HL Deb 28 March 1974 vol 350 cc774-95

5.32 p.m.

LORD BROCKWAY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: Whether they will equalise the immigration rights of men and women by permitting husbands to join wives who are legally resident in the United Kingdom. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Unstarred Question in my name on the Order Paper. We have been listening to a long series of Orders. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, was perfectly correct when he suggested that, in listening to them, I was a little impatient. I recognise the very great importance of the subjects which have been discussed. If I had any impatience, it was sublimated by the two maiden speeches made by Ministers from the Front Bench. One was by my old friend Lord Wells-Pestell, who I converted to Socialism in the 'thirties. The other was by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, a new friend. I also appreciate the fact that he will be replying to this debate. I should like to express appreciation not only of the ability with which they acted as Ministers, but also of the command of the House which they gained. I am confident that they will be able to exert that same influence in the future.

My Lords, I am asking this Unstarred Question with great confidence. First, because of the climate of tolerance and humanity which there now is in the Home Office. That has been reflected in the very early decision to allow Ugandan Stateless husbands of women in this country who are British passport holders to come here, and to allow their student sons to come here. It has been reflected, secondly, in the decision that the quota of refugees from various parts of the world requested by the United Nations Refugee Commission should be accepted in this country. We have been the first European country to do so. Thirdly, it is reflected in the fact that the Home Office has indicated that it is now considering an amnesty for those who have committed offences regarding immigration which it was proposed should be treated retrospectively. In view of that new climate in the Home Office, I am very confident about the subject matter of the Question I am now putting.

In addition, my Lords, I want to say that the case I am now going to present is so absolutely convincing, so absolutely unanswerable, that I am perfectly confident it will have the support of your Lordships in all parts of this House. I am not raising a question of immigration control; that is a separate issue. I am raising the question of sex discrimination within our present immigration laws. They can be summarised very simply. The wife of a man legally resident in this country can join him from overseas whatever her nationality: the husband of a woman legally resident here has not the right to join her if he is of another nationality. That is sheer sex discrimination. It ought not to be tolerated within our immigration laws. It is an obsolete idea, a Victorian idea, that the man should be regarded as head of the family, rather than that man and wife should be regarded as equal partners; and that the man is the sole, or the major, breadwinner in any family. That conception is utterly out of date, and it is increasingly untrue that the man is necessarily the sole, or the major, breadwinner in any family. The idea behind this is that the woman is the possession and chattel of the husband.

I appreciate that the Home Secretary has recognised this problem in the case of the Ugandan British passport holders, but this rule, which is the present rule, applies much more widely than only to the Uganda Asians. It applies to nonwhite women from all the Commonwealth territories—but not by any means only non-whites. These last few days I have been deeply impressed by the fact that I have been overwhelmed by letters from British white wives, written by them or on their behalf—wives in this country whose husbands cannot join them, or wives abroad who are not able to come here because their husbands are not per- mitted to do so. I have never had in such a few days so many letters from all parts of the world. This is due to the fact that ten days ago the Sunday Times indicated that I had this Question on the Order Paper. I do not know whether it is because the Sunday Times has such a large world circulation or because an agency circulated it, but I have this mass of letters—from America; from Africa, particularly Nigeria; from Asia, even from Australia—complaining at the present discrimination between women and men in our immigration laws, and supporting the Question which I am now putting to the House.

It is difficult to select from these letters. One is from the headmaster of a public school in this country whose daughter wishes to marry an American and wants to be sure that that American will be allowed to join her in this country. One is from a British woman who is married to a Swede, and because the Swede cannot be admitted to this country they have taken refuge in Denmark which has admitted her spouse because she comes from an E.E.C. country. Another comes from the daughter of a Hastings woman who is married to a Chinese student who is required to leave this country on concluding his studies. One is from a distinguished staff member of St. Hilda's College, Oxford, who says that at Nairobi University she met several women in the same position as herself; women who were born and educated here in Britain and who are now faced with the unhappy choice of abandoning their husbands or living for the rest of their lives in a country with which they have few ties.

I am going to read extracts from one letter which has come from America. The British woman concerned, living in New York, says: I am not an ardent 'women's libber', believing that true liberation is freedom of the spirit, but now I must admit … I feel like a second-class citizen and worse besides. I am a British subject who came to this country in October, 1972, to pursue further studies at a drama school in New York. In November, 1973, I married an American citizen and we had planned to live in England … How terrible it is to have one's hopes shattered just by making a telephone call—a call to the British Consulate here in New York a few days ago, to learn about this law. I do not think I have ever experienced such utter dismay and thorough outrage… Am I to look forward to the prospect of being cut off from my own country or from my husband? This to me is utterly unbearable, and I think no one should be forced into having to decide on this sort of priority. This is a disgrace and an outrage, let alone just downright cruel to British women.

My Lords, to balance that letter from America, I should like to read extracts from one from Nigeria. The writer says: I am a British woman, born and bred in Britain, married to a non-British subject. Since my marriage, I have found to my cost that the British law discriminates against women in my position with a result that many British women are suffering extreme hardship and many, many others, while not suffering hardship, are in a position of extreme insecurity… When a British woman marries a foreigner, her husband is not allowed to live and work in Britain. She is therefore virtually evicted from her own country, since obviously she will wish to be with her husband… In some emergency situation (for example, a severe illness, which cannot he treated in one's husband's country), a woman may be obliged to return to Britain, and is thus forced to be separated from her husband. In my own case, I spent some months in Britain whilst I was having my first baby. My husband was in Britain for six months at that time but was not allowed to work. This meant that for those six months neither of us was working, and at the same time we had to cater for the expenses of a new baby.

I recognise that if a woman can prove hardship to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal her husband from abroad may be allowed to stay with her. That she should have to ask for such permission is in itself a humiliation. It is often refused, and the definition of "hardship" excludes poverty and destitution: they are not regarded as a hardship when one goes to the Appeals Tribunal. We are arguing this afternoon not for a compassionate concession of that humiliating kind, but for the woman to have her husband with her as a right.

I know only one argument that is made against the case which I am now putting to the House. It is that the right might be abused; that marriages of convenience might be arranged to allow an otherwise illegal or undesirable immigrant to enter Britain. I recognise that these abuses occur: I have taken part in them myself. I did so when we were fighting Hitler and the Nazis, when a young woman in Vienna, prominent in the struggle against Hitler, could escape imprisonment and death only by marrying a British man. I tried to arrange it, but I did not succeed. I am not sure that I ought to say this, but the man concerned is now a Member of this House.

My Lords, I am not suggesting that the abuses in these cases are justified. My point is that they are already taking place in the cases where husbands are here and where the women are allowed to come to them. Look at the "underground" Press in this country and you will see every week advertisements of men who are prepared, to their financial gain, to marry women abroad, so that they can come here—married for three months and then divorced. The extension of the right I am urging would make no difference at all to this problem of abuse. May I remind the House that the Home Office already has the right to intervene wherever it considers that an abuse may occur. I doubt very much whether the number of cases of abuse of this kind is sufficiently large to make interferences with privacy justified and to have a general rule, but nevertheless I suggest to the Home Office that it would be possible to say that for a period of years immigrant status should be allowed only while the marriage lasts. This argument of abuse could be met on those lines.

In conclusion, I wish to draw the attention of your Lordships to a grave humiliation and cruelty which arises from sex discrimination in our immigration laws. If a British woman is married to a foreigner and gives birth to a child abroad, that child is not recognised as hers when she travels to this country. A child, even an infant, may not legally appear on its mother's passport. If by chance it does, when she reaches Heathrow or a British port of entry and an immigration officer discovers that the child has been born abroad, on the passport against that child's name is entered "Six months only". The child is supposed to have a separate identity certificate. At Heathrow, if a mother—a British woman—comes with two children, one of whom has been born in this country and the other has been born abroad, she may take the child who has been born in this country through the gateway for British citizens while the child who has not been born in this country has to go through the other gateway under the care of the hostess of the airplane.

I have a large number of letters on this subject. I will read one from a petition of six women which I received yesterday. They write: We, the undersigned, all British-born women married to foreign husbands, are protesting about the sex discrimination we experience when bringing our children to our own country, Britain. Children in the same family are treated in different ways, depending upon whether they are British-born or foreign-born. A British male parent married to a foreign wife has no problem with his children, his foreign adopted children or stepchildren; but our children, born to us overseas, are given a different status from the mother. No British woman can tolerate this, as by placing mothers and children in different categories the family is split.

My Lords, I have here ten cases and I shall be forwarding them all to the Home Office for consideration. I will quote from only one of them: I am Mrs. M., British born and holding a British passport. My husband is Nigerian. My two older children—a boy aged seven and a girl aged five (both born in Britain) travel on my British passport and enter Britain with no problems. My third child, born February, 1973, in Nigeria has problems. In July, 1973, I had to travel to Britain because my mother was seriously ill in hospital. My baby was four months old and the immigration officer (British High Commission, Ibadan) allowed my child to travel with me for compassionate reasons—he was given a British entry certificate for six months. I returned to Nigeria in September, 1973. In December (my baby now being ten months old) I had to travel again to Britain because of the death of my mother. My baby's six months entry certificate to Britain had expired and I applied for renewal. I was held up for one week as the British High Commissioner did not want to renew. Finally the baby's entry certificate was extended to January 26, 1974, and by that time I found my stay in Britain was limited to 15 days. To make doubly sure of me they cancelled my British passport from January 26, 1974, although my passport was valid to August, 1975.

My Lords, there was a case reported in the Press last week of a British woman married to a Spaniard. She had a girl of three, born in Spain; she had a boy, four months old, born in Britain. In last Monday's Guardian the grandmother of the children, Mrs. Audrey Brookbank of Walton-on-Thames—I told the Minister I was not going to give names; I apologise, but her name was given in the Guardian—the grandmother of the children stated: When my daughter brings the children to see us, she and the baby go through the British gate on my daughter's British passport, but the little girl has to go through the foreigners' gate.

Two children of a British mother at Heathrow! Says the Guardian: The problem arose when Mrs. Brookbank's daughter applied for a renewal of her British passport and the addition to it of the names of the two children. The baby's name was added because he was British, but the Passport Office insisted that the little girl must have her own Spanish passport. I am pleading that a British wife should have the right to her own children, wherever those children are born. The United States of America has set us an example. The United States recognises the principle of the mother's right, and wherever the children of the mother are born they are admitted to America on equal terms. I hope the fact that we now have such a tolerant and humane Government here will mean that these new principles are accepted in Britain.

My Lords, I have put the case for the ending of sex discrimination within our immigration laws. These facts probably were unknown previously to many Members of the House. I think they are possibly unknown to many members of the Government. I ask for the support of Members of this House to see that the rights of women, and human equality, may now be recognised.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, or anyone else, will not consider that merely because I do not make a half-hour's speech on an Unstarred Question that it is not an important subject, but I really think that perhaps Unstarred Questions warrant fairly brief speeches. Also, if the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, will forgive me, I will not touch on the last half of his speech because, with respect, I think it has nothing to do with the Question; it is a matter for the British Nationality Act.

All I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich is whether or not the present Government are continuing with their study of this exceedingly difficult matter, because I would suggest that not until that study is completed is any form of answer capable of being given to the question about children born abroad to mothers who are United Kingdom citizens by birth. Therefore, I shall confine myself quite briefly to the first part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, which is, in fact, the Question that he has on the Order Paper.

I am also fairly confident that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, his colleagues in the Home Office, and the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary, will find this question a good deal more difficult than one would imagine simply by listening to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. It is not only a matter to cause one considerable anxiety and distress but one which, upon examination, results in very great problems when one simply attempts the sweeping solutions to it that have been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. I can tell the House what the policy used to be under the previous Administration, but perhaps that is neither here nor there. I believe it is worth while remembering (and I believe it to be correct) that what we do on the immigration control side is in line with what is done by many other countries. We are at least in line with international practice and law on this matter.

My Lords, secondly, I would remind the House (and this does not appear to vary according to whichever Government is in office) that Britain is apparently a highly attractive place and one to which those British women who marry foreign husbands, whether Commonwealth or alien, apparently wish to return with their husbands and families. It is a country to which a large number of foreign men wish to come in order to marry British women resident here, and no doubt settle to bring up their families. This is a small island. Goodness knows! there are enough problems as it is in finding housing for those who already live here. We are to have a debate next week on race relations, and if I have said it once from the Dispatch Box I have said it fifty times, race relations are a matter of balance between the indigenous population and the incoming population which one cannot lightly overlook if one is to have harmony on the race front in this country. To open the floodgates is not likely to be very successful in promoting race harmony.

These are some of the aspects which come into this question. I think they are likely to be matters which will give the noble Lord, Lord Harris, cause for thought, and which certainly vexed us when we were dealing with these heart- rending problems of individual cases such as were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships' House of the genesis of the rule that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has so trenchantly criticised. I quote from a Written Answer in the OFFICIAL REPORT of another place (30/1/69, cols. 366–7): During 1968, 1,676 Commonwealth citizens were admitted for marriage to women resident in the United Kingdom. These men were admitted under a concessionary provision, in addition to the 3,828 adult males admitted under the employment voucher scheme. Their numbers have risen steeply over the last year or so and are now on such a scale that it seems that marriage is being used by many young men of working age as a means of entering, working and settling in this country. This abuse of the concession is inconsistent with the general scheme of Commonwealth immigration control, particularly the employment voucher scheme. The Government have, therefore, decided that the concession under which male Commonwealth citizens are allowed to settle here in right of their wife must be withdrawn. In future, the admission of husbands and fiancés from the Commonwealth for settlement will be restricted to cases presenting special features, and it will be a requirement that an entry certificate must have been obtained. Consistently with this, men who have been admitted as visitors, students or for other temporary purposes, will not be permitted to settle here following marriage, save in exceptional circumstances. Account will be taken in individual cases of any special circumstances, whether of a family nature or otherwise, which makes exclusion from the United Kingdom undesirable; but men, whether husbands or fiancés, seeking admission under this special dispensation must obtain an entry certificate before setting out for the United Kingdom. That was Mr. Callaghan as Home Secretary withdrawing the concession. He did so for the reasons set out in the Written Answer. Since that time, we have equated the position of the Commonwealth citizens and the aliens to all intents and purposes for getting into this country; we do not have employment vouchers now, but entry certificates.

My Lords, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Harris, if he can do no more this afternoon, at least to say whether he thinks that the pressure on the United Kingdom has slackened since the days in early 1969 when that statement was made. I would tend to think—although I do not know a great deal about this—that the lengthy queues of people (indeed, United Kingdom passport holders) in various parts of the world, patiently waiting their turn to get an entry certificate under the quota scheme, is evidence enough that there is substantial pressure from that source alone. Now we are told that there are many Americans, Swedes, Africans, and goodness knows how many other nationalities not under the Commonwealth quota scheme at all (Australians and so on), who would also like to come. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will probably be able to confirm my impression that there is still a very large number of people who would like, if this concession were restored, to take advantage of it. If so, we must calculate whether this would be to the advantage of this country any more than it would be to the advantage of those who come in what must ex hypothesi be crowded and difficult circumstances for their settlement.

The other matter of which I should perhaps just remind the House is the extent to which the practice has perhaps developed in dealing with these cases since 1969. That Written Answer appeared to deal almost entirely with the personal circumstances of the man, the husband or the fiancé, as they presented themselves at the time he wished to arrive here. This has been extended, I should think by administrative practice, over the years, and when I last saw cases of this sort the consideration included all the circumstances of a family, wife, husband and any children. It included cases not only of people wishing to come in as fiancés or husbands to people resident in this country, but families wishing to return as a family unit where the wife was of United Kingdom origin having lived for some time in countries abroad, whether in Iraq, America or wherever it may have been.

In all these cases the individual circumstances—the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, referred to hardship—which would apply if the family was not allowed into this country are carefully weighed. I am not aware of any definition of "hardship", and certainly the cases that I looked at myself were at a stage much earlier than going to any Immigration Appeals Tribunal, because that stage is only reached if in the first place permission is not given by the Home Office or by an entry clearance officer abroad. Many cases are in fact allowed through without any recourse to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal at all. They are allowed on presentation of hardship or good reasons without any appeal. The noble Lord is not right on his facts on this point, because I have actually had these cases through my hands; I have had them recommended to me, and I have agreed with the advice that people in this category should be allowed to stay in this country. There has been no question of appeal.


My Lords, I am very sorry, but my notes have gone up to Hansard and I cannot quote the actual definition. There is a definition of "hardship" at the Immigration Appeals Tribunal; it excludes poverty and destitution. The consideration is as to whether the woman can go to the country where her husband lives, either on the grounds of background, social conditions, culture, or health. I would have been able to give that definition except that my notes have gone elsewhere.


My Lords, be that as it may; the noble Lord may be right. As I say, I did not examine a great many of these cases. What I am saying is that you do not necessarily have to go to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal at all.


The noble Viscount said I was wrong.


I am saying that I am not aware of a definition, and the sort of cases that do not go to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal do not get qualified by any such definitions so far as I am aware. If I am wrong the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will immediately put me right when he speaks.

We are not in a position this evening to take any decision on this, anyway. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will be able to tell us what the Government are thinking. I would simply counsel him to go fairly gently and carefully in this, weighing up, no doubt, as certainly the previous Administration did, the sort of hardship cases the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has quoted against the very practical disadvantages of allowing wholesale relaxation of this rule, some of which at least I have attempted to touch on this evening. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us that his right honourable friend is not going to make a precipitate decision on this matter but rather one that is carefully weighed, and no doubt one that we shall have an opportunity to argue about on a future occasion.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, may I ask him a question, because I find myself puzzled by his speech? As I understand it, he did not impugn the evidence put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. He mentioned the need for a thorough review of citizenship, but may I ask him whether he had any other positive suggestions to put forward as to what should be done about the very real problems mentioned by Lord Brockway? Does he really feel that the present state of affairs is satisfactory, because that, I felt, was the implication of what he said. Perhaps I misunderstood.


My Lords, I have sat down, but in courtesy to the noble Lord perhaps I might say one more word. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, raised two questions, one of which is on the Order Paper and one not. The one which is not I did not seek to comment upon at all. The one which is I suggested is a difficult one, but it is being handled administratively at the moment in a way which does not produce the totally unfair result the noble Lord suggested. I was leaving it to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, to say whether or not the system commended itself to the present Government, and that, after all, is not something on which I can comment in any way.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, from these Benches we would warmly support all that Lord Brockway has said so trenchantly and firmly. I wish to intervene for only a very brief moment to draw attention to, and possibly find a way to a solution of, a matter which I hope the House will agree is a cause of great injustice to a young British citizen. It arises from a mistake made many years ago by someone in the Foreign Office. It may be that the point I am raising is a little wide of the Question Lord Brockway is asking, but I think the House will agree it has sufficient relevance and is sufficiently pertinent to allow me to raise it.

The name of the young man is James Hugh Maxwell. I do not know him, but I knew his father, who was resident director for B.O.A.C. in the Middle East and based on Cairo. In 1941 he sent his wife to Cape Town because of the unsettled conditions in Cairo. It was in Cape Town that this young man was born. Until 1949, I understand, there was no such thing as a South African citizen, and the status of British people resident there was that of a British subject. Therefore, this young man was a British subject from his birth. Both his parents were British. His mother was temporarily resident in Cape Town. In December, 1949, the South African Citizenship Act was passed. This appeared to make the young man a South African citizen but it seems he retained his status as a British subject, because in 1950 his father applied to the Foreign Office for a passport for the son and a British passport was issued and granted.

This was renewed regularly until the latter half of 1972, some twenty years later, when the young man, then resident and working in Paris, applied for the usual renewal. He received a letter dated December 14, 1972, from the British Consul-General in Paris stating, blandly, that no passport could be issued as the original had been granted—and really, my Lords, you will have to accept that this was said—through an administrative error. That, I think, was a remarkably pompous statement. Had his father known this fact in 1950, when he originally applied for the passport, he would have taken steps to have the matter put straight. For some twenty years he was, I maintain, justifiably confident that all was in order, as the passport had been regularly renewed.

It seems that this refusal came about through the passing of the South African Act 1962, which apparently revoked the status of British subjects granted under the Act of 1949. The first of the remedies suggested by the authorities now is that the young man should take out a South Africa passport. In the current political situation in that country I think this is an odious suggestion to make to any young British citizen. The second suggested remedy is that he should acquire British citizenship through naturalisation, which means that he has to give up his job and career overseas, come back here, find a new job, wait five years, and then undertake to reside in this country. This, I submit, is a gross infringement of the rights of the subject. I submit, too, my Lords, that the South Africa Act of 1962 in its revocation of rights given twenty years before represents an intolerable retrospective piece of legislation.

I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Harris, comes to reply—and I have given him notice of this question—he will indicate that the matter can be taken up immediately with the appropriate Department and that now a British passport can be issued to this young man, so ending this injustice. I have been informed that owing to the ramifications of these various Acts it may be argued that there are legal difficulties in the way of doing what I suggest. I would not for one moment suggest in your Lordships' House that anybody should break the law, but I do suggest that it can occasionally be bent to everybody's advantage. Also, I understand that Ministers have discretionary powers in this connection, which in the past have been used at short notice. If such a course is really honestly not possible, would the noble Lord say in his reply that the Government would welcome a short Bill to amend this Act and so bring an end to this unhappy situation? If I can be of any assistance to the noble Lord in obtaining further information, or if he would care to discuss the matter with me outside, I hope he will not hesitate to let me know. Although it is a little late in the day, may I offer my congratulations on his maiden speech which he made earlier.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, may I very shortly support the Question posed by my noble friend Lord Brockway? I can do so shortly first, because he made his own case with his usual skill, and secondly because this is of course a repeat of the debate which we had on July 19, 1971, on the then Immigration Bill on a number of Amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Wade. I ventured to say then that I was old-fashioned, that I thought some things were right and some things were wrong and that I did not see how it could be other than wrong that while a Jamaican man who gets a work permit to work here has of course a legal right to have his wife and children with him, a Jamaican nurse who is persuaded to help us in our hospitals and has an invalid husband to support has no such right. This is exactly the same point to-day.

There is, of course, a discretion, but if there is a dispute it has to go to a tribunal, and all my information is that it is the rarest thing for a tribunal ever to make a finding in favour of an English wife. The National Association of Community Relations Councils tell me that only in the very severest circumstances, where a wife can show that if permission were refused she would undergo considerable hardship through difference of language, race or social customs, or would suffer political persecution in her husband's country, is the appeals tribunal prepared to accept that a husband can live in this country with his wife. In practice, as I understand it, almost the only case is where an Englishwoman marries one of the Islamic faith and can prove to the tribunal that if she went with her husband to the Sudan, Nigeria, or wherever it might be, she would be completely ostracised by the whole of her husband's family.

I want, if I may, to make what is perhaps a rather newer point. I said in 1971 that I was concerned only with husbands and wives who I believed, should not be separated by law: I was not concerned with fiancés. There is one point that has come to my attention on which I think the law can be very hard on fiancés, and that is that, as I understand it, the Home Office will not say how they would exercise the discretion if the couple married until they do marry. Perhaps I may be permitted to quote a case on which I had some correspondence with the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. An Englishwoman born and bred here, earning her own living is, I think, a teacher. She is engaged to a Portuguese, a highly skilled welder who could not find work in Portugal and who for some years now has been living and working in France. The question was: has she to become an outcast from her own country?

The noble Viscount was kind enough to write to me about the case. It is impossible apparently for her to find out if she does marry him where they can live or how they can live. I asked the noble Viscount, if the English will not let them live here, and if the French will not let them live in France, what are they supposed to do? He said, "I suppose they could always live in Portugal"—where, of course, neither of them can find work. This is really a terrible position for fiancés to be in when they cannot find out what is going to happen, and the point is exactly the same. If this teacher had been a male of course nobody would drive him out of his own country because he marries a Portuguese girl. Here he is, this is his home country; here he has a job as a teacher. It is simply because the teacher is a woman that she is liable to become an outcast from her own country not knowing whether, if she marries him, there is anywhere in the world where they can live together or how they can earn a living.

My Lords, this Government have by their statements become highly committed to ending sex discrimination. I know, and we all know, that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is a very humane man. We must of course bear in mind that he has been in Office for only three weeks and he cannot have mastered all the various departmental lines which we know to be in the Home Office, but I, and I think many of my noble friends will be very disappointed if the Question which my noble friend Lord Brockway has raised will not some day, if not to-day, be answered very differently from the way in which it has been answered in the past.

6.28 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord and to the House for not having put my name on the list of speakers, but I have only recently returned from Wales and I was not sure whether I should be able to be in my place in time. I thought it would be unfortunate if women appeared to be indifferent to the Question posed by my noble friend Lord Brockway. I do not want to go into details at this relatively late hour, particularly as my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner has reminded us that we discussed this subject in some of its aspects fairly thoroughly on the Immigration Act. It appears to me that one should use this occasion to express one's entire repugnance to the view that sex should be the guide in this matter. I am aware of the international legal complications that arise, but as a pure question of prin- ciple I as a woman find it entirely repugnant that my future could have been determined by the considerations which now prevail. My late husband was born in this country and there was of course no problem at all. His elder brother was born in South Africa, and had I for any reason married the elder rather than the younger son it is conceivable that I might find myself in a situation where it is suggested that I might go and live in South Africa—a state of affairs which any noble Lord who knows me would fully realise that I would find intolerable.

Having stated the principle, with which I have no doubt whatever that my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich and his right honourable friend the Secretary of State are entirely in accord, and reminding him of the statement in the gracious Speech about the determination of the Government to end sex discrimination, I should nevertheless like to draw attention to one particular aspect of this problem which I think is disturbing to all of us who have read the accounts of mothers with children born in different circumstances and the difficulties which have arisen in that particular context. It may take quite a while to sort out the major problems but I should very much appreciate it if my noble friend, even to-night, could indicate that special consideration would be given to this question of children in the same family born to the same mother but with different nationality. Surely at least until they are of an age at which they can obtain individual passports, that is, 16, they should be permitted to be on their mother's passport regardless of their nationality.

It should be possible to legislate somehow in this sense. If that could be done at least as an earnest of intent it would be very much appreciated. It is entirely wrong that young children of the same family should be made, at that tender age, to feel different one from the other. It is very damaging psychologically, and I hope that on that point at least my noble friend can give us some assurance.

6.31 p.m.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may intervene briefly on this subject. I too apologise for not putting my name down, but, as your Lordships will know, I am very seldom in this country and this is a subject I have very much at heart. All of us were very moved by the cases that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has read out tonight. One of the great difficulties in these cases of discrimination is that we feel very deeply for the suffering of individuals and we have to try to find a principle with which to alleviate the suffering of these particular individuals.

So far we have not really got to the kernel of the problem, because surely the duty of any Government is to protect their own nationals first of all in the field of employment, and enable them to earn their own living. I would add immediately regardless of race, sex and nationality of origin. It seems to me that this is really the problem. Indeed, it was mentioned in one of the letters read out by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, when he said that one of his correspondents had said, "I cannot live and work in the United Kingdom". The question is not that it is the wife's nationality or the husband's nationality that matters, but that the husband cannot earn his living in this country. It therefore follows from that that if a woman wishes to have discrimination removed and be allowed to live with her husband in this country, which I think is absolutely right because any form of discrimination is abhorrent to us, she should then, in like manner as any male national of this country, be able to maintain her husband. If she had the possibility in this country to maintain her husband with an adequate and proper income we should not be in the difficult situation that we now are, with wives wishing to bring in foreign husbands and the foreign husbands wanting the right to work in this country in order to maintain their British national wives.

Two other points follow from this which I would ask the Government to consider. One is that they press with all earnestness the rights of British national males married to foreign women abroad in foreign countries to have the right to work in those countries with the same assiduity with which they are considering allowing foreign nationals to come to work in this country. Secondly, I hope that they will pursue the policy of the last Government to create better and equal opportunities for women to earn their living and adequate salaries to maintain their husbands and children in this country.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, may I make two preliminary points before coming to the substance of the matter raised by my noble friend. First of all, in relation to passports there is the question of children. This my noble friend Lady White raised. This is a matter, as she would know, that is primarily for my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, but the Government are very much alive to this issue and I will see that what she said is drawn to the attention of my right honourable friend. It will have to be looked at on the basis of what she said, and I will certainly indicate her views and those of other noble Lords to my right honourable friend. The second question of a preliminary character was raised by my noble friend Lord Brockway and the noble Viscount opposite, and the noble Earl, Lord Amherst. This deals with the general question of the law of nationality. This was dealt with in the Election Manifesto of the Labour Party at the recent General Election, where it was indicated that we proposed to review the law of nationality with a view to legislation, and that will be done.

I now turn to the substance of the matter. This is one of a number of aspects of immigration control to which the Government are now giving close consideration. The elimination of the restriction on the admission of all husbands in right of their wives, which my noble friend advocates, could not be achieved administratively; it would require an amendment of the Immigration Rules which would have to be laid before Parliament. The implications of such a change clearly require the most careful thought, and I cannot to-day give any indication of what the Government's conclusion will be. I should, however, like to say something about the history of the restriction, and to give an indication of some of the considerations which the Government will have to take into account in reaching their decision. I shall of course inform my right honourable friend of what my noble friend and other noble Lords have said in relation to certain cases, and any that are sent to us will be carefully considered so that he will be aware of the views expressed and the particular cases cited.

The history of the matter is that before January 30, 1969, a Commonwealth citizen married to a woman resident in the United Kingdom was normally allowed to live here, although he had no statutory right of settlement on the strength of his marriage. During 1968 the numbers of young men admitted from the Commonwealth for marriage rose steeply. It was considered that the explanation for this was that the employment voucher scheme was being circumvented by the use of marriage as a means of obtaining entry here for work and settlement. My right honourable friend the then Home Secretary, now the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, therefore, decided that the admission of husbands and male fiancés from the Commonwealth must be restricted to cases where special considerations made exclusion from the United Kingdom undesirable. The restriction was applied to husbands as well as to fiancés for the obvious reason that it could otherwise have been evaded by contracting a marriage of convenience outside the United Kingdom or by entering as a visitor and then marrying after admission.

The present Immigration Rules maintain this position. The provision for exceptions is set out in paragraph 47 of the Rules for Control of Entry of Commonwealth Citizens (HC 79) which lays it down that an entry clearance will be granted to enable a husband to join his wife who is settled here if the Secretary of State is satisfied that there are special considerations, whether of a family nature or otherwise, which render exclusion undesirable; for example, because of the degree of hardship which, in the particular circumstances of the case, would be caused if the wife had to live outside the United Kingdom in order to be with her husband. There is a corresponding provision for foreign nationals in paragraph 42 of the Rules for Control on Entry of E.E.C. and other non-Commonwealth nationals (HC 81); and the rule for fiancés is similar.

I am well aware of the criticism made to-day that the Rules are harsh and oppressive. Nevertheless, it is only fair to point out that under their provisions "hardship" can be interpreted widely. First, there is the hardship that there might be if the wife had to live in her husband's country; for example, the difficulty that might face a woman settling in a wholly alien environment in a strange country. Then there might be such factors as an adverse effect on her health, or practical difficulties in following her chosen occupation. There might be a disruption of the children's education or a problem of invalid parents who are in need of the wife's support. I cannot give a precise figure, but some 200 or 300 husbands or fiancés are admitted because of these kinds of considerations from the Commonwealth each year. A refusal to allow a husband to settle here is subject to appeal to the immigration appeal authorities who decide whether there is an exceptional case.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is, however, aware that there are cases where the application of these criteria of hardship has been far too rigid. Some couples have had to leave this country against all the dictates of common sense. I would assure the House that my right honourable friend will be examining individual cases as they arise in the future as sympathetically as he can. It may be said, "Well, if the Government are prepared to interpret the existing rules with sympathy and compassion, why not sweep them away altogether?" Then husbands and fiancés would be allowed in automatically and the problem could be resolved. But here we come up against a formidable difficulty.

I can do no better than repeat to your Lordships the broad effect of what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said on this point in another place this afternoon. He told the other place that were he to admit husbands on the same basis as wives this would undoubtedly lead to a substantial and continuing new wave of male immigration, particularly from the Indian subcontinent. As your Lordships are aware, arranged marriages, often with no prior acquaintanceship, is the common cultural practice in some parts of the Indian subcontinent. It is not for us casually to judge a cultural difference, but we are entitled to take note of its likely consequences. It would make it much more likely that many girls of Indian and Pakistani origin settled in this country would contract marriages with husbands in India or Pakistan—


Or Bangladesh.


— rather than among their own community here. My right honourable friend said that he must take this fact, with its substantial effect upon our rate of immigration, into account, anxious though he is to find an equitable solution to this problem.

That is the central problem now confronting us. We cannot shrug it off as being a matter of absolutely no account. The danger is that if this matter were to be mishandled by the present Government or by their successors we could experience a substantial new wave of immigration. The Government recognise that there is still a need to maintain a balance between the number of immigrants entering this country and the capacity of the country to absorb them. We have a responsibility towards the immigrant population not to put them as individuals into a situation where integration is made impossible or very difficult. This situation could arise if people were to be admitted in such large numbers that fear and resentment—both enemies of effective integration—were to be increasingly felt by the indigenous population. It is for this reason that we accept the need to control the flow of immigrants.

These then are the considerations facing us. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brockway for raising the matter. I know that it has been worrying him and others for some time. I hope the House will acknowledge that there are real difficulties, and that my noble friend will be reassured by the determination of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to re-examine this problem as part of the general review of immigration policy that is now taking place. In the meantime, I can assure your Lordships that my right honourable friend will give the most sympathetic attention to the cases mentioned in the debate today.