HC Deb 11 April 1912 vol 36 cc1408-10

The supreme power and authority of the Imperial Parliament is to remain unimpaired and unchallenged. We mean this Bill to confer upon Ireland, in regard to Irish concerns, local autonomy, subject only to such reservations and safeguards as the peculiar circumstances of the case require. The Bill, therefore, proceeds in the first Section and first Clause to declare that—

"after the appointed day there shall be in Ireland an Irish Parliament, consisting of His Majesty the King, and two Houses, namely, the Irish Senate and the Irish House of Commons."

What are to be the legislative powers of that body? It is to have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of Ireland. That is the general position. Now I come to consider and ask the House to consider what are the limitations of that general grant of legislative powers. In the first place it is limited by territorial limitations by the words I have quoted—

"power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of Ireland."

The Bill goes on to say that they shall only have power to make laws in respect of matters exclusively relating to Ireland or some part thereof. You start with a territorial limitation: that is perfectly clear. In the next place we have excluded—and here we follow the precedent of the Bill of 1893—we have excluded certain matters which, although they may fall within the territorial limit, are matters which everybody will admit it is desirable should not be dealt with by the new body. These are substantially the same as the matters enumerated in the Bill of 1893—matters affecting the Crown, the making of peace and war, the Army, the Navy, treaties, dignities, treason, and a number of other matters as hon. Members will readily recognise by referring to the two Bills. We have found it necessary to-day, in consequence of legislation which has taken place between that time and this—or partly in consequence of that legislation—to propose the exclusion of certain Irish services—described in this Bill as reserved services—services reserved for the Imperial Parliament and the Imperial Executive.

First, and in some ways the most important, is the subject matter of the Irish Land Purchase Act. It is, we think, of the utmost importance, in view of the history of this legislation and of future progress in its application and administration, that it should be made perfectly clear that the security of this system, which has been set up on the basis of Imperial credit, is not to be in any way affected—all matters connected with that security are to remain precisely as they were before, both in relation to the fixing of prices, the collection of annuities, and the functions and appointment of the Estates Commissioners and the Land Judge. We have further provided in the Bill that any sums which, under the Land Purchase Acts, might have become chargeable to the Guarantee Fund, are, if the occasion should arise, to be made good by means of deductions from the transferred sum—the meaning of which I shall explain presently; it is sums to be transferred from the British to the Irish Exchequer in accordance with the proposals in the Bill. That is the first of the reserved services, together with the Old Age Pensions Acts, 1908 and 1911, and the National Insurance Act, 1911. The second of the reserved services is the Royal Irish Constabulary. The third is the Post Office Savings Banks; next, Public Loans, as far as respects loans made in Ireland before the passing of this Act; and finally, the collection of taxes other than duties of postage. The meaning of that will become clearer later on.

While we have treated these as reserved services, in regard to which the Irish Parliament will have neither the power of legislation nor of administration, we have provided in the Bill that in regard to some of them there shall be either an automatic transfer or a transfer at the option of the Irish Parliament. In regard to the Constabulary there will be automatically, in consequence of the provisions of the Bill itself, a transfer of that force after the expiration of six years from the passing of the Act. In regard to Post Office Savings Banks, after ten years there may be a transfer at the wish of the Irish Parliament, after an adequate notice—a notice of six months—which will enable all depositors who are so minded to make their arrangements accordingly. [Laughter.] I do not suppose for a moment that they will feel any disposition or temptation to Do so. In regard to old age pensions and national insurance, we also give a power to the Irish Parliament to demand the transfer of those services after a year's notice. [Laughter.] I really do not understand that laughter. I think hon. Gentlemen opposite might have the courtesy to wait until I come to deal with the financial provisions of the Bill, which are necessarily germane to a full understanding of this matter. In addition to these excluded topics embraced in the reserved services, we provide in the Bill that the Irish Parliament cannot repeal or alter any provision of the Act itself, except in regard to certain subsidiary matters which are specially dealt with. Neither will it have the power to affect the right of appeal, which, as I shall presently show, we are going to give to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in all the questions which may arise as to the validity of the laws passed by that Parliament itself. I come now to a further limitation. This, I think, vitally affects the main ground of the objection which is taken to the inclusion of Ulster, or certain parts of Ulster, at any rate, within the ambit of the authority of the new legislative body.

Captain CRAIG

Which part of Ulster? We can look after ourselves.