§ 7.37 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)
I beg to move,That the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations, 1949, dated 23rd February, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd March, be approved.The House will appreciate that these are somewhat technical regulations to deal with those aspects of the preparation for and conduct of elections which fall to be dealt with by regulation by virtue of the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1948. The House very recently approved regulations of the same kind for England and Wales. These regulations are substantially the same, making allowance only for inevitable differences, which are either provided for directly in the Representation of the People Act, or were foreshadowed at that time.
The principal difference between these regulations and those approved only the other day is that these, unlike the English regulations, do not deal with local government elections or with the local government register. The reasons for that are obvious, and I need not go further into them. The other differences are of a much slighter kind and arise largely from small differences in the timetable relating to the preparation of the register. Those differences are actually provided for in Sections 1 and 5 of the main Act. There is another provision whereby every third year the register in Northern Ireland will correspond and coincide with the register used for local elections in Northern Ireland, and provision has to be made for that in one of the regulations. Apart from these differences, however, the regulations are substantially the same as those approved recently for England and Wales.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Delargy (Manchester, Platting)
I have read these regulations in great detail in all their parts, paragraphs and schedules and I have only one objection to make. I believe these regulations are inadequate to deal with the end for which they are devised. The purpose of these regulations is obviously, as with the regu- 1118 lations submitted to this House for England and Wales, that elections shall be free, shall be secret, shall be democratic; that every person who has the right to vote shall be accorded that vote and finally that the process of voting shall be as simple and easy as possible for every elector.
In any normal democratic State, these regulations would be quite sufficient for all those purposes. In any State where the registration officers, the local authorities and the Government were concerned to obey the law, these regulations would be admirable; they would be sufficient to cover all the purposes I have indicated; but I cast no reflection whatever on the Home Secretary when I say that the regulations he submits to the House tonight are quite inadequate to secure free and fully guaranteed democratic elections in Northern Ireland. He has done his best. It is not his fault that these regulations will not be carried out. It is not his fault that he is dealing with a crowd of people who obey only those paragraphs of the law which suit their own purposes.
§ Mr. Delargy
It is not the fault of my right hon. Friend that the parties to whom these regulations are addressed have not the smallest desire to encourage democratic practices. Under his present powers, probably, the Home Secretary can do no more than he has done. I hope the day is not far distant when he will have wider powers, in order to insist that there shall be democratic elections in Northern Ireland. Better still, I hope the day will soon arrive when the right hon. Gentleman will be relieved of this burden, a burden which, for a man of his democratic sympathies, indeed, of his profound democratic principles, he must find irksome and most uncongenial. I hope the time will quickly arrive when the Irish people can decide these things for themselves.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member must not discuss the situation in Ireland. We are discussing these regulations.
§ Mr. Delargy
Very good, I give a solemn undertaking not to deviate by one split fraction of a syllable from the regulations under consideration. I call the attention of the House to Regulation 24:Corrupt and illegal practices list1119 and in particular to paragraph 6, which says:A copy of the corrected corrupt and illegal practices list shall, on publication, be furnished by the registration officer to the Secretary of State, the Ministry of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland and the British Museum.Hon. Members will appreciate that it is most appropriate that these regulations should be consigned to a museum, because no more notice will be taken of them than of all the other relics, mummies and dodos of the past. In a museum these regulations would be in their rightful place among other old, musty documents, sometimes perused by sightseers or students in search of curious and esoteric lore. But that a copy of them should be despatched to the Ministry of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland seems to me a great waste of time and paper. The Ministry of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland knows far more about corrupt and illegal practices than all of us put together. The Ministry of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland could open university classes on corrupt and illegal practices. They could write volumes about them and certainly speak on them with great authority, authority born of long and skilful practice. I submit that a copy of the corrected corrupt and illegal practices list should not be sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland unless in this corrected copy the Home Secretary might be able to make an end of those corrupt and illegal practices, but I think that for the time being that would be asking far too much and that it is far beyond the powers of the right hon. Gentleman.
I also ask hon. Members to look at page 27 of these regulations. It deals with:Form E: Elector's official poll card.There it states:The poll will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Your polling station will be—then there is a blank and dotted lines. Normally the polling station which is there described is the polling station which is convenient to the electors of the district. Polling stations are supposed to be so placed as to be convenient to the electors in that particular area. That is the practice in this country, but not in Northern Ireland, where the authorities want to make voting as difficult as possible for all who oppose the Government. 1120 It is not uncommon in Northern Ireland for an elector to walk several miles, passing several polling booths on his weary journey before he can find the place where he is to vote.
§ Mr. Delargy
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) says "nonsense." He should know that that is the practice in his constituency. Certainly it is the practice in County Down, where I happened to be present on polling day in an election for the purposes of returning an hon. Member for this House about two years ago. Although I will not vote against the regulations, and I agree that the Home Secretary has done his very best—since in any normal democratic State such as this country these regulations would be admirable—I have to warn the right hon. Gentleman that they will not be applied in Northern Ireland, or at least only those parts which happen to suit the majority party in that part of the United Kingdom.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Gage (Belfast, South)
I confess I find the tortuous and complicated argument of the hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Delargy) more difficult to follow than most of his arguments. He started by saying that these were excellent regulations, that they were well designed to do what it was wished that they should do, namely to regulate the woting in Imperial elections, and then went on to say that they should be consigned to a museum. That sort of argument cannot appeal to any reasonable person. One cannot say that these regulations should not be passed because they are going to be broken, particularly when one does not give any instance of how they will be broken, but embarks upon a general panegyric about Northern Ireland and the way in which they conduct their elections. I was recently in Northern Ireland when elections were conducted—not for this House—and the only thing which I feared would make me feel that normal practices were not being observed was when I asked an old farmer in a constituency on the Border how they were getting on and he said: "Man, we are doing rightly, but they Nationalists vote 101 per cent." I do not know how they did that, but I noticed that it was not the Unionists whom one could attack for that. It is not a really serious argument and I think the House can ignore it.
1121 The regulations are designed to carry out the purposes of the Act. They are similar to the regulations here and I do not think anyone on this side of the House could object to them. There is only one matter to which I would draw attention as it perplexes me. If hon. Members turn to regulation 20, they will see:The registration officer before registering any persons (other than a service voter) may, if he thinks it necessary—require two things:
Section 1 (2) of the principal Act, which sets out the people entitled to vote in elections, says:
- "(a) require that person either to produce a birth certificate or to make a statutory declaration that he was of full age on the qualifying date,
- (b) require that person either to produce a certificate of naturalisation or to make a statutory declaration that he was a British subject or citizen of Eire on the qualfying date."The persons entitled to vote as electors at a parliamentary election in any constituency shall be those resident there on the qualifying date who, on that date and on the date of the poll, are British subjects of full age and not subject to any legal incapacity to vote.It seems to me that the regulations are going beyond the purpose of the Act in that respect, because when the Act was passed nothing was then said about citizens of Eire being entitled to vote. I think that came later when the British Naturalisation Act went through its various stages in this House. I recollect then that when I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether a citizen of Eire would be able to vote in elections to this House, either in this country or in Northern Ireland, he said they would. It may have been an oversight at the time, but the Act does confine the right to vote to a British subject.
Therefore, it seems to me that if we make regulations under the Act we must confine those regulations to British subjects. I do not quite understand Regulation 20, which apparently envisages the right of citizens of Eire to vote, who indeed may not be British subjects and probably will not be British subjects, because as far as we know, by an Eire Act anyone who is a citizen of Eire automatically renounces his British subject status. I think that is an important point with which the right hon. Gentleman should deal because it appears to me that the regulations in that respect go beyond the Act.
1122 Apart from that, nobody can find any fault with these regulations. They are designed to implement the Act. All our objections about the Act have been stated, and this is not the time to repeat them. Now that the Act has become law, these regulations have to be passed. I think I can say that the people of Ulster will loyally regard those regulations and will see that they are enforced, and I have no doubt that if they do they will still continue to return Unionist Members to this House.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
I think we can all congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on having done a very workmanlike job. The only doubt in my mind is whether to make these regulations as like as possible to the British regulations, is to make the best type of regulations for elections which we all know, are as unlike the British type of election as one could possibly conceive. Perhaps I might draw one example from the regulations. One will observe that Regulations 25 to 61 are entirely concerned with the problem of collecting the votes from absent voters. That is not a problem which exists in Northern Ireland. The problem is the other way round—how to secure that the actual number of votes cast do not exceed the total of the electorate. The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden) is not here at the moment. I wrote him a note and said that I should refer to this point with reference to the recent by-election in Armagh. If one looks at those by-election figures one finds that the election was fought on a stale register in an area where the people were a great distance from the polling booths; yet they managed to secure the record poll of 88.6 per cent. If they could do that without the help of these regulations, what will they do when my right hon. Friend has given these additional facilities?
I now turn to Regulation 14, because it is that regulation, entitled "Correction of clerical errors and removal of names of dead persons," which probably suffices to answer the various points which have been raised particularly by the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Gage). He said that my hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Delargy) had given no examples. I want very shortly to give to the House one or two examples, taken 1123 from a Unionist member of the North Irish House, as to why, for example, this Regulation might well be used in such a way as to introduce the most undesirable corruption into elections. I am going to quote from Mr. Nixon. Mr. Nixon was a police officer of great experience. He served in the I.R.A. and rose to very high rank.
§ Mr. Bing
The hon. Gentleman will excuse my slip of the tongue; I meant the R.I.C. Subsequently he was in the R.U.C., and he was a trusted police officer of the Northern Ireland Government. He subsequently became a Unionist Member of Parliament. It is true that while he accepts the policy of hon. Members opposite in the Northern Ireland Parliament, he refuses to accept their whip because he does not approve of the methods by which they have obtained political power. Of course, that does not mean that he does not approve of their philosophy. Hon. Members opposite are quite unable to contest the facts which he puts forward, because he was one of the few Members whom they did not even oppose at their recent election.
When we are dealing with this Regulation it is as well to say a word or two on what Mr. Nixon said with reference to a by-election to this House two or three years ago—the Down by-election. He was very apprehensive that there would be some form of corruption involving the registration officers and the returning officers. This is what he said:With regard to the Minister's statement that he has no reason for believing that there are great preparations for personation, did the preparations stop? With regard to my finding out information and giving it to the Minister, he is nearer Glengall Street than I am.Glengall Street, of course, is the Unionist headquarters. He went on to say:Furthermore, if I did give information and if anyone was apprehended and brought to justice, is it not a fact that acting according to custom the Unionist grand jury would find no bill?This is not a Member of this side of the House speaking; it is a Unionist Member—one who has the courage not to accept the method by which the Northern Ireland Conservatives conduct their elections. He continued: 1124Is it not a fact that everyone brought up for personation for a number of years belonged to one party and one party only, the Official Unionist Party?
§ Mr. Bing
It is not for me to dispute with a senior officer of the police who probably knows police procedure in Northern Ireland better than either of us.
I want to say a word or two about this regulation, because it is important that we should consider how far a power which is given here to someone to strike a name off or to correct a clerical error, can in fact be misused. Let me give one example, again from Mr. Nixon, who says this:The thing was wholesale and absolute. I say that many of the presiding officers, though not all, were in absolute league with the personators.He describes personation in these terms:I saw two young girls of 18, who were at the 'Unionist' table, going in to personate"—He then goes on to name one of them—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I do not see the relevance of the hon. Member's remarks to these regulations. Perhaps he will restrict his remarks more particularly to the regulations.
§ Mr. Bing
Perhaps I did not make myself clear. These regulations give the registration officer power to make alterations or corrections, and if, as it is alleged by a Unionist Member that registration officers and presiding officers are engaged in personation, it is surely highly relevant to say that these officers should not be entrusted with these powers. I will leave that point and say this to my right hon. Friend. These regulations may be of value as a trial to see whether they are sufficient. These are very serious charges of corruption which have been made, not from this side but by a member of their own side. There is, therefore, a responsibility on the part of Members opposite to see that this sort of thing does not continue. I only wish that some Members of the House were present when the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Astor) raised various questions and said that we ought to look very carefully into public life to see how things go on.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order! The hon. Member must relate general allegations of this description to a particular regulation. It is not sufficient to indulge in general assertions with no relevance to the regulations.
§ Mr. Bing
Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I was turning to the point whether these regulations are sufficient, and whether much more stringent regulations should not be made. I hope that Members opposite will see that it is not necessary to make more stringent regulations to ensure democracy in Ireland, but if it is, then that my right hon. Friend will not hesitate to take the necessary steps.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Professor Savory (Queen's University of Belfast)
I am extremely sorry that these allegations have been made and advantage has been taken of these very simple regulations to bring forward these charges, none of which have been substantiated. The hon. Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) says that personation takes place only on one side, but I can tell him that I was personated—someone voted for me. I remember very well an election which took place in County Tyrone. There was a majority of 13 in favour of the Nationalist candidate, and a banquet was held in order to celebrate this great victory.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
All this is very entertaining, but the hon. Member should relate his remarks to the regulations.
§ Professor Savory
I have a very important point to bring forward in regard to these regulations, to which allusion has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Belfast (Mr. Gage). The object of these regulations, I take it, is to put into force, so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, the Representation of the People Act, 1948, but I notice,—and my hon. Friend the Member for South Belfast has already drawn the attention of the House to this—a very serious discrepancy. In accordance with the Representation of the People Act, Section 1 (2), 1126The persons entitled to vote as electors at a parliamentary election in any constituency shall be those resident there on the qualifying date who, on that date and on the date of the poll, are British subjects of full age.The House will note that the only people, in accordance with the Representation of the People Act, the terms of which we are trying to carry out under these regulations, who are entitled to vote are British subjects, whereas in these regulations—I draw attention to Regulation 20 (1, b)—it is stated that a person may apply for registration by makinga statutory declaration that he was a British subject or a citizen of Eire on the qualifying date.Further forms of declaration are given on pages 30 and 31, in accordance with which applicants for registration, or for the appointment of a proxy, must declare that they are British subjects or citizens of Eire.
I wish to ask the Home Secretary how it is that this phrase "citizens of Eire" has crept into the regulations, when it does not appear anywhere in the Representation of the People Act, 1948. It can only be that the Government are relying upon the British Nationality Act, 1948, which became law on 30th July, 1948. The Section upon which, I take it, the Government are relying is Section 3 (2), in which it is stated, and I am only giving a summary of it, that:Any law in force in any part of the United Kingdom … at the date of the commencement of this Act … shall … continue to have effect in relation to citizens of Eire who are not British subjects in like manner as it has effect in relation to British subjects.The question I wish to put to the Home Secretary is whether the law relating to citizens of Eire—that is, the British Nationality Act, 1948—passed at a time when Eire was part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, can apply to the citizens of Eire when Eire has left the Commonwealth and has become an independent Republic. I wish to quote on this subject—and I speak on these matters with very great diffidence—the very greatest legal authority I can find. He says this:I doubt very much whether Parliament as a whole really understood at the time that the phrase 'a citizen of Eire.' used in the Act when Eire was within the Commonwealth, could be given by the Government a connotation so wide as to cover a citizen of some future Republic called 'Eire,' which hereafter divorces itself from the Commonwealth 1127 altogether. Moreover, is that the right construction of the phrase in the British Nationality Act at all? At the time when that Act was passed Eire was by our law a Dominion within the Commonwealth, and a citizen of Eire meant a citizen of such a Dominion. It is both good law and good sense—and, believe me, the two very often go together—that a phrase like that is to be understood as what it meant when the Act was passed. The whole argument for the Government view, as expressed in this statement, must be that a citizen of Eire means a citizen of an independent sovereign non - Commonwealth Republic which did not then exist at all. But that does not seem to me by any means clear.That is the opinion of an ex-Solicitor-General, ex-Attorney-General and ex-Lord Chancellor, namely, Lord Simon, whose views surely command respect in this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The whole point is this: does the phrase "citizens of Eire," in the British Nationality Act, apply to the citizens of a Republic which was not then created and which will be, on Easter Monday, wholly outside the Commonwealth? Is there to be reciprocity in this matter? I was an elector for a Southern Ireland constituency, and because I refused to sign a paper that I was a citizen of Eire I was struck off the register and deprived of my vote. I believe that this is still the law in Eire, under the Aliens Act, 1935.
Eire, by law, when she leaves the Commonwealth, automatically makes herself a foreign country, and her people foreigners. That is a legal fact, and it is no good trying to gloss it over. When the British Nationality Act was being passed no member of the Government ever dreamed that it would be used in this way. This Act became law on 30th July, and the first indication we had that Eire would become an independent Republic was on 7th September. I therefore submit that it is at least and I put it moderately—of very doubtful legality whether, under these regulations which should be non-controversial, a citizen of Eire can be made an elector for Northern Ireland.
According to the Representation of the People Act, 1948, Part I, Section 1 (3 (b)) an elector has only to prove residence either on 31st October or 30th April. The consequence is that we may receive an influx of citizens of Eire, who will have to prove only one day's residence in order to get on the register. I 1128 urge the Government to postpone discussion of these regulations until such time as the law relating to the subject has been clarified, that is, until, by subsequent legislation, it has been determined exactly whether a citizen of Eire is legally entitled to be placed on the register of Northern Ireland.
In conclusion, I wish to quote an opinion by a very great legal authority, Serjeant Sullivan, whose letter in "The Times" was endorsed and strongly approved by Lord Simon. He says:Next Easter that State"—that is, the present state of Eire, which is linked with the Crown, which is part of the Commonwealth of Nations—with its citizens will cease to exist. A strange sovereignty—a Republic—will take over the 26 counties. All oaths of allegiance will be dissolved, and we shall become foreign republicans, legal persons entirely different from the citizens of Eire that we are now. As foreign republicans we shall be disqualified from holding or acting in any public office reserved for British subjects, whether in the legislature, the judiciary, the local authority or the electorate.I call attention to the words "or the electorate." He says that they will cease to be qualified as electors. Serjeant Sullivan goes on:The spokesmen of the Government have declared that they will not 'regard' these facts, but the Government cannot bar access to the courts or control the decision of tribunals that will enforce the law, no matter how unpleasant it may be for them. The law courts will pay no attention to the Government or their excuses. The Lord Chancellor suggested that in the British Nationality Act there is a provision that hereafter the citizens of any foreign State that assumes the name of Eire shall be thereby endowed with all the rights of British subjects. There is much rubbish in the Act, but not that much.I have brought up these matters with great diffidence, not being a lawyer, but when I read statements by Lord Simon, and by a jurist with such vast experience and knowledge of these questions as Serjeant Sullivan, I have my doubts. I ask whether the Home Secretary is justified in not doing as I contend he ought to have done, that is, in inserting in the regulations what is in the Act—the Representation of the People Act—but in drawing from an external Act, which has nothing to do with this question, the phrase "citizens of Eire," which he wishes to impose upon us as meaning British subjects.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. John Beattie (Belfast, West)
After listening to the speech of the hon. Member for the Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory) I am not surprised that so much ill-feeling and mistrust has been aroused among all true and loyal Irishmen—
§ Mr. Beattie
The speech of the hon. Member for the Queen's University is of one who does not belong to Ireland, one who is in favour of Home Rule for countries abroad but who denies to Ireland the same right is a disgrace to any representative who comes from the place known as Ireland. I know something about regulations which govern elections. I have fought eight Parliamentary elections in Irish politics, and also three local government elections. I admire the courage of the Home Secretary in trying to bring in regulations which will guarantee a right to Irishmen to vote for the person of their own choice. Unfortunately, there is much weakness in the regulations, as in other regulations which I have had to fight. I know it is impossible for regulations to be made watertight, but in Northern Ireland we have suffered at the hands of an expert gerrymanderer. The regulations we are now asked to approve have already been undermined.
I want to improve electioneering and everything pertaining to free elections in Northern Ireland. I want to see every citizen of Ireland have the same right in elections as they are given in Britain. Why is this bitterness and ill-feeling being shown here today by the hon. Member for the Queen's University, who is now singing his swan song to this House against the right of any Irishman to vote in elections in his own country? I see a division in the camp. The hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Gage) favours these regulations, but the hon. Member for the Queen's University despises the regulations. It is a good thing to see, once in a while, division in the camp of Northern Ireland Tories.
§ Mr. Beattie
I want to ask the Secretary of State to bear this point in mind. I have been one of the victims of these regulations. I have an electorate of 85,000 voters. I want the Secretary of State to guarantee that these regulations will give the right to every one of those voters to go to the polling station and cast his vote. [An HON. MEMBER: "Freely?"] Yes, freely. I am going to allow the same rights to my opponent as I do to my supporters, but I tell this House that my voters cannot go to the polling stations to cast their vote. [Interruption.] We have to use armoured cars in Northern Ireland. It was in a Belfast division that we had to use armoured cars to take the electors to the polling booths and to bring our representatives from the polling booths back home; I do not want to go into history. I could tell the hon. Member for South Belfast, who has made a statement about an old farmer telling the tale—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have been hoping that the hon. Member would refer to some specific regulation.
§ Mr. Beattie
I said that I admired the courage and the determination of the Secretary of State to establish free elections through the medium of these regulations. I am supporting the regulations. I want to ask the Secretary of State a question. I hope that the same latitude will be allowed to me as was allowed to the hon. Member for South Belfast, who said that the nationally-minded people of Ireland had voted 101 per cent. I want to tell you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I went through an election when more votes were taken out of the ballot boxes than there were names on the register.
These regulations will be delegated to the authority in Northern Ireland. I disagree with that delegation. The administration of these regulations should be kept within the power of the Secretary of State. I shall give my reasons for saying so, if you will allow me that bit of scope, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have passed through an election just a few weeks ago. I feel that I am entitled to speak and to give the advice necessary to the Secretary of State. I made my appeal to Caesar, but 1131 I was cast out. No protection of any kind was given to me either by the police or by the authorities in control. I came to this House and I appealed to the Secretary of State. He, of course, was helpless. He has no authority or control over Northern Ireland elections.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to give his own experiences unless he relates them to some specific regulation. He now appears to be indulging, in some general assertion but I am not clear as to whether there is any regulation on the matter—I think not.
§ Mr. Beattie
I hope I am not unduly trespassing upon your patience, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I should not like to do that. I want the administration of these regulations to be retained in the hands and under the authority of this House. I know that the regulations will become so much waste paper after they leave the authority of this House and that no protection of any kind will be given to the electorate under the Representation of the People Act. I could give you two or three examples if you wished, but I fear—[Interruption.]
I want the right hon. Gentleman to see that the power of granting polling places is equal to the requirements and the area of the electorate. There are stations in my division which would be more suitable and accommodating for my people to go to vote in their own quarter, but they are asked to leave their own quarter and walk three miles down the road, passing a polling station that they could use to cast their vote. They are asked to walk three miles into a district of a different kind and to give their vote there. I ask that the Secretary of State shall see to it that polling places are made in areas convenient for the electorate. That is not done and it has not been done. It will not be done if the authority is taken out of the hands of the Secretary of State. I do not always agree with him, but I am agreeing with him on this occasion. We in Northern Ireland must have the same protection as have the candidates in Great Britain. That is all we ask. We ask for nothing more nor nothing less.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That question does not arise under the regulations. The 1132 hon. Member is entitled to refer only to the merits or demerits of the regulations, and their application.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member was speaking about protection. That question does not seem to arise under the regulations.
§ Mr. Beattie
I understand that the administration, that is the carrying out of elections, will rest with Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That may well be a matter for the authorities in Northern Ireland, possibly the police, but it is not, so far as I can see, a matter which is referred to in the regulations. Therefore, the hon. Member cannot refer to it.
§ Mr. Beattie
I think I am entitled to ask how we in Northern Ireland can have the same conditions as obtain in Great Britain, for carrying out elections if the same authority is not controlling those elections. I am pleading with the Secretary of State to ensure the carrying out of the elections, on behalf of this House, under his authority and his authority only. That is all that I am trying to convey.
I am delighted, and wish to say to the hon. Member for the Queen's University "Cead Mille Failte." [HON. MEMBERS: "Translate."] If the House wants to know what that means, it is "A hundred thousand welcomes." The hon. Member has made the best case for the inclusion of all citizens of Ireland, the whole of Ireland.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to continue on the lines upon which he was speaking. He is not entitled to refer to that matter.
§ Mr. Beattie
I know that I have a very narrow path on which to travel, and I am trying to travel along it in the best possible way. I feel that I am entitled to ask for the assurances and guarantees of this House to the electorate of Northern Ireland in relation to the Representation of the People Act. I feel that these regulations will go a good part of 1133 the way by the setting up of the machinery, but the administration, if allowed to go to the other side of the Channel, will break down the whole system which is intended, and we shall not have the elections which the right hon. Gentleman wishes us to have. I wish his regulations well. I hope that they will be approved by this House and be approved by every one in the House.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
These regulations cover a very narrow range indeed, and most of the points which have been raised by my hon. Friends do not properly come within the scope of the regulations. I should be out of Order if I dealt with most of the questions which they have put to me. For example, the responsibility for law and order in Northern Ireland at elections and other times is not mine but that of the Northern Ireland Government, and nothing that I could put into these regulations would alter the law on that point.
As far as I have been able to ascertain, the only point dealing with the regulations which has been put by any of the speakers in the course of the Debate is that which was raised by the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Gage) and the hon. Member for Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory) with regard to the inclusion of Regulation 20 (1, b), which enables the registration officer before registering any person, to require that person, if he thinks it necessary, either to produce a certificate of naturalisation or to make a statutory declaration that he was a British subject or a citizen of Eire on the qualifying date. The hon. Member for Queen's University was in error in saying that the British Nationality Act came into force on 30th July, 1948.
§ Mr. Ede
I am trying to put the exact point that ought to be put before the House. It came into force on 1st January, 1949. The position with regard to the matter is this. The British Nationality Act, 1948, enacted, in Section 3 (2), that any United Kingdom law in force on the 1134 day that that Act came into force, namely, 1st January, 1949, shall have effect in relation to a citizen of Eire in like manner as it has effect in relation to a British subject. Therefore a citizen of Eire has the same rights in this matter which he had on 1st January, 1949, when he was entitled to be registered as an elector. That is the whole of the case for putting that phrase into the regulations. Curiously enough this same phrase was in the English regulations which were passed a few days ago. They were accepted by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State merely nodding his head when his name was called from the Chair.
This is not peculiar to Northern Ireland. This relates to the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It merely gives to the registration officer the necessary information to make quite certain that he is fully informed when he puts his questions to the person who claims to be registered. That person must be in the position, if the question of his nationality is in dispute, to prove one of three things. Either that he has a certificate of naturalisation, or that he is a British subject, or that he is a citizen of Eire. If he can give an affirmative answer to any of those three questions he is entitled to be registered.
That is the way in which I have been advised by the Law Officers of the Crown, and I see no reason for doubting the opinion they have given. That opinion has been given to me since the statement made in another place by Lord Simon and since the letters from Serjeant Sullivan have been published in "The Times." I have every reason to believe that the advice is sound and I recommend the House to accept that situation. As has been admitted by the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Gage) the issue was raised during the passage of the British Nationality Act, when I gave an answer consistent with what I have said this evening. It is not altered by the fact that another Parliament has passed an Act of their Parliament relating to their own domestic laws. This House is sovereign with regard to the laws that shall apply in the United Kingdom, and so far as I know, what it says cannot affect anything that is done by the Parliament of Eire. Neither can anything that the Parliament of Eire does affect the domestic law of this country as enacted by this Parlia 1135 ment. Therefore, I recommend the House to pass these regulations. I am certain that in doing so they need not fear any legal complications from the British Nationality Act.
§ Professor Savory
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this Act was not passed by us on 30th July under the misapprehension that Eire was going to remain part of the British Common-wealth? How, therefore, can it be applied to a totally different circumstance when Eire has become an independent Republic?
§ Mr. Ede
What the Irish Parliament may have done does not affect the law of this country. In order to deal with that situation it would be necessary for this Parliament to pass another Act amending the British Nationality Act. The hon. Member for the Queen's University and I both labour under difficulties on these matters, because we have to go to lawyers for advice. The problem always is that if people on two sides of an issue go to two separate lawyers they both seem to be able to get legal advice confirming their own views. I am advised, on the authority of the Law Officers of the Crown, that the position I have stated is the correct legal position and that anything that another Parliament independent of this one may have done cannot affect an Act of this Parliament. It would be necessary, if anything was desired to be done, to amend our Act to achieve the purposes desired by the hon. Member. Might I express the hope that I might be speedily able to get to the Smoking Room to hear the end of the hon. Member's story?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations, 1949, dated 23rd February, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd March, be approved.