HC Deb 21 September 1948 vol 456 cc847-52

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

11.31 p.m.

Mr. Bowden (Leicester, South)

Arising out of correspondence with one or two of my constituents, I addressed a Question in this House on 25th May to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, seeking to find out which Departments of the Civil Service were excluding British born children of naturalised British subjects from established posts. In his reply I was informed that no Department excluded them completely, but that the Foreign Office and the Defence Departments did not normally accept them. For the purposes of this Debate I am not concerned with those Departments which accept them, but rather with those which exclude them. I have come to the conclusion that there is a definite discrimination by certain Departments against these British born children whose parents were at one time foreign nationals. This applies particularly to the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office and the Defence Departments.

These people, children born in this country, naturally feel very aggrieved. They have been born here, and in most cases have been educated here and brought up amongst us generally. Their crime, for such it seems to be, is that at some time one or other of their parents was a foreign national, but elected to become British and renounce their former nationality. The Civil Service regulations require that applicants for estab- lshed posts shall be British subjects. That is understandable and desirable, but why it should be necessary to go further and insist that those who are not children of British born parents should be subjected to some sort of discrimination I cannot quite understand. Surely, if the British born child of a British subject is suspect—and that is the word which appeals to my mind at the moment —it would seem that the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office and the Defence Departments in rejecting these applicants do so for reasons of defence. That is the reason I used the word "suspect." To my mind it would be equally illogical, and perhaps equally as ridiculous, to extend the same ban to grandchildren, great-grandchildren and so on ad infinitum.

At the present moment we are opening our doors willingly in this country to European voluntary workers from all parts of Europe, who have become people without a country. At the same time, we are permitting many thousands of officers and men who served with us during the war years to marry and settle down here. I feel that it is quite wrong that we should, in effect, say to these people, "Your children, children of your issue, probably with British mothers, born British and having known no other country, are not acceptable for employment in all branches of the British Civil Ser. vice." We know that from time to time we have our music hall jokes about the British Civil Service and very often there are derogatory remarks about the Civil Service from hon. Members opposite, but generally speaking the people of this country recognise that the British Civil Service is a very honourable career and they are anxious that it should be open to all British children, irrespective of whether their parents were at one time nationals of another country.

I could cite cases to substantiate the claims I am making as, no doubt, could other hon. Members, but in view of the time I do not wish to detain the House further. I will, however, quote one case. It is that of a constituent of mine, a Leicester man, born in this country and educated here. His father was at one time a foreign national and became naturalised British before the first world war, almost 40 years ago. This young man in 1939, at the outbreak of the war, because he was in a Territorial Associa- tion—and incidentally there was nothing whatever against him; he was not a member of any political party, and he was not suspect in that respect at all—was called up into the Armed Forces. He was actually in the Army before war was declared. On declaration of war he, with thousands of others, went to France with the British Expeditionary Force and was fortunate to get away from Dunkirk in the evacuation. After a few months in this country in rehabilitation he became a commissioned officer and then served in the Far East for four years, in two of which he was serving in the jungle in Burma.

He left the Army in 1946, on demobilisation, and applied for a commission in the Indian Civil Service. His qualifications and his Army record were acceptable, but before he was able to take up employment with the Indian Civil Service, India gained her Dominion status and had changes in the organisation of her Civil Service. He did not take up that employment, therefore, but he did take up an appointment with the Burmese Civil Service. He served there as a class I officer, quite a high executive position in the Civil Service, and then was promoted to a district officer, where he acted as a magistrate and on behalf of the government of that district. Again, when Burma gained her independence, he had to leave the Civil Service, and he then came home to this country for demobilisation.

This is where the sorry part of the story commences. He applied unsuccessfully for permission to enter the British Civil Service. He also tried to enter the Foreign Service and the Colonial Service and to take a short-service commission in the R.A.F. In each case he was rejected, but not in each case was he told the reason why. But the Foreign Office told him the reason quite frankly, the reason being that one of his parents was a foreign national, which he assumed was the reason for the other rejections. I could also quote a case of an R.A.F. officer who had a similar experience.

My right hon. Friend will, no doubt, tell us that in the majority of cases there is no discrimination. We can quite understand that there would be no difficulty in the case of a clerk for the Ministry of Food or for the Ministry of Labour. My point is that British-born children who are as British as any of us should be given the same opportunities and should be as acceptable to the Civil Service as anyone else. I recognise that the solution does not lie completely within the province of my right hon. Friend and that it is something for the Government to consider, but I hope he will take note of what I have said and give us an assurance that in future there will be no discrimination against any British national for a post in the British Civil Service.

11.43 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

My hon. Friend the Member for South Leicester (Mr. Bowden) has lightened my task considerably by devoting his speech to the case of an individual who seeks admission to the established Civil Service where neither of his parents are not naturally born British subjects. I need not at this late hour deal, therefore, with the general nationality rules for admission to the Civil Service. It is true that in certain branches of the Civil Service a person seeking an established post must not only be a naturally born British subject, but both his parents must also be British born within the United Kingdom or one of the self-governing Dominions. The only departure from that rule is where one or other of the Ministers in charge of the Departments which have this regulation think that the rule can be waived.

As my hon. Friend says, the Departments which operate this rule are the Service Departments, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, and to a certain extent the Ministry of Supply. As far as the Foreign Office is concerned, one reason for this is that it is possible that those who are accepted and established may have to work abroad, and sometimes it might happen that, because they are not naturally born British, they might be liable to be called up for service in the armed forces of the country in which they happened to be working. That, of course, is only one example of the kind of thing that might happen, and only one of the reasons for laying down this rule. As the hour is late I will not elaborate the point further.

As to the case which the hon. Member brought to my notice, earlier, and which he has again mentioned tonight, it is true that the man's application for a post in the Foreign Office was turned down because of the special rule I have mentioned which the Foreign Office did apply in this case. He also sought a post in the Colonial Service. The reason for his failure there, if I may give it to the hon. Member now, was that it was considered that his qualifications were not sufficient for the particular post he wanted.

The House quite recently passed the British Nationality Act. This will come into operation on 1st January next year. When it does it will create a new class of British nationality by registration and will alter the nationality law in various other ways. It will be necessary, therefore, for the Government to look at these rules which have been long-established to see what effect this Act will have on them. I can assure my hon. Friend that what he has said tonight, and the problems he has raised, will be taken into consideration when this matter is under discussion, as considered it undoubtedly will have to be at no distant date. Some decision will have to be arrived at before very long. I hope, therefore, that he will be content with that assurance and let the matter rest there.

Adjourned accordingly at Thirteen Minutes to Twelve o'Clock.