HC Deb 22 May 1973 vol 857 cc358-77

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Fraser

I think that everyone who has spoken has had in his heart the desire to achieve racial harmony by integrating and conferring on Commonwealth citizens in this country that right under the Bill. I hope that that general sentiment will have been noted by the Home Office Minister who is responsible for the administration of immigration control and citizenship.

We are dealing with the withdrawal of Pakistan from the Commonwealth. The fact that we have to do so is regrettable. It is regrettable because most of us are reluctant to see a member withdraw from the Commonwealth which, with all its imperfections and conflicts of interest, has been able to ride above conflict. The Commonwealth has common financial institutions. Although the world is full of groups of nations which have racial ties, common interests of ideology, economics and political institutions, the significant thing about the Commonwealth is that it has grown out of imperialism and its ties transcend differences of race, religion, ideology and political structure. The diversity has been overlaid by the common bond. That is what gives the Commonwealth its great value.

We need this common bond, which goes beyond the differences of race and other differences among people. The gaining of one member of the Commonwealth, Bangladesh, is no compensation for the loss of another member, Pakistan. The fact is that this is necessary and inevitable. In the words of the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), who is a valued expert on the Commonwealth: … we must be careful not to destroy the value of Commonwealth membership by giving to those who are not members all the privileges of those that are."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February 1962; Vol. 654, c. 939.] Those words were quoted with approval by the present Prime Minister on 26th February 1962 when as Lord Privy Seal he introduced the South Africa Bill which legislated for the fact that South Africa had left the Commonwealth.

I make two comments on that Bill and compare them with the present situation. Today, the residue of Pakistan remains a member of the Commonwealth. By the residue I mean Bangladesh which will be considered in a Bill later tonight. It is a pity that South-West Africa could not have been treated likewise even though it remained under the tutelage of the South African Government. It is a pity that a place at the Commonwealth table could not be kept for it which recognised our desire to see it eventually become a free member of the Commonwealth of nations. The South Africa Bill made generous provision for … South African citizens who have ties of blood or service or residence in this country… Those were the words of the present Prime Minister on 26th February 1962. He went on: They should also be allowed adequate time to make their decision."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February 1962; Vol. 654, c. 945.] Citizens of Burma were given a two-year election and South Africa was given a much longer time, as many hon. Members have pointed out.

Whether a country remains a member of the Commonwealth is very much a sovereign matter for that country over which our Parliament has little control. But we have to legislate for the consequences of Pakistani citizens who remain in the United Kingdom. We have a duty to the whole community as well as to minorities to ensure that those who settle here permanently—those who work here, whose children are born here and educated here—are given as far as possible equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities. We are talking about people who have settled in this country and to whom the word "immigrant" is only an historical fact. They are to all intents and purposes fully integrated members of our community. The number of Pakistanis who are councillors or parlia- mentary candidates is testimony enough to the fact that the word "immigrant" might well be forgotten in respect of those people. We want to think of them as settled here and fully involved in our future.

Since Britain is a multi-racial community and has within it people of different races and religions who are permanently settled here, we must resist any kind of pattern which separates one race from another or one ethnic group from another. It is important to have regard to the race relations aspect of this Bill. This point was made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) and by others. I should like to see full opportunities and rights accorded to those who have been left uncertain about their rights as a result of the Bill.

Anybody who doubts the proposition that equality of rights, duties and opportunities is important not just to the minority but to the whole community has only to look at the tragic events of Northern Ireland, Pakistan or Bangladesh to know that what I am saying is correct. We do not want to establish in this country, to quote the words of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, an alien wedge in a literal or legal sense. We want people who as far as possible are fully integrated and who are given all the rights and duties which are accorded to our citizens.

I welcome the provisions of the Bill dealing with the status and rights of up to 80,000 Pakistani citizens who have not yet become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies and who will become aliens when the Bill becomes law. But I do not believe that the Bill is adequate to achieve that objective.

The rights which the Bill gives to those who came here before Pakistan left the Commonwealth—in other words, those who came here before 30th January 1972—include the right to vote in elections up to 16th February 1974 and the right or possibility, as the case may be, to register as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. I am assured that this is a right if they arrived here before 1st January 1973. The qualification is that of five years' ordinary residence.

I hope that we shall have an answer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cyril Smith) as to what extent holidays abroad affect ordinary residence in this country. Could we be given some guidance on that point? I do not believe that those rights are good enough.

I wish to deal with these matters in detail. Voting by former Commonwealth citizens who were Pakistani citizens will be allowed up to 16th February 1974. Such a concession was given in the South Africa Bill, 1962 and one could hardly legislate for anything less because on the present register the electoral registration officer would have an impossible task to distinguish British subjects or those registered as United Kingdom subjects from those who are entitled to register.

If this concession is to be meaningful, then it will have to be extended until 16th February 1975. When this Bill becomes law, most of the local elections will be out of the way. This Parliament has a further two years to run, and therefore it is unlikely that this concession will allow Pakistani citizens to vote, except in by-elections before 16th February 1974.

What is more important is that registration takes time. It is difficult enough to get the forms to register as a British subject, let alone to register for this purpose.

There will also be the tremendous problems of the electoral registration officer in making up the new register. If all 80,000 of those who are eligible to register as United Kingdom citizens start doing so as soon as the Bill becomes law, it is by no means clear that even if they become United Kingdom citizens they will get on to the register after 16th February 1974, which is the date up to which they can vote as the Bill stands at the moment.

The new register is not made up on 16th February 1974; it is made up on 10th October 1973. That means that between the passage of this Bill and the date when the new election register is made up, they have a very short time indeed to get their registrations completed. In fact, I estimate that there will be only about three months from the time that this Bill becomes law to the time when the new register is made up.

On my present information, it is taking about three months for the Home Office to complete the registration. If a man puts his registration in straight away when the Bill becomes law, he may well not be registered as a United Kingdom citizen by 10th October 1973. Therefore, he will not be eligible to go on to the next election register. He may, of course, get his registration in November or December 1973, but that will not help him at all. He will be disfranchised for a year because of the time that the register is made up. This will mean the risk of the omission of many people who would otherwise be qualified to vote.

Mr. Kaufmann

Would my hon. Friend further emphasise that point in the light of the rate at which present registrations are taking place—not on the Government's estimate of more than 2,000 who will apply every week?

Mr. Fraser

It could mean disfranchisement on a massive scale. If all 80,000 tried to register in a period of three months, it would mean about 1,000 registrations per day, assuming that the Home Office staff worked on Saturdays and Sundays as well. It could mean disfranchisement on a massive scale. I think that is to be avoided, and I hope that qualification for voting purposes will be extended until 16th February 1975, which will make the job of the electoral registration officers very much easier, and will be much more just to those who would otherwise lose the vote.

The next criticism I want to make is about the provision in the Bill for registration as a United Kingdom citizen. The voting provisions would lack effectiveness even if the registration for citizenship were completed on a large scale and within about three months of this Bill becoming law. If we took not the 80,000 Pakistan citizens but an 80,000 cross-section of the indigenous population of this country and asked them to complete a fairly complex form which needed to be supported by documents, which had to be taken to a Commissioner of Oaths to be sworn, how many of the cross-section of the indigenous population would miss out on it? One has only to look at the take-up of rate and rent rebates or to ask one's wife whether she will complete an application form for a driving licence or would prefer it to be done for her to know that a good many people would miss out.

If we add the present natural reluctance of people to complete forms, the problems of language, of literacy in the English language and the possibility of a genuine mistake being made which could prevent a person obtaining citizenship because he might find that he could not submit the correct form within six months, it becomes clear that we are being unfair and inconsiderate to those whom most hon. Members would seek to have registered as United Kingdom subjects.

I urge the Minister to extend the period to one of about two years. The loss of United Kingdom citizenship could be vital to people in the Civil Service, to those who hold public appointments and to those who run post offices. The loss of the right to register could be a significant blow to the involvement of Pakistani citizens in the community.

Compared with the other precedents, six months is ludicrously short. The period accorded to Burmese was two years. The maximum period accorded to South African citizens was eight years and seven months. It was three years and seven months in order to notify their intention to register as United Kingdom citizens and a further five years from the date of giving notice of intention to turn that intention into an actual registration. When that is compared with the six months given in the Bill it is seen to be grossly unfair.

The argument is made if one looks at the words of the present Prime Minister when he moved the Second Reading of the South Africa Bill and spoke about the need for "adequate time". It is an argument which has been supported by almost every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate. Therefore I suggest that the period be lengthened to one or two years.

Only yesterday we discussed public expenditure. The adoption of my suggestion would in itself lead to a saving in public expenditure. It would not be necessary to take on additional staff to deal with applications. Gradually the number of registrations will tail off as more people become registered. So there is a strong argument in principle, and there is a subsidiary economic argument for accepting that the period should be longer. If it is not longer it will be unfair and discriminatory. It may have an adverse effect on race relations.

There are some questions germane to registration which I wish to ask the Minister. First, how long is registration expected to take? I believe that the present estimate is two or three months. That period ought to be cut down if the provisions of the Bill are to be effective.

Second, is it possible to allow the immunities from the effects of being an alien to be continued once application is made instead of from the time that the application is granted? If it is not, there will be an interim period between the making of an application and its being granted when the applicant will be an alien and when the immunities will not be in operation. This applies especially to registration on the voting register. I know that immunity from deportation is extended in certain circumstances, but I hope that it can be carried further for the purposes of registration, since being a United Kingdom citizen is an essential prerequisite to the holding of many public offices.

Third, what efforts will be made to encourage registration? Under the Urban Aid Programme will the Home Office offer additional money to local authorities and organisations such as community relations committees to help them make known the necessity to register and to assist in the filling in of forms? It is important if we are to build a community which works together to see that everyone plays a part in the community and is registered as a United Kingdom citizen.

My third criticism relates to the qualifying date for coming to the United Kingdom, a point that has been made repeatedly by hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. The date chosen is 30th January 1972. Pakistan citizens who came here between 30th January 1972 and the date when the Bill becomes law will have come here legally as Commonwealth or British citizens. The terms are interchangeable. The Bill deprives them of the prospective rights that they had when they were Commonwealth or British citizens. There is no parallel for this in the South Africa Act 1962.

Very few people will be involved, apart from the problem of the Kashmiris. Therefore, I think it right to make the operative date at least the date when the Bill was published—14th May 1973. This would fit in with the pledges, referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) given by the noble Lord Windlesham in another place on 17th February 1972. After all, as the hon. Member for Cathcart said, we may otherwise have expected a statement from the Government to the contrary.

It is important to try to include as many people as possible in the provisions for registration to avoid aliens, if they become aliens, having to register with the police. We have a hell of a problem with police manpower. We do not want to throw more tasks on to the police force. Reporting to the police has never been regarded as good for race relations. I hope, therefore, that the qualifying date will be moved forward.

Most of all, I hope that the qualifying date will be moved forward to obviate any misunderstanding or doubt about the status of citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. Worry about their status has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Everybody is agreed that, no matter what their legal status may have been, they have been treated as British subjects and entered on election registers.

Lord Balniel

indicated dissent.

Mr. Fraser

The Minister shakes his head, but in a comment in The Guardian the Government were not so sure: Until recently, said the Home Office, people from Jammu and Kashmir have come to this country with Pakistan passports. While that was so, they were treated for the purpose of immigration as if they were Commonwealth citizens, but for nationality purposes they were treated as aliens. The Home Office could not comment on why, if the Kashmiris had been regarded as aliens, they had been allowed to go on to electoral registers and to vote". It is the common experience of those who have been concerned with this problem that these people have gone on to electoral registers and have been treated as British citizens. Nothing much is to be lost by moving this qualifying date forward and resolving the difficulty about nationality by having them dealt with as other Pakistan citizens who acquired Pakistani citizenship before 30th January 1972.

Part of the citizenship provisions of the Bill still appear to be matters of expediency in response to a crisis. Some of the points that have been thrown up in the debate emphasise the need for a thorough-going review of our citizenship law. As the years roll on the problems of British protected persons and British subjects without citizenship become more difficult. I do not see why it should be so much more difficult and involved for an alien to become a United Kingdom citizen. We ought to encourage those who are permanently settled and throw in their lot with the United Kingdom to become United Kingdom citizens with relative ease. Of course, there must be safeguards against any instrusion into our security. But the difficulty of a British protected person becoming a United Kingdom citizen is far too great. He has to go through the naturalisation process. I hope, therefore, that we shall have an announcement about a thoroughgoing review of the law on citizenship very shortly.

I conclude as I begun. The Bill is regrettable. If there is any chance of the door still being left open for Pakistan to come into the Commonwealth, I hope that will be done. Many hon. Members have said that they would like to see Pakistan come back into the Commonwealth, and I endorse that view.

The general line of speeches has been that the Bill should be humane and fair. There has been almost complete unanimity about extending the period of registration of citizenship and about the voting provisions. I believe that the general wish is to ensure that we have good and harmonious community and race relations. This is primarily a Home Office Bill. I hope that note will have been taken of those sentiments, and that, with that objective in mind, the Bill will be improved in Committee.

10.26 p.m.

The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Balniel)

Like the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser), I think that every hon. Member who has taken part in the debate will agree that it has been a thoughtful, generous and constructive debate, albeit in many respects rather technical. The hon. and learned Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) quoted a letter from the Home Office which he said was obscurantist and obscure. I should not like to refer to his own speech in those terms, but it contained many technical points. Many of those points and many made throughout the debate can perhaps better be dealt with in Committee. None the less, I will of course try to answer many of the matters raised in the debate.

In the concluding speech in a debate on a Bill such as this, it is right to bear in mind how it came about and what its purpose is. On 30th January 1972, the Government of Pakistan announced that they were leaving the Commonwealth with immediate effect. This was a decision that they were perfectly within their rights to take, but it was a positive decision from which certain consequences flowed.

The relationship between foreign countries is different from the relationship between members of the Commonwealth. Therefore, some changes had to take place in the relationship between this country and Pakistan. Things simply could not go on as they had gone on before. But we must remember that the initial act which made the Bill necessary was a decision not of Her Majesty's Government but of the Government of Pakistan.

As for the purpose of the Bill, Pakistan's decision to leave the Commonwealth had created a new situation and some alterations of our legislation were necessary. It has been suggested in the debate that Pakistan became a foreign country and that Pakistanis became aliens from the moment that Pakistan left the Commonwealth. This argument is understandable in layman's terms, but it is oversimplified.

Some of our legislation merely refers to Commonwealth countries, without referring to them by name. When Pakistan left the Commonwealth, provisions of this kind clearly ceased to apply to Pakistan. She was not referred to by name, so, on leaving the Commonwealth, she ceased to be affected by that kind of legislation.

But other British legislation, including the important British Nationality Act of 1948, refers to Pakistan by name, and until those laws are changed, Pakistan and Pakistanis in this country continue in certain respects to enjoy Commonwealth privileges. The law had to be changed; hence the Bill.

In drawing up the Bill, as my right hon. Friend has said, we had two principles in mind. The first was that the value of the Commonwealth should not be diminished by allowing a country which had left the Commonwealth or its citizens to enjoy indefinitely those privileges which come from Commonwealth membership. The second was that we considered it right to be fair and humane to those Pakistanis who came to Britain before Pakistan left the Commonwealth in the belief that they would be entitled to certain benefits.

During the debate, it has been suggested that we erred in both ways. Some hon. Members have said that we have been too generous to the Pakistanis living in this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who said that?"] Some hon. Members have suggested that, where we proposed automatic registration, naturalisation would be a more appropriate method. [Interruption.] I am pointing out that there are two different views. Let me put it like this: it has been put forward that we have been too generous to the Pakistanis living in this country, but others have pointed out the difference between this Bill and the South Africa Act and have felt that we have not been generous enough. Perhaps the debate indicates both the difficulty of the problem and the possibility that we may have the balance about right.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Will the Minister give way?

Lord Balniel

No, because I have much to say.

The hon. and learned Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) thought that we had brought forward the Bill too soon. The hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) also suggested that we should postpone the Bill because of the possibility, in their opinion, of Pakistan returning to the Commonwealth. But President Bhutto has said that his position is irrevocable. It is necessary for the United Kingdom to bring her law on this nationality issue and the other issues involved into a correct position.

On the other hand, we have been asked why we have taken so long to prepare the Bill. The South Africa Bill had its Second Reading nine months after South Africa had left the Commonwealth, whereas this Bill has been introduced some 16 months after Pakistan left the Commonwealth. The South Africa Act was 10 years ago. The situation of this country today and the problems that it faces are very different from 10 years ago. In particular, there are far more Pakistanis living in this country than there ever were South Africans. It seems to us essential that we should study very carefully indeed the implications of all the aspects of the Bill, particularly the new problems of community relations, and should make sure that we get the answer absolutely right.

Mr. Richard

Will the Minister give way?

Lord Balniel

I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to continue, because he made a long speech and I have much to say.

Some hon. Members asked why we were giving the Pakistanis so much time to register as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. [Interruption.] Some asked why it was so little and others why it was so much. Those who developed the argument said that as from the moment when the Bill becomes law all Pakistanis will become aliens and they should, if they wish, become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies by applying for naturalisation as other aliens do.

The Government believe that this would be unfair to those people who came to this country believing in good faith under the law at that time that they would be treated as Commonwealth citizens and have the Commonwealth citizen's privilege of registering as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies after five years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) suggests that Pakistanis who have been resident here for less than five years should acquire citizenship by naturalisation rather than registration. I think that was his argument. In framing the Bill we had to decide what the right cut-off date should be. We think it logical that this should be the date when Pakistan left the Commonwealth. Persons who came here before that date, that is, when Pakistan was still a Commonwealth country, should, we think, be allowed the right to build up the qualifying period of five years and then qualify for automatic registration as a Commonwealth citizen.

Furthermore, if we had followed the course of insisting on the process of naturalisation, it would contrast most unfavourably with the treatment which we gave to South Africans. South African citizens of this country at the time when South Africa left the Commonwealth were given a generous period of grace in which to register as United Kingdom citizens. It is only fair that Pakistanis should be given time in which to exercise that option. The time granted to Pakistanis is shorter than that granted to South Africans because the problems now facing this country and the present situation are different from those of 10 years ago. We believe that we have given an adequate amount of time for all those Pakistanis who wish to register to do so.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) and other hon. Members criticised the period of grace of six months after the build-up period of five years. Most of the people concerned have been here for five years and they should not find the period of six months to make up their minds to apply to register too short. Others who have been here less than five years will have a build-up period of five years and then a period of six months after that.

There is another argument which has not been raised and which should be considered. Pakistanis have an easier decision to make than South Africans because South Africa did not allow dual nationality. Therefore, a South African who took out United Kingdom citizenship had to give up his South African citizenship. Pakistanis who are registered as United Kingdom citizens can still remain Pakistan citizens. The decision for them is that much less difficult.

Mr. John Fraser

The Minister has explained the problems of the Pakistanis and he mentioned the special problems which Britain has now as opposed to 1962. What are those special problems, bearing in mind that the Pakistanis will remain here whether or not they register within six months?

Lord Balniel

We have problems of community relations and it is of the utmost importance that those problems are treated with the greatest of care. It is also of the utmost importance that the problems of nationality should be considered as quickly as possible. That is a view which led us to believe that it was right to give people a period in which to build up an automatic entitlement to registration over five years even if they have been here for only one year before January 1972.

Mr. Douglas-Mann rose

Lord Bainiel

I now refer to one of the most important matters which was raised in the debate—namely, the position of persons coming from Kashmir. We had an extremely knowledgeable speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) and a particularly thoughtful and constructive speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) about the special case of the Kashmiris. Many hon. Members have mentioned the special case of those who come from Jammu and Kashmir, and have suggested that in the case of these people, who form a substantial proportion of the Pakistani community in this country, we are being discriminatory.

It is important to get the facts clear so that when we debate the matter fully in Committee at least the facts will be established. Until February of this year persons carrying Pakistan passports describing them as natives of the State of Jammu and Kashmir—in other words, persons from the part of Kashmir which is on the Pakistan side of the cease-fire line—were not treated by the Pakistan Government in all respects as Pakistan citizens. We followed the Pakistan Government's definition and therefore persons in this country with these passports did not have the status of full Commonwealth citizens.

They were treated as British protected persons for some purposes, including immigration. Therefore they received Commonwealth treatment on immigration matters. But they were not British protected persons under the British Nationality Acts and therefore were treated as aliens in other respects. Consequently they did not have the right to vote or to occupy certain offices and employments, including posts in the Civil Service.

Perhaps the most important point is that they did not have the right to register as United Kingdom citizens after five years. This was the status which persons from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir had in this country on the date that Pakistan left the Commonwealth. In February this year, after Pakistan had left the Commonwealth, the Pakistan Government granted to these people the status of Pakistani citizens.

In drawing up this Bill, however, it seemed to us that amongst the important things to bear in mind were the date on which Pakistan left the Commonwealth, the persons who were in this country at that time and the privileges they enjoyed. To allow persons from Kashmir to benefit from the registration provisions of this Bill would be to grant to them, after Pakistan left the Commonwealth, privileges which they did not enjoy when Pakistan was in the Commonwealth.

The House would wonder whether such a course of action was wise or logical. However, the matter has been raised by virtually every hon. Member and in particular by the hon. and learned Member for Barons Court and we can deal with it in more detail in Committee.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my right hen. Friend be more accurate in saying that their status was not regarded by the Pakistan Government as being in dispute? It was a status that was accorded by the United Nations and the Security Council in resolutions which the United Kingdom always supported and in many cases moved. In that regard will he also agree that the whole problem of dates would be obviated if the retrospection in the Bill were removed?

Lord Balniel

I think that I am right in saying that the citizenship which we described, although it might have been in a United Nations resolution, derives from the Pakistan definition, but this is a matter which we could look at with great care in Committee because views have been expressed which we have to consider carefully on an issue such as this.

Persons who acquired Pakistani citizenship after Pakistan left the Commonwealth are not of course debarred from obtaining British citizenship, but they will have to seek naturalisation, rather than being able to seek registration after five years' residence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart asked whether the people from Jammu and Kashmir would have to register with the police after being here for many years. There is no question of that being required. It is only the Pakistanis who enter as aliens seeking employment and so forth after Royal Assent who will be required, like other aliens, to register with the police. I think that that will remove a worry in my hon. Friend's mind.

Another category of people mentioned this afternoon are those Pakistanis who arrived in this country after Pakistan left the Commonwealth but before the Bill receives Royal Assent. It has been argued that when they arrived in this country the law was still treating Pakistanis as Commonwealth citizens. The argument goes on that therefore they also should benefit from the registration provisions of this Bill. Here again we must return to the crucial date, 30th January 1972. When Pakistan left the Commonwealth, these people, of whom there are in any case a very small number, were not in this country, and therefore they came here knowing that Pakistan was no longer a Commonwealth member.

The Government's view is that it would not be right that they should enjoy the same provisions for registration granted under this Bill to Pakistan citizens who were already here on that date. But it will be open to them also after five years' residence to apply for naturalisation if they so wish.

People coming from Pakistan after January 1972 surely cannot have imagined that the fact of their country having left the Commonwealth would not affect their position as Commonwealth citizens. To have put up a notice at the point of immigration would have meant that we had already decided what action we would take. [Interruption.] If one's country leaves the Commonwealth and one then enters the United Kingdom, it is reasonable to expect that one's position will not be exactly the same as if it were still in the Commonwealth.

Various hon. Members spoke about informing the public of the provisions of the Bill. The Home Office staff is being strengthened to implement the Bill's requirements. The Home Office is embarking on a substantial programme of information on television and radio and in articles in the Press most read by the immigrant community, to ensure that there is a widespread understanding of the provisions. We shall certainly consider the suggested setting up of advisory centres in those areas where there is a high density of immigrant population.

Mr. Richard

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) says that as from 30th January 1972 Pakistanis ceased to be Pakistanis in the true legal sense that they were before that date. The Government have consistently disagreed with his legal interpretation of the effect of Pakistan's leaving the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is arguing that those who entered after 30th January 1972, but before the Bill was introduced on 14th May this year, should have expected, in some obscure and as yet undefined way, that their status would be different in the future from that which it had been at that moment in the Government's interpretation of English law. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that?

Lord Balniel

I am saying that I imagine that the common sense reaction of Pakistanis living in Pakistan, knowing that their Government had on their own volition announced that they were irrevocably leaving the Commonwealth, would be to assume that on coming to this country they would not be granted the same Commonwealth status as had been granted to those who came here to reside when Pakistan was a member of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Richard

All the way through this debate the Government have said—and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has dissented from the proposition—that the mere fact that Pakistan leaves the Commonwealth does not alter the legal status of Pakistan under the British Nationality Act, 1948, and that therefore Pakistanis post-30th January 1972 means precisely the same as Pakistanis pre-30th January 1972. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that Pakistanis who came to this country after 30th January 1972, if they were extremely well read and perceptive in their reliance on the Government's opinion of what the law was, should somehow have anticipated that they would be discriminated against legally thereafter?

Lord Balniel

It is a question of the common sense of the immigrants and the fact that we have to choose a date. Surely it is logical to choose the date when Pakistan herself, of her own volition, left the Commonwealth. This seems to us an appropriate date because that was the date when Pakistan wanted to leave the Commonwealth.

Mr. Richard

It is not the date when the legal effects of that decision arise. The Government have said that the effects arise on the passage of the Bill. I agreed with the Minister, but his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West did not. However, if the legal effects of Pakistan leaving the Commonwealth do not arise until 14th May, why pick 30th January as the operative date?

Lord Balniel

We have to pick a date, and the date which is most appropriate is the date chosen by the Pakistan Government themselves. That seems to me the date which applies. It has been the cut-off date for all purposes of the Bill.

Mr. Powell

Would my right hon. Friend allow one more attempt? He is saying that a Pakistani who came on 31st January should have perceived that his situation was not what the Home Office and other authorities were asserting at the time but in fact was quite different. Is he saying that they came here on assumptions different from those which the Government held at the time and hold now? How could they possibly perceive that?

Lord Balniel

I think that my right hon. Friend is confusing the issue. Surely the House can think it not unreasonable for Pakistani Citizens to take the advice of the Pakistan Government—[Interruption]—not that of my right hon. Friend—as to date chosen by them when they leave the Commonwealth. It seems a reasonable assumption to make.

Mr. Richard rose

Lord Balniel

We have had an extremely technical and complex debate involving Commonwealth voting rights, the cut-off date, the relationship of this country to Pakistan and other matters. These can be discussed in Committee. I have given an undertaking to consider carefully, in particular, the points made about Kashmiri citizens—and that alone is a complex issue. I have given an assurance which I should have thought would satisfy the House.

On voting rights, I have been asked why Pakistanis are to continue to be allowed to vote until February next year. The answer to this question is a practical answer. This is a provision which is more generous than in the case of South Africa. There are thousands of Pakistanis on the electoral register throughout the country. They could not in any case be excluded from voting because they had ceased to be British subjects. It is true that their votes could be rejected on scrutiny by a court, but we decided that the fairest thing would be to let them vote lawfully at any election held while the present register is in force. A new electoral register will be prepared in the autumn and the authorities concerned will have the duty of excluding from it the names of Pakistani citizens who do not also have citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies.

As my right hon. Friend said, we regretted Pakistan's decision to leave the Commonwealth, but we accepted it. Our task is to recognise the fact in our domestic law and to establish a new legal relationship with a Pakistan now outside the Commonwealth. But our task is not only to establish a new constitutional relationship between one country and another but also to ensure that human beings living in this country are not harmed by the tragedies of the subcontinent and are treated humanely, fairly and decently in accordance with the spirit of the law which applied when they came to make their home here. We all regret Pakistan's decision to leave the Commonwealth, but it did it of its own volition and the Bill is a natural consequence of that decision.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).

  1. PAKISTAN [MONEY] 76 words