HL Deb 25 November 1948 vol 159 cc619-21

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, I think it would be your Lordships' desire that I should make a statement on Eire, especially as such a statement is being made by the Prime Minister in another place at the present moment.

In 1937 a new Constitution was enacted in Eire, in which no reference was made to the Crown. This, however, left in force the Eire Executive Authority (External Relations) Act of 1936, which authorised His Majesty The King to act on behalf of Eire in certain matters within the field of external affairs as and when advised by the Eire Executive Council to do so. In December, 1937, the United Kingdom Government stated, after consultation with the Governments of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, that they, like those Governments, were prepared to treat the new Constitution as not effecting a fundamental alteration in the position of Eire as a member of the Commonwealth.

On September 7 last the Prime Minister of Eire, Mr. Costello, announced that the Eire Government were preparing to repeal the External Relations Act. Subsequently, Mr. Costello confirmed this intention.

As the House is aware, my right honourable friend took advantage of the presence in London during October of other Commonwealth Ministers to arrange on October 17 for preliminary discussions with Eire Ministers in order to explore the consequences which would flow from the Legislation proposed in Eire. Representatives of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, in which there are particularly large numbers of people of Irish ancestry, participated in these discussions.

Since then, the matter has been under constant examination here. When the Eire Government announced that their Repeal Bill (to be entitled the "Republic of Ireland Bill") would be introduced on November 17, my right honourable friend thought it right that the situation should be further discussed with members of the Eire Government and with the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and the Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs, all of whom were in Paris for the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Discussions took place accordingly in Paris last week. I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my warm appreciation of the constructive part played by Mr. St. Laurent, Mr. Fraser, Dr. Evatt and Mr. Pearson in the preliminary discussions. My right honourable friend has also discussed this matter personally with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and informed him fully of the position.

As a result of these discussions, the United Kingdom Government have been able to give the most careful consideration to the relations between the United Kingdom and Eire when the Republic of Ireland Bill comes into force. They regret that Eire will then no longer be a member of the Commonwealth. The Eire Government have, however, stated that they recognise the existence of a specially close relationship between Eire and the Commonwealth countries and desire that this relationship should be maintained. These close relations arise from ties of kinship and from traditional and long-established economic, social and trade connections based on common interest. The United Kingdom Government, for their part, also recognise the existence of these factual ties, and are at one with the Eire Government in desiring that close and friendly relations should continue and be strengthened.

Accordingly, the United Kingdom Government will not regard the enactment of this legislation by Eire as placing Eire in the category of foreign countries or Eire citizens in the category of foreigners. The other Governments of the Commonwealth will, we understand, take an early opportunity of stating their policy in the matter.

The position of Eire citizens in the United Kingdom will be governed by the British Nationality Act, 1948. The Eire Government have stated that it is their intention to bring their legislation into line with that in Commonwealth countries so as to establish by Statute that, in Eire, citizens of Commonwealth countries receive comparable treatment.


My Lords, the statement which has just been made by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, is clearly of fundamental importance, both from the facts which it exposes and the implications to which it gives rise. It will require very careful study from us all. But I would say at once, and I believe I speak for all those who sit on these Benches, that I am profoundly disturbed by the nature of the settlement which has been reached. The Crown is not only the symbol, it is the essence of the family relationship which constitutes the British Commonwealth. Eire has repudiated her allegiance to the Crown. Of her own free will she has destroyed that family relationship. She has, of course, a perfect right to do this if she wishes, but I cannot see why, in these circumstances, she should retain all the advantages of membership. I consider it, indeed, deplorable that she should do so. I believe that this settlement will inflict a profound injury upon the whole structure of the Commonwealth and I am bound, even at this stage, to dissociate those for whom I speak entirely from it.

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