I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the acquisition of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies by certain classes of persons who would otherwise be stateless; to restrict the grounds on which persons may be deprived of such citizenship where deprivation would render them stateless; and to repeal section 20(4) and section 21 of the British Nationality Act, 1948.
My proposed Bill seeks to deal with the very serious problem of an unfortunate minority of people who have no nationality and who have neither the protection nor the rights of a citizen in any modern State. In particular, the children of men and women who are stateless are in a very difficult position. In order to deal with this problem the United Nations called two conferences, in 1959 and 1961, to try to draw up a convention for the reduction of statelessness. It is a very difficult problem to deal with. In 1961, a convention was agreed and signed by the United Kingdom and six
other Powers, but it has not yet been ratified by any country.
The Bill would seek to implement the convention n United Kingdom law and to add one or two further provisions in the same field. A child is stateless at birth if it cannot acquire the nationality of the country in which it was born and has not the nationality of either of its parents. There are two legal theories upon which the laws of nationality are based. One is that everybody born inside a certain country should have the nationality of that country. The other is that all children of male persons with a certain nationality, wherever they are born, should have the nationality of that country.
The British Nationality Act, 1948, summed up what had been the law over a long period with some slight alterations. It can be said that we have tried to combine the two theories in our law of nationality.
It is now the law that all persons born in the United Kingdom or its Colonies, or in countries which were Colonies at the time when they were born, have British nationality whether they are legitimate or illegitimate. That means that all children of foreign women born in this country, though they may be illegitimate, have British nationality.
Also, it is part of our law that children of a British male born abroad can have British nationality. It is not the fact, however, that children of British women born abroad necessarily have British nationality. For illegitimate children of British women born abroad are not British citizens. A somewhat similar position to that which obtains under British law exists in most West European countries, with some slight variations and exceptions. There is no uniformity, although there is similarity.
But that is not the case in Scandinavian countries, and in some other countries. In Scandinavian countries the children of a woman married to a stateless person are themselves stateless. Further, children born to a foreign woman resident at the time in Scandinavia or these other countries are stateless if they are illegitimate. That means that the children of a British woman born in these countries are stateless if the mother is married to a stateless person or is unmarried.
There is, therefore, a considerable problem to be dealt with. An attempt to meet the problem is made in Clause 1(1) of the Bill, which states that all children, legitimate or illegitimate, born to a British mother and who would otherwise be stateless, in future will have British nationality. Other provisions in the Bill include the giving of British nationality to all foundling children deserted in this country. There are not many, but there are disputes from time to time about the nationality of foundling children left in this country.
Further, the Secretary of State would surrender his right to deprive a person of British nationality if by so doing he would make that person stateless. Under the present law the Secretary of State can take away British nationality from a person in certain circumstances and leave that person stateless.
I wish to thank the Home Office for its assistance and good will in helping me to prepare and draft the Bill, and particularly for trying to get the Foreign Office and various other Departments to agree to its provisions. The Bill is an attempt to implement the United Nations convention, to enable ratification to take place later. I submit that this is a small but useful reform, which is of great important to a small number of people. It will do justice to a number of unfortunate persons. I ask the leave of the House to introduce it.