Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That this Bill be now read a Second time."This Bill deals with a number of matters, none of which is contentious in character, and on some of which it was intended to legislate before the war if Parliamentary time had been available. Circumstances arising out of the war have, however, made more urgent the changes that were then in contemplation and certain other matters have arisen directly out of the war. The conception of British nationality is based partly on common law and partly on Statute. The common code of law on this subject is one of the most important links which bind together the British Commonwealth of Nations, and in regard to any change in our nationality laws we attach, and shall continue to attach, the greatest importance to securing the assent of the self-governing Dominions; and, as hon Members know, this is a subject which is almost invariably placed on the agenda when an Imperial conference takes place. In so far as changes in our domestic law proposed by this Bill have not already been agreed by past Imperial Conferences consultation with the Dominions has taken place through the usual channels and their agreement has been secured. Clause 1 of the Bill deals with the nationality of persons who are born abroad of British parents. Under the common law the only test of British nationality was whether or not the person concerned had been born within the King's allegiance. From the year 1730 onwards, however, our Statute law has made provision for the recognition as British subjects of persons born of British parents outside His Majesty's Dominions. Before the year 1914 these provisions extended to the second generation born abroad; by the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, 1914, however, the transmission of British nationality was limited to the first generation born outside His Majesty's Dominions. The effect of this limitation was to exclude from British nationality many persons born and brought up abroad in British homes and communities who felt themselves to be, in all essentials, British and were animated by strong sentiments of loyalty to the Crown. To treat such persons as aliens was obviously to make the law inconsistent with the facts, and accordingly in 1922 the law was amended so as to enable British nationality to be transmitted from parents to children, subject to two conditions. The first condition was that the birth must be registered at a consulate within one year, or at the most within two years, of its occurrence and the second was that a person whose birth was so registered should make a formal declaration of his desire to retain British nationality within one year of attaining the age of 21. Experience, however, has shown that these rigid requirements as to the time within which registrations of birth and declarations of British nationality had to be made caused serious difficulty to many persons residing abroad and resulted in the exclusion from British nationality of many individuals who in origin, upbringing and sentiment are completely British. Some time ago agreement was reached with the Dominions that these limiting provisions ought to be amended and the importance of amending them without delay has now been emphasised by the fact that a number of young men of British origin who have come to the United Kingdom for the purpose of assisting us in the war are found to be aliens in law, although their essentially British character and loyalty to the Crown has been demonstrated by their eagerness to join His Majesty's Forces or render help in some other way to the war effort. Clause 1 while re-enacting the general principle embodied in the Act of 1922, namely, the principle that British families while remaining abroad can retain their British nationality from generation to generation by the continuous process of registering birth and declarations of their British nationality, gives the necessary elasticity to the limiting conditions by providing that while the normal period within which a birth must be registered is to be one year this period may be extended by the permission of the Secretary of State and that persons so registered by the permission of the Secretary of State shall be deemed to be, and always to have been, British subjects by birth. Clause 1 must be read in conjunction with Clause 6. This Clause re-enacts the existing law as to a declaration of British nationality at the time when the person born abroad attains his majority, but provides that the period within which he must make this declaration may be extended by the permission of a Secretary of State. The Clause also provides that as regards persons who have joined His Majesty's Forces or become engaged in work of national importance during the present war the necessity for such a declaration is dispensed with. Clause 2 corrects a drafting error in the existing law, namely, the first proviso of sub-section (1) of the Act of 1914. The main object of that proviso was to give statutory authority to the long recognised practice that a child born of a British father in a country where His Majesty exercises jurisdiction over British subjects is as much a British subject as if he had been born on British soil. The Government has been advised that the proviso did not, for technical reasons, carry out the object originally intended. Clause 3 is incorporated in order to clear up the position in regard to posthumous children. In many places in the Nationality Acts, and indeed in the two preceding Clauses of this Bill, the words are to be found:
But the person who is deceased does not possess British or indeed any other nationality. The status of posthumous children has therefore been a matter for doubt. To remove this doubt, Clause 3 provides that they shall be in the same position as children whose fathers have survived their birth. Clause 4 deals with a matter of some importance, although the number of persons affected is comparatively small. At the time of the collapse of France in 1940, the Prime Minister, with the universal assent and unanimous approval of the House of Commons and of the country, made a specific offer of the grant of British nationality to members of the French Navy who threw in their lot with us and were prepared to continue in the fight against Nazi Germany. These men joined His Majesty's Forces, and in fulfilment of the pledge it is proposed to entertain applications for naturalisation from them, although they do not fulfil the ordinary statutory condition that an applicant must have resided in His Majesty's Dominions or been in the Service of the Crown for at least five years. Clause 4, therefore, enables the statutory period of residence to be dispensed with in the case of French nationals who are, or have at any time during the war been, members of His Majesty's Forces. The large number of Frenchmen who are fighting or serving in French units are not affected by this provision, which is limited to those Frenchmen who have elected to serve with the British Forces. Clause 5 provides for the recognition by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of certificates of naturalisation granted in the Dominions in consideration of services rendered in connection with the prosecution of the war. Clause 7 confers a discretion on the Secretary of State not provided under the existing law so as to enable him to refuse to register any declaration of alienage made during war time by a British subject. Where the person in question has also the nationality of an enemy state, such declarations are under the general law invalid. Some of the Dominions have under war legislation prohibited declarations of alienage altogether. It is considered, however, that for the purposes of the United Kingdom a discretionary power is more suitable. Clause 7 provides that such declarations shall be of no effect until they have been registered by permission of the Home Secretary in accordance with regulations. Clause 8 provides a general power for making regulations necessary to implement the foregoing provisions of the Bill, and Clause 9 provides for the registration of births in countries where His Majesty has no diplomatic representation owing to war conditions. I think I have said enough to make clear to hon. Members the meaning and the purpose of a Bill the Clauses of which are necessarily somewhat technical in character. The Bill, I think, fulfils the pledges given in regard to war-time legislation. It is necessary, it is useful, and it is non-contentious, and any criticism that it may encounter will, I imagine, be directed more to what it does not contain than to what it does. Some hon. Members, I know, desire to see changes of a far-reaching character in our nationality laws. I would, however, remind them that changes of a radical character, whatever their merits or demerits, would undoubtedly give rise to contention. They would require prolonged and detailed discussion between Members of the British Commonwealth, and they would involve the greatest possible administrative inconvenience if introduced in the middle of the life and death struggle in which we are now engaged. I trust, therefore, that the advocates of change, whether for better or for worse, in this legislative field will content themselves with a demonstration and a display of their banners, and give us their co-operation in passing these harmless and necessary changes into law."…whose father was at the time of the birth a British subject…"
This is a small Bill dealing with a small part of a very large subject. Like so many other matters, the question of nationality appears to be a very simple one to the unsophisticated, but the more it is studied the more complicated it becomes. As an illustration of the simple view, I think I may quote the eloquent words written by Gilbert in "H.M.S. Pinafore":
"For he might have been a Roosian,
A French, or Turk, or Proosian,
Or perhaps I-ta-li-an!
But in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
This simple view, moreover, tends to confuse nationality with race, and assumes that it will be easy to decide for each person. Of course, in the great majority of cases no doubt this is so, but exceptions are sufficiently numerous to present a real problem. What, for instance, is the nationality of a German-Polish Jew domiciled in the United States, or of his wife, herself originally an American citizen, or of one of their offspring, born perhaps during a visit to Italy, or let us say on a Dutch ship in Portuguese waters? In peace time the answer to such questions as these may seem to be mainly academic, though undoubtedly it affects the question of voting rights; but in war time the answer has serious consequences to the lives and liberties of the person concerned, as many hon. Members in touch with the residents in their constituencies have, no doubt, occasion to know. Although they constitute the headache principally of the Home Secretary, as the presence of the Under-Secretary of State bears witness, they also affect the Minister of Labour, the Service Ministers, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Pensions, and I think the Foreign Office. In his desire to increase the man-power and woman-power of this country, the Home Secretary would, naturally, like to have the net of British citizenship flung as widely as possible, but the Minister of Home Security will also naturally be anxious to exclude from citizenship any one who may be a danger to this country, and the two Ministers have to commune together to come to a suitable decision. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend, who is not present at the moment, will have no difficulty in meeting his colleague in that way. In these circumstances, the Bill before us has had something in the nature of an hermaphrodite birth. It is the business of the House to be sure, as far as possible, that the possession of. British nationality is coincident with the sentiment of loyalty to the British Crown and to the British tradition. We desire this because the rights, privileges and responsibilities of British nationality should belong to those who are fundamentally loyal, and for this purpose we assume that those who are born of British stock and have resided all their lives in this country will be loyal and, fortunately, with very few exceptions that is the case. We assume, further, that those who have gone through the protracted operation of naturalisation will also be loyal and, though we have to look with a little more caution on those persons, again we are generally right. Clause 4 of the Bill removes the protracted character of the formalities required to naturalise and substitute for it some special provisions. The Under-Secretary spoke of it, I think, as affecting only French sailors but—perhaps I misheard him—there is no such limitation, as I read it, in the Clause. It applies to any Frenchman, and not only to the past but to the future as long as the war lasts. Therefore, if some Frenchman, when a Second Front should be developed, should take a desire to get enlisted in the British Forces—I do not know whether he could—he would have the right to become a British subject. I do not think there is any limitation imposed except in so far as there may be a difficulty in a Frenchman actually enlisting in the British Forces. With regard to those who may be domiciled in this country but have never gone to the trouble of taking out naturalisation, we assume that they remain aliens in sympathy. That assumption, of course, is not always correct, as I have good reason to know. There are a great many aliens in my constituency who have resided there a very long time, some of them thoroughly loyal to this country, but we assume that they are aliens and we treat them as such. Of course, it is, technically, their fault if they have not taken the trouble to naturalise and they are responsible for it. At the same time the Home Office in many cases has been reasonable and has not imposed very strictly the conditions of alienage when it would seem that those people are loyal to the country of their adoption. It is when we come to the people whose nationality has been decided vicariously for them, where there is more difficulty, and to some extent more debatable ground. In this category come the children of British parents born while those parents are in foreign countries or in British Protectorates, and Clauses 1, 2 and 3 enlarge their means of being recognised as British subjects. I imagine that this slight change which is being made in the law will be approved in all quarters of the House, also Clause 6, which ensures that vicariously acquired citizenship needs to be reaffirmed by the person himself. But in this category of persons whose nationality is, by British law, altered for them without their own volition, are women in consequence of their marriage. A British-born woman marrying an alien automatically loses her British citizenship and becomes an alien. This may seem reasonable when she goes to reside in the country of her husband who is domiciled there and when, with him, she falls into the ways and habits of life of the foreign country, but the law remains the same even when the husband is domiciled in this country and she and he continue to reside here. They are, to all intents and purposes, regarded as British, yet she is treated as an alien, and everything the Under-Secretary said with regard to the children of parents born abroad, about their being in accord with the traditions of this country and being loyal in every respect, is equally true of the wife married to an alien who is domiciled but who has never been naturalised in this country. On the other hand, a foreign woman who comes here and marries a British subject—it may be merely a formal marriage entered into for the express purpose—becomes, automatically, a British subject and, unless the attention of the Home Secretary is specifically called to her, she is free to roam all over the country and has all the privileges, rights and responsibilities of a British subject. There is a great and growing feeling here, and certainly also in Australia and New Zealand, where they have brought in special legislation dealing with these matters, that these anomalies should be brought to a speedy termination. I see from the Order Paper that an attempt is to be made to amend the Bill so as to incorporate these changes and I hope that, if possible, that will be done, but I expect, following on the pronouncement that we have already heard from the Under-Secretary, that certain objections will be taken by the Government. The first, of course, is that such an alteration would be outside the intentionally narrow scope of the Bill, and that may be true, but it would be no reason why, if the matter is not only of equal importance with the small matters referred to in the Bill but is very much more important, it should not be the subject of a separate Bill, and the Government might make that promise. The Under-Secretary has also put forward the objection that any change in that direction must be taken in step with the Dominions. I think it is common knowledge that some of the Dominions, notably Australia and New Zealand, have shown more anxiety than has been shown in this country to take this step. I would, therefore, ask whether we must really wait till all the Dominions, the least progressively inclined in the matter, are agreed before action is taken. A further objection is that it would create world difficulties. That has been said for a very long time and, when it was first said, there was abundance of truth in it, because practically all the world had the same views about nationality as we had, but since that objection was originally taken, there have been very large changes, not only in world views but in world legislation. The backward attitude of the British Government, instead of being in line with world practice, is rapidly becoming behind the centre of gravity of world practice, and is causing great difficulty by creating the anomalous position of State-less persons and the double nationality of persons. Finally it is said, as I anticipated it would be, that this is not the time. That is a very easy thing to say. It has been said for many years; it was not the time in the last war, it was not the time after the last war, it was not the time between the two wars, it was not the time when this war was in sight, and it is not the time when the war is on. Some of us are beginning to wonder when it will be the time. The anomalies that are being created at the present moment are very serious and are likely to be serious when the war comes to an end. Therefore, I suggest to the Government that they should think again on this matter. It may be that this change would be inappropriately spatchcocked into a very small Bill, but I am afraid that it brings us to this conclusion. Though this Bill will, I imagine, be unanimously approved by the House, all the same the one great anomaly in the attempt to assimilate nationality with loyalty is this treatment of the married women. Therefore, the Bill, although useful, lacks the change most needed, and for that reason is defective in a way that I believe a considerable number of persons in the House and a great number in the country and in His Majesty's Dominions regard as of supreme importance.He remains an Englishman."
I agree with my right hon. Friend that there is nothing in this Bill that will not be accepted generally by the House and that any criticism that may be made of it is directed not so much to what is in it as to what might have been in it. It cannot be denied that even when all the anomalies which this Bill corrects have been corrected, there will still be gaps, anomalies, inadequacies and deficiencies in our naturalisation laws which, by common consent and without controversy, could be repaired now. It seems rather a pity if the Government are devoting some of the time of the House to correcting anomalies that they have not taken the opportunity of correcting all those which could have been corrected without any of the difficulties which the Under-Secretary mentioned. I want to direct attention to one point only and to make as strong and urgent a plea as I can, upon it, to the Home Secretary. It arises under Clause 4. Nationality in ordinary times is a matter of importance, but it is a very intricate and difficult study, abounding in technicalities of all kinds. There are times when it becomes a matter of extreme urgency involving questions of life and death, not after the war, but now. My right hon. Friend referred to a well known quotation from W. S. Gilbert about people who might have been of other nationalities but who chose our own. I am reminded that there are naturalised persons who proudly claim that they are much better British subjects than the natural-born ones, for whereas the natural-born British subject is as by accident of birth, the naturalised one is a British subject by choice. I am not concerned with that kind of consideration.We have in this country a great many people whose nationality of origin is German but who are serving in our Forces, most but not all in the Pioneer Corps. There are others of Austrian nationality to whom some consideration ought to be given, and there are many of them on active service overseas. All these men are of military age, and, being nationals of countries which have conscription, they are, technically, deserters from the German Army. They are fighting on our side willingly as volunteers, taking all the risks that others take but taking in addition a risk which others—our own people—are not asked to take. They may be taken prisoner; if they are, they will certainly be shot as traitors and deserters from the armed forces of their country of origin. Though no compulsion can be applied to them here, they are serving the same cause as we are, serving in our ranks and taking the risks that we call upon them to take. We have no right to omit any step which we could take to protect them from that extra danger. We have every right to expect that a certain recognition—not more than we give to our own people—should be given to the fact that these people are prepared to take all the normal risks of war. We have no right to call upon them to take abnormal risks. If they are taken prisoner they are liable to immediate death, and as our law now stands we shall have no right to intervene, no right to be heard and no right to call upon the Protecting Power to act in our name in the protection of these men. The Germans, if we attempted to do it, would reply that no Convention about the treatment of prisoners of war applies to these people.
I want my hon. Friend to get his mind on to the main point here. Does he really think that these people would be in any better position, if they fell into German hands, if they had committed the additional offence of acquiring an enemy nationality during war-time?
If a man has committed a capital offence already, he cannot worsen his position by committing another capital offence. Therefore in this case he will be in no worse position if we make him a British national, so far as the law of Germany is concerned. To be candid, I doubt very much whether these people would be much better off. It may very well be that the German authorities would ignore the fact that we recognise those people as nationals of ours and would say to them "You were nationals of Germany when you deserted Germany and took service with the Armed Forces of Great Britain," and therefore any intervention that we might claim to exercise, either directly or through the protecting Power, might be brushed aside by those who now oppress Europe and the German people. But that fact cannot justify us in omitting to take a step which might afford a hope, however forlorn, of protection or intervention. We have no right to desert them, and thus leave ourselves in a position where we should have no legal right to intervene. It may be that if we give ourselves a legal right to intervene, Germany will not recognise that right, but that fact cannot justify us in omitting to arm ourselves with the power and the right to intervene.Let us look at what is done by Clause 4. It deals with a limited class of people who might be in the position that I have just described. It is said that if such a person satisfies two conditions (1) that he is or has at any time during the period of the present war been a member of His Majesty's Forces, and (2) is a proper person to be naturalised as a British subject the Home Secretary has power to dispense with the normal conditions of naturalisation and grant a naturalisation certificate. All I am asking is that the principles on which naturalisation may be granted to that class of French nationals may be applied to anyone of any nationality of origin or of no nationality now who fulfils those conditions. I do not see why it cannot be done generally, but if it cannot be done generally, can it, at least, be done in the case of every individual who either by direction or by his own initiative serves overseas, where he may be taken prisoner? So far as I can see there is no understandable differentiation between the case of the French nationals and the case of other nationals in the like position. My hon. Friend said that there is a difference because the Prime Minister did give a pledge in the case of Frenchmen and that this Clause honours that pledge. Very well; but the fact that we did not pledge ourselves to do what we obviously ought to do is not a reason for not doing it. If the matter had been considered can it be thought possible that such a pledge would have been refused in those cases too? If we have given a pledge to one section of a common class can we in honour refuse the same protection to all members of that class? I suggest that we cannot. This question does not raise controversy, cannot raise controversy. No Member of this House would willingly be guilty of the blood of one of these men, and we should be guilty of it if we had taken no steps to prevent his being murdered by the Germans because he had served us. There is no need to consult the Dominions. We are not introducing any new principle but merely applying the principle of Clause 4 to all those people, without distinction of race or nation or creed, to whom the condition applies. I cannot promise that if my hon. Friend makes no concession we will allow the Bill to go through without a challenge. I do not propose to challenge the Second Reading, because it is a good Bill in any case, and it ought to be on the Statute Book, but on the Committee stage I propose to move to leave out the limiting words in Clause 4 and to give this House, in Committee, an opportunity of indicating to the Home Secretary that it sees no reason in practice and no justification in principle for excepting these others from the protection given to the French.
I support very heartily what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) has said. I, like others, welcome what is in the Bill. A few crumbs are, I suppose, better than nothing at all, but the Minister was wise when he said that these few crumbs would probably whet the appetites of those who have been interested in this problem for some time. I have read the Debate on this subject in another place, and I realise that our appetite is not going to be satisfied very fully by the Government. I welcome this Bill because, first of all it fulfils a promise, and also because it removes in some degree certain anomalies and anxieties under which people were suffering and thereby helps them to make a greater contribution to the war effort; but, like others, I regret very sincerely that the opportunity has not been taken to remedy certain other long-standing grievances which are very germane to the matters dealt with in the Bill. I think my right hon. Friend the Minister would be surprised if I were to tell him how many letters I have received from women all over the country who, owing to existing regulations, find themselves in an impossible position, women who are contributing 100 per cent. to the war effort by factory work or in some other capacity. He would also be surprised if he know how many Members of this House, Members of all parties, have offered me their support in any Amendments that I can get the Government to accept.I think it is 15 years since I introduced, with the assent of Members in all parties, a Bill dealing with the nationality of married women. I have no desire to deal at length with the pros and cons of that admittedly complicated question, but I feel now, as I felt then, that it is wrong that a woman's nationality should be, as it were, merely a by-product of marriage. It ought to be a thing standing on its own basis and rights, and within the option of the woman herself. That is why I regret that the Bill, which could so easily have been made to cover some, although perhaps not all, of the points which we should have liked, has not been utilised for that purpose. Although the acts of the Government since the war and the introduction of the Bill have removed certain anomalies, this very Bill and the Government's own action in the past have created new anomalies. Under Section 10 of the Act of 1933, upon the declaration of war by this country British wives of enemy aliens have been able, with the consent of the Home Secretary, to regain their British nationality. I am not quite sure what "enemy aliens" means. Is the British wife of a Finn, a Rumanian or a Hungarian also entitled to the same privileges? That provision was a good thing. It was wise and right in itself, but, strange as it may seem, the British wives of friendly aliens, finding themselves in exactly the same position, have not been able to go to the Home Secretary and demand their British nationality. These women are still subject to certain restrictions and to Home Office Regulations. The Home Office have gone a certain way to remove the restrictions, but a British woman married to a Czech or a Pole working in a factory and who has a family, has to go to a police station in order to get permission every time she wants to move from one district to another. The permission is readily given, but I do not think the Home Secretary realises what a stigma it places on such a woman. It has been pointed out that the Bill gives privileges to a number of Frenchmen who are serving in our Forces, chiefly in the Navy. We are very glad that these privileges should be given to those who gallantly risked everything in a crisis in the history of their country to come over and help us; but it has been pointed out that, if those Frenchmen are worthy of those privileges, surely the large number of Czechs, Poles and others, many of whom have been living in this country for years and have been serving in the British Army from the very beginning of the war, must be entitled to the same privileges. It is the wives of some of these men who are restricted in their movements and are subject to Regulations. I can mention the case of a Czech who enlisted at the very beginning of the war. He gave up a position of considerable profit in which he was making a good living, and he joined up at once. He was accepted in those days, but he had not taken out his naturalisation papers. To-day he is an alien and his wife is subject to limitations. I have laid the individual case before the Home Secretary and the Home Office numerous times, but the answer is always the same: "We do not intend to consider the naturalisation of any of these men until the war is over." If the Home Office has power to consider the nationality of some 500 Frenchmen, about whose antecedents they can know very little—I am not, of course, questioning those antecedents—it is not asking very much that the Home Office should consider the cases of people to whom I refer. The argument that the time of the Home Office is so occupied that they cannot consider one case is now completely given away. I ask the Home Secretary to make a beginning and thus to give hope to others that their time for consideration will come. We might go some way towards the custom of America, which is, I understand, that where an individual who has not yet become an American citizen has served a certain period of time in the American Forces, he ipso facto has the right to demand American citizenship.
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member is aware that we ourselves adopted that principle in the last war and gave naturalisation as a right to aliens who served in our Forces. We have abandoned it in this war.
I did know it, and I am very glad to be reminded of it. It reinforces my argument and also the case, which, the Home Office will find, has warm support in all quarters. If a man is willing to fight and die for a country, he has at least a right to demand the privileges of citizenship of that country. There is another point which should be included in the Bill. A good many of us cannot help remembering that foreign women who marry British citizens automatically receive all the privileges of British citizenship. This is something which was grossly abused just before the war, and I believe that now is the time when some qualification of residence ought to be demanded before a foreign woman who marries a British citizen should acquire the full rights of British citizenship. Again, the custom by regulation in America, under what is, I believe, called the Cable Act, is that a foreign woman marrying an American citizen has to have so many months or years of domicile in the United States before she gets her American citizenship. I put forward these suggestions, and I ask the Government to support them. After all, it is their own policy. In 1931, the Government, at the League of Nations, declared their policy in this matter—and I will read it if I may. It was as follows:
This declaration was read in the House of Commons in 1933, during the Debate on the Second Reading of the Government Bill, and was acknowledged to be the continued policy of the Government by the then Home Secretary, It has never been denounced, repudiated or modified by any subsequent Government. To declare a policy and then to refuse to implement it is absolutely meaningless. What is the Government's answer? I have read the Debates in the other House. The Government have now put the same answer forward again: "We must not move any faster than the Dominions in this matter. We must all keep in line, which is very important from an Imperial point of view." That is a very old argument, which seems on the surface a wise one, but it always enables the Government to do nothing. However, in this matter, the Home Office apears to be plus royaliste que le roi. The Dominions of Australia and New Zealand have already passed legislation dealing with the rights of their own women who have married foreigners. The Irish Free State gives its own passports to its own people in various parts of the world without any consideration for our Regulations at all. So much for Empire unity on this matter. I recognise that this affects only a small minority of people in this country. It is difficult for many of them to raise their voices, but it is only once in every few years that we get an opportunity of discussing this matter. In my humble judgment, there is a grievance here which the Government, by their declaration of policy, have admitted. No one is more aware of the complications and difficulties of this problem than I am. I hope that the Minister will be moved by the very considerable support which is given to our views and that he will report to the Minister that there is strong feeling on this matter. I recognise the appeal made by the Minister that we should not oppose the Bill. I shall submit to the appeal because, among other reasons, I am afraid I cannot do anything else. My opposition would be quite ineffective. I hope, however, that if we give the Minister this Second Reading, and support him in the final stages of the Bill, he will bear in mind our co-operative spirit on this occasion, and when that day comes that we ask him to put right what is now an ancient and admitted wrong, he will listen to our request with sympathy."The British Government considers that it is right that all the disabilities of married women in matters of nationality should be removed, and that, in so far as nationality is concerned, a married woman should be in the same position as a man, married or unmarried, or as a single woman."
The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken has a long and honourable record as a champion in this House of ladies' rights in this matter. We cannot in advance discuss the Amendments which he and other have put down on the Order Paper and to which various ladies have asked us in the Lobbies to give our signature. I have had some experience of this question of aliens in another capacity, which I should like to mention, as chairman of a small Aliens Sub-Committee that deals with medical manpower. We have had several very hard cases to deal with. We have worked in conjunction with representatives of the Ministry of Health and of the Home Office and have found them most helpful in the matter, most forward looking, considering the actual difficulties in each case, trying to do what is best for the public interest and at the same time to meet hard cases. I should like to pay that little tribute for what I have seen of the administration in the Home Office. That does not come into this Bill, however. There are other points in this Measure which are to deal with hard cases which arouse our sympathy. Similarly, I do not want to touch on them except that when we examine them more closely in Committee I hope I shall be able to give my support.When we come to the proposed enlargement of this Measure, I want to bring forward one particular point in respect to which I know I shall be thought to be an enemy by those with whom I desire to co-operate in this House. That is the question of the division of interests between husband and wife. There are particularly hard cases at the present time, during the war. I have always believed in having laws laid down as a generalisation which must be broken for particular cases. But I want to lay it down most strongly that the time has come to revise during the war a good many of our principles and practices, and one of these points we have to revise is the whole status of marriage. We have recognised now the appalling position into which this country and other countries are getting through the decline of the birth-rate for some time past. What is the real basis of marriage? That basis, going right back to pre-Christian times, is in order to provide for the future of the race, and therefore it is well that we should consider the question of the children, as it is considered in one of the Clauses of the Bill. The children are too often forgotten when we are dealing with marriage questions, divorce and so on. The children are considered a by-product whom we really need not worry about; it is considered to be only a matter between the two principal partners, husband and wife; and that is wrong. But when it comes to a question of nationality, what greater rift can you imagine between husband and wife than if they are to have separate nationalities? I can imagine no greater separation of interest than that, with all its implications. I can imagine nothing, with all its implications, which would be, and is, in so many instances of which we know such a subject of absolute division between husband and wife, with all the miseries that implies to the family, and to the children, as that of a divided nationality. We should proceed on that kind of line instead of promoting what is called the right of the British woman to have British nationality, regardless of her husband, or the disabling of a foreign wife to have what are considered the advantages or disadvantages of the English nationality of her husband. These discords, I think, ought to be soft-pedalled a good deal. I believe that the more you can help—I like putting the word "help"—a woman to be true to her husband in his strong national feeling as well as in his personal relations, the better. The more you can help a husband to be true and sympathetic to his wife in those relations, the better. I say that marriage must always be that you marry for better or for worse; and that means that, if you are considering marrying into another race and country strongly divided from your own, you have to reckon out the position. You have to do it whole-heartedly and marry into the nationality of the spouse you have chosen to marry. Anything else is belittling marriage vows, and it is belittling the real future of the race. It is the future, as well as the safety, of the race which I contend should be the main objective in this legislation; seeking to maintain the common nationality of a married couple and putting great difficulties in the way of making exceptions to the general rule.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle). I realise that he and I belong to different generations.
I am the advanced one.
I am shocked to find the hon. Gentleman, who no doubt has given much thought to marriage, having been married for a long time himself, and also, as a doctor, to population problems, has come to the conclusion that if we remedy this injustice which is being discussed in the House, we shall cause marital disharmony. Has he considered this point, that a British woman who during this century has enjoyed the rights and privileges of equal citizenship, who has, since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919, been allowed to enter all the professions of the country with the exception of the Church and the Foreign Office, when she is married to a man and is deprived of her nationality, becomes in many cases a woman who is resentful and discontented because she is deprived of her rights?The hon. Member, I am afraid, is only looking at marriage from the aspect of the husband who is anxious for his wife to identify herself fully with himself. But he has forgotten that the modern woman views this matter in an entirely different manner. I want to remind him of a case of which he has probably heard. There is a lady in Surrey married to a member of the Fighting French Forces. She has two sons fighting with our Forces and a daughter with the Auxiliary Services. Her ancestors have lived in Surrey for generations. They have served on the local councils, but this woman is compelled, because she is married to her husband, to report to her local police station. On two occasions she has refused to do this and has been fined. On the last occasion she said she would go to prison, but a relative prevailed on her, because she is delicate, to pay the fine. Does the hon. Member think that she is happily married? Can he think that that kind of treatment will promote marital harmony? I venture to suggest that if this Bill was amended, perhaps it might have more effect on the improvement of the population problem than the hon. Gentleman thinks. It is very difficult for the women of this country to understand how the Government can draft a Bill of this kind and totally ignore the representations which have been made to them by the women of the country during the last few months. We are heartily tired of taking deputations to Ministers. I myself am nauseated when I think of the number of times Ministers have said to me, "Yes, we approve in principle of what you ask." Then Bills are introduced in this House, and we find that our demands have been ignored. I ask the Under-Secretary to tell us why women are ignored in this fashion. In the Gallery of this House to-day there are many women who are suffering because they have married aliens and have been denied their civil rights. The position, in my opinion, is reminiscent of the days when the wife was indeed a chattel, when her husband had the right to thrash her, so long as the stick was no larger than his thumb, when all her property belonged to her husband after marriage, and when she lost all rights to her individuality. Surely, it is an anachronism, since the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, for a wife to be deprived of her nationality on marriage. Last week we heard an hon. and gallant Member ask that the son of a man showing pro-Nazi sympathies should be debarred from the Royal Air Force. A Member, quite rightly, rose and said that a son must not be held responsible for the sentiments of his father; and the whole House cheered. Why should a wife be punished because she does not belong to the same country as her husband? Why should she be penalised because her husband belongs to another country? I know that many people argue that the marriage relationship is closer than that of father and son, and that the influence exerted by a husband upon his wife is so great that it would be wrong to allow a British woman married to an alien to retain her civil rights. If that is right, why do we allow an alien woman to take the nationality of her British husband? Surely the influence exerted by an alien wife on her British husband is as great as the influence exerted by an alien husband on his Briitsh wife. The famous spies of the past have all been women. Yet we find the paradoxical position that an alien woman can marry a British man and enjoy all the rights of which the British woman is denied if she is married to an alien. I ask the Government to introduce another Bill to remove this injustice. I am sure that they would have the support of the whole House.
I do not want to delay the House long on this matter, as I imagine hon. Members are merely giving the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary advance notice of what is likely to take place on the Committee stage. I will only give one or two illustrations of the sort of anomaly with which the Bill fails to deal. There can be hardly a Member of this House who has not at some time or another during the war gone to the Home Office about the naturalisation of someone serving in His Majesty's Forces. I have done so on several occasions, but without much effect. The attitude of the Home Office on this problem is revealed not only in the Bill itself, or in what is not in the Bill, but in the fact that even aliens who can prove more than four years' residence in Great Britain find it practically impossible to obtain naturalisation at present, except when there is a very strong Government departmental recommendation behind the application. I know many doctors in this country who are denied the full employment of their professional capacities because they are aliens, and I can imagine, therefore, that behind the speech of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) there lay perhaps some professional defences which he did not disclose. The fact is that the Home Office has taken up towards this matter a most reactionary stand.Not only are there the instances that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) mentioned, but there is an anomaly which I think has not yet been mentioned in the Debate. At the beginning of the war a number of aliens volunteered for His Majesty's Forces. They were immediately put in the Pioneer Corps, and there they are now. Aliens who did not volunteer are able to remain in civil employment, and where they can satisfy the police regulations they have perfect freedom of movement; but those aliens who were sufficiently enthusiastic about our cause to enlist in the Forces remain there, suffering disabilities all the time. In point of fact, it now has become an action to be punished if you volunteer to fight in His Majesty's Forces, and the less enthusiastic an alien is about our cause the greater freedom of action he has and the less disability he suffers. I believe that if the Home Secretary removed all these anomalies he would have the approval of the whole House. Why does he not do so? The reason is that the most reactionary Department of all is the Home Office.
Perhaps the hon. Lady knows Departments which are worse; but at any rate the Home Office is a good runner-up.
Yes, it is a good runner-up.
It fights a stubborn rearguard action against progress. I understand that America takes an entirely different attitude. Every alien recruited into the American Army immediately gets full citizen rights. Is not that so? Why are we backward? The British Government waste good human material in the Pioneer Corps at the present time. Men do nothing but dig trenches, fill them up again and then dig them again. A very considerable number of men of great professional capacity, with distinguished careers in fighting against Fascism, enthusiastic supporters of our cause, are being wasted by the stupidity of the Home Office on this matter.
I must interrupt the hon. Member. What happens to an alien once he is in the Pioneer Corps has nothing whatever to do with the Home Office. It has wholly to do with the War Office.
That is not the point. The right hon. Gentleman misses the point absolutely. The fact is that, if we conferred British citizenship upon all these people who have volunteered for enlistment in His Majesty's Forces, at once we would be able to bring more reasonable pressure to bear upon the War Office to make fuller use of the men who are there at the present time. That is the point. Of course it is true that once the Home Office take up a reactionary stand of this sort the War Office enthusiastically follow their example. We know that very well. The men must go into the Pioneer Corps if they enlist, and so the right hon. Gentleman sets a bad example to a Department already too enthusiastic in following examples of that kind. I therefore suggest seriously to the House and the Government that here is a matter in which they lag hopelessly behind public opinion and the opinion of the House as a whole.We have been told that the chief obstacle towards having these reforms carried out now is that we have not the consent of the Dominions. What steps have the Home Office taken to obtain that consent? Are they taking any steps at all? They can say they have taken some provisional steps, but have they really treated this as a matter of urgency? We know that Australia and New Zealand have done it, but what about Canada and South Africa? Have they done it? The Government can send missions and right hon. Members all over the world for various purposes, but have they sent anybody at all to Canada or South Africa to implore the Governments there to fall into line with the rest of the British Empire? Of course they have not, because the Government want an alibi for not moving. We are told that one reason why it is not done is because it would involve a great deal of work by the Home Office in tracing the histories of people who want to be naturalised. This has already been done in many cases. What better evidence could you have of the sincerity and worthwhileness of a man than the fact that he is prepared to fight for the cause in which he enlists? What better evidence have you than that? I submit that an overwhelming case has been made out against the Government, and when we come to the Committee stage we shall try to implement the point of view of the House in Amendments.
I had no intention of intervening in this Debate, and I will only keep the House for a few moments. I would not have intervened had it not been for the speech of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle). He has told us that in the interests of increasing the population and of unity in marriage it was essential that husband and wife should have the same nationality. He said, truly, that you marry for better or for worse.
It is delightful at least to be able to agree on some slight point with the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). The hon. Member for St. Albans also said that a husband and wife should have exactly the same outlook. May I ask him to consider for one moment the position of a woman who married a German who was an advanced member of the Weimar Republic when Germany came under Nazi rule? Supposing her husband became one of Hitler's most faithful followers, changing his opinion, is that women immediately to agree with all that is done in the name of Nazi Germany? The hon. Member for St. Albans laid it down that a woman, the moment she married, should give up all power of thinking and deciding for herself what is right and what is wrong. That is the only interpretation of the speech of the hon. Member. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Colonel Cazalet) that women as well as men should be proud of their nationality. If you have any faith in your own nation, then your nationality bears with it a responsibility to engender within the world a certain way of thought. I believe in the British nation; I believe that British nationality is an honour and an obligation. I would wish women to have a full sense of their responsibilities as British citizens. That is why I greatly deplore the fact that British nationality in some cases has been obtained by paying a small sum of money to a British man who has been met abroad.To condemn a woman for life to a nationality other than her own because in the first flush of youth she married an alien at a time when the changing course of history leaves one with little power to foretell all that will evolve is, in my opinion, wholly wrong. It is difficult to understand why the Government, who have thought it fit to bring forward this Bill to-day, should have brought it forward without having set that position right, in view of the repeated and forcible arguments which have ceaselessly been put before them. A strong case will have to be made by the Under-Secretary if we are to approve the Government's policy— a stronger case than there is any possibility of my right hon. Friend being able to make.
A few minutes only are required by me in order to supplement what has been so admirably put forward by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chippenham (Colonel Cazalet) and so ably supported by the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate). I welcome the Bill so far as it goes; it is an excellent Measure, but in my opinion it represents slow-motion legislation, which is out of tune with the fast-moving times in which we live. I have not heard one comment which faces the real issue, the one thing which is omitted from the Bill—that a British woman who marries an American or a Frenchman should lose her nationality. The time is overdue for that situation to be remedied, and I am sorry it has not been remedied in this Bill. In these days many women are brought into contact with men of other nationalities, and when they have fallen in love and want to carry it a step further by marriage, it is most embarrassing for them to have to make up their minds on the question, "Am I to lose my nationality?" For women to be placed in that position in 1943, when they are asked to bear the full burden of life in war time, is indeed most unfortunate. Therefore, I sincerely support the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham with regard to this omission and other omissions from the Bill, and I hope the Government will take notice of these matters now that we are so generously supporting the Bill.
A detailed mastery of the Clauses of this Bill would not have assisted me very much in replying to the Debate. As far as the Bill is concerned, I would like, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, to express appreciation of the reception it has had, the promise to co-operate which has been given, and the approval of its principles, subject, of course, to the objections taken on what it does not contain. The objections have fallen under two main heads. The first is the objection that opportunity has not been taken to amend the law of British nationality with regard to married women, whether one is considering the case of a British woman who marries a foreigner or the case of a foreign woman who marries a British subject. The other objection has been with regard to the limited application of Clause 4.The House will not expect me to go into any very detailed examination of the merits of the first question, and indeed those hon. Members who have spoken have not developed it in detail. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chippenham (Colonel Cazalet), who, as has been acknowledged already, has taken a great interest in this question and been a strong protagonist of the change for many years, said quite frankly, as one would expect, that it is a complicated subject. Although no reference has been made to it in this Debate, there is one question which would no doubt have to be considered if and when a change was made—what would be the effect on the children of preserving the nationality of the mother? But the broad ground, as was indicated by my right hon. Friend, is that questions of principle affecting British nationality have always been regarded, and rightly regarded, by all parties in this House, as matters in which we should move with the Dominions, and the Dominions, if they are to move, should move wth us. As far as this matter is concerned, reference has been made to the statement that was made at Geneva in September, 1931, by the then Home Secretary. It is right to point out that that statement as made at Geneva was followed, as one would expect, by a statement that in these matters His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom did not move alone, but that changes affecting British nationality in the past had been made, and it was hoped always in the future would be made, as a matter of agreement with and common action by the Dominions. That was made quite clear at Geneva. At the Imperial Conference of 1930 the matter was discussed and agreement was not reached. The Conference was satisfied that any proposals for further modification of the pre-existing law beyond what had been agreed to at the Hague would fail to secure unanimous agreement. It followed that the Conference was unable to make any recommendation for a substantive amendment of the law on the subject.
Would it be possible to tell the House what attitude the Government took at the Imperial Conference?
I certainly cannot at the moment.
We, therefore, do not know whether the failure to agree was the fault of the Government.
No. [Interruption.] I am not saying whose fault it was. I am recording the fact that the statement having been made on behalf of the Government in 1931 to which reference has been made, the previous Imperial Conference had failed to come to agreement on the matter. It came up at the Imperial Conference in 1937 but it was not found possible to arrive at agreement in favour of any change in the existing law. That being so, I think that during war time it would be difficult to justify, and would certainly be departing altogether from existing principles, for this country to make a change unless we were able to carry all the self-governing Dominions with us and that is the reason why, though we agree that this is a matter of importance and one on which strong views are held, though the Government in the United Kingdom have made a statement, on the whole favourable to the views which hon. Members have put forward, we feel that it would be impracticable to deal with the matter in this Bill or at this time.
In view of the great importance of this question during the war and because of the war, have the Government taken any step to ascertain whether agreement could not be reached in the only Dominions which are standing out against this reform? Have they, since the war began, made any fresh effort to get agreement on the subject?
I am told there is no indication of any change of view on the part of the Dominions. It is not a matter which greatly comes within my Department. We will take notice of what has been said, but I do not think there is any indication of any possibility of agreement on the matter. That is all I can say at the moment. With regard to Clause 4, I should like to assure the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) that, on the point he raised with regard to taking action through the Protecting Power, he was under a misapprehension. There is a right of intervention on behalf of a prisoner of war who belongs to the British Forces whether he possesses British nationality or not.
I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend would not wish to mislead himself or anyone else. The question is not whether we will have the right to speak but whether our voice will be heard. The German Government must, inevitably, say of such a man, "This man is not a prisoner of war but a German citizen who has violated German law, and we are dealing with him, not as a prisoner of war but as one of our own citizens under our own law." You would take that right away by clothing him with British nationality.
We do not want anybody to be under a misapprehension. I understood my hon. Friend to make the point that the man's not being a British subject would prevent representations being made through the Protecting Power.
From being heard.
I thought my hon. Friend said "being made," but if there is a mistake let us get the position clear. The fact that a man in our Forces does not have British nationality does not affect the position under the Prisoner of War Convention with regard to the right to make representations about him. That, of course, is what one would expect. It is well-known that many forces have aliens in them, and the right to make representations does not depend on nationality. My hon. Friend also suggested that we were putting the man at a disadvantage by not allowing him to become a British subject. In my view, so far from that putting him at a disadvantage, the act of applying for and obtaining enemy nationality is an added act, under the normal laws of all countries, of treason—an act added to the offence of being taken in arms against one's own country.
Then why do it for the French?
The French are not fighting against us. I cannot think that there is anything in that point. There was a case under our own law, which some hon. Members may remember, of a man who during the Boer War applied for Boer nationality and was taken in arms against us. It was said that the application itself was an act of treason. Every one appreciates the services of these people and appreciates, too, their added danger, and I very much sympathise with my hon. Friend's background. Everybody must appreciate the added danger which a man runs when, being of enemy nationality and therefore committing treason under his own law, he joins our Forces in fighting against the Germans. The fact of naturalising would be an additional act of treason, from the point of view of German law, to that which he has already committed by being in arms against Germany.
Would the Attorney-General allow the men concerned to choose for themselves whether they would rather be without British nationality or would rather run the extra risks of having it?
That is a different question. I was trying to deal with my hon. Friend's point that we were putting these men under some disadvantage by declining to give them British nationality. I think that that is a profound misconception of the position. With regard to the extension of Clause 4, as my right hon. Friend pointed out the pledge given by the Prime Minister was given, of course, in very exceptional circumstances. The position of Frenchmen who are in the Forces—with the Vichy Government in the position in which it was—was quite an exceptional one. There, the administrative problem involved, which has an importance in this connection, is a comparatively small one. It really is not right to say that because you may be able to deal with 500 cases, and I believe that is the outside number, therefore you can deal with this, that and the other class, which might involve up to 20,000 or 30,000 cases. I think there will be a difficulty in drawing a line between those who are serving and those who are not serving.
It is just the distinction that this Clause gives in the case of French citizens. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that you cannot draw a distinction between those who serve and those who do not serve, but in Clause 4 that very distinction is drawn in the case of the French nationals.
Does not the hon. Member think that if we were as persistent about British women getting their nationality as he is about these cases——
Where did you get your British nationality?
By marrying an Englishman.
Of course you can draw the distinction. It is drawn in the Clause. A specific pledge was given on those terms and this is honouring the pledge and no one is suggesting that we cannot honour the pledge; but on the grounds put forward by many hon. Members in this discussion, I think it would be difficult to draw a distinction between those who are serving in the Forces and those who are giving valuable services in other ways. The broad reason why the Government have restricted Clause 4 to the pledge which was given is that if we were to go beyond it, it would open up a very big administrative problem. I am sure that everyone is agreed that it is vital to see that British nationality is not given except in cases where the loyalty to and identification with this country of those who apply is undoubted. That can be done in the case of the very limited number of people covered by the pledge, but if we go beyond that we are going to place upon those who have to deal with the administrative problem a burden which really is impracticable, owing to the numbers involved, in war-time.There is one point which I want to correct. It was said that in the last war service in the Forces was regarded as qualifying. That is a misapprehension. After the last war no alteration was made in the normal conditions of naturalisation, except that the fee was remitted in respect of those who had served in the Army. I think that is right. I realise that my observations will not, of course, satisfy all those who have taken part in this Debate. I have put before the House the reasons which have led the Government to restrict this Bill to matters which I agree are subsidiary but in themselves are important, and not to attempt to deal with the wider problem or to adopt the wider suggestions which have been made in the course of this discussion.
Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for the next Sitting Day.—[ Major Sir James Edmondson.]