HC Deb 05 February 1958 vol 581 cc1227-39

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

Mr. Brockway

Sir Gordon, may I ask whether you intend to call the Amendments standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley)—in page 4, line 15, leave out from "been" to first "a" in line 16 and insert: on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and forty-seven". and in line 16, at end insert: or a British Protected person".

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)

Those Amendments are out of order.

Mr. Brockway

On a point of order, Sir Gordon. I should like to press that point. Is it possible for the Chair to say why these Amendments are held to be out of order?

The Deputy-Chairman

I am bound by the selection made by the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Mr. Brockway

I understand that these Amendments have been held to be out of order on the ground that in this Clause there is no reference to a British-protected person. May I submit that a British-protected person is frequently referred to in—

The Deputy-Chairman

Order. The hon. Member cannot discuss why the Amendments are ruled out of order. The only thing which it is permissible to discuss is the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Brockway

If I cannot discuss why the Amendments have been ruled out of order, I should like to discuss the whole Clause.

During the Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham and I raised the position of certain Indians in the Union of South Africa who had been British-protected persons but who had lost that right under the South African Citizenship Act of 1949. The first question that I want to ask is if the Minister will say whether, in his view, the Clause without amendment refers to persons in that position, and secondly I should like to know what the Government have in mind in subsection (1, b, iii).

As the hon. Gentlemen will know, the 3,000 Indians in the Union of South Africa were born in the Native States or the Princely States. They had passport rights until 1949, and then they lost those passport rights. They are now stateless persons. It was the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham and myself that they ought to be covered in a Bill of this kind. I should like the Minister to say something about that before this Clause is passed.

My other question is this. If subsection (1, b, iii) does not refer to such persons, to what persons does it refer? It says: that having been at the date of the commencement of the principal Act a citizen of such a country, or having (whether before or after the coming into operation of this section) been made one by the coming into operation of any law of such a country, he has lost that citizenship otherwise than by his own act done for the purpose. Who are these persons? Who has lost that citizenship otherwise than by his own act done for the purpose? If it does not apply to 3,000 protected persons in the Union of South Africa, where does it apply? Does it apply to those who were British subjects and are now in Portuguese African territories? Who are these persons? We should like some explanation before this Clause is accepted.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

History works in a peculiar way. I think it is live years ago that I raised the question of the deprivation of British citizenship from a nun in a mission in India. Her father was in the Indian Civil Service. Her grandfather was in the Indian Army, having originally come from Eire. A nun leads a fairly enclosed sort of life, and she did not follow the machinations of the Socialist Government in 1948. She woke up one morning to find that she was no longer entitled to a British passport.

I raised this matter in the House, but I got no change from the Home Office at all. I was told that she was either a citizen of Eire or a citizen of India but certainly was no longer a British citizen and that she could not have a British passport. The only thing I could get out of the Government was that if she ever wanted to come home to England the High Commissioner would see that she got home. I thought, and still think, that that was an injustice imposed by hon. Members opposite in the 1948 Act.

5.30 p.m.

Hon. Members opposite may not agree, but it is people of this sort who for generations have been maintaining British prestige and have governed India and kept the peace between the masses in India. They were, I should have thought, the most loyal British subjects one could imagine and yet, by a stroke of the pen in an Act of Parliament, they lost the right to British citizenship.

I therefore welcome now the second thoughts of the Government, and 1 believe that in subsection (1, b, ii) we have the answer. Now that old lady who is "descended in the male line" from somebody who was born in the Republic of Ireland will, I think, be entitled to British citizenship. If I am wrong, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary will correct me, but at last after years of disappointment and worry I think that that will be the position.

I would say only one other thing in commending the Clause to the Committee. If my interpretation is correct, there lies upon the Commonwealth Relations Office, through the High Commissioners, a duty to inform all these people who are living a long way off in missions all over India, Pakistan and similar places of their new rights so that once again at long last they will have their heart's desire and become British subjects. I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations will take this step as soon as the Bill becomes an Act and do everything possible to inform everybody who can possibly be affected that these rights will once more be restored.

Mr. Renton

The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) first asked me to explain the position of those people in the Union of South Africa who are, as he rightly said, stateless persons, who are of Indian and Pakistani extraction and were at one time—they are not now—British-protected persons. If the Committee will bear with me, I will briefly retail the history of those people and how they have arrived at their present position as stateless persons.

They were people who were in what were called the Princely States of India. When the Indian Independence Act was passed in 1947, they ceased to be British-protected persons as a result of that Act and as a result of a citizenship law passed in India at about the same time or shortly after the passing by us of the Indian Independence Act. To use the picturesque phrase which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations used during Second Reading, the mantle of protection then fell from the British Government. As far as I am aware, it has not yet been assumed by any other Government.

I said on Second Reading, when I was interrupted on many occasions—

Mr. Brockway

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman once again. Before 1949, the Government of the Union of South Africa issued these people with passports and gave them other citizenship facilities, except the right to vote; but now even that much has been withdrawn. They are like refugees—they have no passports and they are stateless.

Mr. Renton

I was not aware of the precise facts which the hon. Member has mentioned and, as a Member of Her Majesty's Government, I cannot answer for them. I did say that it was very difficult to be a walking encyclopaedia of all the citizenship laws of the Commonwealth, but in answer to the hon. Member's plea on the last occasion, I have managed to find out a little more about the position and am able to give him an indication of what rights are open to these about 3,000 unfortunate people.

So far as India is concerned, Article 8 of the Indian Constitution and Section 5 of the Indian Citizenship Act, passed in 1955, provides for the recognition of persons of Indian origin living outside India. Those people can apply to the Indian authorities for registration as Indian citizens if they wish. Of course, it is for the Indian Government to decide whether they should be so registered. There is nothing that we can do about it.

Mr. Brockway


Mr. Renton

This is a complicated matter, and the Committee would, I am sure, become even more confused if the, I hope, clear narrative that I am trying to give is too much disturbed. I will give way to the hon. Member and, if necessary, answer him again later.

Concerning Pakistan, the position is not quite so hopeful. Registration under the Pakistan Citizenship Act is dependent upon the applicant obtaining from the Pakistan authorities a certificate of domicile. Of course, many of the people in question are now domiciled in South Africa and most of them probably have no intention of being domiciled anywhere else. It is doubtful, I should add, whether Indians resident in South Africa who have connections with former Indian States which are now within Pakistan could qualify for registration as Pakistan citizens. The matter is, therefore, necessarily complicated by the division of India into two parts in that way.

In the case of the South African Citizenship Act of 1949, which is all that I can speak about, generally speaking it conferred citizenship only on people who before its commencement—on 2nd September, 1949—were either Union nationals or British subjects. As I explained earlier, these 3,000 people were not British subjects. They were not even protected persons. They are, therefore, in something of a difficulty. They can, however, apply for South African citizenship by naturalisation. Without going into too much detail of the South African law, it is possible that they may be qualified by residence and so on. When naturalisation certificates are granted, no doubt the kind of discretion is allowed in South Africa that we have here and which most civilised countries have.

Therefore, to sum up, these people have the right to apply for naturalisation; but as it is a matter of discretion and an affair of the South African Government, it would be wrong for me to state that such an application would be successful. The fact that the hon. Member has informed the Committee that these people are still Stateless in spite of the passing of that law seems to confirm the point he made just now.

Those being the circumstances, there arises the question of what we can do about it or what we should do about it. The answer is that we can do nothing about it. These people are not in this country, they are not British-protected persons, they are not British subjects, and it would be quite wrong for us to purport to legislate for them. It would be a mere pretence on our part if we tried to do so.

The hon. Member's second question concerned the effect of subsection (1, b, iii). He asked particularly to what sort of people it could apply. He wanted a definition of the words: …he has lost that citizenship otherwise than by his own act done for the purpose… He wanted to know who might be in that position. People who could be in that position are the people who under Section 1 (3) of the British Nationality Act, 1948, were able to become British subjects through acquiring citizenship of a separate country within the Commonwealth. Those countries are enumerated in that subsection, and they are familiar to the Committee. But it must he remembered that in due course that will be further amended—it has been amended once already—by the passing of this Bill. Therefore, people in those Commonwealth countries have to be considered in the light of the fact that they lose their citizenship, not through any voluntary act of their own, but because of the laws which any one of those Commonwealth countries might pass.

In my speech during the Second Reading debate I gave, as an example, the fact that the Australian Parliament passed a Citizenship Law whereby anyone resident outside Australia for seven years would normally lose his Australian citizenship. We feel that, as those people have been British subjects, they have the right to apply to us and, if they comply with the provisions of this Bill, they will have the opportunity to become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) referred with approval to what we were proposing to do for those people, formerly British subjects, who became—I always forget the phrase, but I think it is British citizens without citizenship—as a result of the 1948 Act, but who under that Act were given a year—only one year—in which to apply for registration as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. That principally concerned a number of people of British extraction living in India or Pakistan who had performed, or whose ancestors had performed, service to the British Crown in earlier days.

It was felt by the Government of the party opposite that there was an obligation to give those people the opportunity to become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies and, thereby, once more British subjects. Unfortunately, the Government of the party opposite gave only one year in which that could be done. I am not criticising, but it did not turn out to be anything like enough time for the news about the opportunity to seep through or for administrative arrangements to be made. So we are extending that period for virtually five years, to 31st December, 1962.

I must issue one word of warning. My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus put a specific and individual case to me. It would be quite wrong for me to say from this Dispatch Box that that particular case will necessarily benefit from the provisions of this Clause. As I said during the Second Reading debate, various requirements must be complied with and, under some parts of this complicated Clause, the Secretary of State has a discretion in the matter. But may I express the hope, without committing myself, that my hon. Friend's friend will benefit as my hon. Friend hopes.

5.45 p.m.

A word about the position of people of Irish extraction. Here the matter becomes complicated by the fact that at the time of the passing of the 1948 Act, what is now the Republic of Ireland was still, in constitutional theory part of Her Majesty's Dominions. Yet it was not possible at that time to clarify the status of all the people in Ireland, and since then the Republic of Ireland Act has been passed. Various cases have come to light of people in this country of Irish descent about whose status there is doubt. Those people will have the opportunity of applying for registration by virtue of the provisions in this Clause and we hope that various cases where uncertainty and hardship exists will be helped.

Sir J. Duncan

I pleaded that adequate advertisement of the change in the law should be made through the Commonwealth High Commissioners in India and Pakistan. The people who would be concerned do not read the English papers, and it would be a great pity were it not widely known that this change had been made.

Mr. Renton

I think that point is covered by the last subsection of the Clause, which says: This section shall come into operation at the end of two months beginning with the date of the passing of this Act. It will need two months to get the administrative arrangements under way. I agree with my hon. Friend that there should be adequate publicity and one hopes that there will be. We at the Home Office will do all we can to facilitiate the making of applications and their consideration.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

5.49 p.m.

Mr. Brockway

I wish to put a question which I did not think it would be in order to put during the debate on Clause 3. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) asked whether a British subject from these territories would be able to enter this country and would be prevented from being deported from this country. The answer was in the affirmative. I wish to put the reverse side of the picture. Suppose there were a British subject in the Central African Federation who wished to come to this country. Will it be possible for the Government of the Federation to prevent him from coming to this country? Are there reciprocal arrangements? Does the control of immigration by the Government of Central Africa extend to the prevention of a British subject who is a citizen in the Federation area from coming to this country should he desire to do so?

5.50 p.m.

Mr. Alport

Perhaps I could help the hon. Gentlemen in this matter. I think we made it clear when we were discussing a similar subject during the Committee that decisions of this kind are administrative and, in so far as authority and power have been delegated from the United Kingdom by legislation here to the Federal Government who enjoy powers under the Order in Council concerned, the Federal Government must take any decision which falls within its powers in this administrative field.

I certainly would be wrong to go any further in this matter than that. Powers of deportation and of refusing entry to the United Kingdom are within the authority of Her Majesty's Government and the Executive, in accordance with rights and powers given to them by Parliament. The same applies to the Federation.

These are very complicated matters. In some cases, although they are dry and legalistic in many respects, they touch the interests, the happiness and, indeed, the future of individuals. Having taken some share in the discussion of the Bill, I am grateful to all hon. Members concerned for the sympathetic way in which they have accepted or tried to understand the explanations which I have attempted to put forward.

On a previous occasion colleagues of mine, after trying to deal with complicated matters in a Bill such as this, said to their expert advisers, "I hope we didn't make too many mistakes". The expert advisers said, "You didn't make as many mistakes as the people who tried to put through the same Bill previously, but they did not have quite the same scope for doing so". I am grateful to the House for the assistance given to get the Bill through.

5.53 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Creech Jones (Wakefield)

I do not want to speak about the general contents of the Bill, although I welcome the decision that has been taken; the rights of protected persons must be preserved. I want to draw attention to the point which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway).

The right of people to freedom of movement in the modern world is assuming a far greater importance than ever before. Political tests are often applied, and they seem extraordinarily unfortunate. The question put to the Minister concerns the freedom of a British-protected person or British subject to leave the territory to which he belongs, the withholding of passports even inside a territory, and freedom to move from one country to another, inside, say, the Federation, from Northern Rhodesia into Southern Rhodesia or into Nyasaland. It is more and more becoming the practice of Governments to interfere with freedom of movement. It is deplorable that such administrative action should be resorted to in the case of many persons who, in my own knowledge and judgment, are as worthy individuals and citizens as one could possibly meet.

I hope that this question will receive closer attention. We all receive letters of protest from time to time from people overseas because of this interference. The Colonial Secretary or the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations would tell us that these matters are within the jurisdiction and the rights of local Governments, but it is becoming very much more. One can appreciate interference in the case of persons of criminal intent, but it is carrying administrative rights too far to subject people to tests which are purely political because it is alleged that they might undermine opinion in the countries to which they come. I hope that the Government in London will look at this problem because it definitely involves infringement of the rights and freedom of the individual. I hope that some of these practices will be stopped.

5.56 p.m.

Mr. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)

I would first thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) for the guidance he has given during the passage of the Bill and express my thanks to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and to the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.

This is a complex Bill. Earlier there were some ambiguities because of the legal complications, but I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations who has cleared up our minds completely on this matter this afternoon. We are grateful to him for that.

On this side of the House, we think that racial discrimination is alien to the spirit of the English common law, and we have tried to show that we stand by that belief. We hope that we have given encouragement to others in the Commonwealth and Colonies by the example and the practice of this country. To have no colour bar and no racial prejudice is something in which we firmly believe. To the extent to which the Bill meets the needs of an expanding Commonwealth, we give it our blessing and support.

5.58 p.m.

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

I thank the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) for those kind words. Although this Chamber has been very thinly attended throughout the passage of the Bill, there is no doubt that the Bill affects the status of many people. Very little is more important in life than one's nationality. Although we have had discussions about doubtful points, it is a matter of satisfaction that the general intention of the Bill is acceptable to both sides of the House and in another place.

Perhaps I might stress two points which, I think, need emphasis so that those who may read our debates are not so much caught up with the details that they miss the main purport at which we are aiming. We need to bear in mind that British-protected persons in the Federation will remain British-protected persons unless they, by their voluntary act, care to become British subjects by applying for Federal citizenship.

The other thing is that in Ghana the steps which the Bill proposes are consistent with steps already taken in the case of all other Commonwealth countries, so that the people of Ghana may feel that they have their own citizenship of Ghana in order to enter the wider brotherhood of those who enjoy Commonwealth citizenship and British subject-hood.

There has been a great deal of discussion about the status of protected persons, and some dismay has been expressed, which I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations has completely dispelled, about the possibility of people losing their protected status. There again, I should stress that anyone who decides, as a result of the Bill, to depart from the status of being a protected person will become a British subject, and that is a no less honoured status.

I feel I should mention one small detail in order to correct a mistake which I inadvertently made on Second Reading. An hon. Friend of mine who is not now in the Chamber asked in that debate whether the discretion given to a Secretary of State by the Bill for granting or refusing an application for registration was a discretion given for the first time in our legislation. I must make it abundantly plain that the answer I then gave was wrong. It is not now being given for the first time, as I then said. That discretion was given before under the 1948 Act. We are reviving that discretion in certain cases and extending it in other cases. There is, therefore, a reputable precedent for the exercise of a discretion by the Secretary of State in regard to registration, as there has been for a long time in regard to naturalisation.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without Amendment.