HL Deb 16 July 1924 vol 58 cc600-10

LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether, as a result of the inquiries which they undertook to make they can take any action which will facilitate the acquisition of British nationality by the children of British parents born in foreign countries during the period of the war, 1914–18, or the removal of the disabilities from which such children would suffer if they became naturalised British subjects: and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, two months ago I asked a Question of a very similar character to that which now appears on the Paper. On that occasion the House adjourned for the Royal Commission, and many noble Lords, apparently, were under the impression that the business on the Paper subsequent to the Royal Commission would be adjourned to another date. The result is that I asked the Question in an extremely thin House, but I can claim that I was successful in obtaining the sympathy of every noble Lord who was present and, in saying that, I include also the noble Lords who replied on behalf of His Majesty's Government. They were, of course, careful not to bind themselves to any particular action in the ease, but I was able to feel that I had made out a very strong case for a revision of the Acts which deal with the naturalisation of British subjects. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord President of the Council, was good enough to say, at the end of the debate, that he would consider the matter and see whether anything could be done to meet my views.

This is my excuse for again bringing the matter before your Lordships. It is a question of great importance, and the more it is ventilated the more likely it is to obtain support. I ask your Lord ships, therefore, to bear with me if, in order that you may understand the actual grievance of which I complain, I recapitulate some of the arguments I brought forward on the previous occasion. Most of your Lordships, in your travels abroad, have come across communities of British merchants in foreign towns, mostly in seaport towns, who carry on the best traditions of British commerce and do their best to increase the volume of British trade in different parts of the world. It is not necessary for me to go through a list of the towns, which will come readily to your mind—Bordeaux. Oporto, Buenos Aires, and Bio de Janeiro. In all these towns there are these communities of highly respected British merchants, living on friendly terms with their neighbours but keeping themselves to themselves, marrying English women, and sending their children home to be educated.

When these children grow up some of them engage in commerce, or a profession, in this country, while the elder ones probably return to the country of their parents' adoption and enter the business in which they are engaged. In due time they succeed to it, marry English women, and send their children home to this country to be educated. Thus the links which unite them with the Motherland are renewed and strengthened. This was the case up to the beginning of the war. It was impossible, however, that the children of the third generation should become British subjects and, consequently, it was the habit of the wives of these British merchants, when they found that an interesting event in the family was expected, to return to England so that their children should be born within the King's allegiance and become British subjects.

When the war broke out in 1914 there was a natural feeling of alarm as to the number of people who might claim British citizenship, and an Act was hurriedly-passed—not wrongly passed, because it was only natural in the circumstances—which limited British citizenship to the children of the first generation born abroad. This created much dissatisfaction, and it was felt that its terms must be relaxed. In 1918 another Act was passed, permitting children of the second generation to be counted as British subjects if their father was engaged in the service of the Crown at the time of their birth. Again, this did not go far enough, and in 1922 a third Act was passed. This Act altered this particular clause in many respects, and enacted that all children of the second generation should be British subjects and that, in particular instances, it should be allowed even to the third generation. Therefore, any child born one year previously to the passing of that Act could be registered as a British subject. That is, all children born in 1921 and, in special cases with the consent of the Secretary of State, even those who were born two years before might be naturalised as British subjects. Thus the Act was, to a certain degree, retrospective.

I am going to quote a particular case of hardship, not because it is an isolated case—there are many like it—but because, I think one case in which I am able to mention names and give particulars will do n ore to prove my case than a great many statements as to what theoretically might have been the case. The particular instance is the case of Mr. Herbert Rawes, of Lisbon, a member of a firm which has been engaged in commerce for three generations. Many of your Lordships who have travelled by the Royal Mail Steamship line will probably know his name. This gentleman's firm carry cm business as shipping agents, agents for Lloyds, and representatives of the Royal Mail Steamship Company. They also conduct an information bureau for bankers. Both Mr. and Mrs. Rawes are British subjects, as were their parents and grandparents. In fact, there is not one drop of Portuguese blood in their veins. Although Mr. Herbert Rawes and his father were born in Portugal, after their marriage Mrs. Herbert Rawes made a point of returning to England for the birth of any of her children, thus ensuring that they should be born British subjects.

When the war broke out Mr. Rawes at once offered to enlist in the Army, although he was over military age. His offer was not accepted. If he had been accepted his child would have been a British subject because of that very fact, but the authorities refused to accept him saying that he was doing more useful work where he was. His office, in fact, was taken over as an Intelligence Department by the British Government, and he remained there during the war. Three of his brothers joined the Army and one was killed. In the year 1916 Mrs. Rawes applied for a passport to return from Lisbon to Southampton as she was expecting the birth of a child. It was refused on the ground that women could not travel safely owing to the German submarines. It was a perfectly good reason for refusing a passport, but the application for it shows that both Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Rawes were anxious to do everything in their power to ensure that their child should be born a British subject.

I could mention the case of another lady, a relation of Mr. and Mrs. Rawes, who asked the advice of a member of the then British Cabinet. He advised her to go to Gibraltar for the birth of her child. She travelled by motor car, and the state of the Portuguese and Spanish roads was such that it was a narrow escape that the child was not born a subject of the King of Spain instead of the King of England. Mrs. Rawes decided to remain in Portugal and the child was born on January 17, 1017. Mr. Rawes applied to the British Consul for the child to be registered as a British subject. He refused, and that child, a boy, is now a Portuguese citizen, liable to conscription and to serve in the Portuguese Army in case of war. Let me call your Lordships' attention to this important fact, that if Mr. Rawes, instead of being a natural-born British subject, had been a naturalised British subject, then the child would have been a British subject. This is the case also of the children of a German who has become a naturalised Englishman.

It may be said that the proper remedy is for the child to be naturalised. There are a great many formalities to be gone through in regard to naturalisation. The child must reach a certain age before it can be naturalised. That could be done, but there are very grave disabilities arising in the case of a naturalised British subject, who is in a totally different position from a natural-born British subject. In the first place, if that child, having grown to manhood and being a naturalised subject, applies for a passport he is obliged to have stamped on his passport "Naturalised British subject." That is not all. This is a younger member of a family and probably after he has been educated in England he will stay in this country. If he becomes a partner in any firm or a director of any company which is formed under the Companies Act, 1908—and this is a point upon which His Majesty's Government rather differed from me when I stated the case before—that firm will be obliged to insert on every sheet of paper belonging to the firm, and every communication that is sent out underneath the name of this man, the words "Originally of Portuguese nationality." I think that is a very serious disadvantage for any one of pure British birth. However much we may respect our oldest Ally, most people prefer to be English rather than is what is commonly known as a Dago.

His Majesty's Government, when I put this Question, seemed to think that my information on this point was wrong. I have since fortified myself by obtaining counsel's opinion and I will ask the noble Lord, the Lord President of the Council, to tell me when he replies whether he is still confident that I am not correct in the statement that I made? If I am correct, ought not some remedy to be found? These people, after all, are a much more numerous class than is generally supposed. They are spread all over the towns along the coast of the Atlantic, as well as in many other parts of the world, and they have nobody to represent them in this country. They are in a different position from people here who can have their Member put forward a case in the House of Commons. It is a mere chance meeting with a member of your Lordships' House which has resulted in this grievance being ventilated.

The first suggestion that I would make would be whether it would not be possible for His Majesty's Government to pass another Act making the measure of 1922 slightly more retrospective than it is. It goes back to 1920, and, if it were made sufficiently retrospective to allow people who, through no fault of their own but only owing to the war, are not British subjects, to be given the status of natural-born British subjects, the matter would be at once remedied. Another possibility which I put forward, and which I was told was impossible, was that a Private Bill should be passed naturalising these children. That is an expensive process, but Mr. Rawes, although not a rich man, has told me that he is quite ready to incur that expense. I am told that this custom is falling into disuse, but I cannot see that that is any reason why it should not be revived. It is not reactionary, and I do not think that even the strongest Socialist could object to it on that ground. The remedies which I have suggested would be gladly welcomed by a large number of His Majesty's subjects who do very good work for this country in distant parts of the world. I hope that the Lord President of the Council will be able to tell me, in consequence of the inquiries which he was good enough to say that he would make, that he finds himself able to hold out some promise that this grievous wrong will be remedied.


My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a very important Question and, at the same time, a very technical one. I must apologise for the fact that when the Question was asked last I was not fully cognisant of all the matters which he has now mentioned. The noble Lord wrote to me afterwards and I made inquiries, and I think that we are both now agreed as to what the position really is. There are one or two words that I should like to say upon the matter, in order to show how complicated it is and what are the principles involved, before I answer the Question in a manner which I hope may be satisfactory to the noble Lord.

Section 3 of the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, 1914, states that a naturalised subject shall have all the rights and privileges of a natural born British subject. That is the general principle, but, as the noble Lord has pointed out, there are apparently two exceptions with which he thinks we might deal, and with which, perhaps, we ought to deal, by special legislation. Before I come to those two cases I ought to point out that the complications have arisen somewhat in this manner. By the Common Law of England nationality depends upon jus soli, that is, upon the place where a child is born. It was a Statute Law which commenced in 1730 and went on down to 1772, which gave nationality upon another footing also, known as jus sanguinis and under that Statute Law, as it stood until the year 1914, children of British parents would have British nationality in the full form, and it would not be necessary to naturalise them, even to the second generation. The noble Lord is quite right in saying that an alteration was made in the year 1914 which limited nationality by birth to the children of British parents abroad, excluding grandchildren, that is the children of the second generation born abroad.

The particular point to which the noble Lord has called attention is this. He says that at the present time, if the person who holds a passport is a naturalised British subject as distinct from a natural born British subject, that fact is stated on the face of the passport. It is clear that no one would desire to have that fact specially mentioned on the face of a passport if it could be avoided. But the noble Lord also points to a greater difficulty which arises under the Act passed in 1916. Under that Act, as he has pointed out, if a naturalised subject is engaged in business, or is a director, he has to state upon the face of his business documents, or it has to be pointed out in the registry of Somerset House, that he is a naturalised, as distinct from a natural born British subject. That again is, of course, a great disadvantage.

We all know that the distinction has been raised fairly often since the war between a naturalised subject and one who is a national from birth. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that those two special difficulties do arise under the Acts as they stand now, and do affect—if I may refer to the terms of his Question—" children of British parents born in foreign countries during the period of the war, 1914–1918." It is only within those years that the difficulty arises. It is one of those difficulties of our complicated war legislation which, I think, undoubtedly ought to be put right.

I will now deal with the question of the business man who has to call himself a naturalised subject instead of an ordinary British national. I have made inquiries at the Home Office, before which questions of this kind come, and I can say that the Home Secretary is sympathetic to the views expressed by the noble Lord. If I may express my own views, I think it is a hardship that this should be allowed to go on. It is a relic of war time which might now be removed. It is not a very easy matter for legislation, because we can hardly deal only with ladies who may have desired to come over here on account of interesting events but wore unable to do so during the war time. If you deal with this matter at all, I think you must apply it more generally. That is one of the difficulties which the Home Office feel. Moreover, it is not a matter upon which I can give any certain information until the Cabinet have considered it.

If special legislation is required it is, of course, quite impossible that there would be such legislation at the present moment, but I suggest to the noble Lord that it can be looked into with a desire to deal with it in the autumn, if we can. But if he, on his part, were to introduce a Bill and get it read a first time in this House, it would be of great advantage to myself and to the Government. We should see exactly what it is that he requires, and in what form he thinks it ought to be formulated. I suggest that to him, because if we could know exactly what be considers to be the remedy for the evils which he has pointed out, it would assist us in realising what the point is, and also in formulating a Bill by which the remedy might be carried out, or we might carry on the Bill which he himself has introduced. I must not, however, be thought to be going too far at this stage. As the noble Lord knows, I have been specially to the Home Secretary, and we are sympathetic. We think the matter might be put right, if it can be put right, but, of course, legislation is impossible before the Recess.

The other point to which the noble Lord refers is the question of the passport. What is said by the Foreign Office with regard to the passport is that you must put true conditions upon the face of the passport, and therefore if a man is a naturalised subject, and not a natural born British subject, you must indicate that upon the face of the passport. In certain directions, no doubt, it makes a difference to the position in which he stands in certain countries, and also to the conditions under which he is entitled to assistance in certain cases. This is not a hardship which can be put right by way of an alteration of the form of the passport. It would have to be done by legislation such as the noble Lord has suggested—legislation making the subject in question a natural born and not a naturalised subject. You must go to the root of the matter in order to put it right.

There is one other suggestion which I have to make to the noble Lord, and it is a suggestion in connection with the trade point—that is to say, a man who is a director carrying on business has to show that he is naturalised as distinct from a natural born subject. Under the Companies (Particulars as to Directors) Act of 1917 there is a discretion in the Board of Trade which enables them to remit the obligations in certain cases. That would, of course, imply an application to the Board of Trade, and it might also imply, in certain circumstances, a refusal of the application when made. That is one way in which the grievance may be remedied as the law stands at the present time, and therefore I indicate it to the noble Lord as a course which might be followed by one feeling the immediate result of the disabilities to which the noble Lord has referred.

I do not suggest that it is a perfect remedy, but this is the note which I have upon it: Under Section 26 of the Companies (Consolidation) Act, 1908. every company has to make an annual return to the Registrar of Companies including inter alia the names and addresses of the persons who at the date of the return are the directors of the company. The Companies (Particulars as to Directors) Act, 1917, provides that in addition to the names and addresses of the directors ' there shall be included such particulars with respect to those persons as would require to he furnished with respect to them under the Registration of Business Names Act. 1916, if they were partners in a firm required ' "— therefore, you have to go back to the Act of 1916 to see what the obligation is— ' to be registered under that Act,' and Section 18 of that Act requires the nationality of origin, if not British, to be stated. When we go back to the Act of 1916 we find that there is power in the Board of Trade to allow remission.

I think that is all I can say in answer to the Question. Certainly, I am one of those who desire that these relics of the exceptional war legislation should not affect persons harshly, and it seems particularly hard that certain individuals should lose their nationality because, owing to the conditions of the submarine warfare, their mothers were unable to come to this country at the time of their births.


My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend will be able to avail himself of the suggestion of the Lord President of the Council and prepare a Bill to remedy this mischief, I hope he will find it possible to do so, and I should like to say one word in support of my noble friend in the suggestion he has made to the Government. As regards the Foreign Office point, as to the necessity of stating upon the face of the passport the exact condition of the holder of the passport—whether he is natural born or naturalised—I confess I do not quite follow the argument of the Lord President of the Council. For my part, I think that the days of the passport have gone by. I do not see that it serves any useful purpose whatever, and I should be glad if the. Government would consider whether the conditions might not be further relaxed, even beyond the point to which they have been relaxed in the last few years.

As regards the main question of relieving these eases to which my noble friend has referred, and other cases, there is really no reason why the Government should not undertake legislation on the subject. The grievance covers, as the Lord President has explained, only four years, and therefore although the hardship on a number of individuals, such as the lady to whom my noble friend referred, is very great, yet the precedent which may be set is hardly likely to be of a formidable kind. H only requires a very short Act of Parliament to do what is suggested—namely, not only to relieve the particular lady and her son, but also the other persons to whom the Lord President referred. I think he might, therefore, suggest to his colleagues that a short Act should be passed. There is only one reason why these short Acts, which are obviously reasonable and just, are not passed. That is, that it is thought that there would be difficulty in another place and that would take up Government time, I cannot conceive that that would be so in this case, but I think that every Member of Parliament would desire to do justice. I believe that the noble Lord will find that so far as the Party with which I am associated is concerned no difficulty will be placed in the way of the Government in passing this legislation.


My Lords, I rise only to thank the Lord President of the Council for his very sympathetic reply. It gives great satisfaction to me to know that the Government think that this grievance should be relieved. I certainly will, if I can, act upon the suggestion of the Lord President and present a Bill. I rather gather from what the Lord President said that he will do all in his power to secure the passage of the Bill, if unopposed, which I agree with Lord Salisbury is almost certain to be the case. The noble and learned Lord suggested that there was another way out if the difficulty, and that was that the Board of Trade have discretion to dispense with the printing of these particulars as to the nationality of directors on the various notepaper and other documents belonging to companies and partnerships. I am afraid, however, from what I have gathered from that source, that it is extremely unlikely that this discretion would be exercised, except m the case where all the partners were natural born British subjects, and it is extremely unlikely to be exercised in the case of one who is a naturalised subject. As I have said, I hope to present a Bill for the First Reading, and I trust that the sympathy with which the noble Lord has supported me in this case will be extended to that Bill, so that it may not only be passed in this House, but that facilities may be given to it in another place.


I forgot to mention that in the case of a Bill of this kind the Dominion" would have to be consulted. That will be a necessary step, and, of course, it will take a little time.