HC Deb 11 June 1968 vol 766 cc193-204

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Ernest G. Perry.]

11.27 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

On 21st December last, I initiated a debate based on complaints from members of the old Commonwealth about their restricted entry into the land of their fathers. During that debate, I pointed out that these people had the same cultural and educational backgrounds as ourselves and caused no difficulties from the point of view of the Welfare State or employment. I suggested that those who shared the same Crown and who took so many of our citizens into their countries should have special treatment on the basis of reciprocity, and this view was supported by several of my hon. Friends.

In his reply, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department—who will also reply to this debate—rejected this argument and said: That is a point which I do not think has much validity. He later went on: The argument which would be seen most widely in the world and in this country, however, is that somehow we had one rule for white and another for the coloured, one rule of the old Commonwealth and another for the new Commonwealth. I do not believe that that is what the House would wish."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1967, Vol. 756, c. 1532–5.] It is six months since that debate took place, and it is now clear that by preventing the entry of people who have no racial, cultural or family ties with this country we are imposing equal controls on those who originated in this country, who still have family ties here, who share our culture and who still regard Britain as home. As far as I know, no other country acts in this manner.

Since the last debate I have naturally received many letters on the subject, and in the last six months certain events have further exacerbated public opinion. I will classify these under three heads. The first covers further complaints from Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders about their difficulties in getting into this country. Second, the growing realisation that many Englishmen can now no longer return to their mother country. Third, the whole question of passports, which has been highlighted by the Government's inept handling of Sir Frederick Crawford.

I should like to know from the Minister what discretion the Home Secretary has to administer the law as it stands, and I shall, therefore, quote certain cases under those three headings.

First, the old Commonwealth citizens. In the Daily Express of 28th March this year there was an interview with an Australian sheep farmer, and I quote a remark of that gentleman, who said: This is what really chokes us—all this fuss and bother to get into the Mother Country. The article goes on to say that many people in the old Commonwealth thought their education was not complete without a lengthy stay in this country. It says: Since the introduction of the new Commonwealth Immigration Bill many Australians feel the traditional alliance is in danger of being strangled by bureaucratic red tape. I believe this view, expressed in this article, has been supported by a letter I received recently from an Australian clergyman, a gentleman whom I have never met and whose letter came out of the blue. He says: I am an Australian clergyman married to an Ulsterwoman. I lived and worked here "— that is, in this country— in the early 'fifties, and decided after 16 years back in Melbourne to bring my wife and family home to Britain in 1966. He goes on to say he had heard of our new regulations of control of Commonwealth immigrants, but that he had also heard that for clergymen and graduates of universities there were exemptions from the general ban. In this, of course, he was wrong. He goes on to say: While my children would, although all born in Australia, travel to and enter Britain on their mother's passport, I would be allowed only to come in as a tourist and would be forced to leave at the expiration of the allotted time. He says he was asked to show that he had private means, which he did; and even then he was asked to show that he had employment to come to in Britain. He continues by saying: So my passport was duly stamped and I was allowed to return to the land of my fathers. For this privilege, incidentally, I have to pay double taxation on my Australian income, and although I am told, by those who have experienced this, that one may apply to have part of it refunded, it takes two years to get it back. He concludes: I demand the redress of the wrongs and insults which have been heaped upon the heads of the loyal British subjects who share the British way of life, the same British blood, the same British tongue, the same religion, and the same history, and whose only crime is that they are descended from the courageous Britons who went to plant the British flag in far distant lands and by immense toil and sacrifice extended the bounds of what they were proud to call the Empire, yet never lost their intense love for the land of their fathers, and who love to come and have their loyalty rekindled at the fountain head of British influence and culture. I let this Australian speak, as I believe he does, for many in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Rhodesia. I turn to what, I believe, is the most important point of all, because it concerns us directly, as we obviously have a direct responsibility for our fellow British citizens.

As I understand them, the present regulations say that those with British passports can enter this country only if their parents or grandparents were born here; if they have had five years' residence here; if they were naturalised in Britain; if they are in the service of the Crown; or if they are serving in a society or company established in Britain. I suggest that it all depends how these regulations are interpreted. This is really the burden of this debate. I hope the Minister will deal with some of these cases I have cited and explain how the regulations are interpreted and—because we cannot in an Adjournment debate discuss changing them—what powers the Home Secretary has in these matters, because, as I suggest, much depends on their interpretation.

As they stand, many families who have served the Crown for generations, and whose parents and grandparents were therefore born abroad, can no longer enter their own country.

A friend of mine who had an excellent record in the Royal Navy was born in South Africa and his wife was born in Germany, where her parents were then serving. His grandparents were born in India, and his son, a serving officer, was born in Mauritius. His son must now apply for British rather than Mauritian nationality. What nonsense this is! A paragraph that struck me in a letter he wrote me stated: No Englishman, Welshman, Scot or Northern Irishman by descent should lose his right and citizenship in order to accommodate some other worthy person having rights stemming from another source. I turn to a similar case of an Englishwoman living in Kenya, and shall quote the relevant paragraph from a long letter, which states: It seems that all holders of Nairobi-issued ' D ' passports are affected by this new law "— the new Commonwealth Immigrants Act— not just Asians, as some people think. It would be interesting to find out from the British High Commission just what the numbers are of 'British' British passports. From those, there must be quite a number who, like myself, will have the greatest difficulty in proving 'substantial' contact with Britain. Are we to be penalised because, unlike some, we did not run away at independence but showed faith and confidence in an African Government and decided to stay on? It seems sheer bad luck that I come from a family who, because of the exigencies of the service, married and bred abroad—mostly in India— since early 19th century. Apart from one, … I do not think that I can prove the English birth of a single close relative who has been born in England for well over 100 years. Unlike the Asians, I am not clamouring to get into England yet—not while I still have a work permit here—but the day may come when I may well have to apply for a single and not a return ticket, and then what? Queue? Already non-Asian holders of British passports have been refused seats by the airlines from here to England, for all that they had return tickets. This must be clarified, and quickly. I also have a case of a European who became a naturalised British subject many years ago in Kenya. He sent his son to school here and intended to retire with his family to this country after his work in Kenya was completed.

What discretion has the Home Secretary in that kind of case? What discretion has he to allow in Englishmen now living in Kenya before Asians whose families have never had any direct connection with this country?

Another example comes from rather nearer home. The British Consul-General in Antwerp sent out a letter to be disseminated through the British Legion to British subjects in Belgium, the relevant paragraph of which states: Because of the complexity of the legislation"— the Commonwealth Immigrants Actit is not possible to give full details in this notice, but in summary the position is that British subjects living in the Antwerp Consular District who were born outside the United Kingdom and who hold passports issued elsewhere than in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland will require in the passport an Entry Certificate marked 'Exempt'. The person who sent me this document says: In fact, I read it as amounting to an instruction for a British subject to obtain a visa for entry to his own country, which is more than would be required from a Dutch or Belgian subject visiting the United Kingdom…. Such a situation is simply intolerable for a British subject, born in Hong Kong only because his parents were then in the service of the Crown overseas. Such a predicament for a man who is the eleventh in direct line of an old Scottish family simply does not bear thinking about. I have cited these cases to underline that many people who have maintained their links with this country and have sent their children to school here to maintain those links through the generations are now beginning to realise that they no longer have the right to return to what they still call home. This must be wrong.

Finally, the whole question of passports and the right of entry has been underlined by the confiscation of Sir Frederick Crawford's passport by Government order without appeal, and the problem has been compounded by the Government's veto on any investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner on the grounds that it affects relations or dealings between the Government and any other Government or any internal organisation of States or Governments.

This could mean that anyone disagreeing with the views of the United Nations could have his passport impounded by the British Government. Whether this is true or not—and it probably is not—it shows that the Government are getting deeper into the mire and closer to unilateral action by the Executive without recourse to the courts—and we all know where that leads.

Some years ago I visited Basutoland and found that, in order to maintain strict racial impartiality, when British civil servants were allowed home leave with their families, African civil servants were also allowed to take their families to Britain for a similar period. This struck me as rather crazy, but at least it included both races. What the Government are now doing in relation to entry into Britain is to exclude both races. In the name of racial equality, we exclude those who are clearly British by descent, education and connection in order to appease those who have none of these connections and whose mother countries would not let our citizens enter them.

India would demand a residence permit. Nigeria has many qualifications with regard to work, residence and control of activities. Jamaica requires a deposit or surety bond. In Britain, Commonwealth citizens can vote once their names are on the register in say from three to 12 months. In India, Pakistan and in East Africa, British citizens have no voting rights at all.

Why no reciprocity? If all Commonwealth countries had the same rules, it could be fair, but they have not. Why do no other Commonwealth countries impose the bans on their own citizens that we impose on ours in the name of non-racialism? I believe that the British Government's main task is to protect the rights of British people, and what more basic right is there than to be able to return to the land of one's fathers?

11.44 p.m.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for raising this question. He performed a service to the House when he initiated the Adjournment debate of which he spoke last December.

The hon. Gentleman referred to some complaints he had received from Australia, and, of course, there are a number of cases which cause individuals some concern. I fear that often they are exaggerated and that the wrong end of the stick is taken. When things are explained in these cases and negotiations take place, the difficulties are usually removed. I will not go into details of such cases but my right hon. Friend is always anxious to mitigate difficulties where they arise and to administer the legislation for which he is responsible in as humane a manner as he can.

The hon. Gentleman read part of a letter from an Australian clergyman married to an Ulster woman. While I have not identified her, I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would let me have full details of the case, together with details of the other specific cases he referred to. I will look carefully into them to find the answers. However, the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give me notice of the case of the clergyman. Under the instructions given to immigration officers, in paragraph 29 of Command Paper 3064, an officer, when it comes to admitting the husband of a woman who is in any case entitled to come in, should take into account the strength of the wife's connections with the United Kingdom, including the length of residence here. It may well be that, in the circumstances in which it was explained, the problem here can be solved and I would be grateful for details of the case.

The hon. Member also made reference to Sir Frederick Crawford. He would not expect me to follow him in that matter, which is primarily the responsibility of my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Commonwealth Secretary. The House had one opportunity and will undoubtedly have others of debating those issues. I have no doubt that the hon. Member will seek to catch Mr. Speaker's eye on those occasions.

I welcome the opportunity of this debate to explain some of the legal situations which are difficult to understand. I will explain the three categories into which some of the cases the hon. Member raised may fall. First, there are those who did not become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies when that status was created by the British Nationality Act, 1948. Secondly, there are those who did become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies but lost it when the Colony with which they were connected became independent. Thirdly, there are the people who are still citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies but who no longer have free right of entry into the United Kingdom.

First a few words about the first class. In 1948, as a result of the Commonwealth Citizenship Conference held in the previous year, the British Nationality Act was passed which gave effect to a new conception of citizenship within the Commonwealth. Previously there had been only the single status of British subject, but it had been agreed that in future each independent member of the Commonwealth should define its own citizenship and recognise citizens of every Commonwealth country as possessing the common status of British subject or Commonwealth citizen; the terms were to be synonymous.

Thus the common status of British nationality would remain but it would be obtained by possessing the citizenship of any of the constituent parts of the Commonwealth. One such constituent part was the United Kingdom and Colonies, which together formed an entity for citizenship purposes, and the 1948 Act provided that citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies should be automatically acquired by any person who was born or naturalised, or whose father was born or naturalised, in the United Kingdom or in any country which at that time was a Colony.

Those British subjects who did not fall within that definition would still be British subjects, but would be citizens of some other Commonwealth country, or if not they would remain as British subjects without citizenship. To have extended the definition of United Kingdom citizen, for instance, so as to include any person whose grandfather had been born in the United Kingdom, or whose father had served in the Armed Forces, would greatly have extended the amount of dual citizenship within the Commonwealth.

This meant that quite a number of people closely connected with the United Kingdom found themselves without citizenship of the United Kingdom, but the Act provided two ways in which such people could acquire United Kingdom citizenship. In the first place, as British subjects they were entitled at any time, after only 12 months' residence in the United Kingdom, to be registered as United Kingdom citizens. In the second place, the Act provided the Home Secretary with a temporary power to register such people as citizens if they had a male ancestor born in the United Kingdom and Colonies and had maintained a close connection with the United Kingdom and Colonies and intended to reside there in future. This facility was revived in 1958 for a further three years, but it lapsed at the end of 1962.

The second class of problems arises out of the subsequent grant of independence to many of the independent territories within the Commonwealth. In these cases the usual procedure has been that a citizenship scheme for the new country is worked out jointly between representatives of the United Kingdom and the territory concerned and embodied in the constitution of the new country. At the same time an Act is passed by this Parliament recognising the independence of the new country and, with certain exceptions, withdrawing citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies from all who automatically become citizens of the new country under its constitution. Clearly, as successive acts of independence take place the number of people who are exclusively citizens of the United Kingdom diminishes.

The standard exceptions provide for the retention of United Kingdom citizenship by any person if he, his father, or his father's father was born, registered or naturalised in the United Kingdom or in a remaining Colony—in which case he retains citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies. These exceptions provide for nearly all the people who at the time of independence have a closer connection with the United Kingdom than with the newly independent country. These are some of the problems the hon. Member was concerned about.

I recognise that, however the exceptions are defined, there will always be some people who fall outside them but who nevertheless belong to the United Kingdom. To give such people a right of option to retain United Kingdom citizenship would have given the right also to almost the entire population of the new country. To permit individual grants of citizenship would have set a very difficult task of administration, and would have aroused false hopes in many people who belonged to the new country but would have liked to retain the protection of the United Kingdom; in a sense to have been citizens of two countries at once.

The law provides that any citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who loses that citizenship on independence can easily get it back at any time if he has lived here for five years, or such shorter period as may be allowed, and the Home Secretary has some discretion concerning that period. There is a similar facility for people abroad in Crown service, or in the employment of the United Nations, or of a company or society based in the United Kingdom.

The third type of problem to which the hon. Member referred is that of the person who did not lose his citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies when the Colony with which he was connected became independent, because he did not become a citizen of that country under its constitution, but has been deprived by the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1968, of unconditional right of entry to this country. A number of the problems he referred to concern people who come within this category.

The matter was fully debated in the House during the passage of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, and I need not go over all the ground again. In any case, time does not permit me to do so. I must point out to the hon. Member that that Bill, now an Act, was concerned with immigration into the United Kingdom, and the exceptions in Clause 1 were therefore all defined in relation to the United Kingdom. They cover persons naturalised in the United Kingdom, but it would not have been appropriate to. extend them to cover persons naturalised in a Colony. There may be people who get naturalised in a Colony who are more closely connected with the United Kingdom, but the natural supposition is that if a person is naturalised in a Colony he belongs primarily to the Colony. It may be true that some people of European race who were naturalised as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies in Africa feel that they belong to the United Kingdom more than to the African country in which they live, and one of those was referred to by the hon. Gentleman, but I must repeat that the definition in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act is not based on race but on connection with the United Kingdom.

This point was raised in debate by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who were accusing the Government of including a racial clause in the Bill. I pointed out then, and I point out to the hon. Gentleman, that the connection with the United Kingdom was the valid point. The hon. Gentleman may be disappointed that I have not gone into some of the cases to which he made reference—

Mr. Wall

Could the hon. Gentleman say something about the Home Secretary's discretion on people coming from Kenya?

Mr. Ennals

Those who wish to come here must apply first for vouchers of various sorts. They can apply for entry permits if they are coming as visitors or if they are dependants of those who are here. It was established at the time the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was introduced that they could apply for special vouchers, and the voucher system is working quite reasonably. Although it is administered by my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary, and in Nairobi by the High Commissioner, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has a right to look at individual cases. This is why I would say to the hon. Gentleman that either those cases ought to be submitted in Nairobi or, if he himself wishes to take up a particular case with the Home Secretary, he or I will look at it with great care.

It is always difficult to give a definitive answer when there is a broad definition. In each case, we have to look back and find out what the link was and to find the nature of the citizenship held already. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will look carefully at each case which he cares to present to me.

Even though I have not been able to deal with the precise cases in his mind, I hope that he will not feel that he has wasted his time, let alone that of the House and those reporting its proceedings. He has given me an opportunity to explain the principles on which this is worked, which are complicated and technical. I have greatly appreciated this chance to get on record the definition under which we operate.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Twelve o'clock.