HL Deb 19 July 1973 vol 344 cc1392-406

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In introducing this Bill, I should like to mention the tragic circumstances in 1971, which are known to your Lordships' House, and which led to the hostilities between India and Pakistan, and, of course, the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent sovereign State. On January 30, 1972, after these events, the Government of Pakistan announced that, having learned that Britain, Australia and New Zealand intended to recognise Bangladesh, Pakistan had decided to leave the Commonwealth at once. The Commonwealth is a free association of States and any member is free to leave at any time. Therefore, while of course we greatly regretted Pakistan's decision, we certainly did not attempt to dissuade her, and of course the President of Pakistan has said that the decision is irrevocable.

Her Majesty's Government wish to make quite sure that there is no question of our discriminating against Pakistan because she left the Commonwealth. We are happy to say that the President of Pakistan is visiting this country later this month, and we hope that this visit will lead to an even greater friendship and understanding between our two countries.

My Lords, the transition from Commonwealth to foreign status inevitably involves certain changes in our relationship. The changes necessary to our own law are included in the Bill which is now before the House. In drafting the Bill, we wished to achieve two main objects: first, that the value of the Commonwealth connection should not be diluted by allowing a country which had left the Commonwealth, or its citizens, indefinitely to enjoy those privileges which derive solely from Commonwealth membership. Secondly, that we should be fair to those Pakistanis in this country who came here expecting that they would be able to enjoy the privileges of Commonwealth citizenship. This Bill has had close scrutiny in another place, and the changes made there I believe strengthen these two aims which I have mentioned.

The nationality and citizenship provisions are contained in Clause 1 and Schedules 1 and 2. The fact that Pakistan is no longer a member of the Commonwealth makes necessary the deletion of Pakistan from Section 1(3) of the British Nationality Act of 1948. This is done by Clause 1(1). The effect of this is that from the coming into operation of the Bill, which we hope to be September 1, 1973, Pakistan citizens will become aliens.

However, in order to avoid hardship to Pakistanis already in this country, the Bill makes generous transitional provisions. The most important, paragraph 2 of Schedule 2, has the effect that any Pakistan citizen who arrived in this country before May 14 this year, the date of the introduction of this Bill, will be granted a grace period in which to apply for registration as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. In most cases this period will be one year, running from the date of coming into operation of the Bill where a person has already completed five years' residence in this country, and from the date of completing five years' residence in other cases. This provision also applies to persons carrying Pakistani passports describing them as "natives of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir", since they now have the full status of Pakistan citizens. We believe that the grace period of one year should be adequate to enable Pakistanis to decide whether to apply to register, as Pakistan permits dual citizenship. Therefore, Pakistanis who register as United Kingdom citizens will also keep their Pakistan citizenship.

The majority of Pakistan citizens in this country will already have completed five years' residence by the time this Bill becomes law and they will therefore be eligible to apply immediately for registration as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. We have, however, provided certain further provisions to minimise the dislocation and inconvenience during the transitional period. We have provided in Clause 3, subsections (1) to (3), for Pakistanis holding appointments from which, as aliens, they would be debarred, to be able to continue to hold their appointments for twelve months from the time this Bill comes into operation; and, when an application for registration has been made but not decided when the 12 months' period expires, we have made provision for an extension of that period until the decision is made on the application. This will give Pakistanis time either to register as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, if they are qualified, or to seek other employment. Her Majesty's Government will also ensure that this provision is brought to the attention of those likely to be affected.

Clause 3(4) states that a Pakistani citizen who is a member of a local authority will be allowed to continue to serve until his membership ceases on some other ground—for example until his term of office expires. If in the meantime he acquired United Kingdom citizenship, he would of course be eligible for his term to be renewed. Clause 3(5) provides for transitional arrangements to avoid the temporary disenfranchisement of Pakistanis who have applied for registration but not had their applications decided by the qualifying date for the new electoral register to be drawn up towards the end of this year.

We have also made some transitional provisions regarding deportation. Section 7 of the 1971 Act restricts the liability to deportation of a Commonwealth citizen who was resident in this country when the Act came into force on January 1, 1973. This exemption must eventually cease to apply to Pakistani citizens in this country because they will no longer be Commonwealth citizens; but Schedule 3, paragraph 1, provides that Pakistani citizens shall continue for one year to enjoy these exemptions, as if they were still Commonwealth citizens.

If, when the 12 months' period expires, a Pakistani citizen in this country has applied for registration as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies but his application has not, at that time, been decided, he will continue to be treated as a Commonwealth citizen, in respect of deportation, until his application has been decided.

I have dealt with the citizenship and nationality provisions together as I thought it was most convenient for your Lordships, but I should now like to return to Clause 2, because this deals with Pakistan's position in the Commonwealth Preference area. Under the Treaty of Accession to the European Economic Community, the duties which the United Kingdom levies on goods from Pakistan from January 1, 1974, must be based on the duty we applied on January 1, 1972. In the intervening months Pakistan will, whether or not she remains in the Commonwealth Preference area, continue to enjoy a large measure of duty-free access to the United Kingdom market because she is a beneficiary of the generalised preference scheme. As a result of this, the only products of any consequence on which duties would be raised if Pakistan left the Commonwealth Preference area would be cotton textiles and foot-wear, the volume of which would be unlikely to be affected. We have therefore decided that it would be sensible to allow Pakistan to remain in the Commonwealth Preference area. Clause 4 makes certain technical adjustments consequent on Pakistan's leaving the Commonwealth—as does the rest of Schedule 3 to which I have not already referred.

I said earlier that in drafting this Bill we had attempted, while recognising that certain consequences follow from Pakistan's decision to leave the Commonwealth, to be just to Pakistanis already in this country. I trust that your Lordships will agree that the Bill does just this, and I therefore commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie.)

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness, and I know that all Members of your Lordships' House share the feeling of sadness which the noble Baroness voiced so movingly that the need for this Bill has arisen. Like myself, I have no doubt that many noble Lords will have happy memories of those territories which became Pakistan after the travail of independence—a goal towards which many of us had worked when our elders and betters were, so many of them, still determined to maintain British rule. We liked the country, we liked the peoples, we respected the faith to which so many of them adhered, and we looked forward to a long, happy, enduring association, an association between brothers who shared so much.

There are those among us who hope that the barriers created between us will be of short duration and that in the fullness of time Pakistan will come back into the Commonwealth. If she does I know that she can be assured that the hand of friendship will be stretched out to greet her. Nevertheless, I am certain that Her Majesty's Government were right to resist the temptation to introduce legislation less permanent than that before your Lordships' House. It would have been irresponsible, in my view, to leave any avoidable room for doubt as to the status of those immigrants from Pakistan who are contributing so much to the prosperity and well-being of the country of their adoption.

The Bill may not be perfect, but it has come to us in a form much more acceptable than that in which it was originally presented in another place. That happy fact is due to the efforts of an all-Party group of Members determined to remove the unsatisfactory features of the Bill. And that is just what they did. Reason and good sense prevailed in a way to which your Lordships must be becoming inured, and the Government accepted the criticisms with good grace.

I personally dislike intensely the extent to which our increasing preoccupation with nationality and citizenship has eroded that true internationalism which lasted well into the last century, and has obstructed the creation of the wider Commonwealth some of us still hope to see. But however much we dislike Bills of this kind, and regret the need for them, we have to do our best with them when they come before Parliament. In another place they removed four objectionable features, and four important changes were made. In my view the first of the four changes was, as the noble Baroness has said, that natives of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir were given the same protection as Pakistanis. Secondly, the Government also met criticisms about retrospection, and also, thirdly, about the shortness of the time given to people in which to decide whether they wished to register. Fourthly, they allayed fears that very many people could be disfranchised because of tardiness on the part of the Home Office. I thank the noble Baroness most sincerely for what the Government did on all these four points.

I am left, however, with one nagging doubt, and that concerns Schedule 3. Your Lordships may perhaps recall that the hope was expressed in another place that the Government would look at the Schedule again to satisfy themselves that it leaves no scope for misunderstanding or misinterpretation. That is something about which we might perhaps talk at a later stage, but if the noble and learned Viscount tells me that he has satisfied himself that the procedures proposed will work effectively and fairly, and in a readily comprehensible way, I will gladly accept his assurances this afternoon.

I would end by repeating my respect for Pakistan and her people, whether they are citizens of Pakistan or of the United Kingdom and Colonies, whether they live in Bradford or Karachi, and by extending to them all our very best wishes for their peace and prosperity.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, may I follow my noble friend Lord Greenwood with my personal reflections? He reflected on his own pleasure on visits to this area. I spent my childhood in this area and the village in which I lived was divided from Bengal—what is now called Bangladesh—only by the river which, young as I was, is very keen in my memory to-day. Therefore I have some personal involvement in the issues which we are discussing. Next, may I ask the noble Baroness and the noble Viscount, who will be replying, to excuse me if I make some errors in my comments. If I do, it will be partly due to the fact that a Back-bencher does not have the opportunities for research, and although I read the report of all the proceedings in another place I admit that it has left me confused. As a layman, I have found few Bills less easy to understand than the Bill which is now before us. But I want to admit at once that I may make some mistakes in the criticisms which I utter.

I think that the noble Baroness and the noble Viscount are aware of the fact that there is a very anxious feeling among the Pakistani community in this country. I am aware of it in my old constituency of Slough, and it is also very widespread in Bradford and other places where there are large Pakistani communities. I hope that one result of this debate will be to reassure them on some of the problems about which they have doubts. I welcome the fact that the noble Baroness said that the Government will be making an effort to make the Pakistani community aware of the actual provisions, because at present they are very unaware. I would make this suggestion to the Government, that they should print in Urdu and other languages which the Pakistanis will understand, leaflets couched in simple terms so as to explain the position.

The first point I want to make is that by a change accepted in another place, Pakistanis who were admitted to this country after January 30, 1972, when Pakistan decided to leave the Commonwealth, do not automatically become aliens, but may become aliens, and may not be able to register as United Kingdom citizens. This seems to be contrary to precedent. I was faced with exactly this problem, because I was born in India and I had to register under the British Nationality Act as a British citizen. But I was given the opportunity to do so, and I hope that when he comes to reply the noble Viscount will be able to indicate what the Government had in mind when they accepted the word "may". The great majority of those who came to this country after Pakistan left the Commonwealth are dependants of heads of households who were already settled here. If there is any obstruction to their coming it will create an anomalous situation in their families, and will be divisive in family associations. I venture to suggest that the decisive date should not be the date of the introduction of this Bill, but the date of the enactment of this Bill. Thus more time will be allowed. This would greatly ease the situation and would allow many dependants who will have arrived during the 20 months—if the Bill is enacted in September—since Pakistan left the Commonwealth to have these advantages. I welcome very much the fact that in another place the Amendment regarding the Kashmiris was accepted.

My second point, upon which I want information rather than to be dogmatic in criticism, relates to Pakistanis who are in our Civil Service. I should like to know whether it is true that a circular has already been issued to Pakistanis in the Civil Service, even before the Bill has been enacted. One wonders whether that circular, which was issued before the Amendments were accepted in the House of Commons, includes reference to all those Amendments. Is it the case that civil servants must register if they are to remain in the Civil Service? Some will have applied for naturalisation qualifications, because they have been here for five years. But often the wife is still overseas and there may be hardship, because many Pakistanis do not send for their wives until they have sufficient means to keep a family and have accommodation. So I should like to ask that all Pakistanis arriving before the date of enactment of this Bill in September should be entitled to registration as citizens of the United Kingdom.

The next point I want to raise for information may seem small, but it is very important from the family point of view. Under the original Bill—I am not quite sure whether the Bill has been amended in this respect—infants born after February 19 were not to be registered as British nationals. Again, I want to suggest that the date should be the date of enactment of this Bill. A further point that I want to make—


My Lords, the noble Lord is asking a number of questions, and I do not in any way blame him for not having given me notice of them. But may I ask: infants born where, and to whom?


Infants born in this country to Pakistanis. As I understand it, under the original Bill if they were born after February 19 they could not be registered as British nationals. I am suggesting that that date, too, should be altered to the date of the enactment of the Bill, in September.

I come to the last point to which I wish to refer. I apologise if I have not given the noble Viscount notice of these matters. I think the Minister will appreciate that when one is interested in many questions, as the Order Paper to-day will indicate, one prepares one's speeches at the last moment. I try, whenever I can, to give notice; and I shall understand if the noble Viscount has not complete replies to-day, but there are the Committee and Report stages to come. The last point I want to raise concerns the question of doctors, dentists and veterinary surgeons. I think that nearly all of us who have spent periods in British hospitals have appreciated the service given in those hospitals by doctors, particularly junior doctors, from other countries. When I was last in Hammersmith Hospital, one of my ward doctors was an Indian and two others were Pakistanis. I welcome the fact that under this Bill they are protected if they have already registered under the Medical Act of 1956. Doctors, dentists and veterinary surgeons who have already registered under the Medical Act, 1956, have protection under this measure; but, unless changes have been made, doctors, dentists and veterinary surgeons who are employed on a temporary basis do not have that protection. Many of those junior doctors in hospitals on a temporary basis intend to become fully registered after they have completed their qualifying period, and I should like to see some amendment of this Bill whereby they might be similarly protected.

My Lords, those are the points that I want to raise. I shall understand if full answers cannot be given to them in this Second Reading debate. I hope they will be considered at the Committee stage, and that it will be possible, as a result of this Bill, to give the fullest assurance to the Pakistanis who are now anxious about their position.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, did not think that I was criticising him for not giving notice. I fully understand the position that he and other noble Lords face with a Bill of this nature, and the position they find themselves in. I was not intending for a moment to be critical: I was simply trying to pinpoint the exact matter about which he was asking a question. I would never for one moment criticise him for the way in which he asks these questions; and I will do my best to answer them.


My Lords, I appreciate it.


I think that the Government will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, for the speech that he made on this Bill. We all recognise the sad circumstances; but we are also grateful for the comments that he made about the improvements which stemmed from all sides in another place and which I think have taken a lot of the sting and controversy out of this Bill. He listed four matters which he thought had been put right. I shall come back in a moment to the one about which he was not altogether happy. All the same, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, is, I am sure, right that not only the Bill but I suppose the action of the Pakistan Government which has given rise to it is bound to have caused some anxiety among the people originally from Pakistan who are in this country at the moment. I hope that we shall be able to reassure them by means of the explanations which my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir has already mentioned; and doubtless leaflets, and so on, would be a good idea. We shall certainly want to use the good offices of those who work in the community relations field and who have direct contact with these people. I am sure we shall want to use all known means to get over to those who are still in fact only Pakistan citizens what they need to do in order to gain the protection of the measure that we are now discussing.

The noble Lord asked a question which I think I at first took to relate mainly to heads of families. This was about people from Pakistan who were admitted here after the date when that country withdrew from the Commonwealth. If they were heads of families, there are various provisions in the Bill which would, I think, entitle them to fall within its provisions and thereby have at any rate some hope of being able to register; though if they were admitted legally and they do not qualify for registration but become aliens at the end of the period of grace, there is still no reason why, at the end of the five-year period, they should not apply for naturalisation. In fact, the process under the 1971 Act is remarkably similar now as between a Commonwealth citizen who registers and an alien who becomes naturalised; so I do not think people of that sort will be very much harmed by the fact that they arrived here after the date of Independence.

There are also some provisions in Schedule 2 which might help them, and perhaps I can draw attention to them. I know they are incredibly complicated, but I think I am right in saying that some people of this sort might find that they could apply for registration under paragraph 2(1)(b)(ii) of Schedule 2, because they were here before January 1, 1973. Then they will be very exceptional cases, but it is just possible that there may be people who arrive here and can take advantage of paragraphs 3 and 4 of Schedule 2. Again, these are immensely involved sets of circumstances, but these provisions have been put in specifically to try to take account of people who may be in nationality difficulties over the change in status of Pakistan and the Bill which is consequent upon it.

But, in the end, I suspect that the noble Lord was really most concerned with the dependants of Pakistan citizens, or those who originally came from Pakistan and are already registered in this country. I think he will find that it is unnecessary to put anything in the Bill about them, because under the basic law, in the British Nationalities Act, they follow the head of the family, and if either he is already registered as a United Kingdom citizen or he registers under this Bill, his wife and his infant children will be able to follow suit automatically. I do not think, therefore, that we need anything specific in the legislation to deal with them, and I am in fact so advised. If there is anything wrong with what I have said I will make perfectly certain that the noble Lord is told about it; but that is the situation now, and that is why it does not say anything in this Bill about dependants.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount for one moment? It is extremely important that the information which he has just given us is widely circulated in as simple a form as is possible, because many of us have had representations on this point indicating that there is anxiety about it; it is not understood. So I hope that in any publicity which is arranged in addition to the actual applications for registration, and so on, this particular point is made as clear as possible.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, but first I must make sure that I have got it right, because, as I say, it does not actually arise under any part of the drafting in this Bill at all; it is dependent on something else. I must first make perfectly certain that I have it right. If I have, I will see that that information goes in the leaflets. If I have got it wrong, I will see that the correct information goes into the leaflets.


My Lords, if the noble Viscount has got it wrong, will he please change the Bill?


My Lords, I hope that I have not got it wrong, but, at any rate, I will check up on it. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, mentioned the Pakistanis in the Civil Service. Yes, my Lords, they must register. They must become United Kingdom citizens, but they are given a period of grace in which to do it. We have done our best to make sure that those who hold this position will not be jeopardised and that they will be able to continue with their jobs. I think, also, that we have done our best to inform them of the situation; though I imagine that they are in a better position than some in this country to find out for themselves. We wish to retain their services, and we are allowing for them to be registered and to continue in that job.


My Lords, the point I was making in this and in the earlier case as well was, can the date be extended to the date of the enactment of the measure in September, because the discussions in Parliament in this House will have done a great deal to enlighten Pakistanis as to their rights? Is there any objection to extending it until that date?


My Lords, there is a whole year from next September, as well, during which this can be done. After all, it was one of the matters discussed in another place; it is not as if they must do it by this September. As my noble friend mentioned, there is a special period of grace of a further year during which these things may be regularised. We think that is fair. It was perhaps the result of a compromise; but at any rate there was a great deal of discussion in another place, and that is the conclusion that we reached. It was our change; we put it into the Bill. We changed it from the original six months. I believe that people concerned will have that period of time as a safeguard. Indeed, if their applications for registration have not been determined at the end of that time the second safeguard continues to operate, even after that. So we have gone even beyond the year of Royal Assent.

As for the doctors, this, I am bound to say, is not a point I have studied closely. It is a fairly complex issue under the legislation, some of which is mentioned in paragraph 4 of Schedule 3. I doubt whether I can give a satisfactory answer to it today. But we are in discussion with the General Medical Council about it and I hope that we shall be able to reach a happy conclusion on what is a very important issue, as the noble Lord said himself.

Finally, I come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, about Schedule 3. I do not claim that by the time both Parties have legislated—and we have now had four major Acts on this subject since 1962—any issue relating to deportation is easy. If the noble Lords says there is scope for misunderstanding, I do not think that I would altogether disagree with him, in view of the length of time that I have taken to try to master the subject. What I do think is that we have worked out a procedure which is fair, which is the answer to the question the noble Lord asked me. I know that there will be cases which are said to be hard. On the other hand, we have to recognise, first of all, that there are people who have broken the law in some cases by overstaying. I do not think that we are particularly concerned with illegal entrants in this case; we may be concerned with overstayers. We are concerned with various lengths of residence, with various immunities which have been passed under legislation in 1969 and 1971. We have tried to put forward a fair and balanced solution which extends the period of immunity for a year, and indeed thereafter, if an application has been made, determined by the Home Office.

We have also the safeguards, first of all, of my right honourable friend's discretion if any question of deportation comes up. He is not bound to deport. Secondly, in all these cases, we have the appellate system as originally set up under the Immigration Appeals Act. Not only can they go to the adjudicator once, but also, if they fail, they can go to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal. So there are three opportunities if anyone should get himself into a position where the question of deportation rises. There are three opportunities for him to put forward all the mitigating circumstances, reasons for compassion and so on. Therefore matters are slightly different from the discussion we had in this House a little while ago, because this comes right within the machinery already set up and which is, I think, working fairly well. It is not very easy to follow and if the noble Lord wishes to have it further explained I should be grateful if he would tell me what it is he would like explained and we can put down an Amendment; or perhaps he can tell me in advance and I will do my best to explain.

In general terms, we think that we have struck a fair balance which gives protection to those who may become liable to deportation, while recognising that there has to be some change which results from the sad fact that Pakistan has left the Commonwealth and that this, inevitably, must have an effect on her citizens. Therefore I hope that, as before, we have tempered what may in some cases be change, with fairness and humanity. That is certainly how we intend to carry it out. Perhaps I could leave that point at this stage. It was widely discussed in another place and there was no Division on it. I think that on Report stage those on both sides of the House understood some of the problems about it. But if the noble Lord wants to come back to it next week, at the next stage of the Bill, I will do my best to satisfy him. I think those were the subjects that were raised. I am sorry if I cannot do full justice to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, but if he wants to put down Amendments, or if he gives me notice that he wants to probe things on clauses or a Schedule. I will do my best to help him, or my noble friend will do her best, on Monday. Meanwhile, I hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, I think that the only point I raised that the noble Viscount has not answered was regarding the birth of an infant.


My Lords, I think I did, because I referred to dependants who came, or children who were born to Pakistani citizens in this country, after the date of independence. I think that under the British Nationality Act they come into the same category, if the father registers, as do dependants who come in after that date. So I believe those two are bound up together. This was very much part of the point which the noble Baroness, Lady White, had in mind.


My Lords, if necessary we can return to the matter during the Committee stage.

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