HC Deb 30 June 1949 vol 466 cc1493-4
16. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations whether the new proposals in connection with South African citizenship, which will affect adversely the status and rights of emigrants from the United Kingdom and other British subjects in South Africa, were discussed at the recent Commonwealth Conference in London; and what representations on the subject have been, or are being made, to the South African Government by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

The proposals to which my hon. Friend refers were not discussed at the recent meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London. The new South African Act lays it down that citizens of Commonwealth countries are not aliens. It grants them preferential treatment, although less than hitherto. Under the Act, a citizen of another Commonwealth country must have resided for five years in South Africa and fulfil certain other qualifications before he can be registered as a South African citizen; hitherto citizenship has been granted after two years continuous domicile. Under the existing law as it was before this Act was introduced South African citizenship was one of the qualifications for the franchise; this provision remains unaltered, and immigrants will in future, therefore, not be able to acquire the right to vote until they have been resident in the Union for five years.

Under the Act, existing references in South African law to a British subject shall be deemed to be references to a South African citizen, a citizen of a Commonwealth country or a citizen of Eire; thus the rights and status of British subjects are not altered, except in so far as these rights are dependent on the possession of South African citizenship in which case the acquisition of rights is delayed.

My hon. Friend recognises, I am sure, that every Member of the Commonwealth is free to lay down the conditions on which citizenship of their countries may be acquired and retained. The new South African Act does not recognise a common status of British subject or Commonwealth citizen; otherwise its provisions are broadly in accord with the recommendations which resulted from the discussions with officials representing Commonwealth Governments in 1947. This being so, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have not thought it desirable to make any representations to the Government of South Africa about the Act.

Mr. Driberg

Would my right hon. Friend say what are the certain other qualifications to which he has referred as being required of immigrants, other than the residence qualification? Could he also say whether this would not be an obvious opportunity for making further representations to the South Africans about their hierarchical racial policy, of which this is just one illustration, and which is an embarrassment and disgrace to the whole Commonwealth?

Mr. Noel-Baker

On the latter part of the supplementary question I am afraid that I could not follow the hon. Member. On the first part of his question, if he will look at the published reports of the Act, he will see what it contains.