asked the Secreatary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that Pre-war Austrian refugees from Nazi oppression, who have served in the Armed Forces throughout the war and are due to be demobilised, woll then be classified as enemy aliens; and whether he will now give these men an opportunity of becoming British subjects.
Yes, Sir. In considering this question His Majesty's Government have had it prominently in mind that among the people who at the present time desire to become British subjects there are many who not only have become assimilated to our ways of life and have the statutory qualifications in respect of residence, knowledge of the language and character, but have special claims to be admitted to British citizenship. Some have served in His Majesty's Forces and have earned their share of the gratitude which we all feel to the fighting services. Others have contributed in civilian capacities to the war effort, including many who have rendered valuable help as scientists and technicians. Others again are contributing to our national strength and prosperity in various fields, including those who in the fields of commerce and industry are providing employment and assisting trade, especially our export trade.
It is accordingly specially desirable to bring to an end the suspension which was imposed in 1940 on the investigation of applications for naturalisation, to resume this work as quickly as possible and to accelerate as far as may be practicable the granting of naturalisation certificates in all proper cases.
The flow of applications having been checked for five years, the volume which has now accumulated is so large that if those who have special claims to consideration are to be dealt with without undue delay, there must be a policy of giving priority to certain classes of applicants. Amongst the varied classes of applicants those whom I have already mentioned stand out as deserving special attention. If an applicant not only has the qualities ordinarily expected of a good citizen but has also given good service in the Forces of the Crown, or has made a substantial contribution in some civilian capacity to the war effort, or is by his business or profession making a substantial contribution to the economic welfare of the nation, his application for naturalisation has a special claim to attention.
The number of applicants who will be genuinely entitled on these grounds to priority is large, but the number is still larger of those persons who will think that they deserve priority and will make out an apparently good prima faciecase in support of their claims. To prevent time and effort which ought at this stage to be devoted to the first class of applications, being spent on the investigation of applications which turn out after inquiry to belong to the second class, will not be easy. To assist the Home Office to pick out readily those applications which are most likely to be found on investigation to be genuinely deserving of priority, if will be necessary to require applicants or certain classes of applicants to submit, in a convenient and effective form, evidence in support of their claims to priority. The machinery which will be required to give effect to this policy will be settled as quickly as possible and an announcement will be made as to the procedure for submitting claims to prior consideration. In the meantime prospective applicants should not lodge their applications in my Department: premature applications and inquiries about the progress of applications already made will merely impede the official machine.
At the time when the suspension of naturalisation was announced—on 20th November, 1940—there were already lodged in the Home Office about 6,500 applications. These applicants must have had in 1940 at least five years' previous residence in this country and, but for the war, their applications would have been disposed of long ago. There is, therefore, a strong case for giving early attention to these 6,500 cases. It has, however, been decided that the consideration of these applications shall not prevent work being started at an early date on other applications from those who have valid claims to prior attention on the grounds which I have mentioned.
It will, I am sure, be generally agreed that the high privilege of British citizenship should not be conferred rashly and without adequate investigations. Whatever steps, therefore, may be taken to accelerate the procedure for dealing with the great number of applications, including both those which have already been lodged and those which will flood into the Department as soon as the further announcement is made, this point will be borne in mind and consequently the work will have to be spread over a comparatively lengthy period. No pains, however, will be spared to make the machinery for dealing with this task as effective as possible in the light of the considerations just mentioned.
I understand the Home Secretary to say that those who had served in the Forces would have priority, but I did not understand him to say that if they had served in the Forces it would entitle them to dispense with certain qualifications as to residence which otherwise apply to people desiring naturalisation. Can he tell the House whether that is so or not?
No, Sir. I hope that before my hon. Friend makes up her mind as to the exact import of this answer, she will read it carefully when she sees it in the Official Report. I cannot, at the moment, undertake any extension of the categories I have mentioned.
The right hon. Gentleman will understand that the statement was not easy to follow; it covers a most important issue. I think we on this side of the House agree with his definition of the importance of any extension of British citizenship to anyone. May I ask the Leader of the House whether, when we have had an opportunity to consider this important statement, he can, perhaps, try to afford an opportunity for some discussion on it?
Will the Home Secretary say whether, when he rightly promises priority to those who have served in the Armed Forces, he is including the Armed Forces of our Allies? He will remember that the previous Prime Minister held out, especially to Poles, the prospect that they would be given naturalisation if they did not wish to return to their own country. Would that also apply to other Allies?
No, I hope to be able to consider them and some of the people in the Services, whom I have mentioned, simultaneously. The situation during recent years makes it very desirable that we should not say that no one else shall be considered until the 6,500 have been disposed of.
May I ask my right hon. Friend if he will say that men who have served in the Forces will be allowed to stay in this country after demobilisation, during the inevitably long waiting period, and will not be compulsorily repatriated?
May I again ask the Leader of the House a question? There are many of us who would like to ask a number of questions on this issue; there are all sorts of cases which we all have in mind. It would simplify matters if the Government would do their best to arrange a Debate, not necessarily a whole day, at an early date, instead of our putting questions now before we have had time to consider the statement.
Might these men who have served in the Forces be allowed to have stamped on their identity cards "Have served with H.M.'s Forces"? Otherwise they are classed as enemy aliens. If they have that stamped on their cards it will help them.
It would not alter their status, even if it were stamped on their identity cards, but if it is on the basis that it is recognised that it does not alter their status, I will consider what is possible. That must not be taken as an indication that I can give way on the point.