HL Deb 15 August 1907 vol 180 cc1571-4

I will not detain the House more than a minute or two in reference to this matter, but I wish to give my noble friend opposite an opportunity of making a statement upon the subject. Briefly, the facts are as follows. In April, I think, of last year, the British Consul-General in Hayti concluded a convention with the Haytian Government under which all coloured persons of British origin who were born after 1889 became Haytian citizens, and all Haytian subjects in the same position who were born in British territory became British subjects. It will be observed that this is a retrospective Convention. There would be nothing to be said against it if equal advantages were obtained by both sides, but although it is obvious that there may be considerable advantages in becoming a British subject there are no apparent advantages in becoming a subject of the Republic of Hayti. I never heard anyone express a desire to become a member of that community, and I do not think anybody is likely to come across anyone possessing peculiar wishes of that kind. I am given to understand that those persons who are affected consider themselves naturally somewhat aggrieved, and although I am well aware that it is very inconvenient, in some instances, that there should be British subjects who are not particularly desirable acquisitions, and who have to be protected, and so forth, yet I confess that it seems rather hard that persons who have been brought up in the belief that they were British subjects should now be placed in a position of becoming citizens of the Haytian Republic. I would therefore ask my noble friend to make a statement upon this point. I should like to know whether any expressions of dissatisfaction have reached him, and I should also like to ask him whether it is the case, as I have been assured, that a similar Convention was proposed to the French Government and the German Government, and that in both cases those two Governments refused to entertain the proposal.


I shall be very glad to make a short statement in reply to the interesting points with regard to the law of nationalisation and nationality in Hayti which my noble friend has raised. The facts are as follows, and I think my noble friend will see that there is a good deal of misapprehension on the subject. The Convention signed at Port au Prince on the 6th April, 1906, was concluded in order to settle various questions of nationality which had arisen between the United Kingdom and Hayti. Certain claims were made against the Haytian Government by persons (mainly of West Indian descent, and mostly, I believe, of Jamaica) whom his Majesty's Government held to be British subjects, but whom the Haytian Government considered as Haytian citizens under Article 3 of the Constitution of 1889. The third paragraph of this Act runs as follows:— All persons born in Hayti of a foreign father or, if not recognised by the father, of a foreign mother, are Haytian subjects provided that they are of African descent."— while Article 6 of the same Constitution states that only Haytian subjects can hold real property in Hayti. In view of those Articles in the Constitution, and of the claims made by the persons above referred to, it was considered eminently desirable to end the disputes regarding questions of nationality by the conclusion of some arrangement with the Haytian Government; and, on the Haytian Government submitting a draft Convention on the subject, His Majesty's Government expressed their willingness to come to some settlement. These negotiations resulted in the signature of the Convention of 1906 which I have already mentioned. The chief points to be noted with regard to this Convention are that only persons of British origin who have been born in Hayti since the promulgation of the Constitution of 1889 and whose nationality is fixed by Art. 3, par. 3, of the Constitution, already quoted, are regarded as Haytian subjects, while resident in the Republic. Consequently, children of white parents not descended from the African race cannot, even if born after the Constitution of 1889, be claimed as Haytian subjects, unless in cases where a white subject should marry a woman of African descent and have issue by her. No such case is, however, at present known. The large majority of the persons affected are those who since the Constitution of 1889 was promulgated, have been born in Hayti of parents of African descent and who, through their education, associations, and practically everything else, can only be rightly described as Haytian citizens and whose nationality in fact is regarded as Haytian. In most cases these persons are unable to speak English, and are entirely Haytian in instinct, customs, and habits. Art. 1 of the Convention is additionally safeguarded by Art. 6, the first paragraph of which is as follows— The names of the British subjects now resident in Hayti shall be communicated by His Britannic Majesty's Consul General to the Haytian Government, and provided that they have hitherto been regarded as foreigners in Hayti shall receive diplomatic protection from His Majesty's Government. Those persons who, under this Convention, become subjects will, of course, enjoy all rights and advantages possessed by Haytian citizens, and will be entitled to hold all kinds of real property, from which they are now excluded. As far as the Foreign Office is aware, no negotiations have taken place between the German and the French Governments and Haytian Government with regard to the conclusion of any similar Convention. With regard to the question of whether any complaint has been lodged at the Foreign Office, I may say that there was a question asked in the House of Commons the other day by a Member of Parliament of the Secretary of State, and an outline of the same reply which I have now given was communicated to him; but, with that exception, I am not aware that there has been any complaint.