HL Deb 24 February 1925 vol 60 cc288-91

LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the case of children of British parents born in foreign countries during the period of the war, 1914–1918, and to ask whether facilities can be given for the acquisition by such children of British nationality; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on two occasions I have brought before the attention of the House the grievance of British subjects whose wives were prevented during the war from returning to this country before the expected birth of an infant, with the result that those children were born as aliens, unlike their brothers and sisters, who were British subjects. On the two previous occasions I was able to bring before your Lordships specific cases of hardship and to point out how these children suffered, not only now but even if they subsequently became naturalised British subjects, and I do not propose to weary the House by repeating those details on the present occasion. On both occasions I was fortunate enough to secure the sympathy, I think, of all noble Lords who listened to that which I had to say, and on the last occasion the then Leader of the House, Lord Parmoor, asked me to introduce a Bill dealing with the subject, which he promised would have the consideration of His Majesty's Government. I prepared the Bill and had intended to introduce it last autumn when the change of Government took place. I have not done so since because I do not know whether that course, which is a somewhat unusual one, will recommend itself to His Majesty's present advisers.

I am aware that the whole question of naturalisation is a difficult one and one in which the Dominions have to be consulted before any change in the law is made, but I have been very strongly pressed in regard to it from all parts of the world by people who write to me saying that they hope that I have not dropped the subject. I am anxious to know what are the views of His Majesty's Government and whether they would like me to introduce the Bill suggested by the late Government, or if they are taking other steps. I am quite aware that in matters of this kind, unless a Government is reminded of them, replies to Questions which may be asked are sometimes pigeon-holed, but I feel confident that this will not be the case in the present instance. I should like to ask the Question that stands in my name, and to move for a copy of any correspondence which has passed between His Majesty's Government and the self-governing Dominions within the last year on the subject of naturalisation.


My Lords, it falls to my duty to reply on this matter to the Question which has been asked by my noble friend. I do not know that I shall be in a position to give him a very much more satisfactory reply than he has already received on the two occasions when he went into this matter with some fulness—namely, on March 15 and on July 16 of last year—but I will at all events follow him in the brevity which he has displayed. My noble friend Lord Parmoor, who answered on the last occasion, did go somewhat fully into the subject of jus loci and jus sanguinis and various other legal difficulties which arise in the case, and did go on to suggest that my noble friend should introduce a Bill in which he should exactly state the points on which ho required a remedy. I see also that my noble friend Lord Salisbury said that his Party, at all events, would offer no difficulty to this Bill being proceeded with in both Houses of Parliament with the greatest possible despatch.

I think everybody admits that there is a grievance, which has found such eloquent expression in the speeches made in this House by ray noble friend, but, as he has said, it is a matter of some considerable difficulty. I think, however, that on one point I am able to offer him a little hope. The two Departments concerned in the matter are the Home Office with regard to the passport question, and the Board of Trade with regard to children of British parents born abroad who should adopt a mercantile pursuit and become directors of companies. So far as the Board of Trade is concerned, I think I can hold out the hope that where a director of a company is the child of British parents, although born abroad in a foreign country, very favourable consideration would be given by the Board of Trade to an application for an order for exemption to that company from complying with the provisions of the Act of 1917, so as to obviate the necessity of the company disclosing on its letter paper and business documents the former nationality of that director. I think that will satisfy my noble friend up to a certain point. The crux of the whole matter is this, that the Nationalisation Laws of this country are now an Empire affair, and we cannot change them without consulting our various Dominions; and I am sure it will be a satisfaction to the noble Lord to know that steps have already been taken and the Dominions communicated with during last autumn—South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Their answers have not yet been received.


What about Ireland?


I have not inquired into that. I will inquire, but Ireland is very seldom left out of anything. Before, however, any promises can be made it is absolutely necessary that we should know what views the Dominions take on a matter which, as the noble Lord admits, is a very complicated one. When the replies are received I cannot say at the present moment how far they will be of such a character that they can with propriety be made public, but I am perfectly certain that if my noble friend makes a further application in the future such information as it is possible for me to give will be given to him. At present they must be considered as confidential documents.


I thank my noble friend very much for his reply. Although it does not indicate a great step forward I think that the special announcement which he has made, and of which I had some private information before—that probably the Board of Trade, in the case of a foreign-born child of English parents becoming a director of a company, would give that case very favourable consideration—is most valuable and will be very much appreciated by the parents of children in this position. In the circumstances, as communications are proceeding with the various self-governing Dominions, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers, which, the noble Lord tells us, for the present must be considered as confidential.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

[From Minutes of February 18.]