HC Deb 19 October 1971 vol 823 cc647-55

Lords Amendment: No. 52, in page 35, line 16, leave out "in both places" and insert: in subsection (1) the words "or, subject to subsection (1A) of this section, under section 5A" and in subsection (2)".

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Carlisle

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this Amendment we are to take the following Lords Amendments: No. 53, in page 35, line 21, leave out "subsection (1A)" and insert: subsections (1A) and (1B)". No. 55, in page 36, line 37, after "5A" insert: except as regards registration under section 5A(0)".

Mr. Carlisle

I think that it will be convenient if we take also the following Lords Amendments:

No. 56, in page 37, line 4, at beginning insert: (0) Subject to the provisions of subsections (4) and (4A) below, a citizen of any country mentioned in section 1(3) of this Act, being a person of full age and capacity, shall be entitled, on making application therefor to the Secretary of State in the prescribed manner, to be registered as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies if he satisfies the Secretary of State that—

  1. (a) he is patrial within the meaning of the Immigration Act 1971 by virtue of section 2(1)(d) of that Act or of the reference thereto in section 2(1A); and
  2. (b) he fulfils the condition in subsection (2) below."
No. 58, in line 16, after "subsection" insert "(0)(b) or".

No. 59, in line 37, after "of" insert: his close connection with the United Kingdom or, if he is applying for registration under subsection (1),". No. 60, in line 38, at end insert: (4A) A person who has renounced citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies under this Act shall not be entitled to be registered as a citizen thereof under subsection (0) above, but may be so registered with the approval of the Secretary of State. No. 61, in page 38, line 4, at beginning insert: (1A) Except in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, subsection (1) above shall not apply to the functions of the Secretary of State as regards registration under section 5A(0) of this Act; and in its application to any of those islands that section shall have effect as if a reference to that island were substituted in section 5A(4) for the first reference to the United Kingdom. (1B) Subject to subsection (1A) above,".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If that is agreeable to the House, so be it.

Mr. Carlisle

These Amendments seek to provide that a citizen of an independent Commonwealth country who is a patrial under Clause 2(1)(d) because his mother was born in the United Kingdom shall be entitled to be registered as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies on completion of five years' residence in the United Kingdom. The same entitlement extends to the wife of such a man if she is a Commonwealth citizen. The Government brought forward these Amendments in another place in pursuance of an undertaking given on Report by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

The general position in future under this Measure will be that Commonwealth citizens will be able to register as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies on satisfying the Secretary of State that they are of good character and have sufficient knowledge of the English language, that they intend to reside in the United Kingdom, and that they have been ordinarily resident here for five years, or such shorter period as the Secretary of State in the special circumstances of a particular case accepts. But even when those conditions are satisfied registration in general is entirely at the discretion of the Secretary of State. By the Amendment, which was made to meet an undertaking given by my right hon. Friend, those who are patrial under Clause 2(1)(d), as their mother was born in the United Kingdom, will have an entitlement as such to registration.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I suppose that I am really raising a point of order. I thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned Amendment No. 60. Did he speak to it?

Mr. Carlisle


Mr. Rees

I should like to ask one or two questions about that Amendment, because it raises a concept that I have not met before. It concerns a person who has renounced his citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies under this Measure. Is there any difference in the meaning of renunciation under this Measure, and its meaning in another context? The Amendment says that a person who has so renounced his citizenship shall not be entitled to be registered as a citizen thereof under subsection (O) above, but may be so registered with the approval of the Secretary of State ". My second question is whether the renunciation is renunciation under the Act, as it will be, or is in general. If someone has renounced his citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies, what circumstances will the Secretary of State take into account in considering whether to allow him to become a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies again?

In Committee we were involved in debating the complicated issue of dual citizenship, and how a person could be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies and also a citizen of a foreign country. I learned a great deal during those days. The Minister of State will recall that the question was raised the way in which an immigration officer decides under what terms a person has come here. He may have an American passport, and have every right to be considered patrial by virtue of his father's birth in this country.

It may be that by the very fact of taking citizenship of another country somebody renounces his citizenship of this country. I just do not know. Does the renunciation have to be a deliberate step, or can a person find that he has renounced his citizenship by doing something which gives him the citizenship of another country?

This is a most complicated field and I should be the last to ask that the Minister should have the full details before him. But I should like some explanation of why this is in the Bill. As he has admitted that he did not deal with this, we should be grateful.

Mr. Carlisle

With leave of the House. I should like to apologise to the hon. Member for not dealing with this Amendment, which provides that a person who has renounced his citizenship should not be entitled to registration but that he may be registered at the Secretary of State's discretion. The answer to his question is that one can renounce one's citizenship by making a voluntary declaration. It is difficult standing here to envisage circumstances in which a person might wish to apply to be reregistered who had by some act renounced his citizenship. We feel that cases are likely to be rare, but that they could happen and that it would be right not that such a person should be able to register as of right but that there should be discretion.

But this is not a new concept. Renunciation is provided for in Section 19 of the British Nationality Act of 1948. The Amendment is identical with words in Section 6(3) of that Act, which specifically provides that a person who has renounced or been deprived of his citizenship shall not be entitled to be registered but may be registered with the approval of the Secretary of State.

Question put and agreed to.

Further Lords Amendments agreed to.

Lords Amendment: No. 57, in page 37, line 12, after "English" insert "or Welsh".

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

I believe that it would be convenient to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 62, in page 38, line 8, after "English" insert "or Welsh".

Mr. Sharples

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Appendix A to Schedule 1 provides that a Commonwealth citizen or an Irish citizen who applies for registration as a citizen of the United Kingdom or Colonies must, among other things, satisfy the Secretary of State that he has sufficient knowledge of English. I am glad to say that, since 1967, statutory recognition has been given to Welsh as an official language, and the Amendment provides that a knowledge of Welsh should be equally applicable.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I can see the point which the Minister of State has made, that, under the Welsh Language Act, Welsh is an official language. As a Welshman born, I am very pleased at that. I wondered whether to chance my arm by doing what was done in the other place and thanking the hon. Gentleman in Welsh, but since it has been done before, why do it again?

But although Welsh is an official language, there are other parts of the United Kingdom with their own language. Although, on strict legal logic, only Welsh may be an official language, in other parts of the country old languages are spoken. There are parts of the world, particularly Canada, where the language of the West Coast of Scotland is spoken. Is there no way of administering immigration control so that another language could be accepted? Can it be only an official language?

Mr. Powell

This is an example of one type of legislation in which Parliament inserts words in an Act not because they should be there: it does it knowing that they should not be there but for the sake of a quiet life.

I yield to no one in the value I attach to the Welsh language and my desire that it should not only live but should be a living language for more people than it is today. But it is absurd that we should make it an alternative qualification of an immigrant that he should have a sufficient knowledge of the Welsh language. It has nothing whatever to do with the reasons for subsection (d), as everyone knows perfectly well. We are doing an absurd thing, knowing it to be an absurd thing. Perhaps our demerit may be the less for the fact that one Member says so.

Mr. Bidwell

I share that view. Presumably, if someone speaks only Welsh and wants to come to London, that is all right, although he would have certain difficulties in communication. This matter is not as simple as the Bill suggests. There is an element of pandering. One of the complaints which one hears in immigrant areas—one hears it less with each new generation—is that those coming to this country should have a fair standard of English or ability to communicate. I have never thought that this could be written down as an ironbound stipulation in all circumstances. To put it in the Statute makes it a bit absurd, and the addition of Welsh makes it more so.

How is this test to be carried out? Language was rejected, under the Race Relations Act of 1968, as a means of outlawing discrimination. It was one of the arguments of the present Lord Chancellor that we should write in a full Bill of Rights and outlaw discrimination on these grounds. But I have enough experience of industry to know how vital is the ability to communicate in English as it is spoken—and it is not Oxford English or even House of Commons English in British industry. Standards have to be laid down. In dangerous shunting yards, for instance, like those where I was employed as a head shunter, it was vital when agreeing to the admission of immigrant labour that this condition should be satisfied.

8.30 p.m.

It seems that althought I have arrived at a conclusion on this issue similar to that arrived at by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), I have done so not in a party-wise concept but through a lack of understanding. I do not know what this provision means and I should like more information about it.

For example, how is this test to be carried out? When a person wishes to become naturalised after five years does he merely sign a form to show that he has achieved a certain standard in the English or Welsh language? May we be told how this test is conducted, and by whom?

Mr. Peter Archer

I intervene rather on impulse to take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). I have no constituency or personal interest in the matter in that I am neither a prospective immigrant nor Welsh-speaking. However, I do not see why it should be ipso facto absurd to make the speaking of Welsh a possible qualification for registration as a British citizen.

Presumably the requirement that the applicant should speak either English or Welsh reveals that he has taken the trouble sufficiently to identify himself with this community so as to make it right that he should be a part of it. One is led to wonder what possible harm could be done by the Amendment and how many Welsh-speaking immigrants who do not speak English are likely to flood into this country. One suspects that if they have gone to the trouble to learn the Welsh language, or have had much communication with Wales in that language, they will probably want to go to a Welsh-speaking part of Wales rather than come here. Why should we seek to prevent them from doing so?

Is there not a tendency these days to restrict intercourse between different countries? We are at this stage discussing not patriality, the right to immigrate here, but the granting of citizenship. Assuming that someone is suitable to be a United Kingdom citizen on every other ground, why should he be excluded if he speaks Welsh but not English?

There is in Patagonia a Welsh-speaking community who have preserved the language, habits and culture of the fatherland of their great grandfathers who immigrated there last century. I assume that if one of their number wished to return to these shores, he would go to a Welsh-speaking part of Wales. It defeats me to know why anyone should be anxious to keep him out.

I echo the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Southall: how does the Secretary of State satisfy himself that a person has a sufficient knowledge of English? If he can fill up a form in English, does that of itself assure the right hon. Gentleman that he has sufficient knowledge of the language? If not, must he undergo an examination? If so, how academic is it? What is required of him in the use of English? Provided he can understand the directions of a policeman, traffic signs and buy goods in the shops, is more required?

Mr. Sharples

With the leave of the House, I will reply to the questions that have been raised on this subject.

The hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) made my case for me and I do not think I need add to the arguments he adduced. The test is, I understand, normally conducted by interview. There is no written examination and the interview is conducted so as merely to discover whether the person has a working knowledge of the language. It is designed to see that he is able to take a full part in the life of the community which he seeks to join. There is nothing formal about it. He is not asked to give his life story or the history of his family. It is possible, without going into those matters, for the officer to gain sufficient knowledge of the person.

Mr. Bidwell

I have in mind many immigrants from India who have gained a good working knowledge of English as a result of working in factories but whose wives, because of the number of Indian women in the localities in which they live, have no great desire to learn English. They do not feel the need to learn our language. What will occur if the male immigrant seeks to take British citizenship when his wife does not have the same ability to communicate in the English language?

Mr. Sharples

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask that question. In fact, when the husband registers, the wife has an absolute right to register also.

The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) asked why other languages should not be included. But as he himself pointed out, Welsh is now a statutory language. He also mentioned another reason, that the number of people who speak only Welsh and who are likely to settle here will be very small. In any event, the number of Gaelic-speaking people, even in this country—Gaelic is the only other language of which one can think in this context—is very small indeed.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.

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