HL Deb 02 April 1935 vol 96 cc502-16

LORD DANESFORT had the following Notice on the Paper:—To ask His Majesty's Government whether their attention has been called to the Irish Citizenship and Nationality Bill now before the Free State Senate, which lays clown a new definition of Free State citizenship, and purports to deprive Free State citizens of their rights as British subjects; and whether note has been taken of Mr. de Valera's repeated declaration to that effect; and further, whether the attention of His Majesty's Government has been called to the Aliens Bill which has been recently read a second time in the Dail, and which in effect makes all British subjects aliens in the Free State and subjects them on entering the Free State to degrading and harassing restrictions and disabilities whereby (amongst other things) they will be compelled to register as aliens and to be subject to police control, and will, when they engage in trade in the Free State, be liable to be subjected to an Aliens Order, made by a Free State Minister, involving summary arrest and search of their premises. What protest, if any, have His Majesty's Government made against these grave irregularities, and what steps have they taken to ensure that loyal subjects of His Majesty resident in the Free State will not be deprived of their rights as British subjects, and that British subjects entering the Free State shall be protected against unconstitutional restrictions on their liberties. And to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Question and to move the Motion standing in my name. I desire to draw the attention of your Lordships to two Bills which are now before the Free State Parliament, both of which contain grave illegalities and infractions of the liberties of British subjects. The first of these Bills is the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill, which has passed the Dail and is now before the Senate. The other Bill is called the Aliens Bill, which passed its Second Reading in the Dail on February 14 last. The first Bill, broadly speaking, deprives British subjects residing in the Free State of their rights as British subjects. It lays down a long elaborate code as to what constitutes a Free State citizen, partly natural born, partly in consequence of naturalisation; but your Lordships will observe that this code is seriously at variance with the legislation of the British Parliament on the subject of the nationality of aliens in 1914 and 1918, and it is also at variance with the Common Law of England, and in order, I suppose, to justify in some sense or other this legislation, the Citizenship Bill purports to repeal the Acts of this Parliament of 1914 and 1918, and also—and this is a somewhat larger order—to repeal the Common Law of England bearing on this subject. The effect of that legislation, if it is sound, is to set up a position of irreconcilable difference between the position of the British subject under our laws and the position of an Irish Free State citizen under the laws of the Dail, and, further than that, to deprive British subjects of their rights in Southern Ireland.

I do not propose to go into the clauses of that Bill. It is a very long and complicated Bill, but I will summarise it by quoting the great authority of Mr. de Valera, who said, in the Dail, on November 28 last: No Irish citizen will be a British subject when this Bill is passed. The unfortunate residents in Southern Ireland are to be deprived by this Bill of all their rights and status as British citizens. Such a thing was never done in the legislation of the Dominions or anywhere else before. There is a still more startling statement made by Mr. de Valera in connection with this Bill. It was made in the Senate on the Second Reading on January 17 last, when he claimed that the people of Northern Ireland were Irish Free State citizens. I should like to know what the people of Ulster will say to that. I know they treat with contempt such legislation, but at the same time it is not pleasant to be told by the people of Southern Ireland that they are no longer British citizens but Irish Free State citizens with all the disabilities and, I may use a stronger word, objectionable features attached to that status. This attempt to deprive British subjects resident in Southern Ireland of their rights and status as British citizens has been declared illegal by the Secretary of State for the Dominions in another place and was so declared most emphatically in your Lordships' House by the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, speaking on behalf of His Majesty's Government in December last. So much for the Citizenship Bill.

The Free State Government, not content with this grievous illegality, have recently introduced an even more indefensible Bill which they call the Aliens Bill. The effect of this Bill is to declare, with a few relatively unimportant exceptions, all British subjects whether resident in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Dominions, or elsewhere who are not Free State citizens according to the definition in the previous Bill, aliens in the Free State. Again without going into the details, may I quote Mr. de Valera, who declared on February 14 on the Second Reading of this Bill: Every person who is not a Free State citizen is an alien. It is really difficult to find adjectives adequately to describe a Bill of this sort. Nothing like it has ever been proposed in any Legislature in the world, and it is indeed strange that a country which calls itself, in name at any rate, a Dominion of the British Empire should have ventured to bring in a Bill of this character into their Parliament. Yet it is almost humorous to find that Mr. de Valera, with his strange cynicism as to the intelligence of the audience whom he was addressing, described the Bill on February 14 last as a "liberal Bill." I should like to know what a Bill which is riot a "liberal Bill" would be like if this Aliens Bill is in his opinion a liberal Bill.

The text of this Bill is well worth studying by those who desire to explore some of the amazing products of Free State legislation. Let me summarise very shortly some of these provisions. In the first place the Free State Minister may make Orders prohibiting British subjects from entering the Free State and, what is even more startling, make Orders prohibiting them from leaving the Free State, so that if any of your Lordships, for reasons of pleasure or business, should desire to go over to the Free State you may find your entrance barred or your departure prohibited. Is that a restriction which we or any British subject ought to submit in any part of the world at the instance of a Parliament such as that of the Irish Free State? May I add this I and I dare say many of your Lordships are continually being invited to go and enjoy the pleasure of being a tourist in the Free State. I wonder how many tourists will be induced to go over and enjoy the happiness of the Free State by reason of the passage of a Bill of this sort?

But that is not all which the Bill contains. It provides that the Minister may order British subjects entering the Free State to reside in a particular place, register with the Police, and inform the Police of any change of address, occupation, and the like. I do not think that needs comment. There is one other provision which I ought to mention and it is this. The Minister may, under the Bill, either himself make Orders or empower Customs and Excise officers to make Orders, and empower military and Police officers to make Orders. And what is the nature of these Orders? By these Orders they may subject British citizens entering the Free State to search both as to their person and their premises, where they are residing, and to detention and arrest. Again I say what an inducement for tourists to go and take advantage of the pleasures of the Free State!

One may well ask what is the meaning of legislation of this character which seems, on the face of it, not only so grossly unjust to British subjects but so grievously detrimental to the interests of the Free State itself. I cannot say. I cannot penetrate the occult minds of Mr. de Valera and his supporters, but let me say this, that the financial position of the Free State is extremely grave. I am not saying anything now which is not known to all the world. The financial position of the Free State itself and of the county councils is extremely grave. Do the Free State authorities think it likely they will improve that financial situation by legislation of this sort? The value of property in the Free State, as anyone who knows Southern Ireland will tell you, has gone down absolutely to zero in some cases. There was a case brought to my notice the other day in which the owner of a house and 100 acres of land wanted to get rid of his property because he could not stand the burden of the rates and taxes, which were exceedingly high. He put the property up to auction, but there was no sale, and eventually, in order to get rid of it, he had to accept the sum of ten shillings—for a house and 100 acres of land! I should have thought that was a fact worth considering by the Free State authorities.

Has not the time come when His Majesty's Government should devise some method of bringing these injustices to British subjects to an end? What has happened already? Let me give your Lordships the shortest possible summary. The Oath of Allegiance has been abolished. They have attempted to abolish the right of appeal to the Privy Council, and whether they do it or not is now under consideration of the Privy Council itself. The Senate is under sentence of death and will expire shortly. His Majesty's Governor-General, the representative of the Crown in Southern Ireland, has been humiliated and degraded to the position of a clerk, and he is made to register the assent of the Governor-General of Ireland to a Bill by putting a stamp across it. This has all been done in violation of the Treaty, and up to now His Majesty's Government have been unable to prevent what I call these outrages occurring. I have told your Lordships what has happened already, and now come the further two Bills, preposterous Bills, to use the most limited language I can.

The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, I understand, is going to answer for the Government. He is a classical scholar. I am glad of it. I say that with the utmost respect. He probably remembers what Cicero on a famous occasion said to a supporter of Catalina when he asked him: Quousque tandem abutere patientia nostra? Could not that question be equally well put to Mr. de Valera? How long is he going to be allowed to abuse our patience, our benevolence, our kindness? I trust that the time has come when that patience will be no longer abused. The present state of things—and this is almost the last word I shall say—is absolutely intolerable. The Treaty has been violated over and over again, and the rights of British subjects in Southern Ireland, in England, Northern Ireland and everywhere else, are swept away so far as the Free State can attain that end.

His Majesty's Government are rightly regarded, and I am sure nowhere more than in your Lordships' House, as the custodians of the rights and privileges of British subjects, and their solemn duty is to protect those subjects from injustice and from wrong. I now ask His Majesty's Government to take action before the two Bills which I have described have passed into law. I ask them, in the first instance, to make the strongest possible protest in their power to induce the Free State Government to excise the more objectionable portions of this Bill. I ask them to do something further. I ask them to discover and put into operation some effective mode of protecting British subjects from injustice and from outrage at the hands of the Free State. I beg to move.


My Lords, I only rise for one moment to address a question to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for our future guidance. I want to know to what extent this House can discuss projects or measures that are before the Parliament of a self-governing Dominion. Such matters would appear to me to be properly outside our discussions here. I am not referring to Acts passed by a self-governing Dominion, but to projects which are still under discussion in the Parliament of that Dominion.


My Lords, I wish the noble Lord had given me notice of that question.


I apologise.


I would not like to give a considered opinion when I obviously have not had time to consider the subject. I should think it would be rather difficult to say that in no circumstances could it be proper for your Lordships' House to consider prospective legislation. Let us take an extreme and impossible case. Let us assume that there was legislation brought forward for deliberately inflicting an injustice, possibly even capital punishment, upon some British citizen in a Dominion. I cannot think that it would be outside the competence of your Lordships' House to call the attention of the Government to that proposal, because if you allowed it to become an Act it might be too late to undo the harm that would be done. Therefore, speaking without investigation of the precedents—and I am very anxious not to say anything which may turn out to be inaccurate—I should think that there was no rule which prevented our discussing these matters; but it is, of course, manifest that it would be in the last degree inconvenient if we were to make a practice of having debates on Bills which are introduced in a Dominion Parliament and which are presumably, at any rate, matters primarily for the concern of that Parliament rather than for ourselves.


My Lords, I shall not detain you more than a few minutes, but I should like to enforce what has been so ably put by my noble friend Lord Danesfort. He has told you what the situation is, and has asked His Majesty's Government what they are going to do, not in any spirit of hostility, but genuinely seeking to ventilate a very important subject which affects the lives of many thousands of His Majesty's subjects. It seems to me there are three classes of people to be considered in this matter, those so-called loyalists resident in the Irish Free State, those who, like myself, have interests in the Free State and are resident here, and, finally, the very large number of people who are Free State citizens, if I may put it in that way, and who gain their livelihood in this country.

With respect to the first class, the so called loyalists, it really is about time we did something for them. We promised them protection when the Treaty was put through. Most of us thought when the Treaty was put through that they would never get any protection, and we were right. But surely, if anything can be done—I do not say it can be easily done—they ought to have the very first claim upon our sympathy and our help. I commend that to the notice of the Lord Chancellor, who will reply. Then there is the class which deserves less attention, of which I am one. Apparently, from what the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, has said, if in the future, when the Bill he referred to becomes law, I go over to visit my property in Ireland, such as is left to me, and it is not much, I shall be liable to be stopped by the Customs and turned back. If I do get there, I shall be liable to domiciliary visits, to have my business interfered with by the Home Minister, and to have my place of residence prescribed for me, and I shall not be allowed to leave that place of residence to go more than a certain distance. In fact, I shall be treated as people are treated in Germany or Russia to-day. Finally, if I want to get back to England, I shall not be able to come if the authorities think it desirable to keep me there.

And who is being treated in this way? A British subject, a British subject in Ireland. I do not want to make too much about that. You may say: "Well, that is all true; what is going to be done?" Here, frankly, it is much easier to say something ought to be done than to prescribe what could be done. But there is this to be considered. There is a large class of people who have come to this country because they think they can fare better here, get a better livelihood, get old age pensions and unemployment benefit and all the sweets of our social system. These people have come over here to get their livelihood at the expense of Britishers and they are keeping Britishers out of jobs. I put that forward with great respect for the consideration of the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor. It does seem to me that in the last resort we must do something to prevent ourselves being exploited by the citizens of a country who are hostile to us. If we do, possibly we shall get something done and at any rate we shall have protected our own people in this country.


My Lords, we know the great interest which the noble Lord always takes in Irish affairs and how anxious and solicitous lie is for the position of his friends in Southern Ireland. Therefore, I do not at all complain of the Question which he has asked, or of his putting it in the form in which it appears. But I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate that the position of anyone who replies to the Question is a somewhat delicate one, for these Bills are not yet Acts. These Bills are still before the Legislature of the Irish Free State, and therefore I am extremely anxious—and I am quite sure the noble Lord will be extremely anxious—that the whole of the picture should be presented to your Lordships and not merely one or two excerpts from clauses of the two Bills. I propose therefore, with your Lordships' permission, although it may detain you for a few minutes longer than I had intended, to try to put the whole picture before you, and it will then be for your Lordships to say, and no doubt for the Government to say later, what should be done in the circumstances.

The noble Lord is perfectly right in saying that at present the Legislature in the Irish Free State is engaged in the consideration of two Bills. I have both of them before me in the state which they have at present reached. The first Bill is known as the Citizenship Bill. 1934, and the other Bill is known as the Aliens Bill, 1934. The position with regard to the first of these two Bills, is that it was introduced into the Dail as far back as June 27 of last year, and after it had been discussed in the Dail it aroused very considerable controversy both in the Free State and in Great Britain. Upon November 27 last the Secretary of State for the Dominions, Mr. J. H. Thomas, made this statement in another place as to the attitude of the British Government with regard to these two Bills. He said: His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are in correspondence with the Irish Free State 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 maintenance 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, 1930, relating to nationality. At the same time"— these are important words— 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. That statement was made in another place, as I pointed out, on November 27, and a few days later, on December 1, the Secretary of State for the Dominions made a similar statement in a public speech at Derby. I do not propose to read that speech to your Lordships, but it proceeded upon the same lines as the statement to which I have already referred, although at rather greater length.

There was a debate in your Lordships' House in answer to a Question put by the noble Lord on December 20 last, to which the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, made an answer which will be found reported in Volume 95 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. At that time the Government were not in possession of the whole report of a debate which had taken place the previous day in Ireland, that is to say upon December 19, when Mr. de Valera made a speech upon the Third Reading of this Bill. I must refer your Lordships now to two clauses of the Bill, in order that you may see the whole picture. The Citizenship Bill is a very long and a somewhat complicated Bill. It describes as the citizens of Saorstát Eireann those persons who, by virtue of Article 3 of the Constitution, become Irish citizens. Then it goes on in a very long clause to describe who are natural-born citizens, citizens born since the date of the Treaty. That is a very complicated clause.

There is also a very big clause to which I must draw your Lordships' attention. It is Clause 23 of the Citizenship Bill. In order to present the whole of the picture to your Lordships, I must just indicate briefly what Clause 23 provides. The marginal note of the clause is: Mutual citizenship rights between Saorstát Eireann and other countries. It says—I am not going to read the whole clause because it is very long and very complicated—that Whenever a convention made, whether before or after the passing of this Act, between Saorstát Eireann and any other country or between the Government of Saorstát Eireann and the Government of any other country -provides for the enjoyment in such other country (either absolutely or subject to compliance with conditions) by citizens of Saorstát Eireann of all or any of the rights and privileges of citizens of such other country…. there should be reciprocity, and that the citizens of that State should enjoy similar privileges.

In the debate on the Third Reading of this Bill on December 19, this is what Mr. de Valera is reported to have said: We are then in these mutual provisions"— that is, in the clause to which I have referred but of which I have not read the whole— saying: 'We are not going to say why it is you give them to us, but we admit that our citizens are, in fact, getting certain privileges in Great Britain, and in Canada, Australia and South Africa by the law of these countries; we say that, in so far as our citizens are getting privileges in these countries, we are prepared to give the citizens of these countries, with the exception mentioned'"— I need not refer to them at all— 'similar privileges. One of the first Acts of the Executive Council when this Bill becomes law will be, by Order, to confer on the citizens of those countries privileges akin to the privileges our people get in those countries.' It is a reciprocity clause. The position with regard to that Bill is as follows. I have read Mr. de Valera's statement on the Third Reading, and that Bill has passed through all its stages in the Dail. It has passed Second Reading and Committee stage in the Senate, but I am informed that the final stage was deferred until progress had been made with the Aliens Bill.

I now turn to the Aliens Bill to see how the matter stands with regard to that Bill. The Aliens Bill was introduced into the Dail on November 22 last year. I have it before me, but all I have is the Bill as amended on Report. This is a very technical matter, but when the Bill was originally introduced on the First Reading it contained two clauses to which I must draw your Lordships' attention. It contained a definition of an alien in Clause 2, and it also contained a reciprocity clause similar to the reciprocity clause in the Citizenship Bill, in the clause which at that moment was Clause 9 of the Bill but which has now become Clause 10. I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 2 and Clause 10 of the Bill as it stands at. present.

Clause 2, if I may say so without offence to our Irish friends, is fortunately an extremely simple one. It is the simplest of the lot: In this Act the word 'alien' means a person who is not a citizen of Saorstát Eireann We know who the people are who are citizens, because we have that in the first Bill. The important clause, now again, is however the reciprocity clause, which was Clause 9 and has now become Clause 10. It is a short clause, of which the first subsection is the only one which I want to read: The Executive Council"— that is, of the Irish Free State— may by order exempt from the application of any provision or provisions of this Act, or of any aliens order, the citizens of any country in respect of which the Executive Council are satisfied that, having regard to all the circumstances and in particular the laws of such country in relation to immigrants. it is proper that the exemption mentioned in such order should be granted. That is the reciprocity clause, of the sort that is in the other Bill. When Mr. de Valera spoke on the Second Reading of this Bill in the Dail on February 14 last, he said this: We are making full provision for the maintenance of any rights or privileges to which members of one State of the Commonwealth, travelling into another, are entitled. We are doing that by Order. Once this set of Bills is passed, we can, by Order, make available all those privileges in virtue of the fact that, by law in some of those States, similar privileges are allowed to our citizens. But if any of those privileges are denied to our citizens, we would be free to deny similar privileges. Let me stop for a moment, if I may. That is how the matter stands at present. The Bills have not yet become law because, with regard to the second of those two Bills—the Aliens Bill—the position is this. The Second Reading was, as I have said, on February 14, and that Bill remains now, as the other Bill remains, to be completed. Of course I cannot prophesy—no one can prophesy—what will be in the Bill upon completion, but there is no reason to suppose that either of those two clauses will not find its way into the completed Act.


Might interrupt the noble and learned Viscount for one moment?




It is to point out that Clause 9 does not say that the reciprocity shall take place. All it says is that the Executive Council may exempt if they think fit. Now there is nothing to force the Executive Council to pass this reciprocity, and therefore it may never come into operation.


I quite agree. It appears, therefore, that the intentions of the Irish Free State Government are that, as long as the present practice continues whereby citizens of the Irish Free State are not subjected in the United Kingdom to the disabilities imposed by law upon aliens, the Irish Free State will be prepared, or rather—I certainly accept the correction—they will have the power under Section 9 of the Aliens Act to issue an exempting Order in respect of British subjects belonging to the United Kingdom.

Now the views of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom as to the principle underlying Clause 2 are similar to those which have already been expressed by Mr. Thomas with regard to the Citizenship Bill. I called attention to Clause 9—as it was; it is now Clause 10—under which they have power to make these reciprocity Orders. How then does the matter stand? The position that the Government take up is this. The established policy of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom is that all peoples of His Majesty, of whatever origin, should be treated alike in this country as regards admission and residence. The view of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom is that Irish Free State citizenship does not deprive any person of his status as a subject of His Majesty. As I have already explained, His Majesty's Government propose to reserve their position until they see what form the Bills take when they become Acts of Parliament, and if, as is assumed, an Order is made under Clause 10 of the Aliens Bill—that is the reciprocity section—then no situation seems likely to arise which would call for any variation of the established policy of His Majesty's Government, to which I have already alluded. Therefore, as far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, we do not like to use the phrase "Wait and See," hut we shall see what happens to those two reciprocity clauses when the Bills become Acts. It will be time enough then for us to consider, as I have already indicated, what will be the position.

With regard to Papers, I have none that I can lay before your Lordships' House. If the noble Lord has not seen the full text of these two Bills—namely, the Citizenship Bill and the Aliens Bill—I shall be very pleased to hand him the copies which I hold in my hand. As I pointed out, however, the position at present is that the original first Bill has got as far as the Second Reading and there it is waiting. The Aliens Bill will no doubt in the course of time become an Act. It will then be possible to see what the real position is. I regret that I can answer the question at no greater length, and I really have no Papers that I can give to the noble Lord.


Will the noble and learned Viscount say if they have informed the Free State Government of the importance which His Majesty's Government attach to these so-called reciprocity provisions, and to the necessity for those being embodied in the law, in possibly stronger form than at present? Have they in particular informed the Free State Government that it must not be left to the Executive Council of the Free State to say whether or not the Aliens Bill is to apply to British subjects—that they must have a definite statement to the effect that British subjects in the Free State shall enjoy the same liberties and privileges as Free State subjects in this country? Further, if already such communications have not been sent, will His Majesty's Government do so?


The answer to my noble friend is this, that I will convey his very important remarks to my right honourable friend the Dominions Secretary, and I have no doubt that he, having had great experience of the whole of the negotiations with the Irish Free State, will do what he thinks right in this matter.


At this stage I do not press my Motion for Papers, but I gather that if there are communications such as I have indicated we shall be entitled to see them.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-two minutes past seven o'clock.