16 AUGUST 1930, Page 18


[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.] SI11,—May I beg the courtesy of your columns in order to throw a little light upon a matter which, seemingly, has caused uneasiness among a certain number of those people who are interesting themselves in the rather intricate pro- cedure of establishing equality between men and women in the matter of nationality ?

A group of women asked Mr. Henderson a straight question about the feelings of the British Government in regard to the inclusion of what is known as the Equal Rights Treaty in the agenda of the coming Assembly or the League of Nations ; and in his reply, Mr. Henderson explained that he could not advise the Government to support such a proposal since, among other things, it would entail certain highly controversial legislation which, in the domain of British nationality and the status of married women and children, might give rise to situations of considerable diffi- culty and hardship. He said, moreover, that should His Majesty's Government in the Dominions oppose the Home Government in adopting the principle of the Treaty the result would be that, in different parts of the Dominions, the status of women would conflict, and highly complicated results would ensue. Such an answer appeared contrary to the generally accepted attitude of the British Government, but on this particular occasion it is hardly possible that the difference was of great consequence.

The adoption of the -Equal Rights Treaty would involve far wider adjustments and far more controversial matters than the simple adoption of equality in nationality, since it aims at equality in every possible direction. Its first and principal clause runs as follows : " The Contracting States agree that upon the ratification of this Treaty, men and women shall have Equal Rights throughout the territory subject to their respective jurisdiction "—equal rights, that is, not only in questions of nationality, but in all those questions over which feminists in every country are striving to establish the status of woman. Its momentary rejection by Mr. Henderson, on behalf of the British Government, contains no hint that the British Government is not prepared to stand loyally to its pronounced opinion in favour of equality in the matter of nationality.

From the Hague Conference there emerged certain definite issues. Of the four adopted Articles in the Convention which had reference to the nationality of married women, only one conferred the possibility of a choice—that was the one which .ensured that the " Naturalization of the husband during marriage shall not involve a change in the nationality of the wife except with her consent " ; two of the others merely prevented a condition of Statelessness; the fourth caused a woman to lose nationality on different terms from a man and therefore contravened the wishes of the advocates of equality.

But, beyond these Articles, the Conference adopted the suggestions made by Belgium and the United States, and accordingly recommended States to study the question whether it would not be possible (a) to introduce into their law the principle of the equality of the sexes in matters of nationality, taking particularly into consideration the interests of the children ; and (b) especially to decide that in principle the nationality of the wife should not be affected without her consent either by the mere fact of marriage or by any change in the nationality of her husband.

By these principles the British Government has always stood firm. Time and again its various members have asserted their belief in the elementary justice of the women's plea. Captain Cazalet's Bill, which embodied all that the women ask, was introduced into the Commons only last session without a division. If, during the Imperial Con- ference, difficulties were placed by the Dominions in the way of acceptance, it would be hard to see how Great Britain could do other than reiterate allegiance to the principle of equality and lead the way towards the establishment of a practice that, because it is right, must ultimately find accept-