HL Deb 20 December 1934 vol 95 cc691-705

LORD DANESFORT had the following Notice on the Paper:—To ask His Majesty's Government whether their attention has been called to a speech made by Mr. de Valera in the Dail on 28th November last, on the Second Reading of the Citizens Bill, 1934, in which he said that, when the Bill was passed, nobody in the Irish Free State would be a British subject, and that it would be an impertinence for the British to claim any Southern Irish citizens as British subjects, and that not a single comma would have to be altered if a Republic were declared in Southern Ireland to-morrow; whether the British Government have sent a written or other protest to the Irish Free State Government against this Bill and these statements of Mr. de Valera, and if so, what reply has been received; and in any event whether the British Government concur in these statements of Mr. de Valera in whole or in part; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name. May I say at once, this is a very grave subject. It is a serious subject for all those who reside in Southern Ireland, but especially serious for those loyal British subjects of His Majesty who are living within that area. I may also say that I have received a large number of protests from residents in Southern Ireland who think their interests will be badly affected by this legislation which is now being passed in the Irish Dail. I received some private letters only this morning—I shall not trouble your Lordships by reading them—really pathetic letters, from men who have lived all their lives as British subjects. Many of them have shown the value of their loyalty as British subjects and served either in the Army or in the Royal Irish Constabulary, and they urge and beg the British Government to do something to mitigate or, if it is possible, avoid altogether the effect of this legislation which is now being carried in the Irish Dail.

What is this legislation? It is described in the words of Mr. de Valera, President of the Irish Free State, which are given in the Motion that I have put down. But in order to be quite certain as to the words he used, may I very shortly read his exact words from the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Proceedings in the Irish Dail on the 28th of November last. Your Lordships will find them at column 410 of the Report of that day. Mr. de Valera said, referring to the Irish Free State Citizenship Bill, 1934, as it is called: When this Bill becomes law it would be an impertinence if they "— that is, the British— were able to claim as citizens of their country people who are obviously citizens of another country"— meaning thereby citizens of the Irish Free State. He goes on to say, and I beg your Lordships' attention to this most remarkable statement: Under Irish law, no Irish citizen will be a British subject when this Bill is passed. I shall have a word to say in a moment about the words of that Bill. "No Irish citizen will be a British subject when this Bill is passed!" I do not like to use strong words, but was there ever such preposterous legislation proposed in any part of the British Dominions or in any foreign country—that this part of the British Dominions should by legislation step in and deprive men and women whenever born—there is no limitation of time—deprive British men and women, British subjects, of the rights which they have enjoyed all their lives, and make them citizens of this Irish Free State?

There is only one other passage I want to read. Mr. de Valera said: Not a single line of this Bill need be altered if a Republic were declared in Ireland to-morrow. The truth is this. This recent legislation is merely part and parcel of a deliberate attempt to prepare the ground in the Irish Free State for the setting up of an Irish Republic. What have they done? In the first place they abolished the Oath of Allegiance and violated the Treaty. Their second action was that they attempted by legislation to abolish the right of appeal to the Privy Council. Again, a gross violation of the Treaty and of one of the safeguards which were prominently put forward for persons resident in Ireland when the new Constitution was granted to Southern Ireland in 1922. I need only add that that question of the so-called abolition of the right of appeal to the Privy Council by the Irish Legislature is now the subject of consideration by the Privy Council over here, and therefore I do not comment upon it further.

There is yet another step. The Senate—another safeguard, another part of the original Constitution which was sanctioned by the Parliament of this country and by the Parliament of Ireland—the Senate in Southern Ireland is under sentence of death, and will expire, according to the legislation already passed in the Free State, in March next. Then there is another, and if I may say so, a really distressing aspect of this attempt in Ireland at the destruction of the Treaty. The Governor-General, the representative of the King, who exists in every part of the British Dominion as the honoured representative of a great King, the Governor-General in Southern Ireland has been degraded to the position of a clerk in an office, and all he is asked to do is to register his assent to Irish Free State legislation, whatever it may be, by putting his stamp across it, or whatever the lamentable process may be.

Now comes this further attempt at the destruction of the Treaty, this attempt to undermine still further the position of His Majesty's subjects in the Irish Free State and to say that there shall be no British subjects recognised any longer in the Irish Free State. They are to be all citizens of this new community which was set up. If this Bill passes into law and is held to be valid without any protest on our part certain results will occur, certain results which I can only call deplorable, to residents, and especially loyal residents, in the Irish Free State. First of all, residents in the Irish Free State become, so far as the Free State is concerned, aliens in this country and will be subject to all the disabilities touching aliens so far as the Irish Executive and Irish legislation can effect that object. What can the Free State do? The Free State, if it so chooses, can declare these men incapable of holding land. It can confiscate their property and carry on with legislation which, as many of us think, has already gone gravely too far in that direction. But it can do more if this Bill is valid. It can deprive these citizens of the right which British subjects have of access to Courts of Law.

And there are other results which may follow. For instance, if this Bill is valid it will no longer be open to a Free State citizen to enter any of the British Services, because according to Irish legislation they will be no longer British citizens. They will be unable to join the Navy, the Army, the Air Force or the Civil Service, and persons already in those Services will be unable, assuming this legislation is valid, to retain their positions. But that is not all. I am ad- vised by those whom I have every reason to trust that any such citizen under the new law, being a medical practitioner at present on the British medical register, will lose his qualification to remain on the British register and in future no such citizen will be entitled to enrolment on that register.

Let me give your Lordships' House one illustration more to show that this is not an imaginary grievance and that it is not simply a matter of sentiment. It is quite true that it is based on deep and passionate sentiment, the sentiment of attachment to the British Crown, but it is not merely based on sentiment. No citizen in Southern Ireland under this law, being a legal practitioner who is on the roll of solicitors of Great Britain, will ally longer be able to practise in Great Britain or continue as an officer of the Court, assuming that the Irish legislation is valid. The final grave injustice, as I think—assuming this law of the Irish Free State to be valid—is that a person who is turned into a citizen of the Irish Free State by this Bill instead of being, as heretofore, a British subject, will not be able to obtain diplomatic protection under British law.

I ask your Lordships, has any civilised country in the world attempted, or is it ever likely to attempt, to pass such legislation? No British Dominion has ever put forward any such unexampled and preposterous proposal as this. But suppose a foreign country did enact that every resident in that country who was a British subject should cease to be a British subject and should become a citizen of the State in which he happened to be resident. If such an amazing proposition were put forward, would not the British Government and the British Empire protest in the strongest possible way; and if no redress was possible by any other means, is it not more than likely that the British Government would break off diplomatic relations with that country? Are we to be told that because the Irish Free State is not a foreign country but is part and parcel of the British Empire, that it is to be allowed to inflict injustice on British subjects which no foreign country in the world would be allowed to inflict?

I do urge this point upon your Lord' ships, or perhaps I should say upon the Government, because I think if your Lordships had the decision in your hands there would be but one answer to the question. I urge on the Government that they should enter the strongest possible protest against this legislation, and should ask the Irish Free State either to modify it or to abandon it and thereby avoid the terrible position that must follow. I have read that in another place the Secretary of State for the Dominions made two statements. He said in the first place, that this Bill did not have the effect which I have told your Lordships it has. In this matter I confess I prefer the authoritative statement of the author of the Bill, Mr. de Valera, who not once but twice or thrice told the Irish Free State Parliament that once the Bill was passed there would be no such thing as a British subject within the Irish Free State. I confess I prefer his statement to the statement as to the effect of the Bill by Mr. Thomas, who, of course, only speaks on advice received, which is perhaps not quite so authoritative as the statements of the Irish Free State people themselves. Then the Secretary of State for the Dominions has said in another place: "Oh, but this Irish legislation is not valid; it is illegal."

We have heard those statements from members of His Majesty's Government before. We heard them when it was proposed to abolish the Oath of Allegiance; we heard them when it was proposed to abolish the right of appeal to the Privy Council, and when they proposed to treat the Governor-General, the King's representative, as they have done; and the Irish Free State apparently paid not the smallest attention to those statements. Nothing followed. They went on with their legislation just as if they had been told by the British Government that they were acting perfectly legally and with perfect propriety. Therefore something more is wanted than a mere statement, even from so authoritative a person as the Secretary of State for the Dominions. Something more is wanted than telling them that they are acting illegally. What that more should be it is hardly for me to suggest, but I do urge His Majesty's Government to think of some effective mode of putting forward their protest.

May I add this? We have a High Commissioner of the Irish, Free State coming over to this country like the High Commissioners of the Dominions of Canada and Australia and of all the great Dominions of the Crown. They are the authorised representatives and the honoured representatives of great and friendly communities who come over here and are treated with the same respect and with the same honour as diplomatic representatives from foreign countries. Does it not seem a somewhat strange thing that a High Commissioner should come here from Southern Ireland to represent a country which not only is not friendly to us but by every means in its power has expressed its hostility and, perhaps I may add, its desire to injure those resident within its area who are friendly to the British connection and who have proved themselves loyal to the British Crown and the British people in the past? We are told one more thing by the Secretary of State for the Dominions. In answer to Questions in the House of Commons on two occasions, on November 27 and on December 3 (the present month) the Secretary of State for the Dominions said in another place that communications had passed between the British Government and the Irish Free State upon this subject. What I venture to urge to-day is that your Lordships are entitled to know what those communications were, the nature of the statements made by His Majesty's Government to the Free State Government and the answers which they received. Unless we have those communications we are really not in a position to judge of the position taken up by one party and the other. Therefore, I ask by my Motion that we may have those communications, and I therefore move for Papers.


My Lords, I should not like to leave my noble friend Lord Danesfort without support on this occasion. It is now a number of years since he and I acted together in the House of Commons when the whole issue of Ireland, the Irish Treaty and Ulster, was very much to the fore. I am glad to say we were able to secure the exclusion from the Irish Treaty- of Ulster, but at that time I think there was not one of us who were working in that connection who did not prophesy that the time would come when the South of Ireland would attempt to become a Republic. Mr. de Valera was very much in the picture at that time, as he still is, and we never had any illusions on that point, but realised that Mr. de Valera had made up his mind whenever he had the opportunity to turn the South of Ireland into a Republic.

Within the last year or two, as my noble friend has so truly told us, legislation has been passed and acts have been committed which are all tending in that direction, until at last we are to-day discussing a Bill which is not only before the Dail but (though my noble friend did not refer to the fact) was actually passed last night by 51 votes to 36, under which British citizenship will be done away with in the South of Ireland and all the people of the South of Ireland will in future be Irish citizens, nothing move and nothing less. Mr. de Valera, in his speech at the conclusion of those proceedings according to a report which appears in The Times to-day, said: The fact was that by Irish law henceforward no person who was of Irish nationality would be regarded as a British subject. That is a most deplorable thing. As my noble friend has stated, it is the most tragic and terrible thing that can be done to any individual to deprive him of a citizenship or status under which he was born, under which he has lived, which he reveres and honours and under which he desires to continue.

I am aware, and I am sure my noble friend is, that the Secretary of State for the Dominions and His Majesty's Government are face to face with one of the most difficult problems with which they have had to deal during the life of this Government. We are all aware that so soon as the Statute of Westminster was passed, any Dominion was placed in the position of being able to secede from the British Empire, but when the Statute of Westminster was passed and promulgated it was never contemplated that any one of the Dominions would take such a serious step. In spite of the fact that certain warnings were given at that time, both in your Lordships' House and in the House of Commons, as to what might happen in the case of the Irish Free State, that Bill was passed, and now to-day we see the results of it as reaped in the action taken by the Dail in Dublin last night.

My noble friend has spoken more particularly with regard to the conditions in which this Act will leave the citizens of the South of Ireland who are actually resident in the South of Ireland, but I would like to ask the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government what will be the position of all the citizens of the South of Ireland who are now resident in great numbers in Glasgow and the Clyde and in Liverpool and other big cities of this country, or who are resident in Australia, Canada and other Dominions? It might be said that the other Dominions do not affect this particular question, and it is probable that the Government will not be able to reply, or would prefer not to reply, to that point, but I am entitled to ask what will be the position of those citizens of Irish birth who are now resident on the Clyde, or in Liverpool, and so on. Are they to be treated as British citizens or as foreign citizens? Mr. de Valera says that in future the British will be regarded as foreigners, so far as the South of Ireland is concerned. Are we, therefore, to regard citizens who come from the South of Ireland as foreigners in this country, or are we to continue to treat them as British subjects, and go on conferring upon them all the benefits which British subjects enjoy in this country in virtue of the fact that they are British subjects?

That is a very serious and difficult point, and it may be that the Government will say to-day that it is not possible to give an answer on the point until the whole question has been further considered, and until the legislation has been finally passed through the Senate, as well as through the Dail, in Southern Ireland. I venture to suggest that if this legislation is finally passed, and if it is finally laid down that citizens of the South of Ireland are no longer British subjects, but Irish citizens, then we must carefully consider the position of those South of Ireland citizens who are resident in Great Britain to-day. In the Clyde we have numbers of them who have come over from the South of Ireland because of the bad economic conditions that exist in the South of Ireland, and they are receiving great benefit through unemployment insurance, housing benefits, pensions, and so on, just as if they were British citizens. My belief is that if this really comes to pass there should be a thorough sifting out of these particular people, and that only those citizens from the South of Ireland who have been resident for a reasonable period in this country, and have been employed in this country, and have not come over in what I may call a haphazard way, with the object only of receiving these benefits and then perhaps returning to the South of Ireland, should be classed as British citizens, and that the others should be sent back to their homes in the South of Ireland.

I think my noble friend suggested that possibly there might be what might almost be described as a diplomatic rupture by refusing to accept here any longer a High Commissioner from the South of Ireland. Personally I should deprecate such a step without the very gravest consideration. There are all kinds of matters which have still to be considered before such a step could possibly be taken. I for one, in spite of what I am saying this afternoon, believe that perhaps some day, not too far off, it may be possible to come to some arrangement with the South of Ireland that will eliminate all these difficulties which are apparent to-day. The South of Ireland has always lived in the past. She is always raking up old troubles. She never seems to think of the present, or of the future. Perhaps some day, not too far distant, a man will arise in the South of Ireland who will have less circumscribed views than the gentleman who holds the premier position in that country to-day. When that time does arrive he may be able to lead and to guide those unfortunate people into paths of saner and more reasonable progress, more in accordance with the traditions which so many of them hold.

I have, as I have stated, risen to support my noble friend Lord Danesfort on this Motion, because I believe that the matter ought not to be allowed to pass without notice in this House as well as in another place. I hope that the Government may be able to answer some of the points that appear in my noble friend's Question, and at least that they will take account of what we have suggested to them, and what we have said to-day.


My Lords, we all know the great interest that my noble friend always takes in Irish affairs, and he has often brought up questions on the same lines as that which he has put clown to-day. I have no reason to complain of the way in which he has put his Question. I can give him certain statements made by the Secretary of State for the Dominions, and I can give him a certain amount of information in that form. As regards what Lord Elibank has said, I can only say that he has raised very difficult and grave points of constitutional law, with which I do not feel myself at all qualified to deal, and I do not propose, necessarily, to accept all that the noble Lord has said, or to go into any matter outside the actual Question which the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, has put on the Paper. He has called attention to certain statements reported to have been made by Mr. de Valera during the passage of the Irish Free State Citizenship Bill, which your Lordships have heard was passed through the Dail yesterday.

The noble Lord quoted one or two passages from that statement, in which I think it was said that under Irish law no Irish citizen would be a British subject when the Bill was passed. Mr. de Valera went on to say: The Bill implements, in the only way in which it can genuinely be implemented, the principle of equality and reciprocal treatment which is fundamental in the principles laid down at the Imperial Conference … Nobody denies that Mr. de Valera has a right to claim who are to be regarded as citizens of the Irish Free State, but when he claims that the method in which he proposes to give effect to this right is in accordance with the principles laid down at Imperial Conferences, that is where the Government entirely disagree with him. They think that the method which he has adopted is not in conformity with the principles laid down at Imperial Conferences as to what is called the common status of subjects of His Majesty which is possessed by all subjects of His Majesty throughout the British Commonwealth.

Their position in this respect was made clear by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in a statement made by him on the 27th November, as follows: His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are in correspondence with the Irish Free State Government regarding, the Irish Free State Citizenship Bill. They have informed the Irish Free State Government that the Bill cannot be regarded as making provision for the main- tenance of what is known as 'the common status' of subjects of His Majesty on the basis of common allegiance to the Crown as contemplated in the conclusions of the Imperial Conference of 1930 relating to nationality. At the same time I am advised that the Bill does not purport to, and could not, in any case, deprive any person of his status as a British subject. This statement was made before Mr. de Valera's statement in question, but subsequently Mr. Thomas took an opportunity of making the position of the Government further clear in a statement made on the 1st December in his speech at Derby.

The important parts of this statement were as follows: What I said in the House of Commons was that the Irish Free State Citizenship Bill does not purport to, and could not in any case, deprive any person of his status as a British subject. What is the status of a British subject? With a few exceptions, any person born within His Majesty's Dominions is a British subject. It is a status which is based on allegiance to the Crown, and is a much wider conception than the citizenship of any particular part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. No one has questioned the right of the Irish Free State to define Free State citizens. No one challenges that right now. Indeed, the right is expressly provided for in the Irish Free State Constitution. But to define Irish Free State citizenship is something quite different from taking away the status of British subject from anyone who possesses it. When I use the term ' British subject ' I do not use those words as applying only to persons who have a special connection with the United Kingdom or, indeed, with any particular part of the Empire. I use them as applying to all persons who owe allegiance to the Throne with whatever part of the British Commonwealth they may be specially connected. When Mr. de Valera says that it would be an impertinence if the British were to claim as citizens of their country persons who are obviously citizens of another country, I think he must have misunderstood what our position is. Mr. de Valera has surely forgotten that the Imperial Conference of 1930, in which the Irish Free State took part, affirmed that the members of the British Commonwealth are united by a common allegiance to the Crown ' and that this allegiance is the basis of the common status possessed by all subjects of His Majesty.' As regards Mr. de Valera's statement that no change would be made in the Bill if a Republic were declared the position of the Government is that, of course, if a Republic were declared a new situation would arise which would require further consideration. But they have declined to indicate in advance what measures they would take. Their attitude was expressed in a Despatch sent to the Irish Free State Government on the 5th December, 1933, in the following terms: They cannot believe that the Irish Free State Government contemplate the final repudiation of their Treaty obligations in the manner suggested, and consequently they do not feel called upon to say what attitude they would adopt in circumstances which they regard as purely hypothetical. The noble Lord will remember that last summer, when the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House was answering a Question from him, he laid down the attitude of the Government in very much the same terms. When my noble friend asks whether written or other protests have been made against the Bill I can only tell him that it was made plain in Mr. Thomas's statement, to which I have referred, that the Government had sent a formal communication to Mr. de Valera expressing their doubts on the Bill. No Despatch has been addressed to the Irish Free State with reference to Mr. de Valera's statement of November 28, but the views of the Government have been made clear in public statements made on their behalf.


Can we have the Despatch that the noble Earl referred to?


I quoted the Despatch, but I am afraid I have no Papers to lay.


Might I refer the noble Earl to the answer which he has read—the statement of the Secretary of State for the Dominions on November 27 beginning "His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are in correspondence with the Irish Free State Government" regarding this Bill? That is the correspondence I want to see.


The noble Lord will understand that I am not in a position to give him correspondence of that nature. I must consult the Dominions Office and the Secretary of State. As regards the High Commissioner, I do not think, as the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, recognised, that it would be a happy solution of the matter to take any steps as regards the High Commissioner. The policy of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom is to make it as easy as possible for the Irish Free State to remain a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and I do not think that any step of the kind which my noble friend indicated would help towards that. I hope I have been able to satisfy my noble friend.


My Lords, I think we ought to thank Lord Danesfort for bringing this very serious question forward. As one who has been steeped in the affairs of Southern Ireland in happy and in very unhappy times, I quite realise the terrible implications of this legislation in the Irish Free State Parliament. I hope His Majesty's Government will very seriously consider the situation, and will not be hurried into anything of a violent nature, and I do hope that no policy of retaliation will be adopted. After all, Ireland has gone through a very unhappy time, being led by people who are distinctly unfriendly to this country. We hope that better days may come. I think, if we exercise patience, it is possible that better counsels may prevail and some understanding with our fellow countrymen in Southern Ireland may yet be produced.


My Lords, I recognise that my noble friend has done his best to answer my Question, but he has failed to give me any information on the most material point to which my Question is directed—namely, whether any written or other protest has been made to the Irish Free State Government by the British Government against this Bill and against the statement of Mr. de Valera, and if so, what reply has been received. It is quite obvious there have been communications because in the very passage which my noble friend read out from the statement by the Secretary of State for the Dominions on November 27, it was stated: His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are in correspondence with the Irish Free State Government regarding the Irish Free State citizenship Bill. He gave no reason why we should not have that correspondence. I suppose, technically, it will be necessary to get the consent of the Dominions Office and, possibly also, the consent of the Irish Free State Government, but is there any conceivable reason why these consents should not be given? Are we in this House not entitled to know what is being done by this Government to protest against what I can only call an act of gross iniquity, and are we not entitled to know what the Free State reply is?

If my noble friend says he is not authorised at the moment to produce that correspondence, it would not be proper to press the matter further or to divide the House upon it, which otherwise I should be disposed to do. But perhaps he can give me this undertaking, that he will go to the Secretary of State for the Dominions, report what has taken place here, and ask if there is any real objection, from the point of view of broad policy, to the publication of these communications, and also find out from the Irish Free State Government whether they object to the reply being given. I should have thought that both these important personages—the President of the Irish Free State and the Secretary of State for the Dominions—would have been only too glad that their views on this subject should be made public, otherwise many people might say—I do not say they would be justified in saying: "Here is some secret diplomacy going on. Neither side, neither the British Government nor the Free State Government, is able to give its consent to the public knowing what is going on." I sincerely trust, in the interests of both Governments, and in just assertion of the rights of this House and of the public at large, that my noble friend will do his very best to get this correspondence published. My last word is this: Do not let it be said in Southern Ireland that we in this country are oblivious of the services rendered by our loyal subjects in Southern Ireland, and do not let it be said that we are not only oblivious of those services but that we are willing, without effective protest, to abandon these people to their fate.


I can assure my noble friend I will certainly report what he has said to the Secretary of State for the Dominions and point out that there is an urgent application for these Despatches.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.