HC Deb 22 March 1922 vol 152 cc451-2

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, as representing the Crown, has no Constitutional right to release before trial prisoners who are in custody; whether, in releasing the Derry prisoners, the Lord Lieutenant acted on the advice of British Ministers; and whether, before giving such advice, the British Ministers consulted the Law Officers of the Crown in England?


As I stated in the reply which I gave to the hon. Member on the 20th instant, the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland gave directions that these prisoners were not to be prosecuted. That statement was correct. I regret, however, to find that, in reply to a supplementary question by the hon. and learned Member for York (Sir J. Butcher) I inadvertently gave the House an erroneous impression in regard to the grounds of the Attorney-General's action in the matter. I said that he had taken his decision on a calculation of the evidence and on general grounds. I understand that, in fact, the course taken by the Northern Attorney-General was the result of a decision for which the Northern Government, as a whole, was responsible, and was prompted by a desire to ease a difficult situation. It has frequently been the practice in Ireland, in cases where the Attorney-General has decided not to proceed further with the case against the prisoner awaiting trial, for the Lord Lieutenant to release the prisoner, and it was in accordance with this precedent that the Lord Lieutenant acted on the present occasion. In the communication from Sir James Craig, to which I referred in my reply to the hon. Member on the 20th instant, he expressly left the responsibility for further action in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant, and, in placing the facts before the Lord Lieutenant, after receipt of that communication, I advised him that it was within his power and would be in accordance with practice to act as he did.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say if there is any recent instance of the Royal Prerogative being exercised in the case of men who are awaiting trial?


I am informed that there is.

Lieut.-Colonel ASHLEY

Is it not obvious that these men were released owing to presure brought to bear by His Majesty's Government upon the Government of Northern Ireland, and that they were released against the judgment of that Government?


In all this difficult business it is quite true that the action of His Majesty's Government, as far as it can be effective, is directed towards endeavouring to calm and quiet down passions which are, unhappily, aroused between these two sections of Irishmen. If everyone acted in the same spirit, things would be very much brighter than they are now.