HC Deb 04 May 1978 vol 949 cc438-9
10. Mr. Channon

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has had to amend the British Nationality Act.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Since the beginning of this year I have received 39 letters from representative bodies and others, commenting on some of the suggestions put forward for discussion in the Green Paper on nationality law published in April 1977.

Mr. Channon

Does the Home Secretary recognise that the British Nationality Act, which was passed in 1948, is now wholly out of date, a fact widely recognised on both sides of the House? Since the Government's Green Paper was issued over a year ago, may I ask the Home Secretary to tell us when the Government propose to take action?

Mr. Rees

There certainly will not be legislation soon. It was rushed in 1943. That was based on years of development, but it has not worked out in the way that the then Government thought it would. I thought that the Opposition could help us. The right hon. Member for Pennth and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who leads for the Opposition on these matters, made a speech recently saying that a Bill was ready, or nearly ready, to be put forward if the Conservatives had won the 1974 General Election. What an excellent idea that is. Why should we not see it? That would enable us to move much more quickly. The right hon. Gentleman prefers not to do it that way. I think it would be a good idea if we could see it.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Will the Home Secretary bear in mind that in any new Act there should be transitional provisions to protect all existing rights of people living in Britain at the time the new legislation comes into force?

Mr. Rees

I said in the Green Paper that that would be the case. What is desirable is that we should have a concept of citizenship in this country that is not based upon nationality or upon the concept of an empire that is now over. I remember, and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will remember, that this was the view we expressed in 1971.

Mr. Powell

indicated assent.

Mr. Rees

If that had been done, we would not have had the nonsense of patriality, which is meaningless—except in law—in the sense that it is not based on anything that is sensible.