§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of this Measure is to make certain changes in the British Nationality Act, 1948, which have become necessary as a result of the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the granting of independence to Ghana. We are also taking advantage of this opportunity to overcome various hardships which have arisen in the operation of the 1948 Act, which were not then foreseen.
Before attempting to describe the background to the Bill and the Bill itself, perhaps I may make the comment that there are few things that are more important in the lives of human beings than the facts and the law relating to their nationality, but, alas, in this matter both the facts and the law are inevitably complex. This is something that inevitably affects people's status and, therefore, I would respectfully suggest that it is more than ever necessary to ensure that our legislation is fair and unambiguous; and that is more especially so when we are legislating for people who have an association with us, or who are proud to be called British.
As the House will remember, the 1948 Act was based on a new conception of nationality within the Commonwealth. Before 1948, all people in the United Kingdom, throughout the Colonies, and throughout the countries of the Commonwealth were British subjects with only one form of nationality—they were all British subjects. Following the Commonwealth Citizenship Conference in 1947, it was agreed between the then countries of the Commonwealth that although there should continue to be a common citizenship embracing all people who had formerly had British nationality, there should also be separate citizenships for each of the countries of the Commonwealth; and that separate citizenships should be a necessary way of entering into the common citizenship. Lastly, it was agreed that 280 the United Kingdom and the Colonies should together form one type of separate citizenship.
The other forms of separate citizenship were set out in Section 1 (3) of the 1948 Act, which referred to citizenship of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Newfoundland, India, Pakistan, Southern Rhodesia—which will develop in our discussion today—and Ceylon. Section 1 of the 1948 Act also said that a person enjoying the common status to which I have referred, which, by the way, we in this country still call British nationality—hence the title of the British Nationality Act, 1948, and the British Nationality Bill which we are now discussing—could be known either as a British subject or as a Commonwealth citizen, and that the two expressions should have the same meaning.
Some countries have preferred to use the one and others have preferred to use the other expression. Some countries permit the use of either. I should emphasise that this Bill does not in any way disturb the fundamental conception which was written into Section 1 of the 1948 Act. What it does is to bring the application of that Act up to date in the light of the changes in the Federation and in Ghana.
Turning to the Bill, Clause 1 deals with the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and has been made necessary by the Citizenship Act which was passed last year by the Federal Parliament. Although it was passed some months ago, that Act will not come into operation until a date which has yet to be appointed by the Governor-General, and which will coincide with the date of the coming into operation of this Bill. It was felt by both Governments that that would avoid confusion.
In this matter, we have to consider separately the position of the people in Southern Rhodesia—who were mentioned in Section 1 (3) of the 1948 Act as people having separate citizenship—and the people in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which were protected territories, and recognised as such under that Act, and previously. At present, the people of Southern Rhodesia, therefore, enjoy Southern Rhodesian citizenship as a result of their Citizenship Act which was passed soon after our 1948 Act, and, in the United Kingdom, as a result of the 281 1948 Act, they are recognised as British subjects. But the people in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland are, as I said, British protected persons; that is to say, they are not British subjects but they receive Her Majesty's protection in foreign countries and they are free to enter, and to remain in, the United Kingdom without restriction.
When the Citizenship Act of the Federation comes into force, separate citizenship of Southern Rhodesia will be abolished, and citizens of Southern Rhodesia will become known as citizens of the Federation. But British protected persons in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland will be entitled to register as Federal citizens if they so wish, and if they do not wish to be so registered, they will remain British protected persons merely by taking no action at all. That is to say, they will, so to speak, have to contract in to Federal citizenship. They are, therefore, in quite a separate position from the people of Southern Rhodesia, who will pass straight from Southern Rhodesian citizenship to Federal citizenship as a result of the Citizenship Act that I have mentioned.
If the Citizenship Act were to be brought into force without nay change tin our law here, the citizens of the Federation would not be British subjects in United Kingdom law, because the 1948 Act confers such status, not on citizens of the Federation as such, but only on some of them as citizens of Southern Rhodesia. Hence in Clause 1 (1, a), we substitute the Federation for Southern Rhodesia in Section 1 (3) of the 1948 Act. That is the main purpose, therefore, of Clause 1, but we find that it is also necessary to make some consequential provisions relating to Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
When the Federation is inserted, as it will be, in Section 1 (3) of the 1948 Act as a country with separate citizenship, it will become necessary to decide whether the two Protectorates—the other parts of the Federation—are, for nationality purposes, to be treated as Protectorates or as parts of a country with separate citizenship. That is an unfortunate and unavoidable complication with which we have to deal, and the line that we have taken is to provide that references in the 1948 Act to a Protectorate shall not include Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Nevertheless, I am advised that, in 282 law, the net result will be that these two territories will retain their general status as Protectorates, in spite of being within the Federation, and that their inhabitants will not be deprived against their will of their cherished status as British protected persons.
So much for the position inside the Federation. I have done my best to explain it, but if this or anything else that I have to say is not clear, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations will do his best to make up for my own shortcomings.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman a question? Is there anything to stop the Government of the Federation, between now and 1960, purporting by its domestic legislation to do away with this status of protected persons as far as the law of the Federation is concerned, even though that would have no effect as far as United Kingdom law is concerned?
§ Mr. Renton
That is a hypothetical question, of which I would prefer to have notice. I think it is probably a rather difficult question to answer, but the hon. and learned Gentleman will certainly get an answer in due course, though I am not in a position to give him one at this moment.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
I am much obliged, I was not asking the question in order to entrap the hon. and learned Gentleman on a very technical part of the law.
§ Mr. Renton
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend will be in a position to answer on that point tonight, but I will most certainly see that inquiries are made and that the hon. and learned Gentleman shall have an answer, if necessary after this debate.
May we now pass to Clause 2, which deals with the sequel to the independence of Ghana. By the Ghana Independence Act, which we passed last year, Ghana has already been listed among those Commonwealth countries with the separate citizenship mentioned in Section 1 (3) of the 1948 Act, which the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who has just taken his place on the Front Bench opposite, introduced into the House.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I had the misfortune of having to introduce a Bill and then having to move Amendments to every Clause in it to undo the evil work which had been done in another place by the hon. and learned Gentleman's friends.
§ Mr. Renton
I do not think there is any need for the right hon. Gentleman, in response to what was meant to be a friendly welcome from me, to rake up past history, which he seems to relish.
At any rate, the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman introduced in 1948 has already been amended by us by the Ghana Independence Act, 1957, so that as soon as the Ghana Parliament enacted its own citizenship law, the result was that the people of Ghana would be recognised in the United Kingdom as British subjects and recognised in Ghana as citizens of Ghana. In fact, since that step was taken and the Ghana citizenship law was passed, the people of Ghana have had a dual status. They are citizens of Ghana and they are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and that is their present position.
The logical step for us to take, and one which is in keeping with the 1948 conception of separate citizenship, is that the citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies should be withdrawn from those people in Ghana whose common citizenship within the Commonwealth is derived solely from their connection with Ghana, but leaving it for the others. That is what this Clause of the Bill will achieve.
Broadly speaking, it takes away citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies from all people born in Ghana or whose fathers or paternal grandfathers were born there, provided that they have no connection with the United Kingdom and Colonies either by birth, naturalisation, registration or descent, or, in the case of a woman, no connection by marriage People who have such a connection with the United Kingdom and Colonies will retain their dual citizenship in Ghana and for as long as they remain there.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman a question? Another country has obtained independence during the past year—Malaya. How does this Bill affect the citizens of Malaya?
§ Mr. Renton
The Bill does not affect the citizens of Malaya at all, and my hon. Friend will be glad to deal with that point when he replies. There are still some comments which I ought to make, if the House will bear with me, on this question of the changes in Ghana. There are four appropriate comments which one should make for the sake of clarity.
The first is that what we are proposing to do applies only to those citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who are also citizens of Ghana, and there no one will be deprived of his wider status of British nationality. Secondly, people who will lose citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies will be people who belong to Ghana only, having no substantial connection with any territory for which Her Majesty is responsible. The exceptions to the general rule in subsections (2) to (4) of Clause 2 provide for the retention of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies by anyone likely to have reasonable grounds for retaining it because of some connection.
My third comment is that I should make clear that the Clause does not apply to British protected persons who come from those parts of Ghana which were formerly known as the Northern Territories and the Togoland Trust Territory. Their position is covered by the Ghana Independence Act, in which it was provided that they should continue to enjoy the status of British protected citizens until becoming citizens of Ghana.
My fourth and last comment in regard to the Ghana position is that citizens of Ghana who lose their citizenship in the United Kingdom and Colonies will continue under our law to be, in the terms of the 1948 Act, British subjects or Commonwealth citizens, whichever they prefer to call themselves, and if they wish they can call themselves either or both. As such, they will be free to enter the United Kingdom, and while here to enjoy all our rights and privileges and accept our obligations as British subjects.
Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill have quite different purposes, not quite so important, perhaps, but, nevertheless, well worthy of the attention of the House.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman help me on a subject which is worrying me here? 285 What difference would it make to anybody if we did not do these things? The Ghana citizen, who has now a dual citizenship, ceases to be a citizen of Ghana and a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies and becomes a citizen of Ghana and a British subject. What difference does it make to him which he is?
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. and learned Member will appreciate that if we do nothing about this at all the vast mass of the people of Ghana will have the Commonwealth status which I mentioned covered by the term "British subject or Commonwealth citizen". Secondly, they will be citizens of Ghana, and, thirdly, they will be citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Naturally, the proposals in the Clause have been very carefully considered. There have been consultations with the Government of Ghana and it is thought that this is the best way of resolving the position. In all matters of status, we do not want to allow complications to continue indefinitely merely through our own inertia. It clarifies the position and represents the feelings of a vast number of people in Ghana today if they have their separate Ghana citizenship and, as in the case of the people of Canada and Australia, regard their own citizenship as their entry into the status of Commonwealth citizenship.
§ Mr. Renton
I do not think that we are taking any right away, but quite candidly that is a very difficult question for me to answer, not only because I do not know the answer, but because it would involve consideration of a large number of matters which are outside the scope of the Bill. As the hon. and learned Member has raised the question, I shall be very glad to look into it. I am not in a position to answer it now.
§ Mr. Renton
I do not think the hon. and learned Member had the doubtful advantage of being here during the first few minutes of my speech, when I was trying to explain that the Bill is an attempt to bring up to date the agreed conclusions of the Commonwealth Citizenship Conference which was held in 1947. Those conclusions were embodied as far as we were concerned in the British Nationality Act, 1948, which had its counterpart in each of the countries of the Commonwealth. Ghana itself has now enacted its own citizenship law, and what it has done is consistent with the principle which had been agreed earlier.
That principle can be stated also in this way—that there should be a separate citizenship for people in each of the countries of the Commonwealth, which would be most near to that part of the Commonwealth with which they were connected. The obvious thing for the people of Ghana is that they should have as their separate citizenship the citizenship of Ghana. I do not think that the hon. and learned Member disputes that they should have that.
§ Mr. Renton
I agree. The question which arises, therefore, is whether we should have this duality perpetuated whereby they would be also citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. It would be inconsistent with the original plan that they should continue to be in that position, and we are legislating accordingly.
§ Mr. Paget
Is this simply a change of nomenclature? If it is, I can understand it. They are in exactly the same position, but names tend to be important. They have the same rights today as they had yesterday and will have tomorrow. If that is the position, I can understand it, but if there is an alteration in some of these rights, we ought to know the nature of the alteration before we make it.
§ Mr. Renton
This is certainly not a change of nomenclature, as I hope I have made clear. This is a question of duality of status.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
The hon. and learned Gentleman has been most patient, but I feel that the House has some 287 ground for complaint here. I think that it arises from the inadequacy of the Explanatory Memorandum. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has raised a matter of substance, and it would be helpful to the House if the Joint Under-Secretary could indicate the different obligations and privileges arising from the different kinds of status with which the Bill deals. There are four kinds—the British protected person, the subject of the United Kingdom and Colonies, the citizen of the Federation, and finally the overall, all-embracing British subject. It would have enlightened our discussion a great deal if we could have had, if not a simple description of the relative obligations of each, at least some attempt to differentiate between them.
§ Mr. Renton
If the hon. and learned Member will be kind enough to read in the OFFICIAL REPORT the very full explanation which I have given, and which I hope has been reasonably clear, I think he will find that the perplexities are removed. I certainly do not propose to cover the ground relating to the Federation, which I hope I have explained pretty fully. Indeed, I fear that I may have strained the patience of the House. Clause 3 is, of course, of a character quite different from that of the first two Clauses we have been discussing. It is intended to enlarge the provisions of the 1948 Act, under which British subjects were able to become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies by registration. We are extending this provision to certain people who have ceased to be British subjects. Although Clause 3 contains only two substantive subsections, it applies to three separate types of case.
Subsection (1) revives the opportunity granted by Section 12 (6) of the 1948 Act to register for citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies. When that Act was passed, most other Commonwealth countries had not passed their citizenship laws. I think that Canada was the only one which had done so. It was intended at that time that the then existing British subjects whose British nationality would derive from their connection with those countries which had not then passed their citizenship laws should not become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies unless they failed to acquire the separate 288 citizenship of the country of which they appeared to be potential citizens. The 1948 Act, therefore, made a rough and ready definition of people who were potentially citizens of other Commonwealth countries. Such people were not included in the definition of citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies but were given a transitional status of British subject without citizenship.
The idea was that they should have a common status but that they would have no separate citizenship until their position had been clarified and their status resolved. It was hoped that with the passing of the various citizenship laws and particularly with the giving, under Section 12 (6), of a year's grace from 31st December, anyone who was in a doubtful position would have had it clarified.
The way in which that was done was that anyone who would have become a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies but for his citizenship or potential citizenship of another Commonwealth country could apply to the Secretary of State for registration as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies if he could prove three things. The first was that he was descended in the male line from someone born or naturalised in the United Kingdom or one of the Colonies. Secondly, that he intended to make his ordinary place of residence in the United Kingdom and Colonies. Thirdly, that it was fitting that by reason of his close connection with the United Kingdom or Colonies he should become a citizen of them.
Those were the conditions on which registration could be granted by the Secretary of State. That opportunity of registration was given by the 1948 Act because it was recognised that many people likely to become citizens of Commonwealth countries nevertheless regarded themselves as primarily citizens of this country with which they had close ties, generally by ancestry, sometimes in other ways.
I am not making any criticism, but experience has shown that the provision in the 1948 Act was too narrowly drawn, and that the opportunity given by the right hon. Gentleman then was, with great respect to him, not quite big enough. It was too restrictive in three ways. In the first place, a year's grace was not long enough. People living in outlying districts of, for example, India 289 and Pakistan did not learn about the option which they were given until it was too late for them to collect evidence of their ancestry and submit an application within one year.
Secondly, the option was not given to people descended from ancestors born in what is now the Irish Republic, and this was understandable at the time. Thirdly, Section 12 (6) did not cover people naturalised as British subjects outside the United Kingdom in any of the other countries possessing separate citizenships.
Many cases have come to the notice of the Home Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office, and no doubt Members of Parliament, of people who deserve to be citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies but who, through no fault of their own, have been unable to take advantage of the original opportunity given to them. We are therefore reviving that opportunity until 31st December, 1962, and we are extending it to people whose ancestors came from the Irish Republic or were either themselves naturalised in a Commonwealth country before 1949 or are descended from such persons. That is the first type of case which, in the broadest way, can be described as people who, through no fault of their own, missed the opportunity of registration under the 1948 Act.
The second type of case, dealt with in subsection (1, b, iii) of Clause 3 of the Bill, arises in this way. It was intended that nobody should lose their British nationality as a result of the 1948 Act. It was held that either a person would become a citizen of the United Kingdom or Colonies or of one of the other Commonwealth countries. Whilst it is true that nobody has lost his British nationality as a direct result of the Act, there are some—whether this was foreseen by the right hon. Gentleman or not I do not know and it does not matter—who have lost it as a result of the freedom of Commonwealth countries to legislate in any way they think fit, both as to citizenship of the Commonwealth or as to status generally.
I will give an example. I am not sure that it is a very good example because it happens to be one arising from Canada, who passed her Citizenship Act before we passed the 1948 British Nationality Act. Under the Citizenship Law of Canada it is provided that a person born 290 in a foreign country of a father born in Canada loses Canadian citizenship if he becomes resident outside Canada and fails to take proper steps to preserve the Canadian citizenship. Then there is an example from Australia. A naturalised Australian loses his citizenship if he stays abroad for seven years and fails to give notice of intention to retain his nationality. If such a person possesses no other citizenship within the Commonwealth, he loses British nationality, and some other cases have come to light of people unaware of the steps necessary to retain their status. Indeed, there is one Gilbertian case in which it is found that a person from a Commonwealth country can become an alien by reason of coming to reside in the United Kingdom. That, even, has arisen.
§ Mr. Brockway
The Minister has mentioned Canada and Australia. I wonder whether he has investigated the question of Indians in South Africa, born in princely countries but, at the time of the principal Act, citizens of Britain, and who retained citizenship rights in South Africa until the South Africa Citizen Act of 1948, and who are now stateless? What is their position under this Bill?
§ Mr. Renton
I would like to consider that matter. I am not in a position to deal with it now, but I will bear the point in mind.
§ Mr. Renton
When we come to the next cases I shall mention the hon. and learned Gentleman will find that there is no time limit to the next category, but in the category of cases mentioned already it was felt reasonable to have a time limit in the original Act of 1948. Experience has shown that the time limit was not long enough, and we say—it is a matter of judgment—that if we give up to five years we shall be doing rough justice in the matter and that 31st December, 1962, is not an unreasonable period. It will be very nearly five years because we hope this Bill will not be very long in passing through both Houses of Parliament.
291 What would be unreasonable would be for these claims to be drifting on indefinitely into the future. Neither is it in the interests of the descendants of people who are successful or unsuccessful in applying for registration, that the matter should be left in a state of uncertainty for too many years. That is my answer to the hon. and learned Member. These are most complex matters; one cannot be a walking encyclopædia on the whole of the citizenship laws of the Commonwealth, or else I should be much more forthcoming in my answers to these questions. To return to the effect of sub-paragraph (iii) of Clause 3 (1, b), we are allowing people with the type of difficulty I have mentioned to apply for registration, and in their case there is no time limit. It is only in the previous case I mentioned, which is covered by sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii), that there is a time limit. The reason why we should have no time limit there is that cases might arise at any future time of a Commonwealth country passing legislation which would give rise to the kind of difficulty which I have mentioned, and, therefore, no time limit would be appropriate.
The third type of case covered by Clause 3 is dealt with in subsection (2), which refers to Section 6 (1) of the 1948 Act, which was a provision entitling anyone who was a British subject in some other way to be registered as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, provided that he could prove that he was ordinarily resident here or in one of the Colonies and had been so for twelve months or such shorter period as the Secretary of State might accept, or could prove that he was in Crown service. Registration will be similarly granted to him.
Here again cases have come to notice of people with a strong moral claim to be registered as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, abut who, under the present law, cannot qualify under either of the two heads mentioned. For example, a young man might be born in another Commonwealth country and come here to be educated; he might then get a job with a British firm in a foreign country. So long as he remained here, he might feel no particular need to acquire our citizenship, or he might have 292 been under age and not entitled to do so, but on going abroad he might wish to strengthen his ties with the United Kingdom by acquiring our citizenship and yet he would be debarred from applying because he would no longer be resident here or in the service of the Crown.
Therefore, subsection (2) will enable people in that sort of position to apply for registration as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. They will, of course, have to satisfy my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that they should be registered because of their close connection with the United Kingdom and Colonies. I am sure that the House will agree that in cases like this the Home Secretary's discretion should be allowed so as to prevent our citizenship from being available too easily to people who happen to be temporarily employed by British firms abroad and whose original connection was not with this country. It is a matter of discretion.
Here, again, we say that no time limit is necessary and, in this case, we are adding to the permanent structure of the 1948 Act, but it is only in a very minor respect.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
Should I be right in thinking that this is the first time registration has been the subject of an Executive discretion and that previously it was entirely automatic provided that the applicant was sufficiently qualified?
§ Mr. Renton
This is the first time that discretion has been applied to applications for registration, but, of course, discretion has had to be exercised with naturalisation and there is not a very great distinction in principle between registration under the 1948 Act, as amended by the Bill, and an application for naturalisation.
Clause 4 is a purely technical Clause, but it is desirable that we should have it to give legislative effect to a growing administrative practice. Under Section 29 of the 1948 Act, our consular officers in foreign countries have power to register births and deaths of British subjects. In Commonwealth countries, some of our High Commissioners have been similarly authorised to keep registers of births and deaths, but they have acted on administrative instructions. They have kept the registers, which are accurate, and have 293 been able to give their certificates as to what they have entered in the registers.
However, there needs to have legislative force so that British subjects belonging to the United Kingdom—or any other British subject who comes to live here—can conveniently get a birth or death certificate for himself or his family from copies kept at Somerset House. Somerset House, of course, needs to act on statutory instructions, and Clause 4 will give statutory recognition not only to registers kept by the High Commissioners in future, but to those which they have kept up to now in the way which I have described. It will make certified copies of these registers valid evidence in this country of birth and death.
In conclusion, although the Bill is highly technical, and I must apologise for speaking at such length, I hope that I have been of some assistance to the House with this difficult matter. The Bill's purposes are simple and can he summarised En the following way; firstly, the Bill recognises the new situation created by the citizenship laws of Ghana and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland; secondly, it enables some deserving classes of people to become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies by registration; and, thirdly, it provides statutory authority for a useful, indeed, necessary function of High Commissioners in other countries of the Commonwealth. I hope that the House will give a unanimous Second Reading to the Bill, which acknowledges the further advances which have been made in the evolution of the Commonwealth.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
When the Bill was introduced in another place, every speaker there referred to its complex and complicated nature. The exchanges between my hon. and learned Friends and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary have shown still further that it is a complex Bill. The criticism that the Explanatory Memorandum is not as full as it should have been is justified. A plea for simplicity was made during the debates in another place and I am bound to add to that, because I think that Parliamentary draftsmen tend to become too hidebound.
In the other place it was suggested that it might be possible to have a new amending 294 Act, which would set out the parts which are new in italics, or in some other distinctive form. I do not see why this cannot be done. I gather that in another place sympathetic consideration of this suggestion was promised, and if the Government spokesman here would consider taking back the Bill to amend it in the form that I have suggested, it might have another advantage.
The Minister did not know what was the position—so I can be forgiven if I speak in ignorance but—I think that the reason why Malaya is not included at the moment is that she has not passed her citizenship Act. If that could be done in the meantime it might be that the new amending Act could include Malaya, and so save further work in the Chamber.
As the Minister has said, the Bill seeks to amend the British Nationality Act, 1948. That Act was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). The Minister has pleaded for our full co-operation, and we shall give it as far as we can, but if he will recall the debates that we had on the 1948 Measure he will remember that the party supporting Her Majesty's present Government—who were then the Opposition—showed how brutally an Opposition can behave. We are much more respectful in this matter than the Opposition were in those days. We want to examine the matter sensibly, to improve the Bill and to ensure that what we do today will benefit British citizens throughout the Commonwealth.
The real reason why my right hon. Friend introduced the 1948 Measure was to enable the United Kingdom to have her own citizenship law. This became necessary because Canada had to have a citizenship law of her own; this was forced upon her by the United States during the last war. Probably because Canada came within the area where the Monroe doctrine operated, and also for security reasons, the United States wanted the Canadians to be distinguished from other British citizens.
This new creation, of a Canadian citizen as opposed to a British citizen, therefore came about. It was inevitable that once Canada had it other Commonwealth countries would follow suit, and we now have citizens not only of Canada but of Australia, New Zealand. South 295 Africa, India, Pakistan and Ceylon—and today we are adding Ghana and, in a limited way, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
As the Minister explained, until the Second World War all the peoples within the British Commonwealth were classified as British subjects. When my right hon. Friend introduced the 1948 Bill he gave several different interpretations of the meaning of the word "British." He said that "playing the game" was thought to be British, and that the words "red on the map" were connected with the British. When we had the very cold weather the other day the term "British warm"—the British military overcoat—came to my mind. Perhaps I may be forgiven for referring to our revered friend, the late Walter Elliot—and I should like to add my tribute to his memory—by saying that I suppose that the word "British" would have brought to his mind a picture of the Celts versus the Anglo-Saxons.
Not all the people in the British Commonwealth cherish the word as we do, because some of them have languished in gaol, and the word has a different connotation to them. It is for this reason that we have the terms, "British subject" and "Commonwealth citizen"—although both are the same. I make no apology for using the term "British subject". That term dates back a long time; back to 1608, the year of the Calvin case. In that case, the courts decided that anyone born within the King's allegiance, wheresoever and whensoever, enjoyed all the legal rights of a free-born denizen of England, and could not be deprived of these rights except by process of law.
The King could not put one of his subjects outside his protection. The status of "British subject" knew nothing of race, colour, or colonial prejudice. I regret to say that, in practice, we have not kept to that principle as we should have done. That is why the term "British subject" does not have the high repute that it would have had if we had followed the court's ruling.
After Canada had decided to have her own citizenship law it was necessary for the United Kingdom to determine her own position and that of others within the Commonwealth, and a Commonwealth 296 wealth Conference was held in 1947 to deal with the question of nationality and citizenship. As a result of that Conference and the subsequent passing of the British Nationality Act, 1948, a Commonwealth citizen was given all the advantages of being a British subject when "out of the jurisdiction".
This means that all Commonwealth citizens have full rights in the United Kingdom, but that if they go outside it they are not within the jurisdiction. So keen are we to allow all Commonwealth citizens to be British subjects and to enjoy the privileges and position of being inside the United Kingdom that we have stretched matters even further than the Commonwealth, and arrangements have been made in certain cases to allow Irishmen who wished to claim Commonwealth citizenship to do so.
It is unfortunate that other Commonwealth countries have not declared as we have done but, on the other hand, it is right that we should lead in the matter, and it may be that in the same way as any citizen of the Commonwealth can enjoy the rights of the citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, some day the citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and citizens of any Commonwealth country, will be able to have this common right.
The 1948 Act had a twofold purpose. It created a citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies and conferred the status of "British subject" upon Commonwealth citizens or citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and upon every citizen of the Commonwealth countries listed in Section 1 (3) of that Act. Those who became citizens of these Commonwealth countries automatically enjoyed the status of a British subject, or a Commonwealth citizen.
If, considering the Bill today, we take note that Ghana passed the Independence Act in 1957, giving Ghana her own citizenship law, we see that it becomes necessary for the Bill to implement the policy agreed at the Commonwealth Conference of 1947. Ghana was inserted in the list of Commonwealth countries in Section 1 (3) of the 1948 Act, so that those who now become citizens of Ghana are no longer classified as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies—and the attainment of Ghana citizenship 297 automatically carries with it British or Commonwealth citizenship.
Clause 2, therefore, puts Ghana in the same category as other independent Commonwealth countries. The real purpose of the Clause is to give Ghana nationhood. That is some answer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who was querying the real purpose of the Bill. Hon. Members on this side of the House wholeheartedly support the proposition relating to Ghana.
Clause 1 seeks to do the same for the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, but in that case we are dealing with a territory which is not an independent Commonwealth country. There are different systems of nationality. Within the 1948 Act the citizens of Southern Rhodesia are already classed as British subjects because that country was included in the list of countries mentioned in Section 1 (3) of that Act.
This Bill seeks to substitute the Federation for Southern Rhodesia so that Southern Rhodesian subjects who are now British subjects will, when they become citizens of the Federation, still retain their rights as British subjects. The peoples of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland are not so anxious to become Federation citizens. At present, they are British-protected persons and I have no doubt that many would like to become British citizens. But they do not want to become Federation citizens and one can understand their fears.
A few days ago I read in the Daily Telegraph that, in Salisbury, African Members of Parliament must live six miles outside the city in an African township. They cannot eat in the Assembly buildings or in hotels. If they wish to eat, they have to go home. This is a maintenance and a consolidation of white domination and privilege. I recognise that many of the leading statesmen in the Federation are genuinely anxious to do away with that doctrine. Within the last few days one enlightened statesman in that area, the Prime Minister, has been at variance with other Ministers, four of whom have resigned.
I think, therefore, that we on this side of the House are entitled to be reassured that nothing in this Bill will disturb the rights and privileges of those who seek British protection rather than citizenship 298 of the Federation. We all hope for a successful multi-racial society in the area, but it will succeed only if British or Commonwealth citizenship is accepted in the Federation as freely and enthusiastically as in other Commonwealth countries.
Clause 3 of the Bill is quite different in character, as the Minister has said. Its purpose is to enlarge the provisions of the 1948 British Nationality Act. When that Act was passed, India and Pakistan had not defined their citizenship laws. I imagine that my right hon. Friend would say that he did not know that it would take so long; otherwise, he might have made more provision in his own Bill regarding the time during which applications for British citizenship could be made. Experience has shown that the present period was not long enough, and that is one reason why we shall be happy to support this Clause.
Many of these Indians are now stateless and are desperately anxious to become British citizens. It is pathetic to see how many stateless persons cling to their British association. I remember going to South-West Africa, in 1947, and meeting a tribe which actually called themselves and were proud to be so known, as the Rheoboth Bastards. These were people born as a result of associations between British troops and Hottentot women. They sought then, and do now, the opportunity to be British citizens.
As has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), there are in South Africa over 3,000 Indians who originated from the princely States of India. It is true that they could get British citizenship by going back to India, but many of them cannot afford to do so. They have not the wealth to enable them to make the journey. The South Africans do not recognise these people, yet at one time they were British-protected persons and I think that even now we have some obligations to them. I, too, ask the Minister to give some consideration to this problem.
Under the 1948 Act all persons wishing to become United Kingdom citizens had to pass tests before 1st June, 1950. This Clause enables the date to be extended until 31st December, 1962. It also, in the words of the Minister, enables certain classes of citizens who wish to become British to make applications beyond that time. To the extent that within the Bill 299 residence in the United Kingdom or being in the service of the Crown entitles one to become a British or Commonwealth citizen, it is extended so that, in the case of international organisations or United Kingdom companies overseas, employees of those organisations can be considered for British citizenship.
The people who are fortunate enough to be in this kind of employment can rightly be considered when they make application to become British subjects. I ask that, in the same way as the Clause deals with them, there may be some consideration for those not so fortunate as to have such good employment, or to become closely associated with this country either by work in international organisations of which the United Kingdom is a member, or in British companies overseas.
Clause 4 of the Bill is quite unexceptionable. It extends the powers of the High Commissioners, particularly with regard to the recording of births and deaths. It has been explained by the Minister and nothing more need be said.
The Bill deals with four entirely different matters and everyone will agree that it is complex and complicated. With respect to the need to recognise the situation created by the Citizenship Act of Ghana, we on this side of the House give wholehearted support to the Bill. But we support with reserve the recognition of the Citizenship Act passed by the Federation. We shall want a full assurance that British-protected persons will retain the same rights as they now enjoy; that nothing will be done to whittle away the position of the British-protected persons. I know that an assurance has been given, but some of my hon. and learned Friends are examining the Bill closely to be quite sure that in no way can the position of British-protected persons be whittled away. If the Minister can give us a further assurance we shall welcome it.
We support the giving of additional powers to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations to extend the area in which he can use his discretion to grant British citizenship to Stateless persons. We ask the Minister to be generous. He can count on our assistance and, to the extent that this Bill removes colonial prejudices and the 300 colour bar, and meets the need of an evolving and expanding Commonwealth, we are happy to give it our support.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I sympathise with the Joint Under-Secretary of State in his task of explaining this Bill, which is an extraordinarily complex Measure referring to four different types of nationality, citizenship and subjects. A Bertrand Russell would find difficulty in explaining it in terms which we could understand. In addition, the drafting of this Bill makes an explanation of it in intelligible terms almost impossible. I do not know who were the draftsmen, but though I have read many Bills I have not read one containing such legalistic jargon as hides the meaning and purpose of Clauses to a greater degree than that to be found in this Measure. I beg the hon. and learned Gentleman to teach the draftsmen simple, basic English.
§ Mr. Alport
I was not rising to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but only to alter my position on this bench.
§ Mr. Brockway
I always seek to be courteous, even when I am speaking most strongly.
I make an appeal to the Government to get rid of this appalling jargon and to find simple, basic English which would explain the purpose of the Bill and which would be just as sound legally.
I propose to express great apprehension about one part of the Bill and great appreciation of another part, and to make some inquiry about the third part. Clause 1 deals with the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. I recognise that in subsection (3) the rights of British-protected persons in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland are maintained. I hope, however that no one will think that, if there is not a Division against this Measure tonight, it means that many of us accept the political Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Outside the Union of South Africa, it is the grossest racial dictatorship existing in the world, in which 200,000 people have 29 representatives 301 and 6 million people have only six representatives. I do not want it to be thought in Central Africa that if we do not oppose the Bill we accept the political basis of the Federation.
The Opposition voted against the Measure which established the Federation because, in our view, it ought not to have been imposed against the wishes of the African population. At present, the Federation is going through a period of probation. One may almost say that it is a criminal on licence for good behaviour. It will be in 1960, when the constitution comes under review, that the federal basis should be accepted or rejected by this House in legislation of permanent form. I think it right that that view should be expressed frankly and clearly, lest it be suggested at a later date that because we did not oppose the Bill we accepted the political basis of federation in Central Africa.
The part of the Bill which I want to praise is that which deals with Ghana, which is a great contrast to the federation in Central Africa. It is composed of people having universal suffrage, and a citizenship which expresses democratic rights. We welcome the fact that the men and women of Ghana are now citizens of that indepedendent country and we pay our tribute to the manner in which the Administration are dealing with difficult social and economic problems. We express our hope that Ghana will proceed not only to national political freedom but to great social and economic freedoms as well.
The part of the Bill about which I make inquiries is Clause 3, which seeks to extend the powers to register persons as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. As I indicated in an interruption, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley), leading for the Opposition, said, this Clause affects the position of the Indian population of the Union of South Africa who were born in what were known as the native States of India and are now known as the princely States. At the time of the enactment of the principal Act they were recognised as British-protected persons and, up to the passing of the South African Citizenship Act, 1949, were granted passports from South Africa. Since then, they have become stateless.
302 I would ask the Under-Secretary of State to give me his attention when I ask whether these persons come under Clause 3. If they do not, will he agree to amend the Bill so as to include them? I would refer him to Section 12 (3) of the British Nationality Act, 1948, which reads:A person who was a British subject immediately before the date of the commencement of this Act shall on that date become a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies if he was born within the territory comprised at the commencing of this Act in a protectorate, protected state or United Kingdom trust territory.The Indians to whom I refer come under that Section.
It may be argued that because this Indian population was provided with passports by the Union of South Africa up to the passing of the South African Citizenship Act, 1949, and in that sense were recognised as citizens of South Africa, that because of that interim stage of recognition, they lost the right to be regarded as British subjects.
I want the Under-Secretary of State to turn his attention to subsection (1, b, iii) of Clause 3, and I ask him whether it covers the Indian population to whom I have referred, since it reads:(iii) 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, and has thereby ceased to be a British subject.That appears to me, as a layman, to cover the Indians of South Africa who were born in the princely States, were British-protected persons at the time of the principal Act, were recognised for a time in the Union of South Africa by the granting of passports, and who, through no fault of their own, have now lost that citizenship. Does this Indian population come within the terms of that subsection?
I think it worth while going into greater detail about what is happening to this Indian population in South Africa. It numbers 3,000. They were born in the princely States of India prior to the independence of that country and were then, as I have said, British-protected persons and are now stateless. The citizenship laws of South Africa, India and the United Kingdom give no citizen rights to such persons and, in consequence, they have to suffer many humiliations and disabilities.
303 Persons resident in India, including the princely States, at the time India was granted independence were given rights of citizenship of India and classed as British subjects, but persons born in the princely States and resident in South Africa at the time of the recognition of independence of India were, by some omission, given no status in the constitution of India, nor was any provision made for them in the British Nationality Act of 1948. The South African Citizenship Act conferred citizenship rights only on British subjects and not on British-protected persons. Now as a consequence they are stateless, unable to obtain passport facilities, refused visas by many countries, and even entry by some countries.
Even in the United Kingdom, these formerly British-protected persons are regarded as aliens and require visas in order to come here. Surely Section 1 of the British Nationality Act, 1948, was intended to make all Indians British subjects? Was this an oversight in the drafting of the original Act? In my view, the Bill in clear terms should reinstate them as British subjects. I urge the hon. and learned Gentleman that, pending that, the High Commissioner in South Africa should be authorised to issue passports to them.
I have gone into this matter in some detail because it seems an issue of profound significance where British-protected persons have now become stateless not by any fault of their own but by the fact that they live in a country which practices the colour bar and makes them outlaws in their own land.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The Joint Under-Secretary of State had a difficult task in explaining this Bill, and I can assure him that he had my most practical sympathy because, of all the Measures with which I have been connected, the principal Act, from which this Measure derives, was the most complicated, the most difficult to understand, and one which I always regarded as almost impossible to explain.
It was, of course, a pleasure to see one of Her Majesty's counsel learned in the law being cross-examined by two others, my hon. and learned Friends the Members for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) and for Northampton (Mr. Paget). 304 I thought they allowed him to get away with it rather more easily because he was in the fraternity than I have ever known one of Her Majesty's counsel learned in the law to allow an ordinary layman in the witness box to get away with the plea that he cannot answer now but at some other time he will be able to do so.
This Bill is another step in the onward march of the conception of the Commonwealth to which we belong. In an era when nationality is becoming more and more the ideal of peoples, it is a very good thing that we can give a practical exemplification of the way in which people with the strongest ties of nationhood, the greatest ties in newly-acquired nationality, can come into a great free Commonwealth in which they have every opportunity of giving expression to any of the aspirations they have. It is important that we should recognise how important our place in the world is in giving this example to our fellow human beings.
I have just been reading the life of Frederick II, the great Holy Roman Emperor—certainly the Pope would not regard him as holy, and it seems very doubtful whether he was in fact a Roman—who lost his imperial dynasty through his activities and the conflicts he raised by the place he held at the beginning of his reign in the affairs of the world. He had a not dissimilar task from ours in Italy and Germany, with a wonderfully mixed population, including Saracens, his sympathy with whom was one of the real indictments when he was accused of heresy. The most serious in the thirteenth century seemed to be the accusation that he took a bath every day and, therefore, in those days he was not regarded, I gather, as a civilised human being.
I am quite prepared to let all the troubles which arose at the time of the British Nationality Act disappear because now a phrase is accepted which then was greeted with derision, "Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies." It is now recognised as one of the great distinctions that certain people occupy in the world. I have always felt it was a sound thing that the United Kingdom, whose genius for self-government was being extended throughout the world to people of a multitude of racial origins, should be regarded by them as a matter of pride.
305 I want to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) in suggesting that Her Majesty's Government should take particular care to see that the number of stateless persons in the world who regard themselves as part of our fraternity shall be reduced. If there are people like the natives of the princely States of India, to whom he referred, who have managed to drift into the stateless position—they certainly have not done it of their own volition—every effort should he made to give them the position in the world which comes, especially in these clays, from being members of a civilised State to which they can look for protection and of whose honour they have to be careful in their relationships with other peoples of the world.
There is nothing more sad than the idea that, in this age that has seen so terrific an emphasis on the idea of nationhood, there are scattered about the world hundreds of thousands of people who are now described as stateless and who have no one to look to as fellow citizens in the trials that they have to endure.
I am glad that the opportunity for registration is being extended. I hope that when 1962 arrives it may be found that there is still a way of continuing the opportunity for people who from time to time may stand in need of registering. I think we were right to impose a time limit when we did, because it is essential when making a fresh start, as we did in the British Nationality Act, to make sure that people are induced to come in and declare themselves one way or the other—that they should either register or make it clear that they do not wish to. Undoubtedly the year that they were allowed has proved to be too short a time, and I sincerely hope that all the people who wish to register will try to do so within the period.
However, I am certain, from my own unhappy memories of the complexity of this matter, that after 1962 there will still occasionally be a person who ought to have registered but, for some reason or another, did not know that he would be required to do so to retain a status which he has persuaded himself he already enjoyed.
The original Act emerged from a conference of all the free nations then involved in this question of nationality. I 306 regret to find that, although there was complete agreement at that conference about the future and that an effort should be made to ensure that there would be a mutual relationship that would put all of us in an equal position as citizens of the Commonwealth, some countries appear to have made a minor modification which cuts across the general line. I hope that every effort will be made to keep the idea of Commonwealth citizenship as something that will not give rise to the sort of problems that caused the original Act to be drafted and which might, if the modifications become too serious, lead to a future general Act having to be considered and passed.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) said. I never felt that it was an indignity to be called a British subject. I never expected to be called anything else. When applied to people who regarded themselves as having been conquered, the word "subject" took on a connotation that I am sure no one present this evening has ever felt when he has used the phrase that he was a British subject. I recollect that when the Germans invaded the Channel Islands they said, "We have come to liberate you from the British yoke" and the Channel Islanders replied, "You have made quite a mistake. England never conquered us. As a matter of fact, we conquered England." As far as I can make out, at the time of the Battle of Hastings they were merely line-of-communication troops. Nevertheless, that is a feeling which they hold very strongly.
It is, I think, regrettable that a debate on so important a matter as this has been so sparsely attended, because, technical and complicated as the matter may be, what we have been discussing tonight goes to the root of our association in this great federation and brotherhood of free nations, which I believe is the best hope for the future peace of the world and for mutual understanding between people of different races, creeds and colours. They can enjoy within their own frontiers, which we all recognise, the self-development which they wish to have, and they can come here if they want to; and may the day be long distant when anyone will be able to refuse to any citizen of the Commonwealth the right to land here and 307 stay here, for we are the one exemplification in the world that the brotherhood of man does not end on the shores of any country or continent.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. C. J. M. Alport)
I hope that the springs of sympathy demonstrated by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) have not been exhausted for the benefit of my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, because I deserve a share of them. My hon. and learned Friend has explained the details of the Bill and it falls to me, as clearly and shortly as I can, to explain some of the points which have been raised in the debate.
I am sure that the House agrees that nothing affronts our conception of fairness more than a disability imposed on an individual by a technical defect of the law. It has been clear from what has been said on both sides of the House that, in so far as the Bill is intended to remove some of the inequities caused unwittingly by the operation of the 1948 Act, it makes a real appeal to hon. Members. I can assure the House that my noble Friend will approach the problem of deciding on applications which are referred to him under Clause 3 with humanity and an understanding of the importance which a favourable decision may mean in the lives of the applicants.
The House is aware that most of the cases occur in India, Pakistan and Ceylon, I should explain that the numbers concerned are relatively small. Most of these people are known personally to our various High Commissioners, and my noble Friend will, therefore, be fully and accurately informed about the circumstances of each case where it is necessary for the application to be referred to him. He will also scrutinise the instructions issued to United Kingdom High Commissioners, who will have the responsibility for registering the applicants, to ensure that those instructions conform with the intention of the Bill and with the approach which the House has made to this problem.
I aim sure that all hon. Members agree with the right hon. Member for South Shields when he hopes that the Bill, 308 as an Act, will contribute in some way to a reduction in the number of stateless people in the world. We hope that it will, in fact, do so.
Turning now to the point raised by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), I do not think that the Bill applies to ex-natives of the princely states who are in South Africa and who are rendered Stateless as a result of the operation of the appropriate South African legislation. These people were never British subjects. A period elapsed between the Independence Acts for India and Pakistan and the passing of the South African legislation to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The mantle of protection—these people were British-protected persons—at the moment of the passing of the Independence Acts of Pakistan and India fell, so to speak, from the shoulders of the United Kingdom on to the shoulders of Pakistan and India.
In so far as there is any reference back to a previous status, it is to a potential status, presumably as citizens of India or of Pakistan. This, therefore, does not affect the United Kingdom, and it is something not covered by the legislation with which we are concerned this evening.
§ Mr. Brockway
Very high legal opinion takes a view of the matter different from that of the hon. Gentleman and reads the Bill in a quite different way. I ask him to look at the matter again. Moreover, if he does come to the conclusion that the present Bill does not cover these people, he will, I hope, amend it so that it does.
§ Mr. Alport
Perhaps I might come back to the hon. Gentleman's last point later, because it goes to the root of the whole idea lying behind the status of British subject, Commonwealth citizenship and citizenship of the various individual territories of the Commonwealth.
The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) asked me a number of questions, the first of which related to why Malayan citizenship was not dealt with, like the citizenship of Ghana, in the legislation we are considering. The answer is that Malayan citizenship is covered by the Malaya Independence Act. There is a difference between the situation in Malaya and in Ghana.
309 As the House knows, there are people of Malaya, particularly in the Settlements of Malacca and Penang, who have for many generations had, and been proud of, British citizenship, the equivalent of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies since the passing of the Act of 1948. It was agreed at the time that they should continue to enjoy dual citizenship for the future so as not to upset the long-felt pride which they had in belonging to, and being closely associated with, the United Kingdom. There will, therefore, in the case of Malaya, he a minority who will enjoy a dual status as citizens of Malaya on the one hand and citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies on the other.
In Ghana, as we have heard from an earlier explanation given by my hon. and learned Friend, there will be a small number who will enjoy dual citizenship. However, it is the wish of the Commonwealth Governments as a whole that dual citizenship should be avoided as far as possible.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is no longer here, but I can say that the whole question of citizenship is an integral part of the claim to sovereign status made by independent members of the Commonwealth on achieving that sovereignty, and must be considered in that context. There is no intention on the part of any member of the Commonwealth to try, so to speak, to poach citizens who properly belong to another Commonwealth member. That is, I think, inherent in the whole idea that lay behind the original citizenship conference and the passing of the various pieces of legislation.
Let me now turn to a second matter raised by the right hon. Gentleman—the better presentation of a Bill of this sort. He suggested that we should reproduce in the context of this Bill the relevant passages in the original 1948 Act, but that, he will realise, would bring those passages into discussion, and make them the subject of the consideration of the House all over again. My view is that his idea, so far from making the situation clearer, would, in fact, tend to make consideration of this Bill not only longer but more complicated.
I fully realise that this Measure is not easy to understand—I can assure the House that I realise that as much as anyone could—but, at the same time, we 310 must accept the fact that this is, inevitably, a complicated subject. It is set out as clearly as possible, I think, by the parliamentary draftsmen, who have the invidious task of trying to ensure not only that it is as clear as possible to Members of Parliament but is legally sound on the score of future interpretation.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I accept what the Under-Secretary has said about presentation, but the Bill is to go out to British subjects throughout the world. They are the people who have to look at it and understand it, and I was appealing, as much as anything, for simplicity, so that they can see what is being done. It would help us, too.
§ Mr. Alport
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but the fact is that those who are to be affected by this Measure in, for instance, India and Pakistan, will have the advantage of explanation through the High Commissioners' offices on the spot, and will not be required to understand the details of the legislation we pass in this House.
Another point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, and by other hon. Members, referred to the position of British-protected persons in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Broadly speaking, what happens is that, in Southern Rhodesia, Clause 1 (1, a) substitutes Federal citizenship for Southern Rhodesian citizenship; and subsection (1, b) takes the two protectorates of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland out of the operation of the principal Act of 1948, while subsection (3) puts them back again for all purposes, with one minor exception.
The result is that, in the main, the status of the British-protected person is fully preserved. As hitherto, persons born in the Northern Territories will continue to have the status of British-protected persons, a status to which, as the House is well aware, they attach great importance. The only difference is that a British-protected person who wishes to become a British subject, will do so in future by simple registration as a Federal citizen first, instead of by the complicated process of naturalisation, as is, at present, the case.
Between the passing of the 1948 Act and the present time, only 25 British-protected persons—22 in Northern Rhodesia and three in Nyasaland—have 311 availed themselves of the facilities provided under the 1948 Act to become citizens of the United Kingdom and the Colonies by naturalisation. The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends can, therefore, be assured that the position of the British-protected person is fully safeguarded by the legislation that we are now considering.
§ Mr. Alport
I am glad to see that the hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) has returned to his place, because there was one other point raised by him in an intervention in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend in which he asked whether the Federal Parliament could abolish the status of British-protected persons in the Federation.
It is natural that I should like to give more consideration to the answer in due course, but my preliminary answer is that it could not, because such legislation would not be within the powers of the Federal Parliament as set out in the Federal Constitution. If a Federal Act were passed with that object, it would be ultra vires and could be declared so by the courts. This is a complicated problem, and possibly this is a matter which we will have a further opportunity of considering when we come to the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to say how grateful I am to hear him give that assurance, and to express my regret that other business made it impossible for me to attend the whole of the debate?
§ Mr. Alport
If I may continue, the hon. Member for Eton and Slough made some very unhappy, unfortunate and, indeed, undesirable remarks, I thought, about the Federation. The views that he expressed brought me to the conclusion, which I have often reached when listening to him, that he is really the greatest racialist of them all.
§ Mr. Alport
The truth is that in these matters of citizenship and the relationship 312 between the two communities in the Federation, a strenuous and imaginative effort is being made at present, at a time of very great difficulty, as are all periods of transition, to overcome the divisions which have existed in the past and which are inevitable in any plural or multiracial society such as the Federation. I wish to dissociate myself from the sort of statement made too easily by hon. Gentlemen like the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, which do great harm to the tranquility of and good race relations in a country like the Federation at this juncture.
Finally, let me say, in reply to the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), that the principle behind the Act of 1948 is to try to allocate the individuals in the Commonwealth to the citizenship of the Commonwealth country to which they are most closely connected. That seems to me to be a vital principle and a test for the Bill which we are considering tonight. It would be wrong—and this I suggested earlier, in reference to a point made by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough—for us to give the impression in dealing with this legislation that we seek in any way to appropriate to our own citizenship individuals whose real connections are not with the United Kingdom or Colonies, but with some other member of the Commonwealth.
I am quite certain that, although this may be a complicated Bill, if that principle is retained in the mind of the House during its consideration we shall ensure that we are able to keep on the right lines. It is certainly in that spirit and on those lines that the Bill is drafted. I hope that the House will be prepared to give it a Second Reading, realising that, although the subject is one of great legal complexity, it has great significance also in relation to the individual happiness and the future not of large numbers of people but of a certain number to whom we in this country stand under some obligation.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Finlay.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.