HC Deb 24 November 1931 vol 260 cc290-4
The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) and the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Marjorihanks) wish to move their Amendments in a somewhat different form, namely, in line 36, to leave out from the word "effect" to the end of the line. If that is their desire, I ask the hon. Member for East-bourne to move in that form.


I beg to move, in page 4, line 36, to leave out the words "either from the commencement of this Act or."

6.30 p.m.

I merely wish to know whether the Government can accept the Amendment or not, and to point out the difficulty we may be in in future if they do not accept such an Amendment. Under the wording of Clause 10 it is possible that a Dominion may adopt the Act on 1st December, or at any time afterwards, and that, under the present wording of the Measure, when it has adopted the Act, the day of its effective adoption may go back any amount of time. So that if in 10 years a Dominion Parliament adopts the Act or any provision of it, it may have a retrospective effect of five or six years under the wording of the Clause. That is a very grave defect, and any hon. Member who reads the Clause will understand that it is possible under the drafting of the Clause for a decision with regard to Imperial matters in the Dominion courts and in the courts at home to be upset by an Act with a retrospective effect. I am sure that this does not do justice to the Solicitor-General in its present form, unless there is some special reason of policy for retaining the words. I suggest to the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Clause should read: and any Act of that Parliament adopting any Section of this Act…shall have effect from such later date as is specified in the adopting Act. If that can be of any assistance to my hon. and learned Friend I should be very glad to make him a present of the suggestion.


The Amendment on the Paper proposes to do the exact opposite of what my hon. Friend now proposes.


I must explain that it is entirely my mistake.


We are all liable to make mistakes, and I anticipated that my hon. Friend intended his Amendment to be what he now proposes to make it, so that I have not been taken wholly unawares. The objection is—and I am free to admit that at first sight there is some reasonableness in it—as I think he said on Second Reading, to empowering a Dominion to adopt the Act, say in five or six years time, and then do what lawyers are fond of doing, deem that the Act had been in operation the whole of the time previous to its adoption. The fact is that this provision was devised to meet the wishes and the views of the Dominion of New Zealand. If hon. Members will refer to page 21 of the Imperial Conference report, they will find that a Clause dealing with the position of New Zealand is there set out embodying this alternative power as to adoption. All that the Bill does is to apply that provision to two other Dominions instead of singling out New Zealand, at New Zealand's request. I do not think that my hon. Friend attaches any great importance to it, and I hope that inasmuch as the Clause is to meet the wishes of the Dominions concerned, it will be thought convenient that these words shall stand in the Bill.

Amendment negatived.


Before I call upon the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris), I should like to ask the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. L. Boyce) whether he wishes to move his Amendment, and, if so, I shall preserve it.


Yes, Sir.


I beg to move, in page 4, line 39, to leave out Sub-section (2).

The words I wish to leave out are: The Parliament of any such Dominion as aforesaid may at any time revoke the adoption of any Section of this Act. This Sub-section seems to illustrate the principle of the hill with regard to Australia, New Zealand, and Newfoundland, that is to say: None of the following Sections of this Act, that is to say, Sections two, three, four, five and six, shall extend to a Dominion to which this Section applies as part of the law of that Dominion unless that Section is adopted by the Parliament of the Dominion. They may adopt it at any time. They may adopt one Section, and, having adopted it, they can adopt another Section at another date, and a third Section at another date. They can adopt the Act piecemeal, and they can proceed to revoke it Section by Section. I understand from the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) that this provides a new constitution for the Dominions. I agree. The only thing I regret is that it is being embodied in what I regard as a piece of very bad legislation. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Here are the Dominions; they are demanding this Bill." He was careful to say that the Governments of the Dominions were demanding the Bill when correcting an hon. Member opposite. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the Parliaments!"] Yes, in very lukewarm resolutions.


Let us be clear upon this matter. Do I gather that my hon. Friend objects to any Parliament, whether it is here or in the Dominions, speaking for and representing the Dominions?


I certainly do not, but I do not always regard even the Government in this country as representing the nation. General elections have proved that. They prove it both ways. I would say exactly the same thing with regard to the Dominions. They do not represent the Dominions any more than is the case here. Here are three Dominions mentioned. None of those Clauses is going to apply to them unless they adopt them piecemeal. Once they have adopted the Act they can revoke it. I cannot conceive an instance of a worse form of legislation than this, and for that reason I propose that the Sub-section be deleted.


The history of this Clause is precisely the same as that of the last. The Clause in this form was drawn up at the instance of the Dominion Government of New Zealand, and it was subsequently asked that the same Clause should be applied to the Commonwealth of Australia, and to New Zealand. Therefore the Clause is, by the operation of the words at the top of the next page, confined to those three Dominions. My hon. Friend expressed the opinion that it is very bad legislation. He is fully entitled to his own opinion, but I am bound to say that it is not the view taken by the responsible Dominions which asked for legislation in this form. My hon. Friend therefore is in the unfortunate position of not agreeing with the Governments of the three Dominions, and I am afraid that I must leave it there. I hope that now he is assured that the Dominions in question really want it in this form he will not press the Amendment.


The Dominions can revoke the whole thing.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, in page 4, line 41, to leave out the words "of this Act," and to insert instead thereof the words "referred to in sub-section (1) of this section."

My object in moving this Amendment is to secure, beyond all possibility of doubt, that the sovereign rights of the six States of Australia shall not in any way be affected by the passing of this Bill. On the face of it, Sub-section (2) of Clause 10 appears to suggest that any Sections of the Act may be revoked by the Parliament of a Dominion including Sections 8 and 9 which are vital to the preservation of those rights. Although I read Sub-section (2) as meaning that only those Sections, namely Sections 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6—which require to be adopted by a Dominion before they can become operative—may be revoked, yet considerable doubts have arisen as to whether this interpretation could not be challenged. The purpose of the Amendment is completely and finally to remove those doubts. If the Government can see their way to accept the Amendment, I can assure my hon. and learned Friend it will be appreciated by the Governments of the States concerned.


My hon. Friend, I think, takes the view of the construction of the Sub-section as drafted which I take, namely, that as it speaks of revoking the adoption of any Section of the Act, it must be limited to the revocation of Sections which can be adopted. But as he says, there is a possibility at first sight of misunderstanding Sub-section (2), and my right hon. Friend has considered the Amendment and is prepared to accept it as an improvement in drafting.

Amendment agreed to.