HL Deb 03 March 1964 vol 256 cc14-26

3.6 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, from time to time in recent years citizenship has been debated in your Lordships' House in the context of the arrangements to be made as one country and another has achieved independence within the Commonwealth. During these debates two things have become clear: first, that citizenship is an important matter, both in general and, still more, to the individual, so that your Lordships have, if I may say so, rightly taken a close interest in the subject; secondly, that the subject is a technical one through which laymen have to pick their way very carefully.

For both these reasons, my Lords, I think it is right that before explaining the provisions of this Bill I should attempt to explain in some detail the background to it. If, in so doing, I go over ground which is familiar to those of your Lordships who have mastered the subject, I must ask them to forgive me.

Under the scheme which was agreed, soon after the war, by the then members of the Commonwealth, and which, so far as this country is concerned, is embodied in the British Nationality Act, 1948, each country within the Commonwealth has its own citizenship—the United Kingdom and Colonies for this purpose being treated as a single unit. Each country, by its own law, determines who shall be its citizens, and on the strength of possessing the citizenship of any Commonwealth country a person possesses the additional status of British subject or Commonwealth citizen. These two terms are, in our law, interchangeable, while in other countries it is usual to use one term or the other. Thus, a person born in this country, or whose father was born here, is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and on the strength of possessing that citizenship he is also a British subject or a Commonwealth citizen. Similarly, a person possessing Indian or Australian citizenship, or that of any other Commonwealth country, is in the same way a British subject or Commonwealth citizen in our law.

It is into this framework that the arrangements made as each new country has achieved independence within the Commonwealth have had to be fitted—arrangements contained partly in the law of the newly independent country and partly in the Independence Act passed here at Westminster. Provisions for acquiring the newly created citizenship are, of course, contained in that country's law; while the United Kingdom's legislation adds the country to the list of countries whose citizens possess the status of British subject or Commonwealth citizen.

At the same time, the United Kingdom legislation withdraws citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies from persons acquiring the new citizenship who have no close connection with this country or with a remaining Colony. Such a connection is defined in a standard formula included in the various Independence Acts, and has the effect that a person is exempted from loss of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies if he, his father or his father's father had been born in this country or in what was still a Colony, or had been naturalised or registered there. Thus it has come about that, under the normal pattern of independence arrangements, a person who automatically acquired the newly created citizenship but who also possessed the specified connection with this country automatically became a dual citizen on Independence Day. I hope your Lordships have been able to follow me so far.

Some, however, of the countries which recently attained independence have included in their laws a prohibition on the possession of dual citizenship. I should here emphasise that the law of this country contains no such prohibition, since in our experience few difficulties arise in practice from the possession of two or more citizenships at one and the same time, and that where difficulties may arise these can be overcome without imposing any sort of compulsory prohibition. Nevertheless, a number of countries take a different view, and your Lordships will appreciate that this was not a matter in which the United Kingdom Government could dictate its view to other Commonwealth countries upon their achieving independence.

Thus it has come about that, under the law of certain Commonwealth countries, those of its new citizens who are permitted under our law to retain their citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies are required to renounce that citizenship on pain of forfeiture of the new citizenship; and those who do not automatically acquire the new citizenship, but may acquire it on application, are required, as a condition of obtaining the local citizenship, to give up their citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies.

Your Lordships will not need me to dwell on the personal problems and anxieties that may arise for individuals. Many people living in one of these new countries have wanted—and still want—to play a full part in its life, and they have therefore wanted to take out the new citizenship; yet they are naturally reluctant to sever the bond of citizenship which they have with this country. It is true that under the existing provisions of the British Nationality Acts people who give up their United Kingdom citizenship can regain it after five years' residence in this country, or, in special circumstances, after a shorter period. But many of those concerned feel that any sort of qualifying period is an undue imposition, and that the requirements bear particularly harshly on those who might wish not to return to this country but to move elsewhere in years to come.

This situation first arose in a substantial form in Tanganyika, just over two years ago, and later in Uganda also. But it was in connection with Kenya, as Independence Day drew near, that anxiety was most strongly expressed—both by the British settlers themselves and, on their behalf, by their friends in this country, including some of your Lordships. These anxieties were voiced in this House in the debate on Kenya last July, which took place on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Colyton. A number of your Lordships spoke in that debate, but perhaps, I might mention in particular my noble friends Lord Salisbury and Lord Colyton himself, both of whom followed up their speeches by writing to us on the subject. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking my noble friends for the assistance they have given us in finding what I believe to be a satisfactory solution to this problem of dual citizenship.

My Lords, it was against this background that Her Majesty's Government gave further consideration to the problem caused by this opposition to dual citizenship on the part of some of the newly independent countries of the Commonwealth. As a result, they decided that the matter called for legislation, and the substance of the present Bill was foreshadowed during the debates on what is now the Kenya Independence Act. It is evident from what was then said that the intention to introduce the present Bill was generally welcomed, and I have no doubt that this afternoon the House will endorse that welcome by giving this Bill a Second Reading.

I will now briefly turn to the provisions of the Bill, the principal one being contained in Clause 1. Under this clause, a person who has renounced his citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies, whether before or after the Bill comes into force, will be entitled to resume that citizenship on application if he fulfils the conditions set out in paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1). Under paragraph (a) an applicant must satisfy the Secretary of State that at the time of his renunciation of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies he possessed or was about to acquire the citizenship of a Commonwealth country, and, further, that, but for the renunciation, he could not have retained or obtained the other citizenship or, alternatively, that he had reasonable cause for thinking that he could not have done so.

Paragraph (b) provides that a person must have a "qualifying connection" with the United Kingdom or with what is still a Colony at the date of the application, or, if the applicant is a married woman not qualified in her own right, that her husband should have such a connection. The definition of a qualifying connection is contained in subsections (2) and (3). If a person does not possess such a qualifying connection but is able to fulfil the requirements of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) the grant of registration will be at the Home Secretary's discretion. The only other comment which I think I need make about the clause is to point out that under subsection (6) the Home Secretary will be able to delegate his powers of registration to British High Commissioners, which will mean that much time and trouble will be saved in dealing with applications.

That, my Lords, briefly, is the effect of Clause 1. It will, I feel sure, fully meet the anxieties of British people living elsewhere in the Commonwealth to which I referred earlier. Under the clause, a person who has already, or may in the future automatically acquire, the citizenship of the Commonwealth country, or who voluntarily acquires that citizenship, will be able, if he has in the process been obliged to renounce his citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies, regain that status whether or not he is living in the United Kingdom and whether or not he can comply with the ordinary requirements which citizens of other Commonwealth countries must fulfil before they can become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies.

I now turn to Clause 2, which does not deal with resumption of citizenship but makes two seemingly small but nevertheless important amendments to the law relating to renunciation of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies. At present, under Section 19 of the British Nationality Act, 1948, a person may renounce citizenship only if he already possesses some other citizenship or nationality. The object of including this restriction was the very laudable one of seeking to avoid a situation in which a person, perhaps unwittingly, could render himself stateless. Experience has shown, however, that hard cases can arise as a result of this restriction, because the laws of a few countries—and I am thinking here of foreign countries rather than of countries within the Commonwealth—require that a person must first have renounced his former citizenship before acquiring the new one.

In particular, a certain number of British women have suffered hardship in this way through not being able to acquire their husband's foreign nationality. Accordingly subsection (1) of Clause 2 allows a person to make a declaration of renunciation if he satisfies the Home Secretary that he is about to acquire the citizenship of another country. If, for some reason, he does not in fact acquire the other citizenship within six months, the declaration is automatically void and the person is deemed never to have lost his citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies. By this means we shall still avoid the risk that a person may become stateless as a result of making a declaration of renunciation. Subsection (2) is a purely procedural amendment. Under this subsection, powers can be delegated to British High Commissioners, and this will simplify procedure. Clause 3 calls for no particular comment.

My Lords, may I say, finally, that the nationality law of this country is not, and never has been, something static and unchanging. Rather has it been constantly adjusted to take account of changing circumstances and of new situations. I commend the present Bill to your Lordships as being the latest adjustment that experience has shown to be necessary. The Bill may be a short one, but I have no doubt that for many individuals it will mean a great deal; and for this reason alone I am sure that your Lordships will receive it warmly.


My Lords, I am quite sure that we are all grateful to my noble relative for the clear way he explained the purpose and content of this Bill. In particular, we are very grateful for his clear explanation of the background of the law relating to citizenship in this country and in the Commonwealth. I find from my experience that this is the most difficult of all forms of law dealing with the Commonwealth and Commonwealth relationships. I was able to follow the noble Lord's explanation myself—although I do not pretend to be a particularly brilliant Member of your Lordships' House—and I was so delighted at this that I felt other noble Lords must share my pleasure in having been able to do so.

I am sure that your Lordships will welcome very warmly a Bill that benefits the Commonwealth and, in particular, the different races in the Commonwealth. It will be very useful to new Commonwealth countries, at least to those which prohibit dual citizenship, because it will encourage United Kingdom citizens in these countries to accept the new nationality by removing the fear that by doing so it will become difficult, if not impossible, for them to recover their British nationality later on, if they so desire. These new countries desperately need the support of Englishmen in many different capacities in Government service and in other spheres, and this support is much more likely to be forthcoming if people are not deterred by fears about their future if they renounce British citizenship.

As my noble relative pointed out, in our debate on the Kenya Independence Bill, many noble Lords on both sides of the House expressed anxiety about the British in Kenya who would acquire nationality of this kind under their legislation and consequently lose their British nationality. This Bill makes it easier for them to recover their British nationality later on, if they want to leave Kenya and come back to this country or go anywhere else, by removing the five-year residential qualification. It is particularly important that this new right should be available in African countries with large minorities of British settlers. We want very much to assist these courageous men who have made their homes in Africa and stay on in spite of the risks to which they are exposed as a result of the conditions of life in Africa, and it is certainly right that we should do as much as we possibly can.

So I welcome this Bill. I do not want to criticise it at all, because I think that it is right, but I should like to ask one or two questions, of which I gave my noble relative notice a few days ago. The first is this: can he say how many of the new Commonwealth countries have already passed legislation prohibiting dual citizenship? Is this the case in only Kenya and Tanganyika or have other new Commonwealth countries passed similar legislation? Is it possible to say how many British citizens are in these countries who may be penalised by this law of citizenship, or who will be affected by the provisions in Clause 1 of this Bill? I wonder whether it is possible to give any sort of estimate of the number of persons affected?

Finally, I wonder whether my noble relative could say if there are any British dependencies that are considering a change in their law of citizenship, such as Kenya and Tanganyika have already made, when they become independent, which would have the effect of prohibiting dual nationality? I am thinking particularly of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, is to speak and he may also have those countries in mind. These are both British territories which are due to become independent before the end of the current year and I cannot help thinking that this Bill would be particularly important to British residents in Northern Rhodesia, in view of the large number in the Copper Belt, if the Northern Rhodesian Government is contemplating a change in its law of citizenship of the kind that has already taken place in neighbouring countries.

This Bill has already passed another place, if I may say so without any disrespect to another place, without anything like so thorough a background information being provided by the Minister as the background information we have had. I hope that the Bill will have as easy a passage through its later stages in your Lordships' House as it has had through another place.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, I am encouraged by the confession of the noble Earl who has just spoken that he found nationality legislation extremely difficult. It has always seemed to me to be the most complicated of all legislation with which any Legislature has to deal and tends, necessarily perhaps, to be imprecise. I would join the noble Earl in being grateful to the Minister for his full explanation of this complicated subject. I merely want, if I may, to make one or two observations, which I hope may be useful in considering this particular Bill.

I entirely agree with the Minister that nationality is something far more than just what most people think it is, something relating to travel and passports. It is for a great many people concerned with, opportunities for education and work. I had a letter from a civil servant who had previously been working in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and has now returned to this country. A passage in it says: Fortunately, I kept my British citizenship and am therefore able to seek work here. For him, as for many others, the question of nationality is the very practical one of livelihood and opportunity for the future. It is also related to social security, civil rights and liberties, and personal status.

It seems to me that there should be two principles applied by us in this country to this matter. The first is that no British citizen should be compelled to renounce his rights as a British citizen permanently and irrevocably on account of discrimination against him in a country to which he has gone in good faith to live and work—and if I use the term "British citizen", instead of "citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies", I hope that your Lordships will forgive me. The second principle is that no one who has a proper claim to be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, or British citizen, should be deprived of that right because of any failure here in this country to ensure that legislation is available on the Statute Book to safeguard that right.

I was encouraged to hear from the Minister that he regards this as an interim measure, to be added to and improved as experience shows it to be necessary. Indeed, that was the purpose of the 1958 Act, which was intended, and I think succeeded in some degree, to overcome some of the deficiencies in the original legislation of 1948. This Bill carries this process a step further, but I am not sure whether it carries it far enough in accordance with the needs of the subject. For instance, I should like to ask the Minister whether there is any discrepancy between the Explanatory Memorandum, on the one hand, and Clause 1 of the Bill, on the other, because the Explanatory Memorandum says: Registration is as of right in the case of a person with specified connections with the United Kingdom and Colonies, a protectorate or a protected state; whereas Clause 1 says: … the Secretary of State may so register any person who would be entitled thereto if he had such a connection. I therefore assume that the Secretary of State has discretion as to whether he registers, and although he would interpret it as closely as possible to recognise the right which a person may claim under this clause, we must remember—and I know that your Lordships will know this from your own experience—that in fact legislation of this kind is administered, not by courts of law, or very seldom, I imagine, by courts of law, but by civil servants and High Commissioners, operating at some distance from this country and dealing with individual cases as they arise and having recourse, not so much to any debate that there might have been in connection with this legislation, but to the actual wording of the legislation itself. Where there is a case in doubt, with the passage of time they will interpret that naturally and, I think, inevitably more and more narrowly, particularly as there is always pressure on them, so as not to give the benefit of the doubt to the applicant. I do not say this in any way critically. I think it is probably the right way to interpret legislation of this sort. But, for this reason, it is most important that the Bill itself should contain the instructions which are going to be carried out by those who are to administer it—in this case, the High Commissioners' offices in various parts of the world—and that these instructions should be as clear and precise as possible.

I would give merely one example of what I have in mind, and it is this. I had the responsibility, as Minister in another place, of introducing there the 1958 Act. In doing so, I made a speech which gave the Government's interpretation of the meaning of that Act, and contained, I hope (though I fear not), as clear an explanation of the background as the Minister has given this afternoon. It later happened that a case was brought to me, as High Commissioner, of an individual who had applied for a British passport and recognition of his status as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies under this particular piece of legislation, and who had had his application turned down by the officer administering it in my office. The matter was then referred to me. I could claim to deal with it only in accordance with the interpretation that I thought should be placed on the legislation; that is to say, not by reference to the legislation itself but by reference to my speech on Second Reading in another place which explained what the Government intended. Had it not been that the Minister had changed his occupation, and happened to be administering this piece of legislation on that occasion, I am certain that this application would not have been accepted.

What I am really trying to say to your Lordships, and to the Government, in relation to the Bill before us is that this is a most complicated subject, and it will have to be administered by people who will increasingly interpret its provisions more narrowly as time goes on and as the spirit and intention with which it was introduced begin to fade. For this reason it is important that the drafting of the legislation should be clear and precise, so that the intention of Parliament is fully revealed to those who have to administer it. All this may seem quite simple in the minds of your Lordships, but from the administrative point of view I think it is important.

I should therefore like to ask the Minister whether there is this discrepancy: whether a person who has the qualifications, in accordance with Clause 1 of this Bill, has in fact the right to be registered as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, or whether it is at the discretion of the Secretary of State, in accordance with Clause 1, and therefore of the High Commissioner and, to some extent—we must be realistic about this—of those officials who will be administering the scheme in accordance with this legislation in offices in various parts of the world. If it is as of right, then my point is met. But if it is at the discretion of the Secretary of State, and that discretion is, as it is under the 1948 and the 1958 Acts, a fairly wide one, then I fear that there may be occasions when the administration will not be fully in accordance with the spirit, although, of course, it will be within the letter, of the Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament.

I should like to ask one other question, and it is this. I assume that under previous legislation, under the 1948 Act, the position of Tanganyika as a mandated territory, as a Trusteeship territory, has been taken into account, and that there is no gap in Clause 1(2) of this Bill, so that the original purpose of this particular piece of legislation—that is, to deal with the problems of Tanganyika—has not been omitted. I am certain that any qualms I may have are due more to misunderstanding the legislation rather than to any possibility of a failure on the part of the draftsmen in that respect.

There is one other point I would make, and I do so with great deference because I am almost certain to be wrong in doing it. We find great confusion over this conception of a Commonwealth citizen, a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, a British subject, a citizen of the Commonwealth of Australia and so on. We have in recent months and years tended more and more to apply the word "British" to the United Kingdom to explain and define the status and nationality of this country. I think the time may be coming—although it may not yet be right to do it—when we shall have to simplify this particular terminology in our naturalisation law by omitting or altering this overall umbrella formula of "British subject "or" Commonwealth citizen", and to come back to what is the proper term for people who belong to this country, which is "British citizens".

I am sure your Lordships join with the noble Earl who spoke last, and with the Minister, in paying tribute to those Members of your Lordships' House who were really responsible for seeing the problems which would arise in the newly independent countries of Eastern Africa, which may apply equally to countries in Central Africa when they become independent, and I think apply to one, at any rate, of the Asian Commonwealth countries of Malaysia. In those circumstances, it is of vital importance to these people, our own people, that their interests should be safeguarded and looked after. In so far as this Bill does that, it is to be heartily welcomed; and if there are any deficiencies or defects in it, I hope your Lordships will not be slow in putting them right when the time comes.