HL Deb 28 June 1965 vol 267 cc672-6

2.53 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. As your Lordships are well aware, the law of nationality is an extremely complex subject, and I hope that I shall succeed in making the provisions of this little Bill clear to all your Lordships, in spite of the fact that it took me some time to make the provisions clear to myself. Its object is to remove a hardship and to remedy an injustice affecting an admittedly small class of people, the foreign wives of men whose legal status is that of "British subject without citizenship". I must confess that until I was asked to introduce this Bill into your Lordships' House I had no idea that such a class of persons existed, but I think your Lordships will agree that they are important, that their numbers are considerable, and that they deserve the most friendly consideration of your Lordships.

Under existing law, if a man who is a British subject and a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies marries a foreigner, his wife has the right, if she so wishes, to acquire the same national status as her husband. This, indeed, is what usually happens when a British citizen marries an alien. On the other hand, if a man who is a British subject without being a British or a Commonwealth citizen marries a foreigner, there is no provision in existing law that enables this woman, by reason of her marriage, to acquire the same national status as her husband. This injustice is put right by Clause 1 of the Bill, which would enable such a woman to be registered as a British subject. It is impossible to say exactly how many marriages will be affected by the proposed change in the law. We know that there are in the world to-day several hundred thousand—probably less than a million—British subjects without citizenship, and that the majority of these persons are at present living in India, Pakistan, Ceylon or South Africa. These are people who were connected with British India before India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, and who have not subsequently become British citizens or citizens of either of those new Commonwealth countries.

Another class of persons included among these British subjects without citizenship are 78,000 citizens of the Republic of Ireland who have chosen to retain their British connection. These people were given the right, under the British Nationality Act, 1948, to claim the status of a British subject if they could satisfy the Secretary of State that they had some connection, such as descent or residence, with the United Kingdom. But if one of these persons marries a foreigner, his wife has no right to claim the same national status as her husband. This situation also is put right by Clause 1 of the Bill. I think I should also mention that the provisions of this Bill bring us into line with the spirit and intention of an international Convention, which we have ratified, on the Nationality of Married Women. There will therefore be no doubt at all, when this Bill has been passed, that we are fulfilling the spirit, as well as the letter, of our obligations under International Law.

May I refer briefly to the clauses of the Bill? I have already mentioned Clause 1. I would only point out that under this clause foreign widows of British subjects without citizenship will have the same rights as foreign wives. Clause 2 prescribes the conditions under which a woman who has become a British subject under the provisions of this Bill can subsequently become a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. She can do so on exactly the same terms as any Commonwealth citizen—that is to say, by five years' residence in the United Kingdom.

Clause 3 provides that the Secretary of State can deprive a woman of her status as a British subject without citizenship if she has acquired this status by fraud. This is exactly the same provision as applies to British citizens. Clause 4 amends the British Nationality Act, 1964. This amendment will enable the Stateless child of a mother who is a British subject without citizenship to acquire citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies after three years' residence in the United Kingdom. The status of British subject without citizenship is not transmissible and therefore cannot be passed on to the child, and I am sure your Lordships will agree that the child should not be left a Stateless person: it is obviously desirable to avoid the hardship imposed by Statelessness on children.

My Lords, I am glad to say that this is an uncontroversial Bill, and I hope that its passage will give peace of mind to some of the inhabitants of our Commonwealth and to their wives. In that knowledge, I commend the Bill to your Lordships, and beg to move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Listowel.)

2.59 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know how much longer this afternoon the prevailing mood of amity is going to last. Certainly I do not wish to do anything to disturb it. Like his noble friend who introduced the last Bill, the noble Earl deserves our congratulations on producing this measure. As the noble Earl said, the British nationality laws are extremely complex, and I was relieved to hear him say that it took him some time to make clear to himself even this comparatively minor amendment which the Bill proposes, because it took me some little time in reading the Bill before I thought I understood exactly what it does.

It is a fairly complicated Bill to achieve something that is rather small, although very desirable. I do not think that that matters, because the noble Earl has explained to us most lucidly what it is all about; and I am quite certain that we shall all agree that we ought to put right something which is an anomaly. I appreciate that it is not possible to estimate exactly how many people are affected, but I presume that over the years it will be a declining number. Nevertheless, that does not make it any less desirable that we should put the anomaly right, and I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a speedy passage.


My Lords, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government I join with the noble Lord, Lord Newton, in expressing grateful thanks to my noble friend Lord Listowel for sponsoring this Bill in your Lordships' House. It is an example of how very highly prized and valued is the status of British citizenship, and I hope that we shall always be able to realise that. Fortunately, my noble friend has given so clear an explanation of the purpose of the Bill that there is little left for me to add.

The class of people known in law as "British subjects without citizenship" are, it is true, not citizens of this country or of any other Commonwealth country, but they are British subjects. And it is only right that, if one of them marries a foreign woman, she should also have the right to acquire the status of a British subject if she so wishes. This is in accord not only with the law applying to foreign women who marry men who are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, but also with the general trend of modern nationality legislation. The general principle is that a woman who marries a man of a nationality other than her own should be able, but not compelled, to acquire the same nationality status as her husband. This Bill applies that principle to the only section of our law where it has not so far operated. I am sure all noble Lords will support the wish of the noble Earl that this anomaly should be removed. The Bill is inevitably somewhat technical in its terms, and I would congratulate the noble Earl upon the clarity with which he has explained the purpose of its several provisions.


My Lords, it would be inappropriate if a woman did not on this occasion intervene to say how surprised she is, and gratified too, to hear men promoting the interests of women. We have to-day heard men asking for one more anomaly in the nationality laws to be remedied, an anomaly which particularly affects women. On behalf of our sex and their children, I can only say, "Thank you very much".


My Lords, I should only like to say, "Thank you" to the two noble Lords and the noble Lady who have spoken for their support on this Bill. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Newton, that the number of these persons is declining because, of course, there will be no more British subjects without citizenship after those who acquire that status die. I suppose, hypothetically, that if a man who is a British subject without citizenship reaches the age of 80 and marries a foreign girl of 20, she acquires the status of British subject without citizenship, and in fact, this class of people will exist for longer than they otherwise would do. However, I cannot imagine that cases of that kind will be very numerous. I am most grateful to Lord Newton, speaking, as he was, for the Opposition, for supporting this Bill and making it clear that it is an uncontroversial measure. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Stonham for giving it the blessing of the Government, because otherwise it certainly would not get a passage through both Houses. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Summerskill for showing that the claim I made on behalf of her sex was not exaggerated.


My Lords, may I say one word before the noble Earl concludes, on a very serious point, the question of the death-bed marriage? We have had to think about that before and—


Order, order!


—therefore, it might be considered on Committee stage.

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