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First Schedule—(Temporary Continuance Of Certain Provisions Of British Nationality Act, 1948, With Respect To Citizenship By Registration)

Volume 656: debated on Thursday 29 March 1962

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I beg to move, in page 4, line 34, after "entitled" to insert "or qualified".

I think that it would be convenient for the House to discuss with this Amendment the next following Amendment, in page 5, line 11.

Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the two could be taken together.

Both Amendments have exactly the same effect. They are both very technical drafting Amendments. Neither of them alters the substance of the Bill at all but each in the same way enables the Bill to be more exactly dovetailed with Section 3 (2) of the British Nationality Act. 1958.

Without wishing to prolong the proceedings, I must say that the explanation given by the Minister of State did not satisfy me. It is fascinating that the word "entitled" is not sufficient and the word "qualify" must be added. We were looking forward to the explanation. The hon. and learned Gentleman gave us a reference to the British Nationality Act, but left us no time to find the Act or the place in it in order to satisfy ourselves that the Amendment is necessary. Why does the word "qualified" have to be added?

Under Section 3 (2) of the 1958 Act, certain classes of people, in particular, those who are serving in a United Kingdom firm, are not, strictly speaking, entitled but are qualified for registration if, they having achieved their qualification such as service with a United Kingdom firm, the Home Secretary, or, rather, a Secretary of State, decides in his discretion that they should be registered.

There are two ways of becoming registered. One is by that qualification which gives rise to an entitlement to registration and the other way is by that qualification which gives rise to a discretionary opportunity of being registered if the Secretary of State thinks that it is right that the person should be. Therefore, merely as a matter of drafting, we want to talk not only about people being entitled to registration but also, in order to cover the appropriate cases, about people being qualified. That is why in these two places we propose adding the word "qualified".

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for affording us that somewhat belated explanation. I think that we all understood the difference between being entitled and being qualified. All of us in the House at the moment are qualified to sit on that Front Bench, but we are not all entitled. There is a very important distinction. If I may say so, I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman would have been better advised to have offered his explanation at the outset and not treated this very important differentiation as though it were a mere drafting matter.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 5, line 11, after "entitled", insert "or qualified ".—[ Mr. Renton.]

I beg to move, in page 5, line 12, at the end to insert:

6. In relation to any application for registration made before the end of the year nineteen hundred and sixty-five, the following provisions of the British Nationality Act, 1948, that is to say subsection (2) of section eight, subsection (7) of section twelve and section twenty-six, shall have effect as if—
  • (a) references to any country mentioned in subsection (3) of section one of that Act included references to the Republic; and
  • (b) references to the High Commissioner for Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom included references to Her Majesty's Ambassador for the United Kingdom to the Republic or the person appointed to act as chargé d'affaires during the absence or incapacity of such an Ambassador.
  • The effect of this Amendment is to enable the Secretary of State to make arrangements for our Ambassador in South Africa to continue to exercise until the end of 1965 those functions in relation to registration under the two British Nationality Acts that have been delegated to our High Commissioners in Commonwealth countries under certain sections of the 1948 Act, he being one of the High Commissioners to whom these functions have been delegated.

    Before South Africa left the Commonwealth, the High Commissioner exercised these functions, like any other High Commissioner, and when he became our Ambassador he continued to perform them by virtue of the Republic of South Africa (Temporary Provisions) Act of last year, but his power to perform them under that Act will lapse on 31st May, unless we make some provision for him to continue to perform them. The Bill, as drafted, makes no such provision, because it is unusual for such functions to be performed by an Ambassador, and our first thoughts were that, in this respect, as in many others, South Africa must be treated entirely as a foreign country after 31st May.

    In the light of the discussions we have had on the Bill, and in view of the quite justifiable and oft-repeated statement that we are here dealing with unprecedented circumstances, we felt it right that we should leave these functions in the hands of our Ambassador until the end of 1965, rather than oblige all these people Who are entitled or qualified to take advantage of the concessions to refer to the Home Office in London, because that is the alternative with which we are faced.

    Should the people who are entitled or qualified to take advantage of the concessions have to make their applications to the Home Office, or should they have the opportunity of making them to our Ambassador in South Africa, who is, of course—and it is not immaterial to mention this—also the High Commissioner still for High Commission Territories and has certain functions which are rather relevant? We feel sure that the House will agree that it should be more convenient for people living in South Africa to refer their applications to our Ambassador there.

    5.15 p.m.

    We certainly have no objection whatever to this Amendment. In fact, I think that it is a highly desirable one, but I find it strange, in spite of the explanation of the Minister of State, that it was not originally in the Bill.

    I am slightly amused by his repetition of the statement that the Government originally thought that the Bill was to treat South Africa exactly like any other foreign country, because the main Clauses and the Schedules do nothing of the sort. They extend exactly the most important of the Commonwealth privileges to South Africa. I think that is a very thin argument. Nevertheless, it is certainly a good thing that the important right of the ex-citizens of the Commonwealth to resume such citizenship should be exercisable through the Ambassador, or, rather, in the preliminary stage.

    Should they not also be exercised by Her Majesty's Consul? I should have thought that there was no reason at all why this should only be done by an Ambassador. I should have thought that the consular officers could do it. and we would rather like to know what the Government's proposal is in regard to that.

    I think the Minister of State knows our regret that the High Commissioner, who is now to be the Ambassador to the Republic, is still to be the High Commissioner for the Protectorates. He is aware of our criticism of that proposal.

    The point I want to make is that this right is really the extension of a right at present enjoyed by Governors-General in the Colonial Territories. Would someone who was refused these facilities by the Ambassador have the power to appeal to a Minister in this country, if the decision by the Ambassador were not acceptable to him? All of us would have absolute confidence in the decisions that the present Ambassador would reach, but that has not always been the case with Governors-General in the Colonial Territories. We have very often had letters from those who have been refused these facilities by a Governor-General, and we have been able to appeal to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Is it implicit in the Amendment now being introduced that there would still be that right if the necessity occurred for an appeal to the Minister in this country?

    I have two points to make. I appreciate the desirability of having full diplomatic status, rather than the old kind of status before the change, but I would question whether it was necessary for the diplomatic official in question to be an Ambassador. I know that it is the practice nowadays to give ambassadorial status rather more freely and widely than used to be the case. But I should have thought that the object of the Amendment could have been adequately served by making the representative a Minister rather than an Ambassador. Surely that is sufficient in the circumstances of the case.

    However, the more important point is the one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway). Surely it would have been possible to limit the effect of this Amendment to the Union. It would have been possible to say that, in the affairs of the new Republic, the representative should be recognised as a diplomatic representative and, if one preferred, then an Ambassador. But to give him, as it were, diplomatic representative functions with regard to the Protected Territories is another matter.

    I have not had an opportunity to consider the point, but I should have thought that at first blush the answer to my hon. Friend's question was, untunately, "No". Once he is a diplomatic representative he is immune from any kind of control by anyone or appeal to anyone except the Government which accredits him in London and that the logical consequence of doing what is proposed in the Amendment—there may be a safeguard; I hope that there is—would be to negative and frustrate such rights of appeal elsewhere.

    I wish to raise a point concerning the internal arrangements in the home Government. The Ambassador, presumably, is responsible to and holds his office from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I hope that the point raised by the Amendment will still be regarded as one within the competence of the Secretary of State for the Home Department and that when the two Secretaries of State are simultaneously in this country all the matters which arise under the Amendment will be dealt with by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The question of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies is one for him rather than for the Foreign Secretary, unless the Foreign Secretary is acting for him in his absence.

    This may sound rather complicated, but in adiministration it is a very important matter. I am sure that we on this side of the House, at any rate, would wish to emphasise the fact that when these people become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies it is a distinct and important status and they have to look for protection to the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Any complaint about the way in which this particular function of the Ambassador is being exercised should be a matter for the discipline of the Home Secretary rather than of the Foreign Secretary. I hope that the Government will give us an assurance to that effect.

    The Minister of State said that our Ambassador exercises functions in the High Commission Territories and is, in fact, the head of the Government.

    No. He is our Ambassador in South Africa and he is also our High Commissioner for the High Commission Territories.

    The same man exercises two functions.

    I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that the present case would have been amply met if our diplomatic representative in the Republic had been a Minister and not an Ambassador. That is a matter for the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office is represented today in the shape of the Joint Under-Secretary of State, and I hope that it will take note of our view.

    I support very strongly what my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) said about the diplomatic representative also exercising functions in the High Commission Territories. We all have the greatest confidence in the present High Commissioner, but he could be placed in grave embarrassment by these double functions. This is not a matter of theory.

    I had the privilege of serving in the Commonwealth Relations Office shortly after the war. While I was there, there was a meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers which was attended by the new Nationalist Prime Minister, Dr. Malan, who made a formal application to our Government that we should transfer the High Commission Territories to the Union, as it was then called. We refused.

    I venture to think that, after that refusal, our High Commissioner was in a very difficult situation in the Union for a considerable time. Many questions similar to that may arise in future. I was so disturbed by this while I was at the Commonwealth Relations Office that I was firmly resolved to try to get a change made, but I was away for an operation during the last six months that I held the office.

    Of course, it would not need legislation. That was why a new Clause which we proposed in Committee upstairs was rejected by the Chairman, and I do not challenge his ruling. Although legislation would not be needed, this is a suitable time for the Government to tell us that they intend to make this change. I very much hope that they will tell us this during the Third Reading of the Bill.

    While there may be some force in what has been said, there appear to be certain advantages in this dual function. Many people resident in the High Commission Territories regularly go into the Union because of the nature of their work, and I merely throw it out as a suggestion that that is a duality on the part of the people themselves. It may well be that there are advantages in some cases in having a man who has duties on both sides of that not very stabilised border between the High Commission Territories and the Union.

    Surely the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) is not entirely accurate in suggesting that, under the British Nationality Act, 1948, a final decision would be arrived at by our Ambassador or, formerly, by our High Commissioner. Surely only the initial action taken by an applicant is considered by the Ambassador, with the final decision lying elsewhere.

    I welcome the fact that the Amendment is acceptable to the House. A number of detailed points on how it will operate have been raised and I will do my best to deal with them.

    The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was anxious that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and not any other Secretary of State should be concerned in making the arrangements with the Ambassador in pursuance of the power contained in the Amendment. The answer to his point is that the Home Secretary will be the appropriate Minister. It will be for him to advise the Ambassador in carrying out these functions by means of a sort of directive or memorandum. In addition, it will be made clear to the Ambassador that cases of doubt or difficulty may be referred to the Home Office for advice.

    5.30 p.m.

    Why did the hon. and learned Gentleman use the word "may"? Surely, if our Ambassador is in doubt and difficulty and wishes to communicate with this country, it should be "shall" communicate with the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

    Yes. The right hon. Gentleman has caught me out on a narrow point. It is obvious that if the Ambassador feels that there is doubt or difficulty, he would, naturally, wish to refer the matter to the Home Office.

    There has been a good deal of mention of appeals in this matter. These matters of registration are in nearly all cases a matter of entitlement. If a person has the qualification, he is registered; if he does not have the qualification, he is not registered. Once the facts have been proved to the satisfaction of whoever it may be—the Home Secretary, the High Commissioner or, in this case, the Ambassador—registration is automatic. To that extent, therefore, questions of appeal are unlikely to arise. If there is doubt or difficulty, they can be referred.

    In Section 8 of the 1948 Act, which we are invoking in the Amendment—