HL Deb 17 March 1914 vol 15 cc503-11


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill to which I shall ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading this afternoon provides for the first time for a system of Imperial naturalisation on a uniform and definite basis throughout the whole Empire. At present an alien naturalised in the United Kingdom carries with him, either by right or by courtesy, over the whole of the world practically the same privileges as a natural-born British subject, subject, of course, to any claims that may be made upon him by the country of his original citizenship when they conflict with his newly-acquired nationality. That is not the case, however, with an alien who is naturalised in other portions of the Empire.

A great number of Americans are migrating year by year into Canada, and most of them take out at the earliest possible date certificates of naturalisation in Canada. When in Canada they are, consequently, naturalised citizens of that Dominion, but if they come to the United Kingdom they are still regarded technically as citizens of the United States. So far as foreign countries are concerned the disabilities under which they labour are not serious, for they are entitled to a passport which will ensure for them the good offices of the representatives of our Diplomatic and Consular Services; but if they come to this country they remain technically foreign citizens and, unless they are naturalised here under our laws, they cannot, for instance, own a British ship, they cannot qualify for any office in this country or for the municipal or Parliamentary franchise, and they cannot be made members of your Lordships' House. That represents, I think your Lordships will agree, a gross anomaly and a real grievance.

For a long time everybody who has been familiar with this subject has desired to see a remedy adopted; and yet it has been a matter of no small difficulty to find the right remedy. The history of the negotiations with regard to this matter has been long and complicated. I do not propose to attempt to describe them to you in detail to-day, for I do not think any useful purpose would be served by my doing so. The chief difficulties arose, first, from the fact that our conditions of naturalisation in the United Kingdom differ from those in the Dominions, and the conditions in every Dominion differ from the conditions in every other Dominion. For the internal purposes of the various self-governing parts of the Empire the conditions that have been in force in them have proved satisfactory, but no uniform Imperial system could be founded upon them because they vary so much between themselves. In the second place, our tests in this country, in regard to residence at any rate, are more stringent than those in most of the Dominions; and we could not relax those tests in this country, because we could not afford to contemplate a very large immigration from the Continent of Europe on account of such relaxation. In the third place, there was in the past a good deal of fear on the part of the Dominions that a system of Imperial naturalisation might give privileges inconsistent with the discrimination already exercised in some of the Dominions between different classes of British subjects. I think that fear was exaggerated, but it had an important effect in delaying the earlier negotiations. In the fourth place, there was some fear also that an undesirable might receive Imperial naturalisation in one portion of the Empire and use that Imperial naturalisation for entering another portion of the Empire where he would not have been able to obtain naturalisation. Those were the chief difficulties that had to be met, and I will only say one or two words as to the history of the discussions that took place in regard to them.

The matter was considered by a strong Inter-Departmental Committee in 1901, and the proposals of that Committee were embodied in a draft Bill that was presented to the Imperial Conference in 1907. That draft Bill was afterwards considered separately by all the Dominions, and criticisms were offered upon it which were considered by His Majesty's Government to be justified. Another Inter-Departmental Committee was appointed in 1908 to consider the criticisms that had been made, and to offer suggestions for the amendment of the Bill. The report that this Committee presented was sent out to the Dominions and a special conference was suggested, but a good deal of time passed and it was found more convenient to defer that further conference to the Imperial Conference which met in 1911. I do not think that any better example could be given of the increasingly practical value of the consideration of subjects of general interest to the Empire at Imperial Conferences than the discussion of this question of naturalisation at the Imperial Conference of that year. It was a most difficult and complicated matter. The consideration of it had already occupied several years without agreement being come to; yet after a comparatively short discussion, which is given on pages 249 to 271 of Cd. 5745, agreement was quickly and unanimously arrived at.

That agreement was tabled in the form of a Resolution which I will venture to read to your Lordships— That the Conference approves a scheme of Imperial citizenship based on the following five propositions:—

  1. (1) Imperial nationality should be world-wide and uniform, each Dominion being left free to grant local nationality on such terms as its Legislature thinks fit.
  2. (2) The Mother Country finds it necessary to maintain the five years as the qualifying period. This is a safeguard to the Dominions as well as to her, but five years anywhere in the Empire should be as good as five years in the United Kingdom.
  3. (3) The grant of Imperial nationality is in every case discretionary, and this discretion should be exercised by those responsible in the area in which the applicant has spent the last twelve months.
  4. (4) The Imperial Act should be so framed as to enable each self-governing Dominion to adopt it.
  5. (5) Nothing now proposed would affect the validity and effectiveness of local laws regulating immigration and the like, or differentiating between different classes of British subjects."
There was an understanding at this Conference in 1911 that a Bill was to be prepared, and the Bill was drafted so quickly that many of the representatives of the Dominions had it actually in their hands before they left this country. That second draft Bill, which has been published in the Blue-book containing documents in connection with the Conference, was again submitted to the Dominions. It was considered by them, certain criticisms on matters of detail were offered, and departmental investigations here in the United Kingdom also showed that the form of the Bill might be greatly improved by redrafting. That was done, and the final result is the Bill that I have the honour to ask your Lordships to read a second time this afternoon. I would emphasise the fact that this is an agreed Bill as between His Majesty's Government and the Governments of the Dominions, and, being an agreed Bill, I venture, if I may, to express the hope that it will be passed as nearly as possible in its present agreed form.

Now I turn to the provisions of the Bill. The Bill as a whole consolidates and amends the Common and Statute Law of this country dealing with this question. The Common Law already runs throughout the Empire, and it is reproduced in paragraphs (a) and (c) of the first subsection of Clause 1 of this Bill. No change is made in regard to it. The Statute Law relates to the acquisition of British nationality. That acquisition is made in two forms. First, by birth, or, as regards women, by marriage. Generally speaking, the law in regard to that question runs throughout the Empire. There is an important new provision in the proviso to the first subsection of Clause 1, which makes it quite certain, if any doubt existed, that the child of a British subject born in a British Protectorate or in any place within His Majesty's jurisdiction should be deemed to have been born within His Majesty's allegiance. The other form of acquisition of nationality is by naturalisation, and, generally speaking, the laws of naturalisation differ in different parts of the Empire. I will say a few words on this later; but I may say that the general effect of the Bill is to put an alien naturalised thereunder in the same position as a natural-born British citizen save only in the case where two nations lay claim to his being a national of theirs.

The Bill is divided into three parts. Part I deals with the definition of natural-born British subjects, Part II deals with naturalisation, and Part III is general and contains machinery. Parts I and III are of general application throughout the Empire except where specially stated otherwise. For instance, Clause 26 saves the powers of the Legislatures and Governments of British possessions both now and in the future. It provides that any laws which have been passed in those possessions under the powers which they now enjoy are not affected by this Bill, and that they will not be prevented from treating differently different classes of British subjects. That follows the principle of Section 16 of the Act of 1870. It is practically not new. Again, Clause 23, dealing with penalties for false representation or statement, is confined in its action to the United Kingdom; and in Clause 17, which deals with aliens holding property, it is expressly stated that it does not enable an alien to hold real property outside the United Kingdom. I do not think I need describe more of the provisions of Parts I and III, but I will say a few words on Part II of the Bill relating to Imperial naturalisation.

Part II consolidates and amends the existing law so far as the United Kingdom is concerned. The new provision in Part II, Clause 8, gives the same power to the Dominion Governments to grant certificates of naturalisation as is given to the Secretary of State in this country; and in regard to other Colonies not Dominions, it gives the Governor a like power subject to the approval of the Secretary of State in this country. Under Clause 9, which makes that part of the Bill adoptive, Part II will have no effect in a Dominion until it is adopted by the Dominion, and no certificate of naturalisation granted under this part of the Act will have effect in a Dominion unless this part has been adopted by that Dominion. Where it has been adopted the Dominion Governments will have the same powers to make regulations as are possessed here by the Secretary of State; and, of course, power to rescind the adoption is given as well as the power of adoption—rather, I take it, as a natural corollary than that it will be likely to be used. The earlier clauses of Part II deal with the conditions of naturalisation. They apply universally wherever that part of the Bill is adopted; and unless it is adopted local naturalisation will not, as I have said, give Imperial validity.

The conditions of naturalisation are in Clause 2. They require five years residence, and the last year of residence must be in that part of the Empire where the application is made. That is not entirely in Clause 2, but it is the effect of reading Clauses 2 and 8 together. The applicant must be a man of good character and must speak the English language, but there is a provision in Clause 8 that in any part of the Empire where another language is on an equality with the English language that language may be substituted for English. He must state that he intends to reside in His Majesty's Dominions in the future. He must take the oath of allegiance. There is a change in this Bill in regard to that matter. The Secretary of State or the Government, in whichever the power is, may make regulations defining the time within which the oath of allegiance must be taken—certain difficulties, and abuses almost, have sprung up owing to the fact that no time is defined at present—and the Secretary of State has absolute discretion as to the grant or refusal of an application. Clause 3 of the Bill defines the effect of the grant of a certificate of naturalisation. Clause 4, following a provision in the 1870 Act, gives the Secretary of State power to grant a certificate where some doubt exists. Clause 5 removes some of the difficulties of the existing law. It defines certain cases affecting minors where certificates may be granted, and states that no other persons who are under disability shall have a certificate granted to them.

In Clause 7 a new power of great importance is given. Under the old Act there have been cases of abuse owing to aliens obtaining British nationality and then going abroad for objectionable purposes. Not infrequently these men have obtained certificates of naturalisation owing to false representations. Under Clause 7 there will be power to revoke a certificate of naturalisation which has been granted owing to false representations or fraud. I think I need say no more on the details of the Bill. The Bill gives power to grant Imperial naturalisation throughout the Empire on the same terms as it is granted in the United Kingdom. I am sure your Lordships will agree that we should not be justified in relaxing our present conditions, as we are close to the thickly-populated countries of Europe, where wages for the most part are not so high as they are here, and where the conditions of labour are certainly not more favourable on the whole. During recent years systems of old-age pensions and insurance have been set up in this country, which make an additional inducement to aliens to come here. Therefore it is quite clear that we cannot relax our present conditions. The Dominions have appreciated this fact, and after long correspondence and more than one conference this matter has been settled by common consent. Imperial nationality, if this Bill is carried and adopted by the Dominions, will be given in future by the Dominions as freely as it is given in the Mother Country, subject to precisely the same terms and conditions.

I do not put forward this Bill with any pretention that it is an important scheme of Empire building. Speaking for myself, I have no desire to see the large and stately edifice of the British Empire covering more ground, particularly as it is composed, not of inanimate brick and stone, but of human elements containing within themselves the seed of a possible boundless growth. What I do claim for this measure is that it furnishes some useful cement for the Empire, that it does something to bind the Empire together, that it rounds off the structure of British citizenship and by filling up some of the cracks in the old building removes a long-felt grievance in some of the Dominions. In that belief I venture to commend the Bill to your Lordships' favourable consideration. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Emmott.)


My Lords, I only disagree with the noble Lord who has just sat down in one remark that he made. I think he spoke in too depreciatory a tone of the importance of this Bill. Certainly from my experience of service outside the United Kingdom I regard this Bill as one of great importance, and I heartily congratulate the noble Lord that it has fallen to his lot as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies to have taken a large share in bringing what I know has been a very complicated and difficult negotiation to a successful end, and to have himself been privileged to introduce this Bill to your Lordships' House.

The noble Lord has really given a very faint idea to your Lordships of the difficulty and complexity of this question. A little indication of it was to be found in his remark that the negotiations which are now reaching a conclusion began as long ago as the year 1901. The negotiations have had to be conducted with the Governments of all the Dominions. In the interval there has been more than one Imperial Conference, and at one time it looked as if the problem was insoluble. Happily, that has not proved to be the case. Those who live in this country and have not travelled into other parts of the Empire can scarcely imagine the chaos that prevailed in this matter. South Africa was, perhaps, the field of the greatest amount of chaos, because before the Union there were four Colonies and each Colony could give naturalisation for its own territory alone. I remember quite well several gentlemen of German extraction coming to me in Johannesburg or Pretoria with this real grievance—a grievance which to them seemed perfectly inexplicable. They had been resident in South Africa for many years. They had been resident originally in Cape Colony, and had been naturalised in Cape Colony. But they found that they were not British subjects in the Transvaal even after the war and after the annexation of the Transvaal. If they had been burghers of the Transvaal they would have been British subjects, but having been British subjects for many years in Cape Colony and coming up to the Transvaal after the war they found they were not British subjects in the Transvaal. Nor were they British subjects in Natal or in the Orange Free State; and, if they went abroad, very often could they not get their nationality recognised. And if they turned to the country of their origin for help in case of need they were indignantly repudiated, because, although they were not British subjects in the United Kingdom or in any part of the Empire except Cape Colony, they had ceased to be German subjects from the point of view of German law. Therefore the state of mind of the particular gentlemen of whom I am thinking was one of great confusion, and of great and pathetic indignation. They felt themselves to be a sort of coffin of Mahomet suspended in the empyrean of nationality and unable ever to reach the status of final citizenship.

I therefore welcome this Bill most heartily. I quite understand what the noble Lord means when he says that this is an agreed Bill. He means that even should we wish to do so—of which I do not desire to give any indication—neither in this House nor in the other House would it be wise to make any amendment of importance, because then some departure might arise from what had been a matter of compromise between the Government of some Dominion and His Majesty's Government. I think, however, the noble Lord will admit that there is no reason why we should not look at the clauses of the Bill with careful interest and make any suggestions which occur to us. But on this side of the House we welcome the Bill with pleasure and support the Second Reading.


My Lords, it would not be possible to exaggerate the importance of this Bill. I do not rise to take any objection to it at present, but I must say I think it requires very careful study. I should certainly be sorry to say that it should be passed, as seems to have been suggested, without any amendment at all. I have seen, in the cursory glance that I have given to it, one or two things which I should like to amend. I do not at the moment mean to say anything about them more than this, that I think they raise most important principles and cannot be passed over in silence.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday the 26th instant.