HL Deb 21 July 1981 vol 423 cc169-232

5.1 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Belstead.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 6 [Right to registration by virtue of residence in UK or relevant employment]:

Lord Elwyn-Jones moved Amendment No. 92: Page 7, line 27, leave out ("made within five years after commencement").

The noble and learned Lord said: We resume discussions on the Bill on Clause 6, which relates to the right to registration by virtue of residence in the United Kingdom or relevant employment. This amendment is a very important one. Its purpose is to maintain the existing entitlement of Commonwealth citizens who were settled here before the 1st January 1973 to register as citizens, and the amendment ensures that that entitlement will be maintained for their lifetime. The provisions of Clause 6(1) state that: A person shall be entitled, on an application for his registration as a British citizen made within five years after commencement …". That provision would bring the entitlement for life, so to speak, to an end and substitute for it the period of five years after commencement.

The people who are involved in this matter are all people who have lived in this country for at least eight years already and who have the right under our present law to remain here permanently. They have acquired that established right. Therefore, to maintain the entitlement would not make the slightest difference to the number of people eligible to live in this country, so the immigration dimension does not arise, as I submit, in our consideration of this matter. It would not add to the number of people entitled to come and abide here at all. The passage of the amendment would simply mean that permanently resident Commonwealth citizens could, if they chose, at any future time obtain full British citizenship as distinct from the settled status—which they now enjoy—and could obtain British citizenship as a right without risk of refusal and at a lower fee than if they had to be naturalised instead.

At first sight this may not seem to be an important amendment, but I submit that it is one of the major changes needed in the Bill if ethnic minorities are to be assured that their rights are not being whittled away by the Bill. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has been anxious to dispel fears, and in my submission the acceptance of this amendment would dispel quite a lot of the anxieties which exist among this group of people—and they are not inconsiderable.

The Government have often claimed that nobody who is settled here will be worse off or will lose any rights as a result of this Bill, and yet Clause 6 as it stands, with subsection (1) maintained in it, would make this group worse off by removing an entitlement to citizenship that they have always had.

Under the British Nationality Act 1948 a Commonwealth citizen had an entitlement to registration after one year's residence in the United Kingdom. The 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act maintained the entitlement but lengthened the required period of residence to five years. The 1971 Immigration Act set up two separate systems of registration for Commonwealth citizens. Patrials were still to have an entitlement to it; non-patrials were to be registered only at discretion and on payment of a higher fee. They were in fact to go through a process still called registration but identical in all but name with naturalisation.

Any Commonwealth citizen who became settled after 1st January 1973 already has to go through this discretionary process, but those who had already come here were to be allowed to retain the right that they had expected when they first came and the 1971 Immigration Act specifically retained it in Schedule 1, paragraph 2. In our submission, the Bill as it stands would go back on an earlier commitment and would take away an important existing right.

Elsewhere, the Bill respects the principle of preserving existing rights for the lifetimes of the people who now hold them. In particular, it does so for two groups, and in my submission it is bound to be seen as significant that they are groups largely of white people. For example, Clause 38 preserves the right of abode of Commonwealth citizen patrials for their lifetime. Clause 30 preserves the right of Irish citizens born before 1st January 1949 to make a declaration that they are, and have remained, British subjects for their lifetime.

Speaking in this latter context the honourable gentleman, Mr. Raison, the Minister, said in Standing Committee in another place: Some no doubt will wish to argue that those concerned have already had ample time"— and this may be an argument raised today— in which to exercise their claim to British subject status. However, the Government believe that existing expectations such as this should not be removed abruptly by the Bill and that the arrangements reflect the long historical connections between the United Kingdom and what is now the Republic of Ireland". There have been long historic connections between the United Kingdom and the former Commonwealth countries or colonies that we are concerned with in this Bill. I now ask, why is the same principle which was expressed so clearly there by Mr. Raison not extended to Commonwealth citizens, many of them black, who have been settled in the United Kingdom since 1973?

There are three reasons which I should like to submit to the Committee which justify the amendment. First, settled Commonwealth citizens here have no right of freedom of movement in the EEC. Under existing law, as I understand it, that right is held only by patrial citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies and citizens from Gibraltar. The Government have not, so far as I am aware, indicated in the Bill, how our nationality will be defined for EEC purposes, and presumably in future British citizens, together with dependent territory citizens from Gibraltar, will have freedom of movement within the EEC. This means that a Jamaican or an Australian citizen who has lived here perhaps for 20 years or more and made his life here cannot go to another EEC country to look for work with the same freedom as a British citizen.

In our present unemployment crisis the opportunity to look for work without restriction of movement in nine other countries besides this one will be increasingly important. But it will depend on the person concerned being able to become a full British citizen. That is the first reason why we, and those concerned, attach great importance to the success of this amendment.

The second reason for its acceptance is also largely economic. Registration by entitlement is a process which is much cheaper than discretionary registration or naturalisation. At present it costs £50, while discretionary processes cost £150. These fees may well be increased quite soon; in times of inflation that is a general process which happens to fees. They already present a considerable, indeed if not insuperable, barrier to anyone who is unemployed or on short-time work or in low paid employment. Indeed, it would be interesting to learn from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, whether there is any other country similar to our own which charges so much for its citizenship that many residents just cannot afford to become citizens. In Australia naturalisation is free of charge. In the United States it costs only 25 dollars. Removing the entitlement to registration of settled Commonwealth citizens will, I submit, simply put citizenship out of the reach of some of them and impose an unexpected and heavy burden on others.

It may be argued that five years is long enough for anyone who has the entitlement to hear about the new law and to register while there is still time. Does not this ignore several inescapable facts? First, that with the best will in the world it will be impossible to make sure that everyone to be affected is informed in time. When Pakistan left the Commonwealth great efforts were made by voluntary agencies and by the Pakistan Embassy itself to inform Pakistan citizens that they had six years within which to register before becoming eligible for naturalisation. Yet thousands did not know and did not register in time. There is no way of reaching everyone with certainty.

But even more important, some of the people whose entitlement is to be removed by the provisions of the clause will have very little time, and in some cases hardly any at all, to exercise it. People from St. Lucia, for example, which became independent in 1979, ceased to be British, even if they had been here for 20 years, once the independence provisions took effect. Only since 1979 have those St. Lucians had the need or indeed the opportunity to register. Many of those living here are still unaware that they have lost their citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies by reason of the independence provisions and that they need to register. If, for instance, Antigua becomes independent—as is likely to be the case because we have carried the necessary legislation through the House—before commencement of this Act, Antiguans here will have only a period of five years and a few months, first, to find out their position, and, secondly, to apply for registration. But a person who came here as a minor child before 1973 and does not reach the age of majority until after commencement will not be able to use the entitlement in his own right at all; if his parents have not registered him by then he will have no entitlement.

The third reason, I submit, for supporting the amendment is that settlement is not the same as right of abode, what is now called patriality. A settled Commonweatlh citizen may remain here permanently, but he can lose his settlement status if he is absent for more than two years or has a series of shorter absences. There is a reported case of a West Indian lady, settled here for many years, who went to nurse her sister who was dying of cancer in New York. After the sister died, when the lady concerned came back to this country, she was told that she had abandoned her settled status here and no longer had a right to permanent residence. Eventually, after a long and strong campaign by the Pentecostal Church—I cannot claim it for the Congregational Church on this occasion—and others who supported her, she was given back her right. But her case does illustrate the dangers. Registration is a safeguard against such dangers; it confers full right of abode.

I submit that to pass this amendment would cost us nothing. There is, I submit, no possible harm it can do this country or its people and no possible adverse effect on the nature of the new British citizenship. But to pass it would on the positive side relieve many individuals of their present anxiety, do something to reduce the suspicion that there is a racialist element in this case, but, above all, relieve many individuals of their present anxiety and at the same time be understood and recognised as an important gesture towards both Commonwealth citizens in our midst and the Commonwealth at large. I beg to move.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Belstead

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones has referred to this as being an important amendment, and indeed it is. If my reply is perhaps just a little longer than your Lordships would wish, may I say that this will not be a precedent for the other amendments, important though they are, which refer to Clauses 6, 7, 8—which my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate will be dealing with I hope—and Clause 9, all of which refer to transitional arrangements in the Bill. That is to say the preservation of entitlements of people who had entitlements before the Bill and we wish to see that those entitlements are preserved transitionally.

This amendment would mean that certain groups of Commonwealth citizens who immediately before commencement had an entitlement to citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies would have these entitlements preserved indefinitely. In the Bill, of course, the entitlement is for a five-year preservation. We are talking about those who are Commonwealth citizens settled here on 1st January 1973, who have remained settled here since then, and those Commonwealth citizens who hold the right of abode under Section 2(1)(d) of the Immigration Act 1971 by virtue of having a parent who is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, by birth in the United Kingdom, and their Commonwealth citizen wives, if they have been resident in this country, or in relevant employment or partly the one and partly the other, for five years.

The permanent arrangements for British citizenship envisage that adults who seek to acquire British citizenship should do so by naturalisation—and indeed we debated this in quite a lengthy debate on a previous stage of the Bill—save of course for British passport holders who will, under Clause 4 of the Bill, have an absolute entitlement to British citizenship after five years in this country. I put it to the Committee that it would be incompatible with these arrangements if a significant group of citizens of other countries were to have an entitlement to British citizenship for the rest of their lives, and that is why we are proposing to bring these entitlements to an end.

But we are genuinely anxious that this change should be made without undue dislocation or hardship. Accordingly, we have proposed that those Commonwealth citizens who hold these entitlements by virtue of having been here since 1973 should have the entitlements preserved for five years after commencement. That incidentally is comparable to the arrangements made in Clause 18 for the preservation of the same sort of entitlements for Commonwealth citizens through their ties with dependencies. Incidentally, the Government originally proposed that the entitlement should be for a period of two years, but it was changed to five years in another place and I think it is quite right that it was.

But we think five years is long enough. After all, most of those people who have an entitlement in this way will hold it because they have been settled here, as the noble and learned Lord has explained, before 1973, and they have remained settled. In most cases, they will have held this entitlement since the end of 1977, because the five years has been up at the end of 1977 at the latest, and in many cases for many years before that. These are people who will thus have had a considerable time before now, and certainly before the commencement of the Bill, to decide whether to exercise their entitlement to register as citizens, and will have five further years under Clause 6 of the Bill after the date of commencement.

There are also practical arguments against an indefinite extension. It would greatly extend the transitional period for the new citizenship arrangements. It would thereby cause confusion and uncertainty since an individual's avenue to citizenship could depend on his or her status many years previously, and it could be difficult for individuals to know where they stood.

May I just register what I think are three very important points. The first two are points of agreement with the noble and learned Lord. The noble and learned Lord said that this has nothing to do with immigration, with people coming into the country. I absolutely agree with the noble and learned Lord on that. I think he implied that it also had nothing to do with settlement. It has nothing to do with making people leave the country. Clause 6 has nothing to do with that at all. People who are settled here have nothing to fear in that respect. But then the noble and learned Lord went on to deploy arguments about the importance, so far as being able to move around in Europe is concerned, of being able to get citizenship and the importance of registering by entitlement and the certainty of doing that, as well as the finance of it to the person concerned.

It really seems to me that these are arguments for people looking at Clause 6 and saying to themselves, "Here is a clause which is trying to encourage us into citizenship. Let us avail ourselves of the clause and not leave this entitlement for years and years", as the amendment would have us do. It is part of the policy of this Bill that people who take up British citizenship should be willing to identify with this country's interests. It seems wrong that those people who are qualified and are living here should simply do nothing about it and then protest if, after a lengthy period, the entitlement is ended but they have done nothing at all about taking up their citizenship rights. This is really all that Clause 6 is trying to do; it is saying to people, "Here is your entitlement. Do go on and take it up".

May I finish by replying to just two important points which the noble and learned Lord made. The first is that the noble and learned Lord—if I may say so, absolutely rightly, I think—referred to Commonwealth countries which have become independent recently and what is going to happen to their citizens under these arrangements. The noble Lord referred particularly to St. Lucia and also to Antigua. The extra five years in the Bill are precisely designed to try to help countries which have become independent recently. As to countries which may become independent after the commencement of the Bill, we shall, of course, have carefully to consider those people from those dependencies who have settled here. But it is relevant that in the Belize Bill, which has just been going through both Houses of Parliament, people from Belize who have been settled here for five years will become British citizens. I suggest to the Committee that this may well prove to be an appropriate pattern for the future.

The other point which the noble and learned Lord put to me, and to which I think I must reply is, that in the noble Lord's view it could be argued that, compared with Clause 38, Clause 6 reflects some form of racialist intention. Clause 6, which we are debating, concerns a right to registration by people who are neither our citizens nor do they hold the right of abode in this country as yet. Clause 38 provides, among other things, that Commonwealth citizens who now have the right of abode should not lose it. With respect, I do not think the comparison between the two clauses is really apt. Clause 6 is giving people time in which to claim an entitlement. Clause 38 too is preserving an existing status for people who already hold it.

Finally, the noble and learned Lord referred to children, minors. We come to an amendment, No. 93A, when we have finished with this one, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt. I should like to give an assurance to the Committee that this amendment, which we shall be coming to, on children has been looked at very carefully by the Government. But perhaps we could leave the question of children. I would ask the Committee whether we could leave the question of children out of this particular argument and deal with it on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

Before the noble Lord sits down, I may not have heard him when he was dealing with the point I made about the EEC, perhaps because I was talking on a matter of the Committee's business with my noble friends, and I missed it.

Lord Belstead

I was venturing to suggest that the argument about the European Community is an argument against the amendment and for the clause. The clause endeavours to encourage people—by giving them another five years none the less—to get on and register as citizens if they have the entitlement. Subject, of course, to our negotiations with the European Community when the Bill has gone through, we can be pretty well sure that it will give such people the entitlement to move around in Europe as they want.

I genuinely do not see how the argument about the European Community can conceivably be an argument in favour of the amendment, which is to put off the right which people have to claim their citizenship for years and years ahead.

Lord Avebury

First, may I say that the noble Lord need have no anxiety about the length of his reply or that any objection will be a made by the Committee if he explains the Government's policy with equal thoroughness on the amendments which we are still to tackle, some of which are not concerned with transitional provisions, as the noble Lord suggested, but are of almost equal importance to this one.

I thought it was a pity that the Minister did not deal with the question of minors, because it struck me, as I listened to the noble and learned Lord, that this was possibly the most important leg of his amendment. The minors are in a position where they are not able to do anything for themselves within the five-year period which is stipulated by the Bill. Of course, it is a matter for the Committee, but I think it would have been preferable if we could have known what was in the Minister's mind at this stage, because it would certainly make a difference to my thinking if later on the noble and learned Lord was to decide that he was not satisfied with the Minister's explanation and that he wanted to press his amendment to a Division. If the Minister had it in mind to make some more permanent arrangements for the minors, this would certainly condition my thinking on whether or not to support the noble and learned Lord in a Division. Therefore, I attach a great deal of importance to that.

With respect, I think that the noble Lord's argument with regard to the EEC was a very difficult one to follow. Perhaps I may recapitulate. The noble and learned Lord was telling the Committee that if a person fails to exercise this right within the five years he forfeits it altogether and it becomes very much more difficult for him then to assume British citizenship by naturalisation, if he wishes to do so in order to enable him to move freely around the Community; that under the Bill he is not able to do that until he becomes a naturalised British citizen. I would simply remark in passing that the matter was dealt with in the Green Paper published by the former Government in April 1977. Paragraph 30 states: The establishment of a British Citizenship would make it necessary to re-examine in consultation with our partners, the present definition of United Kingdom national for European Community purposes. If the transitional arrangements suggested above were to be enacted, there would be some people who would become British Citizens but who have not the right of free movement under the definition now in force". It goes on to define who those people are. I have searched through the White Paper and I cannot find any corresponding paragraph dealing with the position which may result from the passage of this Bill.

Before we leave this particular amendment we need to know precisely where people will stand. It is an important right, and it may become even more so in the future as unemployment continues to rise and as more and more people find it necessary to seek work elsewhere in Europe. I should like to confirm something which the noble and learned Lord said, which may not be sufficiently within the Committee's knowledge. In doing so I would refer to what the noble Lord has just said about free movement and the argument, as he put it, for people looking at Clause 6 and, in effect, saying to themselves, "Let us avail ourselves of this privilege of being able to register within the five years so that we can go abroad to work in France or Germany".

The noble Lord must be living in another world if he thinks that immediately people in Birmingham, Handsworth hear the noble Lord on "Yesterday in Parliament", they will rush out to HMSO to buy a copy of the Bill, read Clause 6 and then at the earliest possible opportunity avail themselves of this privilege which is being conferred on them. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that there are many people who have been living in this country for upwards of 10 years who have not appreciated the arguments for and against applying for registration, because during that priod they may have been working hard, building up their homes and their families, and it has never been necessary for them to go abroad. They exercise all the privileges of citizenship in that they can vote, they are eligible for jury service, they can stand for public office, and so on. Therefore, the question has not arisen. However, with the passage of this Bill it now becomes very much more important.

I should like to raise another point, to which I should be grateful if the noble Lord the Minister, would address himself, and which it seemed to me he rather glossed over when dealing with the speech made by the noble and learned Lord. It is the question of cost. If someone does not exercise this right immediately, will it be the policy of the Government progressively to increase the fees so that the expenditure on people who are concerned with vetting the applications is fully covered by the income that they receive—the £50 or the £150, as the case may be, depending upon whether it is registration or naturalisation?

As I have pointed out to the noble Lord the Minister on earlier occasions, this is one of the few departments of Government which have been immune from any cuts. In fact, the number of people dealing with nationality applications has increased enormously. Their productivity has gone down. I make no apologies for making this point yet again. The noble Lord's colleague, Mr. Tim Raison, has on several occasions told me of the decisions of the courts in 1977, and particularly in the case of Zambia, which have resulted in enormous increases in the bureaucracy of the Home Office to deal with applications for naturalisation. I am afraid that the same will be true of the provisions of this Bill; that there will be enormous increases in the number of civil servants employed to vet the applications and this will be reflected in the size of the fees. So within a few years it will not even be £150, which is the figure that the noble Lord has just quoted; it might be £300 or £400.

Just how will it be possible for the unemployed person from, say Jamaica, living in Birmingham Handsworth, or Brixton to find the enormous sum of money that he will be required to produce in order to become a British citizen and exercise what the noble Lord the Minister called the privileges of becoming a British citizen? It will be very much more difficult for a Commonwealth citizen to do this in the future. I should have thought that there are few enough distinctions in our law which preserve the position of Commonwealth citizens as opposed to aliens; that when it costs nothing, as the noble and learned Lord has said, and when it contains bureaucracy within certain limits—although it does not abolish it entirely—the Government would have welcomed an amendment. I was very disappointed at the Minister's reply, but I am still prepared to give this matter of a time limit further thought so long as I can be satisfied that at least the Government do not intend to retain it as regards minors.

Lord Belstead

Before my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter speaks, it might be for the convenience of the Committee if I make it clear that what the Government wish to do on Amendment No. 93A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, is to try to meet that amendment. But before I can meet it I must obviously hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt. That is why I felt that as that is a self-contained subject—a most important one on children—it would probably be for the convenience of the Committee if we waited to debate it then. I must be absolutely straight about this: the effect of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, and the effect of this amendment are by no means quite the same. None the less, I leave it to the Committee to deal with it as they think best, but I should like to make clear my intention towards the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, at this stage.

5.40 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

For my part I think that what my noble friend the Minister has suggested by way of procedure is right: we should first deal with and settle this amendment and then proceed to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead. I rise only to ask my noble friend a question, and his answer may well be of help on quite a number of subsequent amendments in which the five-year limitation reappears.

My noble friend knows only too well, serving at the Home Office, that whatever limit—be it a time limit or any other type of limit—one lays down, there are inevitably on occasion hard cases which fall just outside it. In this particular instance it might well be the case of someone who has been very ill for a number of years and under medical treatment or supervision. There are other obvious possibilities. I ask my noble friend the following question: In such a case where there has been no neglect or fault on the part of the person concerned, where it is a genuine hard case, will it be the law, if we enact the clause as it stands, that the Home Secretary will be unable to grant registration? Will the five-year limit be a bar, or will his right honourable friend have a measure of discretion?

May I say ex abundanti cautela that I hope that when my noble friend replies to that question he will not seek to twit me with urging his right honourable friend to take a greater discretion, because in this case such discretion, if it exists under the Bill, will be a discretion which could only be exercised in the favour of some unfortunate case. I should like to know whether, if the Bill stands in its present form, it will be impossible for his right honourable friend in such a hard case to allow citizenship.

Lord Rawlinson of Ewell

Before the noble Lord replies to that question, I should like to say that I much agreed with him when he said that the extension which was made in another place from two years to five years in these circumstances was sensible. I think they were right to do that and I am glad that it is within the Bill. But is it not here an encouragement for persons to register? Does it not provide a great opportunity for those leaders of the Churches who have been taking an interest in this Bill, and who have told us their view about it, to assist any persons in their parishes to effect such registration? May we hope to see from the leaders of the Churches a campaign by their clergy throughout the country to help people to effect this registration? Indeed, this seems to me to be just the task which the Churches are best fitted to do. If it is said that some burden is imposed upon people to effect a registration—and the clergy seem to have been so critical of parts of this Bill—I would suggest that here is a great opportunity for the clergy in this country to be able to assist their parishioners by ensuring that they do become registered.

Lord Mishcon

I listened, as the Committee always does, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, with great respect. We find that he is a very profound supporter of the Government and the Government's view. However, I had to rise to my feet and exercise some imagination as regards a plea made by the Government to ministers of religion throughout the country to preach presumably upon the theme, "Beware the wrath to come; six months only is left!"

Is it really at all practical to look at this amendment save upon the basis that we weave a tangled web for the citizens of this country, many of whom do not understand and cannot possibly understand what is involved? Of course, with the best will in the world, some of us, if the Bill becomes an Act, will do our best to see that it is known among immigrant families, people who have settled here and people who regard authority—and it is such a pity but we know it to be true—as something one avoids because one does not get into trouble if one keeps away from authority. That is the mentality that I have come across in the small amount of race relations work that I have tried to do in a part of the world that I know pretty well and where there is a rather substantial ethnic minority. This is a pertinent point not only because of the parents but because, as has been mentioned previously, we are dealing also with children and their rights.

I can only advance the following short, cryptic reasons for looking at this amendment with some favour. First, do we want to try to get simplicity where we can? There cannot be anything more simple than to say that a right that you had by virtue of your being here before 1973 is a right which will subsist—everybody understands it. Secondly, do we want to increase the burden of work upon civil servants or to decrease it? Is it not a much simpler task for them merely to see whether somebody has the right under this clause or does not have that right?

Thirdly, do we want to walk into cases of hardship? The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, raised that point and I know that he will have realised, as he is so thorough, that if we look at the end of the clause we shall see that there is a right to extend cases under subsection (2) from six years to eight years in any special case. There is no right of extension given in the case of the subsection (1) cases with which we are dealing. That seems a little bit of an absurdity, to say nothing else. Do we want to provide for a longer period, as we must provide if we are to be logical, for the cases of hardship, so that we have another set of civil servants dealing with cases of hardship and then appeals from them, and Members of Parliament obviously being approached in order to try to transform a decision which was a negative one into a positive one?

The next matter that we must think about is surely that there was a promise—and it is understood by people because it was a simple promise—that nobody's right would be made the less by this Bill. In the other place there was a considerable amount of unhappiness when this clause was being dealt with. Indeed, so much was this so that there was a compromise reached and the compromise was that two years was turned into five years. I think that it is for this Committee, with its humanity and with its reviewing ability, to say that there ought not to be a time limit at all.

This is an extremely important amendment and I have not the slightest doubt that a great deal of time ought to be spent upon it. Bearing in mind the protection that we all want to give to those who have bona fide rights but who may suddenly find that those rights have been taken away from them by virtue of an omission—be it because of an illness or of negligence, or be it the fault of a parent who should have taken trouble but who has not done so and whose child will suffer for it—we should also like to consider in regard to those people—and this is the last point that I want to make; it is not an original one, because it has been mentioned before—that nobody ought to be the loser because he cannot afford to exercise a right. We have heard that if you go over this five-year limit you walk into fees at the moment of £150, and goodness knows what they may be hereafter. This is an amendment which ought to commend itself to the Committee.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

I think the way in which I can deal with this is to illustrate my own position. I was born in Grenada. Until Grenada became independent in February 1974, I was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. I came here as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and I had an English passport. My English passport, the last one before I needed to register, was in 1968. It was a 10-year passport. When Grenada became independent in 1974, it was reckoned that there was no need to do anything about it because I had an English passport and I could travel with it. in 1978 the passport lapsed, and therefore I had to do something. It was not until then that I registered as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, the point being that I did not have to register before February 1974, because until February 1974 I was a citizen of the United and Colonies by birth. That is the point.

I knew that as soon as Grenada become independent my status was changed. I can assure your Lordships that the vast majority of Grenadians who are living in Shepherds Bush, and so on, did not know that. This is the point about this particular amendment. What you are insisting on—and I was sad to hear the Government insisting on keeping this—is that people who, when these changes take place are not aware that they have taken place, should within a stated period become aware and in fact act on the knowledge. I cannot see why there is such a great need to insist on the five years. In fact, if you must put a time limit, then put 10 years. The reason why I would say 10 years is that it will in fact eliminate any person who could have that right, because you see a person who was born in 1972 will be 18 in 1990, and therefore up to 1990 you will have covered all these people if you put 10 years.

Frankly, I cannot see the need for this stated period. People have a right; in the 1971 Immigration Act the right was preserved. What the Act said in 1971 was that people who in fact had a right to register once they had lived here for five years, and who were living in Britain at the time of the Act coming into force, would retain that right. What the Government are doing in this Bill is taking that right away from them. They have given them a limit of five years, after which they lose it. Had there been a real, strong reason for doing so, one would understand, but there is no real, strong reason for doing so. They can afford to leave them with that right. Why insist on taking that right away from them after five years? The Minister mentions the right of abode. It has nothing to do with a right of abode. In 1974 I had a right of abode here; on the other hand, I needed to register as a United Kingdom citizen if I was going to be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, which in fact I was until 1974 when Grenada became independent.

There are lots of people who are going to be in that position. These islands have been becoming independent one after the other. In November, Antigua will become independent. Any Antiguan living here will have the same problem. If he had taken out a United Kingdom passport in July for 10 years his passport would not lapse until 1991, and really he is not going to think of doing anything about registering until that time because he can go all over the world with the passport that he now has. Therefore, there is no need for him to do anything, and he will not do anything. But in 1991, because of this Bill, he will no longer have the right to register, because the Bill gives him that right for only five years. Assuming that the Bill comes into force at the beginning of 1982, he will have that right only until 1987. After that it will be gone.

I really do not see why the Government are so persistent about this five years. I had a circular from the Caribbean High Commissioners and they pinpointed that as another example of the way in which Britain is proceeding to separate itself from the Commonwealth. The Government must have received that, because it was merely a copy of a memorandum they had sent to the Foreign Office. I read the debates in the other place, and I have listened to the Minister here. None of the arguments I have heard has led me to realise that there is any strong reason for insisting on this. I would beg the Government to think again.

There is no strong reason for insisting that after five years these privileges should lapse. There is no strong reason. Then why insist on it? If there is no strong reason for insisting on a particular line of action, why insist on it? I cannot understand what is behind all this, because there is no need. After all, they have the right. The right was assured when the 1971 Immigration Act was going through Parliament. It is assured here again, but for five years only.

Why five years? What is this big magic about five years? They have it. Once they are living here, and were living here in 1972 and were here for five years, they have a right to register as a United Kingdom citizen. I was chatting with the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, and she asked me whether I had registered. I said, "Yes". Apparently she has not, but she recognised that if she does not do it within five years she cannot. She has to be naturalised. She is a Member of this House! I really hope that the Government will give some thought to this matter and not pursue it. It is not an issue that is worth pursuing.

Baroness Birk

May I follow up on what some of my noble friends have said and the reply given by the Minister? The Minister said in his reply that five years is long enough. My noble friend Lord Mishcon pointed out that originally it was two years which was written into the Bill, and then it was made five years. What I fail to understand is why the Government should be sticking to something which is obviously not a principle. If the two-year period was increased to five, then the whole time limit is fairly flexible. We still have not had an answer as to why the Government are sticking on five years, when, as my noble and learned friend pointed out when he moved the amendment, all this amendment is asking for is to keep the status quo so that citizens could, if they chose, at any time obtain full British citizenship as distinct from settled status, and do so as a right without risk of refusal, and also, as has been pointed out, at a lower cost than having to wait for naturalisation.

The Minister accepted that there could be a feeling that Clause 6, when compared with Clause 38, appeared to many people to contain some racialist content. I am sure the Minister sincerely believes that not to be the case. But that, with respect, is not the point. The point is that thousands of people in this country, black and white, believe there is a considerable racialist content in the Bill. If the Government are anxious to dispel such fears, the least they could do is to accept those amendments which would not bring more people into the country but would simply allow those concerned to exercise the right about which we are speaking in their own time.

I will not rehearse the examples given by my noble friends, particularly by my noble friend Lord Pitt, of why the time limit of five years could be a tremendous drawback. Indeed, it could in addition mean extra work because if people realise they have only five years—this theme runs through many of the amendments—then, while they may not have wanted to apply anyway, they will do so knowing that at the end of that time there will be no extension. The chances are that they will take up the option instead of leaving it, simply because they feel that at the end of the five-year period they will have no other opportunity.

It is all very well to discuss a matter like this in relation to people who understand the subject, who know exactly what this is all about and know precisely what is going on. I should have thought, however, that the Minister would realise that one need only look at the various provisions in our housing, health and social security legislation to see that many people do not understand and appreciate their rights. Despite the amount of paper and information distributed by the various departments, that lack of knowledge about rights still exists. By making what is a complicated Bill even more complicated—by resisting an amendment which to us seems clear, natural and sensible—the Government are acting very strangely. Indeed, I was surprised to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, refer to the great opportunity, as he put it, for church leaders to assist their parishioners in view of the five-year period given in the Bill.

Lord Rawlinson of Ewell

I said that many of the clergy had been telling us about people coming to them expressing anxieties, and I hoped that this would provide an opportunity for them to assist their parishioners by helping those people to register.

Baroness Birk

That is what I thought I said the noble and learned Lord had said. If there was not a five-year period, they could exercise their right at any time. In any event, I am wondering whether this sort of thing is a task for the Churches. It would be nice to hear one of the right reverend Prelates on the subject. Is it their duty to try to act, as it were, as a go-between in this sort of situation, when I suspect that they would much prefer there not to be a five-year limit? I think they would much prefer people to be able to do this in their own time, whenever they choose to do so. Even so, that would not stop their parishioners coming to them for advice.

We have not heard from the Government a strong argument, one that holds water, against the amendment. The noble Lord has simply argued, with his usual skill and charm, for what only amounts to another piece of legislative red tape, one that will bring a great deal of upset, disturbance and unhappiness to a great many of our fellow citizens.

Lord Belstead

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her kind words to me. I do not seem to have been skilful enough to get over to the Front Bench opposite that the effect of the amendment would be to make the situation of claiming citizenship through the provisions set out in Clause 6(1), which are based broadly on the main provision—namely, that someone shall have been resident here before 1st January 1973 and shall have been ordinarily resident here after that for a period of five years—remain open indefinitely, and that would make matters more, rather than less, complicated.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead


Lord Belstead

Because as the years go by people would continually need to hark back over a long period of years to what their situation was maybe 15, 20, 25 or 30 years beforehand. In addition, I wish to make it crystal clear that what we are talking about is the right to claim an entitlement to which most people finally became entitled on 31st December 1977, because that was the five-year period after 1st January 1973. Therefore, most of the people about whom we are talking under Clause 6 have at the very least been entitled to claim citizenship of this country for getting on for four years, and many of' them for a great deal longer than that.

It is perfectly true that there are the most important additional categories of those who are members of Commonwealth countries which become independent after the commencement of the Bill, and I hope I have settled any concern which noble Lords may have by making the point that the five-year period for them will be most helpful. Those, for instance, like Antigua, to which the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, referred, can be dealt with (and it is the Government's intention so far as, for instance, Antigua is concerned, so to deal) in the same way as the people of Belize have been dealt with, I think wholly to their satisfaction, in the Belize Bill which has just been going through Parliament.

Noble Lords have asked why the Government want Clause 6. We genuinely want people to identify with this country. We want them to take citizenship so that they will have the full rights which, throughout the country, we have heard so much about in connection with the Bill; so that people will take their full rights of citizenship both at home and—if we are talking about the EEC and other parts of the world—abroad; and I am bound to say that in terms of good relations within this country, it is surely right to suppose that people who are settled here and are entitled to have citizenship of this country, should in fact claim it. I find it an extraordinary argument—I must say I have been surprised by this debate—that in some way it should have been said that we are against the claim of citizenship, when in fact the whole intention of Clause 6 is to urge people to take it.

My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked me a direct question about hard cases, worthy cases. There is no power at present to grant cases put in over the time limit, but I would remind my noble friend that, once again, we are talking about people almost all of whom have for four years or more had this entitlement, on to which another five years will be added. Therefore, we are not talking about a door suddenly being closed on people with an entitlement. I would add to that, that of course the people who are covered under Clause 6(2) are the same people who are covered under Clause 6(1)(b), except that they have not yet been here for five years, or have not been in relevant employment, or partly in the one and partly in the other. For them there is the special entitlement in subsection (6), that a period of six years can be extended to eight years.

The only point I would add is that on many occasions during the course of proceedings on the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has referred to the need to advertise what its effects would be, and while perhaps I have not responded in as forthcoming a fashion as the noble Lord would have wished, I think that this is the moment when I ought to do so. Whenever the noble Lord has mentioned this point I have thought that he has been absolutely right, and I give an assurance to the noble Lord that it is the intention of the Government, if both Houses of Parliament pass the Bill on to the statute book, that every effort will be made to see that the facts of the case in the Bill are brought to the attention of people.

I would, however, support what my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson of Ewell has said. If it is true what noble Lords opposite are saying—that there is great concern about this particular clause—I do not think that it should be particularly difficult for those who are leaders of opinion around the country to bring the true facts of the effect of Clause 6 to the notice of people. The effect is that after the commencement of the Bill, if it becomes law, they will have yet another five years to claim an entitlement to citizenship, which the Government very much hope they will take up.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Will my noble friend add to his reply to me by saying that before the Report stage he is prepared to consider introducing in respect of subsection (1) a discretionary relaxation parallel to that which, as he has pointed out, already exists in respect of subsection (2)? I am not asking him to commit himself, but surely there is a certain logic in dealing with both of these limitations on the same basis. While my noble friend is no doubt right in saying that there will be very few hard cases under subsection (1), I think he would hesitate to say that it is impossible for there to be any. Some of us might feel easier in mind if there were a parallel provision in subsection (1) to that which the Government have very sensibly inserted in respect of subsection (2).

Lord Belstead

It would be dishonest if I did not say this. The difference between Clause 6(1)(a) and Clause 6(1)(b) is that the people covered in paragraph (a) have definitely had their entitlement since, at the very latest, 31st December 1977, whereas the people covered in paragraph (b), who are then dealt with again in subsection (2), could be clocking up their entitlement and had not yet achieved the period of five years of either residence or employment, or partly the one and partly the other. It is for that reason that the special arrangements to make it a 6-year period for them, to be extended, if necessary, to eight years, if the Secretary of State thought right, were included. As my noble friend says, it is perfectly true that there is an extra twist to the story in that the six years can become eight years, and on that ground I would certainly look at the matter, but it would be wholly without commitment. It would be dishonest of me not to warn my noble friend that it would be very difficult to make a move on this point. If my noble friend would be satisfied with that, I shall look at it, but it would have to be without commitment.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

I confess that I have been very disappointed by the answers given by the noble Lord the Minister to this important amendment. We are discussing people who have lived in this country for at least eight years and who under our present law have the right to remain here permanently. That is their legal right now. The passage of the amendment would simply mean that those permanently resident Commonwealth citizens, when they wished to take advantage of the possibility of registration, could do so, if they so chose at any future time, including when they became aware of the machinery and of the value of doing so.

When I was appointed Lord Chancellor, the first report that I received from my advisory committee referred to the immense number of people in this country who had no knowledge of what were their rights. Secondly, they had no knowledge of what to do about enforcing their rights, and the third conclusion of my advisory committee was that there was a need for a massive extension of legal aid and advice. That related to our own people who, one might have thought, would have been aware of the benefits of the welfare provisions of recent legislation, whereas there was a massive lack of knowledge of those rights. If that is true of the citizen who is not faced with the transformation that the sudden granting of independence to a country might present him with, then is it surprising that people in that situation, due to ignorance, illness or poverty, might well simply not be able to take advantage of the registration procedure?

I am bound to say that the suggestion that some special duty should fall upon the clergy, as distinct from anyone else, to act in this matter surprised me a little. As the noble Lord the Minister indicated in his reference to the importance of publicity, this is essentially a matter in which at any rate the maximum effort should be made; but it cannot be wholly successful.

As I understand it, it is conceded that the amendment can do no harm. It is conceded that it can have no adverse effect on immigration. It is conceded that it can have no adverse effect on the new British citizenship. There is some faint criticism that it does not have the same pattern and detail as the naturalisation provision. Why should it? The amendment would allay suspicions and fears. It might well be that those suspicions and fears are exaggerated—I know not—but they will certainly not be diminished if tonight your Lordships do not support the amendment.

6.17 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 92) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 93; Not-Contents, 102.

Airedale, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Amherst, E.
Ampthill, L. Loudoun, C.
Avebury, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Balogh, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Banks, L. MacLeod of Fuinary, L.
Barrington, V. McNair, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Mayhew, L.
Birk, B. Mishcon, L.
Bishopston, L. [Teller.] Nathan, L.
Blease, L. Northfield, L.
Blyton, L. Ogmore, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Oram, L.
Briginshaw, L. Peart, L.
Brockway, L. Perth, E.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Rhodes, L.
Chelmsford, Bp. Robbins, L.
Chitnis, L. Rochester, Bp.
David, B. Rochester, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Seear, B.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Shepherd, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Shinwell, L.
Foot, L. Simon, V.
Gaitskell, B. Stamp, L.
George-Brown, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Gifford, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Gladwyn, L. Stone, L.
Gore-Booth, L. Swinfen, L.
Gregson, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hale, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hampton, L. Thurso, V.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Tordoff, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Underhill, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]
Hughes, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Walston, L.
Jacques, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
James of Rusholme, L. Whaddon, L.
Janner, L. White, B.
Jeger, B. Wilson of Langside, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
John-Mackie, L. Winstanley, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Kinloss, Ly. Wrenbury, L.
Lauderdale, E. Wynne-Jones, L.
Lee of Newton, L.
Abinger, L. Kimberley, E.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Kinnaird, L.
Annan, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Avon, E. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Bellwin, L. Long, V.
Belstead, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Bessborough, E. Luke, L.
Bradford, E. Lyell, L.
Bridgeman, V. McFadzean, L.
Cairns, E. Macleod of Borve, B.
Campbell of Croy, L. Mancroft, L.
Cathcart, E. Margadale, L.
Chelwood, L. Marley, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Cockfield, L. Mills, V.
Colville of Culross, V. Milverton, L.
Colwyn, L. Monson, L.
Craigavon, V. Mottistone, L.
Croft, L. Mountgarret, V.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Davidson, V. Moyne, L.
De La Warr, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Northchurch, B.
Digby, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Dilhorne, V. Pender, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Rankeillour, L.
Eccles, V. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Ellenborough, L. Reigate, L.
Elles, B. Renton, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Rochdale, V.
Energlyn, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Faithfull, B. Salisbury, M.
Falkland, V. Sandford, L.
Ferrers, E. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Ferrier, L. Shannon, E.
Fortescue, E. Sharples, B.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Geoffrey-Lloyd, L. Soames, L.
Gormanston, V. Strathcarron, L.
Gray, L. Sudeley, L.
Greenway, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Gridley, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Trefgarne, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Trenchard, V.
Trumpington, B.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hatherton, L. Vickers, B.
Henley, L. Vivian, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Windlesham, L.
Kemsley, V. Young, B.
Kilmany, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.26 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead moved Amendment No. 93A: Page 7, line 33, leave out ("both at commencement and").

The noble Lord said: This is an extremely important amendment, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I delay the Committee a little in explaining it. As the Bill now stands, Clause 6(1)(a) reads: that, if paragraphs 2 and 3 (but not paragraph 4 or 5) of Schedule 1 to the Immigration Act 1971 had remained in force, he would (had he applied for it) have been, both at commencement and on the date of the application under this subsection, entitled under the said paragraph 2 to be registered in the United Kingdom as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies". What this Bill is saying, apropos of what we were talking about earlier, is that if a Commonwealth citizen had in fact been living here five years and had been entitled to register at the commencement of the Act and at the date of application, he would have that right reserved for five years.

Why I am moving this amendment is because the words "both at commencement and" mean that any youngster would in fact not be entitled, because Section 6 of the 1948 Act says: Subject to the provisions of subsection (3) of this section, a citizen of any country mentioned in subsection (3) of section one of this Act"— and that is all Commonwealth countries— or a citizen of Eire, being a person of full age and capacity, shall be entitled …"; and I do not need to read further. Then, in Section 7, dealing with minors, it says: The Secretary of State may cause the minor child of any citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies to be registered as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies …". I hope your Lordships appreciate the difference between the two.

The Commonwealth citizen of full age and capacity who has lived here for the requisite period—at the time of the Act it was one year, in 1962 it was made five years—has an entitlement. If, however, he is a minor, then the Secretary of State may register him; and this registration depends on an application made in the prescribed manner by a parent or guardian. In other words, it is dependent not only on the discretion of the Secretary of State but on the parents' or guardian's taking action. Therefore, those words, "both at commencement and", effectively deprive all Commonwealth youths under 18 of a right to register. Of course, the parents may register their children, but, from my knowledge of what goes on, many children may not even be in touch with their parents. Therefore, there will be no way in which the parents can do anything about registering them. I am talking about children aged between 16 and 18, although sometimes the break between parents and their children comes even earlier.

But the fact that parents can register their children is not all that significant, for the pure and simple reason that there may not be the sort of relationship between the parents and their children that would allow that to happen. If the words in question are left in this clause, those youngsters would be deprived of their entitlement to register as British citizens. It is a right that their parents have and which they too will have when they reach the age of 18, but so long as they are under the age of 18 they do not enjoy that entitlement. If the words "both at commencement" are left in, these youngsters will have had to be born in 1962 or before. Anyone who was born after 1962 will not have that entitlement.

I want your Lordships to appreciate that we are now talking about the most important group of Commonwealth citizens that we have in this country, because we are talking about the Commonwealth citizens who have grown up in this country. If they were born here then, of course, everything will be all right, but I am thinking of those children who were born in a Commonwealth country but who have grown up in this country. They see themselves as being British, but just those few words "both at commencement" will in fact deprive those children of their right to British citizenship. That is my reason for asking your Lordships to accept this amendment.

I was glad that when the noble Lord the Minister spoke to the previous amendment he hinted that he was thinking of dealing sympathetically with the amendment now before your Lordships. I am glad of that because I believe that this issue is one of extreme importance. If I may repeat myself, this matter is one that affects the most important group among Commonwealth citizens—those children who are growing up in this country, who have grown up here, and who know no other country. They may have come here when they were toddlers or infants but they know of no other country. This is their country—but their British citizenship depends on whether their parents wish them to be British. I mentioned earlier that there may not be much rapport between the children and their parents, but the fact that the parents do not want to be British does not mean that they should deprive their children of their opportunity. This is what might happen with the wording of the Bill as it is at present.

The children should have that right preserved. The words "at the time of application" should be enough, but if the clause retains the words, "at the commencement" it means that when the Bill becomes law, the children must be aged 18 to enjoy entitlement. If you retain the words, then you will deprive a very important group of youngsters of their rights. Your Lordships may not realise that the youngsters will take that deprivation very seriously and that could be a source of considerable discord. I am asking your Lordships to accept this amendment in the understanding that this matter is one that affects a group of our citizens who are of the utmost importance to us all. I do not believe there is anything more that I need to add. The Home Office believes that the fact that the parents can register their children is enough, but many of these children do not have any rapport with their parents and they need to have their rights preserved. The way in which those rights can be preserved is by leaving out the words which are the subject of this amendment. I move.

Lord Belstead

Three of your Lordships have put their names to this amendment in addition to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, and so I thought that it might be for the convenience of your Lordships' Committee if I indicate that having heard the speech made by the noble Lord I should like to accept the amendment on behalf of the Government.

Clause 6 is the first of several clauses which make transitional provisions for existing citizenship entitlements. It is true that the noble Lord's amendment could arguably be said to extend the scope of Clause 6 somewhat, but I believe that the noble Lord has made a most convincing argument for showing that, if not in the letter of the law, at least in the spirit of the law his amendment is in fact preserving and not extending a right.

I should only like to add that my understanding is that Commonwealth citizens who register here can claim the right to register their children. The difficulty which the noble Lord has put forward is that, although that may be so, there are cases when that does not happen. As I understand the noble Lord's argument, that means that in such cases as those which the noble Lord has explained, when the registration entitlement has not been taken up by the parent or guardian—the only people who can take it up—then in effect the child is placed in an impossible position and can do nothing about it. The effect of the noble Lord's amendment is that when the child concerned reaches the age of majority, he or she could then claim to be registered four or five years after commencement, which the Bill allows. I accept on behalf of the Government that this is a desirable objective and, having heard the noble Lord's speech, the Government have no hesitation in accepting this amendment.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

It would be less than gracious if I did not thank the noble Lord the Minister for accepting my noble friend's amendment. I am disappointed that his eloquence and persuasiveness is obviously far more effective than mine was when speaking to the previous amendment—although it was a pretty narrow thing. Nevertheless, we do thank the Government and I hope that it is a harbinger of more good things to come. The night is young and we wait at least full of hope, if not of total confidence, for further favours to be savoured.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

I should just like to join my noble and learned friend in thanking the Minister. He has done a good deed today.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.40 p.m.

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 93B:

Page 7, line 44, at end insert— ("; or (c) that he was horn before commencement outside the United Kingdom to a mother who was at the time of the birth a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies and who became, or would have become but for her death, a British citizen at commencement.").

The noble Lord said: I seem to have arrived at this amendment at a propitious moment with the Minister in such an excellent mood. I think I am correct in saying that the previous amendment seems to be the first amendment of substance which the Government have accepted, and I am delighted. I think the position of the children is probably the most important element in the amendment moved earlier by the noble and learned Lord. I hope that a similarly enlightened view is going to be taken by the Government to the children who are the subject of this amendment—that is to say, children who are born before commencement to mothers, United Kingdom citizens at the time of their birth, and who would have become British citizens at commencement.

At the moment, if a child is born to a United Kingdom citizen mother in a Commonwealth country that child is a patrial and is therefore eligible to be admitted to the United Kingdom without restriction. But if the mother gives birth in a foreign country, then that child is not entitled to come here. It has been recognised by the Government that this distinction is one which should be eliminated. In paragraph 52 of the White Paper they say that they think any distinction between births in Commonwealth and foreign countries can no longer be justified. Under the Bill it is provided that a British citizen mother can transmit her citizenship to a child wherever it may be born and then, as a consequence of that, it has a right of entry into the United Kingdom.

We are removing an element of sex discrimination which has been contained in the law in the past in that only one parent, the father, could transmit citizenship as of right. I am sure that everybody now agrees that it is a good thing that the Government are doing that. There is no logic in our accepting the principle that a woman may be able to transmit British citizenship to her child whether born in a Commonwealth country or a foreign country, and at the same time impose this arbitrary limit of the date of commencement of the Bill on the children who are going to benefit from that provision.

If I may refer to paragraph 51 of the Green Paper, it is said there that the Government think it is clearly right that in future women should transmit citizenship to their children born abroad on equal terms with men, and that they will propose accordingly in the Bill. If it is right from the commencement of the Bill onwards, why is it wrong that children born up until the date of commencement should not have the same privilege? Is it not easy to see that, whatever the date of commencement may be, a child born on the day before commencement is not going to benefit from these provisions, whereas a child born immediately after commencement will. It is to remove this anomaly and extend the pure milk of the principle which the Government have so rightly followed in this Bill that I beg to move my amendment.

Lord Belstead

This amendment would mean that for five years after commencement, a person born overseas before commencement to a woman who becomes a British citizen on commencement (or would have done so had she not died), would be entitled to British citizenship on application. The noble Lord has explained the underlying reason, which is that the Bill establishes equality from the point of view of the sexes in nationality matters in the future after commencement. If the noble Lord will forgive me, I shall not go into enormous detail although his amendment raises very real problems. The noble Lord says: "Why is it not right to go into the past?" My answer is two-fold. The first is that I do not think that this amendment, if it is right, actually belongs here at all, since this subsection is concerned to preserve entitlements held under our present nationality law, and those who would benefit from this amendment do not have this entitlement.

The anomalies raised by this amendment are severe. If I may give an example, the amendment would give an entitlement to British citizenship to anyone whose mother becomes a British citizen (or would have done so but for her death). This would include a woman who becomes a British citizen through a tie with this country through a grandparent. Her son or daughter will, under this amendment, be entitled to British citizenship and the right of abode here, though their nearest direct tie with this country is through say, their mother's grandfather or their great-grandfather.

But a person whose father becomes a British citizen through a grandparental tie with the United Kingdom has no such entitlement under the Bill. If born in a foreign country, he may hold citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies by consular registration; but since he himself will have no tie with the United Kingdom closer than that of a great-grandfather, he will not have the right of abode in the United Kingdom before commencement, and will not become a British citizen on commencement. He will probably become a British overseas citizen and be able to seek British citizenship under Clause 4; that is true. It will not by any means be on all fours with the situation which the noble Lord would have set up so far as people descended in the female line are concerned. So, we would have a situation in the third generation born overseas, where a person whose connections with the United Kingdom lay through his or her mother had an unqualified entitlement to British citizenship for five years after commencement, while those who had similar connections with the United Kingdom through their fathers could only acquire British citizenship after meeting various residential requirements and, in many cases, by meeting the various naturalisation requirements.

This really puts into a rather large nutshell the reason why this is a very difficult amendment. We are the prisoners of our past. This illustrates the inherent difficulty of trying to unpick the past. An amendment designed to ensure equal treatment between the sexes with the best will in the world ends up by placing those with links through the United Kingdom through their mothers in a better position than those who have links with the United Kingdom through their fathers. I am in no way criticising the noble Lord. He is attempting a complex task which is bound to lead to the anomalies that I have tried to outline.

Lord Avebury

I want to say two things. One, the noble Lord the Minister said that the amendment does not belong here because the clause preserves an entitlement whereas what I am trying to create is a new entitlement. Am I correct in saying that the former Home Secretary, Mr. Merlyn Rees, did as a matter of discretion grant citizenship to the children of British women overseas under certain circumstances which may not have been precisely the same as those which are envisaged in this amendment? Am I not therefore preserving an entitlement which was not conferred on these people as of right but as a matter of discretion by the predecessor of the Secretary of State?

If there were people who were capable of benefiting from that provision of Mr. Merlyn Rees, which I think dated from some time after the Green Paper, and who did not exercise their rights, then should we not incorporate some provision into this Bill to enable them to do so in future? I quite accept that there may be criticisms to be levelled at the drafting of the amendment which I have tabled, but I think that the noble Lord the Minister knows perfectly well what I am trying to do.

May I draw him out a little and ask him this straight question: What will happen to children who would have been eligible for the concession announced by Mr. Merlyn Rees, but who have not yet taken advantage of it at the commencement of this Bill? Will we, within the terms of this clause, preserve their entitlement, and will the noble Lord accept that that is the reason why I tabled this amendment in its present place?

Lord Belstead

The Merlyn Rees concession is no longer necessary after the Bill has become law, because of transmission in the future through the female line. But the answer to the question which the noble Lord has asked me, about what happens to children who are too old to be registered under the concession for minors, is absolutely straightforward. It is that children who are of age and wish to become British citizens, and who have not under the concession been registered already, should do so through naturalisation.

Lord Avebury

But what about the children who were adults at the time when the former Home Secretary announced his discretion? What is their position then?

Lord Belstead

I am speaking off the cuff, but I think that the answer is precisely the same as the one I have just given to the noble Lord. Again, that avenue would be through naturalisation.

Lord Avebury

I shall have to return to this matter at a later stage. In the meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.52 p.m.

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 94: Page 8, line 3, leave out ("made (subject to subsection (6)) within six years after commencement").

The noble Baroness said: Subsection (2) deals with the entitlement now held by patrial Commonwealth citizens to register as citizens of this country once they have lived in the United Kingdom for five years. This is a right which all Commonwealth citizens had before the passage of the 1971 Immigration Act, and which was preserved in that Act for patrials, whether they arrived here before or after the Act came into force.

As your Lordships know, Commonwealth patrials are citizens of other Commonwealth countries whose father or mother was born in the United Kingdom. Here they are mostly people from Australia, New Zealand and Canada; but they also include some white citizens of Zimbabwe, Kenya and other countries, and some Anglo-Indians. In practice, this subsection will apply to any of these people who have already settled in the United Kingdom and who have not yet registered here as citizens. As the Bill stands, the Commonwealth patrials will be entitled for only six years, with a further two years at discretion, to register after the commencement. After that, they can become British citizens only by naturalisation.

On the principle which the Government have kept on pressing, but which does not appear to come out very much in the Bill, that this Bill ought not to remove existing rights, we are proposing that their entitlement should be preserved for their lifetime. We are consistently throughout this Bill attempting to preserve existing entitlements, wherever possible, instead of cutting them off after a few years. Amendment No. 92, which was only just lost, was designed to try to deal with that and, fortunately, the Minister has been able to tell us that the Government have accepted the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Pitt, which also deals with the time factor.

What we should like to see is the division between patrial and non-patrial disappear completely, because, in effect, it has always been a racial dividing line between various Commonwealth citizens. We have tried to retain the entitlement of the non-patrials and, similarly we now ask that patrial Commonwealth citizens' right to register should remain. I am very sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, is not in her place, because as she has been speaking as an Australian citizen she would probably have been happy to support this amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a little joy and light on this amendment, which seems to be something to which the Government will be more likely to agree. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

If I may say so with respect to the noble Baroness, it seems to me that her amendment is self-defeating, because subsection (6) creates a concession and one which I should have thought ought to be welcomed.

Lord Belstead

I was about to say the same, but I did not like to be quite so adventurous because I thought I had got it wrong. But as my noble friend Lord Renton invariably gets it right, I think that, at the moment, that is my reply to the amendment.

Lord Mishcon

May I just add to the general confusion, which is my task in life? As I understand it, subsection (2) has in it a limitation in time; namely, the six years, followed by the discretionary eight in subsection (6). Am I not right in thinking that the concession to which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred is a concession which my noble friend was in no way regarding as unwelcome? She was merely regarding as unwelcome the fact that it is limited to the six-year period, and thereafter to the eight years by discretion. If, as I have pointed out before, I am, as usual, wrong in my interpretation, then I am sure that someone will point it out to me. But I believe that that is the sense of the amendment.

Lord Belstead

Perhaps it would be helpful if I just said this. The difference between the periods of time which are proposed in Clause 6 for the entitlements to remain valid—five years, six years and eight years—is explained in this way. The five-year period deals with the case where someone has an entitlement at commencement, and we believe that it is reasonable to give that person five years in which to claim that entitlement. But subsection (2) covers people who acquire their entitlement at different points of time after the commencement of the Bill.

The period of six years is defined to give them all an opportunity to complete the required period of residence, or partly work and partly residence, and then to apply for citizenship. Someone who completes his or her five years early on in the six-year period will have longer in which to apply than someone who began to reside here only just before commencement. But everyone will have at least one year to apply under subsection (2), and subsection (6) acts as a safety net in allowing the six-year period to be extended to eight. This could well be used for those who became entitled late on in the six-year period and had good reasons for not applying before the end of it.

That is the way in which the machinery works. It may well be that the noble Baroness is right and I am wrong. But if both the intention and the effect of the amendment is simply to sweep away the period completely, I must oppose it on the same grounds as I opposed the noble and learned Lord's original amendment. I realise that expectations should not be abruptly removed. In our view, however, six years should be amply long enough to avoid cases of hardship. The extra discretion of the two additional years to make it eight years makes this particular provision, I should have thought, perfectly reasonable.

Baroness Birk

When the noble Lord, Lord Renton, rose to his feet I was completely thrown because when he speaks I immediately think that I must be wrong. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Mishcon for rescuing me. The intention of the amendment, as the Minister said, is to do away altogether with the limit whether it be five, six or eight years. Whether, looking at it again, the amendment is perfectly drafted in order to cover that purpose I am not altogether sure. Nevertheless, that was its intention. In those circumstances, I shall not press the amendment. I shall withdraw it, have another look at it and, if necessary, come back on Report if we want to continue with the intention. We shall then make sure that the wording of the amendment meets what we are trying to achieve.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead moved Amendment No. 95A: Page 8, line 37, leave out subsection (6).

The noble Lord said: I was tempted not to move this amendment but I thought I should, merely in order to say that if there is to be a discretion over the six years, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, we should have it over the five years. I hope that the Minister will consider my amendment, I am moving it merely in order to throw this particular pebble into the pool. I beg to move.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, is taking a rather roundabout course to his objective. On an earlier amendment I founded my argument for a little flexibility over the five-year limit on the basis that there was already in the Bill some flexibility over the six-year limit. If the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, should succeed in his amendment he would knock my argument out of the water. Therefore I very much hope that he will not press it. If he does, I shall with the greatest confidence vote against it. I hope that my noble friend, despite his somewhat grudging undertaking with respect to looking at the question of subsection (1), is going to do what the Government are sensibly and generously doing in subsection (6), for the doing of which they have my warm support.

Lord Mishcon

I rise with some haste in order to stop the Minister from accepting the amendment.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

I was not expecting the Minister to accept the amendment. I wanted him merely to give an undertaking.

Lord Mishcon

Anybody who knows the noble Lord, Lord Belstead—and it is a pleasure to know him, in whatever part of the House one sits—knows that he is capable of doing the most surprising things. I want to avoid his accepting this amendment, which would mean, as I am sure my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead understands, that the discretion was removed to enlarge the six years to eight. In those circumstances, I have not the slightest doubt that if, having aired the view that he did most correctly, my noble friend with his usual sagacity asks for leave to withdraw the amendment, it will be graciously given.

Lord Belstead

It only remains for me to say on this amendment that the position of the Government is that we feel there are bound to be people who had a legitimate expectation of acquiring citizenship as an entitlement in this way—by "in this way" I mean the clocking-up of their entitlement over a period of five years, having not done so on commencement—and who for one reason or another fail to exercise their entitlement even within the six years after the Bill comes into force. Therefore we attach importance to the extra two years. On those grounds, I hope that the noble Lord who moved the amendment will perhaps reconsider it.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

All I was trying to get out of the Minister was an undertaking that in effect the grudging undertaking which he gave to his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter would be more generously given to me. However, in the same way as the Government will exercise some discretion over the six years they will, in fact, do it over the five. That was the point of my throwing it into the pool. I had hoped that the Minister would see it in that light and find that this was an opportunity to say that the Government will look at both issues. I see the point about the six years being allowed to become eight. I sec also several points as to why the five years should become 10. I merely hoped that the Minister would say that he could foresee that there would be difficulties and that the Government were prepared to look at it all. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Skelmersdale

In this atmosphere of obviously total confusion, may I suggest that this would be an appropriate moment to adjourn the Committee for 40 minutes in order to have some dinner and some recharging of the batteries. I beg to move.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.6 p.m. until 7.45 p.m.]

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7 [Registration by virtue of marriage.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Nugent of Guildford)

The next amendment is No. 96 and I should warn the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to it will pre-empt Amendment No. 97 and I shall not be able to call it.

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 96: Page 9, line 1, leave out ("made within five years after commencement").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment would do nothing to alter the new system of naturalisation for spouses of British citizens, a system which has now been established in Clause 5. What it would do, however, is to maintain an existing right held by women married, before commencement, to British men. Here in Clause 7 we have another example of the Government's removing an existing right, despite their frequent claims that nobody settled here will be worse off under this Bill.

At present, a woman married to a British man acquires immediately on marriage the right to register as a citizen here. She does not have to live in this country, nor is any period of residence required. She has the free option of becoming British any time she wishes to do so. This choice respects her right to decide her status for herself and at the same time guarantees the position of those wives who want to become British. A woman married to a British man has the right of entry and settlement here already and will continue to have it, but a woman who is an alien, say an American, or an Austrian or a Polish woman married to a British man, may want to be able to vote here or to stand for a local council or to take a job in a Civil Service department, but in order to do any of these things she will have to become British. On the other hand, she may simply want to identify herself with her adopted country and the new naturalisation procedure will be a real barrier to many women.

As we pointed out in the debate on Clause 5, a British man working abroad who marries a girl that he meets in the country where he is employed may not be able to bring her back here for three years to establish her residence for naturalisation. If his job keeps him abroad it could be quite impossible for them to come over here. It is absurd and cruel and also expensive to expect him to send her here and to live on his own for three years, so that she may establish a residence in this country. If he is working in an EEC country and his wife is a national of a country outside the EEC, she may want to get a job as well and not be able to do so if she is not an EEC national; and because of her marriage she will hardly want to go and look for a job elsewhere. In fact the main chance is that she will need to have it on the spot if she is to work and also sustain her marriage and be with her husband. Those already married who have arranged their lives on the basis of the existing law will have a strong and well-justified complaint.

Further, the removal of the right to register will affect many Commonwealth wives, too. For example, take the case of a wife from a small village in Bangladesh; in some cases she will have difficulty in passing the language test for naturalisation. A Jamaican woman whose British husband is a journalist or an export salesman may have difficulty in fulfilling the residence requirement which, as the Bill stands at the moment, is only to be waived where the spouse is in Crown Service or designated employment. The Government must surely appreciate that all sorts of anomalies will arise. For a woman married to a man working in India for the British Council, assuming that that is going to be a designated employment, will be able to be naturalised without residing in the United Kingdom, while a woman married to a man working in India for an Indian Government engineering project will not.

By accepting this amendment, the right of women already married to register without worrying about the residence rule will be preserved, and preserving this entitlement would, in addition, save the Home Office a great deal of work. It would save the Government expense, since it is quicker to process the registration entitlements that exist than it would be to process naturalisation. This Bill as it stands, and unless this amendment to this clause is accepted, will create a vast expansion of bureaucratic procedures to do with citizenship, and the delays, already very serious, must certainly get worse. As we know, it already takes about two years from the date of application to get citizenship, and this, I would safely guess, will soon lengthen to three years, given the increase in applications the Bill has stimulated and the extra work the Bill's provisions will make. We can do something in this House to cut down unnecessary new work and expense, and above all the human burden of long waiting lists, of uncertainty. We are having a system changed which people are quite used to, and which belies what the Government have said all the way through, that this Bill gives greater equality to women. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

These amendments, as the noble Baroness has explained, would preserve indefinitely the provisions in Clause 7 of the Bill which cover certain women who are currently entitled to their husband's citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies under Section 6(2) of the British Nationality Act 1948. They will continue to be able to acquire our citizenship on more favourable terms by virtue of the marriage, some still as an entitlement, others at discretion, because their marriage no longer subsists and their links may no longer be with the United Kingdom at all. Clause 7 provides for this phasing out of the current entitlement to take place over a period of five years, whereas the effect of this amendment is that it would last indefinitely.

The Bill provides that we should aim to achieve full equality of treatment between men and women in nationality matters as soon as is reasonably possible. If I may say so with respect to the noble Baroness, the matter which the noble Baroness has not mentioned in her very persuasive argument is what you do about the position of men on marriage if you are going to treat women in the way that they would be treated under the effects of this amendment. The answer to this was given absolutely clearly in the discussion paper from the previous Government in 1977. If one looks at the previous Government's Green Paper, one finds there, in paragraph 50, words which gave the clearest warning of what the consequences of this amendment could be. Paragraph 50 stated: To give men married to citizens the same automatic immediate entitlement to citizenship as women would have some undesirable consequences, because any Commonwealth citizen or foreign national would be able to acquire citizenship and the right of entry to the United Kingdom simply through marriage to a British citizen. There could be an encouragement to bogus marriages, particularly where a foreigner was aware of being in danger of deportation, which his acquisition of citizenship would prevent, and, more generally, to securing entry ostensibly for some temporary purpose but really with a view to marriage or permanent settlement". As a result of those words of warning, which came from the previous Government's Green Paper—I realise it was a discussion paper, but nonetheless they were words of the clearest warning—the Bill decided that the avenue to give equality of treatment was by enabling a man or a woman on marriage to acquire British citizenship by naturalisation after a period, of only three years, instead of five, which would give an advantage over the normal naturalisation requirements.

But we realise that women who at the moment have an absolute and immediate entitlement to citizenship on marriage must obviously be looked after properly, and this is what Clause 7 is doing. We are providing in the clause for the transitional entitlement for women to continue for a period of five years. I think, if I may say so, that that is fair. There is no question, I should have thought, and certainly the noble Baroness has not argued it, that men should be brought into the five-year provision, because of course they do not have the entitlement at the present time. What the Opposition are arguing is that women should have this absolute entitlement to citizenship on marriage. I would say to the Opposition, if you are going to do this under this amendment, you have got to look at what you do with men, and the warning of what would happen is contained with absolute clarity in paragraph 50 of the Green Paper. That is a road down which certainly the present Government are not prepared to go at all.

Lord Avebury

Since the noble Lord has really extended the discussion to the case of what happens if you confer the same privileges on men as on women, perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I said a few words at this stage not only about the noble Baroness's amendment but also about my own Amendments Nos. 97 to 99. I apologise for not having been here at the beginning of the speech of the noble Baroness; I think I heard all but two minutes of it.

I must say to those who arrange these matters that 40 minutes is not enough time to drive to Victoria, to eat a Big Mac and chips and return to your Lordships' House. One really needs 45 minutes for this purpose. If I may say so to those who organise these things, it can get very boring if one always has the same food as one has been getting here night after night. Carefully prepared though it is, it does tend to be rather similar on successive evenings.

I think the extension of this period of five years is absolutely necessary. I quite take the point the noble Lord was making in relation to the Green Paper, and I shall come on to that in a moment; perhaps we do have to look at that matter. If we take the amendments I have tabled, first of all I have sought to eliminate the words "within five years" at the beginning; and then in the main part of my amendment what I have done is to provide for the continuation of registration and its application to spouses of either sex, and to allow the registration of men in circumstances where at the present time women would be entitled to it.

Obviously, one has to take into account the possibility of the bogus marriage, as the noble Lord pointed out, and the warnings that were given in the Green Paper, to which reference has been made. But I think the noble Lord should also take into account the changes in the rules for immigration which have been introduced since then, which have enabled the Home Office to grant entry for the purpose of marriage first of all for a period of three months, and then for a further period of one year, at the end of which time a check can be made by the authorities to see whether the marriage is a genuine one. Only at that stage is indefinite leave to remain granted.

Therefore, although I did not agree with the way in which these rules were framed—and I strongly opposed them at the time—they do introduce a new element into the equation which was not present at the time of the Green Paper. In other words, the Home Office has a test which it can apply to ascertain whether a marriage is genuine or bogus. So all it needs to do is to lay down that an application for registration, as provided for under my amendment, shall not be submitted until the person has been granted indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. That, I suggest, would be the way to bring spouses of both sexes into line. I hope that, on reflection, the noble Lord will agree that it overcomes the objections which were certainly present in April 1977 but which no longer exist in July 1981.

Lord Belstead

If I may say so, the noble Lord's remarks overlook the desirability of a three-year period for naturalisation for both husbands and wives. Not only is the three years a concession—and I do not really like using that word because I think that it is a perfectly natural movement, so far as citizenship on marriage is concerned, and of course I think that it should be shorter than for other people—but in addition a husband or wife seeking citizenship by naturalisation does not have to say what his or her intention is so far as residence is concerned. Therefore the matter is very much easier so far as people who are getting citizenship by marriage are concerned. But the noble Lord overlooks the desirability of the naturalisation procedure. If someone has waited for the comparatively short time of three years, then not only does the country which is conferring the citizenship upon the person—in other words the United Kingdom—know that that person is someone whom they wish to have as a citizen, but in addition the person who is applying for the status of British citizen will know that that is what he wants himself.

As the Committee will very well know, there can be great difficulties if British citizenship is conferred automatically upon people at marriage. It will mean in certain cases, and I believe in the case of Indian people, that they simply lose their Indian nationality, because there are countries, of which I believe India is one, which do not allow dual nationality which of course this country does. Therefore, with respect to the noble Lord, I do not think that the arguments which he has put forward in support of his Amendment No. 99 are valid for the reasons I have given.

Lord Avebury

if I may say so, we are not talking about an automatic acquisition of citizenship: we are talking about registration. I do not think that the noble Lord could have read the amendments properly or else he would not have referred in such terms to my Amendment No. 99. I am providing that the spouses of either sex will have to make the application before they will be entitled to the registration. So we shall not get citizenship being conferred on people who do not want it, and the case of the Indian citizens to which the noble Lord referred was a complete red herring.

Having had to rise to my feet to make that remark, I should like also to refer to Amendment No. 98 which I had omitted to deal with in my remarks. That amendment deletes paragraph (c) on page 9 which requires that in order to satisfy the provisions of subsection (1) a woman has to have been married to the person concerned throughout the whole of that period. I put this down as a probing amendment because I wanted to ask the Minister why it was necessary to have such a provision in the clause at all. Is it not perfectly reasonable that a person may have contracted a genuine marriage and it may have broken up through no fault of that individual? Does not the clause, as at present drafted, make it impossible for that person who has had a break up of his or her marriage through no fault of his or her own, to acquire British citizenship? Is this not heaping an additional disadvantage on somebody who may already have suffered considerably through the break up of a marriage?

Lord Belstead

I should like to reply to that point. This is supposed to cover the situation where, for instance, a woman, after her marriage has ended, may well have remarried and settled abroad in her own country or have gone to live in the country of her second husband, or she may, for other reasons, have totally left this country and maybe will never come here again. In those circumstances it seems very reasonable that the power for conferment of citizenship should be at discretion.

Lord Avebury

What if she has remained here all the time? Supposing she has not gone to another country? Supposing her marriage has broken up and she has remained in the United Kingdom? What happens then?

Lord Belstead

Then the discretion will be exercised, no doubt in her favour.

Lord Mishcon

I should like to return to the amendment that we are supposed to be discussing, although I well understand the logic of bringing in another amendment which deals with the right of husbands. It is an extraordinary situation when, certainly in a section of this Committee, we are I imagine, trying to encourage respect for the status of marriage; yet on nearly every occasion that marriage has been mentioned in connection with this Bill we have heard references to specious marriages and we have been asked to beware of them—this in an age when we learn with some distress that one out of every three marriages in this country goes awry. In those circumstances it seems a little odd that we should not try as best we can to see that marriages that are made—with the very rare exceptions of the specious ones that might creep in—are encouraged to be stable marriages by not having a difficulty in regard to nationality.

I do not want to argue this amendment upon the basis of bringing in a new law. I have no doubt that I might have great difficulty in persuading your Lordships' Committee that that was a proper thing to do at this stage. All that I want to do—and this is the argument of my noble friends and those who support us—is to ask the Committee to see that what exists as our law is not in fact interfered with. We all know that it is an existing right. Anybody who marries a British citizen is entitled, as of right, to register—if she be not British already—as a British subject. Now to impose another time limit of five years upon this sort of situation seems to us, at all events, to be completely and absolutely wrong.

The noble Lord the Minister had an opportunity on a previous occasion in regard to a case put with his usual persuasiveness by my noble and learned friend—indeed, the Committee and the Government had the opportunity—of making a gracious concession in regard to that five-year period. The opportunity was lost so far as the Government were concerned, but I do not think that the Committee necessarily feels that the argument was lost bearing in mind the numbers in the Division. If I remember correctly, I think that there was a Government victory by nine votes, and I see that my arithmetic for once is confirmed. In those circumstances this—if I may put it this way—is a follow-on amendment, and on this of all days I hope that a follow-on will be turned into a victory.

This is an opportunity for this Committee and for the Government in particular to say now, in regard at all events to this amendment, "We are not going to alter the law. We are going to see in this House that this right of a wife to obtain British nationality through her husband shall remain and there shall be no time limit in regard to it." This is a great opportunity for the noble Lord the Minister to show a gracious appreciation of the rights of women—I would almost say a chivalrous appreciation of the rights of women—and I hope that he will do so and that it will not be necessary to test the opinion of the Committee. But if it has to be tested, I hope that noble Lords will also remember their chivalry when they go into the Division Lobby.

Baroness Birk

Frankly, I am not very impressed by what the Minister said in reply to me when I moved this amendment. He relied very heavily on paragraph 50 of the Green Paper, which he was good enough to say was a discussion paper. The Green Paper was produced in 1977. A great deal of thinking has taken place since then and I really believe that there has been a change in many people's minds as regards marriage, sex equality and race discrimination. Therefore I think that we can move away from that arguable position. What worries me is that it is an odd sort of equality which means that you take away the rights of one sex in order somehow to produce more equality for the other sex. We should be thinking about not taking away the rights which women have at this moment and making life very much more difficult for them. Here we must bear in mind that there is a difference between men and women in this matter. There has been a slight change in recent years, but not very much. On the whole, the woman goes with her husband, for it is usually his work that is the primary work of the two people. So if his job is abroad, she goes with him. That happens to be the custom now, although it may not be in years to come.

Therefore, the three years' residence condition makes it very much more difficult for her than if it were the other way round, and he were able to work it in with his employment. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, at the moment the immigration rules act as a great stop on the man's eligibility for the sort of equality for which we are arguing in this amendment. Nevertheless, in this Bill we should be trying to get away from this awful bogey all the time of bogus marriages, as though that is a way of life for a great many people and something that they will try to do above all other things. We should make it simpler and assume—because it happens to be the truth—that most marriages are genuine, and then go on the basis of the many criteria that are laid down.

However, I think that it would be absolutely wrong, not only as regards sex equality but as regards equity and justice, to put—as this clause does now—women in a much worse position than they are at the moment. We do not want to make their position worse in order to try to cope with the alleged problems—and I do not agree that there are so many problems—that are produced all the time by the Government. We should see what can be done that way, either by means of the amendment which is to be moved later by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, or by some other form of words. At this moment I shall not deal with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to which he has spoken, but I shall have something to say on that later. It is, I think, rather a different amendment. As I intend to press this amendment, unless the Minister has had a change of mind, I think that at this stage we should confine it to Amendment No. 96.

8.14 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 96) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 56; Not-Contents, 76.

Airedale, L. Chitnis, L.
Avebury, L. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Barrington,V. Collison, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. David, B.
Birk, B. Elwyn-Jones, L.
Bishopston, L. [Teller.] Evans of Claughton, L.
Blease, L. Ewart-Biggs, B.
Boston of Faversham, L. Fisher of Rednal, B.
Brockway, L. Gifford, L.
Chelmsford, Bp. Gregson, L.
Hampton, L. Peart, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Phillips, B.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Rochester, Bp.
Hughes, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Simon, V.
John-Mackie, L. Stamp, L.
Kirkhill, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Lichfield, Bp. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Stone, L.
Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Thurso, V.
MacLeod of Fuinary, L. Tordoff, L.
Mayhew, L. Underhill, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Mishcon, L. White, B.
Nunburnholme, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Oran, L. Winstanley, L.
Paget of Northampton, L.
Avon, E. Kinnaird, L.
Bellwin, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Belstead, L. Long, V.
Boyd of Merton, V. Loudoun, C.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Lyell, L.
Bridgeman, V. McFadzean, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Macleod of Borve B.
Cathcart, E. Mancroft L.
Chelwood, L. Margadale, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Marley, L.
Cockfield, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Colville of Culross, V. Monson, L.
Craigavon, V. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Croft, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Nathan, L.
Davidson, V. Northchurch, B.
Denham, L.[Teller.] Nugent of Guildford, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Orkney, E.
Dundee, E. Pender, L.
Eccles, V. Rankeillour, L.
Ellenborough, L. Renton, L.
Elles, B. Rochdale, V.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Sandford, L.
Faithfull, B. Sandys, L.[Teller.]
Ferrers, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Fortescue, E. Soames, L.
Gray, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Gridley, L. Strathclyde, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Tranmire, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Trefgarne, L.
Trenchard, V.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Trumpington, B.
Hatherton, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Vickers, B.
Hylton-Foster, B. Vivian, L.
Kemsley, V. Windlesham, L.
Kilmany, L. Young, B.
Kinloss, Ly.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 97 not moved.]

8.23 p.m.

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 98: Page 9, line 12, leave out from ("renunciation") to end of line 13.

The noble Lord said: I think it is worth spending a couple of moments on this just to pursue the answer which the Minister gave more or less as an aside in the previous discussion, when he said that it would be undesirable to confer a right to apply for registration on women whose marriages had broken up and who had remarried and emigrated to some other country.

If I may say so, I can see no reason at all why the person who has remarried should not be entitled to register in this way, while as far as the women who emigrates to a third country is concerned, I think that it would not be beyond the wit of the draftsman to take care of that by providing that if a women did not remain married to her husband throughout the period in question then she had to be resident in the United Kingdom at the end of the period in order to submit such an application for registration. I think that that would overcome the noble Lord the Minister's argument that it would be possible, if you simply deleted paragraph (c), that women who had no remaining tie or connection with the United Kingdom could nevertheless apply for registration.

I hope with that modification of the argument which I put on the previous occasion the Minister will at least say that he will take this away and look at it, to see whether he can find a suitable form of words before the Report stage. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

We would like to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, because as he pointed out, I think the Bill as it stands does take away the entitlement to registration of a wife who was widowed or divorced within five years of the commencement. I feel it would be very hard on a woman who had just undergone the shock of her husband's death or of a divorce, when, at this sort of time in her life with that type of tragedy, she needs a sense of security in order to rebuild her life and needs to remain where she is among her friends. She needs to find that she has not lost any entitlement to become British. Any of these doubts or problems would add unnecessarily to her burden. At present a woman who has been married to a United Kingdom citizen husband has the right to be registered as a United Kingdom citizen herself, even if her husband has died or the couple have been divorced. Again, what we are asking for in this amendment is that the current position should still obtain under this Bill, and that the woman in these circumstances should not be put in the position mentioned by the noble Lord.

Lord Belstead

I do not wish to appear churlish but I am afraid my answer remains the same, or more or less the same, as the one that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in the middle of our debate on Amendment No. 96 when the noble Lord raised the matter. I think that under the circumstances which this amendment covers it is right that there should be a discretion. Of course, if somebody is in sad circumstances, their marriage having broken up because their husband has died, or indeed if the marriage has broken up because divorce has occurred, if they have real links with the country, obviously, the discretion would arguably be exercised in favour of the applicant. In saying that, I am not tying any future Secretary of State but I am saying that arguably the discretion would be exercised in that way. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, speaks a little as though there would be nothing left for the wife concerned. This of course is not the case at all.

Then, after a period of five years, we are saying in the Bill that we believe that men and women should be treated in exactly the same way; the avenue for citizenship should be on marriage through naturalisation. But I would just like to repeat, in case the Committee forgets, that the naturalisation requirements for men and women on marriage are not the same as for single people; it is a three-year period to wait, not a five-year period, and there is no requirement for a husband or wife to say that they intend to live in the United Kingdom. The matter is therefore a very great deal easier. However, that is going rather further then the effects of the noble Lord's amendment and, despite the fact that the noble Lord has moved it skilfully—no, ingeniously, because the noble Lord put forward an ingenious suggestion and he has been skilfully supported by the noble Baroness—I am afraid I cannot give any encouragement on this amendment.

Baroness Birk

May I say something before the noble Lord sits down? Why do the Government all the way through seem to want to complicate matters more and more and why are they going to make it more and more difficult for the ordinary person, or even the extraordinary person, to understand what this Bill is about? Why, if as he himself said, there was a particularly sad case—and I was aware of this—should there be the Home Secretary's discretion? On what basis will that discretion be given? Surely all these cases that I was talking about even generally must be sad cases. Do you have to show that you are a bit more upset than somebody else? Do you have to show that your divorce was harder, that your husband died in more painful circumstances? Frankly, it all seems to me to be most unnecessary to have to put people to all this trouble and—and I shall keep reminding the Government—the Government to extra expense and more bureaucracy, which I thought this Government were trying to reduce, in order to make all these complicatons.

Then again, we have different naturalisation criteria on marriage. Everything just adds to the load. If the Government's objective was to increase the expense of dealing with citizenship, if they also had the objective that they wanted to increase the number of civil servants employed, if they also wanted to increase the cost to the citizen as well, then this is exactly what this Bill is doing, but I thought that this was contrary to Government policy.

Lord Belstead

Before we leave this amendment, let me remind the Committee what it is that the Opposition are saying in general terms on this clause. The general attitude of the Opposition is that there should be an absolute entitlement upon marriage for husbands and wives. At least I assume it would be for husbands and wives because, so far as I know, both sides of the Committee agree that there should be equality between the sexes in nationality matters when a new Bill goes upon the statute book. That would mean that we would run into the difficulty that if a wife had citizenship conferred upon her immediately and automatically upon marriage, she would find that she had perforce lost her original citizenship. I do not think that is a very good idea.

Now may I come to what the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has just said on the amendment. The noble Baroness says, why are matters being made difficult? They are not being made difficult. But may I again put the point that if you have somebody, a wife, whose marriage has come to an end because her husband died or because the marriage was terminated, and she marries somebody else and makes her life on the other side of the world and never comes back again, is it not sensible that there should be a discretion for her naturalisation and not an absolute entitlement?

8.32 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

I wonder whether the Committee thinks that I am exaggerating if I say that amendment after amendment on this Bill takes us through the very cold cloisters that I find so strange. We are dealing with human beings, both at the Home Office and outside the Home Office, who are the applicants in this case. I personally would prefer that many people found themselves in the position of marrying and going abroad and severing their links with this country, having once been married to a British subject, and finding themselves with British citizenship, rather than that a few people found themselves in the absolute misery of uncertainty, relying either upon discretion or upon a naturalisation application.

Let me go into a little more detail on this, because we are losing our sense of perspective. Let me deal with the question of naturalisation. We are regarding that as a perfectly simple matter—I am not going back on the question of fees—where you write in to the Home Office and say, "Please, I want to be naturalised. I have looked at the clause in the Bill which is the relevant one. I think I satisfy the qualifications, and please naturalise me."

I happen to be, as other noble Lords are, a practitioner who has to deal occasionally with these naturalisation applications. I will tell your Lordships what the position is now, let alone after this Bill becomes an Act and there are so many more applications for naturalisation than ever we have had before. Before the industrial trouble, I had in my office at least three very deserving applications for naturalisation, courteously acknowledged by an acknowledgment card by the Home Office. Then, after goodness knows how many months of asking what was happening I got, in regard to all three of them, a letter which said—and it was a common form letter—that the preliminary conditions had been satisfied; that there were a great number of applications pending; that sending reminders to the Home Office only made the delays much worse, and would probably take the application out of its proper order because of the letters that were written, and therefore one was in a far worse situation if one dared to remind the Home Office that one had not heard, and one's client had not heard, about the matter for some time.

I am going to ask the noble Lord the Minister—and if he cannot reply now we are, happily, again together as a very good company tomorrow in order to deal with precisely the same Bill, and no doubt he would be kind enough to have the reply by tomorrow—how long he estimates an application for naturalisation is going to take before there is a response, either firmly affirmatively or firmly negatively. I have an idea from my own professional experience that we are dealing not with a question of months but with a question of years.

The situation that I am trying to bring before the Committee is this: it is not the question of a lady finding herself in rather unfortunate, or indeed it could be tragic, circumstances and going along, be it to a doctor, a lawyer, a bank manager, or to a clergyman, to say, "Please, I understand that I have to have the Home Office's discretion exercised in my favour, otherwise I walk into all sorts of difficulties. Could you help me with a little letter and support my plea, because obviously I don't want to lose the idea of being British. The whole of my married life has been spent in this country with a British subject, and unfortunately something dreadful has happened to our marriage", or "unfortunately my husband has died".

Do your Lordships think that the exercise of discretion by way of relieving this lady's sense of insecurity is going to be achieved within a matter of weeks or months?—because I am telling you here and now that just is not so. As I have said, I know there is an argument that a few people might drift off; and one wonders why they ever wanted to have British nationality because their allegiance is now elsewhere. All right, what a tragedy for us all if that happens! But the real tragedy concerns the few people—it may be the few people—who suffer. The Committee ought to be thinking of those at this stage.

What we are talking about is only this: do you give a right, or do you cause the whole of the machinery of the Home Office to come into operation?—with recommendations for discretion passed from one official to another official; with somebody ultimately taking the responsibility for saying "Yes", or "No"; then a Member of Parliament brought in, writing I have no doubt an eloquent and moving letter; the Minister calling, I hope, for the file, and I hope not being satisfied that it would be perfectly all right if he merely signed a letter which is also worded by the civil servant who may have made the original decision. That is the sort of machinery we are bringing into operation, and I ask myself, why?, when all that one has to do is to give this as an entitlement.

I ask the Minister not, as I said, to reply as he always does, not only with courteous but with clear language—and if all Ministers, and I mean this most sincerely, knew their subject as much as the noble Lord does, it would be a greater pleasure to deal with Bills in this House—but for understanding. I am not asking him for an intelligent appreciation of the brief in front of him. I am asking him, knowing his department as he does—and I pay tribute to that department; I am in no way criticising it—and knowing how departmental machinery has to work, is it sensible that we keep on in this Bill dealing with the exercise of the Secretary of State's discretion, and the need to apply for a naturalisation, the procedure for which is one that grinds on and on and on, and only ultimately with some amount of sputtering comes out of the Home Office machine with either a "Yes" or a "No"?

Lord Avebury

If the Minister does not intend to answer that eloquent plea, perhaps I should say in conclusion that we are here dealing with a group of women who at the commencement, or immediately before it, would have been entitled to be registered as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, whose husbands became citizens at commencement, but who did not remain married to their husbands throughout the whole of the period between commencement and the date of their application. The two reasons for that have been given: either the woman has been bereaved and become a widow, or her marriage has unfortunately been terminated through divorce or annulment. The Minister is in effect saying that a woman whose marriage has come to an end in that manner—either through the death of her husband or as a result of going through the divorce courts—shall be deprived of the right to register which is conferred on all other women married to British citizens at the time of the passage of the measure and for the first five years after it comes into operation.

In my view, that is profoundly unsatisfactory, and for the Minister in his reply simply to repeat the argument he had advanced earlier, when we were discussing a previous amendment—that as it stood, my amendment could be applied to a woman who remarried and went to live overseas; a woman who, as the Minister said, might make her life on the other side of the world—showed that the only reason he had for objecting to the amendment was that it would extend the privilege of registration to such women when, as he said, it was better to retain the Secretary of State's discretion, so that one could grant the applications of those women who had been bereaved or divorced so long as they were still resident in the United Kingdom.

He went on to say that the argument we had advanced on that point was ingenious (for which comment I am most grateful to him) but he did not deal with the substance of it—namely, why it should be so difficult for the Home Office to agree that that should be written into the Bill—and that we should have a proviso saying that, at the end of the period, the woman was ordinarily resident, if you like, within the United Kingdom; that she had been at commencement entitled to register as the wife of a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies; and that, on that basis, she would have an absolute entitlement to British citizenship under the Bill.

I really do not see what the difficulty is here. However, it seems that we will not take the argument much further tonight because I believe the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has no discretion to accept amendments, however good the arguments may be. The arguments have been overwhelmingly on the side of this amendment and therefore, as no arguments are likely to impress the Minister, I should like to test the feeling of the Committee, and hence I will press the amendment to a Division.

8.43 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 98) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 51; Not-Contents, 83.

Airedale, L. Boston of Faversham, L.
Avebury, L. [Teller.] Brockway, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. [Teller.] Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Chelmsford, Bp.
Birk, B. Chitnis, L.
Bishopston, L. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Blease, L. Collison, L.
Craigavon, V. Mishcon, L.
David, B. Peart, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Phillips, B.
Evans of Claughton, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Rochester, Bp.
Gifford, L. Rochester, L.
Hampton, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Simon, V.
Howie of Troon, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Hughes, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Stone, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Strabolgi, L.
John-Mackie, L. Thurso, V.
Kirkhill, L. Tordoff, L.
Lichfield, Bp. Underhill, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Wells-Pestell, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. White, B.
MacLeod of Fuinary, L. Winstanley, L.
Mayhew, L.
Avon, E. Kinloss, Ly.
Bellwin, L. Kinnaird, L.
Belstead, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Bethell, L. Long, V.
Boyd of Merton, V. Loudoun, C.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Lyell, L.
Bridgeman, V. McFadzean, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Cathcart, E. Margadale, L.
Chelwood, L. Marley, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Cockfield, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Colville of Culross, V. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Craigmyle, L. Nathan, L.
Croft, L. Norfolk, D.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Northchurch, B.
Davidson, V. Nugent of Guildford, L.
De La Warr, E. Nunburnholme, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Orkney, E.
Donegall, M. Pender, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Rankeillour, L.
Dundee, E. Renton, L.
Eccles, V. Rochdale, V.
Ellenborough, L. Sandford, L.
Elles, B. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Elliot of Harwood, B. Sharples, B.
Faithfull, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Ferrers, E. Soames, L.
Fortescue, E. Stamp, L.
Geddes, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Gowrie, E. Strathclyde, L.
Gray, L. Swinfen, L.
Gridley, L. Tranmire, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Trefgarne, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Trenchard, V.
Trumpington, B.
Hatherton, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Vickers, B.
Hylton-Foster, B. Vivian, L.
Kemsley, V. Windlesham, L.
Kilmany, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 99 not moved.]

8.52 p.m.

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 100: Page 9, line 15, leave out ("made within five years after commencement").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is rather similar to, but is a different version of, Amendment No. 98. The amendment increases the Secretary of State's discretion beyond the five years. The Bill gives the Secretary of State discretion to register as British a married woman whose British husband has died or has been divorced from her, but only for a 5-year period. On another amendment the Minister reminded me about the discretion, of which, I hasten to say, I was aware. This amendment would extend the discretion for the woman's lifetime, and it would mean that for someone who did not find out the position within the 5-year period there would be an opportunity to make application.

The Government were not prepared to accept Amendment No. 98, which was the wider and broader amendment, and it seems to me that this amendment reluctantly accepts that in future such applications will be dealt with at the Home Secretary's discretion. It provides for the discretion to be available indefinitely, not merely for five years after commencement. That seems to be an awfully nice half-way house. I hope that the Minister will be very strongly tempted to accept it and so cheer everyone up and make himself feel good about it as well. Having said that, I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

First, the good news. Of course the Government entirely accept that there should be transitional arrangements so that women who are currently able to apply for their husband's citizenship, but who have not exercised their entitlement, do not face undue hardship through a sudden change in their situation But—and here we are talking about one of the discretionary parts of the clause—we do not believe that it would be compatible with our overall objectives to provide for either the entitlement or the discretionary arrangements to go on indefinitely.

Now, the not-so-good news. As the Committee will appreciate, our main objective is a clearer and a more logical citizenship which does not treat the sexes differently; and the sooner that that is achieved, the better. In saying that, I am not just being bureaucratic. I have to repeat yet again that if the noble Baroness wishes to do what she is trying to do in the amendment, she would, I should have thought, have to think of doing very much the same for men. That is an aspect of the argument to which the noble Baroness never seems to address herself, although she addresses herself with great skill and persuasiveness to the rest of the argument.

But I have to put all the pieces of the argument together, and I believe that the five years that are provided for in all of the three different parts of Clause 7 will be sufficient for women married to our citizens before commencement to decide whether they wish to apply for their husband's citizenship. Accordingly, I oppose the indefinite extension which is proposed here, in the same way as I had to oppose the indefinite extension when it was proposed in Amendment No. 96.

Lord Renton

I wish briefly to support my noble friend on this point. When people are given the right to do something in the circumstances envisaged here—which of course are transitional arrangements—they should be encouraged to get on with it and exercise the right. If there were no limitation period at all, people could very well be dilatory in asserting their own cause. Therefore, surely it must be right to encourage them to get on with it. After all, they have plenty of time; five years is a fair amount of time in which to establish their rights.

As one who had responsibility as a Home Office Minister,—admittedly a good many years ago, but the circumstances do not change all that much—I should like to point out that it helps enormously if people do not delay for too long. It should be borne in mind that especially when things are traditional various points have to be proved before the rights can be established. It helps the administration considerably if people do not delay for too long. The longer the delay, the more difficult it is for them to prove that they have the right, and the more difficult it is for those in the Home Office to establish that they have the right. Therefore, with the best will in the world, and taking fully into consideration the good motives which the noble Baroness has in mind, I hope that she will bear these considerations in mind; they are very practical.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

It was unfortunate no doubt for the Committee, and perhaps even for the noble Lord himself, that he was not here at the beginning of our proceedings today when we went into this interesting question at considerable length. All I can say is that the swamping of the Home Office by steps having to be taken which are not really necessary in any public interest will really disturb the Home Office more than anything that has happened for a long time.

Lord Renton

In answer to the noble and learned Lord, I should like to point out that I was earlier attending a meeting of Sub-Committee E on European legislation. It was a rather important meeting, which lasted an hour and a half, and that was the only reason why I could not be in your Lordships' Committee, and—

Lord Elwyn-Jones

I was not at all implying any criticism of the noble Lord; the loss was entirely that of your Lordships' Committee.

Lord Belstead

I think I ought to say on behalf of my noble friend Lord Renton that without realising he was echoing it, my noble friend has been good enough to show me that I was, I hope, on the right lines when earlier today I attempted to point out some of the difficulties which would arise as the years go by when people claim entitlements, as they would under the present amendment. It could be years and years later, and there is then opportunity for subterfuge. But, more practically and more reasonably, there is room simply for genuine doubt, as my noble friend has quite rightly pointed out.

The noble and learned Lord of course has every entitlement to remind me and my noble friend of the difference so far as workload is concerned between discretionary cases and entitlement cases. But I think I ought to say that I think the discretionary cases under Clause 7 will in fact be treated, probably, very like entitlement cases so far as the time taken is concerned, because it will not be necessary with them to go into the question of record in the way that is necessary in naturalisation cases. One does not have detailed inquiries of that kind.

What we want to know in these discretionary cases is whether the person who is applying for discretion is in fact going to keep a link with this country or is going to disappear to the other side of the world and is never going to come back again. It really is going to be like that. For that reason, my noble friend is not so far off the mark as the noble and learned Lord was trying to suggest so far as workload is concerned. I thought I ought just to draw that to the attention of the Committee.

Baroness Birk

I have listened very carefully to what the Minister said, and to the noble Lord, Lord Renton. I do not find it very satisfactory. We are still back to this arbitrary choice of five years; and it is a very moot point whether, when you have a long (as there will be) backlog of applications, it creates the most work, or whether it is when you have it spread over, so that people are not put in the position of having everybody who knows about it coming forward in five years, at the same time having a lot of unhappy, discontented people who are outside the time span.

As for the question of discretion, the Minister says, rather complacently, "It will not take longer than this or that". I think it is all going to take a tremendously long time. Each complication is going to elongate the process; and when we are talking about elongating the process we have to remember that we are not just talking about the posting of letters, the opening of documents by clerks, putting them at the bottom of a pile and so on. We are talking about people who are very anxious about their particular status—where they belong; their citizenship—waiting anxiously, day after day, to hear from the Home Office, not knowing what is going to happen to them. I think that in a country where, at the moment, we have problems of race relations, to add the sort of uncertainty that this Bill does is extraordinarily inappropriate and very insensitive. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

Before the noble Baroness sits down, may I point out, if she thinks that everybody is so worried and so anxious about the whole situation, that surely they can make up their minds within five years.

Baroness Birk

This is rather trying to make something very specific when people do not know where they are. There are a number of groups of people. There are people who will not know anything about it or what to do. A number of examples were given this afternnon, notably by my noble friend Lord Pitt, of people who will not have the least idea that they in fact have not got British citizenship. Then there are the people who are worried about it all and do not know how to start attempting it; and then there are the people—and I should think there are millions of them—who will find it almost impossible to find their way through this Bill and what their rights are.

Finally, we have not had on any amendment which has been moved in this Committee a proper answer as to why the Government are making a limit of five years. There just has not been an answer; and this was shown very strongly on the main amendment, No. 92, when people from all over the Committee— unfortunately, not enough of them—joined us in the Division Lobby.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Earl Cathcart)

In calling Amendment No. 101 I should advise your Lordships that if it is passed I cannot call Amendment No. 102.

[Amendment No. 101 not moved.]

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 102: Page 9, line 28, leave out ("made within five years after commencement").

The noble Baroness said: As to this amendment—honestly, this must be sheer dedication, because I know the answer I am going to get—it would mean that even if entitlement to registration goes, a discretion to register married women would overcome sonic, though not all, of the problems. The trouble with the discretionary power here is that it might be seen to be used arbitrarily, and therefore some applicants who refuse it would feel aggrieved, many of them perhaps justifiably. Moreover, the uncertainty and anxiety the loss of entitlement would bring would remain unless and also until a discretionary registration had been granted. That is for perhaps two or three years before the reply came through. But it would at least mean that some women who are unable to pass the language test or to fulfil the residence requirements might get citizenship under this amendment when otherwise they would have lost all chance of ever getting it. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

I am genuinely sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness, but I am afraid I cannot give any comfort on this particular amendment. Indeed, I think this is the least deserving of all the amendments. I will not go through the effects of Clause 7(3), but any of your Lordships who cared to glance at subsection(3) I believe would agree—I hope so—that this is the sort of case where there should be discretion; a discretion not to try to do somebody out of something which they ought to have, but discretion in order to make sure that if the woman who is applying for citizenship under discretion really is going to maintain the close links and is going to want the citizenship, then it can be accorded to her.

But to leave this matter open for the whole of the lifetime of a woman, when what we are endeavouring to do is to make Clause 7 into a transitional provision and then to put the rights of men and women on an exactly equal basis, is something which I think would cause a great deal of trouble to this Bill; and it is this particular part of Clause 7 that I think would be the least appropriate point in which to put this particular amendment.

Baroness Birk

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Right to registration by virtue of father's citizenship etc.]:

9.8 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter moved Amendment No. 102A: Page 10, line 1, leave out ("within five years").

The noble Lord said: This amendment also raises—although in respect of a slightly different subject matter—the question of the five-year limit which your Lordships' Committee has been discussing in a very wide variety of contexts. However, at the outset I can assure my noble friend Lord Renton that were your Lordships' Committee to adopt this amendment it would not have the result of causing anyone to be dilatory. The five-year limit relates to the time when a person is born and it is a little difficult to contemplate how any human being can expedite the date of his own birth. Therefore at least this amendment is free of that criticism, which my noble friend Lord Renton used most effectively against an earlier amendment.

The effect of Clause 8 is to bring to an end after five years the well-established practice under which a British father abroad could register his child as a British citizen with the local consular authorities. That system is well understood and has proved to be a very considerable facility for those of our fellow-countrymen who are abroad. I do not want to weary the Committee, especially at this hour, by recapitulating what was said on earlier amendments, but I am sure that the Committee has in mind the fact that British citizens abroad are generally there for reasons very beneficial to this country. They are usually serving the country or British commerce and industry in one way or another.

It is apparently accepted by the Government that it would be oppressive to terminate this system immediately; hence the five-year period of grace. The purpose of this amendment is to explore why it is necessary to bring this system to an end at all. I accept at once—and my noble friend will say it if I do not—that this amendment conflicts to some extent with the essential tidiness of the Bill. I am not sure that your Lordships' Committee will attach very much weight to that bureaucratic concept, but I hope that the Committee will address its mind to the question of why it is necessary to terminate after five years a system which is well understood by British citizens abroad and which appears to have worked very well. I accept at once—and again my noble friend will say this—that this arrangement applies only in respect of British fathers, but other aspects of the Bill give a substantial degree of help where the parent is a mother. Certainly the continuance of this clause indefinitely, or for a longer period anyway, will do no harm to anyone.

This matter was debated in the other place and I am indebted to a Member in the other place, my honourable friend Mr. Michael Mates, who took a vigorous part in that debate, for sending me a letter written to him by Mr. Timothy Raison, who sought to argue the case for this particular provision. I should like to quote a few words from that letter, dated 25th January, which purports to give the reasons as follows: First, as I think you are aware, the present system of consular registration is animalous"— that is apparently a Home Office expression, the precise significance of which I am not wholly aware— since it applies only to the children of male citizens by descent born in foreign—i.e., non-Commonwealth—countries. It is exactly these kinds of anomalies which the Bill is designed to remove and it would, in my view, be difficult to justify continuing them through consular registration for another 50 years or so".

With great respect, the argument that one should attempt to continue a system for another 50 years or so is really not very relevant to a decision to terminate a system after five years. There are very few of us in this rapidly-changing world who would believe that any system—including any of the systems being introduced in this Bill—would be effective and practical 50 years from now. As an argument for a five-year cut-off period, to say in a somewhat airy fashion that it would be difficult to justify continuance for 50 years does not really seem to suggest that the Minister concerned has applied his mind properly to the practical problem posed by the amendment put in the other place and in your Lordships' House—that is, whether a five-year cut-off period is justifiable or not.

He then goes on to use a double-edged argument. He begins with the attractive statement: All this may seem unhelpful but I must repeat that I do not think that in practice those whom you wish to help will find any great difficulty in acquiring British citizenship under the Bill as it stands, provided there are real links with this country". As I say, that argument is surely double-edged. If Mr. Raison is right—and he is I am told a master of the details of this Bill—then to leave the consular registration system in being would not have any very substantial effect.

From the Government's point of view, therefore, it could not be suggested that it would do any practical damage. It certainly would not, as I understand it, give rise to these various apprehensions of broken marriages, and the rest, and the evasions occasioned by phoney marriages which seem to disturb the sleep of Home Office Ministers because there would not be many people, according to Mr. Raison, affected at all. But this is a system which is understood by our fellow countrymen abroad and it would be a relief to them to have this system in being even if many of them decided to take advantage of the provisions of this Bill in order to proceed by another route to the same end of achieving British citizenship for their children.

There has been discussion on earlier amendments of the desirability of the various categories of people mostly in this country affected by the provisions of the Bill being alert, being informed as to their rights; and indeed there was a most gallant attempt made by my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson to enlist an episcopal army in the educational process. In parenthesis, may I say that it did not appear to evoke any rapturous response from the right reverend Prelates, but that no doubt was due to their habitual—and, if I may say so, professional—reserve.

With this amendment, we are dealing with our fellow countrymen abroad scattered all over the place as they are. It is at least possible that the Englishman on an oil rig in the Gulf of Oman or the Englishman in the swamps of the Amazon has not actually read the Hansard reports of our debates with conscientious regularity. Indeed, it is possible that people there located with other things on their mind are simply not aware of the changes being made. On the other hand, most—certainly most of those who have had children—will be familiar with the practice of consular registration.

I move this amendment simply to inquire of my noble friend why it is considered necessary to abolish the well-tried system of consular registration, which is understood by our fellow countrymen abroad and which, on the showing of his colleague, Mr. Raison, cannot possibly do anybody any harm. I beg to move.

9.17 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

As has been very fully explained already, the purpose of this Bill is to develop a reasonable and rational system of British citizenship. It is our view that in that reasonable and rational system the provisions of consular registration have no place, depending as they do first of all on transmission only through the male line and secondly only in countries other than the Commonwealth. So these two features of the present consular registration system seem to us basically unfair and possibly irrational. If one is going to go over to a rational system it seems to be necessary to phase out at least the irrational elements in the present system. That is what this Bill seeks to do.

When the Bill was originally introduced, the Government felt that we should go straight to the rational system. But, as a result of consideration, it has been felt right to confer on those who have reasonable expectation for their children of this consular registration system being available a limited period of what one might call the transitional provision. The Government, having carefully considered how long that transitional provision should be, took the view that it should be of the same length as we have discussed in Clauses 6 and 7, in respect of which the Committee have endorsed the period so far.

My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter refers to the disturbance of Home Office Ministers' sleep—and that of course is a very important and relevant consideration. He also referred to my honourable friend Mr. Raison's response to Mr. Michael Mates's inquiry as to the justification for this clause. In essence, I think I am not doing my noble friend an injustice when I say that he said, "Well, the Minister thought that to have this would not do very much harm". The reason for that is that Mr. Raison thought—and, in my submission to the Committee, he was absolutely right—that most people who are reasonably entitled to be British citizens, and who would be affected by this amendment, would be able to claim under the rational and permanent provisions of the Bill.

Therefore, it is not necessary, and indeed it is unwise, to extend this transitional provision for more than the five years which, after very careful consideration, the Government feel is the maximum time for which this system should be allowed to continue. I hope that, in the light of that explanation, my noble friend may feel that the permanent arrangements which we have set up are sufficient to cope with the cases of the people whom he has an interest in protecting.

Lord Renton

I wonder whether my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate could explain one matter. It seems that the high commissioners' offices in Commonwealth countries will be allowed to continue to register British citizens, in the new sense of the word, after the Bill has come into force. One wonders, therefore, why it is that the arrangements at consulates in foreign countries should be different from those at high commissioners' offices in Commonwealth countries. At the moment, I am unable to see any administrative advantage or any real logic in that. I think my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter deserves an answer on that point, because presumably—and one must look at these things partly from the administrative point of view —the high commissioners' offices are certainly going to maintain these arrangements. The Bill seems to envisage that. The consular offices will continue to exist, and will continue to deal with a number of matters which come within this broad range of passports, travel documents and so on. Therefore, from that point of view alone, I do not quite follow the logic of what has been said by my noble and learned friend on behalf of the Government.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

I will do my best to repair that omission. The situation at the present moment is that registration of British citizenship by consular means is available only in foreign countries; that is, non-Commonwealth countries. That arrangement does not apply within the Commonwealth, and there is no procedure within the Commonwealth for extending the right of citizenship by descent in the way that one can do outside the Commonwealth. That, it seems to me, at least, and to the Government, is an anomaly of the present situation. There is no provision in the Bill, so far as I understand it, which gives any effective registration powers so far as high commissioners are concerned. They will, of course, be able to receive applications, which are passed on to the Home Secretary, but there is no registration by high commissions in the way that presently applies in consulates for consular registration. Therefore the difficulty, if I may put it in that way, which my noble friend Lord Renton raised does not apply. Clause 8 is designed to continue only the present anomalous system of consular registration for a period of five years, subject to the provisions of the Bill, but it does not have any other effect than that.

Lord Drumalbyn

May I ask my noble and learned friend whether it is envisaged that, just as application can be made through high commissioner's offices to the Secretary of State, as I understand my noble and learned friend to have just said, application will be made in many cases through the consular offices? I should have thought that one reason for even the five years' extension is to enable those who go to the consulate to make their registration to be told that they cannot do it after the five years. The consulates will be able to do it for the five years. Their role thereafter will be to say, "I'm sorry, I cannot do it, but I shall forward your application to the Secretary of State". That would be one way to deal with the question. I cannot see that it would have been all that difficult to include in the Bill a provision for the customary registration with consulates to be extended to high commissions. As to the question of discrimination between males and females, if you can register a male you can just as easily register a female.

I do not see that there is any great force in the arguments which my noble friend has put forward, though I am bound to conclude that there is a much more potent argument behind it. I assume that the argument is what has been said before by my noble and learned friend: that one of the objects of the Bill is to curtail the continuation of British citizenship to cut it off, so to speak, at the second generation. I think that is the real explanation rather than any mechanical difficulty. I do not know whether my noble friend would be good enough to confirm that. I am also wondering whether he could give an additional explanation. For example, could my noble and learned friend tell us what financial savings there will be by ceasing to register the children of British citizens born abroad at the consular office in the country in which they are born?

9.27 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

I am sorry if I gave the impression that the reason for cutting off consular registration was a mechanical reason. I certainly did not have that in mind. The general provisions of the Bill are to this effect: British citizens will be able automatically to pass on to their descendants to the first generation overseas British citizenship without any qualification. Where there is a question beyond the first generation it will be passed on only where there are genuine, real links with this country. Clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill are concerned with setting down the criteria by which these genuine links shall be determined.

Consular registration was a method in the past of transmitting British citizenship through the male line in foreign countries—that is, in non-Commonwealth countries—which did not have the qualities of the permanent system which we seek to introduce. It is because it is not compatible with the logical and reasonable structure which we are seeking now to install that we wish to change it. This does not mean that it is right to cut it off immediately. Clause 8, which we are now considering, is a transitional provision to smooth the transition from the old system to the new, and five years seems to us to be a reasonable period for that purpose.

So far as communications are concerned, consulates and also high commission posts overseas will be able to give assistance in transmitting applications to the Home Secretary and giving advice about the conditions, et cetera, under which these will be received, but neither the consulate nor the high commission will have any substantive role in registrations from now on, apart from the five year-transitional period and the permanent arrangements. Neither will have a place, and we think for a very good reason, that neither of these is necessary, or indeed desirable, in the permanent and logical structure to which I have referred.

Lord Renton

I hope we are not going to make heavy weather of this, but it is quite important. It seems to come to this, that for the first five years after the Bill comes into force our consulates in foreign countries will grant registration in their own right, so to speak, and on their own responsibility, and that after five years they will act as a post office and forward these applications to the Home Office. Is that the position that we have reached?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

In a sense that is so, because the consular registration as a way into citizenship will, subject to the conditions of Clause 8, continue for five years as a transitional provision. From then on, consular registration as such will no longer be available and the consulates and high commissions, in so far as they play any part at all in this, will simply act as channels of communication.

Baroness Elles

Will my noble and learned friend say what measures the Home Office are taking in order to make the necessary administrative provisions to deal with the situation? Presumably minors will be registered through applications to the Home Secretary from abroad, and presumably will need passports and other documents for travel. We no longer live in an era where people stay in the same place for 10, 20 or 50 years, and I hope the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate will be able to tell us what measures the Home Office are already setting up to deal with this problem.

Lord Drumalbyn

I should like to ask my noble and learned friend, can he confirm, as appears from the opening words of this clause, that for the first time, female children will be registered in consular offices overseas?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

It is through the male line at the moment that consular registration is possible. In other words, it is a father who is a British citizen who is entitled to consular registration at the present time. It does not depend on the sex of the child. It is the male parent who transmits. So far as the administrative arrangements are concerned, the intention certainly is to make as smooth administrative arrangements as are possible to administer what we think is a rational system.

Lord Geddes

Before the start of this debate, I thought I was reasonably clear on this clause, but I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord: what will be the type of British citizenship of this infant when so registered during the interim period—by birth or by descent?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

I am almost encouraged to invite your Lordships to guess what the rational system would be, but I think it is reasonably obvious that it is by descent.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

We have really had two lines of defence by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate in successive speeches. The first, as I understand it, was an administrative argument that it would be untidy to continue indefinitely the system of consular registration alongside the provisions of the Bill. That is an argument that I can understand, although I think many of your Lordships may feel that in certain parts of this Bill that is an aspect of the matter that is being given excessive importance, as compared with the wellbeing and interests of the people outside who are concerned.

Lord Mishcon

Hear, hear!

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

We have now had the further argument that this is a cut-off after five years of what we call the grandchildren. That then gives rise to a rather curious situation, if I have understood it aright—and it is more than likely that I have not, and my noble and learned friend will correct me if I have not. The grandchild case, that is the son of a British citizen by descent, will for five years get British citizenship by registration at the consulate, though he would not get it if he were in a Commonwealth country where that system apparently does not apply in the same respect. If that is right, is not the Bill going to create an unfair and rather odd situation: that someone will be a British subject only because he has been born outside the British Commonwealth? This really seems to me to be standing logic on its head.

I am also interested in the point my noble friend Lord Renton pressed, which extracted a certain amount of information from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, as to the position in Commonwealth countries. If from now on the high commissioners in the Commonwealth countries are going to accept notifications from British citizens there and forward them to the Home Office, that would be a very convenient system; and if after five years consulates, which the British citizen abroad is used to going to, while not granting registration, are going to forward the documents to the Home Office, no doubt giving the citizen concerned useful advice as to the completion of the application, that again would greatly diminish my apprehensions about this. But we are left with a certain element of uncertainty, and I appreciate that the debate has gone, I think, rather further than those who briefed the noble and learned Lord wholly anticipated.

Though the whole Committee admires his skill and adroitness unbriefed, none the less this is a serious matter on which a full and considered Government statement would be very helpful. I wonder, therefore, whether the sensible thing for me to do is to seek your Lordships' permission to withdraw the amendment, with the indication that I have it in mind to come back to this at Report stage, when perhaps we can have a full statement of the policies and administrative measures envisaged. Therefore, unless my noble and learned friend wants to add anything—I do not think he does—I ask your Lordships' permission to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 103 and 104 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

Before calling Amendment No. 104A I have to remind the Committee that I cannot, if it is agreed, call No. 104B.

9.38 p.m.

Lord Geddes moved Amendment No. 104A: Page 10, line 7, leave out ("in the case of that person's father").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 105, 106, 107, 108 and 109. Clause 8(2)(a)(ii), which requires the parents to have already been and still be married at the time of commencement, would seem to be unduly restrictive. I am advised that the intention of this requirement was to preserve the existing law—this has been referred to in passing on the previous amendment—whereby consular registration was available only to legitimate or legitimated children. However, as presently drafted there seems to me to be discrimination, particularly in subsection (2)(a)(ii) against divorce or annulment. Additionally the requirement in subsection (2)(a)(iii) of ordinary residence in a foreign country at the date of commencement is, I suggest to your Lordships, very inflexible. Would this, for instance, not prejudice an applicant whose father happened to be in between two foreign jobs and coincidentally ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom at that date? Moreover, the definition of a foreign country by reference to the 1948 Act seems no longer totally appropriate. The problem could be solved by substituting a requirement that the applicant's father must have been ordinarily resident outside the United Kingdom at any time; for example, within 12 months before commencement.

I apologise to your Lordships that running these six amendments together makes it not totally understandable at first glance. However, I would ask your Lordships to look at Clause 8. The effect of these amendments is to delete in Clause 8(1)(a) the words: in the case of that person's father such that, when we get to Clause (8) 2, it says: The requirements referred to in subsection (1)(a) are (a) that the father of the person to whom the application relates and then it runs right through, deleting (ii), and (iii) now becomes (ii) and will read: was or at any time during the previous twelve months had been [ordinarily resident] outside the United Kingdom; and ". The clause would then go on: (b) the father of the person to whom the application relates either and then (i) and (ii) remain the same but there is then paragraph (c), which reads: the person to whom the application relates is the legitimate or legitimated child of his father".

I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and others have tabled a series of amendments that are quite similar to the ones that I have tabled. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Advocate, would like to comment—I do not know whether this is the correct course in your Lordships' Committee—on those amendments as well. I declare now that I do not intend to press these amendments. I intend to withdraw them, but I should appreciate the Government's views on them. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

I think that it would be convenient to take together, as my noble friend has done, all the amendments that he has mentioned, because it is obvious that they are linked together. As I sought to explain in answer to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter when he was moving the previous amendment, the intention of this clause is to extend for a limited period the possibility of consular registration to those who were in a position to have reasonable expectations of it at the time this Bill commences. It seems to us that, first, it would be a male who would have that anticipation and a male who was then married who would have that anticipation, and a male who was then in a foreign country to which the benefit—if that is the right expression—of consular registration applies.

The various parts of the clause which my noble friend seeks to delete by his amendment are all essential characteristics or ingredients of the expectation of benefiting by a marriage then subsisting from the consular registration. It is for those reasons that we have included them. I hope that in the light of that explanation my noble friend will feel that perhaps it is logical to include them as we have done—indeed, not only logical but also right.

Lord Geddes

There were two specific points that I hoped I had raised in moving the amendment. One concerned the situation where the parents' marriage had been dissolved, annulled, or a divorce had taken place prior to the commencement, or, indeed, the man's death—if one reads exactly the preamble to subsection (2). The other point concerned—and I freely admit that it would be an isolated example—the situation where the father of a child does not happen to be resident abroad at that particular moment, although both before and after, the father would be resident abroad.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

I had sought to answer these questions perhaps by implication more than expressly. It is certainly a necessary condition, as our clause runs, that at the time of commencement the father is married to the child's mother. A divorce subsequent to that would not affect the position and would not prejudice the rights conferred by the clause. A divorce prior to that, of course, would destroy the entitlement on which this clause founds, because that provision would not be satisfied and a father in that position would not have an expectation at the date of commencement of benefiting from consular registration in respect of the issue of that marriage, because by that time it had already been dissolved.

So far as the ordinary residence is concerned, the way we see it is that if the father is ordinarily resident in this country at the time of commencement, then at the time of commencement he is not, as it were, a beneficiary of the consular registration system. It is only if he is ordinarily resident in a foreign country at that time that he has at that time the expectation of benefiting. That is the basis for the provision. Therefore, I say in that case also that if he is not ordinarily resident in a foreign country, he would not qualify in terms of our clause.

Lord Geddes

I think that I am most grateful to my noble and learned friend for that explanation. If I may, I shall reserve any further comments until I read exactly what he says in Hansard. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 104B, 105, 105A, 106, 106A, 107, 108, 108A, 108B, 108C, and 109 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

9.47 p.m.

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 109A: After Clause 8, insert the following new clause:

(" Right of registration by virtue of mother's citizenship

( ) A person born outside the United Kingdom before commencement shall be entitled, on an application for registration as a British citizen, to be registered as such a citizen if he would have become a British citizen by virtue of section 10 of this Act if in section 5(1) of the 1948 Act (Citizenship by descent) "father" wherever it appears had been followed by "or mother".").

The noble Lord said: I apologise for detaining the Committee at this late hour on an amendment which may at first sight appear to be somewhat similar to the one which I moved earlier in the evening. I assure your Lordships, however, that it is not nearly as extensive as the previous one, because obviously it puts a child on exactly the same footing, whether his father or mother was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, whereas, as the Minister showed, in the previous amendment quite unintentionally the rights of children of British mothers would have been much more extensive than those of British fathers.

I want to refer back to the concession which the Minister agrees that the former Home Secretary, Merlyn Rees, made in, I think, February 1978, although I do not have the exact reference. I am told that it was in answer to a Question by the then Mrs. Lena Jeger, now the noble Baroness. In that concession Mr. Rees said that he would confer citizenship on children born to United Kingdom and Colonies women overseas, provided that they were less than 18 years of age at the time of his statement.

Therefore, there are two groups who were deprived of the advantages of this concession; that is to say the individuals who, although born to women who were citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies overseas, were over 18 years of age at the time of the then Secretary of State's announcement; and, secondly, those who were less than 18 at the time but on whose behalf the mothers failed to make an application and by reason of the efflux of time are no longer in a position to benefit from that concession. Of course, if the children are still minors, as I think the noble Lord the Minister explained in answer to the previous amendment, they still qualify for the discretionary power of the Home Secretary to be exercised in their favour.

I should like to ask the Minister whether he would do three things. First of all, would he agree that the discretionary power which has been in existence since, I think, February 1978 should be written into the Bill?—in other words, that minor children of British mothers overseas should be entitled to registration as of right instead of under the discretionary power of the Secretary of State. If he is not prepared to do that, then at least the Bill should say that the Secretary of State may confer citizenship on these children.

Secondly, I should like the Minister to extend this concession to the case of children whose mothers omitted to apply on their behalf but who would have been entitled to it had they done so. I think that that is only fair, and there is no reason why, if a child who has reached the age of 18 wants United Kingdom citizenship and thinks that his mother ought to have applied for it on his behalf, he should not be able to do so in his own right. Thirdly—and this is most important—I should like the Minister to agree that the concession should be extended to those who were over 18 on the date of the Merlyn Rees concession.

I dare say that several of your Lordships will have received a note from Mr. Mark Sebba, an individual to whom this concession would certainly apply and who has explained his case, I think, very lucidly in such a way as to have convinced many of those who received copies of the open letter which he addressed to the Secretary of State. He says, for example, in one of the letters that I have seen: Although a child born after commencement of the British Nationality Act to a woman born in the UK will be able to claim British citizenship by descent through her and a child who is still a minor at the moment may be registered as British at a consulate in a foreign country, a child born before 1961 has not now and has never had a right to register as British on the strength of the mother alone having been born in the UK. This, to my mind, was always unfair both to the mother and the child. But now it seems even more unfair, for there are families in which some of the children are aliens and others are British by registration, while if another child is born after next year that child will be a British citizen by descent!". In other words, there could be three categories of people within the same family—three siblings, one of whom was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by the concessionary registration of the former Home Secretary, another who was an alien and a third who after the passage of the Bill would be a British citizen. The children who are already adults have no right to register as British citizens, although it is difficult to see in what way they are less British than their younger brothers and sisters".

This gentleman was born in South Africa in 1956 and his mother was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by birth. His upbringing was entirely British and he feels a loyalty to this country, yet, in the way that this Bill operates, he is not legally British and he is treated no differently under the immigration rules than people who are of alien nationality. He feels this is extremely unfair, and he says: Now that women have been deemed suitable to transmit citizenship and it has been recognised that they are not mere chattels of their husbands, it should be recognised that they also impart a sense of loyalty and culture to their children towards the land of their birth. It should not make any difference whether one was born before or after some arbitrary date; I think of myself as British by descent and the law should recognise this. I very much resent the fact that my stay in this country is subject to restrictions which would not apply to me if, for example, I were a New Zealander whose grandfather had emigrated from the UK at the age of six months". Mr. Sebba is fortunate in being able to express himself very well, and I do not think I could have put it better myself. He is certainly not an isolated case.

I have another letter here from a gentleman who wrote to the Home Office asking about what was going to happen to him as a result of the Bill. The gentleman from the Home Office who answered said: Although the Bill proposes that women should be able to transmit citizenship on equal terms with men to their children born abroad in future, this will not apply to people already alive when the new legislation comes into force whose mothers become British citizens, and I am afraid that you will not be able to benefit from your mother's birth in this country in this way".

I have already explained why I thought that this was grossly unfair. The previous amendment may have been too broadly drafted, but I hope that now I have had a second opportunity of explaining why these people, who are just as British as anybody else, should be given the benefits of transmission through their mothers' line, the Minister will agree at least to take this away and consider it before Report stage. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has pointed out, present nationality law does not allow automatic transmission of citizenship in the female line. It is nevertheless true that many of those with mothers who are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies will already have been able to obtain our citizenship by registration. Minor children born overseas to women citizens born in the United Kingdom are at present able to acquire citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies under the Home Secretary's discretion to register minor children under Section 7 of the British Nationality Act 1948.

Since February 1979—I think the noble Lord said 1978, but it is February 1979—the date of what has been called the Merlyn Rees concession, it has been the practice to register children in these circumstances provided that there is no well-founded kind of objection by the father. It is reasonable to take account of the father's wishes in this area, since these are cases where the children are usually living in their father's country and they have his citizenship. A large number of children are registered each year in this way and we envisage that these arrangements will continue after the Bill comes into force for children born before that time. I believe that that answers one of the questions that the noble Lord asked. The Merlyn Rees concession will continue to apply so far as children born before commencement are concerned in circumstances in which it is appropriate. As your Lordships are aware, children born overseas after the Bill comes into force to women who are British citizens by birth in the United Kingdom will be automatically British citizens.

If I may pause here, the Bill makes a change. In our view that change is an improvement. It is another thing to say that we must treat the law as always having been as good as the Government now propose that it should be. Moreover, registration under Section 7 of the 1948 Act could also have been applied for in other cases of birth to United Kingdom women overseas. Citizenship would normally have been granted in this way where the child was living with his parents in this country and his future clearly lay here. Adults, too, would have been able to obtain our citizenship by registration or naturalisation if they had returned to this country to live and had established themselves here.

Accordingly, in our view the people covered by this amendment who ought properly to be able to obtain British citizenship already have avenues for getting it. Those who would be covered by the amendment but are not in that category are people whose future clearly lies outside this country, or adults who have chosen in effect to make their lives abroad. To provide such people with an entitlement would, in our view, be contrary to the principal aims of the Bill. Accordingly, I hope that in the light of that consideration the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his proposed new clause.

Lord Avebury

At this late hour, my best course is to say that I will study carefully what the noble and learned Lord has said, and possibly return to the matter on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 [Right to registration replacing right to resume citizenship of U.K. and Colonies]:

10 p.m.

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 109B: Page 11, line 1, after ("person") insert ("who has ceased to be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies as a result of a declaration of renunciation").

The noble Lord said: I will, with permission, speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 109C and 110A. This series of amendments deals with a situation that was revealed to me as the result of some correspondence I had with a person who had renounced his United Kingdom citizenship. As a result of that correspondence, I asked a Question in your Lordships' House, which was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, on 23rd February this year, regarding the position of persons who had applied for a resumption of citizenship under Section 1 of the British Nationality Act 1964. I was trying to discover from the noble Lord why overseas posts did not properly inform applicants of the exact qualifying connection with the United Kingdom, of the possibility that they might qualify for a resumption of citizenship under the discretion of the Home Secretary.

In answer to me, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said he was not aware that overseas posts failed to inform any applicants of their rights, as I had suggested, and he referred to certain notes that were provided with the application form and which, he claimed, indicated to the applicants that the Secretary of State had discretionary power to register a person who lacked the qualifying connection but who had renounced his or her citizenship in the circumstances specified in the Act. He said he was not persuaded that the matter required to be dealt with in the course of the proceedings on this Bill, as I had suggested in my Question.

After that, I sent the noble Lord copies of the correspondence I had had with the individual and said that, as the Minister had not been aware that overseas posts were failing to inform persons of the rights they had as regards the discretionary resumption of citizenship, I would be grateful if he would look at the letters exchanged between the gentleman concerned and two of our posts overseas, those in Bombay and Dar-es-Salaam; and in neither of the letters which the gentleman in question had received from our posts overseas had any mention been made of the discretionary power vested in the Secretary of State. However, the applicant found out in the end that he might be eligible under those provisions, but the letters which were sent out by the high commissions, I pointed out to the Minister, were stencilled, and therefore they must have gone to quite large numbers of people, while others, apart from the particular correspondent who had written to me, must therefore have been ignorant of their entitlement to apply for discretionary registration.

The reply I received to that letter was to the effect that the case I had drawn to the Minister's attention was the only one of which the department knew. The Minister, Mr. Raison, told me in a letter of 15th May that our posts in Bombay and Dar-es-Salaam may have been remiss in failing to pursue the possibility of applying the discretionary provision when advising potential applicants for registration under Section 1 of the British Nationality Act 1964". But he went on: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office have no reason to believe that other posts have acted in this way", even though I had pointed out to the Minister in my letter that the communications my correspondent had received from both high commissions were stencilled, which indicated that obviously they were not a one-off but that many other people had been on the receiving end of similar communications from at least our posts in Bombay and Dar-es-Salaam, if not from any other consulates or high commissions. I consider, therefore, that some provision is necessary in this measure to remedy the oversight of our posts in having failed to disclose to applicants the right to which they might have been entitled. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

The noble Lord has moved Amendment No. 109B, with which he is taking Amendments Nos. 109C and 110A. With regard to the first two amendments, Section 1 of the 1964 Act, broadly speaking, gave an entitlement to registration to people who renounced our citizenship as a necessary preliminary to acquiring another Commonwealth citizenship, and not a foreign citizenship. Amendment No. 109C would extend Clause 9 to cover foreign citizenship or nationality as well, but that would go far wider than extending the present entitlement.

The entitlement to resume in the 1964 Act is also confined to people who have an appropriate qualifying connection with the United Kingdom and Colonies, or a protectorate or protected state. Clause 9 is intended to continue the entitlement for those whose qualifying connection is with the United Kingdom; in other words, this again is a transitionary clause. The 1964 Act also gave the Secretary of State discretion to register any person who had renounced our citizenship but did not have an appropriate qualifying connection with the United Kingdom and Colonies. In a moment under Amendment No. 110A I shall come back to that so far as the future is concerned.

However the noble Lord devoted most of his remarks to a particular case, or set of cases, in regard to which through parliamentary questions and correspondence he made the point that the discretion to register people had not been made apparent at two particular posts of the United Kingdom Government abroad. Extensive inquiries were made at posts overseas about the information given to inquirers seeking to resume citizenship under the 1964 Act, and I must say to the noble Lord that there is nothing to suggest that applicants have not been given full information about their position under the 1964 Act, save in the case of two posts, as the noble Lord has said. Action has been taken at both of these posts to remedy the situation and to ensure that those who inquire about resuming citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies under the 1964 Act are informed of the discretionary provision.

I turn now to Amendment No. 110A. It seems to me that in this amendment the noble Lord is seeking to tackle the problem of the discretionary provision, but really in a very draconian way, for first of all in the amendment the noble Lord is leaving out subsection (3). By doing that he is removing the provision which defines the qualifying connection with the United Kingdom which has to be held by a former citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who has renounced that citizenship and is to be entitled under Clause 9(1) to be registered on resumption of citizenship as a British citizen in certain circumstances. So the relevant qualifying connection would be wholly swept away by the amendment.

However, the noble Lord is putting in its place the discretion for the Secretary of State which appears in Amendment No. 110A. I must say that although the Government would be wholly unable to accept the noble Lord's move in sweeping away the appropriate qualifying connection, having listened to the noble Lord I am concerned about deserving cases which would be excluded completely if there were no such discretion. For the reason that I have given, I would not feel able to accept Amendment No. 110A as it stands, bearing in mind the real difficulties in the first part of it. But I undertake that the Government will look seriously again at the case for the second part of the amendment. I hope that, with that very qualified undertaking, the noble Lord may perhaps feel that it would be right to withdraw the amendment and to enable the Government to have a look at the case which he has made on it.

Lord Avebury

I am certainly very grateful for any crumbs which fall from the rich man's table, and I entirely accept the noble Lord's assurance that he will look at this question of the discretion of the Secretary of State. In my speech a few minutes ago I meant to remind him of what happened at the time of the 1968 Act, when the question of Section 1 of the British Nationality Act 1964 was under discussion. The way in which the Secretary of State was likely to exercise his discretion came before your Lordships on that occasion. I am sorry; it was much earlier, because it was in the debate on the 1964 Act in your Lordships' House on 28th November, 1963, when the then Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies, the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, said in reference to the discretion in Section 1 of the British Nationality Act 1964: I feel sure that the discretion will be liberally interpreted ". I am very glad to know that the Minister thinks that this discretion can be incorporated in some way in the present Bill, and I am looking forward to seeing the results of his endeavours at Report stage. In the meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 109C, 110, 110A and 110B not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 9 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Renton

Very apologetically—because the night is still fairly young—may I ask my noble friend whether he will look at the words in lines 21 and 22, or in a country which at the time was mentioned in section 1(3) of the 1948 Act"? That phrase could include millions of people, and I wonder whether it is really intended that it should be so. Perhaps my noble friend will consider that between now and Report.

Lord Belstead

I shall certainly look at the point which my noble friend has raised.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.