Consequential Modifications of British Nationality Acts

Clause 4 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th June 1979.

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Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York 12:00 am, 11th June 1979

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 35, leave out from "Kiribati" to end of line 37.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

With this we are to take amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 39, leave out from "Colonies" to end of line 40 and insert and become a citizen of Kiribati".

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

I tabled this group of amendments and the group that follows it in order to limit more closely the proposals in the constitution for nationality to what the law on nationality is in most parts of the world and should be in this country. The normal requirement for nationality is that a person was born in the territory of which he is a national or that his parents were born in that territory. Normally the descent is through the father, but there is an increasing tendency to trace descent through the mother as well. It is a rare nationality law that goes outside those two provisions.

What has happened over the years since 1948 is that, as independent Commonwealth territories took their nationality law on precise terms similar to the ones I have indicated, Britain has been left with the ragbag of those people whom the independent Commonwealth countries did not want. We all know what happened with the East African Asians because of that.

Therefore, it has gradually dawned upon successive British Governments that we should have a law on nationality of our own. The Labour Government put forward a Green Paper and the present Government have said that in the course of this Parliament they will introduce a law of nationality of their own. But when they do so they will have the gravest difficulties, not in defining who should be our citizens—that is easy—but in defining what should be done about the people who acquired citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies and therefore certain nationality rights in English law but would not acquire British citizenship under the test that I have suggested.

When we discuss the nationality law in due course we shall find real difficulty in dealing with those cases. Because of that, and because of the relationship between nationality and immigration, there have been difficulties in the past, and there will be difficulties in the future. Therefore, I have consistently argued that when we give independence to any new territory we should make sure that the nationality law that it takes as part of its independence should cover all the citizens of that territory who come within those two requirements—that they were born there or that their parents were born there.

In the Solomon Islands Bill that principle was not honoured by the negotiations of the British Government, and when the Bill came to the House I and a number of other hon. Members raised questions about it. We indicated that we hoped that in future there would be no repetition of that looseness in language, because we were left with 7,000 citizens of the Solomon Islands who would not receive the nationality of the independent territory and would therefore be our future responsibility if they were ever put out of the Solomon Islands. We said then "There are not very many, and perhaps it does not matter too much, but remember it in future."

In this case, the proposal for the nationality law that was negotiated, and is in annex D of the report of the constitutional conference, is tighter than the Solomon Islands negotiations but still leaves considerable loopholes. One of them is that nationality will be given to the citizens of Kiribati if they are persons of Kiribati descent, and by that is meant any persons whose ancestors were born in Kiribati before 1900. If their ancestors were born elsewhere than in Kiribati before 1900—and that must include a fair number, I should imagine—they do not automatically become citizens of the new Kiribati Republic.

10.15 p.m.

In addition, a person may become a citizen if he is an eligible person. Under the annex, an eligible person is a person who is a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies and has no other nationality, provided that neither he, his father nor his father's father was born in the United Kingdom or was registered or naturalised in the United Kingdom as a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies as a British subject.

It will be seen immediately that there are considerable loopholes in these provisions which go wider than the twin test which I outlined at the beginning of my remarks. I do not know how many people will not become citizens of Kiribati as a result but will retain their right to be citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies and as such will have some rights, not necessarily under the 1971 Act, to be patrial and therefore have an automatic right to enter this country, but, rather like the East African Asians or the citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies who live in Malaysia or in Hong Kong, will have some kind of moral claim to come here and perhaps, if they are expelled, some legal claim to come here.

I want to get the matter straight at this stage. Therefore, I have tabled these amendments.

The first area of dubiety which I came across, although I may have missed a few, concerns those who are the subject of this group of amendments. The two go together because under clause 4(3)(b) a person who is a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies and who on independence day does not become a citizen of Kiribati shall on independence day cease to be a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies if he is then a citizen of some other country.

The implication of that is that it is fine, because we are dealing with someone who has a right to go somewhere. But it may be that the State of which he is a citizen has immigration rules which prohibit his entry or changes its rules so that nationality is removed where there is a dual nationality and the person concerned is left in the position in which citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies are left, with no other State to go to than this.

It seems to me that the proper way to deal with that is that such persons should become citizens of Kiribati unless and until they choose to retain the citizenship of the other country to which they would be allotted. If they are to have dual nationality, the Republic of Kiribati could make provision that they should elect, and that would be perfectly easy to do. That is the purpose of this set of amendments.

I shall not go on to describe my purpose in tabling the other group of amendments, although they could be discussed together. I shall listen to what the Minister has to say about this group. But I indicate again that my concern is the general one which I voiced at the beginning of my remarks that the citizenship of Kiribati should be wide enough to take everyone who was born there or whose parents were born there. On that basis, we would have no responsibility for anyone living in Kiribati at the moment.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I have considerable respect for the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), who has persistently raised questions about our nationality law and exposed many of its weaknesses. I recall that when we debated the Solomon Islands Bill, to which he referred, in May last year, he also raised these questions. I will seek to answer to the best of my ability these complex points about citizenship on these first two amendments, although I suggest to him—I think by his remarks that he had partially accepted it—that what is really needed is a much wider debate and discussion, and legislation for that matter, to rationalise the laws about nationality. I do not want to put words into the hon. Gentleman's mouth but he is perhaps seeking here to put down a strong marker on this matter.

The hon. Gentleman raised valid points. I thought that it would help if I clarified the purpose of the clause before commenting on the two specific amendments, Nos. 6 and 7. The purpose of the clause is to remove citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies from those who do not become citizens of Kiribati on independence but who owe their United Kingdom citizenship to a connection with the Gilbert Islands, provided that they are at independence also citizens of some other country. The required connection with the Gilberts is birth there, or descent from a father born there, or marriage to a man who, or whose father, was born there. It is primarily designed to deal with a number of people who are now citizens of Tuvalu, which is the main point of this provision, who, or whose fathers, were born in the Gilberts.

Since, at the time of Tuvalu independence last year, the Gilbert Islands continued to be a United Kingdom dependency, these people were, under the normal saving provisions in the Tuvalu Act 1978, saved from loss of United Kingdom citizenship by virtue of their connection with the Gilberts. Unless they are of Gilbertese descent, the Gilbert Islands Government are not prepared to accept such people as citizens of Kiribati on independence unless they first renounce their Tuvalu citizenship. The question is what to do with those who will not become Kiribati citizens at independence. Since these people owed their United Kingdom citizenship to connections with Tuvalu or the Gilbert Islands, or both, it is not considered right that they should continue to be citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies, and thus our responsibility, after these two countries have become independent.

This is subject to two provisos. First, if any has a close connection also with the United Kingdom or remaining dependency within the terms of clause 5, to which there are amendments that we shall debate shortly, he will be saved from loss of United Kingdom citizenship by that clause. Secondly, in order to avoid leaving anyone stranded, those who have no other citizenship at Kiribati independence will be able to retain citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies.

I now come to the hon. Gentleman's amendments. The amendments which the hon. Gentleman proposes to clause 4 are designed to give citizenship of Kiribati to this class of people as well as taking away from them citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies. The purpose of an independence Act, so far as nationality is concerned, is to determine who should remain and who should cease to be citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies. It is for the independence constitution of Kiribati to determine who should become citizens of Kiribati. If the amendments were accepted, the citizenship provisions of the constitution agreed with the Gilbert Islands Government would require substantial renegotiation and amendment. I think the hon. Gentleman would agree to accept that.

This would take considerable time and there would be no guarantee of success. This reflects the views of the Gilberts Government. The citizenship provisions of the constitution were agreed at the constitutional conference in December last year only after the most exhaustive negotiation led by the previous Labour Government. Moreover, the result of accepting these amendments, even if they could be agreed with the Gilbert Islands, which is questionable, would be that persons who already have citizenship of another country would have Kiribati citizenship thrust upon them.

The solution which was reached at the conference for the category with which this paragraph is concerned—that is, Tuvalu citizens—is in every way preferable, since it will enable them to opt for Kiribati citizenship if they wish to do so by taking steps to declare that they do not wish to retain Tuvalu citizenship.

I acknowledge that in this subsection we are dealing with a unique situation affecting Tuvalu citizens. What the Gilberts Government want—they have every right to propose it because it is that Government who have to determine what kind of citizenship laws they have in future—is to give these Tuvaluan people, who may, incidentally, have been working in the Gilberts in previous years, perhaps in Government service or for the phosphate company, a clear choice whether or not to exercise their right to continue their Tuvalu citizenship or to opt for Kiribati citizenship.

I have thought about these points carefully since the hon. Member tabled the amendments and on reflection I do not think it right to reverse the decision taken after the constitutional discussions last December.

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

I can accept the Minister's explanation in relation to this limited matter of dual citizenship. Most of the people will be citizens of Tuvalu and will opt for one or the other, although I suspect that there may be some slight difficulty over the odd one. However, my main concern is with clause 5, and perhaps we had better get to that now.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.