HC Deb 05 February 1958 vol 581 cc1220-7

Motion made and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Paget

I wish to raise a matter about which I should like to have some assurance. On Second Reading, I raised a question which, apparently, had never been raised during the passage of the Bill through another place, which causes a little doubt in my mind whether this is a very satisfactory way of initiating legislation.

The question seemed to me to be an important one. I asked whether the Government would tell us whose rights we were changing in the Bill. When I asked the question an expression somewhat of blank amazement came over the face of the Under-Secretary. His reply amounted to, "I am very sorry; we simply have not thought of that." I think that is a fair summary of what was said at rather greater length from the Treasury Bench.

To crystallise the matter I tabled a Question to enable the Department to think out whose rights were being affected. The answer appeared in the OFFICIAL REPORT today. What appears to me to be of some importance is what is given in that answer in paragraph (c). This applies to two of the Clauses that we are considering. It applies to the protected person who has become a federal citizen; it applies to the federal citizen, and it also applies to the citizen of Ghana. It says that they will have to look to the Ghana authorities for the issue of a passport and for the protection which the issue of such a passport implies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1958; Vol. 581, c. 166.] That means that if protected persons who have taken federal citizenship in the Rhodesias or Nyasaland or in Southern Rhodesia or citizens of Ghana, come here and their local passports run out or are withdrawn for some reason, they may find themselves in an extremely awkward situation.

Their passports may be withdrawn because their local Government, either the Government of the Federation or the Government of Ghana, do not like the journalistic or political activities in which they are indulging in this country. That can happen. We had a very unhappy situation over Iraqi students who were over here when something like that happened. I want an assurance that there are powers to deal with that situation should it arise.

I considered putting down a new Clause or an Amendment to say: Nothing in this Act shall derogate from the Secretary of State's power to issue a passport to anybody who but for this Act would be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. I am satisfied that that would be out of order, because it is a matter of prerogative that the Secretary of State and the Crown have power to issue a passport to anybody whether he be a United Kingdom citizen, a British subject, or, indeed, an alien. Therefore, I do not entirely understand the effect of that portion of the answer save in so far as it is said that the ordinary procedure would be for such a person to apply locally rather than to apply here.

think that the matter is important, and I ask for the assurance that all those people whose rights we may be affecting today, should they be in this country or should they be stranded abroad where we have consulates, will have the right to apply for a passport the issue of which is, of course, discretionary. It is recognised that if they do apply for a passport the Secretary of State will have a perfect right to issue one to them although, as a matter of convenience in the ordinary case, they would be referred to their local commissioner or whoever might be their local authority in this country. I hope that I can be given that assurance.

Mr. Alport

If the impression that my previous answer gave was as stated by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) it would merely have resulted from my astonishment that the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is an ardent supporter of the Government who passed the 1948 Act, should now expect me to explain to him the principles upon which nationality in that Act was based. However, the hon. and learned Gentleman has now restricted his question to a somewhat more limited field particularly relating to passports, and I will, to the best of my ability, try to answer it.

Mr. Paget

I certainly do not hold myself up as one who understands all Acts that we have passed, but I do expect the Government to understand our Acts if they propose to alter them and at least to apply their mind to whose rights they are to affect by those alterations. That is what I am saying.

Mr. Alport

I will, if I may, try to help the hon. and learned Gentleman in that other matter, but at the moment perhaps I may be allowed to deal with the particular issue of the passport.

I understand that is a prerogative act and has never been regulated by legislation. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to deal as the hon. and learned Gentleman, I think, at one time wished to do, with the matter in any Bill, and certainly in this Bill. United Kingdom passports are not, in fact, issued solely to citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. They are issued also to British subjects without citizenship and to British-protected persons. It is not, however, the practice of the United Kingdom to issue passports to persons whose British nationality depends on their citizenship of some other independent Commonwealth country.

It is part of the understanding between the self-governing members of the Commonwealth, and, indeed, part of the very principle upon which the British Nationality Act, 1948, was based that these various services should be rendered by the Government to whom the individual was most closely connected and who therefore had particular responsibilities in respect to him. As I said, I think, during Second Reading, it was always understood that there would be no poaching by one Government in respect of the citizens who properly were "belongers," if I may use that word which, I hope, may be an Anglo-Saxon expression, to another country and, therefore, who come within the scope of the responsibility of the Government of that other Commonwealth country.

As I understand, the object of the hon. and learned Gentleman is to try, so to speak, to mop up those who for one reason or another are unable to obtain passports or other services from the Governments to whom they properly belong in accordance with the principles of the 1948 Act, but that would be contrary to those principles, principles which, I may say, are well-established and which form an important aspect, and one which we must not underestimate, of the con-ception of sovereignty of the independent Commonwealth. Although I do not claim in any way to have illuminated the hon. and learned Gentleman's mind on the subject, I hope that I have explained the principle as we see it.

As far as the general conception of the 1948 Act is concerned, I personally always envisage it as being in the shape of a large umbrella with a number of panels in it, rather like, perhaps a golf umbrella. Some of those panels are collectively termed "Commonwealth Citizenship" and "British Subjecthood", but each panel represents the specific citizenship of one independent member and the whole lot comprise a single unity, so to speak, which is Commonwealth citizenship or British subjecthood which, according to the Act of 1948, are interchangeable in the circumstances of the differing status of the members of the independent Commonwealth. That is how I try to explain it to myself, and I hope that it may be of assistance to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

I would only add that I am sure that it is most important, if the principles are to be maintained, that we in the House of Commons should be as strong in support of those principles as any other member of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Paget

I am greatly disappointed by that answer. First, it is quite clear that we are affecting people's rights in a way which may well be vital to them on some specific occasion in the future and that we are affecting rights not merely of people who possess the citizenship because they lived in certain areas, but of protected persons whom we have taken under our special protection.

It is one thing to do this where we have an area of equal citizens, that is, not people who have a different status of protected people and citizenship, but people who become members of the Commonwealth by a clear expression of their own will. That is not the situation in the Federation. I voted in favour of the Federation. I believed that, on balance, although I am not quite so certain now, there were very great advantages in the Federation. Therefore, I do not say what I now say with any sense of hostility to it.

The Federation provided great problems, because there were in it people with whom we had a very special and sacred contract in the eyes of the Africans, that is, the duty of protection. I felt that we should be desperately careful not to take from those protected persons rights which might be highly important to them. That also applies in a rather less degree to the Northern Provinces of Ghana.

If, by this Bill, we bring about a state of affairs in which they can no longer, either by becoming naturalised citizens of this country or directly as protected persons, obtain our passports, we are making a very real difference to them, because it is only too foreseeable that people from the Northern Provinces of Ghana and people from Northern Rhodesia may take political action over here. They may write articles and do various things which will annoy their local Government and, as we saw happen in the case of Iraq, there may be a sudden withdrawal of passports.

I should have liked an assurance that we were not altering any rights of protected persons. Since I agree that it is impossible within the Federation to acquire British citizenship by naturalisation, and since the only difference there resulting is the passport difference, I should have liked to have an assurance that this special difference and this special obligation and honour to protected persons would be borne in mind as a special case if a request for a passport were made by people whom we are affecting under the Bill when they are unable to get their facilities from the Government to which here we are compelling them alone to look, instead of being able as at present to look to us as well. That is something which, in honour to these people, we should do.

It would be of great assistance to the Foreign Secretary if, when it came to issuing passports and the local Government were annoyed, he were able to refer to what had been said, in debate here and to point out that it had been agreed that this had always been recognised as something which we owe to people to whom we have this special obligation of honour. It would be recognised that if people who, but for the passing of the Bill, would have had the right to British passport facilities, were to find themselves in a position in which they could not get passports, we would consider that as a special case. That might be very valuable in future and of great assistance to the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. J. Johnson

In the last weeks or months a number of protected persons in Nyasaland, and also in Tanganyika and in East Africa as a whole, have wished to leave the territory to attend conferences such as the Afro-Asian Conference. Since the Federation Act was passed when migration was in the hands of Sir Roy Welensky and his Ministers, a well-known African leader such as Manoah Wellington Chirwa is not allowed to leave when he wishes to do so. When such cases occur, does the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations make any representations? If so, would the Under-Secretary tell us and tell us what luck he has had?

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Alport

I find myself in some difficulty in replying to the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) simply because the Clause has no relationship whatsoever to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It deals exclusively with the problem of Ghana. It would be wrong for me to do any more in the context of the Clause, because we are most anxious that there should be no confusion among those who consider our debate. We are anxious that there shall be no confusion and no misunderstanding of the distinction, which is quite clearly drawn in the Bill, between the status of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia and the Federation on the one hand and of Ghana on the other. They are quite separate and are differently treated in the Bill. The considerations are different in respect of both of them. A special status of British-protected persons is retained in the case of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, but that is not so in the case of Ghana.

All that I can say in reply to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton is that I am certain that the Home Secretary will study his remarks, but the problems which he raises on the subject of passports are a matter which we cannot discuss in the House of Commons or legislate for in the House. They must he and should be left, as, indeed, must the point raised by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson), to administrative action for which the Government here or in the Commonwealth countries concerned must be responsible.

We stand in danger of confusing the subject even more than is the case already by discussing a particular problem of passports which has no relationship to the Clause and at the same time carrying on a discussion which affects two parts of the Commonwealth—the Federation and Ghana—which do not stand in similar status and are not shown as so doing in the Bill. Therefore, I hope that the undertaking I have given that his remarks will be considered will be accepted by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. I would say one more thing. I am sure that the whole of the Committee appreciates that we on these benches, just as hon. Members opposite, realise fully the great importance which British-protected persons attach to the status that they enjoy.

Mr. Paget

I would point out to the Under-Secretary of State that it was the Government's suggestion that this matter should be raised on this Clause; it was they who suggested that this would be the most convenient time to do so. I certainly have no preference at all as to when would be the most convenient time at which to give the sort of small assurance for which I have asked. Perhaps on Third Reading the confusion between the two will not arise.

All I ask is that, should any of the people who have formerly been protected persons and whose rights we may be affecting by this Bill, find themselves desperately unhappy and not able to get a passport, special consideration should be given to them. I ask no more than that. I do not say for a moment that they should be entitled to a passport as of right, or anything of that sort, but I ask that one should recognise the special position of such people, and in addition that the acceptance of my request would make matters easier for the Foreign Secretary. It would be a great convenience to him to be able to say, "Look back to when this Act was passed; we gave an assurance that we would give special consideration to such people." I feel that this would be helpful to everybody concerned if such an assurance could be given.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is right in saying that it was suggested to him that if he wished to raise the question of the effects of this Bill on passport practice generally he should endeavour to do so on the Question That the Clause stand part, and it was I who made that suggestion to him. I hope that it was a helpful suggestion, not only at the time that it was made, but now that he has followed it. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will feel that the very full and clear statement which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has given about passport practice in the United Kingdom, which, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, is a matter for the Prerogative, has enlightened him.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.