HC Deb 29 April 1981 vol 3 cc794-838

13. In this Order— allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day or is set down for consideration on that day; the Bill" means the British Nationality Bill; Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee" means a Resolution of the business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee; Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.

We hope that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has recovered from his unfortunate, unhappy experience on Monday night.

As the House knows, the use of an allocation of time motion to expedite the progress of a Bill is rightly regarded as an extremely serious matter. That is especially so when the Bill concerned affects the status and rights of as many people as does the British Nationality Bill. Such a Bill clearly demands that a lot of time be made available for detailed discussion.

The Government have provided that time and propose to make a substantial further allocation. Obviously it had been our hope and reasonable expectation that the time allocated would prove sufficient for the full and proper debate of all the issues raised in the Bill without recourse to a timetable motion. However, it has become clear—unfortunately—that progress in considering the Bill is inadequate to ensure its passage on to the statute book this Session. It is, therefore, with great reluctance that I ask the House to agree to the motion.

At the outset of the debate I wish to make two things plain. First, had it been possible to secure the passage of the Bill without recourse to such a motion, the Government would infinitely have preferred it. Secondly, I make no criticism of the conduct and handling of the Bill by the Opposition. That is a matter for them.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

The Leader of the House said that he regretted the fact that it had not been possible to debate the issues in the time allocated. What was the time allocated? We asked that question many times but were never given any idea of what the Government had in mind in order to get the Bill out of Committee.

Mr. Pym

I intend to give the facts to the House. Many approaches and conversations have taken place. The problem and the issue is essentially one of time. In the Government's view, the point has been reached when the remaining available time—which is very considerable—must be organised and allocated so that the passage of the Bill can be completed with all the issues debated.

The basic facts are as follows. The Standing Committee considering the Bill began its work on 10 February. After six morning sittings, amounting to 15 hours, the Committee had still not completed its consideration of clause 1. It therefore increased the number of sittings by moving to additional afternoon sittings of the normal two and a half hours duration. Consideration of clause 1 was not completed until halfway through the ninth sitting. The Committee took more than 21 hours to deal with that clause.

On 31 March the Committee had reached its twenty-third sitting but had got only as far as clause 6. Consequently, it extended its sittings and began to meet after 7 pm in addition to the other sittings. But even so, and even with its deliberations on two occasions having lasted until well into the morning, progress remained unduly slow if the Bill was to be reported to the House in time for the remaining stages. One would expect the Committee to have completed its discussions on more clauses after its 90 hours of work up to 16 April. By then it had had 32 sittings, during which it had considered 13 clauses and two new clauses. There were still 36 clauses and nine schedules remaining, not to mention several new clauses—in other words, three or more times work than had already been completed.

Apart from the time spent on clause 1, three other clauses took more than 10 hours each, and four more required between six and eight and a half hours each. It may be argued that that is reasonable, and I am not directly quarrelling with it, but the House understands very well that Bills have to advance through the House at a pace that will enable them to be enacted at the end of a Session. I would not wish to minimise in any way the importance of any or all of the issues involved. I accept that some clauses have been accepted without lengthy debate. Nevertheless, it seems plain that progress altogether is not sufficient to ensure the passage of the Bill. The average rate of progress has been about five lines per hour. If the same rate were continued the Bill would not emerge from Committee in time to become law this Session. At that rate of progress the Committee would need to sit well into the autumn, if not into next year.

I think that we all agree that the Bill is very important and introduces significant changes. However, the issues of principle that it raises are capable of being argued fully and carefully with greater brevity than has so far been the case. I know that it is usual for debates in Committee to re-traverse ground that has been covered already. I am aware that that happens quite often. However, it seems probable that the Committee would have been able to reach conclusions on a number of amendments at an earlier stage.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I shall not comment on whether it is for the Leader of the House or the House of Commons itself to decide whether matters should be dispatched more speedily than they have been. However, even if it is the Government's view that some of the major issues could have been dispatched with greater speed, why is it that they were unable to move closure motions in Committee? The reasonableness of the speed of the debate may be measured by the fact that throughout all the hours of debate in Committee only three closure motions were moved.

Mr. Pym

The right hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that this is an issue for the House to decide. I have read the Hansard reports of the proceedings in Committee in order to form a view. I confess that I can form that view only by being outside the Committee. Therefore, it is for the House to come to a conclusion. I am putting the case as the Government see it. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to complete what I wish to say.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)


Mr. Pym

I wish to make more progress. It would be helpful to the House if I could make further progress.

I note that there were strong protests—I make no objection about this—from the Opposition whenever it was suggested that the Committee should sit for longer hours, and that was despite the comparatively slow progress that was being made. In seeking to oppose the sittings motion that was designed to extend the time available to the House, the Opposition must have appreciated—they were quite entitled to do this—that they were making the introduction of an allocation of a timetable motion much more likely.

On 3 March it took an hour and three-quarters to decide whether the Committee should sit in the afternoons. I think that originally the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) thought that he might be in favour of those sittings, but in the event he and his right hon. and hon. Friends decided to vote against the motion. However, the motion was carried. I understand the reluctance of the Opposition to accept it. It is obviously desirable to avoid Committee sittings in the afternoon when they overlap important debates in the House. However, they have had to take place before.

It must have been clear to the Opposition that morning sittings only would give the Bill no prospect of completion in sufficient time. In the end the Government had no choice, and we have no choice now but to bring forward this motion. I acknowledge that the Opposition are fully entitled to conduct their proceedings as they decide. They have made clear their opposition to the Bill in principle. I understand that they have undertaken to repeal the Act, if the Bill is enacted, if they are ever returned to office. They have made it plain that they are unwilling to cooperate in the Bill's progress. For example, although part II follows much the same pattern as part I, the Opposition have tabled for part II precisely the same amendments as they tabled at the equivalent stage in part I. They are entitled to do that, but the time taken could be just as long.

The motion that we have tabled will facilitate the process of consideration without depriving the Committee or the House of adequate time for debate. The House will be aware that the Committee passed a sittings motion last night to sit on Wednesday mornings and evenings, in addition to Tuesdays and Thursdays. I understand that there was a view among the Opposition that they were against the extension, but there was no vote against the motion and it was carried.

The Government are as anxious as anyone that the later clauses should be properly and thoroughly considered. I assure the House that the timetable that we have put before it allows for that. In our view the motion provides the best way of organising the remaining time so that the fullest and best use can be made of it.

I emphasise that the Government have done their utmost at all stages to try to expedite progress and to answer the many points that have been raised. I know that my hon. Friends the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), have been assiduous in explaining the Bill's provisions.

I stress, above all, that the fact that we have found it necessary to table the motion does not mean that we are in any way trying to ride over the anxieties and fears that have been aroused. Those anxieties have been most clearly felt among members of the ethnic communities who are settled here. Those fears are not well founded, and the Government have shown on many occasions that they are misplaced. The Government are committed to harmonious race relations, and I must make it plain that the decision to introduce the motion does not affect that position.

The Government have responded constructively to the apprehensions that have been expressed since the Bill's introduction. We have accepted a number of important amendments and we have tabled others in a constructive response to allay the concerns that have been expressed. The motion does not represent a means of evading or ignoring proper discussion of the Bill. The motion has relevance only to the Bill's progress through the House, and it is not an attempt to stifle discussion.

All Governments must have due regard to the progress of their legislation. the Government are committed to the passage of this important Bill. It cannot be allowed to founder because of the lack of speed with which it is currently being debated in Committee. The time so far spent has not yielded enough progress, so we must allocate more time and use it to best advantage. The time allowed in the motion gives the Committee until 14 May to report. There are then three days allowed for Report and Third Reading. A substantial allocation of time for Report is necessary in my view, because many hon. Members who are not members of the Committee will wish to express views on the issues raised. I think that the House will accept that what is here proposed is generous by our standards and practice. In the circumstances of the Bill I believe that is entirely appropriate. It is in that spirit that I ask the House to approve the motion.

3.58 pm
Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

The Leader of the House and I have seen many timetable motions in our time. I hope that he will forgive me for saying that I thought that he was singularly unhappy in moving this one. He was not at all sure of himself, and he has been sure of himself in the past.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Silkin

No, the right hon. Gentleman was not happy when he moved it. That was extremely clear. I do not altogether blame him for that. Nothing he said will have altered the mind of the Opposition that we must totally and utterly oppose the motion.

During Question Time yesterday the Prime Minister talked about the Conservative Government only just equalling the number of guillotine motions that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition introduced in one day when he was Leader of the House in the Labour Government, as though there is a ration of guillotines that we are permitted to have and that we must not exceed it. That is the constitutional procedural equivalent of the totting-up provisions in road traffic offences. Of course, the Prime Minister does not know very much about the running of the House, and she never did know much about it.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

My right hon. Friend knows how to run the country.

Mr. Silkin

However, the right hon. Lady has a competent Leader of the House and she could have asked him for his opinion. Had she gone to the Leader of the House, I think that he would have said "We are not discussing whether in principle it is a good idea to allocate time to Bills. We are discussing a particular timetable motion in particular circumstances in relation to a particular Bill. This afternoon we can forget about previous guillotine motions and the arguments surrounding them". I am sure that that is what he would have said, because that is what he said in, respect of the Scotland Bill 1977. That would have been right because one has to consider every timetable motion according to the circumstances of the particular Bill.

The Leader of the House clearly defined the gap between the two sides.

Sir Frederick Burden (Gillingham)

In his opening remarks, the right hon. Member made it clear that the Opposition would oppose the Bill in every way possible. They have stated that they will repeal it. Therefore, it is clear that, had the guillotine motion not been introduced, there would have been no possibility of the Bill going through during this Session of Parliament.

Mr. Silkin

The hon. Gentleman obviously was not listening closely to what I said. I was talking about the timetable motion, and I said that we would oppose it. We are not now talking about the principles of the Bill.

The Leader of the House talked about the gap between us. There is a gap between the two sides on the matter. The Prime Minister said that the Bill is purely to define citizenship, although she said something different when she was in India. Then she said that it was a Bill to prevent the country from being swamped or overrun by immigrants. The Opposition. say that, whatever the motives of the Home Secretary, the Bill discriminates on the grounds of race and colour. There is a great divide between the two views.

The Government have taken the view that the major points of the Opposition's case should be rejected. They have rejected the view that no child should be born stateless as a result of the Bill, and that the naturalisation process should be transformed into an objective test with the right of appeal. They have rejected the view that the registration rights now enjoyed by Commonwealth citizens and foreign wives should be exercisable throughout their lifetime, and that sex equality should be achieved by giving men the same citizenship rights as women and not, as the Bill proposes, by taking rights from women.

Whoever is right or wrong on whether the Bill is purely about citizenship or whether it discriminates, consideration of such a Bill must be conducted in the open and with maximum publicity. For that reason, the Opposition warned the Government that that must be done in one of two ways. The usual way is that which was employed by the Leader of the House when he was Patronage Secretary and the European Communities Bill was dealt with. That was the way used when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was Leader of the House and the devolution Bills were dealt with on the Floor of the House to ensure the maximum publicity, discussion and openness.

Another way was open to the right hon. Gentleman. It was not as good, but it was possible to use it if he insisted on discussing the Bill in Committee. It was to use the new Bill procedure. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I put that possibility to him and to his predecessor. At the time, he said that one can use the new procedure only for Bills that are not opposed. He is wrong, because later today we will be dealing with the Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Bill, which is subject to the new procedure and on which the House will divide. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's argument does not ride. At the time, we warned the Government that the British Nationality Bill was of vital interest to everyone in this country and that therefore, it had to have maximum publicity.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that Governments must listen to Oppositions from time to time, particularly on matters about which Oppositions feel deeply. The smooth running of the House depends on the willingness of Governments to concede from time to time, as well as to enforce their will, particularly when procedure and discussion are at risk. Unfortunately, in this case, the Government did neither.

I am not alone in saying this. The Times has said it, although it supports most of the contents of the Bill. The Bill is long, complex and far-reaching in its effects. Even the Government's friends have their doubts. Only two days ago there was a long and interesting article in The Daily Telegraph which gave voice to those doubts. The Churches have also expressed their doubts about the Bill, whether or not they are friendly with the Government. Therefore, not only the Opposition have had doubts.

Among those who have had doubts is the Home Secretary. He has had considerable doubts because he has had to make a number of concessions. He has made the concession that those who are British by naturalisation or registration may transmit their citizenship to children born abroad. He has also made a number of other concessions which are perhaps not as important as that but they are important all the same. Therefore, the Bill has changed its form.

When The Times, which is largely in favour of the Bill, and others who are in favour or are willing to keep an open mind believe that it is wrong to impose the guillotine, the Government should listen.

The right hon. Gentleman says that much more of the Bill is to be discussed. A great deal more is to be discussed. However, his answer to that is to say that a timetable motion shall be introduced because the Opposition will want to discuss important matters with as much scrutiny as the earlier part of the Bill was discussed. That is true. The right hon. Gentleman says that without the motion we shall not be able to pass the Bill during this Session. There is a simple answer to that, particularly as the right hon. Gentleman conceded at the beginning that, while much time may have been taken on certain aspects of the Bill, there has been no filibustering. Members on the Government Benches always think that there is filibustering, although the managers do not.

Amendments are drafted for the Government by their civil servants, but Oppositions have to draft their amendments as they go along. Often one has to keep an amendment going in order to have time to put down another amendment. I am told by my right hon. and hon. Friends that that has not happened on the Bill so far.

Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)


Mr. Silkin

I shall not give way, as I am coming to the end of my speech.

Mr. Mates


Mr. Silkin

I shall not give way.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is clear that the right hon. Gentleman is not giving way.

Mr. Silkin

I was about to offer a simple remedy to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Mates

The right hon. Gentleman is courteous; I thank him for giving way. He made an astonishing assertion that there was no filibustering in Committee. Perhaps he will quickly consult his hon. Friends and ask them how they could spend several hours discussing citizenship of a territory which has no citizens. That is one small example.

Mr. Silkin

I shall save the House some time by sending the hon. Member a copy of The Times leader of 29 April. The Times believes that the general contents of the Bill are right, although it has some reservations. However, it says that it is wrong to have a timetable motion, because there has been no filibustering. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, he would have realised that the right hon. Gentleman was not saying that there had been filibustering, only that the Bill would take up a great deal of time and that without the motion it would not be passed in this Session.

What is the urgency for the Bill? Why does it have to be pushed through? Is there really a vital time issue? Of course there is not. The Bill could be introduced in the next Session. As the Home Secretary said, it could be introduced in such a way that it could be reported to the House and be given a Third Reading in plenty of time. There is no reason why it should not be deferred for the Session. That has been suggested.

A letter in The Daily Telegraph today suggests that the Bill might be deferred until the next Session while some of the arguments expressed in The Daily Telegraph and some of the possible consequences that the Home Office might not have realised that the Bill entails are investigated.

It is possible to make amends. The Home Secretary has said from the beginning that he does not like timetabling constitutional Bills. It was wrong to take the Bill upstairs, hidden away, without its appearing on the Floor of the House or being subject to the new procedure. We should have been allowed to get to grips with the important issues in the Bill.

On that basis, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to take the Bill away and withdraw the timetable motion. He should bring the Bill back next Session. Let us then consider it on the Floor of the House or under the new procedure.

4.12 pm
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

This is an unhappy day for both sides of the House. It is more unhappy than is usual when an allocation of time motion is debated. There are guillotines and guillotines. There are guillotines which almost everybody can foresee from the Second Reading of a Bill onwards, when the Opposition, as they are entitled to, take an attitude of total opposition and, making no bones about it, say that they intend to use the time weapon in order to destroy that legislation. In such cases it has been recognised for many years that if a Government are to govern they must seek the assistance of the House as a whole in providing a timetable for that legislation.

This legislation is not of that kind. It is true that at a certain stage in its progress the Opposition intimated that they were so gravely in disagreement with it that they would look to substantial repeal, if and when they had the opportunity. Yet I think that neither I—and I have attended most of the hours of sitting of the Committee—nor most other members of the Committee could perceive any difference in the manner in which amendments and principles were discussed previously and subsequently to that declaration. The nature of the opposition to the Bill was not of a political or partisan character, nor was it so determined that a guillotine was inevitable.

This belongs to that much smaller class of guillotines, the guillotines that nobody wanted and which in retrospect we shall regret. In particular this is a guillotine which comes after most of the major issues of principle in the Bill have been discussed in Committee and disposed of. I must protest against the mathematical calculations which the Leader of the House was advised to offer. For example, the right hon. Gentleman divided the number of clauses disposed of already into the total number of clauses in the Bill, whereas in the Bill, as in most Bills, a large number of clauses towards the end are either formal or such as to attract little or no amendment or debate.

Again, it is true—and the Leader of the House referred to it—that part II reproduces, though in a different context, much that has already been debated and disposed of in the provisions of part I. The Leader of the House was, however, unfair to cite the fact that the Opposition tabled corresponding amendments to the second part of the Bill to those which had been debated on the first part as indicating a deliberate intention to waste the time of the Committee and to protract proceedings. Indeed, they had no choice—unless they were to be ridiculous—but to table the same amendments to part II; for otherwise they would have been told that they did not mean what they said when part I was debated. Yet it is clear that the Committee is disposed to treat the amendments to part II not precisely as consequential, in the technical sense of the term, but as dealing with matters largely debated and disposed of already.

Five out of six of the really major issues of citizenship in the Bill have now been fully debated, and the Committee has left them behind—

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Timothy Raison)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Powell

I see a head being shaken on the Government Front Bench. One could argue a little about the exact fraction, but certainly the great majority of the major issues of principle, issues which it would have been disgraceful not to debate in Committee at full length, already lie behind the Committee. This guillotine is being introduced, therefore, after most of the more difficult parts of the Bill have been dealt with.

The guillotine is a confession of failure, a confession that the House, on both sides, has wished to deal with a Bill of major constitutional importance without artificial restraints upon the way in which it is debated—especially as it was taken upstairs and not, like the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, kept on the Floor of the House, and has found itself frustrated in that desire. The Bill, then, falls into the category of guillotines—like that imposed at a very late stage on the European Assembly Elections Bill in the previous Parliament—which are confessions of failure.

So let us examine why the House, in Committee and on the Floor, has failed in achieving its undoubted intention of dealing with this constitutional measure with full responsibility and without artificial limitation of time.

I do not believe that the fault lies with procedure. Some commentators out of doors have suggested that we should be using a different type of Committee for the consideration of the Bill. To me it is preposterous to suggest that we would have made better progress—and I deny that we have made bad progress—if we had been able to have a number of additional sittings in which outside witnesses could have been interrogated.

Indeed, I would go further. The illumination which the Committee stage of a Bill such as this is intended to produce is obtained primarily by debate. It is obtained primarily by a confrontation in political debate, because this is essentially a political Bill. We are not in much doubt or dispute about the legalities or the facts. The numerical and legal facts that we lacked were provided as we went along by the Government and are not in question. The debate is about political intentions, about the political principles of citizenship.

Whatever may be the other uses of the experimental new procedure—of which I personally have little hope— I cannot believe that it would have contributed to the acceleration or the improvement of our procedure on this Bill. To complain of the procedure and say that we should change the rules is like those who have been spectators or participants in an unhappy match wanting the rules of the game itself to be changed. What we ought to do, and what it would be more useful for us to do, is to examine what went wrong with this particular game. I would like briefly to try to do that.

The blame must primarily, although not exclusively, rest with the Government. The Government knew what they were about when they embarked upon this legislation. They had in mind the stop lines or dates at which certain stages were to be accomplished if the Bill was to reach the statute book by October. Nevertheless, the Second Reading did not take place until 28 January. One must put it on record that for a Government to come to the House at the end of April for an allocation of time motion on a. Bill like this—the most important Bill of the Session—when the Bill only received its Second Reading at the end of January is a confession of faulty tactics. For I challenge disagreement with the statement that this is indeed the most important Bill of the Session. In fact, it is arguably the most important Bill of several Sessions, dealing as it does with the definition of our citizenship itself.

In retrospect, had the Government allowed the extra month or six weeks which it was fully within their power to allow in planning their business for this Session, I cannot believe—and I think everyone who has been on the Committee on both sides would agree—that in that case we would have seen an allocation of time motion. Most of us who have lived through the sittings of the Committee as the Bill has gone on have had in our minds an estimate of probability that the proceedings in Committee would be completed somewhere around Whitsun at the rate at which we were proceeding with the major issues. So we are reaping now the fruits of a misjudgment in the planning of the Session and the placing of this outstandingly important Bill.

Mr. Mates

How can the right hon. Gentleman, having sat, as I have, through all these sittings, concede, as I believe he has conceded, that the Opposition, in the way that they were deliberately delaying our proceedings and wasting our time would ever have let the Bill come out of Committee, whether or not it had gone in six weeks earlier? Is it not the case that they have made plain their total opposition to the Bill and their desire and eagerness to use every single ruse at their parliamentary disposal to prevent the Bill from ever reaching even the end of the Committee stage?

Mr. Powell

If that was the Opposition's intention, I must say they are far more incompetent than I take them for. If that is using "every single ruse" in the parliamentary rule book for holding up a Bill, the Government are going to have an easy ride in this Parliament.

I have certain other criticisms to make, to which I will come in a moment; but let it be put on the record at the outset that it was the Government themselves who, on their own timetable and intentions, chose to deprive themselves of six weeks of debating time in Committee. That fact ought to influence the mind of the House when it is considering this motion.

There were other, but minor, tactical errors, and I will mention only one. The Leader of the House referred to the point of time at which the sittings of the Committee were extended. There was misjudgment there. It would have been wise to wait substantially longer before extension into the afternoon and evening, which would undoubtedly eventually be necessary, was introduced. There is a Parkinson's law, whether we like it or not, which applies to an Opposition who are in no way obstructive. If hon. Members know that they have all the evening in front of them, it is human nature to use all the evening. That has nothing whatsoever to do with deliberate obstruction. The House and the Committees of the House know perfectly well that they debate best when they are under some degree of pressure of time and when the end of the sitting is visible as the debate proceeds.

In my view, that pressure was removed far too early. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the number of sittings which it had then taken to dispose of clause 1. But he did not refer to the fact that at least three of the absolutely outstanding principles of the Bill are in clause 1, and had been disposed of in the debates on that clause. At that point of time it was particularly unwise to have attempted, not very successfully, by lengthening the daily sittings, to accelerate the proceedings of the Committee.

I come to a matter in which responsibility is shared by both sides of the House. Everyone knows that in this House we get our business through most successfully when there is some degree of understanding between the two sides. I refer to a sort of understanding which is perfectly compatible with bitter parliamentary hostility and antagonism but still is understanding for the purpose of making things work. Considering that both sides of the House—and neither of them would deny this—devoutly hoped that this Bill, of all Bills, could be passed without the guillotine, the fact that we have this motion today is a sign of the breakdown of that understanding which ought to have existed and which the House was entitled to expect.

At the first sitting of the Committee upstairs I expressed regret that the Home Secretary himself was not taking charge of the Bill in Committee. I am sure that the Minister, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), will accept that this is in no way in derogation of himself or his colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; but that the Home Secretary should not personally be in charge of every stage of a Bill of this importance is out of all normal convention and expectation. This is not only his Bill of the Session; this is his Bill of the Parliament. If the Home Secretary himself had been in charge of the Committee it would have been far easier to have obtained that understanding, in the sense that I have defined it, which was necessary if the House was going to achieve what it wanted to.

In order to have an understanding, however, there must be two parties to it, and I do not feel that the Committee had the advantage of full leadership in Committee from the Front Bench of the Opposition. I know a lot of jocular remarks are made when a right hon. or hon. Gentleman has occasion to absent himself from the proceedings of the Committee. But on a Bill of this importance the Committee would have been helped, and the necessary understanding would have been easier to obtain, if the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)—even if the Home Secretary was going to be absent—had found it possible to give to the Bill—which after all is just as important for him as it is for the Home Secretary—his undivided and continuous attention.

What happened in Committee was not that there was filibustering. Some speeches were longer than they needed to have been—if anyone wishes to say that that included some of mine, so be it—but certainly that was not through any intention to delay proceedings. What there has not been, on either side of the Committee, is that deliberate leadership which alone would have made it possible for a Bill of this importance, a Bill that ought to have been taken on the Floor of the House, to have emerged from Committee without the necessity for this allocation of time motion.

Mr. Marlow


Mr. Powell

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way. I want to conclude my remarks.

The House should reflect upon that and try to draw a lesson from it for the future; for though we shall have many allocation of time motions in future, I do not believe that we shall want to come to an allocation of time motion again on a Bill like this.

As a final and separate point, I do not consider that the proposed allocation of time for the remaining stages—three days on the Floor of the House for the Report and Third Reading—is adequate for the importance of the Bill. Many matters which have been dealt with in Committee will not be selected for a debate by yourself, Mr. Speaker, in accordance with your discretion; but it is right that the House as a whole should be able to debate, though more briefly, all the great principles of the Bill that the Committee has debated at greater length. I do not think that will be possible in three days up to midnight, and I consider that an additional blemish upon a motion which the House as a whole, if it passes it, will pass with regret and with a sense that it has failed in an attempt to which it had set its mind.

4.31 pm
Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)

It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), particularly when he is making a contribution about House of Commons matters. As is his custom, he has spoken to us with great logic and clarity. However, perhaps rarely for him, he has not gone quite as far into one of the subjects he mentioned as he might have done.

The right hon. Gentleman took both sides of the House to task for the lack of understanding between them about the progress that might have been made. When he said that they had failed to come to an agreement I wondered who he meant by "they". He could have been referring to the usual channels operating between the Government Front Bench and the official Opposition. He could have meant a deep difference of opinion in procedure which developed throughout the Committee proceedings between the official Opposition and the official opposition to the Opposition which has been coming from those below the Gangway, or the official opposition to the Opposition in the shape of the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), who left his party during the Committee proceedings.

One major reason why there has been so little progress is the complete absence of agreement from the Opposition as to what progress, if any, is to be made. I make a distinction between the reasonably responsible attitude which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has sometimes shown as to progress and the totally unreasonable attitude of the hon. Members for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) and Barking (Miss Richardson), who are determined that no progress shall be made at any time in any circumstances. Into that latter bracket must come, if only by virtue of the length of his contributions, the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon).

It is this total disarray in the Opposition, which is not unknown to us, which has caused the Government inevitably to bring forward this timetable motion. Having sat through almost all the proceedings, as have most of my hon. Friends, I can say with heartfelt feeling that it has come not a moment too soon.

It is beyond doubt that more progress could have been made if all the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Member for Down, South had been adhered to. If the Opposition intended to make sensible and responsible progress on the Bill, we could now be three-quarters of the way through it, and we could be approaching the state of affairs that the right hon. Member for Down, South suggested, whereby the Bill could have been out by Whitsun, which has to be a target date if the Bill is not to be frustrated from becoming law in this Session.

There is no reason why the Government on this Bill should be frustrated in their intention. It is an intention that the Government publicised well in advance and consulted about in avance. The Government have produced a Bill entirely in accordance with all the principles on which they were elected and in accordance with what they announced they would do.

There is no question that the Bill has been rushed through. There is no question that any part of it needs to go through neglected, except by the deliberate choice of the Opposition to filibuster and to delay our proceedings by every means they can.

I shall not go into all the examples; I shall just name one evening when we first decided to sit after dinner. In his usual robust way, the hon. Member for York said in my hearing to his chums "If they sit after dinner, I shall make damned sure they make no progress at all." The hon. Gentleman was as good as his word. He addressed us for an hour and 10 minutes. He was followed by the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley), who at one stage spoke for an hour and a quarter. For the first time I realised the literal meaning of being asleep on one's feet. At that stage all he was determined to do was to continue, not to make sensible argument or offer constructive suggestions. We adjourned that sitting shortly after two am. At the next sitting the hon. Gentleman was on his feet again from 10.30 until 11.10. The hon. Member for York followed him from 11.10 to 11.40. All this on an amendment about which they did not feel strongly enough to divide the Committee. If that is not the most blatant example of a waste of House of Commons time, I do not know what is.

No one argues about clause 1. It is, as the right hon. Member for Down, South said, at the heart of the whole debate and it is right that time was spent on it. That is why, in response to what the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) said, no closure was sought or wanted. If the Opposition's assertion that they would be a responsible Opposition over the Bill were true, there would be no need for any closures, but nor would we have dwelt on certain aspects at inordinate length.

For how long did we discuss British Antarctic territory citizenship, although there are no citizens? We discussed it for well over an hour. We went over the whole course—igloos, penguins. That was not in the interest of constructive debate. There was a constructive point to be made—

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

The fact that schedule 6 included two territories that had no inhabitants was of great importance for judging the intention and theory behind the structure of the schedule and behind part II of the Bill and the creation of citizenship of the British dependent territories. The argument was pertinent to the whole question that was at issue.

Mr. Mates

I was just at the point of acknowledging that when the right hon. Gentleman intervened. I will now repeat it. I said that there was some argument to be put; there was a point to be made, but not a point that need have taken more than an hour of the Committee's time while we talked about penguins and igloos and potential citizens, and even at one stage what the rights of women might be in this territory which had no citizens. That was sheer frivolity and time-wasting. Although it might have amused us in a boring sitting, there is no excuse for it. Furthermore, those members of the public who listen to our proceedings must have found it very strange that we were wasting so much of our parliamentary time over such trivial matters.

It is because the Opposition have failed to raise the level of their argument at any stage that we have had to grind on wasting time. I am talking here about the official Opposition. I might come later to what the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West said, which is quite different. He has a point of view that has nothing to do with the Opposition point of view. He has voted against the Opposition more times than have my hon. Friends.

The official Opposition have no substantive argument. They fall back on what I can only call the scare tactics that they have used since the Bill's inception—that it is racist, sexist and unjust, and that they will repeal it and produce another in its place. What they did between 1974 and 1979 does not bear repeating, because they did nothing about this problem. They were afraid to tackle it. They had no intention of legislating on it because they knew that they would never get such legislation through Parliament. So they left it. Now, with the irresponsibility of Opposition, they are bold and brave and say "This is scandalous and we shall repeal it."

I am sure many other hon. Members wish to speak, and I shall finish by asserting one or two of the facts about the Bill, as opposed to the myths, which is all we have had from the Opposition. If it were racist I should want nothing to do with it, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would not put his name to it and most of my hon. Friends would not be supporting it. It is not racist and it is not sexist. It is necessary and fair and it must be put on to the statute book. It must not be frustrated by the irresponsibility, time-wasting and frustrations of the Opposition who can only do that, given their divided approach to the Bill.

We have been criticised for having improved the Bill. I am proud that we have improved it and that it is a better Bill than it was when it went into Committee. All the improvements and suggestions have come from the Conservative Benches and they have been accepted by my hon. Friend the Minister of State in the spirit in which they were offered. If I were to give one bit of advice to the Opposition it would be that they should offer constructive improvements, because they will find that the Conservatives will be more than ready to listen to them. They should not continue to waste our time and frustrate the intentions of the Government, who have a mandate for what they are doing.

4.41 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

Many hon. Members have already expressed the view that this legislation will cause much anxiety in the immigrant community, and for that reason alone considerable time should be spent by the House in considering the serious implications of the Bill.

Many in the immigrant community have expressed to me and to other hon. Members the view that the legislation is being rushed through with indecent haste. Sixty million people who live in Britain will have their rights affected by the Bill, because their nationality will be defined into new categories and many millions will be affected by the new rules proposed for acquiring United Kingdom citizenship. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that this is probably the most important Bill to be debated during the lifetime of this Parliament. It is certainly the most important Bill in the present Session. Therefore, the Government are dishonest to pretend that this is not a constitutional measure.

From the beginning, we Liberals believed that it should have been treated as a constitutional measure and should have been handled by a Committee of the whole House. At least, it should have been sent to a Special Standing Committee or an ad hoc Select Committee, as urged by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party on Second Reading.

Instead, when the Government introduced the Bill they decided that they would push it through as quickly as they could. With six months of the Session already gone they stuffed it into a Standing Committee and they have been reduced to introducing what can only be described as a squalid guillotine manoeuvre, effectively denying proper discussion of the most far reaching reforms. I remind the House that the Liberal Party was denied the opportunity to speak in Committee.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) of the Social Democrat Party, which has, I understand, some sort of friendly relationship with the hon. Gentleman's party—perhaps I am wrong—said earlier this week that nearly all the main issues of substance have already been discussed? To tell the House that this is a squalid measure curtailing discussion, when the vast bulk of things of importance have already been discussed, is quite misleading.

Mr. Alton

I disagree with what the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) said. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has said outside the House, and will no doubt say so inside it later, that the Opposition believe that the issues involved in the Bill have not been adequately debated.

The Liberal Party was denied the opportunity of sitting on the Committee considering the Bill. We polled about 4½ million votes—8 per cent. of those affected by the Bill supported my party at the last election. However, we were denied the opportunity of putting our view in Committee so we are more concerned about not having our views heard during the later stages.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Will the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to tell the House on how many occasions a Liberal Member occupied a seat in the Public Gallery to observe the proceedings in Committee, and to consider them so that he could discuss them afterwards with his colleagues? During the 30 or so sittings of the Committee which I have attended I have not seen any Liberal Member present.

Mr. Alton

Hon. Members become members of a Committee to put a point of view. Members of the Liberal Party were denied the right to put that view. One can read the Committee debates in Hansard and it is pointless to sit in the Public Gallery to listen to other people when one is denied the chance of putting a point of view.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

The hon. Getleman will be aware that he is repeating a statement that we have heard many times before. On Second Reading he did not speak but the leader of his party spoke. Will he inform the House whether the leader of his party expressed an interest in sitting on the Committee?

Mr. Alton

I should have thought that the hon. Member would know that leaders of parties do not sit on Standing Committees. We expressed a desire to participate in the Committee. My right hon. Friend made it clear to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and to other hon. Members that the Liberal Party took it as a grave insult that we were not given the opportunity to have an hon. Member present in Committee. The Labour Party conspired in what I regard as an unholy alliance to bring about the selection of the right hon. Member for Down, South—who admittedly has a distinctive point of view to put, which most people know about. It seems odd that the right hon. Member was selected, thus preventing a Liberal Member from being selected.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

May we lay this myth? In making the selection of the Committee there was one place available for minor parties. It rested between the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and a Liberal Member. The name put forward by the Liberal Party was that of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), who told the Opposition Whip "I do not want to be on this Bill. Press for my inclusion as much as you can, but make sure that I don't get on."

Mr. Alton

I am surprised by that information from the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), because the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will be aware that the Liberal Chief Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), put my name forward for inclusion as a member of the Committee. Having gone to the trouble of reading Hansard, though not having been present at that meeting of the Committee, I see that the hon. Member for York said: On the question of trying to censor the right hon. Gentleman's views,"— that is, the right hon. Member for Down, South— I can only say that, as chairman of my party's home affairs committee, I was consulted about whether the right hon. Gentleman or some other hon. Member from the Liberal Party should be on the Committee. I gave it as my strong view that he ought to be on the Committee because he represents a distinct point of view which should be aired in the Committee."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 26 February 1981; c. 205.]

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Gentleman is reckless in his use of other hon. Member's names in his cause. With reluctance, I point out that the leader of his party had a conversation with me about the membership of the Committee, but that was after the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) had been nominated.

The leader of the Liberal Party agreed with me that the complication and difficulty arose because the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) was—I use the word with which the leader of the Liberal Party agreed—"equivocal" about his wish to sit on the Committee.

Mr. Alton

I am grateful to the right hon. member for Sparkbrook for that information. He will realise that it is for the Liberal Party to decide who to nominate to serve on a Committee and not for the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. My name was submitted. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) is a busy man and has many other functions to perform in the House. He was unable to provide the time necessary; time which I should happily have given to serve on the Committee. I can understand why the Labour Party was embarrassed because it voted for the right hon. Member for Down, South, despite his well-known views on the matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. It is not in order for the hon. Gentleman to disclose what goes on in a Committee unless that Committee has reported its findings to the House.

Mr. Alton

I turn to the—

Mr. Marlow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Alton

I must make progress. The House would not forgive me if I took more time on a fairly irrelevant matter.

It is far more important to discuss the consistency that my party has shown on race relations matters over many years. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook admitted recently that he was sorry that he had voted for the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968. It might not be a bad thing to remind the House that the Liberal Party's view has been distinctive for one reason more than any other—it has been a consistent point of view.

We opposed the shameful way in which the Labour Government rushed the pernicious and wicked 1968 Act through the House. The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) referred to an editorial in The Times of 20 April and I should like to quote from an editorial in Me Times on 2 March 1968 referring to the guillotine introduced to rush through the 1968 Act. The Times said The Labour Party now has a new ideology. It doesn't any longer profess to believe in the equality of man. It doesn't even believe in the equality of British citizens. It believes in the equality of white British citizens. The Labour Government used methods in 1968 which have been disowned by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, but he voted for that legislation and the Act was one of the worst things that that Labour Governrnem did.

The Liberal Party has been consistent. One can go back to the turn of the century, because in 1905 Asquith moved amendments to protect individual liberty against the Conservative Government's Aliens Bill—the first piece of pernicious legislation in this area.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Was it not a Liberal Government who introduce the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914, which was the beginning of the obnoxious system of immigration control to which the hon. Gentleman objects?

Mr. Alton

I dispute that that was the beginning of this sort of legislation, but going down that road would probably serve no useful purpose.

When talking about the shabby way in which the House and my party have been treated, I must emphasise the fears and anxieties of those within the immigrant community. I represent some, and others have written to me from all over the country to say that they regard the nationality law as a running sore and a reason why there will be greater problems in immigrant communities in future.

Rushing the legislation through by use of the guillotine will cause long-term harm. There is no urgent reason why the legislation should be carried in the current Session. It is clear from the Committee proceedings that much has been proposed in the Bill that is inherently unsound and the Government should have the good grace to learn from their mistakes and start again.

The Government should introduce redrafted legislation at the start of the next Session and discuss it on the Floor of the House, as befits constitutional matters, or at least send it to a Special Standing Committee that could hear evidence from witnesses and get itself fully briefed on the technicalities and complexities of this difficult subject. Instead, we are faced with a shameful manoeuvre, legislation which has not been properly discussed, a further loss of friends abroad and the likelihood of a string of court cases consequent on ill-digested legislation, leading to suffering and confusion.

I urge the Minister of State to consider some of the points that I have made, to think again about nationality law, and to consider the harmful and damaging effects that the Bill will have on good race relations.

4.54 pm
Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

I strongly agree with the attack of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on the principle of Select Committees for a Bill of this nature. In the previous Parliament he and I were on the same side in that argument, supported only by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot)—a combination which made me temporarily reconsider my position.

I wish to speak not about the nature and character of the Bill, but about the motion, because it concerns me. Like my hon. Friends and, I suspect, a number of other hon. Members, I strongly support the principle contained in the Bill. The 1948 Act was out of date within a year, when India became a republic. Since then, successive Governments have either tinkered with the subject or ignored it. Having seen its implications, its scale and problems, they have said, in effect, that they did not wish to handle something so fundamental, important, difficult and controversial.

When, in Opposition, some of my colleagues were dealing with the matter and trying to produce new proposals, their work was at least based on the idea that an understanding on the definition of British citizenship should be reached for the first time.

I approve of the Bill in principle, but I come back to the motion before us. My dislike of the principle of Select Committees is matched by an increasing dislike of the situation in which important Bills somehow disappear into Standing Committee and the rest of us occasionally hear echoes and rumours and perhaps see reports in the press about what is happening to the legislation.

I have told my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and others that four major items in the Bill cause me concern and that Back Benchers who are not on the Standing Committee should have the right to speak about and vote on them. Those issues are the right of appeal, the problems concerning the language and character tests, the cost of naturalisation and the complex and difficult issue of the category of British overseas citizens. I will not deal with those issues now, but I emphasise that they are the sort of issues that hon. Members who are not on the Committee must have the right to debate and vote on.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for the fact that we shall have 24 hours of debate on Report, but I ask the Government to consider carefully in the Business Committee the manner in which the time is arranged, so that key questions that do not go to the principle of the Bill but are central to its effectiveness and support—the Bill would have substantial support in the country if those key issues were agreed—can be properly debated.

I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to look at the question of selection. Many years ago I was an Officer of the House and the question of selection troubled me at that time, because the principle that when a matter has been discussed exhaustively in Committee it cannot be debated on the Floor of the House is a serious limitation on the rights and privileges of hon. Members. I know that selection is a matter for the Chair, but I take the opportunity to ask that the discretion of the Chair should be exercised in the recognition that the issues that I have identified are important subjects on which hon. Members who are not on the Standing Committee should have the right to speak and vote.

I support the motion, because I believe that the points made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) have merit in relation to the Committee proceedings and I am glad that we shall have on Report a reasonable time t debate important issues, provided that the selection of the Chair is reasonable to all hon. Members.

There is a certain dreariness about guillotine debates, a certain exchange of reminiscences about how many guillotines took place many years ago and how many were introduced by Mr. Asquith and about Lord Randolph's attack on the closure—"la cloture". I could go on in historical vein. This debate has been characterised by a real concern lest the House could be accused of not having sufficiently debated one of the most significant and important measures of this Parliament.

In supporting the motion, and in thanking my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, particularly for the time that is to be allowed for Report, I want to emphasise the general point that few things are more frustrating for a Back-Bench Member than to be unable to contribute to the proceedings on a Bill in Committee and then be denied the opportunity to contribute when the Bill returns to the Floor of the House. The Transport Bill, and the issue of seat belts, was a recent example of that dilemma. I commend the motion to the House.

5.01 pm
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

I was fortunate to be one of the Members who served on the Standing Committee on the British Nationality Bill. The description of the proceedings given earlier by the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) was slightly alarming. He seemed to serve on a different Committee.

An interesting aspect of the debates in Committee was the diversity of views expressed by Members on both sides of the political divide. It was enriching and valuable that a sterile unanimity of opinion was not forced upon us.

Mr. Mates

indicated assent.

Mr. Dubs

The hon. Member for Petersfield nods in agreement, yet he criticised Labour Members for showing less than a total unanimity in their approach to the Bill.

Mr. Mates

I echo what the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) says. We had good and stimulating debates, in which sharp differences of opinion were properly and clearly expressed. Alas, those debates were interspersed with hour upon hour of useless tedium. That is why the motion is before the House.

Mr. Dubs

I cannot follow the hon. Gentleman. He mentioned two of my colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) and Barking (Miss Richardson), suggesting that their views were different and that they had wasted time. My criticism would be that my hon. Friends spoke too little, because their contributions were very brief. I am sorry that they did not have more opportunity to develop their arguments in Committee.

The diversity of opinion in Committee accounted for some of the time that was taken. It was not a matter of filibustering or of speeches that were devoid of content or argument. It was quite the reverse; we were dealing with issues that were important and absorbing, and which we felt deserved detailed scrutiny. If the motion is passed today, I fear that we shall be unable to do our duty in subjecting the remaining clauses to the detailed scrutiny that they require.

Our fault, if any, in Committee was that we did not subject the Bill to a sufficiently detailed scrutiny. I fear that some clauses that were passed may contain the seeds of future problems, which a more detailed analysis by the Standing Committee might have averted.

The Government appear to have approached the Bill in an ill-prepared manner. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that if the Government had wanted to avoid their present difficulty they would have had the Second Reading of the Bill well before the end of January. It was common gossip among Members around Christmas that the Bill would not be brought forward this Session because it had not been presented to the House by Christmas. Many of us were amazed that the Bill had not appeared and wondered whether the Government were having such drafting difficulties that they could not present the Bill this Session. When the Bill finally appeared, we were amazed that the Government were chancing their arm in that way, because the difficulties that we are now discussing were evident and common knowledge among hon. Members as long ago as January, when we had the Second Reading of the Bill.

It is therefore not surprising that the Government were criticised in Committee for not having consulted Commonwealth Governments and others properly since they could then have argued with more conviction than they were able to do in Committee. One can only attribute that to the Government's anxiety to get the Bill through, having introduced it late.

Mention has been made of the time that we spent on the clause and schedule dealing with two territories that have no resident population. However, it was the sheer absurdity of the issue that made us spend time arguing it. On that issue, as on several others, the Government clearly lost the argument but forced it through on a vote. I wish that some members of the Committee had voted in the way that they argued. Time and again, some Government Back Benchers—I exempt the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) from my criticism—tabled amendments, argued them forcefully, and then voted in the opposite direction. That is one reason why we took so long. Votes did not always follow the drift of the speeches.

Will the Government clarify something that has been bothering us? It has been the subject of rumour and speculation. Is it true that the Government are anxious to introduce a timetable motion today because they want the House to go into Summer Recess not only before the Royal wedding but at least a week before? That may not be true, but it may be one reason why the Government have shown so much haste.

There is much anxiety about the Bill in the country. Those of us who have Asians in our constituencies have had numerous meetings and discussions in an attempt to allay some of the fears felt by Asians and some of the misunderstandings that exist about this legislation. Nevertheless, many of the fears expressed are legitimate. There is a feeling that the Government are pushing through a measure which contains major racist elements. It is for that reason, if for no other, that I regret the Government's decision to shorten the debate on this important and critical measure.

5.9 pm

Mr. Raymond Whitney (Wycombe)

I agree with one comment of the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs), namely, that there is deep concern among ethnic communities. I shall return to that matter later in my brief intervention.

It was my impression that there was a wide measure of agreement within the community that a British Nationality Bill was needed, and that a Bill was needed much along the lines of the one that has been presented to the House by this Government. My appreciation of that need stems largely from the many years during which I had the privilege to serve overseas, recognising that Britain, almost alone of the major countries of the world, did riot have a citizenship of its own. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) said, the citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies was defunct within 12 months of its creation, and as the legislation accreted from Governments of both complexions, that citizenship steadily became more and more invalid. It simply did not work. Therefore, I had every hope that the Bill would have a smooth passage through the House.

Given the attitude of the Labour Party and the former Labour Government, there was some ground for expressing that hope. For example, as long ago as February 1974 the Labour Party manifesto promised to review the requirements of British citizenship. We well know the difficulties that the Labour Government encountered. They therefore turned away from the problems that they saw and failed to grasp the nettle. Instead, in 1977 they produced a Green Paper, which, even then, said: there must be a more meaningful citizenship for those who have close links with the United Kingdom … and who can be expected to identify themselves with British society. The Government's White Paper closely followed the lines of that Green Paper and, indeed, in a number of respects moved to take account of the anxieties which had been reflected among the immigrant communities. I mention as an example the treatment of dual nationality which took full and sympathetic account of the special concerns of people who have come here from the Indian Subcontinent. There therefore seemed to be further grounds to hope that on this deeply important measure there could be all-party agreement.

In expressing and cherishing that hope, however, one did so without recognition of the change in the Labour Party. Over the past two years, if any issue has been a litmus test of how the present Labour Party differs from all that went before, it is its performance on this measure. We all know the very delicate sensitivity of community and communal relations. The problem is not confined to Britain. Nor is it confined to any one colour. We know well the problems in the United States. In many parts of the Commonwealth, too, particularly in the Indian subcontinent, we know of the tremendous problems and indeed the loss of millions of lives caused by communal tensions.

Therefore, in our own multi-racial society, the question of citizenship inevitably involves very delicate treatment of sensibilities, sensitivities and community relationships, which should not be an area in which politics are played. Sadly, however, all too many members of the Labour Party and, perhaps, some of the other opposition parties too, have not taken that view.

Quite apart from the problems of the parliamentary timetable, which must be of great concern to the House, and which were so well expressed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I suggest that there is an extra-parliamentary dimension—a national dimension. That national dimension has been made more important and more sensitive by the activities of so many people representing the Labour Party interest. Not all of them are in the House, but many of them are and, I suspect, many actually served on the Committee. The longer those uncertainties are allowed to continue, the more damage will be done to community relations in this country.

I give as an example a handbill issued by an organisation calling itself the Council for Racial Equality, which operates from 679 Fulham Road. This says that the British Nationality Bill equals the pass law and the council advertises a meeting to stop this "new racist Nationality law" to be held, with the attendance of local Members of Parliament, at the Shepherd's Bush baptist church. I have no idea whether any local Members of Parliament from the Shepherd's Bush area attended that meeting, but all indications suggest that that is typical of the kind of problem with which we have to deal.

The many immigrants from a variety of countries in my constituency have been deeply disturbed by these uncertainties. It is inevitable that people should be concerned and worried about an issue of this kind, but the extent of the concern has been immensely exacerbated by members of the Opposition. For that very reason, a measured timetable must be applied to this legislation. To suggest that what is offered is unreasonable is itself without logic. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—I shall not hold him precisely to his arithmetic—suggested that we had accomplished about five-sixths of the major principles of the Bill. I think that that was his basic point. We are being offered about 45 more hours in Committee to complete the other one-sixth, not to mention 25 hours or so on Report. It seems to me entirely reasonable that that amount of time should be allotted and that the parliamentary process should then be completed.

I believe passionately that this long delay is damaging. If this measure is dragged out, let alone being allowed to die and then reintroduced next Session, it will exacerbate still further the already very serious harm that has been done to race relations in this country. That harm has not been done by the measure itself, because by no stretch of the imagination is it a sexist or a racist measure. It is an entirely fair and necessary Bill. We shall do great harm to community relations in this country if we allow those who have gone about laying the fuel which has already been ignited by the extremists more time to distribute more fuel which will lead to more conflagrations.

When this Parliament settles the Bill and it becomes an Act, the Government and all of us in this country who feel deeply about the importance of creating a harmonious Britain will have a great job to do in clearing up the mess caused by irresponsibility to which so many members of the Labour Party have contributed.

5.18 pm
Mr. Edwards Lyons (Bradford, West)

It is 33 years since we passed the last British Nationality Act and it may be as long or longer before we pass another. In that context, it is clear that we must get things right in the best way that we can. Time is essential for the consideration of so complicated a measure.

It is interesting that in Committee both Government and Opposition were fragmented from time to time. It has not been made clear that many amendments were put down not by Opposition Members but by Conservative Members such as the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). Speeches supporting those amendments were quite properly made by them and took a considerable time. There were switches in alliances on different issues. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), for example, was sometimes a general for the ranks of Tory dissidents, at other times a colonel in the Official Opposition. That in itself shows how complicated the Bill is.

Although there were occasions when the Opposition could have been briefer without sacrificing the points that they were making, it is also true that the Bill was brought to the House far too late. The Committee began to sit only on 10 February, and it should have been obvious that it would involve considerable pressure.

The Bill affects many millions of people, and many people fear its consequences. Sometimes they have a good reason to be fearful; in other cases it is perhaps because of a misunderstanding. None the less, there is widespread public anxiety about the Bill.

Members of the Committee are receiving and have received many representations about the Bill from diverse kinds of people. They have received representations from large numbers of British expatriates living abroad and from people in Hong Kong, whose Commissioner has sat through large parts of the proceedings on the Bill, and there has been at least one Gibraltarian politician of eminence sitting in the Public Gallery. Academics have written to hon. Members about it. We have had numerous letters from those concerned with the status and rights of ethnic minorities in this country. We have had letters from South America, from Belgium and from other places abroad. When we see that interest, we realise the wide scope of the Bill.

The groups affected by the Bill include not only East Africans Asians living in East Africa and India and holding United Kingdom passports but children born here of parents whose citizenship status is not clear. The grandchildren of British people living here who will be born abroad have a suspect or difficult status under the Bill. The future grandparents are already writing to express concern. Wives of United Kingdom citizens living here, who are entitled to register as British citizens, will have a time limit under the Bill within which they can register. Therefore, large groups of people are concerned about the Bill.

The Bill has not been thought through properly. It is idle for the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) to say that all the amendments to improve the Bill came from the Government. I shall give two examples to show how wrong he is. An amendment tabled by myself and the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) pointed out that under clause 3(2) (b) a British citizen mother had to be working on the day that she gave birth to a child before her child born abroad could be a British citizen. That was nonsense, and the point had been totally missed. The Government have now said that they will take back clause 3 and put it right. That did not come originally from the Government.

My other example is to the credit of Conservative Back Benchers as well as of Opposition Members. According to the Bill as it emerged from the Government, people in this country who would have a right to registration at the time the Bill became law were to be given two years' grace in which to continue to be able to register. There was opposition to that. The Official Opposition took the view that there should be no time limit for such people to apply for registration after the Bill became law—a view with which I agreed. I tabled an amendment to the effect that, if the official Opposition's amendment failed, there should be a period of eight years in which to apply. That was rejected. A further amendment, in the names of two Conservative Members and myself, to the effect that it should be five years instead of two years, succeeded after a long debate, when the Government changed their mind. In other words, combined pressure from Opposition and Government Back Benchers succeeded in persuading the Government to change their mind.

There we see the advantage of a thorough investigation of the issues, of a line-by-line scrutiny of a Bill in order to improve it. The Government have changed their minds as a result of amendments and proposals from each side of the Committee. That has to be borne in mind, because there is, happily, not too much discipline on either side in Committee.

The Government know that many people believe, rightly or wrongly, that the Bill is racialist. The Government know that they are getting a very bad press because of the Bill. It would have been much better for the Government, as well as for the quality and condition of the Bill, if a sensible arrangement could have been reached with the Opposition at an earlier stage so that, instead of having too much unnecessary talk, all important items in the Bill could have been discussed.

There are still some important matters to be dealt with. The Government have no intention whatever of allowing any right of appeal against any decision by the Secretary of State on any matter arising out of the Bill. It is still a provision in the Bill—it has not yet been debated—that there shall be no obligation on the Secretary of State to give any reason for any refusal of any application under the Bill. Those are serious matters and give rise to grave unease and concern. The Government should make it absolutely certain that matters of that kind receive adequate attention and considerable practical scrutiny. As a result of the failure of the two sides to reach a sensible arrangement about the time available, we shall run the risk that substantial parts of the remainder of the Bill will receive no consideration whatever.

We have seen the old parliamentary game. The Committee was obliged to sit until 2 am and until 4 am, not because it was necessary but because the Government needed to bring up their Chief Whip to go through the usual ritual to prove that there was not enough time to complete the Bill. We were kept up deliberately until 4 am in fulfilment of an old parliamentary ritual, because that is what has to be done before a guillotine motion is introduced. When we were kept up, for no apparent reason, until 4 am, it occurred to me that we were playing the old ping-pong game between the two sides, and that ammunition was being gathered for the purpose of founding a guillotine motion. So it has proved.

The people abroad, the British people living in this country who are affected by the Bill, and the people yet unborn who are affected by it, are entitled to expect the House of Commons to behave in a mature and adult way in considering a Bill as important and crucial as this one. They are entitled to be disappointed that no agreement has been reached to ensure the maximum scrutiny of every important item in the Bill.

It now appears that large parts of the Bill may receive no scrutiny whatever. I do not consider three days on Report to be adequate. It has become clearer and clearer in Committee—to the civil servants, to the Ministers and to the rest of us—that the Bill contains many hidden pitfalls and complications. It is essential, therefore, that the remaining parts of it should receive proper and detailed scrutiny.

The Government have done a great disservice to race relations. However innocent the Government may consider the Bill to be, they know that many people will think—and will be encouraged to think—that the reason why the discussion is being truncated is that the Government want to get rid of a Bill that is causing them so much embarrassment and to have it removed as quickly as possible from public scrutiny.

Mr. Mates

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lyons

The hon. Member for Petersfield asks me to give way and I am happy to do so, but when I listened to his speech this afternoon I was surprised at his apparent intimate knowledge of what went on in the Committee. My recollection of him is one of a large bulky form which dashed in to vote in Divisions. I did not see much of him during our deliberations. What he said about the hon. Lady, the Member for Barking was nonsense. No one has been more careful in her contributions to the Bill.

Mr. Mates

The hon. and learned Gentleman will understand that, like him, I am involved in another Committee. That accounts for the absence of both of us on occasion. How many more hours do we need to discuss the Bill?

Mr. Lyons

The hon. Gentleman has not said that I sought to prolong proceedings. Indeed, although my contributions were fairly frequent I sought to keep them to a reasonable length. I do not know how long discussion of the Bill will take. Even at this stage the Opposition Government should get together to ensure full discussion of all the major provisions that remain. Perhaps things would not be too bad if that were to happen. If we deal with the Bill chronologically, the crucial clauses at the end may not be discussed. Those clauses include not only important schedules, but provision for the denial of appeal as well as other provisions which may have serious implications.

Mr. Mates

The hon. and learned Gentleman and I are in substantial agreement. However, it is not for the Government and the Opposition to reach an agreement, but for the Opposition and those Opposition Members who sit below the Gangway to come to an agreement. That is the problem. If the final clauses are not to be left undiscussed, the further 60 hours of Committee proceedings could be sensibly allocated. As a result of the motion, that will be the amount of time left.

Mr. Lyons

We shall have to see. If the Government had thought that 60 hours was an adequate time, they would not have introduced a guillotine motion. The Leader of the House did not allege that there had been filibustering by the Opposition, but the Government obviously believe that 60 hours is not adequate. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that 60 hours is sufficient, he will vote against the motion. That is the logic of his position. This motion will lead the public to believe that something improper is going on. They will believe that the House has let them down by not giving full and adequate consideration to the remainder of one of the most important Bills of the decade.

5.32 pm
Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I do not share in all the strictures that have been levelled against the Opposition from this side of the House. This is a fiendishly complex Bill. We have probably never had to deal with such a difficult Bill within the normal confines of a parliamentary Session. The Bill contains intricate points, many of which involve technical and legal matters. Nevertheless, those points have political connotations. Therefore, it was impossible to allow further discussions without introducing some form of discipline.

The Bill is complex. The immigration Acts sought to remedy some of the huge defects that arose because the Nationality Act 1948 had been almost strangled at birth. That Act remains our only expression of national identity. It was the only law to state who we were. Successive Governments failed to grasp the nettle and failed to see that a new nationality Bill was needed as a result of the dissolution of the Empire and the creation of the Commonwealth. Consequently, immigration problems became so urgent that the defects in our nationality law had to be dealt with by immigration Acts. I am not one of those who say that immigration has no significance as regards the nationality Bill.

I have given a little thought to this subject over the years and I believe that we piled up more and more problems for ourselves. For example, the concept of the right of abode in 1971 represented a brave attempt by the Conservative Government to narrow the definition of nationality down to the United Kingdom. That has caused tremendous problems for those framing the Bill and has led to problems in discussion and understanding. Independence Acts were passed in various colonies. Each provided for citizenship of that colony after independence had been gained, but paid inadequate regard to the problems of those who did not want, or could not gain, citizenship of that colony.

Groups such as the so-called United Kingdom passport holders—the East African Asians—were created. On the whole, they were left out of independence Acts. At least one of our former colonies—Malawi—has a citizenship Act that is blatantly racial. A person may not hold citizenship of Malawi unless one of his parents is of African origin. Thus, many of those who lived as British subjects in Malawi when it was part of the British Empire were excluded from citizenship.

What should we do about such problems? We bear some responsibility for them. As the years passed, greater problems arose which must now be unravelled. Although it is a "nationality" Bill, it does not contain a definition of a British national. It is taken for granted that British nationals are all those to whom the word "British" is to be applied. That involves millions of people around the world and not only those who have the privilege of living in Britain. International law, particularly that which governs responsibility towards refugees, may be involved. Millions of people may be dispossessed or driven out of their territories and may claim that as British nationals they are entitled to admission into the United Kingdom. That is another outstanding problem that the Bill does not deal with.

The Bill is a brave attempt to deal with a difficult problem. It was impossible to put off a solution any longer. However, let us not pretend that the Bill is a complex solution and that there will not be many problems in future. Within the compass of a parliamentary Session we shall probably not get the Bill right, given the limited resources available to political parties. It is doubtful whether we have considered adequately all the ramifications of the Bill, even if we had continued our discussions, without some form of guillotine.

I do not blame the Opposition for the way in which they behaved in Committee. They behaved as Opposition Members usually behave and are pledged to repeal the Bill. We should approach the guillotine motion with mixed feelings. The Bill is a difficult piece of legislation that needs great understanding. It will not be comprehensively understood by most of us. However, it cannot be said that there has not been an improvement, both in our understanding of the Bill and in its text, as a result of our discussions in Committee.

As the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) said, opinions on various aspects of the Bill have cut across party lines, and the result must be improvements to the Bill. It has been, in general, a healthy forum, conducted in good spirits.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that we have probably covered about five-sixths of the basic principles. Nevertheless, we are only on clause 14 or 15 of a 50-clause bill. About three-quarters of the text remains to be considered. The remaining opportunities for discussion and probing are vast, and no one can blame the Opposition for wishing to take advantage of them.

Some Opposition Members spoke in Committee for much longer than necessary. The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) has been indefatigable in speaking on so many points of the Bill with relevance, which is a great art. I admire hon. Members who, at the drop of a hat, can talk for hours about nothing yet remain within the rules of order, although I do not include the hon. Gentleman in that. He has spoken a great deal in Committee, but he keeps to the point. Indeed, our Chairmen have not had to devote too much effort to calling speakers to order.

The guillotine motion is an unfortunate necessity. No one can be blamed for it. It is part of our system, because we insist on completing legislation within one Session. The motion was inevitable in a Bill of such complexity and such vast application. The Government could not risk losing such a vital Bill.

Let me give an example to illustrate the difficulty. The Bill will be unjust to some Britons born abroad. Two classes of Briton are born abroad. The first is those immigrants who are now living in the country and are Britons by naturalisation or registration. Under the Bill, their children born abroad will be British citizens. The second class is Britons by descent, whose children born abroad will not be British. That great injustice, which contradicts all our history, must be remedied. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has said that he recognised that there is a legitimate grievance here, to which he has promised to pay attention before Report.

I presented a petition to the House a couple of weeks ago from the British community of Venezuela, comprising about 85 people. They and their children were all born abroad, although they, as it were, are ethnic Britons. Their children will not be British in future, which is wrong. Those born abroad before the Bill takes effect should have the right of passing their citizenship to their children, as has been understood to be the case since time immemorial. I intend to continue to prod the Government on that, but it is only one problem to be resolved before the Bill becomes law.

The Bill is vital and urgent, and we must pass it through the House.

5.45 pm
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

In his impressive speech the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) mentioned five points about the Bill that concerned him greatly. Three remain to be debated in Committee, so it cannot be argued that we do not have serious matters left to discuss. However, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said, a great many of the major principles have been discussed, which is one reason why we have taken so long.

The speech of the hon. Member for Cambridge is in marked contrast with that of the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), although the latter was at least pleasing in showing that he could speak. He cannot be accused of filibustering, as we have hardly heard from him in Committee. We heard from him today with a vengeance. He totally misrepresented the way that the Committee had approached its task, and showed that he had not been listening to the debates.

The hon. Member had one legitimate complaint. Some of us believe that to sit after dinner and into the middle of the night on a Bill of such complexity and importance is an impertinence to the subject and a gross abuse of our trust for those whose future will be decided by it. It is absurd to take late at night serious decisions that may prejudice the status of some people. Little progress was made late at night, but the hon. Gentleman's strictures are not relevant to the morning and afternoon debates, when we had proper discussions. On the first occasion that we decided to sit after dinner, the Minister conceded that, although we had spent six to 10 sittings on clause 1, there had been no filibustering. Some speeches had been lengthy, including those of the right hon. Member for Down, South and myself, but it was an important clause that merited serious discussion.

We should have continued in that way had the sittings been at reasonable times, and the Government would have got the Bill out of Committee by Whitsun. They have achieved nothing by sitting into the middle of the night. The guillotine is giving them only one week's grace, in their timetable. Had the Bill been out of Committee by Whitsun, it could have been to the other place and back here by October.

It is absurd to impose a guillotine on a Bill the history of which is complicated by the past errors of successive Governments. Since 1948, every Government have made errors of judgment on the subject. Had we, like the remainder of the Commonwealth in 1948, taken our own citizenship, we should not have had the problems of 1962, 1968, 1971 and today.

We are having serious trouble with the Bill—not in defining who are our citizens—although some of the decisions taken by the Government have not helped that—but in deciding what will happen to those who will not be able to become British citizens but yet are our citizens because they hold current citizenship of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. That difficult) would not have arisen had we done the sensible thing in 1948.

I had hoped that those who would discuss the Bill would do so on the basis of how we could best remedy the defects introduced by past Governments, principally those introduced in 1948. I hoped that we would start by saving that we would scrub everything clean, begin again and approach the matter from a sensible viewpoint.

The Government began markedly badly by introducing a Bill that was, inevitably, branded as racist because one of their decisions had no relevance to the preceding discussion of the Green Paper or to any preceding discussion in the last Parliament—namely, the provision stating that those naturalised in Britain would not be able to pass their citizenship to children born abroad. That meant that there would be two brands of British citizenship. Because of that conflict we tried to get rid of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies. The Government tried to reinterpret that as British citizenship. Therefore, the Bill began badly.

The Government amended the clause so that the stigma of racialism was removed from the Bill. They made an important concession about the jus soli, but they did not remedy the major grievance that some people could be citizens by birth but others could not. It is not so much the category who will not be citizens by birth that is important, but rather the conflict and the uncertainty created in the minds of those settled here and who have children here. They feel that their children may not have the British citizenship that they had anticipated. That dubiety will cause trouble in future. It may leave a legacy of distrust about the Bill. I hope that even at this stage the Government will think again.

Apart from those two major concessions—both made before we even began to discuss the Bill—and despite all the hours spent discussing the issues, the Government did not make any concession, other than to extend the period for automatic registration from two years to five years. They made that concession only because two Conservative Members were proposing to vote against their Government. The Minister also agreed that he would reconsider the arguments about the sort of people who could achieve citizenship by descent under clause 3, and would report back before Report stage.

During all the time spent discussing the Bill the Government made no other concessions. That was the pertinent point in the remarks of the right hon. Member for Down, South. Oppositions have no weapon other than time if a Government are arrogant enough to say that they know best and will not concede in any way to the arguments put forward. Serious arguments and criticisms were put forward but met with no response from the Minister because he consistently took the view that he knew best. His reply to a debate was to say that if only people would think about it, they would recognise that his view was correct.

People have thought about the issues. Many have thought a great deal more about them than has the Minister. They reached the conclusion that there are many areas of grievance in the Bill that could easily be remedied if only the Minister would accept that he was not always right. That attitude caused the lengthy after-dinner speeches and the resistance from the Opposition. No attempt was made to fulfil the promises that he made regularly. His words are repeated as he moves his lips, but they have no reflection in his mind. He was not prepared seriously to consider the weaknesses in the Bill.

There are weaknesses in the Bill, and not only with regard to the jus soli provision. There is the question of naturalisation and the test for naturalisation, and the matter of individual colonial citizenship. Most important, there is the question that has always bedevilled any consideration of a new British citizenship, namely, the overseas British citizen. We have not begun our discussion of that part of the Bill. Apparently, there will be no concessions made there, either. Because of that, the Opposition resisted the Bill as best they could within the rules.

If the Minister had been more considerate and more willing to consider the serious views put forward against certain aspects of the Bill, we would have been only too willing to co-operate. If we have now reached the stage where the Government feel that they must put a guillotine on a measure of such importance—a constitutional Bill about the future status of our citizens—we have done so only because of the obstinacy and obduracy of the Minister.

5.56 pm
Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) will not expect me to follow him in his remarks. I fear that he has inadvertently put the strongest argument yet for the timetable motion.

The Bill is necessary. I take off my hat to the Government for introducing it. The Home Secretary and the Minister have done an admirable job of both drafting and re-drafting in the light of comments from within and without the House. That reflects their good judgment and the positive contributions made by my hon. Friends in Committee.

I have a qualm about the motion. I do not like timetable motions, because they are too often the resort of those who want to push through what they believe in, against the wishes of those who do not want it pushed through. The specific problem with this motion, compared with others proposed by both this and other Governments, is that, to a great degree, the others have been reactive. They have reacted to obstructive activities in Committee, either upstairs or on the Floor of the House. They have reacted to time wasting and to politically destructive actions by whichever party was in Opposition.

Judged on what has been said both before and during the debate, I believe that this motion is to a large degree anticipatory of difficulties that may occur. Although the Government are right to anticipate difficulties because of the threats made by the Opposition even before the debate began, I nevertheless have more than normal qualms about the timetable for the Bill.

There have been different assessments of the amount of time still required and of the work still to be done. Some say that part I is the major part of the Bill and is now out of the way. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) thought that five-sixths of the Bill had been debated. The Government suggest that 60 hours are required. That sounds a great deal of time, and time will tell whether it is sufficient. I hope that that will be the case. I should prefer the Government to allow time to tell whether that is sufficient for the Bill to go through the due process of debate both upstairs in Committee and on the Floor of the House.

In this debate we must each make our personal assessment. We must strike a balance between supporting the Government in putting through their legislative programme, which they were mandated to do by the thorough-going majority that the Conservative Party obtained at the general election, and showing concern for the means that are used to achieve that end. At the same time, we must also be concerned about the parliamentary means of obtaining the end result. The means are crucial in our role as representatives of our constituents and in expressing our individual and accumulated personal judgment, whatever that may be. Therefore, we should be allowed the maximum time for debate.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)


Mr. Rathbone

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not give way. I am under pressure of time. I know that my right hon. Friend wishes to begin his reply very shortly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington expressed mixed feelings about the motion. I believe that those feelings are shared by many hon. Members. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reassure me on the ground of striking a balance between getting the Government's legislation enacted and having a proper parliamentary debate. By reassuring me that that balance has been achieved he may reassure others, which may lead to converts on the Opposition Benches.

6.2 pm

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

I shall not follow directly the path outlined by the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone). I shall take up briefly one or two of the arguments advanced by the hon. Members for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) and Wycombe (Mr. Whitney). Like my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), I was bemused by the comments of the hon. Member for Petersfield. He did not appear in Committee often and when he was there he did not make many positive and telling contributions. His accusation that the Opposition—whether the official Opposition or not—were filibustering is not true and he knows it. The Leader of the House may wish to know that often it was only the presence of the official Opposition that provided a quorum.

Mr. Mates

Never. Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Marshall

No. I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I repeat that on a number of occasions members of the official Opposition provided a quorum while Conservative Members appeared in other Committee rooms along the Corridor.

Mr. Mates


Mr. Marshall

I hope that the hon. Member will sit down. The hon. Member for Wycombe referred to Opposition Members advancing certain points of view. I am sure that Ministers will appreciate that it is the role of Opposition Members sometimes to advance points of view with which perhaps they do not wholly agree. On occasions we have to act as spokesmen for outside pressure groups. For the hon. Gentleman of all people to condemn Opposition Members for taking that stance when he, together with the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), has been a principal spokesman for the largest pressure group of all—namely, the Government of Hong Kong—is the height of hypocrisy. I wish that the hon. Member for Wycombe were in the Chamber to hear me charge him with hypocrisy.

Mr. Stanbrook

We shall tell him.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. An hon. Member cannot be hypocritical personally. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the assertion.

Mr. Marshall

I shall withdraw the remark if the hon. Gentleman cannot be hypocritical. I suggest that on occasions he has come close to being so in Committee. However, I withdraw the charge.

This is a major constitutional issue. It is the most important one that this Parliament is likely to face. I regret that the Government ignored the many pleas to debate the Bill in Committee on the Floor of the House. I am driven to the conclusion that one of the reasons why they wished the Bill to be considered in Standing Committee was that they thought that that would hide it from the public's gaze.

We are told after a few weeks in Committee that we shall have to have a guillotine motion even though the Leader of the House accepts that there has been no filibustering. We have sought in Committee to discuss the principles contained in the Bill and the fine detail.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell


Mr. Marshall

No. I have refused to give way to the hon. Member for Petersfield so I cannot give way to my hon. Friend.

The Government have been driven to table amendments to the Bill as a result of the Opposition's probing. However, they have not been prepared to lose face by accepting that the Opposition were responsible for highlighting the faults, even though we were. Once the faults were highlighted they amended the Bill. They were prepared to give the credit to Conservative Members. I can assure the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garet-Jones) that the more edgy he becomes while in his place the less likely he is to participate in the debate.

I echo the words of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—namely, that the Government are up against a problem of their own making. They accepted that the Bill would be the principal feature of their legislation this year, but they left its Second Reading until the end of January. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's argument that we should have had Second Reading very soon after the Queen's Speech in 1980.

The Government's problems are made worse by their desire to get away from the House of Commons early for the Summer Recess. I do not know whether they wish to go on holiday early or to attend the Royal Wedding, but, there is no doubt that their desire to be away from this place is making their difficulties worse.

Contrary to what has been said, the guillotine will fall at a time opportune to the Government. We are about to consider in Committee the racist core of the Bill—-British dependent territories citizenship and British overseas citizenship. When the guillotine falls it will enable the Government to curtail discussion.

Despite what Conservative Members have said, the proposed legislation would codify the 1962, 1968 and 1971 Immigration Acts. Perhaps the Government will take comfort from the fact that they are no longer likely to experience embarrassment in their dealings with foreign Governments and colonial Governments. However, they will further damage Britain's already tarnished reputation. The Government must have been overwhelmed by the barrage of criticism that the Bill has attracted from minority groups, from various denominations and from both foreign and colonial Governments.

After searching questions in Committee, we are infuriated by the Minister of State suggesting in many of his replies that there has been a lack of adequate consultation and discussion with foreign and colonial Governments. He said as late as Tuesday of this week that it is his hope—a pious hope—that no citizen of British dependent territories will actually be stateless. However, he cannot say categorically that that will not happen. He cannot say that every citizen of the British dependent territories will have the right of abode in a particular dependency.

I charge the Government with taking a high-handed and cavalier attitude to foreign Governments, especially to the Government of India. The Bill states that if a British overseas citizen is living in India and he and his wife have a child, the child will be an Indian citizen if it is born in India. The Indians have no say. The British Government are saying that if the British overseas citizen has a child in the United Kingdom, they are not prepared to extend the same courtesy to that child because they say that that child cannot become a British citizen.

The Minister of State shakes his head. I am talking, not about the British overseas citizen who is legally settled, but about a British overseas citizen who is living in this country, for whatever reason. The Minister of State has said that such a child would be a British overseas citizen. Therefore, they are treating British overseas citizens differently according to whether they live in India or in the United Kingdom.

The Bill is despicable. Rather than discussing the guillotine motion, the Minister should do the honourable thing and bring forward a motion to withdraw the Bill from further discussion in this Session and in this Parliament.

6.11 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I thank the Leader of the House for his good wishes at the beginning of the debate. Almost in the same spirit, I believe that one thing—and one thing only—is to be said in favour of the motion: that it provides the Home Secretary with an opportunity to tell us clearly and unequivocally the purpose of the Bill which he intends to guillotine.

It may be regarded as strange that the Opposition should ask for a statement of a Bill's purpose some weeks after its Second Reading, but the intentions of the Bill influence our judgment about the propriety of its being timetabled. Our views about the intention of the Bill have been confused by events during the last few days.

On Second Reading—the last time the Home Secretary uttered on the subject—the right hon. Gentleman offered us the high explanation of what the Bill was intended to do. He called the Bill the comprehensive and logical overhaul of our citizenship legislation that has so long been required".—[Official Report, 28 January 1981; Vol. 997, c. 941.] Allegations that it was nothing of the sort, that we were debating an immigration control Bill dressed up to look like a nationality Bill, were refuted by the Home Secretary and angrily refuted by the Minister of State.

I wonder whether the Home Secretary still offers the same denial of the interpretation of the Bill, which the Government seek to guillotine, which I put on its intentions when we debated it on 28 January, because on 17 April, in Delhi, the Prime Minister offered India, and through India, the world, a different explanation of the Bill which the Home Secretary now wishes to timetable. According to The Times of 18 April, she said that the British Nationality Bill was introduced because "immigrants are pouring in" in numbers which had to be restricted. She went on to say: As a small country we cannot go on taking more and more people. I fear that that does not respond to the high-minded advice of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) that we should all be cautious about the language we use when discussing race relations.

Will the Home Secretary tell us whether he endorses the Prime Minister's description of why the Bill is necessary? In particular, does he endorse the Prime Minister's statement that immigrants are pouring into this country? With the special responsibilities that he holds, the Home Secretary has a duty to tell the House and the country whether immigrants are pouring in and whether what the Prime Minister regards as "pouring in" is the principal and chief justification for the Bill and the need to put it on the statute book in record time.

I hope that the Home Secretary will answer another question which directly affects the conduct and performance of the Prime Minister. For several weeks, it has been generally known that the Government intended to guillotine the Bill. The idea was floated in some newspapers five weeks ago. More than a fortnight ago, The Times, publishing one of those articles which has all the marks of being taken down at dictation speed from a public relations officer, described the agonies through which the Home Office was going in anticipation of the guillotine. The final decision to guillotine the Bill was announced on Monday, and that decision is being debated within 48 hours of that announcement.

Nothing has happened since the previous Business Statement made by the Leader of the House. When he made that statement, the Committee was meeting for only half a day, rather than a full day on the Opposition's suggestion. There have been no changes, no filibustering or suggestions that the Opposition were wasting time. All that has happened to justify a 48-hour announcement and the truncation and compression of the guillotine is that the Prime Minister has returned home from the Indian subcontinent. Clearly it was the Government's intention to guillotine the Bill some weeks ago, but they improperly withheld that announcement until the Prime Minister had returned to Britain and her face had been saved.

As a result, not only must we debate the guillotine within 48 hours of the announcement, but the final 37 clauses and seven schedules are to be debated in just over two weeks—in seven sitting days of the Committee—whereas the first 15 clauses and two schedules occupied the Committee for 37 sittings. Why has there been such a last-minute rush? If it has not been done to save the Prime Minister's face, I hope that the Home Secretary will give us a convincing alternative explanation.

To my certain knowledge the Government decided to complete the Committee, Report and Third Reading before the spring bank holiday recess. I have no doubt that they will achieve that aim and push their intentions through, with the assistance of their Whips, but they will do so at a terrible price in terms of proper discussion of the substantial parts of the Bill which remain.

The Committee has had 34 sittings so far. During those sittings, a number of important fundamental issues have been discussed. On Monday, the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) told the House that he thought that the Committee had already dealt with all the matters of major complication. He was wrong. It is not the only error of judgment that the hon. and learned Member has made during the last few months, but it is the only one that it is proper for me to discuss now.

A number of important matters have been discussed. I shall turn to how they affected the progress of the Bill in a moment. When I heard the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) suggesting that perhaps less controversial and less important issues lay ahead, I think I saw the Minister of State indicating dissent and implying—if he was, I agree with him wholeheartedly—that in the days which remain the Committee has to deal with matters of fundamental importance. I shall give only two examples of issues which are outstanding, but I could give many more. There are 17 major issues which we must still discuss, but I offer the House only two examples, both of which are of fundamental importance.

The first example is the entire concept of British overseas citizenship—a new status which the Opposition and almost everyone who has commented on it, apart from official Government sources, regard as a status which offers virtually no right to the unfortunate men and women who are allocated that status. That is a matter of major controversy and must now be debated under the threat of the guillotine.

Secondly, we must debate clause 41, which I shall describe as succinctly as I can by reading from the Bill. Clause 41 provides that the Secretary of State, who determines applications for registration and naturalisation, shall not be required to assign any reason for the grant or refusal of any application … at his discretion". Clause 41 is the absolute, arbitrary right of the Secretary of State to grant or refuse applications for British citizenship. It is the absolution of the Secretary of State for justifying why he refuses or grants such applications. It is no wonder that the The Daily Telegraph, which does not always agree with my views on race and community relations and immigration, described the clause as being without any known precedent in British statute.

Mr. Raison

It is not without precedent. It is taken from the 1948 Act.

Mr. Hattersley

The Daily Telegraph normally agrees with the Minister of State's views and no doubt it will accept his reproof. Precedented or not, I hope that the Minister of State and the Home Secretary will not suggest that a power as arbitrary or as unqualified as that is a suitable subject to be discussed under the pressure of a guillotine.

I intended to give only two examples, but the Minister of State has provoked me to give a third. Appeals relating to all parts of the Bill must still be debated. In Committee last night I said that we should want to return to that aspect again. Another outstanding issue is whether there is a check on the Secretary of State's behaviour. That is of fundamental and primary constitutional importance. It is intolerable that that should be debated under a guillotine.

Only the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) has suggested that progress has been held up by the Opposition's concious and wilful obstruction. The Leader of the House was careful to avoid making such a charge. I recall only one speech which obviously and unashamedly wasted time. That was the speech by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) late at night on 9 April.

Mr. Marlow

Was the right hon. Gentleman there?

Mr. Hattersley

Yes, although my propensity to go out of the House and make public speeches on Thursday evenings is undiminished. I shall continue to make such speeches.

Mr. Mates

The speech to which the right hon. Gentleman referred lasted for 20 minutes. It followed the speech, about which I complained, by the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) which lasted for one and a quarter hours. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) was wasting time, but that the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central was not?

Mr. Hattersley

A speech is best judged not by its length but by its content. I invite hon. Members to read in Hansard the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) and the exchanges with the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). Every objective reader will agree with the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West that at that time Tory Back Benchers knew that the guillotine was to be introduced and decided to have a little late night fun to justify what was to happen.

A second piece of evidence confirms the view that, although long speeches have been made, they have not been irrelevant. In the 34 sittings of the Committee the closure was moved only three times. Even allowing for the eccentric way in which the Committee has been Whipped by the Government, the fact that only one closure was moved every 10 sittings suggests that the Government could not sustain the case that time was being wasted.

Many of our debates were long, but that does not mean that they were unreasonably long. When the House recalls the subjects that we discussed, it will not be surprised that we took time to examine them. For example, we decided in Committee, against the wishes and votes of Labour Members, that the British Government should abandon, for the first time in their history, the absolute and automatic right of every child born in the United Kingdom to be a United Kingdom citizen. It would have been extraordinary if that provision had not been debated at great length. It was so debated, and rightly.

The Government have introduced a Bill which is highly controversial and complicated. A Bill with two such elements places on the Government a special obligation to ensure that adequate time is provided for its detailed and careful discussion. However, the Government have not provided that time.

The Government have two reasons for not providing the time. First, the Bill was introduced too late in the Session. The Government have had two years to prepare the Bill. They claim, wrongly, that the Bill was preceded by a Green Paper. If that were true, the Government should have been able to proceed quickly. A White Paper was produced, but there was still delay.

The Government's business managers are incompetent. It is not for me to allocate blame between the present Leader of the House and his predecessor. However, the Bill should have been introduced in November last year.

The second problem which has bedevilled our considerations is the Minister's intransigence. Progress is made with a Bill when Government representatives make whatever concessions they can on minor issues. With two exceptions, when the Minister of State had already been told that he could not command the support of his Back Benchers, no concessions were made on even the most minor matter.

Time does not allow me to cite examples, but I invite the House to read the Hansard report of the Committee late last night when we pleaded with the Minister of State to make a minor concession on the nationality of illegitimate children born in a certain category of citizenship whose putative fathers claimed parentage and were British citizens. An infinitesimal number of children would be covered by such a provision. The Opposition asked the Government to accept an amendment out of compassion. However, the Minister of State reacted as always, rigidly and with mulish obstinacy. Had the Minister of State been prepared to be more sympathetic to the minor proposals, quicker progress could have been made. As it is, we must face the guillotine.

The main problem caused by the guillotine will not be the inconvenience to hon. Members, the cutting short of debate or the inadequate discussion which is bound to follow from only seven days remaining. The main problem that will flow from the Government's decision will be a further feeling among the ethnic minorities that their interests are not being properly represented and that the Government have little or no concern for what they believe to be right. Almost all that the Government have done in their two years in office for community and race relations and immigration is to suggest that immigrants and the children and grandchildren of immigrants born here are in some way a problem and liability.

By introducing the Bill and by supporting it with the wild and intemperate language that the Prime Minister has used, the Government have hardened the feeling that they regard immigrants and the ethnic minorities as a problem. By introducing the Bill in this arbitrary way and by pushing it through under a guillotine, the Government have made that feeling desperately worse. For that reason, if for no other, we shall vote against the guillotine motion.

6.30 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I start by referring to important points made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), since one of them affected my personal decision. I believe that it is in the correct traditions of the House to do so. I appreciate the point that the right hon. Gentleman made about my decision. Of course I considered the various options, and I owe it to him, to the House and to the Committee to explain why I took the decision that I did. He may think that I was wrong, but I had to take the decision.

I do not think that anyone in the House could doubt that the pressures of being Home Secretary have mounted over recent years. They are today very great indeed. The pressures on me in the Home Office, and in the Government as a whole mean that if I had taken the decision to be a member of the Standing Committee I would inevitably have had to absent myself from it. Therefore, I would have taken a place on the Committee, only frequently not to be there. I am sure that with his knowledge the right hon. Gentleman will accept that that was a risk that I would have taken had I gone on to the Committee. For that reason I decided that it was right to give the job to the Minister of State, who was able to devote himself wholly to it and in whom I and all my hon. Friends have the utmost confidence. That was my decision. The right hon. Gentleman may say that it was wrong, but I maintain that if I am to do my job in the Government and through Parliament for the country as a whole I have to make decisions on priorities. I believe that it is impossible to run a major Government Department like the Home Office in any other way. That was why I made the decision.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having met the point head on. I am sure that he and the House realise the importance of the declaration that he has made. He has not made it only in the context of this Bill, but it is a downgrading of the responsibilities of Ministers for major legislation that they put before the House.

Mr. Whitelaw

I did not in any way imply that. I simply implied that if I had gone on the Committee and then had to absent myself that would not have been a sound decision. The precedent is there, and it has been used by many of my predecessors, from all parties, on major Bills, as the right hon. Gentleman will know.

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the fact that the Bill was introduced only in January—a point that was raised also by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons). I accept that it would have been much better had the Bill been introduced before Christmas, but there were reasons, including complicated discussions with overseas territories, which in the end made that impossible. The right hon. Member for Down, South will be the first to accept that over the period that he and I have been in the House—a very considerable period—many Bills of a major order have been introduced in January and passed through before the end of the Session. It would be hopeless for Parliament if it were not possible to do that.

On another matter the right hon. Member for Down, South contradicted himself. He believed that there was a general understanding, which he shared, about the progress of the Bill on the most important issues, and that it would come out of Committee at Whitsun. If the Bill could have come out of Committee at Whitsun, had the full discussion on Report and been able to go to the House of Lords, it could have been passed in this Session. The right hon. Gentleman says there was a general understanding that should have been possible.

If I understood what was said a short time ago, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook took exactly the opposite view. He said that it would not have been possible to get it out of Committee by Whitsun. I believe that it should have been possible, but the right hon. Gentleman, out of his own mouth, has conceded the case that I am making. The right hon. Member for Down, South feels that it would have been possible; the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook says that it would not. If the Bill was to be got through in this Session, it would have had to come out of the Committee at Whitsun.

I come to other points that were made on procedure. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) made an extraordinary point when he said that there was something in the guillotine motion to do with the House rising somewhat earlier than usual for the Summer Recess. I do not know when it is proposed that the House should rise, but it is immaterial to the progress of this Bill, because by that time it will be in another place. Therefore, the date on which the House will rise has no effect on the guillotine motion. That must be the most obvious point that can be made.

Mr. Jim Marshall

The right hon. Gentleman has just said a very strange thing, namely, that by the end of July the Bill will be in another place. Does he think that we shall return here in October to finish the Bill in this House?

Mr. Whitelaw

I was merely replying in the first instance to the point that was made that something to do with the Bill, which would be in another place at that stage, was involved in when the House would rise for the Summer Recess. I cannot see that that point can be sustained.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred to the decision on when this guillotine motion should be tabled and moved. It would be wrong of me, and totally against everything that I have done in the House over a long period, to disclose private conversations. I do not intend to do so, but I am bound to say that I had made it abundantly clear on many occasions that I hoped that the Committee stage could finish by Whitsun and that I did not want to introduce a guillotine motion. I had hoped, up to the last, that it would be possible to avoid it.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip will know, we did not take the decision until it became clear that we had to do so. We decided during the recess that it was right to take this step. The recess lasted for 10 days, and whether the decision was on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, that is a silly point to make. I said that I decided on this during the recess. Surely my right hon. Friends and I are entitled to decide something during the recess. I hope that that disposes of the matter.

I come now to the serious point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) and other hon. Members. There will be adequate time for discussions on many of the important issues. With three days for the Report stage, which is a generous allocation, there will be plenty of time for those hon. Members who are not on the Committee to make their points. I accept the problems that inevitably arise because of the need to get Bills through the House in one Session, but I maintain that the amount of time, totalling over 100 hours in Committee and three full days on Report, is reasonable to discuss the Bill.

The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) said that it would be better to bring the Bill back later. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook seemed to criticise the delay. For Labour Members to talk about delay on this issue is the most appalling hypocrisy. I agree with the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) that for a long time we have built up the problem for ourselves because we were not prepared to introduce a new Nationality Bill.

In 1974 the Labour Party said that it was going to introduce such a measure. By 1979 it had issued a Green Paper, but since then the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook seems to have been busy repudiating large sections of that Green Paper, just as he has repudiated his vote on the 1968 Act, which was one of the Acts that made a Nationality Bill all the more important.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said, a revision of our nationality legislation is long overdue. We have created anomalies over the years by passing the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act and the 1968 Act. In no way do I wish to go back on my vote either in favour of the 1962 Act or in favour of the 1968 Act, both of which were justified. I am always amazed to hear people try to pretend that they wish to go back on the 1962 Act. The Labour Party had every opportunity to repeal that Act, as it promised to do, but it never did. Those who criticise the 1968 Act must remember that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said that that measure was crucial in the situation in which we found ourselves.

I believe that that was right, and my party in Opposition supported that Bill, which was the responsibility of the Government of which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was a member. He has decided to repudiate it now. That is his business, but as time was available for the Labour Government to introduce a nationality Bill, the Opposition have no excuse for saying now that the Government are delaying. We have promised to fulfil the undertaking to do something that is vital to the future of the country. This is an extremely complicated measure. I know very well why the Labour Government did not introduce a Bill of this kind. It was because it was too complicated and raised too many difficulties for them, so they ran away from it. It is no use members of the previous Labour Government talking to me about delays and failures.

Right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches cannot have it both ways. At one moment the right hon. Member for Deptford says that the Bill is so ill-thought through that amendments had to be moved by the Government, and the next moment the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and the hon. Member for York accuse my hon. Friend the Minister of State of being intransigent and refusing to accept any amendments. We said at the time that we introduced the Bill that we would adopt a constructive approach to the Committee stage. I promised that to the right hon. Member for Down, South, amongst others. I claim that we have fulfilled that promise.

The hon. Member for York was fair enough to say that one of the amendments moved by the Government had removed the tag of racist that some people had quite wrongly put on the Bill. I was glad to hear him say it. I thank the hon. Member for that, an I hope that many other Labour Members will stop wrongly claiming that the Bill is racist and sexist when they know perfectly well that it is not.

Mr. Hattersley

The Home Secretary will deal with the first question I asked him, will he not? I asked whether the Prime Minister was right to say that the Bill was the result of immigrants pouring into the country.

Mr. Whitelaw

Yes, I shall explain to the right hon. Gentleman what I have said all along about the purpose of the Bill.—[Interruption] Would the right hon. Gentleman mind containing himself and his arms?

I want to make it clear why I believe that the Bill is essential and to explain its purpose. I have made it clear that the purpose of the Bill, which is widely accepted in the House and in the country, is to create a British citizenship based on the principle that citizenship should carry with it the right of abode in this country. I believe that the new citizenship will benefit the whole community. The vast majority of the ethnic minorities in this country will become British citizens and they will share in the benefit that that brings. The citizenship will provide a clear and unequivocal indication of those who belong to this country and are part of it. That is an enormously important principle.

I believe that the Bill will end many of the uncertainties and anxieties that have often harmed race relations in this country in the past, and I accept again what the hon. Member for York said on that matter. I believe that the Bill is long overdue. For a long time we have needed a reform of our nationality law. I believe that the Bill will be seen to be fair.

It is certainly not racist, and it is certainly not sexist. What is more, we are providing now, after over 100 hours on the earlier provisions, enough time to debate the other issues perfectly fairly, and the Opposition know it. We are providing further time on Report. I recommend—

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. SPEAKER proceeded to put the Question necessary to dispose of them, pursuant to Standing Order No. 44 (Allocation of time to Bills).

Question put accordingly.

The House divided: Ayes 295, Noes 240.

Division No. 162] [6.45 pm
Adley, Robert du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Aitken, Jonathan Dunn, Robert (Dartford)
Alexander, Richard Durant, Tony
Alison, Michael Dykes, Hugh
Ancram, Michael Eden, Rt Hon Sir John
Arnold, Tom Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Asp in wall, Jack Eggar, Tim
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Elliott, Sir William
Banks, Robert Eyre, Reginald
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fairbairn, Nicholas
Bell, Sir Ronald Fairgrieve, Russell
Bendall, Vivian Faith, Mrs Sheila
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Farr, John
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Fell, Anthony
Best, Keith Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Bevan, David Gilroy Finsberg, Geoffrey
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fisher, Sir Nigel
Biggs-Davison, John Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)
Blackburn, John Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles
Blaker, Peter Forman, Nigel
Body, Richard Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fox, Marcus
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Fraser, Peter (South Angus)
Bowden, Andrew Fry, Peter
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Braine, Sir Bernard Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Bright, Graham Garel-Jones, Tristan
Brinton, Tim Glyn, Dr Alan
Brittan, Leon Goodhart, Philip
Brotherton, Michael Goodhew, Victor
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n) Goodlad, Alastair
Browne, John (Winchester) Gorst, John
Bruce-Gardyne, John Gow, Ian
Bryan, Sir Paul Gower, Sir Raymond
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Greenway, Harry
Buck, Antony Grieve, Percy
Budgen, Nick Griffiths, E. (B'y St. Edm'ds)
Bulmer, Esmond Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)
Burden, Sir Frederick Grist, Ian
Butcher, John Grylls, Michael
Cadbury, Jocelyn Gummer, John Selwyn
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hamilton, Hon A.
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Hampson, Dr Keith
Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul Hannam, John
Chapman, Sydney Haselhurst, Alan
Churchill, W. S. Hastings, Stephen
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hawksley, Warren
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hayhoe, Barney
Clegg, Sir Walter Heddle, John
Cockeram, Eric Henderson, Barry
Colvin, Michael Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Cope, John Hicks, Robert
Cormack, Patrick Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Corrie, John Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Costain, Sir Albert Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Cranborne, Viscount Hooson, Tom
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Hordern, Peter
Dickens, Geoffrey Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Dorrell, Stephen Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Dover, Denshore Hunt, David (Wirral)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Pink, R. Bonner
Hurd, Hon Douglas Pollock, Alexander
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Porter, Barry
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Prior, Rt Hon James
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Proctor, K. Harvey
Kaberry, Sir Donald Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Raison, Timothy
King, Rt Hon Tom Rathbone, Tim
Kitson, Sir Timothy Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Knox, David Rees-Davies, W. R.
Lamont, Norman Renton, Tim
Lang, Ian Rhodes James, Robert
Langford-Holt, Sir John Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Latham, Michael Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Lawrence, Ivan Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Lee, John Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Rossi, Hugh
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rost, Peter
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo) Royle, Sir Anthony
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Loveridge, John St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Luce, Richard Scott, Nicholas
Lyell, Nicholas Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
McCrindle, Robert Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Macfarlane, Neil Shelton, William (Streatham)
MacGregor, John Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
MacKay, John (Argyll) Shepherd, Richard
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. Shersby, Michael
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Silvester, Fred
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Sims, Roger
McQuarrie, Albert Skeet, T. H. H.
Madel, David Smith, Dudley
Major, John Speed, Keith
Marland, Paul Speller, Tony
Marlow, Tony Spence, John
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Marten, Neil (Banbury) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mates, Michael Sproat, Iain
Mather, Carol Squire, Robin
Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus Stanbrook, Ivor
Mawby, Ray Stanley, John
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Steen, Anthony
Mayhew, Patrick Stevens, Martin
Mellor, David Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Stewart, b.(E Renfrewshire)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Stokes, John
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Stradling Thomas, J.
Mills, Peter (West Devon) Tapsell, Peter
Moate, Roger Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Monro, Hector Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Montgomery, Fergus Temple-Morris, Peter
Moore, John Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Morgan, Geraint Thompson, Donald
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Thome, Neil (Ilford South)
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Thornton, Malcolm
Mudd, David Townend, John (Bridlington)
Murphy, Christopher Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Myles, David Trippier, David
Neale, Gerrard Trotter, Neville
Needham, Richard van Straubenzee, W. R.
Nelson, Anthony Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Neubert, Michael Viggers, Peter
Newton, Tony Waddington, David
Normanton, Tom Wakeham, John
Nott, Rt Hon John Waldegrave, Hon William
Onslow, Cranley Walker, B. (Perth)
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby) Wall, Patrick
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Waller, Gary
Parkinson, Cecil Walters, Dennis
Parris, Matthew Watson, John
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Patten, John (Oxford) Wells, Bowen
Pawsey, James Wheeler, John
Percival, Sir Ian Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Peyton, Rt Hon John Whitney, Raymond
Wickenden, Keith Younger, Rt Hon George
Wiggin, Jerry
Williams, D.(Montgomery) Tellers for the Ayes:
Winterton, Nicholas Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and Mr. Anthony Berry.
Wolfson, Mark
Young, Sir George (Acton)
Allaun, Frank Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
Alton, David Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Anderson, Donald Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Ford, Ben
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Forrester, John
Ashton, Joe Foster, Derek
Atkinson, N. (H'gey,) Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Freud, Clement
Beith, A. J. Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Benn, Rt Hon A. Wedgwood George, Bruce
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bidwell, Sydney Golding, John
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Graham, Ted
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Grant, George (Morpeth)
Bottomley, Rt Hon K(M'b'ro) Grant, John (Islington C)
Bradley, Tom Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Buchan, Norman Haynes, Frank
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Campbell, Ian Heffer, Eric S.
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Canavan, Dennis Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Cant, R. B. Home Robertson, John
Carmichael, Neil Homewood, William
Carter-Jones, Lewis Horam, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Howell, Rt Hon D.
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Howells, Geraint
Cohen, Stanley Huckfield, Les
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Cowans, Harry Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Craigen, J. M. Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Crawshaw, Richard Janner, Hon Greville
Crowther, J. S. Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Cryer, Bob John, Brynmor
Cunliffe, Lawrence Johnson, James (Hull West)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Johnson, Walter (Derby S)
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)
Davidson, Arthur Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Kerr, Russell
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd) Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Kinnock, Neil
Dewar, Donald Lambie, David
Dixon, Donald Lamborn, Harry
Dobson, Frank Lamond, James
Dormand, Jack Leadbitter, Ted
Douglas, Dick Leighton, Ronald
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lestor, Miss Joan
Dubs, Alfred Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Duffy, A. E. P. Litherland, Robert
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Eadie, Alex Lyon, Alexander (York)
Eastham, Ken Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E) Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're) McCartney, Hugh
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
English, Michael McElhone, Frank
Ennals, Rt Hon David McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) McKelvey, William
Evans, John (Newton) MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Ewing, Harry McNally, Thomas
Faulds, Andrew McTaggart, Robert
Field, Frank McWilliam, John
Fitch, Alan Magee, Bryan
Fitt, Gerard Marks, Kenneth
Flannery, Martin Marshall, D(G'gow S'ton)
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Short, Mrs Renée
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Martin, M(G'gow S'burn) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Silverman, Julius
Maxton, John Skinner, Dennis
Maynard, Miss Joan Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Meacher, Michael Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Snape, Peter
Mikardo, Ian Soley, Clive
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Spearing, Nigel
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen) Spriggs, Leslie
Molyneaux, James Stallard, A. W.
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw) Stoddart, David
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Strang, Gavin
Morton, George Straw, Jack
Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Newens, Stanley Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
O'Halloran, Michael Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)
O'Neill, Martin Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Palmer, Arthur Tilley, John
Parker, John Tinn, James
Parry, Robert Torney, Tom
Pavitt, Laurie Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Pendry, Tom Wainwright, E.(Dearne V)
Penhaligon, David Wainwright, R.(Colne V)
Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down) Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)
Prescott, John Watkins, David
Price, C. (Lewisham W) Weetch, Ken
Race, Reg Welsh, Michael
Radice, Giles White, Frank R.
Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S) White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Richardson, Jo Whitehead, Phillip
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Whitlock, William
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Wigley, Dafydd
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Williams, Sir T.(W'ton)
Robertson, George Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H.(H'ton)
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Rooker, J. W. Winnick, David
Roper, John Woodall, Alec
Ross, Ernest (Dundee West) Woolmer, Kenneth
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Wright, Sheila
Ross, Wm, (Londonderry) Young, David (Bolton E)
Rowlands, Ted
Ryman, John Tellers for the Noes:
Sever, John Mr. James Hamilton and Mr. Donald Coleman.
Shore, Rt Hon Peter

Question agreed to.

Ordered, That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the bill:

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