HC Deb 30 July 1980 vol 989 cc1516-31
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the law on nationality.

It has long been recognised that our nationality law is out of date. The previous Government published a Green Paper in 1977. We said in our election manifesto that we would introduce a new British Nationality Act. I have published today a White Paper that contains our proposals for legislation. A Bill will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time permits.

It is widely accepted that we need a new citzenship, confined to those who have close connections with the United Kingdom. We propose that this should be known as British citizenship.

The Green Paper proposed that all those citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies who did not become British citizens should become British overseas citizens. We have, however, been impressed with the argument that a separate citizenship should be established for the dependencies as a whole. We propose that this should be called citizenship of the British dependent territories. I emphasise that the establishment of this separate citizenship will not alter the United Kingdom's obligations and commitments to our overseas territories.

Those who are now citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies but do not qualify either for British citizenship or for citizenship of the British dependent territories will become British overseas citizens.

Children born in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man will normally acquire British citizenship by birth, but we think that in principle there is a good case for providing, with the safeguards contemplated in the White Paper, that a child of parents neither of whom is a British citizen and neither of whom is settled here should not acquire British citizenship solely by his birth in the United Kingdom.

A British citizen by birth, whether male or female, will transmit his or her citizenship to the first generation born abroad, and, normally, to the first generation only. But children born abroad to Crown servants who are British citizens will be citizens by birth, and there will be special provisions for children born abroad to certain other people who have close connections with business and other organisations based in the United Kingdom, or with some international bodies.

All adults, whether Commonwealth citizens or foreigners, who wish to obtain British citizenship will do so by naturalisation. The present automatic entitlement of wives to obtain our citizenship by registration will be ended. Instead, both husbands and wives will be able to apply for naturalisation on the same terms as. others, though after three years' residence instead of five.

The present entitlements to acquire citizenship by registration possessed by wives and by Commonwealth citizens who were settled here before 1 January 1973 will be preserved for an interim period of two years. After careful consideration we have decided not to introduce any restrictions on the holding of dual nationality by those people who come here and acquire British citizenship by naturalisation or registration.

Citizenship of the British dependent territories will be acquired under the same general pattern as that proposed for British citizenship. This citizenship will not give the right of entry to a dependency other than that with which a person is connected.

British overseas citizenship represents, in essence, the relationship with the United Kingdom held by people connected with countries that were once part of the British Empire, or whose ancestral connections with the United Kingdom or its present dependencies are not sufficiently close to qualify them for British citizenship or citizenship of the British dependent territories. Children born after the Act comes into force to parents who have become British overseas citizens will not themselves hold that citizenship.

I make it clear once again that we shall continue to recognise the special position, for immigration purposes, of certain United Kingdom passport holders, mainly from East Africa, and we shall maintain our undertaking to continue the special voucher scheme for them.

It will no longer be necessary to use the term "British subject" as the common status of all people connected with the Commonwealth. In the Bill, the only expression denoting the common status of all people connected with the Commonwealth will be "Commonwealth citizen"

All those who have citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies at the time when the Act comes into force will acquire one of the new citizenships. No one who is then a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies will be left without a citizenship. Generally speaking, those citizens who or whose parents or grandparents were born, adopted, naturalised or registered in the United Kingdom will become British citizens. Those citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies from overseas who have been here for five years and are settled will also become British citizens.

There is a small group of people, formerly stateless, and most of them children, who have become patrial by registration overseas and who we think ought to be given whichever citizenship their mothers acquire. Apart from these, every citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies who is patrial will become a British citizen, and no one who has the right of abode in this country will lose it. In the long term, only British citizens will have the right of abode. But individual people who are not citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies but now have the right of abode will retain it. The Bill will not adversely affect the position under the immigration law of anyone who is lawfully settled in the United Kingdom, whether or not he becomes a British citizen. Nor will it affect our commitment to admit the wives and dependent children of men lawfully settled here.

When the Act comes into force there will be some applications for citizenship still outstanding. The Bill will provide that an application for citizenship that has been properly made and is still under consideration at the time when changes in the law come into effect should be dealt with according to the law at the time when it was made, though if citizenship is granted it will, of course, be whichever of the new ones is appropriate.

Mr. Speaker, I commend our proposals to the House.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I have had the White Paper—quite properly—for only a short period. Although I have been concerned with and about the nationality legislation for over 10 years, I must admit to finding the White Paper a complicated matter. I hope, therefore, that before we reach the point of producing legislation a way will be found of discussing these issues—perhaps in Select Committee fashion, or something like it—so that when we discuss principles we shall not be bogged down with British citizens without citizenship, protected persons, and so on. There are principles to discuss and we ought to get the basic material cleared up.

Given the amount of material in the White Paper, I wish to raise only matters of general important principle. Do the Government intend to hold a meeting of members of the independent and equal Commonwealth countries to discuss the issues concerned? Do all the countries in the Commonwealth wish to continue with Commonwealth citizenship? Are they prepared to give us reciprocity with the steps that will be taken in the new legislation? When we in the Labour Government were discussing this sort of legislation I found some Commonwealth countries who kept their distance and seemed to regard it as a matter for us, whereas we are legislating on a Commonwealth basis.

I do not think that the EEC is mentioned in the White Paper, but are there any implications for citizenship in the law of the EEC that ought to be taken into account before we legislate? What is the position of citizens of Pakistan in this country, given the changes that have arisen from that country's leaving the Commonwealth? Does the White Paper confirm that there will be full legal rights of citizenship on British women? There are three factors here. There is the question of equal rights of transference of citizenship and of the equal entitlement of a spouse of either sex to nationality by registration. Is there to be equal treatment for foreign fiancés and spouses, with the same right of entry regardless of sex?

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of people being left without citizenship. However, he said in his statement: There is a small group of people, formerly stateless and most of them children, who have become patrial by registration overseas, and who we think ought to be given whichever citizenship their mothers acquire. Is that a qualification?

At a first look I cannot see the case for three citizenships rather than two. In our Green Paper the Labour Government suggested two. What prompted the Government to go to the third classification? We believe that the right hon. Gentleman is right to propose that British citizenship should descend only to the first generation of children born abroad. Will he, however, take into account the words that he used in his statement: we think in principle there is a good case for providing, with the safeguards contemplated in the White Paper, that a child of parents neither of whom is a British citizen and neither of whom is settled here"— on the face of it that is fine— should not acquire British citizenship solely by his birth in the United Kingdom. I am concerned a little about the way in which that is put.

The right hon. Gentleman did not refer to the Irish Republic in his statement, but it is dealt with in the White Paper. May I congratulate him on maintaining the status quo of section 2 of the 1948 Act?

Mr. Budgen


Mr. Rees

Because it is good sense.

Mr. Budgen

Why is it good sense?

Mr. Marlow

Why should they be treated differently from other foreigners?

Mr. Rees

If Conservative Members want to shout they should shout at the Home Secretary, not at me.

With regard to dual nationality—a subject on its own—while I feel strongly that acquisition of citizenship must be a positive act of identification with this country, I think that there is good sense in paragraph 89 of the Secretary of State's statement.

Mr. Whitelaw

The right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) asked many questions, to which I shall do my best to reply.

I agree that this is a highly complex and difficult subject, and that it is therefore right that the House should have an opportunity to discuss it. I fully respond to the right hon. Gentleman's idea that it might be discussed before the legislation, in some form of Select Committee or otherwise. That would be sensible, and with the permission of the Leader of the House—who seems to have left me—I consider that to be a reasonable proposition.

From the time of the Green Paper issued by the previous Labour Government, Commonwealth Governments have been aware of the general lines of our proposals. We do not plan to hold a meeting, but they are totally free to comment on the proposals. They all have different sorts of arrangements for us, and many different detailed plans.

I am given to understand that EEC law mainly concerns freedom of movement, not citizenship, and therefore there is no conflict with our proposals.

The position of Pakistan is the same as for other foreign countries now.

British women will have equal rights for the first time. They will be able to obtain nationality by naturalisation. The position regarding the immigration rules is separate from the Nationality Act, but I made clear at the time they were changed that if the Bill were passed we should consider the implications for British women.

On the question of people being left without citizenship, British overseas citizenship will provide certain protection, and I do not think that it should be undervalued. There will be British consular protection for British overseas citizens, and, at the same time, many of the people concerned will acquire the citizenship of the country in which they were born or of the country in which their mothers were born. That should meet the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, but it can be carefully considered.

We changed to three citizenships instead of two because it was the wish of some of the dependencies concerned. We felt, after discussion with them, that this was a reasonable change.

The proposal about certain citizens of Eire being British subjects is limited. It is confined to people who were British subjects before 1949. The proposal does not affect civic rights, or the right to vote. The right of citizens of Eire to vote was given in the Representation of the People Act 1949, and if there is to be any change that Act will have to be amended. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] That point can be argued, and my hon. Friends may wish to argue it. Since the right was given in the Representation of the People Act, if it is to be changed it would seem right to do so in that way.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support on the proposal for dual nationality. It is a sensible provision.

Mr. David Steel

Like the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), I have had only a cursory glance at the White Paper. Does the Secretary of State accept that there should not only be a debate in the House but that it would be an obvious candidate for a pre-legislation Select Committee? Some of the detailed provisions in the White Paper are extremely welcome, but does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that the White Paper as a whole does nothing to remove some of the repugnant, discriminatory features of the Immigration Act 1971? Whereas that Act divided our citizens into sheep and goats, this White Paper merely proposes to divide them into sheep and two lots of goats.

What will be the rights of entry for British protected persons? The White Paper is rather vague on that. What will be the future status of United Kingdom passport holders? Are the queues in other countries to continue indefinitely, or will this legislation assist people to gain their right of entry?

Mr. Whitelaw

Rights of entry are not affected by the White Paper, and the voucher system will continue. I should have thought that our citizenship proposal was a major step forward, and one that accorded with this country's position in the modern world. Our British citizenship, which gives full rights to British citizens, should be confined to those who belong to this country and who have a close relationship with it. We can also base all our future immigration control policies on the principle of our nationality and citizenship, which is a considerable advance in the modern world.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to allow 20 minutes for questions from Back-Bench Members in order to guard the business, and then I shall have to move on.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his proposal not to include the Irish and their civic rights in the Bill?

Mr. Whitelaw

This is a nationality Bill, and therefore it is not concerned with civic rights. Civic rights should be dealt with separately.

Mr. Faulds

How will the White Paper affect someone such as my sister—a genuine sister who was born on the mission field, as I was, and who married a South African, but is now a widow, and who may wish to remarry and return to this country? How would it affect four of her children, two of whom are girls, who were born in Southern Africa, who might wish to marry Commonwealth—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a very important question. If my sister were concerned, I should like the question answered.

Mr. Faulds

It should be an important question to Conservative Members who are always concerned about kith and kin.

How would the White Paper affect four of my sister's children, two of whom are girls, who might wish to marry Commonwealth or foreign citizens and return to Britain?

Mr. Whitelaw

It would be unwise of me to give a snap answer now, on which the hon. Gentleman's sister would subsequently rely as being entirely correct. I should prefer to look into the particular circumstances of the case if the hon. Gentleman will give me the details. I should then, of course, give a considered reply.

Mr. Edward Gardner

I welcome the White Paper as a valuable contribution to the debate on nationality, but will my right hon. Friend say when he expects parliamentary time to be given to permit the introduction of a new nationality Bill to replace our obsolete laws, so that our immigration rules can be firmly based upon our nationality laws? As this new legislation will be of profound importance, not only to this country but to other Commonwealth countries, including the territories of Hong Kong and Gibraltar, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will do everything possible to consult fully representatives of those Commonwealth countries before he introduces legislation?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, who has made a considerable study of this matter. Indeed, much that is now planned is based upon proposals in the document that he put forward.

With regard to parliamentary time, I understand that although the doctrine has been somewhat eroded in recent years, one is not entitled to anticipate the Queen's Speech. Being an old traditionalist, I propose to maintain that position and refuse to anticipate the Queen's Speech, so I will simply say "As soon as possible".

As my hon. and learned Friend knows, we have already had considerable discussions with the dependencies, out of which has come the proposal for citizenship of the British dependent terrorities. We shall wish to hear all the comments from all sides. That is the purpose of having the White Paper. In the final event, when we have had all the comments a decision about the citizenship of this country must be a matter for this Parliament. I think that every Commonwealth country would accept that that should be the case.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Will the Home Secretary give an undertaking that any Commonwealth citizens at present settled in this country will either become British citizens on day 1 or become eligible to be naturalised under the procedure outlined in the White Paper?

Secondly, among the many controversial issues of detail that arise, why has the Home Secretary included in the requirements for British citizenship those who have a right of abode by reason of a grandparent who was born in this country? Is not this a way of perpetuating the worst effects of patriality contained in the 1971 Act?

Mr. Whitelaw

First, with regard to those lawfully settled here, there is that undertaking.

Secondly, with regard to the grandparent position, the proposals cover the transitional period. It is, in my view, a sensible provision, but it is one of the details that can be argued.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is my right hon. Friend aware that our sense of national identity in this country is derived from a sense of common allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen? In those circumstances, are not the provisions in the White Paper regarding the continuation of the privilege for Irish citizens, dual citizenship, and transmission of British nationality by a mother living abroad to her children, things that will weaken the effect of that national identity? Should they not therefore be rejected?

Mr. Whitelaw

In the long term, the purpose of these proposals is to have a citizenship that is confined to those who basically belong to the United Kingdom. There are certain transitional arrangements to be made clear, but that is the fundamental purpose in the long run.

I have already answered the question about the Irish.

Mr. Bidwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman have in mind that during the course of the events that led to the giving of British citizenship or British passports to many East African people of Asian origin, a pledge was given by the Crown? Is it, therefore, necessary to carry on with the voucher scheme? Surely there cannot still be many people of that kind of origin who wish to come here. During the course of the discussion, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider that matter, and particularly have in mind that the Select Committee in the last Parliament specifically recommended that British passport holders overseas in this category should be admitted forthwith unless they wished to remain and obtain their livelihood in other States, in which case they should take out citizenship of those States. Does he agree that there is a special obligation towards these people and that there is no necessity to keep them away any longer?

Mr. Whitelaw

The commitment of the Government concerning the special voucher scheme to the passport holders was based on the 1968 Act, brought in by a Government that the hon. Gentleman supported. That was our commitment. We have stood by it because it was a commitment of a previous Government. We continue to stand by it. The special voucher scheme must remain for the purpose of immigration policy.

Mr. Wilkinson

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having traced a remarkably careful path through a political and legal minefield, and add that the document is a work of great skill and very careful drafting which will commend itself not least to members of the Asian community settled in this country?

Will my right hon. Friend accept from me that the White Paper follows very largely the proposals of the Anglo-Asian Conservative Society's document "Passport to Britain", and that with regard to dual nationality and the rights of Commonwealth citizens settled in Britain the White Paper is slightly more generous than "Passport to Britain"?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, particularly for what he said about dual nationality. I shall pass on his kind remarks to the very skilled people who drafted the White Paper. The House will be fully aware that I was not one of them.

Mr. Jim Marshall

May I press the Home Secretary a little further concerning paragraphs 41 to 44 of the White Paper? He will remember that he failed to answer my right hon. Friend's question in this regard. Will he give a categorical assurance that those children covered by paragraph 44, born here prior to the legislation coming into effect, will not lose their British citizenship?

Mr. Whitelaw

Children born here prior to the legislation will be all right. That is the undertaking that I give.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Another statute is involved, and there is a unique relationship with the Irish Republic—to use the expression in a recent communiqué—but are the Government contemplating that they should seek reciprocity in voting rights and the right to stand for Parliament?

Mr. Whitelaw

That is something that can be considered. It refers especially to the relationship that was enshrined in the original Acts between this country and the Republic of Ireland, and is somewhat different from nationality all over the world.

Mr. Tilley

In view of the confusion arising over the ending of the status of British subject, will the Home Secretary give a categorical assurance that Commonwealth citizens residing in this country who are not yet British citizens will, like Irish citizens, not lose any of their civic rights, including their right to vote, as a result of the White Paper?

Mr. Whitelaw

As I said in the original statement, I give an absolute assurance that the Bill will not affect the position under the immigration law of anyone lawfully settled here, whether or not he becomes a British citizen. I am glad to re-emphasise that. That also goes for civic rights.

Mr. Budgen

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many people in all parts of the country will be concerned because he has no proposals to end the anomaly of dual nationality? Will he not, on reflection, agree that the cohesion of our country depends upon the rights and obligations of British citizens being restricted to those who owe their principal allegiance to the British Crown and constitution?

Mr. Whitelaw

My hon. Friend should appreciate that some of the pressures for dual nationality come from all parts of the Commonwealth—the old Commonwealth as well as the New Commonwealth. Many people in all parts of the Commonwealth would be very upset if it were taken away. I hope that my hon. Friend will take that into account.

Miss Joan Lestor

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall correspondence that I have had with him and a discussion in this House with regard to the status of girls born abroad who have been adopted by families in this country, and whether they would be regarded as having the same rights as any other British girls to bring in a foreign husband? He may recall that his reply was that it would depend on the circumstances of the adoption.

Since this has caused a great deal of concern among many people in this country who have adopted such girls, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether his White Paper gives them that equal status? I find it rather confusing.

Mr. Whitelaw

Subject to correction, I think that I am right in saying that those who are adopted in this country would have the full rights. May I check that and inform the hon. Lady if I am wrong?

Mr. Kershaw

My right hon. Friend said that he would have no objection to dual citizenship for those who came here and acquired British citizenship by naturalisation or registration. How does that leave people who acquire dual citizenship by foreign process of law, who are otherwise British citizens but have dual citizenship wished upon them by the place where they were born?

Mr. Whitelaw

I understand that on that basis they can have dual citizenship, the same as the others.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Does the Home Secretary agree that the proposals in the White Paper affecting young people-particularly paragraphs 44 and 78 to 82—are capable of creating great hardship to people who have spent most of their lives here and may suddenly be banished to countries in which they would be virtual strangers—for example, on the death of their parents? Does he further agree that the hardship under the existing regulations—I have in mind the case of Suto Miah, of which the right hon. Gentleman may be aware—should be alleviated rather than intensified? Will he assure the House that such discretion as he has under the regulations and will have under the new legislation is and always will be exercised with humanity and discretion?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman fairly raises various immigration control points. As for children born here neither of whose parents are settled in or have a close connection with this country, it is fair to point out that we are referring, for example, to foreign students who may be here for a very short time. If that is the case, ours is a reasonable proposition.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House will be gratified to know that he does not propose to introduce a Bill in this Session? Under the title "Citizenship of the British Dependent Territories", will he explain how many citizens are involved and whether they will be able to come and live here?

Mr. Whitelaw

I understand that there are several million. I could read out the dependencies to my hon. Friend, but I do not think that either you, Mr. Speaker, or the House would wish me to do that. It is in appendix C of the White Paper. They have not got the right to come here.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

As the purpose of any legislation is to make sense out of the confusing state of the nationality law, what is the purpose of the third category of citizen? British overseas citizenship seems to confer no right of abode and a passport that is almost meaningless, and seems not to simplify the present law but to make it more confusing.

Mr. Whitelaw

The first point of simplification is the main purpose of full British citizenship. A British citizen is a person who belongs to this country and has full rights here. That is a new and sensible position, on which we can base our policies in future.

British overseas citizenship is in the main a transitional provision, as the hon. and learned Gentleman will see, because it is not transmitted.

Mr. Hal Miller

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there will be a wide welcome by dependent territories for the introduction of the third category? Will he assure the House that there will be an opportunity for further consultation, particularly about the name chosen?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall stick to what I have said. There has been considerable discussion already. We are ready to receive comments. We could not say that we would go into a further long period of consultation, because we are coming to the point at which we must put legislation before the House.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Home Secretary aware that there will be a wide welcome for his assurances that the rights of people resident here will be fully safeguarded whether they be of Commonwealth or of Irish origin? Could he say a little more about the position of the third category—British overseas citizenship? What would be the position of such people under international law if for some reason they were to be deprived of their right of abode in the countries in which they are now residing? What would this country's obligations be in that respect?

Mr. Whitelaw

I understand that we are bound by the convention on the reduction of statelessness. We would consider any case against that background.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Reverting to my right hon. Friend's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman), he said that it was not appropriate to deal with the position of Irish citizens in this country because this was not concerned with civic rights. Will he specify which parts of these proposals have nothing to do with civic rights?

Mr. Whitelaw

The proposals for nationality do not impinge on voting rights. That was the point that I was trying to make to my hon. Friend. They do not impinge on voting rights because voting rights arise from the Representation of the People Act. That is the position. I think that they are genuinely separate.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne


Mr. Whitelaw

My hon. Friend says "Nonsense". Voting rights are normally based on the Representation of the People Act.

Mr. Garel-Jones

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), I should like to press the Home Secretary a little further on civic rights and duties. Paragraph 14 of appendix A says that civic privileges do not stem directly from the law of nationality". Does not the right to vote stem in part from one's position as a British citizen? If we are not to discuss the matter on this White Paper, will my right hon. Friend indicate when we might discuss the two serious anomalies, first, of British subjects resident abroad who are disfranchised and, secondly, of foreigners in this country who register as voters and vote?

Mr. Whitelaw

They are two different propositions. On the Irish position, I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) on 20 November 1979: the Government has no proposals to change the unique position of Irish citizens living in this country who, although not British subjects, enjoy the privilege of voting in our elections."—[Official Report, 20 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 90.]