§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Royle)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
On 22nd May Ceylon adopted a new constitution as the Republic of Sri Lanka within the Commonwealth. As the House will know, when a Commonwealth country makes a change from a monarchical to a republican constitution it is necessary to introduce legislation in the United Kingdom to take account of the change.
The present Bill, which is short and uncontroversial, is drafted on the lines of previous legislation in similar cases, and provides that the law of the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man existing on 22nd May so far as it operated in relation to Ceylon, and to persons and things belonging to or connected with Ceylon, is not affected by the fact that Ceylon is now the Republic of Sri Lanka.
In so far as the law of Dependent Territories of the United Kingdom consists of Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament extending to them, and of Orders in Council extending such Acts to them, the Bill will have the same effect on their law. One of the provisions of the Bill substitutes the name "Sri Lanka" wherever existing Acts of Parliament and instruments made under them refer to Ceylon by name.
As is customary, the Government of Sri Lanka has asked other Commonwealth Governments to agree that Sri Lanka may remain a member of the Commonwealth, notwithstanding her adoption of a republican constitution. All Common- 536 wealth Governments have welcomed this decision. There is, therefore, no change in the Commonwealth link. The change to republican status, which is now the form of government of a number of Commonwealth countries, does not, of course, affect the status of Her Majesty the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth, or the regard which all the peoples of the Commonwealth have for Her Majesty.
The former Governor-General of Ceylon, Mr. William Gopallawa, is the first President of the Republic of Sri Lanka. Mrs. Bandaranaike continues as Prime Minister.
Britain and the new republic share a long, close and friendly history. British people have for more than 150 years served the country and people of Ceylon and, despite economic difficulties and political changes, Britain is still Sri Lanka's largest trading partner and best customer. Those who have visited that beautiful island have many affectionate memories of it.
Recently Ceylon has had to face the economic and political difficulties common to many developing countries where the expectations of the people have risen more quickly than the means to fulfil them. In the last three years we have given almost £16 million of aid to Ceylon to help her to surmount these difficulties.
We have also made it clear to Mrs. Bandaranaike that we want to continue trading and working in Sri Lanka as we have done for so many years. In return we ask only that our businessmen and our interests there should be treated fairly and generously. Those who have given much to the country are entitled to expect no less.
Sri Lanka is a fully independent country, and has been so ever since 1948. Its laws, customs and policies are its own. It is not for us or for any other country to try to dictate to its people or to lecture them on how they should run their own lives. We can only, in friendship and respect, wish them well in their new status, and welcome their decision to remain within the Commonwealth.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)
I associate right hon. and hon. Members 537 on this side of the House with some of the sentiments expressed by the Undersecretary. He is right when he says that the form of the Bill follows many others which have passed through this House in the last decade or so. In form, all that the Bill does is to make provision so as to change the name Ceylon within the Commonwealth to Sri Lanka and to change its system of government from a monarchical to a republican one.
While agreeing in general terms with the Under-Secretary, I should like to raise three specific points with him. First, have the Government yet received from the new Government of Sri Lanka any indication whether appeals to the Privy Council are to be maintained? In common with many other republics now within the Commonwealth, probably the right of appeal to the Privy Council will tend to lapse.
The second point relates to aid. Can the hon. Gentleman give as many hopeful indications as his noble Friend did in another place when winding up the brief debate on the Second Reading there? I should like an indication from him about the kind of aid envisaged for the new Sri Lanka in years to come and the closeness with which we hope to regard economic development there.
Thirdly, though I agree that it is not for us to lecture any independent country, especially one in the Commonwealth, the hon. Gentleman will know that in another place serious doubts were expressed by a former Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, by Lord Avebury from the Liberal benches, and by Lord Brockway from the Labour benches about the operation in Sri Lanka of the Criminal Justice Commissions Act.
The House knows that there were civil disobediences and disturbances in Ceylon, as it then was, last year. As a result, a considerable number of people were detained. Under the new Act which has recently been passed in Sri Lanka, the Criminal Justice Commissions Act, the way in which those who have been detained are to appear before a criminal commission is, to say the least, somewhat disturbing to a British jurist and lawyer. I understand that the commission which has been set up under the Act has very large powers indeed. It can carry out investigations and punish any person who 538 comes before it, even though he may not have been charged with a criminal offence. Perhaps in some ways one of the most distressing features of the Act is that persons who are required to appear before the commission have no knowledge in advance whether they are needed as witnesses against somebody else or are to appear as defendants in their own right to answer charges notice of which has not been given to them. They have no right to recall witnesses or to re-examine them if their appearance before the commission is the result of evidence which has been given prior to the summons being served upon them.
It is unnecessary for me to run through the provisions of the Act. Suffice to say that they are draconian indeed and extremely disturbing to anyone who has been brought up in a British system of jurisprudence.
The Minister will know that in another place noble Lords who took part in the debate and the noble Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe urged that, with the utmost friendliness, we should make representations to the new Government of Sri Lanka over the concern felt by many people in this country, particularly lawyers and jurists, about the Act and its operation. What has been the result of such representations?
Finally, on behalf of the Opposition, I wish the new Republic of SriLanka well. We welcome her within the Commonwealth in the status which she has now chosen. We hope relations between Great Britain and the new republic will be as close in future as they have been in the past.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
As has been said from both sides of the House, the Bill is in what is almost common form. There have been a considerable number of such Bills over the last quarter of a century. Nevertheless, there has not been one in recent months, and those months have seen important events, political and probably juridical, in the Commonwealth. So the Bill gains a special and timely interest and is of some legal and constitutional importance for that reason. It also has a bearing on other controversies which are of direct practical importance to this country.
539 The hon. and learned Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) was not quite accurate in saying that the only effect of the Bill was to write into our law "Sri Lanka" wherever hitherto "Ceylon" occurred; its effect is very much more important than that.
If the Bill were not passed, then, by reason of the change in status of Ceylon—by reason of it becoming a republic—the references in the law of this country to Ceylon either would or might cease to have effect altogether or have a different effect from that which they have now. It is important that that should be clearly understood. It is the status, and the change of status, which would affect the application and meaning of the law of this country.
It is often asserted, but wrongly, that events occurring outside this country and the decisions of authorities external to it cannot change the effect of the law in the United Kingdom. Indeed, that is wrong. This Bill is a proof of it; for the decision of the independent legislature of Ceylon to change its status—a decision and an act in which this Parliament had, and, indeed, could have, no part—nevertheless would of itself, unless we took other action, alter the application of the law of this country inside this country. To put it once again another way, this is not a Bill which in any way recognises the change of status which has taken place. This is a Bill which prevents from following the consequences which otherwise would follow in the law of this country from that change of status.
The decision of the new republic that it would like to remain part of the Commonwealth requires a Bill of this sort in order that, for example, the status of the new republic's citizens in this country's law should remain unaltered and that they should in other respects with which we are all familiar remain a Commonwealth country. I ask the House to be clear that, apart from a positive act on the part of this House, the action of Ceylon in becoming a republic would, or might, take that country out of the application of those parts of the law of this country which are concerned with Sri Lanka and with the citizens of Sri Lanka.
One of the relevant provisions—I assume this to be so until my hon. Friend 540 the Under-Secretary of State rises to assure the House that I am mistaken—is Section 1 (3) of the British Nationality Act, 1948. The word "Ceylon" appears in the Section, and when the Bill is passed the word "Ceylon" will be taken to have been replaced by the words "Sri Lanka." That is the Section which lists countries whose citizens are, by virtue of the citizenship of those countries, British subjects or, in the alternative term, Commonwealth citizens. That, then, is one of the provisions which, but for this positive act of the legislature of this country, would either have ceased to have effect, or would have had a different effect.
I do not wish to detain the House, but I cannot help having this fact graven upon my mind by a personal experience when the 1948 Act was still a Bill. I was not at that time a Member of the House, but it was my function to brief Members of Her Majesty's then Opposition, and the British Nationality Bill was one of the Bills on which it fell to me to provide such briefing as I was capable of.
In due course—for that Bill started in this House and went to another place—I went to brief, if that be not altogether—I am sure it was—too presumptuous an expression, the noble and learned Lord, the Viscount Simon, a former Lord Chancellor and a great lawyer. I ventured to suggest to his Lordship that one of the effects and, I apprehended, one of the intended consequences of the British Nationality Bill, one of the reasons why it was drawn as it was, one of the reasons why British citizenship henceforward was made to depend upon the citizenship of a listed country in Section 1(3), was none other than to make it possible for parts of the Commonwealth to become republics without ceasing to be parts of the Commonwealth.
Lord Simon told me at once that I was mistaken. He happened to choose as an example another of the countries specified in subsection (3); but it might equally have been Ceylon. He said, "My boy, I can assure you that, if Ceylon were to become a republic, no court of law would say that Ceylon then meant the same as Ceylon in Clause 1(3) of the Bill."
I accepted, of course, the legal authority of Lord Simon, though with considerable doubts, for it seemed to me that, indeed, one of the underlying objects of the British Nationality Act, 1948—to which, 541 you will observe, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this Bill at present before the House will in due course come to apply—was to make it possible to have republics within the Commonwealth.
The 1948 Act was passed; and scarcely had it reached the Statute Book when India became a republic. Thereupon it appeared that by a happy conjuncture both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, and my humble self had been right in our respective ways. I had been, as it happened, right as to the political effect and I presume intended effect of the legislation. But the noble and learned Lord had been right when he said that "Ceylon" before becoming a republic did not in law mean the same in a British Statute as "Ceylon" after becoming a republic, and that, if we wanted it to be the same, we had to pass an Act to say so. In fact, we did pass an Act, the India (Consequential Provision) Act, 1949.
I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Barons Court is following me and I trust that he will follow me to the end.
§ Mr. Richard
May I raise two points with the right hon. Gentleman? He is absolutely right. The Statute is clearly necessary in order to achieve this purpose. But why should the entry of people of Ceylon into this country be changed because the status of Ceylon has now been changed? Why should it make a difference to the way in which this country regards anybody from Ceylon who might or might not wish to come to this country? Why should such a person be treated differently from a citizen from India or Pakistan? The right hon. Gentleman has obviously done a great deal of research into this topic. Would he say what is the scope of the problem with which we are dealing? Can he say what are the numbers of Singhalese or Sri Lankan immigrants to the United Kingdom every year?
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. and learned Gentleman will find out soon enough what is the purport of the argument which I am putting before the House and which he is so closely and courteously following.
§ Mr. Powell
I will come to satisfy the hon. and learned Gentleman, if, indeed, he finds that the reply does satisfy him.
It is probable that in the law of this country—and this legislature has assumed in the past that it would be so—the word "Ceylon' in Section 1(3) of the British Nationality Act, 1948 would not mean the Republic of Sri Lanka. The consequence of that would, of course, be that the citizens of Sri Lanka would cease to be Commonwealth citizens or British subjects. In order to continue that status to them, it is necessary for a specific Act to be passed by this House—not vice versa. It is not necessary for this House to pass an Act to say that they had ceased to be Commonwealth citizens. They had ceased to be Commonwealth citizens unless Parliament of its own accord enacts otherwise, as it does in this Bill.
It is a big change for a Commonwealth country to cease to be a monarchy and to become a republic, albeit seeking, as a republic, to remain part of the Commonwealth as so many other countries have done. But that is a negligible change compared with the change of status which is conveyed by declaring that one has ceased to be part of the Commonwealth altogether. Now there is a country, of which the name is mentioned in Section 1(3) of the British Nationality Act, which has changed in two respects in the past six months. It has changed geographically, because it has been torn in two and one half has been separated from the other. Hon. Members will guess that I refer to Pakistan. Even physically and geographically, therefore, if there were no other change, it is highly dubious whether what is Pakistan in July, 1972 equals "Pakistan" in Section 1(3) of the Act.
But another change in status has taken place. By the volition of Pakistan—exactly as Ceylon's change in status has taken place by the volition of the Republic of Sri Lanka—Pakistan has declared itself to be no longer part of the Commonwealth; it has said not merely that it is a republic, a crowned republic—we have them now in the Commonwealth—but that it is not part of the Commonwealth at all, that it does not wish to be so, and is not so. Such an act, such a decision, such a change of status requires no co-operation on the 543 part of this House, any more than it required co-operation on the part of the House for Ceylon to become the Republic of Sri Lanka.
The consequence—and we are proving it by this Bill—is that the citizens of Pakistan have in the law of this country until this House provides otherwise, ceased to be Commonwealth citizens, alias British subjects. This is true whether they are in Timbuctoo or in Broadstairs—[Interruption.] There could be one in Broad stairs, I suppose, in transit, as the hon. Member says.
So we have acknowledged a very important fact, a fact which for six months the Home Office has been engaged in denying: that, quite apart from the convulsion which changed the political geography of Pakistan, the action of Pakistan in declaring itself to be outside the Commonwealth has had the effect, without any intervention on the part of this House, that the citizens of Pakistan anywhere in the world are, in the law of this country, no longer Commonwealth citizens or British subjects, and that unless Parliament otherwise provides all the consequences of that must follow.
Such is the direct present relevance of the Bill—[Interruption.] Well, it is the logical implication, the logical consequence, the logical conclusion as to the law of this country which is to be derived from this Bill. [Interruption.] May I help the hon. and learned Member for Barons Court then? The Bill would not be necessary if the presence of the words "Ceylon" or "Pakistan" in Section 1(3) of the British Nationality Act in itself continued the status of Commonwealth citizens in this country. The Bill would not be necessary if an Act of Parliament were not required to preserve the status of the citizens of a Commonwealth country on that country's altering its status. By the form of the Bill we declare what has in fact happened to the citizens of Pakistan in the law of this country as a result of the change of status of Pakistan. Now the hon. and learned Gentleman can make his speech.
§ Mr. Richard
Not in the least. The right hon. Gentleman has offered me his help; I am asking for it. He is postulating that a British court would decide that Pakistan, in the context of the British Nationality Act, meant something 544 different from what it meant in 1948. I ask him the question which I asked him before: why should Sri Lankan citizens be treated differently from Singalese citizens before or from Indian citizens now, or indeed, if it helps the right hon. Gentleman, from old Pakistan citizens before Bangladesh was created? Secondly—and again I ask for the right hon. Gentleman's help—what is the scope of the problem? How many immigrants come to this country from Sri Lanka?
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to think that I am opposing the Bill. I am not. It is because of this Bill that the status of the citizens of Sri Lanka will remain unchanged, will remain the same as that of the citizens of India and as the former status of the citizens of Pakistan. That is the very point.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I do not wish to enter into the discussion between the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) about the peculiar results of this Bill in relation to immigration. But I should like to ask why this Bill has been introduced. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has a point which could be applied in another way.
In 1931 we passed the Statute of Westminster and we said in respect of all dominions under the British Crown—I use the word "dominions" in the sense of self-governing dominions—that this House could not legislate for them except at their request and with their consent. When such legislation has been passed—on amending the British North America Act, on the Abdication and in other cases—the request of dominions and their consent have been rehearsed in the preamble to the Act. That is not so in this Bill.
I therefore presume that that Act does not apply to Ceylon. But that is odd, because Clause 1(2) provides, in a long and complicated subsection,…this section applies to law ofvarious places, such as the Channel Islands,and…to law of any other country or territory to which that enactment…",545 namely, the one being amended by this Bill,extends".Presumably, for example, it applies to the Merchant Shipping Act, 1898, which was passed long before the Statute of Westminster in 1931. I presume that it applies to that in so far as that earlier legislation applied to Ceylon. But if it is amending law which applies in Ceylon and it says "any other country", not "any other territory"—and I accept that "territory" has a specific meaning—it would seem to be in breach of the Statute of Westminster unless it was requested by the Government of Ceylon and they consented to it. Formerly it was usual to rehearse that fact in the preamble to the Bill.
The Minister said that the Bill was in form the same as other similar Bills. If that is so, when was it that we dropped the practice of rehearsing the consent of other dominions in such a Bill? Perhaps his answer would be that this does not apply to Ceylon, in which case the Statute of West minister does not apply to it. Therefore, what is the point of it?
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has based his case, perhaps correctly—and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Barons Court says that he is absolutely correct—on the belief that if the State, as it is in international law, of Ceylon changes its name to Sri Lanka, then by some mysterious process every reference to it in English law ceases to have effect unless, in an English Statute, the word "Ceylon" is replaced by "Sri Lanka". If the law of England were that restrictive I should be surprised. I should have thought the courts would hold that any legislation applying to a sovereign State would still apply even if the State changed its name, provided that it was recognised by the United Kingdom.
If that is not so, why do we do this individually? Why do not we pass one Act of Parliament which deals with this extraordinary bit of semantics or pedantry in the law, if that is what it is, once and for all, so that when a member of the Commonwealth changes its name or modestly changes its status, then anything that applied to it continues to apply to it in law? Why go through all the paraphernalia of wasting the time of the 546 House of Commons by having to introduce a separate Bill every time somebody wants to change a name?
There used to be a situation when an individual could not change his name or become a naturalised citizen unless he brought a Bill through both Houses of Parliament. Such procedure also applied to divorce at one time, but eventually Parliament introduced Measures to deal with those circumstances. If we could do that, why not do it once and for all for any country in the Commonwealth that wishes to change its name or status? Why waste our time by separate legislation on each occasion?
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
Not being a lawyer, I do not want to go into all the details of the situation. However, why is it necessary to refer to the West Indies Act, 1967, in regard to the Bill? There seems to be some confusion as to the legislative context of the Bill.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) has mentioned Pakistan, I would point out that Pakistan has recently passed a law to say that Pakistanis can retain Pakistan nationality and also remain British.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
Such a law has recently been passed in Pakistan. Is this possible for every country in the Commonwealth? Can they do this whether or not they opt out of the Commonwealth?
§ Mr. Powell
Surely a foreign country or any other country cannot by its legislation state what is to be the law of this country.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
A law has been passed. I do not say that it will hold in this country. The law makes life even more difficult for the individuals concerned, regardless of their nationality. That is why I brought up this matter.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) referred to the Statute of Westminster, which is an important point, but there is no need to consider it in regard to the Bill.
§ Mr. English
The hon. Lady may well be right. However, if she is not and the Statute of Westminster applies, then we are passing the Bill illegally.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
Surely the Bill would not have been brought before the House without it being known whether it is legal. If that were not so, the time of the House would be wasted. The Bill has already been to another place which has good legal advice. It would not have been passed to us un-amended if it had been thought that it was incorrect or had been put forward in an incorrect manner.
I am proud of the Commonwealth. I appreciate that we cannot be entirely satisfied about the present situation of internees in Ceylon, but we have our own troubles in Ulster and we cannot be too critical of other countries. However, I welcome the fact that countries remain within the Commonwealth because that contributes to the peace of the world.
One of my reasons for supporting British entry into the European Economic Community is my belief that we shall have a more peaceful Europe thereby and that we shall be an excellent link between Europe and the Commonwealth. Right hon. and hon. Members have been rather critical so far in the debate, but we should remember the good service which Ceylon rendered during the war, when it was a very good base. Thousands of people would have died had it not been for Ceylon's help, particularly our ex-prisoners of war on their release from Japanese camps.
Ceylon is a remarkable island in many ways. It has survived a tremendous number of invasions and has retained its character throughout. Indeed, the character of the people is fine. I will not go into the history of the island but we should, for example, remember, as no doubt my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) does, how useful the base at Trincomalee was to the Royal Navy during the war. Ceylon is also remarkable for its wild life and I hope that it will continue to conserve the unique animals it has.
It is important that when we are in the EEC Ceylon's exports should be protected. Ceylon exports rice, tea, 548 rubber and coconuts, and this trade is of great importance to it. Unlike other countries, Ceylon's agriculture is made up mostly of smallholders, which has made her people more independent-minded.
As I said, Ceylon has survived many invasions, going back to 1017. All those who have been there will remember the beauties of the old capital of Anuradhapura and the later capital of Polonuarawar. Ceylon has also had a great many constitutions and on the whole they have been thought out rather well. The constitution of 1833 was followed by another in 1910 and then the Donoughmore constitution in 1931. Ceylon was also the first non-white country of the British Empire to become independent, in 1948.
The people of Ceylon have thus had considerable experience in running their own country and have taken the trouble as a whole to abide by the constitution of the day. I think that we should congratulate Mrs. Bandaranaike, who was the first woman Prime Minister in the Commonwealth.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. I hope the hon. Lady will not stray too wide of the Bill.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
I mentioned her because she happens to head the Government.
I hope that the Bill will be passed and that Ceylon will remain a member of the Commonwealth, retaining its personality under its new name. I wish the people of Ceylon a happy future.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
Speeches at this time should not last for more than three minutes and mine will last for two.
I had not intended to intervene except that this is a slightly nostalgic occasion because in the long association between this country and Ceylon, as it used to be, the Royal Navy has been much in the front rank and in Admiralty House in Trincomalee, which my hon. and fair Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) mentioned just now, there is a name board carrying the names of 100 admirals who were Commanders in Chief, East Indies, based in Trincomalee. Many of them 549 came to sticky ends, dying of fever or being killed at sea.. I should like to pay tribute to the generosity of the Sri Lankanese Government, as I should now call it, that in their bonfire of independence they have not torn down the name board, but that it is still there and that the base, including the naval base, is still being kept up.
I hope that the happy relations between Britain and Ceylon will continue in the same spirit of generosity. I ask my hon. Friend, as an important point, to assure the House that the Government understand the importance of protecting trade between Britain and Sri Lanka, which in future will be just as important as in the past. We cannot opt out of pro-protecting our overseas trade in the Indian Ocean or anywhere else.
§ 11.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Royle
With the leave of the House, I shall make a few remarks to end this valuable and interesting debate.
The remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) were quite rightly made in tribute to the Royal Navy's links with Ceylon over many years and are welcome to hon. Gentlemen on both sides.
I found the discussion this evening interesting. It underlines the great concern felt by this House for our relations with what was called Ceylon and is now Sri Lanka. I shall try to answer all the points made but it is getting late and there is a lot more business to do, and I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not answer all in detail but follow up those points which I do not answer as soon as possible tomorrow.
The hon. and learned Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) asked me three questions. The first was about appeals to the Privy Council. The answer is that Ceylon set up her own Court of Appeal and abolished appeals to the Privy Council in the Court of Appeal (Ceylon) Act, 1971, which came into effect on 15th November, 1971 and it has not therefore been necessary to make reference in the Bill to appeals to the Privy Council.
He also asked about aid. The Sri Lankanese Government are aware that we wish to support them in taking the necessary steps to put right their financial 550 situation and they are also aware of the need to maintain business confidence abroad. At a recent aid group meeting in Paris on 24th May, we made no pledges of new aid, but we are in close touch with the Sri Lanka Government.
The third question was about the Criminal Justice Commission Act, and, as I suspect he expected, my reply to the hon. and learned Gentleman will be short and not helpful to him. Sri Lanka is a sovereign independent State and its laws must be its own concern. I have no doubt that the Sri Lanka Government will read this debate in due course and will note the views expressed in the House.
I turn to the carefully argued speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). I thank him for his courtesy in informing me of the matter which he would raise and which he raised with the great clarity we have all come to expect from him. He raised the matter of the British Nationality Act, 1948, of which, because of my right hon. Friend's courtesy, I obtained a somewhat yellowing copy from the Library before coming to the House.
I confirm that the reference to Ceylon in Section 1(3) of the 1948 Act will, as with all other Acts passed before 22nd May, 1972, be covered by the Bill. Citizens of Sri Lanka will remain British subjects. If they apply to become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies by registration, Section 1(3) provides that they may be required in certain circumstances, to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen.
My right hon. Friend said that a Bill of this kind has not been brought forward for some time, but as recently as December, 1971 I myself brought forward the Sierra Leone Republic Bill, a Bill very similar to this but which did not seem to arouse as much interest. This does not affect my right hon. Friend's argument, but it should be known as a fact.
Again, there was the comment, perhaps not stated but which might have been felt by some, contained in the question, why had not the Government taken the opportunity provided by the Bill to stop immigration from Sri Lanka? The hon. and learned Member for Barons Court asked how many people had come from Ceylon to the United Kingdom in recent years. Just for the record I say that suitably qualified immigrants may 551 be accepted against the overall Commonwealth quota of 2,250 per year, and that in 1971, the latest year for which figures are available, 185 Ceylonese were accepted by immigration. They are mostly skilled people and have created no problem. The Government do not consider it appropriate to deal with immigration policy in a piecemeal way, and it is well known that we rest our immigration policy on the 1971 Act.
§ Mr. Powell
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for his careful reply. Since he has referred to immigration, I might say that it would seem to me to be quite impossible to treat one Commonwealth country which has become a republic differently in this respect from any other Commonwealth country which has become a republic. Such an idea was not in my mind, and it would indeed have run contrary to the theme of my argument. But I am obliged to my hon. Friend for confirming that the reference to Ceylon in Section 1(3) of the 1948 Act is one of the places on which the Bill bites; in other words, it is one of the places where our law would have been different as a result of the change of status but for this legislation.
§ Mr. Royle
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) advanced very powerful legal arguments, and I do not pretend to be a lawyer. Basically, he asked: why have a separate Bill? I think that he felt that it would be much better to have a blanket, package Bill which would cover all countries as they wished to turn themselves, perhaps, from monarchies to republics. To do this would not be right. By tradition we have always had separate legislation. That is the least we can do to bring our laws into line when a country changes its form or constitution, and I would not wish to leave that traditional posture. I do not think that the time of the House is wasted, though perhaps I am talking too long now. We have had a valuable debate, and it is right and proper that we should try to have a separate discussion on each country. We do not know whether there will be any more who wish to change from monarchies into republics, but if there are, it is at least courteous for us 552 to have a separate Bill. I hope that that tradition will be continued.
§ Mr. English
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. It is a matter of opinion whether we should have one Bill, or a series of Bills to deal with each separate occasion. I made another point, which is more important. Will the hon. Gentleman give us an assurance either that the Bill does not apply to Ceylon or, if it does, that Ceylon, or Sri Lanka as it now is, has requested and consented to it in the form in which it is presented to us as required by the Statute of Westminster?
§ Mr. Royle
I understood the point and I was just coming to it. The Bill is to bring our law into line. The intention of the Bill, and why it is now before us, is to bring into line everything that we do in this country which is connected with Ceylon as she was and Sri Lanka as she is now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) raised an important point about what exactly Clause 1(5) does and why it is in the Bill. The answer is that the West Indies Act, 1967 provides that an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament only extends to an associated State as part of its law in certain specified circumstances. The British Nationality Act, 1948, is part of the law of the associated States and is affected by Clause 1(3). The declaration in this subsection is necessary to secure that Clause 1(3) extends to the associated States.
The other point raised by my hon. Friend concerned the question of Sri Lanka and the European Economic Community. Throughout the negotiations to join the EEC we have attached importance to securing for Commonwealth countries the best possible arrangements to secure their interests. The EEC has agreed to examine with the Asian Commonwealth countries, after enlargement and taking into account the scope of the generalised preference scheme, such problems as may arise in the trade sector with a view to finding suitable solutions. It is doubtful whether enlargement of the Community in itself will create problems for Sri Lanka, or whether our adoption of the common external tariff will have any effect on Sri Lanka's exports to us. The 553 bulk of its exports to us is made up of tea, as my hon. Friend will know. She has a great knowledge of the country and has spent a great deal of time getting to know many Asian countries. On tea there is a continued nil Community tariff. In addition, Sri Lanka is benefiting from the generalised preference scheme already put into operation by the EEC and to which we shall accede after enlargement.
I must again apologise to the House for keeping it for so long at this late hour. The Bill is important in the history of Ceylon and in the history of legislation in this House, in that it is changing the name of Ceylon to Sri Lanka. It is right that right hon. and hon. Members should spend a little time in discussing the matter and letting the people of Sri Lanka know the views of the House of Commons. Britain has had close connections with Ceylon for over 150 years, and I am confident that the links will remain close in spite of this constitutional change. We welcome the decision to remain within the Commonwealth, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will join me in extending to the President, the Government and the people of Sri Lanka our best wishes for the future prosperity, peace and success of the new Republic.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Rossi.]
§ Committee tomorrow.