HC Deb 02 June 1981 vol 5 cc795-819

`(1) A person born in a foreign country within five years after commencement shall be entitled, on an application for his registration as a British citizen made within the period of 12 months from the date of the birth, to be registered as such a citizen if the Secretary of State is satisfied—

  1. (a) that the requirements specified in subsection (2) are fulfilled in the case of that person's father; and
  2. (b) that if that person had been born before commencement and had become a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by virtue of section 5 of the 1948 Act (citizenship by descent) as a result of the registration of his birth at a United Kingdom consulate under paragraph(b) of the proviso to section 5(1) of that Act, he would immediately before commencement have had the right of abode in the United Kingdom by virtue of section 2(1)(b) of the Immigration Act 1971 as then in force (connection with United Kingdom through parent or grandparent).

(2) The requirements referred to in subsection (1)(a) are that the father of the person to whom the application relates—

  1. (a) immediately before commencement or at his death (whichever was earlier)—
    1. (i) was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by virtue of section 5 of the 1948 Act (citizenship by descent) or was a person who, under any provision of the British Nationality Acts 1948 to 1965, was deemed for the purposes of the proviso to section 5(1) of the 1948 Act to be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by descent only; and
    2. (ii) was married to that person's mother; and
    3. (iii) was ordinarily resident in a foreign country (no flatter which) within the meaning of the 1948 Act; and
  2. (b) either—
    1. (i) became a British citizen at commencement and remained such a citizen throughout the period from commencement to the date of the application or, if he died during that period, throughout the period from commencement to his death; or
    2. (ii) would have become a British citizen at commencement but for his death.'.—[Mr. Raison.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 100, in clause 3, page 3, line 10, leave out subsection (2) to (7) and insert— '(2) A person born outside the United Kingdom who is not a British citizen by virtue of subsection (1) shall be such a citizen if the birth is registered at a United Kingdom consulate or High Commission within one year of its occurrence, or, with the permission of the Secretary of State, later, and either the father or the mother was a British citizen at the time of birth.'. and Government amendment No. 24 and amendment No. 89, in clause 12, page 10, line 41, after 'descent)', insert— 'otherwise than by virtue of paragraph(b) of the proviso of section 5(1) of the 1948 Act (citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies by virtue of consular registration)'.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The intention of the new clause is to preserve for a transitional period of five years the effect of the current facilities for passing on citizenship by consular registration where it gives the right of abode here. The Government believe that the current arrangements for the transmission of citizenship as a result of consular registration are not satisfactory. They operate only if the father is a citizen by descent. They do not extend to cases where only the mother is such a citizen. They also operate only in foreign countries.

Registration of births does not lead to citizenship where the birth takes place in a Commonwealth country. Consular registration can also preserve citizenship by descent where the links with this country are in practice minimal. For these reasons, the Bill that we introduced in January did not provide for the continuation of this system of passing on citizenship. I should like, to help to put the matter in context, to remind the House of what the Bill proposes on descent. It proposes that in general citizenship shall be passed on to children born overseas for one generation. That is already the position as far as children born in Commonwealth countries are concerned. Little difficulty would appear to have arisen. It seemed to the Government not unreasonable to apply the same system to foreign countries. This meant ending descent through consular registration. If we are to base citizenship on some form of close connection with this country, we have to limit citizenship by descent.

One significant extension of the descent arrangements is proposed in clause 2. This is that women as well as men should be able to pass on their citizenship to children born to them in the first generation overseas. In effect, this increases enormously the chances of a child born overseas having a parent from whom he can derive our citizenship. It must be the case that many of the people who are concerned about the ending of consular registration have nothing to fear because the wife will have been born in the United Kingdom or their children will marry wives born here. The extension of transmission rights to women is therefore not just a piece of meaningless window dressing. It has a marked practical effect on the extent to which our citizenship can be passed on.

The Bill also proposes in clause 3 a generous system of registration of children whose parents are in various forms of overseas employment at the time of their births. This applies to births in Commonwealth countries as well as in foreign countries. The clause requires that the employment be linked with the United Kingdom but amendments that the Government have tabled would ensure that all reasonable connections with the United Kingdom through employment are covered. We have taken careful note of the representations made to us in this regard and have met many of the points made to us. This is, therefore, another area where those who are concerned about the cessation of consular registration may well find that they have a r0069ght to register their children.

It is also often said that people sent abroad by their employers for limited terms of duty abroad will be penalised by the absence of consular registration in the future. This, I believe, is a serious misunderstanding of the overall effect of the Bill. It is unlikely that, in such cases of people being sent out from the United Kingdom, neither parent would be a British citizen born here, and so unable to transmit. If that happened, the employment overseas would often be covered by clause 3. If that was not the case, the child might still have an entitlement to registration on coming to the United Kingdom and living here for three years with the parents after their tour of overseas duty was concluded.

I believe therefore that the descent arrangements in the Bill are at least as generous as those that apply under the current legislation. They are certainly more generous in their application to children born in Commonwealth countries who have no access to a form of consular registration. They are arguably no less generous than the provisions that I have mentioned that are taken into account than the current facilities in foreign countries. The introduction of descent through the female line is very significant.

Finally, before I come to the new clause, I would like to make one point clear. This concerns the right of abode. Consular registration may ensure that citizenship is passed on from generation to generation in the male line. But it does not ensure that the right of abode is also transmitted. Whether or not the child has the right of abode once registered depends on his having the requisite parental or grandparental connection with the United Kingdom. It is important to be clear about this since in some cases—where the descent from ancestors born here is remote—those who so prize the right to consular registration may well already be citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies without the right of abode here. They would become British overseas citizens under the Bill. In almost all such cases the children concerned will also hold the citizenship of the country of residence.

Nevertheless, I was impressed by the arguments in favour of continuing consular registration to a limited extent. We agree that people who had a reasonable expectation of seeing their children acquire citizenship under the present arrangements should not be cut off in mid-stream at commencement. In other areas of the Bill, people who have entitlements to registration which are to be discontinued retain them on a transitional basis for five years. In our view, this is a reasonable basis on which to approach the current arrangements for consular registration, and that is what the new clause provides.

Subsection (1) provides that a person born in a foreign country within five years of commencement shall be entitled to be registered as a British citizen if the Secretary of State is satisfied on certain matters. Application must be made within 12 months of the birth. It should be noted that, although the end result is the same, the new clause provides for registration as a British citizen on application to the Secretary of State and not, as now, for citizenship to be acquired on registration of the birth at a consulate.

The matters on which the Secretary of State must be satisfied are as follows. The child's father must have been or be deemed to have been a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by descent before commencement who became a British citizen at commencement, or would have done so but for his death. If he survived to become a British citizen at commencement he must have remained one throughout the period from commencement to the date of the application unless he died first. He must immediately before commencement have been married to the child's mother, and he must have been ordinarily resident at commencement in a foreign country.

The matters that I have just mentioned preserve the effect of the existing law. Under that, only fathers can transmit, and they can only transmit in foreign countries to their legitimate offspring. It is, therefore, only married men resident in foreign countries who can have a well-based expectation now of being able to transmit their citizenship by consular registration.

I should mention that subsection (1)(b) of the new clause ensures that no child shall be registered as a British citizen unless he would, had he been consularly registered under the law in force now, have acquired the right of abode here on registration. I have mentioned already that the right of abode may not be acquired now in all cases. Where it is not acquired, those concerned will become British overseas citizens under the Bill. Amendment No. 40 to clause 24 ensures that a child who does not qualify for British citizenship because he would not have acquired the right of abode under the legislation in force now, will be able to be registered as a British overseas citizen.

Amendment No. 24 to clause 12 provides that any child registered under the provisions of this new clause shall be a British citizen by descent. That is obviously right, given that those who become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies now on consular registration become such citizens by descent only.

New clause 2 makes parallel arrangements for registration as a citizen of the British dependent territories. Amendment No. 40 provides that in certain circumstances the child of a British overseas citizen may also benefit from a similar provision.

I sum up our proposals in this way. The present arrangements for citizenship to descend on consular registration of birth is not satisfactory. It is right that it should disappear from the permanent provisions for acquiring our citizenship. However, despite the generous alternative provisions for descent introduced by the Bill, we accept the case for a transitional five-year extension of the effects of the current consular registration entitlement. This will ensure that people are not cut off suddenly at Royal Assent with no opportunity to consider their situation. Five years seems enough time in which to ensure that people get used to the Bill's new descent provisions, which should in fact lead to very few difficulties for those concerned. I commend the new clause to the House.

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

I find myself in general agreement with the purpose of the new clause. However, I wish to raise a query in regard to subsection (2)(a)(ii) of new clause 1, which provides as a requirement that the father shall immediately, before commencement, have been married to the mother of the person for whose citizenship the new clause is providing. I wonder whether the effect is really what is intended and, if so, what the justification is.

It would mean that if, after the birth of the person concerned, the couple were divorced the facilities of this new clause would no longer apply. I am not clear why that is equitable, since the condititons for the child securing British citizenship were fulfilled at the time of the child's birth, both in the case of the father and as to the fact of the marriage. Is it reasonable that those conditions should, as it were, be retrospectively revoked by a subsequent divorce or separation, which surely can have no effect—or should have no effect—on the status and rights of the child? Perhaps I have misapprehended the consequences of subsection (2)(a)(ii), but if I am correct, it would appear to need justification.

Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)

I wish to speak to the amendment standing in my name and in the name of 18 of my hon. Friends. Early-day motion 333 on the Order Paper expresses exactly the same sentiments as my amendment. It has been signed by 23 of my right hon. and hon. Friends, so the stated support for this is from 34 of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

The purpose of my amendment is to try to put right an unfairness which I see developing as result of the changes which the Government are making regarding nationality by descent.

I welcome the changes, which are entirely on the right lines. I do not challenge anything that has been done by way of change in the system of acquiring and transmitting nationality. However, there is one group of people who I believe will be unfairly treated if the Bill as drafted is not changed. They are the people born overseas of British subjects, citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies with a right of abode here, who, until the Bill becomes law, can transmit their British citizenship, whomsoever they marry but who, when the Bill becomes law, will cease to be British subjects—as all of us will be—and will become British citizens by descent and not full British citizens. Therefore, they will not be able, other things being equal, to transmit their nationality unless they fulfil certain other qualifications. I appreciate that there are certain ways that they can put this right, but there are people alive today who were born with the right of transmitting their descent, and that right will be taken away from them retrospectively if the Bill is passed unamended.

One of the principles that we have always tried to apply is that we do not take away any rights that people have had because we are changing the law, however good a reason there is for a change in the law. There has been much discussion and worry about this matter. I am sure that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and other hon. Members who were on the Committee on the Bill have received a great deal of correspondence. I shall not bore the House at great length but I should like to read two letters from constituents. They express worries which I cannot answer. I do not believe that the Government can answer them either, unless an amendment such as that which I propose is carried.

One constituent says: I am writing to you in your capacity as a Member of the Select Committee on the Nationality Bill. After completing National Service in the RAF in Singapore I qualified as a chartered accountant in 1955 and joined Price Waterhouse in Brussels after an interview in London. In due course I got married here and my children—now 20 and 18—were born here. I understood them to be British by birth"—— that, of course, is not a phrase which means anything in law, but my constituent considered his children to be citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, as indeed they were—— but it appears that they were 'only' British by descent. Under the Bill, if they have children outside the UK and the other parent was not born there, such children will not have British Citizenship and right of abode in the UK. I feel that this retroactive change in their status and rights is completely against British legislative tradition and not just upsetting to people like me and my children but also against British interests. My constituent goes on to make some other points. His is a fundamental point which I cannot answer as the Bill stands.

The second letter is of the same substance but the situation is the other way round. My constituent writes: My wife and I are most concerned about the Nationality Bill, and the potentially damaging effects its provisions would have on our unborn child. I work for an international company, in a subsidiary whose output is mainly exported. I have been offered the opportunity to further my career in the company's European headquarters, which is located in Paris. The appointment begins before the expected date of birth of our child…Under normal circumstances, I should take up the job, and our child would be born in France—unfortunately, the Nationality Bill means that the child would then have only limited rights to pass on its UK citizenship to its own children, and this is a disability we should rather not inflict on it. That is a problem for the future and one which, fortunately, can be put right. Nevertheless, it is an example of the potential injustice that we shall do if we pass the Bill as it is at present drafted because some people born with the right to transmit their nationality to their children will have that right taken away from them.

I am sure that the Minister will want to point out the many ways that a child can get the right back and that allowing us to transmit citizenship down the female as well as the male line will pick up many people whose fathers might have been born abroad, come home and married a girl born in Britain. There are many other ways that the problem can be put right; nevertheless the matter is fundamental. We should not be doing a service to the people whom we represent if we let anybody suffer as a result of our changing a system which needs changing but which at the same time takes away a birthright from people who believe that they can transmit their birthright and British citizenship to their children. Unless an amendment such as mine is passed they will not be able to do that.

That is why I earnestly ask the Government to accept the amendment. If they find that it is in any way faulty-I know that the matter is complicated—I hope that they will give an undertaking to find a better way of achieving what I want to achieve—that is, to put right the position of the small number of people born abroad whose births were registered at consulates, by which act the parents showed their intention to maintain their birthright as full British subjects. No Bill should take away that fundamental right from even one person who believes that he is a British subject.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) airs an issue that has given rise to a great deal of concern among those who are affected. However, I do not accept his argument. The anxiety has been exaggerated. Many people who feel that their children will be deprived of the right of citizenship will acquire citizenship. Most of the people who wrote to me described their circumstances and I found them to come within the provisions of clause 3. Their children will not lose the right to be British citizens. The hon. Member for Petersfield says that the right is historic and should be retained by the people who have that right now.

There is a basic injustice in consular registration. It applies only to births in an alien country. It does not apply to births in a Commonwealth country. Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who have a child in a Commonwealth country are not entitled by registration to citizenship for that child. They may achieve it in other ways, but not by registration. The Bill puts right that basic inequity.

There is an additional problem. Some people affected by the change not only have the lineal right to register their children as citizens, but have a continuing interest in their relationship with Britain. They return regularly, send their children to school here and live here at the end of each period abroad. However, some people who are entitled to consular registration in an alien country have little connection with Britain. The members of a whole community in the Argentine, for instance, claim a relationship and register their children as British although they have no real connection with Britain.

During our discussions on the Bill I have always been a little chary of talking about real connections, because some people have a defined view of what is a real connection. If it is to have any meaning in relation to citizenship, people who have not had any practical association with Britian for many generations should not be able to continue with citizenship for their children simply by registration at a British embassy.

I do not understand the proposed amendment precisely, but is does not involve simply the question of not removing retrospectively rights that children believe they have.

Mr. Mates

The amendment does not carry on the practice. It deals purely with those who on the day that the Act comes into force are consularly registered. It does not deal with the future at all.

Mr. Lyon

I understand the intention, but I am not sure whether it achieves that. I should be against continuing the practice. The argument about retrospection is a little fine. We are talking about a person as yet unborn. The person born has already acquired the citizenship. The argument is that that person, because he acquired citizenship by descent cannot pass on the right to his children who are not yet born and who can inherit only through him. I do not regard that as retrospective. It relates to future children. A person does not necessarily have the right to pass on citizenship to his children. That is not a right in any real sense of the word. I accept that there is a question of definition.

The issue is emotional. It involves people who believe that they have a right to continue to live abroad and to pass on their citizenship to their children. Under clause 3, most of the people will get the right of citizenship for their children. The few who will not, and who have a real relationship with Britain will be able to acquire citizenship for their children by bringing them back to Britain and registering them after three years.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that they already have the right of abode. That depends entirely on whether they can claim a grandpatrial or patrial connection with Britain. They may go beyond a grandpatrial connection. They may claim by lineal descent through a great-grandpatrial connection. In those circumstances, they would not necessarily be entitled to the right of abode. They may feel that they are British citizens because they can claim a passport. However, they would not be allowed to enter Britain because they would not be patrials under the 1971 Act.

5 p.m.

In future, if someone has a passport that says that he is a British citizen, the Bill ensures that he will be entitled to enter or leave Britain as he wishes, because he is a British citizen. That clarifies who comes within immigration law. If we muddy that clarification by a system that gives citizenship to those who do not have the right of abode in Britain, there will be a serious danger of complicating what is already a too-complicated Bill.

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

I wish to narrow the argument a little in taking up the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). I wish to raise with the Minister the special problems of nationality facing British Service men and their families. That problem is familiar to many hon. Members. Does the new clause, in conjunction with the amendments and clause 2, ensure that the children and grandchildren born to British Service men while overseas on Crown service receive British nationality as a right? I am not clear about that point. How far does the new clause put right some of the anomalies of the 1948 Act?

Any hon. Member who has served in the House for some time will have dealt with examples of some' of the injustices arising from the 1948 Act. I wish to refer to two such cases with which I am currently dealing. The first case we shall call "Mr. X". For three generations his family have been British Service men, and in each generation the son has been born overseas. Before the 1948 Act there was no problem and such persons held British citizenship. However, since the 1948 Act the position has changed. "Mr. X" was born in South Africa because his father was serving there during the South African war—which gives some indication of his age. He has only South African nationality, although he has not lived his life there since his birth.

Another, and more dramatic, case is that of "Mr. Y". He is a man aged 28 who has not held a passport since he became an adult. He had always been included on his parents' passport. He was born in Trieste, where his father was serving with the British Army.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

The case of "Mr. Y" is on the front pages of today's newspapers.

Sir David Price

The hon. Gentleman may have different standards from mine. My constituent did not give me permission to use his name. If he has spoken to the press, I accept that he is entitled to do so. I am afraid that I am rather old-fashioned in such matters. When a constituent brings his problems to me I always maintain confidentiality. It is an important case, and I shall refer to it as "Mr. Y". If "Mr. Y" cares to talk to the press that is his responsibility. I am not at liberty—and I do not regard any hon. Member to be so—to use an individual's name if he has not given me permission to do so. "Mr. Y" has not given me that permission. I hope that the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) will forgive me, but I am old-fashioned in these matters. I believe in courtesy.

"Mr. Y's" father was serving with the British Army in Trieste when "Mr. Y" was born. He was registered at the consulate in Venice for what that is worth—apparently it is worth nothing. His father was a British citizen, but not of right because he was born in India, as his father was serving with the Indian Army. The grandfather was born in India because his father was serving with the Indian Army. Such cases are special. The law has been correctly applied by the authorities in relation to the 1948 Act.

The Bill deals with the special position of those on Crown service. I ask the Minister whether the cases that I have quoted will be put right retrospectively. I believe that it is the will of the House and the British public that they should be put right. They are separate from the wider-ranging cases referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield, who dealt with the generality of British subjects serving overseas. I refer to the particular case of those on Crown service. I am capable of reading into the new clause, in conjunction with clause 2, that the position will be put right, but I am not sure that that is an accurate reading. I want an assurance on that point. If my reading is not correct, I want an assurance that the matter will be put right in another place.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I am wholly in sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's argument, but why does he dwell on the distinction between those on Crown service—especially military service—and others? I have a parallel case of the daughter of a missionary in the former colony of Kenya. She is equally deserving of consideration.

Sir David Price

I hope that I carry the right hon. Gentleman with me. It is important to get the wedge in first. I can see no argument that can be used against those on Crown service, because such people, having accepted service for the Crown—whether in the Armed Forces or the Foreign Office—have no choice but to go where they are sent.

I accept that my reasoning applies to some extent to the missions and the private sector, but if we could at least establish a case for those on Crown service, having breached the wall there might be possibilities for widening the scope. The case for those on Crown service is irrefutable. I hope that the new clause covers that point. I see that the Minister is shaking his head. I assume that the new clause does not cover that point. It is an important matter, and I ask him for an undertaking on that point. Many men of my age were temporary soldiers, sailors and airmen during World War Two or shortly after. We have retained a feeling of comradeship with those in the Forces. The most honourable title that I have ever held, or will ever hold, was that of Guardsman Price. Because of that I feel a special responsibility to see this matter put right.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Amendment No. 100, standing in my name, follows on from the argument now taking place. It arises not from the plight of soldiers or missionaries, but rather from that of academics.

The proposed position is wrong for three reasons. First, it creates and extends the discriminatory system that the Bill creates between different citizens in Britain—a distinction between the rights that can be passed on by those born in Britain and the rights of those who are only the children of those born here. For example, if an academic is working abroad in a university and his child is born overseas, the rights of the second generation will depend entirely upon the unfettered discretion of the Secretary of State. Such a case does not come under any of the exceptional cases set out in clause 3(2).

That brings me to my second point. In this part of the Bill, as in many other parts, the present power of the Secretary of State is left without hindrance and without the right of appeal. That matter will be dealt with later in our discussions, but it also arises on this part of the Bill. The lack of appeal makes the present system unfair. That inequity is transferred forward by the proposal set out in clause 3.

Thirdly, the exceptional cases that would be excluded by my amendment are set out in the complex provisions from line 10 on page 3 to the end of the clause. The provisions are not clear. For example, paragraph (c) at line 24 says: the nature or terms and conditions of that employment"— that is the employment that would qualify— involved a close connection with the United Kingdom". That term is nowhere defined and is open to many different interpretations.

If a citizen, or the child of a citizen who is born abroad, wishes to ascertain what to do to acquire either the rights that are in the subsection or to have the smile of approval upon his application from the Secretary of State, no guidance is given. The entire proposal is discriminatory and unclear. It enables the Secretary of State to make a decision without right of appeal. It is designed to deal with the present situation, of which I take a different view from that taken by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon).

I do not think that the present position does any harm. The number of people involved is small. Far more harm will be done by introducing the proposed change than by leaving matters as they are or making the changes set out in the amendment. The number of people involved, as I have said, is unlikely to be great but the principle is a main one.

The entire Bill is discriminatory and the new clause will extend that discrimination. The powers of the Secretary of State are unfettered and that should be changed. The exceptions are unclear and should be clarified if they are to remain. Whether we are dealing with missionaries, soldiers or academics, the few people involved should be protected in a way that is not proposed in the Bill as it stands.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

May I first, Mr. Deputy Speaker, raise a point of order? Will the Chair be prepared to allow a separate Division on amendment No. 89 on account of its many signatories and the fact that it raises an issue that is different in substance from the one raised by new clause 1? I do not know whether you can deal with the matter now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or whether it requires reference to a higher authority.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I shall be prepared to allow a Division if the amendment is moved at the appropriate time. Much depends on the progress of the debate.

Mr. Stanbrook

I and the other signatories will be pleased to hear your words, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

New clause 1 is a mere extension of consular registration. Its extension for five years is irrelevant to the case for a concession to Britons by descent under the Bill. One of the few effects that the new clause will have if it is enacted is that more Britons will be born abroad under the impression that they may pass their citizenship on to their children born abroad, as of right. That is wrong. However, that will be the impression among those who, under the Bill, will become Britons by descent. But they will not be able to pass on their citizenship. Whether the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) is correct about whose right is involved is debatable, but children who have been born abroad before the Bill is passed and who have had their births registered abroad should be entitled to pass their citizenship on to their children born abroad.

z The sense of injustice and grievance among those who become Britons by descent by virtue of registration will be increased rather than diminished by the new clause. Having heard the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, I wonder whether he has understood the argument. I am sure that he has really but he was giving the impression that the new clause goes some way towards meeting the sense of grievance. If that is his view, I believe that he is wrong.

Consular registration has been available to every citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies born in a foreign country. The registration was by his father and had to be so under the existing law. The right of abode is a separate conception of the Immigration Act 1971 and could—in most instances—go with it. However, those whom we are discussing could confer full effective citizenship on their children as the law stands, because most of those who qualified for the right of abode obtained full citizenship.

5.15 pm

The effect of the Bill is to say that those people, Britons born abroad, are Britons by descent and, therefore, cannot confer any sort of British citizenship, not even citizenship by descent, on their children born abroad.

I accept—I am sure that this is the view of the other signatories to amendment No. 89—the principle that there cannot be indefinite transmission of British citizenship under our new rationalised and modernised nationality law.

When the hon. Member for York was speaking on this issue he referred to instances where consular registration has continued for generation after generation. He spoke of the lineage principle. He said towards the end of his remarks that only those who came within the definition of the right of abode—those closer in line—were entitled to full citizenship. Those in South America who may have been registered for generation after generation may now be entitled to call themselves citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, but they are not entitled to full citizenshipand will not be so entitled after the Bill is enacted. They are not entitled now as of right to come to settle in the United Kingdom. In this amendment we are dealing only with those of this generation and of the generation before them who are entitled to be Britons by descent under the Bill.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Would they be entitled to British citizenship under the amendment to which the hon. Gentleman is speaking? If so, that would widen the entitlement to British citizenship to those who do not have the right of abode now.

Mr. Stanbrook

That is true up to a point. I do not want to go into that rather refined argument.

The amendment's aim is to perpetuate the present rights for those who are Britons by descent, who have been registered under consular registration, up to the time that the new Act comes into force. It is a strictly finite operation that is requested in the amendment. It is not one that seeks to transmit nationality indefinitely.

New clause 1 will create more Britons by descent who will not have the right of conferring citizenship on their children. That is the basic objection, if one can call it that, to the new clause. We shall be perpetuating a class of people whose nationality arrangements are unsatisfactory.

I accept that consular registration applied only to births in foreign countries. Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies whose children were born in the Colonies could not register their children. Nor could they do so if they were born in, for example, the Republic of Ireland. By definition the Republic is not a foreign country. The same situation applied if they were born in the Commonwealth. Again, they were not born in foreign countries and there was therefore no provision for consular registration.

Under the present nationality law, the citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies goes automatically to children born in the United Kingdom and Colonies. Therefore, we are not comparing like with like. Children born to British people in the Commonwealth are entitled, because of that law, to the status of British subjects. Therefore, they are not cut off from the citizenship of their fathers.

There may be many people who are citizens, for example of Australia, who were born there while their parents, who were born in this country, were visiting or staying there for some other reason. Those people remain citizens of Australia, but as such they are British subjects and entitled to all the rights which derive therefrom. The Bill will cut them all off, whether they were born in foreign countries, in the Colonies or in the independent countries of the Commonwealth. It cuts them all off because their father, being a Briton by descent, cannot by right confer his British status on his children born abroad. That may sound neat and logical, but it is immensely unfair to those who have the right of passing their citizenship on to their children at present.

Is it a right in a father to be able to pass his citizenship to his son born abroad or is it the right of the son being born abroad to be British because his father was British by birth? Such an argument is irrelevant to the justice of the case. Either way, a right is being lost. It has been suggested that many people will benefit from the various arrangements made by other provisions of the Bill. Many of them will be entitled to British citizenship. Nevertheless, a number of people—perhaps a small number—will not be so entitled. That is a strong argument for dealing with the matter and not depriving them of the rights that they now have.

I have had the honour of presenting to the House three petitions on this question which have been sent to the House of Commons from different parts of the world. One came from Caracas in Venezuela. About 67 citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies living there asked that their children, being born in foreign countries, including Venezuela, should have the same right which their parents possess, namely to pass on their citizenship to their children.

Another petition which I had the honour of presenting to the House came from Freetown in Sierra Leone and was signed by about 43 Britons resident in Freetown. Recently, another came from Brussels, Belgium, signed by about 91 citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, whose children, being born in Belgium to parents who were born in Belgium—or at least in a foreign country—would not become British citizens, not even by descent, under the Bill. A petition was delivered to the home of the Prime Minister about a week ago from the British community in Brussels, signed by more than 1,000 such people, asking that the Bill be amended to permit them to retain the right to pass on their citizenship to their children.

Other hon. Members may have received communications from persons affected in that way. I have had many letters from different parts of the world, including Korea and other remote places. I have also had letters from many employers of British people around the world, who, for one reason or another, believe that their children will become Britons by descent and therefore will not be able automatically as of right to pass on their citizenship to their children born abroad.

The extra arrangements which my hon. Friend the Minister has mentioned will apply to the British community resident abroad. If those people come to this country for about three years with their children, they may register the children. They may do so if they are employed under certain conditions by British firms abroad, and also, through their mothers, they may have the right to transmit citizenship in future. Those arrangements are inadequate because in many cases, especially in the example of the three-year condition of residence, it may be impossible for the parents concerned, being employed abroad on a permanent basis, to give up their jobs to come to this country to live here for the necessary three years with those children.

The justice of the argument calls for an amendment to the Bill, as it is conveyed, in intention at least, by amendment No. 89. The essence of the argument is perhaps best described in relation to another provision in the Bill which says that immigrant Britons—that is to say, people who, being born abroad, have come to this country and have become naturalised or registered as British citizens—can confer their British citizenship on their children born abroad. However, if the children of Britons of the indigenous community in the United Kingdom are born abroad, they cannot pass on their citizenship to their children. That is wrong and anomalous and does a great injustice to the British community around the world. For that reason, I hope that my hon. Friend will see his way to accepting amendment No. 89.

Mr. Jim Marshall

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) let the cat out of the bag with his final few sentences. He repeated the point that he made many times in Committee, namely, that, in his view, those to whom he referred as ethnic Britons, irrespective of where they live, should not be treated any less fairly than those to whom he has just referred as immigrant Britons. The Minister of State, Home Office, who changed the Bill during our early sittings in Committee, must be rueing the day that he accepted the consequences of all the pressure that had been placed upon him and the Home Office to change the Bill as it stood before the Standing Committee so that people who were naturalised as Britons were able to confer citizenship as of right on their children. The hon. Gentleman came under a great deal of pressure from outside organisations and from Members of Parliament. Many of the problems that he has since faced from his own Back Benchers stem from that courageous decision that he took some months ago.

Conservative Members are right when they say that there is much pressure from people in this country and abroad to try to ensure that the citizenship rights of their children or grandchildren are not impaired. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) is correct when he says that if we are to define British citizenship in such a way that citizenship will mean the right of abode in this country, a point must come when there is a cut-off period and people who are born abroad and live there for two or three generations do not have the right to call themselves British citizens or the right of abode in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Orpington and others argue that consular registration should persist for a few—namely, first or second generation children born abroad—but not for all those who have previously had that right, such as the Welsh community in Argentina. It is wrong to argue that one group should have the right to pass on citizenship by descent to two generations and another should not.

5.30 pm
Mr. Stanbrook

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the case. The argument is not that consular registration should continue. That is what the Government are proposing under new clause 1. Amendment No. 89 would allow those who have been registered at a British consulate up to the time of the passage of the Bill to pass their citizenship to their children. That is different from extending consular registration.

Mr. Marshall

The hon. Gentleman does himself a great disservice by that argument. He reinforces my point. He argues that the present generation, who up to the enactment of the Bill will have the right to transfer United Kingdom and Colonies citizenship to their children born abroad, should continue to have the right to pass on British Citizenship to their descendants.

Mr. Stanbrook

I apologise if I have not clearly explained the purpose of the amendment. The intention is that such people should be able to pass their citizenship to their children, making them Britons by descent, but Britons by descent cannot pass their citizenship to future generations, so clearly there can be a finite solution without injustice to anyone.

Mr. Marshall

The hon. Gentleman never accepts the word "finite", particularly with regard to immigration. His argument does not refute my point. The amendment would apply to all United Kingdom and Colonies citizens presently living abroad whose births were registered at a consulate. It would give them the right to transfer the new British citizenship to their children, who would be British citizens by descent. As the Bill stands, it would give them an automatic right of abode in the United Kingdom. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that?

Mr. Stanbrook

The question of right of abode is not at issue. We are discussing passing on citizenship. It has already been said that the right of abode is governed by the Immigration Act 1971. The matter should be judged in the light of that. It is suggested that Britons by descent, who are covered in this case, should be entitled to pass their citizenship to their children for one generation only.

Mr. Marshall

I shall not pursue the point further. Amendment No. 89 would mean that all United Kingdom and Colonies citizens presently living abroad and whose births had been registered at a consulate could pass to the next generation the right of consular registration. If their children were registered, they would become 13ritish citizens, whether the parents were first or second generation United Kingdom and Colonies citizens born abroad or had been abroad for five or six generations.

Mr. Stanbrook


Mr. Marshall

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He accepts that the amendment would apply to all United Kingdom and Colonies citizens living abroad and registered at consulates, but he refuses to accept the conclusion to be drawn from that. Many people, such as the Welsh community in Argentina, many of whom are presently denied entry to the United Kingdom, would be eligible to become British citizens by descent and thus gain the right of abode in the United Kingdom.

I am annoyed, because the amendment would apply only to a particular group, the vast majority of whom are white. The amendment seeks to protect the rights of ethnic Britons, those who the supporters of the amendment define as white—and I share that desire—but also to take away meaningful rights from ¼ million United Kingdom and Colonies citizens who do not have the right of abode in the United Kingdom. Under the Bill they will be given a meaningless form of citizenship—British overseas citizenship. Although I am sympathetic to the arguments for the group covered by the amendment, it is hypocritical to restrict the provisions to a favoured few.

Finally, I seek guidance and information from the Minister of State. Under new clause 1, for a transitional period of five years the Home Secretary is prepared to say that a second generation child born abroad can become a British citizen by descent, with automatic right of abode in the United Kingdom. I presume that that is an attempt for the interim period to bring into line with the Bill people's rights under the Immigration Act 1971—namely, the right of entry and abode in the United Kingdom, either through a parent or a grandparent. At least for five years, the second generation born abroad will be able to be British citizens by descent.

What changes are likely to be made in the Immigration Act to protect—if protection is to be continued—the rights of entry and abode of second generation children born in foreign or Commonwealth countries after the five years, when they will no longer be able to register as British citizens by descent, but presumably will still have the right of entry? At the end of the five-year period, will the immigration rules be altered to remove right of entry and abode, or does the Minister intend to continue second generation right of entry and abode, without automatic citizenship? It indicates a degree of ignorance on my part that I cannot work that out from the new clause as it stands, and I hope that the Minister will shed at least some light on this part of new clause 1.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

I support the amendment because I believe that unless an amendment of this kind is accepted by the Government serious injustice may be done in the future to a number of citizens of this country who were born abroad, because the right which they now have will be first restricted and ultimately extinguished by the Bill.

The aim of the amendment is simply to preserve the present right of fathers who are citizens of this country but who were born abroad to transmit their nationality to children who are born abroad. Unlike the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), I believe that this is a very valuable right. It attaches to the present generation and is a right which is understood, and valued, by the present generation.

I believe that it would be wrong for us to allow the retrospective effect of the Bill to destroy that right because it is wanted by many. To destroy it would be an unwanted and unnecessary effect.

The present law is, of course, anomalous. As we know, if a child is born in a foreign country to a father who is a citizen of this country and who was himself born abroad, at present the child may be registered at a British consulate in that foreign country, thus ensuring that it acquires British nationality. If the same child were born in a Commonwealth country, however, the nationality of the child may be decided by the nationality laws of that Commonwealth country. The Bill removes that anomaly, for which we are all truly thankful. At the same time, however, it deprives fathers who are citizens of this country, born in this country, of the ability, once the Bill becomes law, to transmit their nationality to their children born abroad unless—if new clause 1 is accepted, as I hope it will be—the registration is carried out within five years.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

Can my hon. and learned Friend give the approximate numbers of people who would be affected if the amendment were carried?

Mr. Gardner

I tried to discover whether statistics were available, but I am afraid that I cannot give the number. All that I could find out—this seems to be agreed—is that it would be a comparatively small number. However, I am not greatly concerned about the number. I am moved by the principle, which I believe that the House should uphold.

At present, the right is unqualified. A right qualified by a restriction of time under new clause 1, as it would be if the amendment were not accepted, is no longer the same as an unqualified right. It is something different.

I object, as I believe many Conservative Back Benchers object, to retrospective consequences of this kind, because, as I have said, this is a valuable right. Indeed, it is so valuable that many of us would like it to be extended to children born in Commonwealth countries, but that would perhaps go a little too far and be a little too ambitious. They did not have the right before, and it would be hard to introduce it now.

5.45 pm

The other reason why there is such strong objection—I assure my hon. Friend the Minister of State that it is strong—to the legislation as at present proposed is that it not only diminishes that right but promises ultimately, after five years, to extinguish it. I ask the Minister of State to understand, as I am sure that he does, from the number of names attached to the amendment and the number of names that were attracted to the early-day motion setting out the spirit of the amendment, that this is a serious objection felt by many people.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State may be able to argue—I should be surprised if he did not—that the amendment has a technical defect or defects. But there is nothing wrong with the principle behind it. I therefore beg him to assure the House that if he cannot accept the amendment in its present form the Government will undertake to use their ingenuity to produce an amendment without defects which will reflect the strong desire of many Conservative Members for an amendment to be made which will have the effect of amendment No. 89.

Mr. John Tilley (Lambeth, Central)

New clause 1, to which we have no great objection, creates a series of hoops through which it is possible for some children born abroad to become British citizens and is clearly intended as an interim measure to reduce the immediate impact of the Bill. It is important to stress the series of inter-connecting hoops. First, the child must be born in a foreign country and not in a Commonwealth country. Next, the father must be a citizen by descent. As the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) pointed out, all these conditions are cumulative. In addition, the father must be married to the mother, and the grandfather must have been born in the United Kingdom.

A child must get through all those hoops to benefit from the clause, and this is just one of the many possible options for trying to obtain registration for children born abroad. Hon. Members who have studied the Bill will know that there are three or four possible methods of registration. All I wish to say on this clause is that I hope that Conservative Members who have shown great concern, which we share and acknowledge, for the Service men, missionaries and business men who are mainly affected by this part of the Bill, will show the same concern for all the other people who suffer inconvenience, injustice and worse under the later parts of the Bill.

I turn even more briefly to amendment No. 89. We are not particularly keen on this, for the reasons given by my hon. Friends the Members for York (Mr. Lyon) and Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), but we acknowledge that the hon. Members with their names to the amendment wish to vote upon it. Indeed, guidance was sought from Mr. Deputy Speaker, who said that it must be taken in its proper place. It is an amendment to clause 12. Under the guillotine motion, consideration of amendments up to the end of clause 12 must cease at 9 pm tomorrow. Clauses 1 to 12 involve a great deal of business, which many hon. Members will wish to debate. Therefore, it is very unlikely that Conservative Members will be able to move the amendment and to vote on it.

In reply to the letters that have been cited, and in reply to those constituents who ask Conservative Members why they did not force a Division on the amendment, I hope that they will say that they could not, because on Tuesday 28 April they voted for a guillotine motion that they thought would gag only the Opposition. I hope that they will say that they now find that it has gagged them as well. In addition, I hope that they will send those letters and that they will send one copy to me and one to their local newspapers.

Mr. Raison

The debate has focused more on my hon. Friend's amendment No. 89 than on the Government's new clause and Government amendment No. 24. I am inclined to take it, therefore, that there is fairly widespread agreement that the Government's proposals should be accepted. Therefore, I shall not waste hon. Members' time by covering that ground again. It seems widely understood that those proposals are right.

It is proper to answer the points made about our proposals. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) seemed—if I understood him correctly—to interpret subsection (2)(a)(ii) as meaning that the marriage had to be subsisting at the time of the application for registration. But the marriage has only to be in force immediately before commencement, as the opening words of subsection (2)(a) make clear. That means that a divorce following the child's birth would not affect the issue. A divorce effected after conception but before the birth would not affect the child's legitimacy. The child would be legitimate in those circumstances and would he able to acquire the father's citizenship.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Perhaps I could illustrate the difficulty. I am sorry if, by a slip of the tongue, I said "birth" when I should have said "commencement", in relation to line 16 of new clause 1. Let us take the case of two children who are born several years before commencement and who have both been consularly registered. In the one case there is a divorce between birth and commencement and in the other case there is not. It would seem to me that the new clause differentiates and discriminates against the child whose parents have been divorced between birth and commencement. I do not see the justification for that. It would seem to run counter to the point of view taken in Committee in other contexts, when a similar consideration arose.

Mr. Raison

I am not sure if I understand the right hon. Gentleman correctly. The provision concerns birth after commencement. Indeed, the first line of new clause 1 makes that clear. I do not see the force of the right hon. Gentleman's argument.

At one point, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) said that I seemed to be indicating dissent. I was moving my head in the direction that is generally taken to show dissent, but that was because, although I respect the fact that he raised that point, it had nothing to do with the new clause under debate. There has been widespread concern about the position of children of Crown servants. One of the great blessings that the Bill will be seen to confer will be a substantial improvement in the position of children of Service men and other Crown servants. As has been said in many newspaper articles, letters toThe Daily Telegraph and so on, the Bill cannot pick up retrospectively all the bits and pieces. We should pose enormous problems for ourselves if we were to try retrospectively to solve all the problems of descent and of those born overseas in years gone by who face difficulties as a result. We feel that we cannot go into that. Many complications can arise. For example, a person might be landed with the citizenship of a country that he did not wish to hold.

One of the Bill's main ingredients is that it puts the children of Crown servants into the same position as those born here. If they are born overseas they will be effectively treated as if they had been born here. That is a great advance. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh referred to a case of a gentleman he called "Mr. Y'. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) pointed out, not inaccurately—I think that we are talking about the same case—that the case featured prominently in today's edition ofThe Guardian and that the name was given. I hope that my hon. Friend will not regard it as a breach of confidence if I call the gentleman Mr. Breese, as that is apparently his name——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the Minister do me the favour of not turning his back on the Chair all the time? It is discourteous and happens too often.

Mr. Raison

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, and I apologise.

Mr. Breese was born in Trieste. His father was a British subject without citizenship and could not transmit that status to his son—it can only be held by people born before 1949. He could not derive citizenship from his mother, since citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies descends in the male line only at present.

Mr. Breese has apparently lived all his life in this country. Had the situation come to light at an earlier point—as normally one would have expected it to do—it would no doubt have been appropriate to register him under the Home Secretary's power to register any minor child. That important power is retained in the Bill. Mr. Breese is now 28 and the Home Secretary has no discretionary power to register any adult. Mr. Breese must therefore apply for naturalisation. In the special circumstances of his case, we should be prepared, exceptionally, to give his application every priority.

Occasional cases of this sort do come to light from time to time. This one is in fact a result of the 1948 legislation. Even under that legislation the situation could be rectified before the child reached majority. As I said, the Bill would in fact greatly reduce the chances of such a case occurring again, because under clause 2 mothers can transmit citizenship. While, therefore, I sympathise with Mr. Breese in his predicament, I cannot accept that the rather exceptional circumstances of his case mean that there is anything inherently wrong in the descent provisions of the Bill. Rather the reverse is true, since, as I have said, the chances of a recurrence in future will be greatly diminished by the Bill's provisions. I hope that my hon. Friend is satisfied by that.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

With the hon. Gentleman's permission, I shall interrupt him again if this is a convenient moment. In reply to my earlier question, he said that the clause applied only to those born after commencement. If the hon. Gentleman reads the first line of the new clause he will see that it does not, in terms, do that. I appreciate that line 7 has a retrospective implication. With great respect, I wonder whether the clause is so drawn as to make it clear that it applies only to those born after commencement, although within five years of it. Will the Minister take that into consideration?

Mr. Raison

I shall think about the right hon. Gentleman's point. The new clause begins: A person born in a foreign country within five years after commencement, I do not understand the right hon. Gentleman's point, but I shall look into it. If there is some dubiety about it, we shall no doubt be able to find an opportunity to tackle it.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South raised a point that does not involve amendment No. 89. The new clause affects the right of abode in the following way. It ensures that if a child, on registration, would have the right of abode now, it would have it if registered on application during the five-year transitional period. No one would acquire the right of abode who could not acquire it if he had been born and registered at the consulate before commencement. As the hon. Member knows, we shall be looking in due course at the implications for the immigration rules of the Bill's provisions as a whole. As I said several times in Committee, I do not think that I can go further than that at this stage.

6 pm

I listened with great care to the arguments advanced by my hon. Friends the Members for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) and South Fylde (Mr. Gardner). I know that the topic has aroused considerable strength of feeling. I do not wish in any way to belittle the importance of the matter for those of our citizens by descent living overseas and anxious about their and their children's future. Nevertheless, I must put to my hon. Friends certain arguments on the matter which should, in my view, give them cause to reflect seriously before they seek to press the amendment.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield anticipated, there is a technical flaw in the amendment. I do not want to build that up into something of great importance, but the amendment does not achieve its purpose, for although it would mean that citizens by consular registration were not citizens by descent under clause 12(1)(b)(i), they would still be citizens under clause 12(1)(b)(iii). That is because to become British citizens at all they must have had the right of abode under section 2(1)(b) of the 1971 Act. It is a deficiency which invalidates the amendment.

The main point that I have to put to my hon. Friends is that the amendment would create a major anomaly. The second generation born in foreign countries whose births were registered would become British citizens by birth, while the first generation born in foreign countries would be citizens by descent. I shall deal with that in a few minutes in rather more detail. The force of the point is that those whose connection was less strong would get the higher status, if I may put it in that way. That must be seen as being most unsatisfactory, whatever the objectives of the whole exercise.

I should perhaps make clear to the House that the primary purpose of consular registration is not to confer our citizenship on the children whose births are registered. The main purpose of providing facilities for the registration of births overseas is to enable the records so collected to form part of the comprehensive births, marriages and deaths records of the General Register Office in the United Kingdom. For this purpose, facilities for registering births are provided in every foreign country and in all Commonwealth countries except Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Zimbabwe.

There is no requirement on our citizens overseas to register the births of their children born abroad, but a great many do so because they may wish to have access to the birth record at a later date through United Kingdom sources, if possible. The registration of the birth in this way has no nationality implications in a Commonwealth country. In foreign countries, the vast majority of birth registrations probably carry no nationality implications either. Children born overseas to fathers born here are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies by descent, whether or not their births are registered at the nearest consulate. Only where the father is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by descent does consular registration serve to transmit citizenship to the child of a further generation. In other words, the consular registration leads to citizenship being passed on only if the father was born abroad.

The amendment would not, therefore, make all those persons consularly registered citizens as if by birth but the numbers concerned would be relevant. I was asked about that and will say a word about it.

Since 1949—that is, during the lifetime of the 1948 Act—over 250,000 people have had their births registered at consulates in foreign countries. We have no means of saying precisely how many of these became citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies by descent under section 5(1)(b) of the 1948 Act following their registration. Some research has been done, however, on the registrations for 1978. It revealed that about 730 —or just over 5 per cent. of the total for that year of 13,000—acquired citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies as a direct result of their registration.

If the 5 per cent. held good for other years—and we have no means of knowing whether it did or not—we would have a figure of 12,500 children who have acquired citizenship by consular registration under the 1948 Act so far. I would, however, remind the House that consular registration was introduced as long ago as 1914. I appreciate that the amendment covers only those who were registered under the 1948 Act. It might, however, be thought anomalous to exclude those who owe their citizenship to registration under earlier legislation. Many more would need to be added to the total of 12,500 if this were felt necessary.

I would, however, like to go back to the overall figures of consular registration since 1949. The figure of 250,000 clearly includes a great many people, perhaps as much as 95 per cent., born overseas and who did not need to be registered at a consulate in order to become citizens by descent. They presumably became such citizens automatically at birth because their fathers were born here. Those who needed consular registration, by contrast, were children whose fathers, and in some cases grandfathers or more remote male ancestors, were born overseas.

It is, therefore, a striking anomaly that would be created if the amendment were passed. Citizens by descent who were born to fathers born in this country would remain citizens by descent. Citizens by descent who were born to fathers themselves born overseas would be turned into citizens by birth. Sometimes, as I say, the link through ancestry could be as remote as a grandparent. It would not be more remote than that, since otherwise the child concerned would not have the right of abode. But the effect where the link was through a grandparent would be to extend the right of abode to the third generation born overseas instead of the second, as at present.

This does seem very unfair on the children born overseas to fathers born here. Yet, as I have indicated, their numbers are very substantial. It is difficult to see a way round the anomaly. If one extended my hon. Friend's amendment to cover all citizens by descent, large numbers of citizens by birth would be created, and many of them would not have close connections with the United Kingdom.

I therefore invite the House to consider whether it is really necessary or desirable to single out those registered at consulates in foreign countries for this anomalous treatment. I remind the House that the Bill makes generous provision for descent. I have already mentioned those provisions in detail. The extension to women of the right to transmit overseas will obviate the need for the amendment in a good many cases. Similarly, the broadened provisions for registrations on grounds of overseas employment will help in other cases. These are contained in the amendments to clause 3 which the House will be considering.

I mention the provision in clause 3(5) for the entitlement to registration of a child of a British citizen where that child lives with his parents here for three years. Ample provision is made for the child born overseas to citizens by descent who retain a close connection with this country.

I have said already that I take seriously the arguments of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Stanbrook

I have been endeavouring to follow my hon. Friend's arguments against the present wording of amendment No. 89. Would it be possible to find suitable wording which restricted the passing of citizenship in cases such as this to one generation only, so that instead of creating Britons by birth we would be creating only Britons by descent, so that there would be only one generation involved? That would not have the consequences that my hon. Friend says amendment No. 89 would have. If it is possible to do that by the appropriate wording, surely it should be done, because the spirit of the amendment argues for itself.

Mr. Raison

I have said already that it is difficult to get round the problem that we have to face. I suppose that it might be possible to meet the point, but there is the problem that I have tried to illustrate of the disparity between those whose parents were born here and those whose parents were born overseas. I have not found an amendment that would satisfy my hon. Friends. That is partly because I believe that what we are putting forward in the Bill meets the problem. I am not, therefore, persuaded that we ought to do something else.

I should like to expand my arguments on the point. As I was saying when my hon. Friend intervened, I take the argument seriously, as, I am sure, does the House as a whole. It was to meet that argument that new clauses 1 and 2 were introduced, together with amendment No. 40. They would preserve this aspect of the scheme of consular registration for a further five years from commencement. But I do not believe that it is a denial of rights to provide, as the Bill does, that British citizens who were before commencement citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies by descent should be British citizens by descent. Perhaps more important, I do not think that it is retrospective legislation to affect the possible citizenship claims of children who are as yet unborn.

The pattern that we have adopted in the Bill is to extend existing rights but not to keep them for ever. Therefore, what we are doing is not out of line with the general philosophy of the Bill. What we are trying to do is to move towards a rational and coherent system. Both in the case of Commonwealth people with an entitlement to register, who are no part of this debate, and in the important case that we are discussing in this debate, we recognise that there are current expectations, but we have taken the view that if we defer almost indefinitely moving fully towards the scheme that we believe to be the right scheme then in many ways, although we are not wasting our time, we are putting off the day when we can come up with the kind of structure which is the right one for citizenship of this country.

Sir Albert Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Could my hon. Friend clear up one point? Is it not a fact that if a third-generation mother came to this country for the birth of her child, that child would still be British by birth? If so, are we not giving nationality to those who can afford the air fare?

Mr. Raison

With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that it is like that. There are problems about achieving nationality through paying an air fare in that airlines are not always keen about taking pregnant women on board.

Leaving that on one side, the purpose of the provision by which a person comes back here for three years is that he is establishing the kind of close connection that we are looking for all the time. A three-year period of residence is stronger evidence that a person is closely connected with the country and has an entitlement to citizenship than is the fact that he had ancestors who were citizens but that he nevertheless decided to make his life overseas.

There are many different provisions by which those who make their lives overseas but retain close connections with this country, particularly through employment, can get back on board. We have to draw a line on the total passing on of citizenship by descent. In regard to this group of people, the extension for another five years after commencement, which in reality means more than five years from now, gives them a fair chance to make use of the existing system.

Mr. Edward Gardner

What my hon. Friend is saying is that if a father has a child within the five years he will have the right to transmit, but if he has a child after the five years that right will no longer be available to him. Does that seem right to my hon. Friend?

Mr. Raison

We are saying that the system that exists cannot continue indefinitely. I cannot quarrel with my hon. and learned Friend about that. I have tried to make the point that we think that there is a scheme that is ultimately the right one. I do not think that that has been disputed by the House as a whole, which accepts our long-term objective. The argument is about the transitional period, and only about people who are overseas before commencement. Even at that it is not an indefinite transition.

In the Bill we have generally taken the view that the transitional period should be limited rather than indefinite. That remains our view. At the very least I hope that my hon. Friends will see that their amendment would produce substantial anomalies by the arbitrary way in which citizens by descent whose fathers were born abroad would be made citizens by birth, while those whose parents were born here would be citizens by descent. I hope that my hon. Friends will not press their amendment, because its deficiencies are obvious. As they think about the matter I hope that they will see that we are right to move after what is a reasonable concession in regard to the transitional period towards the scheme that is recognised on all sides of the House to be the right one.

6.15 pm
Mr. Mates

I am grateful to the House for letting me speak again. Naturally I am disappointed that my hon. Friend has not felt able to accept the spirit of my amendment. Let me say straight away that I accept the technical flaw that he alleges exists. I am not sure that I accept that it means that he could not agree to the inclusion of my amendment; from what he said, a further amendment would be needed to another part of the Bill. For that reason I am not inclined to ask leave to withdraw it.

Secondly, I want it to be clear what it is that I am seeking. It is not related to the five-year extension, which is a different point. Perhaps I have not made it clear up to now. I will try once again, because this must have been my failure. I accept that anomalies would be created if this amendment were accepted, but the point is that what the Bill, as drafted, will do is to take away retrospectively rights that people had and people thought they had. That is what people are upset about. To make it crystal clear, I should like to express it in personal terms.

I went overseas 20-odd years ago, in Crown service. Three of my children were born in Germany. They were registered at the British consulate—two in Hanover and one in Dusseldorf. At the time I was quite clear that by the actions that I was taking I was handing on my British citizenship—my citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies—to my children. That consular registration was a conscious act. Of course, it has been picked up entirely in the Bill because I was in Crown service. The Government are absolutely right, and I congratulate them on having made this blanket coverage for all those who were in the service of the Crown.

Let us suppose that I had had a twin brother; that instead of going into the Services he had gone into business or industry; that he had come with his wife to Germany at the same time as I did; that his children were born in Germany; that he and I had gone along together to the British consulate, stood in the queue and registered respectively our children. He would have thought that he was doing precisely what I thought I was doing. He would have thought that by doing that he was ensuring for his children the right to be British subjects and citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, as they were then, and he would have gone away as happy as I was, whereas now, under the Bill, his children would be becoming British citizens only by descent.

That is where I argue with my hon. Friend. It is not about what may happen in the future. It is not about the transitional arrangements, correct and admirable as they are. This is a right that, whether or not we had it, we believed that we had it in both cases, one real and the other hypothetical. But many people have written to me who did just as I did all those years ago. They are deeply concerned. They felt that they were enshrining rights in their children, just as I enshrined rights in my children. Their children are not going to have those rights.

Unless we change it, the Bill will take away from such a child that right, so that he is a British citizen only by descent and he cannot, unless there are other factors that pick him up, transmit his citizenship to his children, whereas my children can, and can continue to do so as a right. That is not fair. That is the thing that I passionately ask the Government to agree to look at again. It cannot be right, although I agree with the Minister that many of these cases will be picked up.

Many people will have had mothers who were born in this country, and we have given them the right to transmit. Others will have come back here, lived here, and become qualified in other ways. Others can go through the process of registration, but in principle they should not have to. We should not be taking away from them a right they had at the time that they were born—a right that they will have until 1 January next year. Yet, by the chance that one is in Crown service and the other is not, that right is taken away. That is my fundamental objection. I beg the Minister most earnestly to say that he will look at the matter again.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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