HC Deb 07 February 1962 vol 653 cc566-8
Mr. N. Pannell

I beg to move, in page 9, line 16, after "Act" to insert: or any person who, not having received a free pardon has been, in any country, convicted of an offence for which a sentence of imprisonment has been passed and who, for this reason, is deemed by the Home Secretary to be an undesirable immigrant". In the very short time at my disposal it is not possible to deploy my original argument, but I would point out that the Clause as it now stands gives the right of citizenship to any immigrant who is not actually subject to a deportation order at the time that he makes his application. If, prior to his application, he has been guilty of an offence which, under the provisions of this Measure, would make him liable to deportation he can still become a United Kingdom citizen.

That is entirely wrong and anomalous. We take power in Clause 2 to exclude from this country immigrants believed to have committed certain crimes, yet here we give the right of United Kingdom citizenship to those immigrants convicted before the passing of the Bill of serious crimes which would make them subject to deportation. The main anomaly is that the Clause makes no provision for the qualifying period of five years to be extended by any period of imprisonment that the applicant may have served. Therefore, taking an extreme case, if he has been ordinarily resident in this country for five years and four of those years have been spent in prison for offences which under the Bill would be deemed to be offences liable to deportation, he will still be able to claim United Kingdom citizenship.

The absurd part of this is that a person who during several years of his qualifying period has spent so many years in prison is able to claim United Kingdom citizenship and is, thereafter, exempted from the provisions of the Bill regarding deportation. That is a ridiculous anomaly and I hope that the Government will consider the matter and ensure that no person is entitled to United Kingdom citizenship if he has at any time been convicted of an offence, either in this country or in any other country, which would normally come under the provisions of the Bill and render him liable to deportation when the Bill becomes law.

Mr. Thorpe

I merely wish to ask one question of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell). The words in the Amendment as drafted are "in any country", and I take it that the hon. Gentleman intends that for the purposes of the Bill an offence committed in another country for which the term of imprisonment has been served shall count for the purposes of establishing a prima facie case for deportation. Are we to take it, therefore, that any person who has, for example, been imprisoned under the emergency legislation in Ghana and has served four or five years in prison would, for that reason, be subject to deportation?

Mr. N. Pannell

The answer is contained in the last few words of the Amendment, when it states: …who, for this reason, is deemed by the Home Secretary to be an undesirable immigrant". This is a discretion placed on the Home Secretary and is similar to the other discretionary instances in the Bill.

Mr. Renton

We cannot accept the Amendment. It would seem that my hon. Friend wishes to create a new description of person, namely, an "undesirable immigrant". I feel hound to say that the power to describe people as undesirable immigrants after they have been here for five years and have not in that period been recommended for deportation and who are free to reside here indefinitely is not a power which the Home Secretary would wish to exercise.

At present any citizen of an independent Commonwealth country—I say Commonwealth country and not a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies because that does not apply—is entitled to register as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies after 12 months ordinary residence in this country. Clause 12 (2) increases that qualifying

period to five years but retains the entitlement to register.

The Amendment would mean that that entitlement would be taken away in the case of those immigrants who have served a sentence of imprisonment not merely in this country but, apparently, anywhere abroad. There are, I think, two main objections to the Amendment. The first is that the scheme of the British Nationality Act gives Commonwealth citizens an entitlement to become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies whereas aliens have no such entitlement but must satisfy mile Secretary of State that they are suitable for naturalisation.

The second objection is linked with this and is that any element of discretion involves inquiry, and if the procedure proposed in the Amendment were not to be totally capricious the Home Office would have to make inquiries about the record of every applicant for registration—and there are more than 600 of them a month at present—merely for the sake of refusing a very few criminals. The making of the necessary inquiries in the countries from which the people had come would greatly delay this process of obtaining registration. At present, it takes only a week or two and the work and expense would not be justified.

It being half-past Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to Orders, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Amendment negatived.

The CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the Business to be concluded at half-past Ten o'clock.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.