HC Deb 12 December 1979 vol 975 cc1443-54
Mr. Merlyn Rees: (Leeds, South)

I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 1, leave out subsection (2).

The First Deputy Chairman

With this we may take the following amendments:

No. 8, in schedule 1, page 5, line 11, leave out paragraph 2.

No. 9, in schedule 1, page 5, line 20, leave out paragraph 3.

No. 10, in page 5, line 1, leave out schedule 1.

Mr. Rees

This is a probing amendment and I shall not detain the Committee long. It deals with the important question of citizenship. In our discussions so far the effects of subsection (2) and schedule 1 have not been crystal clear.

For the moment the fact that Zimbabwe is to be independent removes the question of what happens if and when that country becomes part of the Commonwealth. I realise that this is a matter for another occasion so I shall not pursue it. We have been promised a White Paper on the British Nationality Act 1948 and we all agree that that Act is in need of change. Very few people believe that we can keep the legislation in its present form. We use the term citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies as meaning not citizenship but nationality, this legislation goes back to the days of the Empire and the status of "British subject" for all citizens of countries that were part of the Empire on which the sun never set.

Too often in matters of independence we make decisions that place responsibilities on this country at a later stage. I want to be sure that we do not take any decisions today that have the repercussions of the decisions that we took on independence legislation in the 1950s. These decisions on nationality left us with responsibilities that arose later. At the time of taking them people were unaware of the consequences.

Independence is a sign that the day of the Empire is over, and in my view we must ensure that the countries that become independent do not have it both ways on citizenship. Citizenship of this country is one thing and citizenship of the country becoming independent is another.

As I understand it, clause 2(1) removes Southern Rhodesia from the list of Commonwealth countries mentioned in 1948 Act, thus making aliens of those Rhodesians who possess only Rhodesian citizenship.

10.15 pm

I shall come to numbers in a moment. Some Rhodesians who possess only Zimbabwean or Rhodesian citizenship will be aliens. Those Zimbabweans or Rhodesians who are also citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies will, of course, remain so. This is important. Today we heard about the 50,000 people who may or may not come to the United Kingdom. Whatever the Government are doing in independence legislation cannot possibly remove the right of people born here, or who have a patriality under the 1971 Act, to come here. If there is an argument about numbers, a piece of independence legislation could not alter that situation.

Clause 2(2) and schedule 1 provide that certain citizens of Zimbabwe may continue to be registered as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies as though they were still Commonwealth citizens. I want to ask questions about the second and third categories. All that schedule 1(1) does is to allow applications by citizens of Zimbabwe—perhaps it is better to say citizens of Southern Rhodesia, as they will have made applications previously—which were made but not determined before independence, to be processed as though they were applications from Commonwealth citizens. The schedule provides for Rhodesians ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom and entitled to registration as citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies by virtue of having lived here for five years, for example.

All that the Government are saying is that applications already in the pipeline will be considered. In terms of numbers and those who are involved, I should have thought from past experience that the greater proportions of those, although small in number, would be black Rhodesians who studied and lived in this country. It would hardly apply to a white Rhodesian, because of the nature of the situation. The Act does not touch the first category, of citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. In the second part are those who have registered or are attempting to register here. We are in general talking about black people.

I want to ask questions about the third category, not only in terms of numbers, without causing scares about the matter, as developments in Rhodesia or Zimbabwe have been different in the past 14 years from what happened in other countries that became independent. I should like to know what view the Government have on the question of numbers.

As I understand it, we are talking about those who are kith and kin—those who were British subjects before 1 January 1949. If this is done on all fours with what happened when Pakistan became independent, years ago, we are referring to white people over the age of 30. The provision becomes wider when it involves the British subject descended in the male line from a person born or naturalised in the United Kingdom. Whatever arguments we may have about males and females in nationality legislation, nothing can be done until the House changes the 1948 nationality legislation. Whatever we may feel about the provisions for males and females, this is not the occasion to make an alteration. The 1948 legislation, as amended by Section 3(1) of the British Nationality Act 1958, refers to a person having close connections with this country.

If we are not talking about those who are in this country under the second heading that I raised, what do the Government mean by close connections with this country"? It is one thing to be descended only of one generation in the male line from a person born or naturalised in the United Kingdom; and…has close connections with this country but the Bill then goes on to say "intends to settle here."

When decisions on naturalisation are taken when we refer to aliens—registration being for citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies—an important part of the Secretary of State's decision is whether the person concerned intends to settle here and is not merely seeking a British passport. An example that comes to mind is of someone who wanted to live in Cairo and wanted a British passport because it would be useful. This concerns someone who intends to settle in this country.

Given those four headings—I grant that this is comparable to the Pakistan legislation; I hope that I have been helpful in removing the first two propositions from any argument about numbers—what kind of numbers are we talking about? We are talking about people who were British subjects before 1949. A large number of people now in Rhodesia went there since 1950. They will be citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies anyway, and the Bill will have no effect on their rights. Therefore, what numbers are we talking about?

There is a reference to the discretion of the Secretary of State. How will he interpret those four matters that I raised, in particular close connections with this country…intends to settle here", when earlier in the schedule, as it were, it refers to the male line? I should have thought that that encompassed the decision that the Secretary of State is to make.

It is not my view—of course, it may be the view of others—that in any event large numbers of people from Rhodesia will come here. When I made an estimate not so long ago, my view was that except for artisans who had gone to Rhodesia since 1950 who may want to come here—in any event, they are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies under the law—the rest would probably go to South Africa and other countries if there were any problems and they did not want to stay in Rhodesia.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Is my right hon. Friend aware that already a substantial number of those who left Rhodesia have come to live in this country? They have come back as patrials. Therefore, they do not come into immigration statistics, because they are patrials.

Mr. Rees

I had just said that because those concerned were citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies and therefore patrials the Bill would have no effect on their rights. Many of them may have been out of the country for 10 or 15 years. But whether they come back or not will not cause problems that have been caused by others who have come here.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

They have not gone to Southall.

Mr. Rees

I hear that they have not gone to Southall. How will the Secretary of State interpret close connections with this country for those of British subject status before 1949? How will he determine whether they intend to settle here?

It will be interesting to have the Government's view on the numbers involved resulting from this part of the legislation which is almost on all fours with the Pakistan legislation of the early 1970s.

We shall not press these amendments to a Division, but citizenship is a matter of great importance and we should have the Government's view.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

The nationality law, such as it is, in effect gives two citizenships. One is citizenship of the Commonwealth. That applies to anybody born anywhere in the Commonwealth. The other is independent citizenship of an independent country, such as Canada or New Zealand, or residual citizenship for anyone who cannot claim independent citizenship, which is citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies.

In 1971 the Conservative Government drew a distinction between those who were and those who were not patrials. By and large, a patrial citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies is a person who was born here, or whose father was born here. But there is an added patriality, and it is there that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) may have overlooked the significance of those provisions. A Commonwealth citizen who was the child of a person born here is himself patrial even though he may be a citizen of an independent Commonwealth country, and that was the real racialist test of the 1971 Act. It obviously applied only to people who were white and were born in the Commonwealth, and it gave them a patriality that was not obtained by a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who did not have that family connection with this country.

Of the 220,000 whites in Rhodesia, about 100,000 are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who are patrial either because they were born here or because they are the children of someone who was born here. However, there are 50,000 who are Commonwealth citizens, but only because they are citizens of Southern Rhodesia, and they do not have that family connection. Nevertheless, they can become patrial because they have a parent who was born in this country.

The 50,000 will lose their right to enter this country under clause 2 if the schedule remains unamended. The difficulty arises only because the Government have decided that from the day of independence Zimbabwe will not be a member of the Commonwealth until it applies to rejoin. I simply do not understand why it should do that. The Minister tried to explain it to me earlier, but I did not accept either of the reasons that he gave for taking that course. It would have been perfectly easy for Rhodesia to continue in the Commonwealth after independence until the new Government decided to leave if they wanted to. If that course had been followed there would have been no need for any of these nationality provisions. As the Bill stands, all those Commonwealth citizens who are patrial only by the family connection would lose their right to enter this country and to register as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies under the British Nationality Act.

Schedule 1 is concerned with the right to register, and is divided into three parts. Paragraph 1 allows an application that has already been entered before day 1 to be processed and dealt with as if the person were a Commonwealth citizen who still had the right to register. I have no quarrel with that paragraph.

The two subsequent paragraphs, however, are attempts to deal with the situation in which the person would lose his right to register if his rights as a Commonwealth citizen were withdrawn. They allow people who register after independence day but within 12 months to have their applications processed. In spelling out my objection to that, I may as well touch on the later amendment, on which my objection is the same. Those people who should never have been patrial anyway will be allowed to keep their patriality for a further12 months after independence in order that they can hedge their bets. They can decide to stay on in Rhodesia and keep their patriality and their opportunity to return to this country, or they can say that they do not like the colour of the Government who have been elected and, in spite of all their patriotic remarks in the past about defending Zimbabwe, will not defend it in the future but will return to Britain.

10.30 pm

My right hon. Friend thinks that most of them will not come back. I am not sure. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get into South Africa. It is becoming increasing difficult to get into other parts of the Commonwealth. I am not at all sure that they will find it easy to go elsewhere, whereas they have the right to come back here if they are patrial. About 50,000 are in that position.

It is therefore a serious issue for the House to consider whether we want that to apply at all. I accept the right of those who are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies to continue to have the right to enter where they are patrial. I do not understand, however, why it should apply to those who have the right through the cunning device of section 2(1)(d) of the 1971 Act, to which I was totally opposed. Hon. Members on the Government Benches only a week or so ago passed the most iniquitous immigration rules in order to stop 4,000 people coming into the country. They are now proposing blindly to pass this Bill, which will allow 50,000 to come in very quickly and take jobs as primary immigrants. This stinks of hypocrisy and should be stopped here and now.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I shall detain the Committee only briefly. As someone who took part in the Committee stage on the Pakistan Act, I should like to make some observations that could be relevant to our discussion.

The provisions of paragraph 2 of schedule 1 should enable citizens of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, if resident in this country, to register as citizens of the United Kingdom within 12 months. If that provision were not contained in the legislation someone in that category would lose his rights as a British subject. He would not be able to join the Armed Forces, serve in the police or vote in elections. For that reason, paragraph 2 is eminently sensible. But the nationality provisions in this legislation exemplify yet again the necessity of reforming our laws of nationality at the earliest possible date. It is not right that the rights and entitlement of people who are resident in Britain should be consequent on whether they are citizens of the Commonwealth or of Eire. In my judgment, they should be consequent on residence in Britain and secondly, on whether they have a close family connection with this country.

Mr. Maxton

I cannot profess to have the knowledge of previous speakers on the immigration laws and previous Acts. What some hon. Members on the Opposition side find astonishing is that the right to be a British citizen and the right to come back here is to be given to those who have been in open rebellion against this country for the past 14 years. They are people who, deliberately, in 1964, as an act of public defiance against the British Government, burnt their British passports, but who will now be allowed to take up again British citizenship and come back into this country. Those who have suffered repression for the past 14 years will not be allowed to come here. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) expressed concern over the dangers if large numbers of blacks from Rhodesia came here—

Mr. Merlyn Rees

No, I did not.

Mr. Maxton

I think that was my right hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Rees

I am happy to take many things. The chances of that happening are small. The second part of what I was arguing is that black students would benefit I raised no point about the matter.

Mr. Maxton

In that case, I withdraw what I said. A number of my hon. Friends see considerable dangers in the immigration of large numbers of white Rhodesians who have lived under a racialist regime, who think in those terms and will inject that sort of thinking into our political system. That may not concern Conservative Members, because they think that most of those Rhodesians will join the Conservative Party. My worry is that the membership and force of the National Front will be increased.

We should give our protection to those who have opposed the illegal regime, rather than give succour to those who have deliberately continued the illegality.

Mr. Luce

It is common ground between us that the citizenship laws are utterly confusing. They are a highly complex labyrinth and the sooner we can clarify and simplify them the better it will be for us all. The Government intend to introduce a law to bring more sense into citizenship and nationality.

I am the first to admit that I have not even begun to master the complexities of the citizenship laws. I appreciate that this is a probing amendment, but I shall spell out the main reasons why it should not be pressed.

It is important to make clear that the Government are not making any new concessions on any new immigration commitment. The amendments would inflict hardship, for no apparent reason, on many individuals living in Rhodesia or this country. A transitional period to resolve the citizenship problems has been granted when other countries have left the Commonwealth.

There was a discussion on Second Reading on the question why the Government felt it necessary to write into the Bill a provision allowing for Rhodesia, on independence, not be to a member of the Commonwealth, but to be able to apply to become a member. I explained that we felt it wrong to pre-empt the decision of the new Government of Rhodesia, elected in free and fair elections under British authority, on whether they should be members of the Commonwealth. When a country applies to join the Commonwealth, approval has to be given by all other members of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth problem is the background to some of the problems that we are facing in citizenship laws. It is not right to pick on Rhodesians and treat them differently from the way in which Pakistan was treated when it left the Commonwealth.

All that the Government are proposing is that Rhodesians already in this count-try, who have an entitlement to registration as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, would have a further 12 months within which to apply for citizenship. Secondly, a narrow category of Rhodesians—those who were British subjects before 1 January 1949–with a United Kingdom-born ancestor in the male line and other close connections with the United Kingdom—I shall expand on "close connections" if the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) wishes—should have a further 12 months in which to apply for registration as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies if they intend to take up residence in this country. Even then, they do not have an entitlement to register. Discretion lies with the Home Secretary.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

As the Secretary of State has to exercise discretion, there are some who, by virtue of their activities in recent years, will be subject to that judgment and that alone.

Mr. Luce

With all his experience as Home Secretary in previous Governments, the right hon. Gentleman is far more familiar with the problem than I can ever hope to be.

The transitional registration provisions do not represent an immigration commitment, as so few people will be eligible to apply. At most there will be a few hundred.

Various figures have been given concerning citizens who live in Rhodesia who have a right of abode in the United Kingdom. There are 80,000 citizens in Rhodesia who are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who have a right of abode in the United Kingdom. There are 70,000 who are known as mono-Rhodesians, who have the right of abode in the United Kingdom on the ground of patriality.

We are providing a transitional period of one year to enable those concerned to realise the position that they face. That applies to the Commonwealth and the transition for Rhodesia. The Bill does not create any substantial new immigration commitment; it continues the nationality and immigration provisions for one year to minimise hardship to the individual.

The attitude of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) to whites in Rhodesia was totally and utterly vindictive. I am relieved that the rest of the Committee did not display that attitude. The background is not merely the transitional period but the decision that we have bad to take about the Commonwealth.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

The Minister's figure of 150,000 is the same as mine. Our subdivisions are different. Mine is 50,000 and his is 70,000. Is it correct that his 70.000 are what he called monopatrials, and that they are Commonwealth citizens and not citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies? If the Bill is enacted without the transitional provisions and Zimbabwe leaves the Commonwealth, those 70,000 will lose their patriality and their right to enter. The transitional provisions exist to allow the 70,000 to come in if they want to in the first year.

Mr. Luce

Exactly the same happened with Pakistan. The hon. Gentleman is right. At the moment the 70,000 are Commonwealth citizens. They have the right of abode in this country on the ground of patriality. If Rhodesia is not a member of the Commonwealth, that right is withdrawn. To avoid vindictiveness and to give those concerned a clear picture of their position, we have provided that there shall be one year of transition. If during that one year, as we all hope, Rhodesia becomes a member of the Commonwealth, the problem will no longer exist and they will continue to have their present rights. I hope that the Committee feels that I have endeavoured fully to explain the position.

Mr. Bidwell

The Minister has alluded to patriality being the lineage connected with the male parent. Why has he not gone the whole way, as with the Common Market set-up, and recognised the equality of the spouses in this instance?

Mr. Luce

I shall not be drawn into that area. I would rather return to the salient points of this amendment and the reasons why it would be wrong to press it. I hope that the Committee will agree with me.

10.45 pm
Mr. Wilkinson

Can my hon. Friend confirm that if a Zimbabwe national, resident in Britain, does not, within the 12-month period, elect for United Kingdom citizenship by registration, and if subsequently Zimbabwe applies to join the Commonwealth and is accepted, he will assume the rights of a British subject—rights that he did not previously enjoy—by virtue of events that will have occurred thousands of miles away?

Mr. Luce

I am taking a slight risk when I say that the answer is "Yes". If I am wrong, I will write to my hon. Friend. I hope that the Committee and the right hon. Gentleman will feel that it is not appropriate to press the amendment.

Mr. Merlyn Rees I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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