HC Deb 28 November 1922 vol 159 cc559-62

If the Parliament of the Irish Free State make provision to that effect, any Act passed before the passing of this Act which applies to or may be applied to self-governing Dominions., whether alone or to such Dominions and other parts of His Majesty's Dominions, shall apply or may be applied to the Irish Free State in like manner as it applies or may be applied to self-governing Dominions.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


I oppose this Clause, which raises a point of considerable importance by giving power to the Irish Free State to adopt Acts applicable to other Dominions. This is a provision? which is quite new in any Statute setting up a Constitution or regulating the relations between the Mother Country and the Dominions or any other part of the Empire. There are certain general enactments which affect the whole Empire. In this particular case, the Irish Free State will be able to say that it will either agree to these enactments or to some one or other of them, and that it may disregard and disagree with others. There is one particular Act, the Colonial Laws Act, 1865. This Act is of very considerable importance, because,-among other things, it prohibits interference by the Colonial or Dominion Executive with Imperial enactments applying generally to Dominions of the Empire. It also deals with the most important question of naturalisation. Apparently, it is intended that the Irish Free State shall not be subject to this very important law or to any enactment of a similar kind. Why should this exception be made? I admit that the case of the new Irish Free State is different from that of the other Dominions and Colonies. In the other Dominions and Colonies they have had Constitutions conferred upon them by an Act of the Crown and the Imperial Parliament. They have been raised, confirmed and improved in their status by these enactments. The Irish Free State is different. The Irish Free State is set up under the terms of a Treaty. Before the Treaty, Ireland was a constituent and equal part of the United Kingdom, and in the change that has been made she is taking a lesser degree in the British Empire by accepting the status of a Dominion, which is somewhat less than that of a constituent part of the United Kingdom. I am not disputing whether it is the desire of a large number of people in Ireland that this change should take place.

Constitutionally, Ireland is accepting a lesser and lower position in the eyes of the Constitution and in the eyes of the law than she occupied before this change was made. In that fact, I do not think there is any reason why Ireland should be excepted from any general Statute which applies to the Dominions of the Crown overseas. If there was any Statute from which she should be excepted it might have been set forth. The tact is that enactments dealing with the general position of British subjects in the Dominions overseas are not applied in the case of Ireland. I, therefore, ask the Attorney-General if he will explain why this Clause is included in the Bill. It in no way affects the Schedule. It is part of the Bill, but it does not affect the Treaty. It is something in the Bill which is outside the terms of the Treaty, and the Committee has full liberty to deal with is. In this respect we are not bound by any agreement or any previous enactment or undertaking. We are perfectly free to discuss this Clause and to take whatever action we think fit on the merits of the case presented.


The points raised by my hon. and gallant Friend only require explanation to commend themselves to the Committee. He is quite right in saying that the House is free to deal with these Clauses on their merits. They are not part of the Constitution. They are matters which fall to be enacted outside the Constitution, and I think that when the Committee has heard the meaning and effect of them they will have no difficulty with regard to them. The fact is that there have been enacted for many years past a number of Acts of Parliament, some of which only apply to the dominions which adopt them, some of which provide for reciprocity between the dominions and this country if the dominions choose to adopt them, and some of which apply to the whole Empire, except to the extent that a dominion may-choose not to adopt them. If I give the Committee one or two illustrations they will see the sort of thing that has to be dealt with. The Copyright Act,1911, applies to the whole Empire, except that a self-governing dominion can, if they choose, refuse to adopt the Act, and then it will not apply there. The Colonial Probate Act provides that if any self-governing dominion arranges for reciprocity with this country there would be easier ways of proving wills or accepting the probate of wills which have been proved in the dominion or in this country respectively. That is to say, we provide for accepting proof of a will proved, let us say, in New Zealand, and New' Zealand, on the other hand, provides that she shall accept a will when it is proved in the United Kingdom. There are such provisions as facilities for enforcing maintenance orders and matters of that kind, which only become operative in regard to a self-governing dominion in so far as the self-governing dominion chooses to enact reciprocal legislation.

Then there are certain Acts which only apply to self-governing dominions in a different way from the way in which they apply to this country. For instance, there is a provision such as the Extradition Act. In this country we act under the power of a Secretary of State, while in a self-governing dominion the power is exercised by the Governor-General. Very likely it may happen that the Irish Free State, considering itself expressly put in the position of a self-governing dominion, would prefer to be in. the position of a dominion in a matter of that kind, and for all purposes. This Clause is inserted in the Bill simply and solely to enable the Irish Free State to be in the same position as to adopting Acts, of Parliament as any self-governing dominion is in to-day. It has no sinister meaning nor effect. It is simply to enable the Irish Free State to take advantage of Acts of Parliament which confer adoptive powers upon self-governing dominions, and to enable the Irish Free State to do so if they so choose. Failure to pass this Clause would, I think, not only be inconvenient to the Irish Free State, but would also probably be very inconvenient to this country, because we should be unable to make reciprocal arrangements with the Irish Free State in the same way that we are able to do with other self-governing dominions except the Irish Free State.


The Attorney-General has raised a point of very considerable importance. He mentioned the Copyright Act. Am I to understand that from the passing of this Bill the Copyright Act ceases to apply to Ireland, and that there is nothing to prevent the piracy of books which are printed and published in this country being printed and sold in Dublin, without any restriction whatever unless the Legislature of the Irish Free State chooses to re-enact the Copyright Act? This is a matter of very great importance. It virtually makes copyright valueless in this country, because anyone could print a book in Dublin and sell it there, and there could be no reciprocity in the real sense of the term. There is cause for considerable alarm in the casual way in which the right hon. Gentleman brought in the Copyright Act, which seemed to indicate that that Act should have no application unless there was reciprocity by the Free State. I should be very glad to be assured on that point.