HL Deb 14 November 1979 vol 402 cc1244-7



My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Seear, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in her name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will give an assurance that they will not retreat from their commitment to full equality before the law for all citizens including women, and that they will embody in the new Nationality Bill the right of all British women to reside in Britain with their non-EEC spouses.


My Lords, we are not retreating from the general spirit of that commitment but it was also made plain in the Conservative Party's Manifesto that there would be changes in the law governing the entry of husbands and male fiancés. This inevitably means some difference in treatment as regards the right of a woman to be joined here by her husband or fiancé. We believe that this is justified to prevent abuse of the present system by men using marriage as a means of immigration to this country. These are matters for the Immigration Rules, and we shall not wait for our Nationality Bill to implement our proposals on them.


My Lords, we can deal with the Immigration Rules in a moment; but does the noble Lord recall that in paragraph 50 of the previous Government's Green Paper on British nationality law there were four options set out on the acquisition of citizenship by virtue of marriage to a person who was himself or herself a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and that all these four options were nondiscriminatory in regard to the two sexes? Are the Government in their forthcoming proposals intending to confine themselves within the limits of one or other of these four options, or to introduce some new proposal which will in itself be discriminatory?


My Lords, the Government are not responsible for the previous Government's Green Paper. I seem to remember, however, that the previous Government felt that it was right—indeed, necessary—only two years ago, in 1977, to take a hard look at the question of arranged marriages, and to do something about them. In fact the rules, if I remember rightly, were changed. As regards the line which my right honourable friend will be taking, I shall be making a Statement to your Lordships' House, if the House will agree, at a convenient moment after half-past three.


My Lords, have the Government received any representations from any other Governments saying that they may well refuse the rights of British men who marry their female citizens? Also, have any other countries applied or are they expected to apply, reciprocal treatment to our citizens?


My Lords, I am not aware of any representations of the kind.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware what would have happened to the Royal Family through the centuries if this medieval concept of this Tory Government had been put into effect?


My Lords, I am not aware that previous Royal Families have indulged in arranged marriages.

The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK

My Lords, while welcoming the Government's statement of their commitment to the equality of all British citizens before the law, may I ask that the sensitivities of the Asian community in this country are not bruised by any suggestions that arranged marriages are necessarily to be presumed to be marriages of convenience?


My Lords, I unhesitatingly give the right reverend Prelate an assurance to that effect. It is no part of the intention of Her Majesty's Government to discourage the traditional practice of the arranged marriage. But we are fully entitled, we believe, to take steps to prevent further primary immigration through marriages which are arranged for this purpose.


My Lords, referring to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, will my noble friend confirm that His Majesty King George I never did succeed in getting his wife into this country?


My Lords, if I am quick I can reply just before my former tutor at university, who was introduced into your Lordships' House today, takes his seat, and say that honestly I cannot answer that question.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, when I asked the Minister a similar question last week as to whether he could produce evidence of the abuse, he said this was a fair point and he proposed to deal with it, as I understand it, in the White Paper. Has he not again in his first Answer referred to the exploitation of the present system? So far as I can see, however, we have had no evidence of what this abuse is and how far it has gone. Is the noble Lord going to produce this evidence?


My Lords, it is a fair point and I thought I gave a fair answer. Indeed, pressed by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I then wearied your Lordships with specific statistics. I do not think the House would want me to do that again. I think I should say to the noble Baroness on this occasion that the statistics for husbands coming into the country have shown a very marked increase since the concession which was made by the noble Baroness's Government after, I know, very mature thought and considerable hesitation in 1974. Similarly, the numbers of male fiancés coming into this country have also shown a very marked increase.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his former tutor has a lot to answer for if he taught him that the Royal Family have not entered into arranged marriages in the past, or that indeed it was not the custom for persons of Royal blood to enter into marriage with persons they had never seen? Can the noble Lord separate in his mind for a moment the concept of immigration from that of citizenship and address himself to the question of how a person acquires citizenship by virtue of a marriage to a person who is a citizen of the United Kingdom? Does he recall that the Green Paper, whether or not the present Government are committed to it, contained four non-discriminatory options with regard to the acquisition of citizenship by marriage to a British citizen? Will he answer my original question: Do the Government therefore in their forthcoming proposals on nationality, which are not going to be dealt with in the Statement after 3.30, intend to adhere to the principle of non-discrimination?


My Lords, what would be needed to reply to the noble Lord's question is a nationality Act and I do not think there is anything between the two sides of your Lordships' House that this is desirable; but I am afraid we have not got to the moment when we are able to introduce such legislation.