HC Deb 22 January 1918 vol 101 cc942-7

Section fifteen of the principal Act is hereby repealed, and subject to such modifications as may be made by His Majesty by Order in Council the provisions of this Act and of the principal Act are extended to Ireland.—[Major Newman.]

Brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move "That the Clause be read a second time."

This is to repeal Clause 15 of the principal Act, and to bring Ireland within the scope of the Bill. When the principal Act was discussed in 1915 a similar Amendment to mine was moved by an Irish representative of an English constituency (St. Augustine's), who explained that he was not speaking for Ireland, and on the present occasion I am in the same position. The hon. Member for St. Augustine's on the former occasion spoke with great restraint, and also with great effect. I dare say this Amendment which I now move will not receive the support of a single member of this Committee. We in this House have now got so accustomed to except Ireland from our measures that it is now done almost without debate. But the country does not look at the matter in that way at all. It wants to know why Ireland is always being excepted from these measures, and I have determined to make it my business, on every single Bill, when Ireland is excepted, to ask the Minister concerned why it is excepted. That is the reason why I am now submitting this Amendment. I do not know who is going to answer for the Government. The Member for St. Augustine's had the honour of a reply, from the then Chief Secretary (Mr. Birr ell), at the time Ireland was drifting to rebellion, and the then Chief Secretary was sitting by and watching. I imagine that the answer which was then given to the hon. Member for St. Augustine's will be the answer I will receive to-night, on the ground expressed by the old Latin tag, irritabis orabrones—or do not disturb the hornets' nest; otherwise, that it was not worth while, for a very small measure of advantage, to interfere with the legislative scheme. I dare say that is what I shall be told. The Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool told the Committee that the then Chief Secretary had at Dublin Castle a dossier recording the facts relating to any Irishman of eminence, and that with that record it would not be necessary to make inquiries as to particular persons from Ireland. He also told the Committee, and it was perfectly true, that that splendid body, the Royal Irish Constabulary, had a complete record of the country districts which they superintended and watched over. That, I think, is the case, though I do not think that record is quite so complete as the then Chief Secretary tried to make out. The gist of the matter is this, that the number of men in Ireland who were not engaged in agriculture was so small that we were told it would not be worth while causing irritation in Ireland by making registration compulsory in 1915. The Committee was at that time told that the numbers were something like 270,000 not engaged in agriculture or work of a necessary kind which would come within the scope of the Act of 1915. I dare say that that number has now grown to a great deal larger figure, and surely the Committee will realise that since the summer of 1915 a very great deal of water has flowed under Westminster Bridge, and that though it was not worth while to stir up trouble to get 300,000 men registered then and that under present conditions it is well worth while to risk a certain amount of trouble, and even a great deal, to get that number registered with a view to employment on National service if for no other purpose. Let us remember that in 1915 we were a nation of volunteers. In 1915I was marching through English villages at the head of men who had volunteered. We were watched by some young shopmen from behind counters who did not come forward to join us. Those young men have had to be soldiers, and. therefore, surely the con- ditions are altered. What might not have been worth while in 1915 is surely very much worth while in January, 1918.

11.0 P.M.

I may be told that the Chief Secretary of the Irish Government can even now put his fingers on every young shopman serving behind the counter, whether it be in Belfast, in Dublin, or in Cork, and be in a position to get him for work of national importance, if necessary, without asking him to register. If that is the case let the Government say so, though I beg leave to doubt very greatly that they have that information at all fully at their command. Even supposing that the dossier is there up to date, I have some further points to put to show why my Amendment should be carried. By Section 7 of the principal Act it is enacted that every person within twenty-eight days of his arrival in the United Kingdom shall deliver to the local registration authority notice of his arrival and certain particulars. Observe, it does not say, "Great Britain," but "United Kingdom." Supposing a man arrives not in Glasgow or Liverpool, but in Dublin, according to the principal Act he ought to register himself; but actually, if we read Clause 15, Ireland is exempted from this Act, and therefore he need not. There is a discrepancy which ought in some way or another to be remedied. Take another point., which is notorious. There are a great number of shirkers who have from time to time gone, and are still going, across from England and Scotland to Ireland to evade military service. How on earth are the Irish authorities to deal with those people if there is no registration enforced in Ireland? It makes the work of the police in Ireland almost impossible. That is another reason why this Bill should be applied to Ireland in its entirety, and why we should repeal the permissive Clause in the original Act. There is a third point Everyday a certain number of Irishmen are coming across to Great Britain for work—it may be for temporary agricultural work, or to take up more permanent work in munitions, building aerodromes, and so on. There again, those men ought to be registered either before they start or when they arrive, but again, as I take it, they will escape. There is a danger. Of course, it is possible for a German to come over as a working man, get work in a munitions factory, and perhaps create some great disaster. Clause 15 of the principal Act, as I have said, is permissive, and I want to make it compulsory. When that Act was passed we were living in the day of volunteers, and now we are in days of compulsion. Therefore, if we have compulsion in this country, surely in this small matter we may well have compulsion for Ireland too. May I just quote to the President of the Local Government Board a few words from his speech which he made on the Second Reading of the Bill? He said: What the Minister for National Service wants to do is to get a complete record of all the occupations of every male and female with a view to using their services to the fullest possible extent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th January, 1918, col.615, If he wants to get that of every male and female in Ireland this permissive Clause will have to be repealed, and a Clause inserted which will give him compulsory powers.


My hon. and gallant Friend proposes that this amending Bill should be applied to Ireland. He sees the consequences of that, and therefore he proposes in the same new Clause that the principal Act, which was passed in July, 1915, should also be applied to Ireland, and he probably is aware of the Clauses of that Act. If he is not, he ought to have studied them before he put down his new Clause. If he does study them, I think he will agree with me that there never was an Act of Parliament which was better designed for England, Scotland, and Wales, but which was wholly unsuited in its application to Ireland. Its whole local machinery is most ill-adapted for application to Ireland, where there is a different system altogether of local government. My hon. and gallant Friend is rather aware of that, because he says in his new Clause, "subject to such modifications as may be made by His Majesty by Order in Council." My hon. and gallant Friend opened this Debate to-day by a most vehement attack on Orders in Council, and said they were the greatest encroachment on the privileges of this House, prevented the country from knowing in the least what laws were being made for their benefit, and he had no good word whatever to say for an Order in Council. Yet, with all his objections to Orders in Council, he comes down now and advocates that an entirely new Act of Parliament shall be applied to Ireland by Order in Council, with very little notice. I think the first statement of the hon. and gallant Member is singularly inconsistent with the speech he has just delivered. But there is another and wider answer to be given to his request. He knows perfectly well the circumstances which induced the Government of the day, in July, 1915, not to apply a national registration system to Ireland. He knows the circumstances which induced the Government not to apply military service to Ireland, and he is well aware that since then other circumstances have supervened. The Convention has been set up, and many of us—I believe the hon. Gentleman himself does so—hope that some settlement of this Irish controversy may be arrived at. At all events, whether or riot a settlement is arrived at I am sure the great majority of this house will believe it is wise to give the Convention every possible chance of coming to a decision by which some settlement may be reached by Irishmen themselves of this difficult problem, and, therefore, this would be a singularly ill-chosen moment if I, on behalf of the Government, were to accept this new Clause, and inform those interested in the Irish question that, although the Government of the day in 1915 rejected a proposal to apply national registration to Ireland, I, on behalf of the Government of to-day, at this critical moment in the history of Ireland, consent to an Amendment which will apply to Ireland in 1918 an Act which, in 1915, the Government of the day deliberately refused to apply to the country under the circumstances in which they then found themselves. Whether or not that policy was wise in 1915, everybody will agree that to-night is not a fitting opportunity to reverse the policy and apply this Bill for National Registration applicable only to England; Wales, and Scotland, to Ireland. If we are to do that it would be far better to bring in a separate Bill, by which it could be made applicable to the peculiar local machinery of Ireland, and not to do it by an Order in Council.


I am not going to argue in favour of the Amendment, but I must object to the arguments advanced by the right hon. Gentleman. I really do not see why the Amendment should not be accepted. I am sorry that the Government thought it necessary to introduce the Bill at all, for the simple reason that the right hon. Gentleman must know that it cannot be enforced in this country if certain forces object to it. I do not think we are prepared—


Is it in order to argue on the merits of the Bill now, and as to whether the Government ought to have introduced it? If so, shall I be able to reply?


It is a very simple question, whether Section 15 of the principal Act should be repealed and whether this Act should be applied to Ireland. The hon. Member is not entitled to go beyond that.


I quite recognise that, and I also recognise the force of my remarks by the right hon. Gentleman rising as he did. I cannot see why it is absolutely necessary in 1918 that the policy of the Government adopted in 1915 should not be revised. It is clear that it might be necessary to revise it and apply it to Ireland. I hope I am in order in making that remark, and that being so, I am very much inclined to think that the proposal of the hon. Member opposite has some substance in it. I am not going to argue that it is wise to apply it to Ireland, and I am not quite sure whether I shall be in order in making comparisons. If I am not, of course my remarks would really fall to the ground.


That would involve going over the Bill as a whole, and that cannot be done now. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait until the Third Reading. He can do it then.

Question put, and negatived.