While accepting that reply by the hon. Gentleman, may I ask whether, until such times as it is possible to introduce a comprehensive review of the law on nationality, the Government have plans to introduce any interim measures to try to clear up some of the anomalies between the regulations applying to EEC citizens and those applying to others? That would enable the law to be understood by many more people than I suspect understand it now.
One of the difficulties is that there has been a piecemeal approach over the years. We want to try to get a comprehensive review which takes into account all these factors. I should therefore be against an interim piece of legislation, and I am looking forward to a much more comprehensive review.
Does my hon. Friend not think it odd, even by British standards, that 900 million people—that is, a quarter of the world's population—are entitled to vote in British elections so long as they are resident in this country on 10th October each year? Would not the restriction of the vote to citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies be a valuable interim measure to introduce before the law is changed?
As my hon. Friend said, they are entitled to vote so long as they are allowed to reside here. Difficulties arise from the fact that they are not always allowed to reside here, and we have to consider these difficulties in the comprehensive review.
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for that reply. However, it does not convey much to me because I do not carry all these answers in my head. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no obstacle whatever is placed in the way of the wife of a British husband coming to live in this country with him, whether she is an alien or not? Is he aware that considerable bitterness is caused to women by having to choose between living with their lawful wedded husbands and living in the countries of their birth?
This is a real problem, and there are cases of considerable hardship, which I shall try to ease as far as I can by sympathetic administrative decisions. I believe that there is, too, an element of sex discrimination which is difficult to defend.
However, I have to consider the practical consequences as well as the problems themselves. I must tell the House, in order that the discussion which is building up may be properly conducted, that were I to admit husbands on the same basis as wives, in my view it would lead to a substantial and continuing new wave of male immigration, particularly from the Indian subcontinent. I cannot dissociate the problem completely from the cultural tradition—which do not seek to judge—of arranged marriages, but I must take into account the substantial effect upon the rate of immigration, anxious though I am to find an equitable solution.
Will the right hon. Gentleman, at the same time as considering this matter, look into the situation regarding the nationality of the children born to British wives married to alien husbands? In later years, this situation causes extreme grief. Such cases are pouring in daily. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider the two matters together.
Can the Home Secretary amplify in any way the more liberal use of the criteria that he will apply in exercising his discretion on compassionate grounds in these cases? It is intolerable that this inhumane sex discrimination against women should continue while there is a means of ending it by administrative action.
I do not think that the degree of discrimination can be wholly ended by administrative action. What is possible under administrative action is to determine the degree of hardship which is caused when a woman has to live abroad with her husband, and I shall look at the matter very carefully; but I have to balance the desirability of avoiding sex discrimination, accompanied by the determination not to have racial discrimination, against the fact that there must be a limit to the amount of immigration that this country can take.
In view of the great pressure, which undoubtedly will be brought to bear on the right hon. Gentleman in this matter, will he make public the detail of the thinking which he has summarised to the House about the consequences for increased immigration to which he referred?
I have endeavoured to put before the House some of the considerations which I am bound to have in my mind in dealing with this problem, which I regard as one of the most difficult problems that a Home Secretary has to face. If, as I imagine is the case, there is further discussion upon this issue in the House as well as elsewhere, I shall be most happy to aid that discussion by giving as much information as possible. However, in these spheres, the information cannot, by its nature, be wholly precise.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that no mention whatsoever is made in the Green Paper of the particular difficulty that women experience in obtaining hire-purchase or rental agreements? This is a staggering omission. Indeed, only two weeks ago I was asked to produce a husband to sign a form so that I might rent a television set, and that is the type of discrimination—
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern that women feel, and will he quickly establish the equal opportunities campaign in order to ensure that all forms of discrimination are abolished as soon as possible?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the House welcomes the caution as well as the sympathy with which he is aproaching this extremely delicate and difficult problem, remembering that it was his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, when Home Secretary, who had to restrict the rights of wives because those rights were being abused as a way of getting round the immigration control several years ago? Will he keep carefully in mind the immigration aspects of this matter, so long as the system is under the intense pressure that it has been recently?