HL Deb 08 May 1962 vol 240 cc90-103

2.59 p.m.

Order of the day for receiving the Report of the Amendment read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now Received.—(The Earl of Dundee.)


My Lords, I am taking this opportunity, which I believe is the only one at this stage of the Bill, to revert to the detailed but most important question which I mentioned on the Committee stage—namely, the need for safeguards for British protected persons from the High Commission Territories who go to work in the South African Republic. On May 1 the noble Earl, replying to a point of mine, said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol 240, col. 1010] that he agreed that it was a most important question. He went on: … the opportunity for Africans from British protected Territories to work in South Africa is a matter which we have discussed with the South African Government. We have been assured that the South African Government appreciate the problem and will consult with us about any arrangements which are in force, so far as their own labour requirements permit. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government, following on that quite satisfactory declaration, whether this could not be embodied in an exchange of letters, or some such diplomatic operation, between the two Governments on the passing of this Bill. It seems to me that the future of these British-protected persons is so important that it should be committed to writing, and that the agreements between the Governments should also be put in writing. I would ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would agree.


My Lords, I certainly appreciate the noble Earl's anxiety on this matter. I wrote him rather a lengthy letter about it this morning—which perhaps has not yet reached him.


It has not.


But since the noble Earl has raised it, I hope he will forgive me if I make, not a long, but a carefully considered reply to what he has just said. I can assure him, my Lords, that the Government are anxious to achieve the firmest possible understanding with the South Africans on this matter. We are already engaged in getting as many as possible of the many facets of the future relations between the Territories and South Africa set down in exchanges of aide-memoires and Notes, which I think is what the noble Earl is suggesting we should do. But I am sure he will understand that not all of these arrangements are susceptible to this sort of treatment. In many cases it may be a question of the application of general broad points of principle; in other cases the arrangements are matters of cooperation at working level in the technical field whioh we may wish to be free to vary with the minimum of formality and the maximum of speed.

While I can promise that in every way that it is possible and prudent to do so we shall get these arrangements firmly recorded, in whatever form may be appropriate, I do not think we could undertake to have each and every one of them set down in one single exchange or in a single series of letters. I am sorry that my letter, which is rather more full than this statement, has not yet reached the noble Earl; but, for the sake of the House, I am glad to have had the opportunity of making this statement in reply to what he has said.


I thank the noble Earl very much for that very satisfactory statement. I must apologise if it is my fault that I have not yet seen his letter.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 1 [Nationality, etc.]:

THE EARL OF LISTOWEL moved, in subsection (2), to leave out "sixty-five" and insert "sixty-six". The noble Earl said: Your Lordships will remember that when I moved this Amendment during the Committee stage of the Bill the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack was good enough to say that he would look into it and let me know his views before the Report stage. He sent me a long letter in which he set out, in very much greater detail than he was able to do in his reply, the Government's objections to this Amendment, but I must confess, with the utmost respect, that I was not converted by the noble and learned Viscount's arguments. For that reason I have again put down the Amendment for your Lordships' consideration. I do not want to repeat what I said in Committee in support of this Amendment, but I should like to answer some of the objections that have been, or might be, advanced against this Amendment.

Your Lordships will remember that it is a simple proposal to extend from one year, from 1965 to 1966, the period of time during which South Africans can choose British citizenship if they so desire. The noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, suggested that these citizenship provisions might be part of a wider agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Union of South Africa, but the noble and learned Viscount made it clear that that was not the case. So we may be assured, I think, that nothing we do in relation to the citizenship provisions—even if we alter them—will in any way invalidate something else which we have agreed with the South African Government.

Another point is this. It may be said that if these citizenship provisions are amended now, it will be too late for consultation with other Commonwealth Governments. That, of course, is probably true, because the Bill has already been through an another place; it is completing its passage through your Lordships' House, and there would hardly be time. But, my Lords, is it necessary? I should have thought that, in view of the fact these citizenship provisions do not affect the citizens of other Commonwealth countries, consultation is not really essential. We all know cases in which other Commonwealth countries impose restrictions on entry which affect our citizens, and that sometimes we are not consulted. As this is something which does not affect the citizens of other Commonwealth countries, I should have thought that it would be sufficient if they were informed of any change that is made in the Bill before it passes into law.

Another objection might be that the South African Government might be tempted to retaliate against British subjects resident in the Union. My Lords, surely not. This whole Bill is extraordinarily generous, and I am quite certain that the South African Government appreciate that it is without parallel. Looking back at the Burma Bill, for which I was responsible as a Minister, I think your Lordships will agree that the terms on which South Africa is leaving the Commonwealth are much more generous than the terms on which Burma left the Commonwealth. I cannot believe that a small alteration of this kind could affect the view that any objective person would take about the liberality of the measure as a whole from the point of view of the Union.

Again, it might be said in South Africa that this was an astute move to encourage the political opponents of the South African Government to stay in the Union and vote against it before choosing British citizenship. Surely such an idea would be a complete misconception of what is intended by this Amendment. I am quite certain that nobody who supports this Amendment in this House intends to interfere with the domestic affairs of the Union; that is the last thought present in any of our minds. The Amendment is intended simply and solely (perhaps this should be said to clear up the misconception) to give persons in South Africa who may wish to acquire British citizenship a reasonable opportunity of making up their minds. It may also be said that the period of time in the Bill, over three years, is longer than the period of time we gave to Burma. That, of course, is the case. It is only one example of the special treatment that we are giving to South Africa. This Amendment would prolong the period by one more year, and certainly, when we compare South Africa with Burma, there must be some special reason for having the longer period. This special reason was the one I mentioned in the course of the discussion in Committee—namely, that there will be a General Election in South Africa in 1966; and, quite clearly, people will have a better opportunity of making up their minds about the future of the country, about its stability, its economic prospects, after a General Election than before it.

During the Committee stage the noble and learned Viscount said—and everyone would agree—that it is impossible for anyone living in the Republic, however long he may have lived there and however well he knows the country, to estimate with absolute certainty even over a period of five to ten years what the future of the Republic will be. I am not contending that it would be possible to be certain what will happen over a long period of time in the Republic of South Africa. All I am saying is that it would be more feasible to make an approximate estimate of what the future is likely to be, after the General Election, when the policy of the next Government is known, than it would be before it. For that reason I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 17, leave out ("sixty-five") and insert ("sixty-six").—(The Earl of Listowel.)

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, in accordance with the undertaking I gave in the Committee stage, I have done two things. First, I have given very careful consideration to this problem; and, secondly, as the noble Earl has been kind enough to tell your Lordships, I did, as I promised, write to him so that he should have time to put the Amendment down if my views were not acceptable. I must say one word, and I hope your Lordships will not think it a word of levity, on the noble Earl's speech. It is related of my predecessor, Lord Haldane, that when he was at the Bar at the end of the last century he had a standard method for opening an appeal before your Lordships sitting judicially. That was to present not only his own case but, shortly, the case for his opponent—he said "objectively", but the underlying purpose was to put it in such a form as to appeal to a noble and learned Lord, whose name I shall say was Lord "A", because he knew that if he could secure that Lord "A" said something in favour of his opponent's arguments, that would immediately attract an opposing view from the noble Lord, Lord Watson, who was one of the strongest personalities then in your Lordships' House. My Lords, all I can say is that, when I heard the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, present my case, I understood exactly how Lord Haldane's opponents must have felt.

I ask your Lordships to consider that there are very important points involved. The Bill provides that South African citizens will cease to be British subjects as from May 31 this year. This is a logical consequence of South Africa's departure from the Commonwealth, and any exception to that requires special justification. As aliens, South Africans would normally expect to have to apply for naturalisation if they wished to recover their former status as British subjects. In allowing them, notwithstanding their alien status, to recover British nationality by the simpler and less stringent procedure of registration, we are, in fact, allowing them to retain for a time one of the privileges of Commonwealth citizenship. It is, moreover, a highly valued privilege, and for this reason its extension to South Africans could be justified only as a temporary measure.

In fixing the end of 1965 as the terminal date for this concession, we took this decision only after very careful consideration of the highly complex issues involved, and we felt that we were already granting a very generous period of grace. Everyone will have three-and-a-half years in which to decide what to do, and this is already considerably longer than the comparable period of grace under the Burma settlement, to which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred, which lasted for two years only. My Lords, in spite of the differences in the circumstances, this does show that the fabric of our nationality law is already being strained very considerably, by a concession which allows South Africans three-and-a-half years in which to use registration as a means of recovery of British nationality.

I now come to the special reason which was advanced by the noble Earl for extending the time limit by one year. He suggested that account should be taken of the probability of a General Election in South Africa in 1966, so that South Africans would not have to decide about their nationality until after the Election results were known. In my view, my Lords, this raises three separate difficulties. First of all, there is the question whether the extra year would really make all that difference to the people concerned. Whatever the result of the Election, those who have waited so long before making up their minds will be likely to want a little longer to see what will happen next. Further political changes in one direction or another may be in the offing, and they will plead for still further delay. As I pointed out in the Committee stage, once considerations like these are allowed to determine policy it is very difficult to have any time limit at all; and, of course, that was the original view for which the Party opposite contended in another place.

Secondly, my Lords, the proposal raises a fundamental question of principle—namely, whether it is proper to take into account, when determining the limits of nationality concessions, the possibility of future changes in the social, political or economic situation in South Africa. This is a very difficult question. It is natural that the individuals concerned should themselves wish to take such considerations into account, but for the Government to do so, either implicitly or explicitly, would, in my view, be a course of questionable propriety. We have never in the past drawn distinctions in our nationality laws between those belonging to countries whose policies we may have deplored, either in part or in whole and others. But that is what we should be doing were we to extend the period of the nationality concessions, solely in order to take account of possible changes in the political situation in South Africa following the next General Election.

Thirdly, my Lords, there is a very practical consideration which might possibly be of great importance. In view of the reasons adduced for the extension of the time limit, both in this House and in another place, I believe that it might well be thought that the object of the Amendment was to enable as many people as possible who were opposed to the policies of the South African Government to vote against that Government at the General Election before exchanging South African citizenship for United Kingdom citizenship. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, brushed that argument on one side, but I must say to him, having lived with this problem now for, I suppose, about a year, that however much such an intention might be disclaimed, as the noble Earl disclaimed it, suspicion might well remain that this was the real object. It is hardly necessary to point out the dangers to good relations between the two countries that might lurk in such a situation; and the ultimate result of the Amendment might well be inimical to the interests of the very persons whom the noble Earl has in mind.

My Lords, apart from any such considerations it must also be borne in mind, as I pointed out during the Committee stage, in an answer to my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, that the fixing of the date is not part of a reciprocal arrangement with the South African Government. Nevertheless, account has been taken of the date, in our view, both by the Governments of other Commonwealth countries and by the Government of South Africa in framing their own proposals in the field of citizenship and the control of aliens. That is a practical problem, and I venture to say that there is more in it than the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has allowed. It is a practical problem, and to change the date at this late stage in the Bill, without consultation, might lead to action on the part of other Governments which we cannot foresee and might not welcome.

In this matter the Government have balanced the real but small advantage which 'the Amendment would give to a comparatively small, though not for a moment undeserving, class of people against the incalculable effects which might result in other directions from making this change; and my advice to the House is not to make it. I also want to point out—because these nationality questions are so difficult—a further fact. On the last occasion, my noble friend Lord Stonehaven asked me a question, and I want to make it clear to him, and to those sharing his interrogative approach, that South African citizens who have no other citizenship within the Commonwealth—may I repeat that: South African citizens who have no other citizenship within the Commonwealth—will automatically become aliens in this country as soon as the Bill comes into force. The arrangements in the First Schedule are to enable them to recover British nationality, but I do not know whether your Lordships have had in mind the limitation that that conveys. That is why I ventured to repeat that South African citizens "who have no other citizenship within the Commonwealth" will automatically become aliens.

May I illustrate my point by quoting from what the Minister of State said in another place on the Committee stage of the Bill on March 6? He said (col. 44 of the Committee's Proceedings): Before I describe exactly what is involved with regard to each of these rights we should consider the nature of the problem which affects only South African citizens. It does not affect dual citizens, for example; that is, people who have both citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies and South African citizenship—and there are about 300,000 of those. That is to say, my Lords, those who have both citizenships are not affected, because, of course, they do not need any procedure of this kind in order to acquire the citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and 300,000 is the best guess we can make.

The Minister went on: There are also in South Africa a considerable number—much smaller than 300,000 but a figure about which it is impossible to estimate or even make a rational guess—of people who have only citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies "— that is to say, who have not got South African citizenship. My Lords, I draw your Lordships' attention to these words of the Minister of State: Neither those who have dual citizenship nor those who have only United Kingdom und Colonies citizenship arc affected by our discussions. Therefore, we are dealing with, and we are raising these difficulties with regard to, the limited class of those who have no other citizenship within the Commonwealth and have only South African citizenship.

My noble and learned friend Lord Spens raised a point on the Committee stage, and although I have written to him I think it would be convenient if I publicly stated the answer to the point which was troubling him. I believe that he was satisfied by my letter, but I should like your Lordships to share his satisfaction. It is not necessary to make any provision for minors in the Bill, because under Section 7 of the British Nationality Act, 1948, the Secretary of State already has discretion to register any minor as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. If an application is made on behalf of a South African minor, the fact that his father died before he could be registered as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies is a factor which would be taken into account by the Home Secretary in considering his application.

My Lords, I always try, when opinion is expressed in your Lordships' House, to give it full consideration, and to discuss it with my right honourable friends. I have done so on this occasion, but I have come very firmly to the conclusion that to make this change would in itself raise great difficulties, and that to do so at this late stage of the Bill would cause difficulties not only for us but throughout the Commonwealth. Therefore I must advise your Lordships not to accept the Amendment.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for going into this matter so carefully, but I am bound to say that we feel very disappointed indeed with the final reply. As to the lateness at which this matter is now being discussed for the last time, I take it that the High Commissioner, or whoever is now the representative of South Africa here, will have been kept in touch, during the whole of our discussions, with the debates in another place and the debates here, so it would be nothing very startling or new to the representative of South Africa if we were able to obtain this concession of an extension of time for those in South Africa wishing to have British citizenship. What we ask for, really, is one year more.

I also fail to see why it should have been said by the noble and learned Viscount at a previous stage of the Bill in this House, or now, that the pressing for this extension for one year would arouse suspicion in the minds of the South African authorities. We have heard no breath of suspicion whispered from them in their Press or anywhere else, so far as I can discover. We are asking for a perfectly reasonable thing here in this Parliament—we who are treating South Africa with an extraordinary amount of generosity, in fact, in the terms under which the break has taken place, and with considerable remaining advantages to the South African Government as a result of what has taken place. To ask for the other year for the reasons stated by my noble friend Lord Listowel does not seem to me to be unreasonable.

Nor can we be satisfied with the replies which were given in another place or with the replies we have had from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. I suppose that almost every Member of every section of this House will have relatives, or very near friends, in South Africa who will be affected by this changeover. No doubt a good many of us have. Of course, I speak for myself because, after all, I have visits from dear friends in South Africa who are related to my wife and who, because they were born in South Africa, will be regarded, as the noble and learned Viscount says, as aliens.


My Lords, might I ask where her father was born? Because if her father was born in England it would put these people on dual nationality.


No. The son of the lady in question was born in South Africa, her husband was born in South Africa, but the grandfather was born in England. But there are any number of cases of people with a long-continuing connection—very valuable in their minds—with this old country, and to these people this change is very disturbing indeed. On the other hand, they and their families have seen new roots of life planted in South Africa, and no doubt have a certain affection for South Africa itself and their experience there. It may be that they would be most anxious about what are likely to be the changes in South Africa in the future and would like to see what is going to happen there. There is nothing there to give rise to suspicion in the mind of the Government of South Africa. This family have been there for over a century or more, and yet they ought to have a chance to be able to see what direction is likely to be taken so far as policy and experience in South Africa is concerned.

I do not suppose it will be any use my arguing any further with the noble and learned Viscount. Like my noble friend Lord Listowel, I do not want to repeat all over again the arguments we had on the Committee stage, but I feel so very strongly about this question that I shall ask my noble friends to go into the Lobby in support of the Amendment.


My Lords, I was in South Africa when this measure went through the other place, and I met many persons with long British connections and sentimental affinities who were disturbed about it. A somewhat erroneous view of their situation was recorded in the South African English-speaking Press, which illustrated the disabilities under which they would suffer. So it came about that I was asked by many, deputations and otherwise, to say a word for them in this House when this matter came before us: and, indeed, I did so on the Committee stage, I could have wished that it had been easier for the Government to give way on this, and to say that there is not all that much difference between four years and three. I could have wished that, but I am bound to say that two points have emerged which were not clear to me when I was in South Africa, because I was not very much better informed than my questioners, not having had the Bill and without the Committee stage having taken place. Now I have become aware of certain facts from what the Lord Chancellor has said.

The first of these is illustrated by his intervention when the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition was talking about his relations. There are really very few relations who will not be able to claim that they have existing British citizenship. Certainly all first-generation persons will be able to do so. It is when it comes to the second generation that the difference is illustrated, and there, perhaps, I may be permitted to quote my own case, which will demonstrate the matter most clearly. I have dual citizenship. My son and my daughter also have dual citizenship. My grandson, now at Cape Town University and hoping, I believe, to become a good South African, to go into business there and to live there, will not have the choice of British

citizenship under these registration arrangements. In a way I regret that; and yet, when I come to think, of it, while I think it right that older persons like myself should retain their roots, I also think it quite right that a young man of the age of my grandson should make the choice as to what allegiance he owes and in what country he intends to remain and work. You cannot look over your shoulder for the rest of your life, and if in fact he is to become a good South African, then my advice to him is: Take out your papers.

For these reasons, I had half changed my mind about my intention in this matter. But when I heard the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, defend his argument on the ground that there were political implications involved, and political judgments to be made by these people, I thought this House was really getting on to very dangerous ground. It really is something of an interference in South African politics to say, "We are so going to vote as to enable some tens or twenties of thousands of people (it will not be very many) to wait another year, or to be influenced by their situation then as to the way they vote". Although Lord Listowel disclaimed any intention to do that, I am quite certain that it would be read in that way in South Africa. I do not think we should be wise to change this. The advantage to people I should have liked to help is very small, and the disadvantage I consider is very great. Therefore I have changed my mind, and, with some reluctance, I shall support the Lord Chancellor.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 38; Not-Contents, 72.

Airedale, L. Greenhill, L. Rea, L.
Alexander of Hillsborough, V. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. St. Davids, V.
Amulree, L. Henderson, L. Shepherd, L.
Amwell, L. Kenswood, L. Silkin, L.
Archibald, L. Kilbracken, L. Sinha, L.
Burden, L. [Teller.] Latham, L. Stonham, L.
Chorley, L. Lawson, L. Summerskill, B.
Citrine, L. Lindgren, L. Swaythling, L.
Colwyn, L. Listowel, E. Taylor, L.
Douglas of Barlocn, L. Lucan, E. [Teller.] Walston, L.
Faringdon, L. Macpherson of Drumochter, L. Williams, L.
Francis-Williams, L. Meston, L. Williams of Barnburgh, L.
Grantchester, L. Ogmore, L.
Ailwyn, L. Forbes, L. Mills, L.
Albemarle, E. Forster of Harraby, L. Milne, L.
Ampthill, L. Fortescue, E. Milverton, L.
Baden-Powell, L. Fraser of Lonsdale, L. Molson, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Freyberg, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Bathurst, E. Goschen, V. Newall, L.
Beauchamp, E. Gosford, E. Newton, L. [Teller.]
Bethell, L. Hailsiam, V. (L. President.) Polwarth, L.
Boston, L. Hampton, L. Rathcavan, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Hastings, L. Runciman of Doxford, V.
Carrington, L. Hawke, L. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]
Chesham, L. Home, E. St. Oswald, L.
Cholmondeley, M. Iddesleigh, E. Savile, L.
Conesford, L. Jellicoe, E. Scarsdale, V.
Crathorne, L. Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Somers, L.
Denham, L. Lambert, V. Soulbury, V.
Devonshire, D. Lansdowne, M. Spens, L.
Dudley, L. Leighton of Saint Mellons, L. Strang, L.
Dundee, E. Limerick, E. Strathalmond, L.
Dynevor, L. Long, V. Swinton, E.
Effingham, E. Lothian, M. Tenby, V.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Mar and Kellie, E. Teynham, L.
Ferrers, E. Margesson, V. Twining, L.
Ferrier, L. Merrivale, L. Waldegrave, E.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.