, while it will not differ from that of a British subject in the United Kingdom and Colonies, will necessarily have the same incidents in the other Commonwealth countries. That, again, is entirely a matter for the Commonwealth countries to decide for themselves.
Everybody in the course of our discussion today has agreed that one of the factors in maintaining the unity of the Commonwealth is the possession of a status, an acceptable common status, by all the members of the Commonwealth. The truth is—and if the right hon. Member for North Leeds did not expressly accept it, he did so by implication—that the system which has hitherto been in force, and which was intended to secure that unity of status, was, in theory, based upon the power of the British Parliament to legislate for the Dominions, as we called them then, as indeed we sought to do in the Nationality Act of 1914.
That theory was quite inappropriate. It was inappropriate even at that time. As a matter of fact, the Dominions did not adopt Part II of the 1914 Act, as they had been intended to do, nor accept Parts I and III, as was contemplated. They chose to adopt, for quite good constitutional reasons, the different course of enacting their own statutes, largely but not entirely similar in terms to the 1914 Act, and not to apply the 1914 Act as a British statute which became obligatory upon them.
Subsequently to that time, the whole system started to break down. After the 497 Statute of Westminster in 1931, the preservation of the common status depended upon agreement among the different Commonwealth countries and upon their all continuing to march in step; but they did not march in step. In 1933, the Parliament of New Zealand and the Parliament of Australia enacted that women marrying aliens might retain the right to be treated as British subjects in those Commonwealth countries, although, according to the ordinary law in the United Kingdom, they would then become aliens. In 1935, both countries passed further statutes dealing with the same kind of problem. Again, in 1935, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, the Parliament of Eire passed a statute which created an entirely separate law as to nationality. In 1937, at the Imperial Conference, General Hertzog expressed strongly the view, on behalf of South Africa, that some term other than that of British subject ought to be found to define the common status. Then, in 1945, the Government of Canada intimated to us their intention to pass an entirely new nationality law.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me what steps we took on receiving that intimation. I think it would not be proper for me to go further than to say that, as soon as we received the intimation, we made representations about the matter. We discussed the possibility of delay and the undesirability of unilateral action, and we went fully into the matter with the Government of Canada. The Government of Canada, as they were fully entitled to do, because they are a sovereign community, just as we are, decided in 1946 that it was right, as it were, to take the bit between their teeth and to proceed on the lines which they thought proper. They did proceed to make the drastic changes in their law of nationality about which we have heard.
Then came the meeting of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers in 1946. Very great play has been made with the fact that no formal Imperial Conference has taken place preceding the introduction of this Bill. I do not want to detract for a moment from the importance to be attached to the Imperial Conference. We listened to the very interesting and important comments made on the matter by the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay). I must not attempt to follow him in discussing the future 498 shape which our arrangements with the other Commonwealth countries may take, but for my own part I hope that, whether by way of the Imperial Conference to which we have been used hitherto or by some other means, there will be increasing opportunities of consultation between the Governments of the different Commonwealth countries.
However, it would be a very sorry day for the development and the future of co-operation in the Commonwealth if co-operation between the different Commonwealth countries in such a matter as this for adapting the structure of the Commonwealth as need arose were always to await the necessity for holding a formal Imperial Conference about it. That would be quite an impossible state of affairs. Here the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth countries met. They gave the matter careful consideration, they discussed all the principles which were involved and agreed upon them, and they then arranged, since this was an essentially technical and difficult matter, that there should be a conference of experts to work out the details. That conference met, and the recommendations and proposals which were arrived at were considered by each of the Commonwealth Governments. This Government and this House cannot attempt to bind the Parliaments of the different Commonwealth countries as to what legislation they may pass in implementation of the understanding which was reached, but I can at least say that we have no reason whatever to doubt that it is the intention of all the Commonwealth countries to deal with the matter.
It is not the practice to negotiate with the sovereign countries of the Commonwealth as if they were contending litigants trying to negotiate some settlement in the county court. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about having an enforceable agreement with the Commonwealth countries. That is not the way in which the affairs of this great Commonwealth are conducted. We had a full discussion. We had a complete understanding on the principles which were to be followed in the matter. Mr. Mackenzie King, Mr. Chifley, Field-Marshal Smuts and Mr. Walter Nash were here, and the matter was fully considered. The conference of experts was appointed to work out the details and the proposals were made.
499 I have been asked why we did not publish the report of the conference. The right hon. Gentleman who asked that question knows the answer very well. This was a conference of officials. It is not usual to publish reports of conferences of that kind. Moreover, this was a conference which reported not only to us but to all the Commonwealth countries. It was a joint report. It would not have been appropriate, quite apart from the point as to its official nature, for us to publish the report unless all the other Commonwealth countries were prepared to agree to it. As I indicated, it is not for me to say whether or not other sovereign legislatures of the Commonwealth will deal with this matter by legislation, but I can say that we have no reason whatever to doubt that legislation will be passed in the other Commonwealth countries and that it will be passed without delay. Indeed, I understand that such legislation has already been announced in the Parliament of New Zealand.
It was put to me by the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) that there was some suggestion that in that legislation the term "British subject" was going to be used instead of the term "citizen of New Zealand." I can only say, because it would not be proper for me to purport to make any statement on behalf of the New Zealand Government, that we have made inquiries into the matter and that the information in our possession as a result of those inquiries does not bear out in the slightest degree that New Zealand or any other Commonwealth country proposes to adopt the expression "British subject" instead of the expression "citizen."
§ Mr. Renton
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that it has been mutually agreed between the Governments of the Dominions that the legislation shall follow a common form?
§ The Attorney-General
I am coming to that point, which was raised by the right hon. Member for North Leeds. If the hon. Member does not mind, I would like to deal with it when I come to it a little more in its context. Before I come to that, I want to make one more general remark which seems to be appropriate here about our relations with the Commonwealth.
500 The noble Lord the Member for Southern Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke)—and I am sorry to have to make these comments in his absence but, as he explained to me, he unavoidably has to be elsewhere and I told him that I should have to make some reference to his speech—the noble Lord made what was, no doubt, a considered and what was certainly a characteristically deplorable, indeed, a reprehensible, speech. Fortunately, it is well known in this country that the views of the noble Lord have no special significance. I can only hope that it is equally well known abroad. I can only hope—and I express the hope without any great confidence—that during his self-imposed peregrination through the Commonwealth countries he did not do as much harm to the relations between the different Commonwealth countries as I fear he sought to do in the 10 minutes during which he addressed the House this evening. For my own part, I would regard it as a complete presumption and impertinence to question the right, as the noble Lord did, of the different Commonwealth Governments to speak for the people of those countries or to suggest that the action which they have taken in regard to these matters was not a proper action.
I hope we can all agree in this House that the British Commonwealth of Nations is one of the most remarkable political organisations in the history of the world, and I myself profoundly believe that, within the United Nations, it can be the most powerful single factor for maintaining peace, for spreading culture and democracy throughout the world, and for promoting prosperity. But it can be that only if we accept it fully as a voluntary and living organism of nation States, each one of which enjoys absolute sovereignty along with the others, all of them pares inter pares. We do not promote that conception of the Commonwealth by mere lip-service, by flag-wagging, by what the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in his more enlightened days, when he described faithfully the activities of the party to which he now belongs, referred to as "patriotism by the Imperial pint."
We do not promote the conception that we want to have of the British Commonwealth if, at the same time, we seek to maintain a formal constitutional structure which has long since fallen into desuetude, and which is based on ideas of dominance 501 by the Imperial Parliament which, in fact, no longer exists.
It might be very nice—I dare say it would—to maintain the existing forms with which we are familiar, but events march on and circumstances change. As the hon. Member for North-West Hull, who speaks with great experience about Commonwealth matters said, it is essential, if our structure is to hold together, that it should from time to time adapt itself to meet the realities of existing conditions. That is what we are trying to do in this Bill.
It is not a question of the sensitiveness of the Commonwealth countries, as the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) suggested. As soon as we concede the right—which nobody can doubt—that each Commonwealth country has to legislate for itself who shall be its nationals, its citizens, its subjects, its ressortissantes, whichever term we may choose; as soon as we concede that right, as we all must, the problem arises of reconciling the local—or national—laws with regard to citizenship with those which relate to the common status in the Commonwealth as a whole, and it becomes necessary to differentiate between the two. The fundamental scheme of this Bill is that instead of the United Kingdom Parliament alone controlling who shall enter into the common status, which Members of all the Commonwealth countries ought equally to share, each Commonwealth country should control for its own people who should become its nationals and should pass through the doors to the Commonwealth status—the genus, the common status of Commonwealth citizenship.
Once the method of reconciling the local status with the Commonwealth status has been accepted, the question becomes one of differentiating between the two. Then, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crowley) suggested, it may be to some extent a question of words. But not entirely. In dealing with the local status and with the Commonwealth status we are dealing with different conceptions which have distinct legal consequences and we must try to find some abstract term which is apt to describe them. Even if it were only a matter of words, we have seen from the Debate today that words can be important, even if they in no way affect legal rights; and if it is 502 important in this country, in some of the Commonwealth countries, and perhaps more particularly in the Colonies, the form of words may have an even greater significance attached to it.
The term "British subject" is unfortunately not universally accepted, partly for sentimental reasons and partly, I think, owing to logical reasons. That is a pity. For our own part we want nothing better. We are proud to describe ourselves as "British subjects." We regard the term as the hallmark, the emblem, the very badge of liberty—and a liberty which we intend to preserve. But we must try to look at this matter not only through our own eyes but through the minds of the different peoples in the Commonwealth. To the minds of some of those people, perhaps impressed with the bad old days of British Imperialism, the term "British subject" conveys the idea of subjection to a foreign yoke. And, as my right hon. Friend indicated, the French settler in Canada, or the Dutch settler in South Africa, regards the term "British" as wholly inappropriate to describe his status, quite apart from the use of the word "subjection."
I cannot agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan)—although, perhaps, what he said represents very much the view still held by some hon. Members opposite about our Colonial Empire—that if they do not like the phrase it is our job to teach them to like it. That is not our view. These countries are entitled—
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
It is not a matter of teaching them to like it, but of teaching them what it stands for and what it means, when they will automatically like it.
§ The Attorney-General
That is a little different from what the hon. and gallant Member said. We have had a good many hundred years to teach them about that and in spite of teaching they do not like the phrase and are entitled to say so. Long before the word "subject" came in with feudalism, the term "citizen" was a recognised and honoured one. Cicero could say civis Romanus sum; that was true not only in Republican Rome but in Imperial Rome; and since that time, in all the countries of the world, "citizenship" has been recognised as 503 the appropriate term to describe a man's political and civic status. That is the term which we believe all the Commonwealth countries intend to use, or go on using. We cannot criticise their decision even if we would, and we propose for this purpose to use a similar term ourselves. Why not? It does not in any way alter the status of people in this country; it does not make us any the less British subjects.
§ The Attorney-General
We say so in express terms. It is said that citizenship is an inappropriate term to use in relation to what is geographically, socially and politically a rather heterogenous community at varying stages of development. That involves a profound misconception both as to the nature of citizenship and as to our relations with the colonial peoples. Citizenship—I am using the term in its broad sense as opposed to municipal citizenship—is related to the territorial area which is ultimately subject to a single sovereignty. The area of sovereignty and of citizenship are the same. The Colonies are marching towards independence, but they are not yet sovereign. Ultimately they are subject to the sovereignty of this Parliament and the area of the sovereignty is therefore the area of the United Kingdom and our Colonies. That is coterminous with the area of citizenship.
But, of course, within the area of the citizenship, the incidence which is attached to citizenship depends upon the exact geographical location of the citizen at the time. We are citizens of the United Kingdom, I suppose we should all agree about that, but my rights in Edinburgh may be different from my rights in London, or, if I go over to Belfast they may be different there. The burdens of citizenship in Nigeria may be very much lighter than the burdens of citizenship in Newcastle, but if someone comes from Nigeria to Newcastle, although his colour may be black, he will have exactly the same rights as any other citizen in Newcastle at that time. If I go to Nigeria I shall have the same rights over there. Whatever the incidents of citizenship may be in a particular part of the area involved, they devolve on all citizens, kind or colour apart. That is the basic principle as I have always understood it, on which 504 our Colonial Empire has been built up and no question of race or colour enters into it. That is fundamental.
This Bill will not alter in the slightest degree the position of the various subjects of the King in the Colonies. They will remain exactly as they are and their allegiance and their duties and rights will remain just as they are at the moment, but, suiting words to realities, their status is going to be described, initially, as the status of citizenship. What an advantage it would be to describe them, not as citizens, but as British subjects, I am afraid I have not fully appreciated. When one looks at the way in which the Bill was amended in another place, and particularly at Clause 11 of the Bill as it has come down to us, one sees what complete nonsense has been made of the Bill by the attempt to retain the previous phrase. And if one looks at Clause 20 one finds that the very draftsmen who use the expressionBritish subject of the United Kingdom and Coloniesare forced to use the term "citizenship" to describe the status of those very persons of whom they used that phrase, because it is the only apt and proper term. At the appropriate time we shall ask the House to amend the Bill back to its original form.
I pass from that to refer to the question of Eire. As to the position of Eire, the matter is obviously one of difficulty and even delicacy, and I will not allow myself to be tempted into any general discussion of the constitutional relationship between this country and Eire at the present time. The United Kingdom Parliament has not, perhaps, always been very happy in its handling of our relationships with Eire, and I hope that on this occasion we shall at least avoid making some of the mistakes which have been made in this matter in the past.
In 1935, as I reminded the House, Eire enacted her own nationality laws, as she was fully entitled to do, and she expressly provided that citizens of Eire could not at the same time become citizens of another country, and that if they did so become they would lose their Eire nationality. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom at that time took up the position that they would not recognise the Eire Statute as affecting in any way the status of Eire citizens as British subjects. 505 In law they remained British subjects, and that was so decided. That led to a statement by Mr. de Valera about the position, and he said:As tar as we are concerned the present Irish Constitution, the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1035, and the other Irish laws related thereto determine the national status of all persons born in Ireland or of Irish parentage. They define Irish citizenship in exact legal terms for all purposes, and for all parts of the world where our citizens reside, and conform fully to the principles laid down for the determination of nationality and citizenship in International Conventions, as well as to international custom and usage. No law of any other country can affect the status conferred by these laws, and if any purports to do so I can only say that such a law is quite inconsistent with the present international position of Ireland and with the international character of the relations now existing between Ireland and other States, including those States which are members of the British Commonwealth. In so far as the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, 1914, purports still to apply, or is applied by British courts, to Irish citizens today, it runs directly counter to all the recognised international principles governing such matters. The law which purports still to provide that every person who is born in Ireland becomes automatically and precisely by reason of that fact a citizen of another country, is contrary to all reason and commonsense.However unfortunate those words may have seemed at the time, and however harshly they may have fallen upon English ears, once we concede, as we are bound to concede, that Eire is a sovereign State, free like the other States in the Commonwealth to leave the Commonwealth if it chooses or to come back into the Commonwealth if it chooses, it seems to me that the statement made by Mr. de Valera is a correct statement of the legal and constitutional position. To say that all citizens of another country in the Commonwealth should be citizens of the United Kingdom as the metropolitan centre of the Commonwealth, may sound a very nice and pleasant and hospitable thing to do, but it is really quite out of our rôle as an equal member of the Commonwealth unless the other Commonwealth countries concerned agree.
I believe there were some in America who regretted the American War of Independence and would have liked to remain British subjects; there may be such people over there still, but it would be quite inappropriate for us to pass a law providing that those people who once were British subjects, or their descendants, should remain British subjects under English law, and 506 it is equally inappropriate for us to attempt so to do in regard to Eire unless that country consents. To do so would infringe the sovereign status of a sister nation which is entitled to say what citizenship her countrymen should hold.
They have said in Eire that their citizens must not have this dual status, they must not get the best of both worlds, they must choose. But whilst there is much in this Bill which the Government of Eire do not like, they have not dissented from the view that existing citizens who are British subjects may claim to retain that status without prejudicing their Irish citizenship. For the rest, all citizens of Eire will, without having the legal status of British subjects, in fact continue to enjoy in the United Kingdom all the rights and privileges of our own citizens, just as to some extent British subjects going to Eire, I believe, enjoy special privileges which are not afforded to aliens in that country. I quite understand the sentimental reasons which lead us to wish to retain for our citizens the status of British subjects, but to seek to do so in the face of the contrary view of the Government of that country would involve an affront which we are not really entitled to put upon them. It would be tantamount to treating that country as being a Dominion of the British Crown in the strict sense, which most certainly it is not.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The one provision in the Bill is that certain citizens of Eire can apply to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and thereby become, as I understand it, British subjects, or remain British subjects—at any rate, be British subjects; I will not beg the question. How does that square with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's expressed desire to fulfil every word of Mr. de Valera's pronouncement?
§ The Attorney-General
I am not quite sure that I follow the point of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's intervention, nor did I express at any time a desire to fulfil every word of Mr. de Valera's pronouncement. I said, in terms, that that announcement might have fallen very harshly upon English ears, but it seemed to me to represent a correct statement of the legal and constitutional position. It was a position which His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom at that time were not prepared to 507 accept, and did not accept. At this time, we are seeking to reach a closer agreement with the Government of Eire with regard to this matter and we have adopted, in the Bill, provisions which may conduce to a better understanding in regard to it. I do not say for one moment that we have accepted the full position which Mr. de Valera indicated in the statement he made. In the way which we sometimes have in this country, we have sought to reach a compromise solution to this matter and I hope it may turn out to be a happy solution.
We have just concluded, I think, a trade agreement with Eire, and we must hope that it will lead not only to an improvement in our material and economic relationships with that country, but that it will gradually improve the understanding between the two countries and gradually result in a greater appreciation of our common interests. We cannot meet the Government of Eire, as apparently the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested we might, on all the points in this Bill, but we must at least avoid doing anything which would form a manifest breach of the rules of comity which govern relations between nations of equal status.
§ Sir R. Ross
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman leaves the point of Eire, perhaps I may ask him one question. First of all, I assume he is not purporting to reverse the decision in the case in 1945 that Eire citizens at that time were still British subjects. The second point is that he said it would be open for Eire to remain in or to leave the British Commonwealth. Surely the great importance in connection with the Bill is for him to say whether they have left it or are still in it?
§ The Attorney-General
I am not going to be tempted to follow the hon. Member into the interesting constitutional problems which arise from the exact status of Eire at the present time, nor would I attempt to reverse the decision of the High Court in the case to which reference has been made. That decision stands as to the position under the then existing law. In future, the courts will administer the law as laid down in this Bill when, as I hope, this Bill is enacted by Parliament.
Now I come to the point which was made about the nature of the legislation 508 which we expect to be passed by the different Commonwealth countries. We do not, of course, anticipate that they will necessarily pass Bills which in all their Clauses correspond with the Bill which we are presenting to this House. The whole purpose of this Bill is to enable the Commonwealth countries to decide for themselves exactly what should be the conditions and qualifications for citizenship and nationality in their own countries. Some of them may prefer to accept the jus soli, some the jus sanguinis. Some may prefer a combination of the two. It is entirely a matter for them in regard to which they are free to exercise their sovereign right.
The understanding is that each Commonwealth country will provide by its own legislation who should be the citizens of that country, and having done that, should provide that those who are its citizens under its own legislation shall become British subjects; and that those who are British subjects because they have passed through the gateway of other Commonwealth countries shall be recognised throughout the Commonwealth as British subjects. That is all we are seeking to do by common agreement. Beyond that, it is for each country to decide for itself the local conditions which will decide the question of local citizenship.
A point was raised by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) in his important and constructive speech. He asked whether protected persons were made British subjects by the Bill. They are not. For certain purposes—not, I think, for all—they are not to be treated as aliens. If they apply for naturalisation as British subjects—and this is new—they are enabled to use a much simpler and quicker machinery for obtaining British nationality. I cannot, I am afraid, hope to deal with all the points raised during the discussion, most of which will have to be examined in the course of the Committee stage.
§ Brigadier Peto
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman answer the question regarding Clause 6 and the children?
§ The Attorney-General
The position regarding children will be this. Assuming that one of the parents is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies and the other parent is an alien, the nationality of that child will depend upon the provisions of Clause 4 of the Bill. If the 509 child is born in this country, for instance, it will become a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. If its father is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, although the mother is an alien, the child will also become a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. If, on the other hand, the child is born abroad, and one or other of the parents is an alien, it will be open to the Home Secretary, under Clause 6, I think, to register the child as a British subject.
I apprehend, though I am not attempting to lay down any principle to govern the actions of my right hon. Friend in regard to the matter, that he will have regard to such circumstances as whether the father is connected in some way with the British Commonwealth of Nations and, in particular, with the United Kingdom; whether the family is coming to reside in the United Kingdom; whether the parent is in the service of the Crown, perhaps; whether the child is coming here to school; whether the child is being prepared for a career in this country. All sorts of considerations of that kind, differing greatly in different cases, will arise; and the Secretary of State will have discretion as to whether or not he should allow the child to be registered as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Failing registration, it would be open for such a child subsequently to apply for naturalisation in the ordinary procedure which is followed for naturalisation.
Very much has been said on both sides of the House about the great value which we attach to our relations with the other Commonwealth countries, and, in my final remarks, I would like to return to that matter. It is right that great value should be attached to those relations. But nice words do not always obliterate nasty actions, and it would, without doubt, have been a very nasty action if we failed to carry this Bill in the form in which it was introduced in another place. It would have been a great dis-service to our Commonwealth relationships and the maintenance of the common tie between the Commonwealth countries if we departed from the scheme, adopted by the conference of experts in 1947.
Of course, this Parliament is not bound by any decision which was made by that conference, but I do hope that we shall not content ourselves merely with giving expression to what are nothing more than 510 fulsome platitudes about the Commonwealth. I hope we shall proceed to give this Bill a Second Reading and thereby show that we maintain the intention of taking the lead we were expected to take, and that we shall implement the sensible and practical understanding reached by the Commonwealth countries in regard to the future of our common status.