HC Deb 29 October 1920 vol 133 cc2170-4

  1. (1) A candidate at an election of Members for the Parliament of Southern Ireland or Northern Ireland shall, during the time during which nominations may be received, take and prescribe before the returning officer the oath of allegiance, and if he fails to do so he shall be deemed to be withdrawn within the meaning of the provisions of the Ballot Act, 1872.
  2. (2) It shall be the duty of the returning officer, and he is hereby empowered, to administer such oath.
  3. 2171
  4. (3) The returning officer shall send to the officer to whom returns to writs are sent with each return the forms of oath subscribed by the persons to whom the return relates, and any return to a writ not accompanied by those forms shall be invalid. The returning officer shall also forward to the same officer, with the packets of ballot papers and other documents which he is required so to forward, the forms of oath subscribed by candidates not included in the returns to the writs.
  5. (4) If a returning officer fails to comply with any of the provisions of this Section ho shall forfeit the sum of three hundred pounds, recoverable at the instance of any person aggrieved or of His Majesty before a judge of the High Court sitting without a jury, and also forfeit his right to receive any sum in payment of his charges at the election.
  6. (5) A form of oath subscribed under this Section shall be deemed to be a public document within the meaning of the Forgery Act, 1913.—[Sir L. Worthington-Evans.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a Second time."—[Sir L. Worthington-Evans.]


I do not know if my right hon. Friend proposes to get through the whole of the Committee stage to-day, and I do not know that any of us who have Amendments down would raise any objection, though there are one or two important points on subsequent Amendments. I wish to raise what at any rate appears to me primâ facie strong objections to this particular Clause, Sub-section (1) of which reads: A candidate at an election of Members for the Parliament of Southern Ireland or Northern Ireland shall, during the time during which nominations may be received, take and prescribe before the returning officer the oath of allegiance, and if he fails to do so he shall be deemed to be withdrawn within the meaning of the provisions of the Ballot Act, 1872. I would like the Committee to consider what the effect of this Clause is going to be. It will impose upon candidates for Parliament in Ireland a wholly novel procedure which has never been known in our constitution hitherto, and which, had it been in existence in the time of Mr. Brad-laugh, would have prevented him standing as a candidate for Northampton. Many persons who afterwards became distinguished Members of this House would have been prevented standing. It is not a question of a man being compelled to take the oath after he is elected. He is to take the oath of allegiance when he stands as a candidate, and such a condition, I believe, would have ruled out the late Sir Charles Dilke, who became a very distinguished Member of this House. It is an extremely dangerous thing to be introduced into our constitution. We have to consider public opinion all over the world. It will be said, if this is passed, that the House of Commons has introduced a wholly novel procedure never before applied to any of the Dominions that have got constitutional government. So far as I have been able to ascertain, such a condition as this is not laid down in the constitution of any one of our Dominions or in any of our colonial Parliaments. Of course, if a man is elected he has to take the oath of allegiance in the ordinary way.

3.0 P.M.

What will be the effect, if this Clause is carried, on the South of Ireland? There are those who have suspicions of the Government, among them the "Times" newspaper, and that journal suggests that the Government know perfectly well there is not a man in the South of Ireland who, if he became a candidate for the Southern Parliament, would dare to take this oath. The hon. Member for Finchley (Colonel Newman) lives in the South of Ireland. If he decided to give up his membership of this House and to stand for the Southern Parliament of Ireland I venture to think he would not dare to take the oath of allegiance. His life would not be safe for a moment. I oppose this new Clause on two grounds; first, that this thing has never been done in our constitutional history, and that in consequence it is likely to be misinterpreted not only by our enemies, but by our friends all over the world as an attempt to make, a distinction against Ireland; and, secondly, because it is not necessary, and it will prevent people standing as candidates for the Southern Parliament. No man will dare to do it. If one might venture to entertain suspicions of the attitude of the Government, as the "Times" and other newspapers, and as many associations of persons do, it might be suggested that the object of this new Clause, this very extraordinary proposal, is this. Candidates for the Northern Parliament will, of course, take the oath. But they do not live in the South of Ireland, and are not subjected to the intimidation which goes on there. In the case of the South of Ireland Parliament no one will dare to come forward, and either that Southern Parliament will never exist or, if it is elected, and this is a suggestion I have had, not from confidential quarters—I do not altogether accept it or reject it, at any rate until I have heard explanations from the Government—that the only reason for putting this Clause down is that, in the event of an election taking place for the Southern Parliament, Sinn Fein candidates will come forward and stand with the intention of being elected without eventually taking the oath of allegiance, and when 200 or 300 of them have been elected they will seize some public building in Cork, Dublin, or elsewhere, will claim to be the properly elected representatives of the people of the South of Ireland, will announce they are not going to take the oath of allegiance, and will appeal to the world for recognition as the accredited representatives of the people. I quite admit that that objection has to be got over, It is very possibly the course that would be pursued by Sinn Fein candidates, but even if that be so, I do most earnestly ask the Government, Is that a reason for differentiating the case of the Irish Parliament from that of all other Parliaments in all parts of the world? Will it not go forth to the world that we are making it impossible for people to stand for the Parliament in the South of Ireland? It is a terrible thing that circumstances should be as they are, but I earnestly beg the Government not to move this Clause, and to take time for further consideration. I would be the last to suggest negotiations outside the House, but I do think this is just one of those cases where the Government might very well discuss the question with some of their own supporters in the House and outside, and consider whether it is really necessary to press the Clause. At any rate, I hope it will not be taken this afternoon.


I have listened with great interest to my Noble Friend, and especially to the last suggestion which he made. I quite realise that we have got through the Clauses much more quickly to-day than probably any Member of the Committee anticipated, and this Clause, which has aroused a great deal of interest for some time past, both inside the House of Commons and outside, has been reached much earlier than has been expected by most hon. Members, some of whom, no doubt, would like to take part in the discussion upon it. I shall, therefore, be quite willing, on behalf of the Government, to withdraw the Motion for this new Clause today, and to bring it up on Report. It must be understood that I am not withdrawing it altogether, but I do not want to take hon. Members by surprise, and, if we were to discuss it at this moment, I am not sure that there might not be a reasonable complaint that hon. Members did not expect it to be reached so soon, and consequently are not here to discuss it. My hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Hogge) has come in breathless to take part in this discussion, and he may have other friends who wish to take part in it also. Therefore, for the convenience of the Committee, I would ask leave to withdraw the Clause.



Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.