HL Deb 11 May 1948 vol 155 cc754-99

3.21 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I cannot conceal from you that, although I do not think the Bill is controversial, it is concerned with a very complicated and difficult subject; and the problem I had in thinking out the lines of the speech which I was to make was to compress it within reasonable compass. I should have found it easy to make a long speech on this subject, and I shall find it very difficult to make a short speech. Yet I am sure that your Lordships, as a matter of general principle, and having regard to the complexity of the Bill, would rather have a short speech. I shall try to deal with the important and salient matters and not let myself become involved in matters of detail.

I start with this general principle: I believe that of all the remarkable contributions which our race has made to the art of government, the conception of our Empire and Commonwealth is the greatest. Of course it may be said, and said with truth, that it lacks a logical foundation and that it is difficult to expound or explain it. Indeed, even St. Athanasius himself would have found this subject one which called for all his skill. But, though it is difficult to expound and explain, I believe it to be a noble institution. I believe that we have managed to combine a sense of unity with a sense of individual freedom, so that it may fairly be said of our conception of the British Empire and Commonwealth that its service is perfect freedom. Now the link, the bond which binds us together, is, of course, primarily the fact that we are all proud to be subjects of His Majesty the King. There are other things which bind us: there is the sense of perils shared together and overcome in the past; there are the hopes for the future. But those things are not in any sense limited to members of the "family;" they are things which we share, I hope, with the countries of Western Europe. But there is something about the family which to my mind depends upon there being a common status and a common nationality. The problem is how to achieve that common status.

So far as I can see—and this is fundamental to my argument—there are only two ways in which that can be done. First, of course, you could have a common code: you could have every member State enacting the same legislation, and so you might say you had a common test of nationality through the whole of the Commonwealth. That is the principle upon which the 1914 Act was drafted. That Act extended, or was intended to extend, throughout His Majesty's territories, and it was contemplated that part of the Act would be adopted by various member States. Whether or not some question of prestige was involved, the fact was that all the member States preferred to enact their own legislation. None of them, I think, adopted the provisions which were intended for adoption. But although they all enacted their own legislation, yet their legislation was enacted in somewhat similar terms, so that substantial uniformity was achieved. I am for the moment omitting Eire, which I shall consider separately. The result was that a common status was preserved. Even so, the legislation not being precisely similar, anomalies were beginning to appear. I think it fair to add that the discrepancies were tending to increase. And, of course, there was this further drawback. It is a trite saying that he travels fastest who travels alone, and if we had to secure the consent of every member of the Empire and Commonwealth to any alteration in our laws it would involve considerable delay—in particular with regard to the law relating to the nationality of married women. It was known that when we here wanted to do something in regard to it we could not obtain common consent or common agreement.

But the scheme which we had—which I call the common code scheme—was completely shattered by the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1946. Let me make it quite plain that we have not, of course, the smallest complaint: Canada had every right to pass that Act, in regard to which she gave us notice of her intention. But that Act proceeds on this basis: that Canada should enact her own laws in regard to her own citizenship, and that a person admitted to citizenship of Canada should be entitled to British nationality. That is, I believe, the only alternative to the common code method, which had broken down; that is to say, to let each member State decide for itself according to its own laws what constitutes citizenship, and when that has been decided, nationality will follow citizenship. Here I want to point out that, this being the new principle, we must provide for citizenship of the United Kingdom. Our citizenship, of course, equally has British nationality, and subsection (1) of Clause 1, which I call the key clause of the Bill, sets out the position: Every person who under this Act is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies or who under any enactment for the time being in force in any country mentioned in the next following subsection is a citizen of that country shall, by virtue of that citizenship, be a British subject. I repeat, there were two ways of trying to maintain this common status and this common nationality. The common code has broken down and this conception of citizenship is the species; nationality is the genus.

I said just now that that involved that we should have what we have never had before—a citizenship of our own. We must distinguish our citizens from the citizens of other member States. I am in no doubt whatever when I say that if we had not been prepared to do that, we could not have secured their consent to the scheme. Citizenship is to be the gateway through which nationality is achieved. On that I want to make three observations. First, your Lordships will see that the citizenship which for the first time we prescribe is not "citizenship of the United Kingdom," but citizenship "of the United Kingdom and Colonies." That is the species. It may be asked, "Why do you add 'and Colonies'? Why not let the Colonies have their own species of citizenship? "But then you are confronted with the difficulty that either you deal with the Colonies as a group or you deal with each Colony individually. Ultimately, of course, we are responsible for the peace, order and good government of our Colonial territories; in a sense, we are trustees for the people of those territories. In those circumstances, is it right that we should differentiate between our own people and the people for whom we are trustees? We think it is not right. Of course, as a Colony achieves responsible government, there will probably have to be a new species of citizenship.

May I add one word here in regard to an Amendment which I propose to move with reference to the Channel Islands? The Channel Islands, with their long and illustrious history, could not be described as citizens of the United Kingdom; and, equally, they could not be described as citizens of the Colonies. Therefore, it is plain that we must have some Amendment to deal with their particular and peculiar position. I should not think it would pass the wit of any of your Lordships to devise an Amendment which would be satisfactory to the Channel Islands.

The next question is this. Let it be plainly understood that common nationality does not necessarily confer rights in other member States. Let me take, if I may, for example, Australia. Beyond all question, Australia is perfectly entitled to legislate for herself as to whom she shall admit into her territory as settlers. She may insist upon certain qualifications with regard to character, intelligence, creed or colour. All those things are entirely matters for Australia to decide. I mention this because I am anxious not to give rise to any misunderstanding. The mere fact that one possesses British nationality does not, and cannot in the nature of things, confer any rights in regard to any particular territory. All we can say is that, although there is no special treatment which necessarily follows throughout the Commonwealth, we hope and believe that, other things being equal, the fact that a man possesses British nationality will stand him in good stead in his application, whatever that application may be.

The third observation I want to make is with regard to the words "British subject," or if you like, "citizen," because never before have we had a conception of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Here we come up against the use of the word "British" and the unfortunate ambiguity which attaches to that word. Sometimes, of course, we use the word "British" as applying exclusively to these Islands; for example, I believe the railways of to-day are called "British Railways." I remember that years ago, at a Dominions Conference, one of the delegates (I think it was the Prime Minister of Canada who was dealing with this point) picked up the paper which was before him, and which had at the head of it a phrase which was adopted in the time of Lord Rosebery: This document is the property of His Britannic Majesty's Government. He made play with the fact that we did not specify which Government; the heading simply said that it was the Government of His Britannic Majesty. There is that ambiguity.

It is easy for us to accept the title "British subject." Speaking for all of us here, I am sure we want no better title. It is a title which we are proud and honoured to bear, but I quite understand that, in the case of other countries which have more recently joined our family of nations, it may give rise to some misgiving: for example, in the case of India, Pakistan or Ceylon, or perhaps even those of the older Dominions who owe their descent to other great parent races—the French in Canada, or the Dutch in South Africa. The phrase "British subject" may convey that which is quite inaccurate to our minds—some idea of overlordship or superiority, or something of that tort. If the words are a stumbling block to anybody else, by all means let us see if we cannot find an alternative term which nay be adopted, as, for instance, the phrase "Commonwealth citizen," which people may adopt if they prefer it. In fact, we are at the present time in consultation with the Dominion representatives to see whether an Amendment on those lines would be acceptable to everybody. If we adopt some such phrase as "British subject" or "Commonwealth citizen"—I am not tying myself to a phrase—States can use whichever phrase they prefer.

I will deal in a moment, and deal separately, with three topics: married women, children and Eire. I am afraid that that is a cross division, but I think it is the only way to make the matter relatively plain. Before I come to those matters, I ask your Lordships to consider this question. In future, how will one acquire this British citizenship which, of course, involves British nationality? The first thing I would say is this. Any person being a British subject to-day remains a British subject if and so long as he has one of the qualifications which are set out in Clause 12. For the rest he may acquire British citizenship by birth (Clause 4) by descent (Clause 5) or by registration (Clause 6); that is to say, if a citizen of any country mentioned in Clause 1 or of Eire satisfies the Secretary of State that he has the necessary qualifications, he is entitled to be registered as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Then one can acquire British citizenship by naturalisation (Clause 10), or by incorporation of territory (Clause 11). At a later stage of this Bill, some difficult problems will arise on all these matters which I shall be prepared to discuss with your Lordships, to the best of my ability. I hope we shall leave most of those details until we reach the Committee stage, if your Lordships think it proper to give this Bill a Second Reading.

Clause 13 deals with transitional matters, and that for two reasons. In the first place, we must be careful to prevent persons whose status will depend upon the passing of a citizenship law in another Commonwealth country from losing their British nationality in the interim. Secondly, we desire to enable existing British subjects who do not become citizens of the Commonwealth country to retain their existing status as British subjects by making them citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies.

Now I pass to consider the interesting topic of married women. I think I can best assist your Lordships by enunciating the propositions which the Bill establishes. The first is that in future a British woman will not lose her citizenship on marrying an alien. Your Lordships know that, save in exceptional cases, she lost her citizenship heretofore. Subject, however, to her not acquiring the nationality of her husband, she retained it. I venture to think that this reform is long overdue, and she will not lose her citizenship in future. Secondly, if in the past she lost her British citizenship by marrying an alien, on the passage of this Bill she will automatically re-acquire that which she lost. The third proposition is that an alien woman marrying a British citizen will not automatically acquire citizenship. She can apply for registration as a citizen, but the granting to her of that registration is a matter for the discretion of the Secretary of State. As your Lordships know, previously, an alien woman, on marrying a British subject, automatically became British. I know of cases in the courts of women of very undesirable character who came over here and, when they got to Dover, married somebody whom they would never see again. They did that with the sole object of precluding their deportation from this country. That will now become impossible.

The fourth proposition is that no alien woman who has acquired British citizenship will lose it. It would be grossly unfair if she did. The fifth proposition is that an alien man marrying a British woman will not acquire British citizenship, though such a marriage would be a factor for the Secretary of State to consider in determining whether or not the man has so identified himself with the life of this country that it is right that he should be made a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Those five propositions, which are distilled from the Bill, I believe accurately represent the position with regard to married women.

With regard to children, the existing law has some practical disadvantages. The first is this. An illegitimate child born abroad of a British father and subsequently legitimated by the marriage of the parents, does not become a British subject. In future, he will be treated in exactly the same way as though he had been born legitimate. The next point is that under the existing law a child can be included in the naturalisation certificate of his parent; but if the parent is already British he cannot, of course, be naturalised, and the child can only become a British subject by the issue of a naturalisation certificate to it which involves taking the oath of allegiance. For instance, in the last war there were many cases of British women serving in the Forces abroad who had illegitimate children born abroad. Those children, with the women already British, of course, could not become British until such time as they were of an age to take and understand an oath of allegiance. Another difficulty is this. An alien child cannot be adopted unless and until it has become British, and that again means unless and until it can take the oath of allegiance. In future, under this Bill, all children who need to be made British subjects can be made British by registration under Clause 7.

The corresponding propositions in regard to children may therefore, I think, be stated thus: a child born in this country or in the Colonies will be a citizen, except of course the child of a foreign diplomat. The children of the first generation born outside this country, whether abroad or in a Commonwealth country, will have citizenship. Subsequent generations born in foreign countries will also have citizenship if the birth is registered at a Consulate within twelve months, or at such later period as may be approved by the Secretary of State. Second and subsequent generations born in a Commonwealth country will not acquire citizenship unless the child does not become a citizen of that country, because we expect these children normally to take the citizenship of the Commonwealth country. The child of a citizen will also be a citizen if born in a Protectorate, Protected State, Mandated Territory, or Trust Territory, or if his father at the time of his birth is in Crown Services under His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.

Now I pass to Eire. Here we get into a real difficulty. Your Lordships will see that British subjects, although they are citizens of Eire, can remain British subjects if they claim so to remain under Clause 2 of the Bill. I hope it will be some consolation to your Lordships if I point out that they are the judges as to whether or not they possess the qualifications which are to be found at the top of page 2, one of which is that he has associations by way of descent, residence or otherwise with the United Kingdom …. If he is of opinion that he has such associations, then it is for him to assert it and not for the Secretary of State to deny. He becomes a British subject. I would further point out, with regard to children of tender years, that there is no time limit within which this has to be done, and, for instance, the matter can wait until the child reaches an age of discretion to decide for himself. I intend on Committee stage, however, to move an Amendment to enable the parents to apply on behalf of the child and to make it quite clear that a declaration, whenever made after the passing of the Bill, is to have effect. But I must make quite plain that we do not see how we can cover children born in Eire after this Bill comes into force. Therefore such children, even though the parents elect to remain British subjects, will not be British subjects. We cannot claim as our citizens those who are citizens of a Commonwealth country.

Difficulties similar to those which are experienced in Eire do not arise elsewhere. Your Lordships all know that Eire opposed British nationality for her citizens. Indeed, her Act of 1935, by Section 21, enacts as follows: Every citizen who, except by marriage, becomes a citizen of another country, ceases to be a citizen of Eire. Section 33 repeals the common law relating to British nationality, and provides that citizenship of Eire is not to confer any other nationality. I am not sure that I understand the Eire Act—indeed I am quite sure that I do not—but I hope that an Eire citizen, being British and remaining British, will not thereby lose his citizenship of Eire.

That is really the substance of this Bill. The conception of an all-pervading common status or nationality is not primarily, not mainly, important because of its material advantages. It is, if you like, rather mystical. But none of us, I suggest, is any the worse for a little mysticism in our life. It is the mark of something which differentiates the family from mere friends. But even from the material point of view, there are, at the present time by our law, not inconsiderable advantages. The British subject is free from those disabilities and restrictions which apply to aliens. He is entitled to enter or leave the country at any time, he qualifies for the franchise, he can become a member of the Privy Council or of Parliament, and, save in war-time, under certain limitations, he can become a member of the Civil Service, and he can own a British ship. As I say, there are various material advantages. It is for each particular territory, each particular country, to decide for itself, from time to time, what privileges are to be allowed and to what extent they are to be conditioned with regard to British subjects or anyone else.

In concluding, I would ask your Lordships to remember that there are really two parts to this Bill. The first is that which concerns ourselves alone, as to which we can, without hesitation, make whatever Amendments we feel disposed to make. But there is another part which concerns not merely ourselves but the other member States of the Commonwealth. Your Lordships will forgive my saying that those provisions have been threshed out only after great and careful discussion. Though all parts of the Bill are entirely subject to your Lordships' wishes with regard to Amendments, I know that you will realise, with regard to the latter class of clauses, that they should be considered with a special sense of responsibility, and a realisation of the fact that we must be very careful not to do anything which might give any possible offence to any of our member States.

That is the Bill. I warned your Lordships that it is a complicated one, and I am afraid that what I have said has made it quite plain that, in that respect at any rate, I was accurate. I commend the Bill to your Lordships as being a real and practical effort to maintain something which I believe to be very precious—that is to say, the outward and visible sign of that sense of family relationship which is, and I hope will long remain, the keynote of our great Commonwealth of Nations, in which the individual freedom of each one is combined with a sense the unity of the whole. I beg to move.

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

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all exceptionally grateful to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, for his remarkably clear exposition of the Bill. Whilst what he has said may not make every word of it plain to every one of us, I feel that he has discharged for us all a most valuable service, for anyone who has tried to understand this Bill without an exposition such as we have just heard must inevitably have tied himself into a great many knots. Beyond all question, this is a very difficult and complicated matter, and it is perhaps worth while for a moment to point out how, historically, it has come about. Originally, the conception of British nationality was the simplest thing in the world. The test which decided whether you were or were not an Englishman—and here I deliberately say "English"; I am not including Scotland—was: "Where were you born?" If you were born in England, you were an Englishman; a natural-born Englishman. It did not matter what your race was. It did not matter what your father was or what your mother was. The only thing that mattered was whether you were born here. It was a feudal conception.

In contrast with that, there was another equally simple test which, generally speaking, was applied on the Continent of Europe and according to which the answer to the question, "What is your nationality?" was to be found by asking:" Who is your father?" It depended upon blood; it did not depend upon place of birth at all. That was the simple way in which these things began. The real reason why we have now reached this state of complication—whether my noble and learned friend's Bill will reduce the complication or will inevitably increase it I am not quite sure—is connected with the growth of the King's Dominions. When James VI of Scotland became James I of England, the problem at once arose as to whether or not a man who was born in Scotland after James I had come to the English throne was, in England, an alien or a native. There was a famous case called the Calvin Case—it had nothing to do with the severe and perhaps morose theologian who was at one time the tyrant of Geneva. In the same way, in the time which is ordinarily called the time of the Georges, when the man who wore the Crown of England also wore the Crown of Hanover, and when, consequently, a large number of undoubted, native-born, Englishmen found themselves established outside this island—many of them in Hanover, with their families also established there—further complication was created, and Parliament had to legislate to deal with the son born abroad of a man who was himself a natural-born Englishman. Indeed, that legislation went on to provide for the grandson, too, so that he could have British nationality, notwithstanding that he was born abroad.

The final complication—and none of us has the slightest reason to regret it—has come about much more recently, and is a result of development in the British Commonwealth of sovereign States, of equal power and authority with ourselves. We used to call them the Dominions, though I notice that this Bill—and I think it is the first piece of suggested legislation which does so—carefully avoids the use of the word "Dominion" and, instead, indulges in the elegant periphrasis which you will find in subsection (2) of Clause 1. Once we have the position that there are inside the British Commonwealth sovereign States with as complete power to decide in respect of their own citizens as we have for ours, and when those sovereign States proceed to legislate (as was undoubtedly intended) to decide who shall be regarded as their citizens—Australian citizens, or whatever they may be—then we enter into a situation of great complexity.

I would venture to put in my own way, in one sentence, what the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has explained. It must be recognised that we now have in these great self-governing Dominions what I might call a two-decker arrangement: legislation which defines who are citizens and, above that, the broader proposition that these people are British subjects. We have never had that until now. English law and the whole constitutional conception has been that a man is, either a British subject or not a British subject; and so far as the law of nationality is concerned, he need not bother himself about what is called citizenship. John Gilpin was a citizen of credit and renown. That meant only that he was a citizen of the City of London. The notion that we should pass legislation which defines who is or who is not a citizen in any larger sense is entirely novel. Though the noble and learned Viscount has said that this is not a controversial Bill (and in one sense I agree with him) the Bill still contains a great many points which we may legitimately ask to examine and which we may properly discuss, with every respect for those who live in other parts of the British Commonwealth.

I must confess that I greatly regret that nobody has been able to invent any attractive description of this new citizenship. Those of your Lordships who have examined the Bill will know that the combined efforts of the Government, the draftsmen and everybody else have been able to produce only this phrase which describes certain persons, who are defined, as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. And we are to understand that the last five words are not five words sparkling for ever on the forefingers of time, but are a sort of portmanteau term. It is a great pity that up to the present nobody's ingenuity has been able to suggest a more attractive expression. It has some very odd results. I could not help being a little surprised at first when I looked at Clause 4, which speaks of "every person born in the United Kingdom and Colonies." That appears to be a rapid peregrination unusual for a lady about to produce a child! The person is to be born "in the United Kingdom and Colonies." The explanation, no doubt, is that this most unwieldy expression is supposed to be hyphenated and represents a sort of carrier like "Western Union," embracing several political units.

There is another thing I regret about the Bill. It may be inevitable, and I hope that what I am saying is not thought to be captious. I am saying it because I have had occasion to consider the subject, as I was Attorney-General in 1914 when the great Nationality Act was passed. One is caught up now and then by some rat her distressing reflections. As this Bill is drafted, those who are citizens of the Colonies are in a better position than those who come from the Dominions. Yes, it is so. A man who comes from Jamaica or the Gold Coast, being a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies from the beginning, enjoys that prestige without any special action on his part. He has been born in the Colonies and that result follows. But before a citizen of Canada or Australia can become a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, he has to live here for twelve months, which the man from the Colonies need lot do, and then he has to satisfy certain special conditions. Then, if these conditions are satisfied, the Secretary of State is not only at liberty but is bound to give him a certificate, adding him to the list of citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Frankly, I regret that. It does not seem to me to be a very happy result.

It may be asked why a citizen of Canada should want to become for any purpose a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. I agree that so far as one can see at the moment there is no particular reason why he should. I think I am right, and the noble and learned Viscount will correct me if I am wrong, when I say that so far as concerns the right to stand as a candidate for the House of Commons or to be made a Peer, or to vote in an election if one resides in the constituency, the test is one of British nationality and not of a more local citizenship. But there may be purposes for which it is desirable for people to have the qualification of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies. The effect of the Bill is that a man from Canada or Australia, or who has not been born in any of the places which are listed so elaborately in subsection (2) of Clause I, does not become a citizen of the United Kingdom or Colonies automatically and has to fulfil certain conditions laid down in the Bill.


In common fairness, I want to ask whether the noble and learned Viscount has referred to the words at the bottom of page 3—" the period of twelve months, or such shorter period." The twelve months is not always necessary.


You mean that there might be a special case in which a shorter period would be allowed? I thought that was meant to mean only a special emergency. I had no intention of leaving that out from my consideration. The point is that a man from the Colonies has not to wait at all; he is already a citizen. I rather regret that particular difference, though, of course, a Bill of this sort cannot contain everything.

I very much regret it if the effect of the Bill is in any way to shift the main, proud claim, when it is relevant to make the claim, that: "I am a British subject, and that is all that matters." We ought to look carefully at what may be the effect of starting in this country, for the first time, the idea that we must be more particular and must pick out certain British subjects and say:" You are not only a British subject, but also a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies." I think it was in 1850, if I remember rightly, that Lord Palmerston made a famous speech in Parliament which reverberated through the country, in which he championed the rights of a Maltese inhabitant called Don Pacifico, and profoundly declared that this humble person, who was not of the British race, not of British connections and not of a British family, was none the less civis Britannicus. I do not think Lord Palmerston's rhetoric would have sounded quite so effective if he had had to say that he was "a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies." I really wonder whether it is necessary to go in for that distinction.

As regards married women, I think the Lord Chancellor's extraordinarily clear statement, with its five propositions, will be generally accepted. I would certainly accept it. I myself have never been quite so certain that where a husband and wife belong to different nationalities there are not some consequences which may prove a little inconvenient. So long as the husband and wife are of one nationality, maybe carrying one passport, their children, wherever they are born, while they are children, will be of the same nationality as the common nationality of their parents. That will not happen now. While, on the whole, I think it is quite right to meet the claim which is forcibly made on behalf of married women, we must remember that that slight complication would seem to arise.

I will give an example of how difficult it is to work out a child's nationality by quoting from Clause 7: The Secretary of State may cause to be registered as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies … the minor child of a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. A child, whether minor or major, is a child of two persons, the father and the mother. I am not quite clear whether this clause applies where either one of the parents or where only the father or only the mother is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Certainly, in some parts of the Bill there is still a kind of priority given to the father, which I think ladies who feel strongly about the claims of married women will forgive.

For instance, Clause 5 says: Subject to the provisions of this section, a person born after the commencement of this Act shall be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by descent if his father was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies at the time of the birth. In the end you have for some purposes to take a single test, and it is the male test which is chosen. Still, the main thing that has been so long asked for is achieved. For my part, I think it is right to achieve it, though I submit that we should recognise that certain complications may follow.

The noble and learned Viscount has also explained to us the provision about Eire. It is very regrettable. There are people in Eire to-day who attach value to their British nationality. This is not a question of citizenship. I thought one phrase of my noble and learned friend rather suggested that the test which is given on the top line of page 2 is the test as to whether a man is or is not to be considered a British subject. The effect of the Bill in regard to Eire is that anybody now living in that country who is, when this Bill is passed, a British subject, if he makes one of the four claims set out on page 2 and gives notice in writing to the Secretary of State, will himself remain a British subject. But, of course, it does not apply so far as future descendants of any family in Eire are concerned. They cease to be British subjects. I must say that that seems to me to be rather regrettable. The links between this country and Eire at present are in some ways very weak. I hope that they will grow stronger in time, with mutual sympathy. If there be, as there certainly are, some people still living in Eire, perfectly good and loyal supporters of their own Government, who none the less treasure the fact that they are British subjects, it is a sad thing that, as one of the consequences of this Bill, they should be told:" If you take the proper steps you may be able to establish that you are a British subject, but your descendants will not be able to do so." That is one of the effects of the Bill.

But when one has said all that, one is, I think, faced with the general reflection which naturally the noble and learned Viscount has made the principal feature of his speech—namely, that we have to take one course or the other; it is no good dithering. Though I did not actually hear the Lord Chancellor say so (it may have been an omission of mine) I had otherwise understood that the first clause, which he calls the key clause, is one which the present Government confidently think will be adopted by the Dominions, and that therefore we shall all start with the same proposition. That is very important. Apparently we in this country are to do it first. I gather that is the hope and the expectation, and it is rather a consolation, because it would be a great pity for us to do this if others did not do it. This Bill has not been drawn up on the terms that this change of the law is to be made if other people make it; we are doing it in faith. I hope that no difficulties may arise. But the thing I feel most about the Bill—and I hope that I do not sound as if I am seeking merely to criticise, because I understand perfectly the necessity for doing something—is the way in which it has come upon us. This conception of developing British nationality and adjusting it to the situation in the Dominions is not a new idea at all. Like most things in the British Commonwealth, this is something which changes with growth. But how did these earlier changes come about? They came about after what in those days was called an Imperial Conference. I apologise to those who object to the use of the word "Imperial," though I myself do not see anything much the matter with it. It came as a result of a Conference, not between experts, but between the leading statesmen speaking for these great areas. Not only did the statesmen meet in discussion—because there must have been many points of difficulty to adjust—but the proceedings were afterwards published, so that every-body might know what had happened, and everybody could form his own view as to whether or not the result was justified.

That is not the way in which this has come about. So far as I can understand it, this has come about as a result of what is called an experts' conference—a conference of experts. I do not doubt that they are experts, but it has come about, in the first instance, on departmental level. Apart from the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, who is bound to have known about it at all stages, I wonder a little how much time the Cabinet, as a Cabinet, have addressed to this subject, or how many people in the Cabinet really had command of this subject until quite recently.


May I interrupt the noble Viscount? I am sure he does not wish to give a misleading impression. Of course, as is obvious, this is a highly technical subject, and it was therefore necessary to assemble a considerable body of experts. That was done with complete good will and common consent, and they sat for a long time discussing the various issues concerned. At the same time, however the issues concerned were freely discussed with Ministers and with one another.


May I add to that, because there is a contribution I can make? I myself spent nearly a morning discussing this with Field Marshal Smuts, and I also discussed it with Mr. Mackenzie King. The idea that this was merely a departmental matter, discussed on that level, is quite erroneous.


I am glad to have that impression removed. The point with which I am really concerned is that the public should have the opportunity of knowing the way in which this matter has in fact developed. That is what happened at the Imperial Conferences, which, as the noble Viscount well knows, resulted in resolutions as to the direction in which things should move. I think it is difficult and hard on people who want to do right about this that they should not know what immense stakes are involved, what are the risks which we must certainly do our utmost to void, and which I am sure all persons in all parts have done their best to avoid. I think it would have been better if the ordinary people—or, at any rate, the public instructed on the subject—had known more of this and known it earlier. For myself, I knew nothing about it—I could not be expected to do so, of course—until this Bill was printed on February 17. Although I do not think the Lord Chancellor has himself said so, I believe it to be the case that the conclusion in the key clause has become (as between those who meet in the experts' conference and those to whom they reported) more or less an agreed clause. If that is so, I should very much doubt whether any criticism will stand against it. With great respect, however, I suggest that it would have been a happy circumstance if the way this matter was developing had been more generally known rather earlier than it was, by those who try to understand this subject.

If I have sounded critical about this matter I am sorry, because although I have felt it my duty to make these observations—and I am glad to have been corrected on one of them—I desire as warmly as anybody in the land that there should be a good issue out of this Bill. But it is necessary to realise that it is of tremendous importance, and I hope with all my heart that the changes here proposed will so work out as to be for the general benefit of the community. I am glad to hear it suggested that, if "British subject" is regarded in any quarter as an objectionable phrase, there should be an alternative such as "Commonwealth citizen." Of course we shall hear of that hereafter. I apologise for speaking at this length, but it has appeared to me that of the many Bills that I have examined since I have been a member of this House there has hardly been one which, for good or for evil, may constitute so important a part of the structure and, I trust, the permanence of the British Commonwealth hereafter.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Samuel is clearly the person best fitted to express the views of noble Lords who sit on these Benches on questions of nationality, but he has left for Switzerland for a short visit to attend an International Liberal Conference, and it has therefore fallen to my lot to take his place this evening. Obviously, it is with considerable trepidation that I follow the two noble and learned Lords who have already spoken to your Lordships. My only qualification is that at various times in my life I have been called upon to deal with the question of nationality, and I admit that as a rule I have found it of considerable difficulty and complexity.

After studying this Bill to the best of my ability, I have come to the conclusion that the problems are even more complex than I thought, and I would therefore like to express my gratitude to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor for his very lucid exposition of the clauses and the purposes of the Bill. Some of us have long been hoping for a new Nationality Bill. Certainly we believe that the whole of the existing nationality laws require revision and amendment. Therefore, I wish to express our gratitude for the introduction of the Bill and for the fact that His Majesty's Government have found the time, during a Session which has certainly been prolific of legislation, to introduce this non-controversial but highly important measure. The Bill must have required much consultation with the various Governments of the Commonwealth, and from what the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said, those Governments, so far as they are affected, are in full agreement with the clauses and purposes of the Bill. The changes in the existing nationality law proposed by the Bill are wide, and the clauses which affect the status of women show, to my mind, an almost unhoped-for progress.

May I turn for a minute or two to some of the specific clauses of the Bill itself? It is good to find that under Clause 1 the citizens of nearly all the countries of the Commonwealth will still bear the proud title of "British subject." I felt, in listening to the speech of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, that he slightly underestimated the cementing effect of this particular status. It is an overriding status, and I hope that this most valuable factor and tie between the various nations of the British Commonwealth will always remain.


Of course, the noble Earl realises that that citizenship really exists now.


The noble and learned Viscount was discussing, if I remember aright, what would be the better title. I apologise if I have misunderstood him. I assume that any British subject, whether a citizen of one of the Commonwealth countries or of any other, will be entitled to full diplomatic protection and consular help from the British Commonwealth representatives if he is in a foreign country.

I think it is true, as the noble and learned Viscount Lord Simon said, that there are certain points that require mature reflection; but some of the original qualms that I felt on some of those points have been greatly mitigated by what the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has been able to tell us. With regard to Clause 2, concerning the citizens of Eire, I was happy to learn that if a citizen of Eire gives notice in writing to the Secretary of State that he claims to remain a British subject on any of the grounds laid down, such as descent or residence, the claim will be granted unconditionally. I do not think any of us is quite happy about what the Lord Chancellor said concerning children born in Eire after this Bill comes into effect. But we must remember that these children may be affected by time and events. It may be perhaps seventeen or eighteen years before they have to make any choice; the position then may be happier, and it may be possible for an arrangement to be reached.

I now come to Clause 7, which seems to make one of the fundamental changes proposed in the Bill. I gather that an alien woman who has been married to a citizen of the United Kingdom will no longer merely by reason of her marriage become a British subject, but that the Secretary of State may cause her to be registered as such. I suppose we all appreciate the main reasons for the alteration of the law: there have been certain objectionable practices under the existing law, and the Secretary of State has been powerless to do anything to prevent them. But registration is now to be required in each particular case. I do not know whether the taking of the oath of allegiance ought not to be a prerequisite for registration, but whatever decision may be reached on that particular point, I hope that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will be able to assure us that registration will be granted almost as a normal rule. Otherwise, since in many States women married to aliens lose their nationality, we should have a considerable number of Stateless women—a position which I feel sure the Lord Chancellor and your Lordships would wish 10 avoid. That is why I hope that registration will be the normal rule and not the exception.

There is a question which I should like to ask on Clause 10 (1), which says: The Secretary of State may, if application therefor is made to him in the prescribed manner by any alien or British protected person of full agent capacity, … grant to him a certificate of naturalisation … The provisions for application are laid down in the First Schedule of the Bill. In that Schedule, by the way, an alien applying for naturalisation is always mentioned as "he" but I assume that the word "he" covers both sexes. On that point, too, I believe that the Bill refers to the Home Secretary as "he." I do not suppose it is the intention of the Government to exclude a woman from being Home Secretary. I think a woman might make an excellent Home Secretary.


May I reassure the noble Earl that under the Interpretation Act the masculine gender includes the feminine? Perhaps it might have been better to make the word "she" include the word "he," rather than the other way round, as is done at present.


I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount and I am quite reassured. I feel a little puzzled about the use of the word "immediately" in Clause 12 and other clauses. I assume that the words "immediately preceding" in the Bill mean "up to the commencement of." I wonder whether, in the interests of clarity, it might not be better to insert the words "up to the commencement of" instead of "immediately preceding." But perhaps there is some abstruse legal argument on the point of which I am not aware.

Now I come to the last clause upon which I wish to touch, Clause 14. Both the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, commended what was in that clause and I should like to congratulate the Government on its inclusion. The Select Committee on the Nationality of Married Women worked for years to obtain the insertion of such a provision into our nationality laws. I feel that they must be both proud and happy that their efforts are to-day crowned with success. I am sure it is right, proper and advantageous that a woman should not lose her British nationality by reason of her marriage to an alien; and, should she desire to assume the nationality of her husband, she will still be able to do so under Clause 19 by renouncing her British nationality. We must recognise that there are bound to be some disadvantages. For instance, in times of acute stress or war—I hope there never will be another war, but we have to make provision for all contingencies—if the wife is living in a country with which we are at war, she will be interned as a British subject while, if she had assumed her husband's nationality, she might have been left free, although she certainly would have been under strict surveillance. Against that, of course, if she were living in this country, she would not be interned and she would remain completely free. I think that is a difficulty for which there is no real solution.

There is another quite different point. If the husband and wife are not living in their own country and, as they sometimes do, they get into trouble, I presume that the husband will ask for the protection of the appropriate consular authorities of his own country while the wife will have to go to the corresponding British authority. I am not quite sure that that is going to make for conjugal unity. Coming to my next point, I would point out that there will be an increase in the number of persons holding double nationality, and possession of double nationality often leads to complicated difficulties. In spite of all that, I am quite clear that the advantages of this Bill outweigh all the demerits of which I have spoken. Therefore, we welcome this measure. I should like to conclude by expressing once again our general appreciation of the introduction of this Bill to which we on these Benches would certainly wish to accord a Second Reading. I merely add the hope that the Government will allow adequate time before the next stage of the Bill is taken.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, my claim to take a humble part in the discussion on this Bill arises from two reasons. In the first place, I was in on the ground floor in the discussions that took place in the Government when this Bill was originally being considered. In the second place, I have been for a long time a strong advocate of one of the major changes which this Bill proposes to enact. I think it is close on twenty-five years since I, as a new Member in another place, seconded a Motion to deal with the condition of married women, very much in the way in which it is dealt with in this Bill. I hasten to add that I think that in this measure the matter has been dealt with on an exceedingly liberal basis by making the recovery of nationality retrospective for all those British women who have been married, even though their marriages date back for a great many years.

May I, at this stage, say one word in answer to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon? I am sure he did not mean to, but I think he conveyed the impression that this Bill gives rise to a number of difficulties. Although the noble Viscount may be right with regard to some of the difficulties, I think he is really putting the cart before the horse. It is because those difficulties have arisen that it is necessary for a Bill of this character to be introduced. The difficulty is clearly set out in the White Paper which explains the provisions of the Bill. Time and again, in days gone by, alterations were desirable in the nationality laws, particularly in the law relating to the position of married women. The alterations could not be made because the British Government were anxious that every part of the Commonwealth should move in step. That desirable reform was delayed for a great number of years in consequence of that fact.

However, one of the Dominions at last took the bit between its teeth, and said that it would no longer await a general change and that, in certain aspects, it was going to change the citizenship law in its own country, whatever the other members of the Commonwealth were prepared to do. That was the Dominion of Canada. It was because one of our daughter Dominions at last took that action that a Bill of this character had to be brought in. For my part, having thought about this matter very carefully, I came to the conclusion that, in order to deal with the situation, some proposals of the kind that this Bill proposes to enact were necessary. May I put the position once again? The situation was that, as the law stood, no one member nation of the Commonwealth could take any step forward without the full concurrence of all member nations. The moment it became true that certain members of the Commonwealth were determined, willy-nilly, to take steps forward by themselves, it was necessary to differentiate between citizenship of that Dominion and the general position of a British subject. Therefore my attitude to what the noble and learned Viscount has said is this: I do not think that he did full justice to the fact that in the main this Bill represents an endeavour to deal with a situation that is a fact; it is not in itself creating a situation of difficulty. Having said that, may I add this? I quite agree with the noble Viscount that this Bill is exceedingly complicated, and that it does raise grave issues—as any change of importance and magnitude must do—which may not in fact have been fully thought out.

May I say a word or two with regard to the position of married women? I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, put the position very clearly and very well. It is, and has been for a long time, intolerable that married women should be moved about like chattels, because they belong to their husbands, and that when the husbands said "turn" they all turned. Various attempts have been made to tinker with the position, but this is an attempt to deal with if as a whole. It has been rendered necessary, not merely by the feeling in this country but by the fact that the laws regarding nationality have been changed in some of the largest countries in the world. The United States, for instance, has changed the nationality laws, and what was at one time the best for us to do in order to keep in step with the other great countries of the world has become not so to-day.

I notice that the Lord Chancellor has had to take a little respite, but if somebody is taking notes for him perhaps he will kindly reply to this question which I would like to put to him—namely, how far the United States Government have been informed of what is being done here, and how far such discrepancies as will even now exist in this matter between United States law and British law will be remedied when they arise? For instance, unless I am mistaken, United States law in regard to married women depends somewhat on the domicile of the couple after marriage. That certainly was so in times gone by. I shall be interested to know whether I am wrong and that it has now been changed. But if there are still discrepancies between British and United States law, they will of course result in either double nationality or no nationality. If indeed that is so, what remedies is it proposed should be adopted?

There is only one other matter to which I wish to draw attention, one which I do not think has been mentioned so far in this debate. Reference has been made to two classes of people—namely, British subjects and persons who are alien. But there is a third class of persons to whom no reference has been made; I refer to British protected persons who have been born, and are quite likely resident, in one of the mandated territories which are looked after by this country. It is with regard to those people that I want to put a certain question to the Lord Chancellor. As I understand it, a person born in a mandated country is not, by reason of that fact, a British subject; he is a British protected person. And in order to become a British subject, he has to take certain steps and allow a certain interval of time to elapse.

In order to make my meaning clear, I think my best course would be to take a specific case which has come under my own observation. An English woman married a German during the last century. Thereby, of course, according to the law as it then was, she lost her British nationality, and both the husband and wife were Germans. They left Germany and went to live in Switzerland, but they did not assume Swiss nationality. Therefore, when their son was seventeen years of age he was still, according to German law, a German citizen and he was called up in the first World War, and took part with the Germans against this country. As soon as the war was over, he went back to Switzerland and took the earliest opportunity of obtaining Swiss nationality. Subsequently, with his mother's brother—his uncle on the maternal side—who was, of course, an Englishman, he went to Tanganyika; and there he has lived ever since; and, indeed, has had a family. From the first, his children have regarded themselves as Britishers. They have come over to this country, they have been at school in this country; but they are not British, according to the law. They have a Swiss passport, because that was the nationality that the father had acquired.

The question I want to put to the Lord Chancellor is this: What is the position with regard to those children, who are still minors and who want to become full British citizens at the earliest possible moment? What is their position if they want to go to a university? Will they have to go as aliens, or is there any means whereby they, or their father on their behalf, until they reach their majority, can obtain British nationality? If they have to wait until their majority, will they then be able to obtain British nationality on easier terms, and with greater favour, because they are British protected persons, having been born and living in a British mandated territory, or will they have to stand, as it were, in the queue with ordinary aliens who come from another country? That is a question that I think is important, because it does not affect merely the one case that I have described; it is one of a class of cases arising out of the whole position of people born and living in mandated territories who really have no other loyalty than that to this country. I will not detain your Lordships any further. I think the Government have brought forward a Bill which, in its final form, has been well thought out. It has gone a great deal further in the direction of bringing about complete equality of the spouses in married life than I think many people supposed in times gone by would be possible. I hope that after considering it carefully the noble Viscount who, quite naturally, saw a number of difficulties about a most complicated matter, will agree that this Bill, amended if necessary in any small way that may be desirable, is one that ought to be passed into law.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, at this moment in the debate I will not detain your Lordships with the detail of this extremely complicated measure. Many of the provisions—for instance, those dealing with wives and children—are utterly beyond the scope of my limited intelligence, and all I can hope is that they are correcting some of the anomalies which undoubtedly exist at the present moment. All I would seek to do is to deal with the two main principles of the Bill which are of fundamental importance and, in one respect, to plead for reconsideration in regard to one of them. In the first place, let me say that the Bill as a whole seems good, wise and timely. I congratulate the Government upon it, and upon the understanding with the Dominions upon which it has been founded. The Bill is an example of our present constitutional practice in Commonwealth affairs, of bringing the legal structure of the Commonwealth into as complete consonance as we can manage with reality—and by "reality" I mean the way in which the King's lieges think and feel, both as nationals of their own country and as members of a world-wide community. That community not only has no parallel in history, but is also quite unexampled among the unions, the great political systems of our own time.

What are the elemental factors in the way in which the Dominions, and, I think, we ourselves, feel about this matter? Undoubtedly one of the strongest influences, at the present time, is that of nationhood, and that is fully and properly recognised in the provisions of this Bill. Nationhood is a binding and inspiring sense of loyalty to the land which gives us birth, and it is very strong, very deep, in the Dominions. It is, after all, their lands which give the different people of the Commonwealth, the different nations of the Commonwealth, their distinctive surnames amongst the nations of the earth. Patriotism is a growth of many concentric rings, from the home to the countryside, from the countryside to the nation, from the nation, in our case, to world-wide Commonwealth, and, after that, most of us hope, to an even wider civilisation beyond. The sense of nationhood throughout the Commonwealth, and, I think, throughout all the advanced places of the world at the present time, has been immensely enhanced by the progress of social and economic reform, and it is a binding and a unifying factor such as has never been known before. Younger nations in particular are rightly jealous regarding the material, the bricks, the human bricks, the stone and the mortar, of which their communities are to be built, and they have an absolute right which we should acknowledge in the fullest terms, so far as it needs acknowledgment, of defining their citizenship, that right being essential to their sovereignty and the liberties which that sovereignty connotes.

In the second place, to be one of the King's lieges also implies membership of a wider community—a world-wide Commonwealth. I am glad, in this respect, that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack has indicated that there might be some change in the terminology that is used in the Bill. For my part, quite apart from sentiments connected entirely with these Islands, I am not in love with the term "British subject." If we are thinking of the Commonwealth as a whole, we must enter into the sentiments of all the peoples composing it. We must find a term for membership of the Commonwealth which will be agreeable to them and to their sentiments. It is no use choosing one which is merely agreeable to our sentiment or to our tradition. There is no doubt that the term "British subject" is not agreeable to many peoples of the Commonwealth. The French-Canadian, for instance, does not feel that he is British. Nor does a Dutch South African. Indeed, a Canadian of any kind may not feel that he is British in "the sense which we mean by the term. The word "subject" is also bound up with British, and is rather liable to misinterpretation. It gives a sense of being subject to Britain, and, of course, that is the last kind of thing we would wish to perpetuate. For my part, therefore, I am glad that we are not going to insist upon "British subject" as a world-wide description of the lieges of the King. I think we need another term at the present time. I should like to see the term "British citizen," confined to those who are really inhabitants by nature, by adoption, or by naturalisation, of the British Isles.

Finally, this Bill recognises, what we all know to be the fact, that the nation States of the Commonwealth are absolutely free to determine not only who are their citizens but also whether these citizens are to remain members of the Commonwealth and subjects of the King. That is a part of their sovereignty and should be recognised in legislation of this kind. Therefore, the Bill, with the other Dominion Bills—of which I understand it is only a prelude—will rightly establish both genus and species. As the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack said, the nation States are to be absolutely free to define the status of their citizens, both as to genus and as to species. The movement towards the legal definition of these essential realities which was initiated by Canada, is, I understand, supported now by all the Dominions. There is full agreement with that here, and I warmly congratulate the skilled representatives from all parts of the Empire who promoted this legislation and got agreement upon it. While I share the anxiety which my noble friend behind me has expressed about future British subjects and the children of British subjects in Eire, I welcome the wise pro-visions of this Bill in regard to existing British subjects who are citizens of Eire. That seems to me to be, at any rate, an effort to promote a closer understanding, and I hope that it may develop so as to include future generations.

The present Government, under the inspiration of, amongst others, the noble Viscount who leads this House, has shown imagination and understanding in seeking a solution of these difficult Imperial questions, and I am glad to pay tribute to their activity of mind in that respect and to their considerable achievements. In one respect, however, I am anxious and doubtful about the provisions of the Bill. I have insisted upon my complete agreement with the main principle of the Bill in order completely to detach this aspect from the rest of it. The doubt which I feel regarding that part of the Bill which is purely the concern of the United Kingdom Parliament does not extend in any way to any part of the Bill which affects the Dominions. I respond entirely to the appeal which the Lord Chancellor made that we should be careful in regard to anything which would in any way affect opinion adversely in any part of the Commonwealth. I hope that I have said enough about the main principle of the Bill, about the way in which it recognises sentiment and feeling throughout the Commonwealth at the present time, to show that the last thing in the world I would wish to do would be to jeopardise, to imperil, or even to prejudice in any way, the understanding at which we have arrived with the sister nations of the Commonwealth.

I come then to the provisions of the Bill about which I am anxious. In one respect I think that His Majesty's Ministers have shown too much zeal for tidying up, at one sweep, all our untidy places. In a system like the Commonwealth there are bound to be many untidinesses. Usually it is a mistake to try and do too much at one time in clearing up difficulties, and that is what this part of the Bill tries to do. This conflicts with valuable existing rights, with reality and with ancient tradition. This is a matter appropriate only to the United Kingdom Parliament; it cannot in any way affect the principle of the Bill so far as it concerns the Dominions. Anything that I say is not intended in the least to invalidate that aspect of the Bill.

The United Kingdom has a problem peculiar to itself, in regard to this Bill and Bills of a similar character, in that it is closely linked to a great Colonial Empire. The Bill, therefore, establishes citizenship of a new entity, a new legal entity of "the United Kingdom and Colonies," so that all residing in that entity have the same citizenship. This is quite unlike any other national citizenships, which bind together members of a homogeneous geographical, social, political and economic whole. What we are trying to do in the Bill is to give a common citizenship to what is geographically, socially and politically a most heterogeneous community at many different stages of development. It does not bind like to like. On the contrary. It is not a recognition of reality, but a departure into complete and utter unreality. I greatly fear that in removing some of the existing anomalies, which we all recognise, it will create greater anomalies and will produce much practical embarrassment.

I submit that this is a matter on which the United Kingdom Parliament should move very carefully, and I am glad that the Committee stage of the Bill will not be taken in too great a hurry. Time is needed for reflection. I am speaking without full consultation with my colleagues, and I am speaking only for myself, because we have not had time to go into it fully. But it is recognised in all parts of the House that this is a question which should be fully discussed before we determine what course we are to take upon it. Anomalies under this part of the Bill will be legion. Let me take two instances. First, take the position of a Canadian or Australian, or a citizen of Pakistan or Ceylon. His status here will be inferior to that of millions of members of entirely primitive societies, whose contribution to the development of the Commonwealth is in no way on a par with his. Any of the King's subjects in the Colonial Empire, however primitive of mind, can come to this country and exercise the full rights of citizenship the same day as he arrives, while the Australian or the citizen of any other Dominion must, but for special leave, wait twelve months before such status is granted him. A citizen of any Dominion is less privileged under this Bill than a citizen of Eire. A citizen of Eire is able to say, "I am a British subject, and am entitled to come into this country at once, without delay."


This legislation deals with British subjects. I do not understand why one of these Colonial subjects is in a superior position to a Canadian subject. It is quite true that he will call himself a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, if it is an advantage to have that long name. Apart from that, I do not appreciate any difference.


I am glad to hear that from the noble and learned Viscount. If there is no difference, why create a new special citizenship? Surely it is to make a ring fence around this country and the Colonies. Under the Bill, citizens have certain rights and privileges which cannot be enjoyed by a Canadian or Australian, unless he resides for twelve months in this country.


I will try again. Citizenship gives no rights and privileges whatever. The rights and privileges enjoyed are those which attach to a British subject.


Is the noble and learned Viscount telling me that under this Bill a Canadian who is a British subject can come into this country, and can stand for Parliament next day, that he can own a British ship?




I understood that he had to reside twelve months in this country.




Then what is the object of creating this citizenship, if a British subject has all the rights which the new citizen will enjoy?


Because the Dominions are insisting that we shall not be in a different position from them. They create their citizens and they do not want us to be in a different position, or what might be thought to be in a superior position, from them. They say, "We are going to create citizens. You create citizens. And then the sum total of all citizens, so created will be British subjects."


I am glad to have that explanation. But in that case I do not see why it is necessary to include the Colonies in the citizenship which we are creating in order to agree with the Dominions. If we are to create something of the same kind as the Dominions, we should create a United Kingdom citizenship and not go further. That, I imagine, is what they attach importance to, and that, I submit, is what we ought to do. If there is no more significance in citizenship than what the noble and learned Viscount has told the House I cannot understand the necessity for creating this new and artificial ring of citizenship, as is done in this Part of the Bill. But that is not the only difficulty. I accept entirely what the noble Lord said about the way in which this Bill affects the citizens of the Dominions. But consider its effect upon the new citizens who will be created in the Colonial Empire.


They are citizens already.


They are British subjects. I beg the noble Lord to realise that they are British subjects. Now they will be made citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies.


They are British citizens and British subjects.


I do not think it is the same thing. If it is the same thing, then there is no need whatever for the provisions in this Part of the Bill. If there is no difference, why is a Bill introduced to establish a difference which is entirely without meaning? Noble Lords cannot have it both ways. Either it means something or it means nothing. We are going to great trouble to create a new citizenship, a wholly artificial citizenship, which, according to the noble Lord, does not mean anything. I believe it does mean something. I think the fact that this great United Kingdom citizenship, or citizenship of a single entity which includes the United Kingdom and the Colonies is to be conferred at one sweep upon millions of subjects of the King—who may not understand that it is really a matter of legal convenience, without direct political significance, and who may, indeed, not unnaturally, assume that it confers a right to political equality, what-ever the constitution of the Colony to which they belong—may create needless trouble and embarrassment in the present stage of Colonial development.

We are anxious to see that political development does not overtake economic development altogether (we had a warning on that subject from the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, the other day) and it is a mistake to establish a status which is bound to be misunderstood, and which is bound to lead to embarrassing argument. It is bound, in any case, to be in many ways a sham, because the Dominions immigration laws, whatever we may say, will assuredly continue to differentiate in practice between different types of the United Kingdom citizens, however much we may assert that they are, whatever their origin, on a par. Everybody knows how difficult and thorny these questions are. I submit that we should not gratuitously lead ourselves into even greater embarrassment. Clearly, there must be established a United Kingdom citizenship. That I fully accept. But why should that not be called simply "British citizenship"? That name covers, by ancient tradition, the peoples of England, Scotland, Wales and a large part of Northern Ireland. It is also a modern reality, for it denotes a great geographical, social and historic union which has made an exceptional mark on the history of the world.

The title of "British" is ours by every right of blood and soil, and I suggest, therefore, that it is the right and proper name for the national citizenship established under this Bill for the people of this Island. I believe, moreover, that it would be acceptable to the people of the Channel Islands. They are British subjects, and it is simple to make them British citizens as well—much simpler than trying to introduce complicated Amendments which will somehow differentiate between them and include them in this artificial union of the United Kingdom and the Colonies. Other Amendments of a complicated nature are, it seems to me, inevitable if we proceed with the Bill in its present form. I submit, then, that "British citizenship," and not "citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies," is the right name for the citizenship which is being established for these Islands under this Bill.

I would ask, as my noble friend has asked: Is it necessary to make it exclusive in any way? The noble and learned Viscount has assured us that all British subjects will in future enter the United Kingdom on equal terms. That is certainly our established tradition. I should not like to see any artificial discrimination established by the Bill. When my noble friend was dealing with this subject, I understood that the differentiation which he discussed was admitted by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, and by everybody else. But now I understand that it is questioned as to whether in this country there is any differentiation under this Bill between citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies and citizens of any other part of the Empire.


Let me try once more. Of course it is open to this Parliament, or any other sovereign Parliament, to enact exactly what laws they like. We could enact a law which would prohibit a Cornishman from going to Scotland, or a Scotsman from going to Cornwall. If we choose to enact such stupid laws, there is nothing as a matter of sovereignty to prevent us so doing. Hitherto, we have not had any law discriminating against any British subject. I hope we never shall, but I do not know. If you are minded to discriminate, you can discriminate, whether you call them "subjects" or whether you call them "citizens." As the law stands at the present moment, assuming that this Bill is passed, there will be no differentiation between the subjects of our Colonel Empire and the subjects of the Dominion of Canada.


Let me hasten to say that it is not this Bill which establishes that right. It exists at the present moment. All I am doing is expressing anxiety lest the Bill should qualify or modify it in any way. I find it difficult to understand why, in that case, it is necessary to introduce this artificial citizenship. I hope that Part of the Bill will be more fully explained when we come to it in Committee. It seems to me that in this matter we are trying to do too much, and that the citizenship which is being here created is not real, because the peoples of the Colonial Empire are not united with us, or with each other, by the ties of which true national citizenship is made. The tie which unites them to each other and to us is simply and truly, allegiance to the King. I do not see, therefore, why it is necessary to add any citizenship to the title of "British subjects," of which they are proud. Soldiers of the Colonial Empire have fought with great gallantry, in vast numbers, as subjects of the King. Why seek to alter that title, which they understand and of which they are proud; a title which they will bear, until in due course—if their development proceeds as we wish it to proceed—they develop a citizenship of their own.

I must re-emphasise that the modification of the Bill which I hope will be considered would not in any way involve the principle of the Bill as it affects the Dominions. On the contrary it would, I think, commend itself to the Dominions. After all, the national citizenships established by this Bill in all parts of the Commonwealth except the United Kingdom will endure; whereas this composite national citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies must be temporary, and will not endure. In due course, it will be broken up by the progress of the Colonies. Why, therefore, seek to create an entirely artificial legal distinction, for which at the present time, it appears to me, there is absolutely no need? It seems to me that this is an attempt to tidy up and make things shipshape all round. It is, I think, mistaken in that way. It is a mistake to attempt to tidy up with one sweep, and in one measure, all the many difficult problems which exist in the Commonwealth at the present time. I hope, therefore, that further consideration will be given to what seems to me to be the only artificial and unreal provision in an otherwise good Bill.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said at the beginning of his speech, it is much easier on this subject to make a long speech than a short one. I will do my best to be brief, as the hour is late. I think the reaction of all of us, when we first opened this Bill, was, Why do we have to have this Bill, and what is wrong with the existing position? And if we do have to have it, why have it in this form? That well-known Nineteenth Century tangle, the Schleswig-Holstein case, was supposed to be understood by three people only, one of whom was unfortunately dead, one who was mad and one who had forgotten. The nationality laws of this country are not quite so complicated as that, but very nearly. They are laws which are not like domestic laws, which may stay the same, but inter-act on the changing laws of other countries and are a constantly writhing tangle.

It is an old platitude to say that wars bring change. I do not believe they do; they merely hasten changes that are on their way. As several noble Lords have said, including the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the common code, as we call it, was being steadily whittled away. There could be no change made without a general agreement. That imposed tremendous delay on certain Commonwealth countries in times of emergency. Changes were made which only technically conformed to that. Certain Acts of Parliament have already been quoted. In 1935, Australia passed an Act by which, if an Australian woman married an alien, although she ceased to be a British subject, she did not cease to be an Australian citizen. New Zealand passed a similar Act in the following year. Events are putting a very heavy strain on nationality laws all the world over, not only because of the flotsam and jetsam of refugees and exiles, but also because of the tremendous population movement in the Commonwealth. Ten thousand Canadians have come back to make their homes in this country; hundreds of thousands of people have their names down with the shipping companies to emigrate to Commonwealth countries, in the wake of those who have gone already.

The Canadian Act of 1946, as has been pointed out, was the forerunner of this new Bill. My understanding of this Bill, and its presence here to-day in this form, is this. Because the ether Commonwealth countries agreed to follow suit we have the Bill; because it was generally agreed that we should take the next step we have the Bill to-day; because the general approach to the subject was also agreed we have it in this form. As my noble friend Lord Simon pointed out, it is something of a fait accompli; and when the expert representatives of 600,000,000 people come to agreement, it is a powerful decision. But, with my noble friend Lord Simon, I regret that decisions like this could not be reached in such a way that the public who are interested, could have some idea of what is going on.

Now I am not going over the Bill in detail, but paragraph 7 of the White Paper which accompanies it seems to me to set out the real basis of the measure. It points out that the Bill will give a clear recognition of the separate identity of particular countries. I always think that the word "identity" is an important part of our strength. We have always sought to encourage identity and to define it, in very sharp contradistinction to other great Powers of the past. The fact that we have encouraged identity, I believe to be a source of continuing strength. The White Paper goes on to say that this arrangement will help those countries concerned, in their external relations, to define precisely on whose behalf they are negotiating. That, I think, is essential in this world of shifting peoples. Then, at the end, the White Paper refers to the common code by which the variation of nationality laws of different countries will be possible at short notice, to meet present pressing situations. As the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, said, steps can be taken without delay when the situation brooks no delay.

We may regret—I think we all do in some way—the departure of an old system with which we have all grown up; but there are powerful arguments for change. Listening to the debate to-day I think all are agreed that a change in some form was absolutely unavoidable, and extremely salutary. I am with the noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, in that I suspect any "tidying-up" process. I very much dislike formal documents; but just occasionally we have to have them. After all, we have no written Constitution in this country, we have nothing that resembles one in the Commonwealth, and we have very few written documents at all. Our understanding is much the stronger where nothing is written—we like it that way. But we have one or two documents, of which the Statute of Westminster is the chief example. That really brought nothing into effect; it merely recognised an existing state of affairs. Some people, who have not studied the subject, imagine that it gave the Commonwealth countries their freedom. They were free, independent, and powerful nations, and that Statute merely recognised the fact. That Statute has done nothing to weaken our real relationship. The Bill we have in front of us, to my mind, recognises identities that have been clear cut for years past.

I do not intend to go minutely into the Bill. I certainly welcome the provision about the nationality of women. It is changing one of the few laws which put women on a different footing from men. The most astonishing anomalies existed under the old law. An old woman who lived in Yorkshire, who had practically never been out of the county in her life and had been bedridden for years, had been married to somebody who was technically an alien, who also spent nearly all his life in this country, and who had died many years before. Under the existing law she was technically a suspicious person, and in spite of having been bedridden for many years had to be visited and checked by the police once a week throughout the war.

The Bill defines how citizenship is acquired. An instance of where citizenship and nationality really mattered was where it was a case of the last three places in the last plane from Berlin, on September 4, 1939. This Bill lays down just who are to become citizens, but not what citizenship entails. That has been cleared up, to a certain extent, since the Lord Chancellor introduced this Bill. He said in his opening words that there was a slightly mystical character about it. I must say that I was wondering what practical disqualifications or disadvantages a citizen of Fiji or Manitoba would find on landing on our shores, and I am much relieved at the noble and learned Viscount's assurance that there are none.

I would draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 20 (3) (c). That lays down that if a person is sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment in any country, he is deprived, or may be deprived, of his citizenship. There are many countries in Europe where freedom has fallen into such a grievous plight that imprisonment is a political weapon, and, in fact, in certain countries it is almost the only manifest of respectability. I agreed with my noble friend Lord Simon when he drew attention to that hideous expression "United Kingdom and Colonies." I must say that when I first studied this Bill a few weeks ago I tried to think of a better expression having just that meaning, and so far I must admit defeat. We have no word in our language which adequately describes the people of these islands. There is the word "English," but that is not acceptable to certain of us on the farther side of the Border. The word "British" has a far wider connotation. Some time ago there was an attempt to introduce the word "Britannic"—a good word—but it never became part of the language.

The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has cleared up one or two points in the course of the debate which rather puzzled me. I was very anxious to know whether it would be possible for a Dyak head-hunter from Sarawak to land in this country and become chairman of the National Coal Board—a position which I understand may shortly become vacant. I am sure he would liven up that Board. I understand that he can, in fact, hold that office, and in fact always could.

But a strong line of argument can be developed against this Bill on two points. There are those who say that while it is reasonable enough for the Commonwealth countries—to give them that name—to have their citizenship, and to define their own citizens, this country should keep "open house." We in this country are sometimes described as the "Metropolitan Dominion" and I think that that is a very good description. I cannot personally agree with that argument. I believe that if we were to stand out we should be acting completely out of our role. Although it seems a pleasant and friendly gesture to invest anyone who comes to this country, regardless of his citizenship in his country of origin, with our own citizenship, we may be thought by some to be infringing the sovereignty of the country from which he comes, whose people may consider that only they have the right to lay down what citizenship their countryman shall hold. It can be further argued that, though we are the Metropolitan Dominion, we are a Dominion with a tremendous difference. As the noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, has pointed out, there are 60,000,000 people in the Colonial Empire who are dependent on us for guidance, for security, and for their future. I think the noble Lord also said that we are welded together by this Bill into some unwieldy and unreal identity. These people are our wards. I personally do not believe that we could possibly make any arrangement by which the United Kingdom and the Colonies are separable for this status. I do not believe we can create two separate identities if we are to achieve the end which we wish to achieve.

For myself—and I speak only for myself—I am not in the least worried by any concept that is embodied in this Bill; in fact, I welcome it. I think that common citizenship by the creation of a series of separate and parallel citizenships is a most reasonable and constructive status. It is a trend which is going on in the Commonwealth today, and this Bill is our edition of it. The agreement that was reached by the experts representing those countries shows quite plainly, to my mind, that the status quo was not satisfactory. I regret anything that may make our relationship more formal, but I welcome anything in this Bill and in the measures which went before it which recognises the principle of identity and as the noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, said, of nationhood.

5.45 p.m.


I thank your Lordships for the reception you have given to this Bill. I knew that the underlying principles of it were difficult to follow, and I have had occasion in the course of the debate to think that perhaps they have not always been quite fully understood—which no doubt is my own fault. May I try quite simply to put the matter again? I think we all believe that it is desirable that, throughout the length and breadth of all the territories over which His Majesty reigns, there should be some conception of common nationality, whether it concerns a Dyak from Borneo or a merchant from Manitoba, or whoever it may be. The idea of a common nationality is surely one that we should strive to keep. We should, so far as we can, avoid the situation that a person is recognised as a national by one community and not by another. There are only two ways in which to keep that conception of common nationality—we cannot legislate for the other member states of the Dominions. One is by having a common code, everybody legislating in the same way. That was tried, and it has broken down. The second way is by having a new conception, and that is that everybody shall decide for themselves, by their own Legislature, who are their citizens, and that the sum total of the citizens of the various member states shall be British subjects.

So far, I think the matter is plain. I do not think that anybody, on reflection, would doubt that this is right. There is no other course. What rather surprised me in the debate was to hear it hinted that this was a matter which a lot of departmental officials, acting comparatively recently, had thought out and evolved for themselves. This matter has a long history. I was myself Attorney-General when the preliminary work which led to the Statute of Westminister was passed. And your Lordships will find that at the Conference of Dominion Premiers which took place in, I think, 1930, the subject of nationality was discussed at length. It was discussed again at the Imperial Conference in 1937.

I have sent for certain documents which I have here. This is a record of a meeting presided over by Mr. La Pointe, whom we all remember as a most distinguished statesman of Canada. The document defines nationality and the conception of nationality and this is what it says: A suggestion was made that these difficulties could be overcome if each of the Members of the Commonwealth were to undertake to introduce legislation, as some Members have already done, defining its nationals or citizens. It was, however, found that some Members of the Commonwealth were not disposed to introduce such legislation. In the case of the United Kingdom in particular it was pointed out that the wide differences existing between the large number of separate territories, legal jurisdictions, and races for which the United Kingdom was responsible would render impracticable the adoption of any single classification which would be in any real sense analagous to that expressed by the term ' national ' or ' citizen ' or ' member of the community ' in the case of other Members of the Commonwealth. Moreover, it is the practice of the United Kingdom not to make any distinction between different races in British Colonies as regards civil and political rights, or the right of entry into and residence in the United Kingdom; and the paragraphs which follow must be read in the light of this position as far as the United Kingdom is concerned "— That, incidentally, is an authority which I can quote in my own favour in connection with what I said just now about there being a common code.

Then the document goes on, and says that the meeting very much hope … that this matter of the conception of citizenship and the distinctions they indicate will be further considered. And so it was. After the Second World War, Canada told us that she was going to introduce her new Bill of 1946, which ended completely the conception of the common code and made this new system the only system we can adopt if we want to retain this common nationality throughout the whole of His Majesty's territories.

The noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, said: "But I do not understand why you need have such a thing as British citizenship or citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies. What good is it? What does it do?" The reason for it is this. The principle upon which we are now proceeding is that British nationality shall be acquired only through citizenship. It is for each constituent part of the Commonwealth to lay down rules determining its own citizenship. Citizenship is the gateway, and the only gateway there is, through which one enters to reach nationality. Once we admit that conception it follows that, in order to carry it out, we must also have our citizenship. With regard to the phrase "British subject," I agree with the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, when he said: "If that is a source of offence to anybody, let us call it something else." But for the moment I prefer the phrase "British subject" as a title which, in view of our past history, I am proud to bear. If we have a conception that the genus of "British subject" is made up of the various species of citizen—and that is how we arrive at it—then we must have a species of our own citizenship.

Then we come to a question which I agree is much more debatable. Are we to have that species of citizenship applying to this country alone, or are we to have it applying to those territories over which this Parliament has the right to legislate? If we say that it is for the Parliament of any particular country to define the test of citizenship, is it not right that we in this Parliament should be able to deal both with the citizenship of the United Kingdom and also with the citizenship of the Colonies?


I am very grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for that explanation. I should like to make it perfectly clear that, so far as I am concerned, I am not disputing the right of this Parliament to legislate in regard to citizenship throughout the Colonial Empire. Nor do I resist for one moment anything which tends to emphasise the bond between this country and the Colonial Empire. The only part of this conception which causes me difficulty is why it is necessary to extend this principle, that the status of a British subject or Commonwealth citizenship can be attained only through some national citizenship—why that system should be extended to people who are not citizens of any national State.


That is a point which caused trouble at the Imperial Conference of 1937, and that was the difficulty we had to meet in 1946. After discussing the matter, we came to the conclusion that this was the only way to do it. I agree with the noble Lord that the Colonial Office and those who know about the Colonies attach great importance to the fact that in this matter we should go in with our Colonial territories as part of the one scheme. If we do not do that, the noble Lord will see the difficulty. If he accepts the principle that citizenship is the only gateway through which one can attain nationality, then if we do not have a citizenship of the United Kingdom and the Colonies but only a citizenship of the United Kingdom, we still have to deal with the Colonies. Are we to deal with the Colonies as one? Are we to have one citizenship for all the Colonies or are we going to have a separate citizenship for each particular Colony and island? Thinking this matter over, and discussing it at very great length, we have come to the conclusion that this is the best scheme to adopt. I am prepared to consider what the noble Lord has to say in answer when we get to a more detailed study of the Bill.

I should like to add here that I am not in the least proud of the cumbrous phrase "citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies"—nobody could be—but I have not been able to think of a better one. If any of your Lordships has an inspiration between now and Committee stage, perhaps he will give me advance notice of it. I will gladly consider whether we can produce a better phrase. That is the position at the present moment.

I have been asked various questions by noble Lords. I do not think I can remember them all but I will do my best to answer them. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, asked me in particular whether registrations would be the normal rule, in the absence of evidence that a marriage was not a bona fide one. That is so. To be frank, the reason is that ladies used to come over from France, intending to ead a life of prostitution in the streets of London. They used to marry the first man they met when they arrived here, simply and solely to ensure that they should not be deported. Such marriages should obviously be stopped; but registration will be the normal thing.

Then the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, asked me two questions. The first was whether or not we had discussed this matter with the United States to try to make our laws square with theirs. We have not. There have been no discussions with the United States. It is notorious that for many years their laws greatly differed from ours on the question of nationality. Of course, the less our laws differ from those of other countries, the better. I feel it is the sort of matter which might well be discussed by the United Nations Organisation. It is desirable to have the same standards if we can. However, I have come to the conclusion, and I think we have all come to the conclusion, that what we used to dread so much in the way of dual nationally is not really so bad as we used to think. In the course of two wars we have had so many instances of people who have had dual nationality that we have been able to perceive that the inconveniences in practice are not so great as one would have expected.

The noble Lord also asked me a question about a person of German nationality, technically speaking, with strict British allegiance and tradition, who finds him-self in Tanganyika, which is a Mandated Territory. There, in Tanganyika, children are born of an alien father. The position is that Tanganyika is a Trust Territory, and the birth of a child of an alien father in Trust Territory does not confer British nationality, so that the children would be aliens. It is not usual to grant certificates of naturalisation to minors on their own, but it can be done in exceptional cases. The Secretary of State would have authority to do it if he thought it proper in a particular case. Of course, if the father of the children is alive and in Tanganyika, he can apply to the Governor for naturalisation under the provisions of this Bill. If he became naturalised there, then the registration of any minor children in this country would be considered by the Secretary of State. I am glad to say that there is no bar to aliens going to our universities. Of course, the number of places is so small at the present time that there may be—I do not know whether there is—a tendency to confer this privilege only on children of British descent; I should hope not, however. I should also hope that in the exceptional cases put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the fact that there is technically an absence of British naturalisation would not in any way count against the child.

Those were the particular questions I was asked. When I said in my opening speech that this Bill was not controversial I did not mean that there were not a large number of points in the Bill which might give rise to discussion, criticism and controversy. I meant that it was not controversial in the Party sense. I do not think there is anything at all in that sense which is in the least controversial. This is a genuine attempt to meet a very great difficulty, in the hope of preserving something which is well worth preserving. I am most grateful for the observations which your Lordships have made. Before we reach the Committee stage, the date of which has not been fixed, but which several of your Lordships have said you hope will not be too soon (and for my part I concur in that hope), the observations which have been made to-day will, I need hardly assure your Lordships, be most carefully taken into consideration.

On Question, Bill read 2ª and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.