§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT JOWITT)
My Lords, in rising to move that this Bill be read a second time, I have it in command to acquaint the House that His Majesty, having been informed of the contents of this Bill, is prepared to place his Prerogatives and Interests, so far as concern the matters dealt with by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament.
My Lords, I have before now been taken to task for saying that I was not altogether happy about a Bill that I was introducing. I am certainly not happy that I have to introduce this Bill; but I believe that this Bill, or something very like it, is an absolute necessity in view of what has happened—for which we are not responsible. Quite frankly, I regard it as a somewhat melancholy fact that the last link—albeit a slender link—which bound together the people of this country and the people of Southern Ireland was severed by the repeal of the External Relations Act. I find no consolation in the theory, which some people say ought to be consoling, that I ought to rejoice that a new nation has been born, because I deny entirely that member States of the British Commonwealth are not nations in the full sense of the word. Canada is just as much a nation as her great neighbour, the United States of America. She is a nation bound to us by ties of sentiment, by a common history, by common ideals, by a common tradition and by allegiance to the King.
I regret profoundly the reasons why another great parent race, the Irish, have thought it necessary to separate themselves from us; because, as I see the problems of the world, confronted as we are with the danger of gross materialism, 908 if ever there was a time when the Irish, in concert and in collaboration with us, could have made an immense contribution to that situation, that time is surely now. But what have they done? When I was in Ireland last summer (I deliberately went there, for I thought it would be wise that I should get to know and get on terms of personal friendship with Mr. Costello and Mr. MacBride), I thought the barometer was "Set fair." I realised the wealth of kindness with which I was received, and although I left Ireland just at the beginning of the month of September I had no conception, and no indication whatever, that this Act was about to be repealed by the Irish. I have no complaint about that; it was not my right to be told. But in fact I was not told; and, as I have informed your Lordships before, the first I knew about this project was when I read in the newspapers Mr. Costello's speech in Canada—and that applies also to my colleagues.
I was deeply sorry that I had not had some chance of making representations on this matter before it became a fait accompli. If I had, I should have made some representations; and perhaps if they had been made, the discussions afterwards would have had a far greater hope of success, for it is perfectly obvious that whatever else may result from this Bill, it must exacerbate the situation as between Northern Ireland and Eire. But although it was in itself no small thing that the other links had gone, the Oath of Allegiance to the Governor-General and the Privy Council was still there; and the External Relations Act was still there and served in some measure to bind us together. When the decision to repeal that Act was announced, it was our endeavour, so far as we could, to minimise the risk of possible damage. Accordingly, on October 17, we had certain discussions at Chequers. Although it is true that at those discussions the Irish representative raised the question of Northern Ireland, we made it quite plain that we were not there to discuss that matter at all, and that we regarded it as completely outside the scope and ambit of the discussions we were having. Your Lordships may care to follow the dates which I am about to give. That discussion, as I have said, was on October 17. The Prime Minister's statement in another place—which, if I may, I will read to your Lordships—was 909 made on October 28. The statement was as follows:The view of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom has always been that no change should be made in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without Northern Ireland's free agreement.That statement, as I say, was made on October 28.
Then I went to Paris, on November 13—that is to say, rather more than a fortnight after the Prime Minister had made that statement. In our Paris discussions the question of Northern Ireland was not again mentioned, since we considered that that was outside the ambit of the discussion. No sort of complaint was made in regard to the nature and content of the Prime Minister's statement on October 28. It is certainly a fact that at that Paris meeting we agreed together, so far as we could, to discuss with each other the question of "foreign or not foreign" and the related matters. We hoped that Mr. Costello's statement in the Dail would indicate that, even if the External Relations Act were repealed, he would yet be prepared to extend favourable treatment to citizens of this country. And we, in our turn, made it plain that we were prepared to submit to Parliament proposals for extending favourable treatment to citizens of the Irish Republic which was then to be born. Those understandings were never extended to cover the position of Northern Ireland which at the earliest moment had been ruled completely out of the discussions.
I mention that because I have seen in a newspaper this morning a suggestion that by some agreement that we had made we were in some way precluded front making what arrangements we liked in regard to the matter of Northern Ireland. I do not believe that Mr. MacBride would think that I had deliberately broken any agreement to which I was a party—and all the more because it was not a written agreement. I can assure your Lordships that my understanding of the situation was that the position of Northern Ireland was completely outside our discussions, our understanding and everything we did. There it is. On the one hand, I see that Mr. Dillon has said that we are a Party of honest men beguiled and misled by the Tory siren so that we have cast our ship upon the rocks; and, on the other hand, that we are not quite so honest and that we have been guilty of some breach 910 of undertaking. I must not be surprised at divergent views in Ireland, but even in this country there have been divergent views. In another place Sir David Maxwell Fyfe made several speeches of, I thought, a very high order. In particular, he called attention to the fact that there was no other country in the world which, at a critical moment in its history, would have had the faith and courage to take so difficult a course as we took—namely, to extend to Irish citizens the full benefits of British nationality. In this House on April 5, the noble Lord, Lord Schuster, whom I am glad to see here, took a very different view. He said:His Majesty's Government, in their mad rush to disintegrate the British Empire, have proved, as much by their lack of foresight as by then lack of caution, that no one could attribute to them the capacity for caring what was going to happen.Your Lordships can choose which attitude you like. Personally, I prefer the view of Sir David Maxwell Fyfe.
That brings me to the Bill now before your Lordships. I may say at once that I am not going to set before your Lordships anything which will make an already difficult situation one wit more difficult than it is to-day. I conceive that I can perform my duty, unite shortly and without any heat or feeling, if I begin briefly to explain this Bill. There will, of course, be a Committee stage when many difficult points—for difficult points there must be—will no doubt be discussed between us. Clause 1 of the Bill, in subsection (1), recognises what is the fact. I imagine that no one will raise any criticism there. Of course, we rejoice in the fact that the member States of our Commonwealth have complete freedom. If any one of those member States decides that she desires to go out of the Commonwealth, then beyond all argument she has a perfect right so to do. Ireland did so decide, and this subsection merely recognises the fact that she has gone.
The second subsection of this clause deals with the position of Northern Ireland. I have already told your Lordships that this was ruled out of our discussions at Chequers. Subsection (2) proceeds on the basis—and is there anyone who would deny it?—that force is no remedy. I do not attempt to conceal the fact that all my life I have been in 911 favour of Home Rule. I was brought up to believe that Mr. Gladstone was a most virtuous man who was defeated by the wiles of the Opposition—and I still think so. In a very humble way, I supported Mr. Asquith's endeavours, and his Bill. But it is idle to think that we can eliminate history since that time. There was the trouble time in Ireland; there were the negotiations for which Mr. Lloyd George was responsible; there was the appointment of the Boundary Commission; and finally, there was the 1925 Agreement, ratified by the Houses of Parliament here and ratified in Eire. If ever there was an Agreement solemnly reached and ratified, it was that Agreement. By it, the boundaries of Northern Ireland were recognised and defined. The proposition which this clause enshrines is nothing other than this: that that having been done, it is unthinkable that without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland those boundaries can be altered and the bargain then made upset.
A controversy may be raised as to whether we ought to have used the word "people," which rather suggests some kind of referendum, or whether we should use the word "Parliament." We are working on the assumption that Parliament represents the people. Let us suppose that the Parliament of Northern Ireland passed a law that no one might exercise the franchise unless he were prepared to make a declaration against the doctrine of Transubstantiation. If such a situation ever did arise (and it is purely hypothetical) the Parliament of this country would obviously have to deal with that situation as being something quite new. No Parliament, of course, can ever bind its successor, but I hope that Parliament will accept the doctrine that the solution to this Irish problem, wherever it may be and wherever it may be found, is not in the realm of force.
The third subsection of the first clause calls the new State, the Republic of Ireland. I realise that there may be criticism of the phrase "Republic of Ireland," because it might appear to extend to the whole of Ireland, just as by parallel reasoning there might be criticism of the phrase "Northern Ireland," inasmuch as it might be thought that it extended to the whole of Northern Ireland, whereas, 912 of course, the most northerly part of Ireland, County Donegal, is not in Northern Ireland at all. One thing we should not aim at in this Bill (and, if I may say so, in many other matters relating to Ireland), is logic, and this being a very delicately balanced matter, I would suggest to your Lordships that it is far better to accept the name by which Mr. Costello and his Party have called Southern Ireland, and by which it will be known by other countries.
Then we come to Clause 2, where we assert very boldly that the Republic of Ireland is not to be a foreign country. The researches of Sir David Maxwell Fyfe show there is nothing new even in this. I confess that I thought there was, but he showed that France, Spain and the two Sicilies in the year 1761 passed Acts of Parliament declaring that as between themselves they were not to be foreign countries. Of course, it is for us and for our municipal law to decide exactly what concessions and privileges we will grant to the nationals of any other country, although international law may come in and say that we are wrong in granting these concessions or privileges by virtue of the fact that we have made treaties. What international law will decide on this matter I am not going to lay down positively, but if and when it ever comes to be determined, I think it will be a relevant factor that we have this common association and that the Parliaments of both countries have recognised this or something very like it.
We come now to Clause 3, which was inserted to meet a difficulty which had been expressed in the newspapers by a very dear friend of mine, Serjeant Sullivan, and which has been voiced in this House by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon. I will confess to your Lordships that I did not think the point that was thus raised was a valid point. I felt little doubt but that the British Nationality Act continued to apply, notwithstanding the alteration in the status of Southern Ireland. But I always remember Cromwell's advice to the House of Commons—and even I have been mistaken sometimes! Therefore, in view of the fact that this doubt was raised, I thought it only right that it should be cleared up by this clause, which I hope does have that effect. Of course, my Lords, there are all sorts of most intricate questions arising, some of which 913 will undoubtedly have to be settled in our law courts—and they may take a long time to settle. But as a broad matter of principle, I venture to hope that we have succeeded in so drafting this clause as to remove the doubts and fears which the noble and learned Viscount expressed. That certainly was our object.
Clause 4, in effect, gives us a breathing space down to the end of 1949: laws passed throughout this year will extend to Ireland, but thereafter if we want the law so to extend we must say so specifically. Clause 5 deals with an exception to the general rule, because an Irishman coming over here would be entitled to be registered if he were resident here (whatever that difficult word may mean), whereas in Northern Ireland, in view of the fact that there is a land border there, we thought it right to insert some minimum qualification; and we put in three months. My Lords, those are the objects of this Bill. I would say only this: that in spite of all the tearing and wearying words that have been used, I do hope that the two sets of Irishmen will show the statesmanship and the good will to live happily together. I would like to see some embryonic beginning, possibly in some functional way, where they are working something together. I should hate to think that at this time there was any religious bitterness left. There should be complete tolerance. We are perhaps an illogical people but I believe we have the great gifts of tolerance and of compromise. I earnestly hope that similar gifts will be given to those who are responsible for the negotiations on both sides of the Channel. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
Moved, That the Bill he now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, in saying what I have to say on this Bill this afternoon it may seem as if I am throwing a note of discord into the chorus of general approval with which the official spokesmen of the various Parties in another place have greeted this measure. I can assure your Lordships that that is not my object. The last thing I wish to do—and here I am entirely at one with the noble and learned Lord Chancellor—is to embitter relations between England and Ireland. Nor do I 914 question in any way the right of the Eire Government to leave the Commonwealth if they wish. After all, that is the essence of Dominion status, which Eire has hitherto enjoyed. Moreover, I would say to the Government that I do not complain at all that they should have found it necessary to introduce a measure to clarify the position resulting from Eire's departure from the British Commonwealth of Nations.
I quite accept what was said on this particular score by the Lord Chancellor. Evidently something had to be done. The present anarchic situation could not be allowed to continue. May I say, in passing, how glad I was to hear the noble and learned Viscount's statement regarding the Irish charge of a breach of faith which was made in the papers today? I think his statement will tend to clear the air. My Loris, I say again that I fully appreciate that some legislation is necessary, but what causes anxiety to a good many of us is the nature of the settlement proposed in this Bill. We fear that for practical purposes, whatever may be the legal position, this twilight arrangement (if I may so describe it), under which Ireland is neither quite in nor quite out of the Commonwealth, is fraught with future dangers and difficulties, is likely to increase rather than reduce friction between the two countries, and is not in the interests of the Commonwealth itself.
In introducing this Bill the Lord Chancellor put the best face on it that he possibly could. He recommended it in his most persuasive terms as the best solution for what he admitted was an extremely awkward situation. I could not help being sorry for him in what was obviously a most ungrateful task that had been imposed upon him. About a year ago, or perhaps a little more, we had a completely different solution of the Anglo-Irish problem recommended to us in the British Nationality Bill. We were told—at least so I understood it—that that plan, the British Nationality Bill plan, had been agreed with the rest of the Commonwealth; and not only with them hut, in particular, with the representatives of Eire herself. It was to end the age-long conflict between Britain and Ireland upon a basis that would keep the ring of the Commonwealth intact, and Ireland within that ring. That was 915 recommended to us as one of the main merits of that particular measure.
We on this side of the House, as your Lordships will remember, did not like the clauses in the British Nationality Bill which dealt with Ireland. We believed that they would be unsatisfactory and impermanent and we tried to have them omitted. But eventually, in deference to appeals by noble Lords opposite, backed by the weight of a great majority in another place, we gave way; and the British Nationality Bill, with the Irish clauses, became law. But, as the Lord Chancellor himself has said to-day, hardly was the ink dry on the paper of that measure when the Irish Government, apparently without any prior consultation with His Majesty's Government, and indeed entirely contrary to the expectation of His Majesty's Government, decided to leave the Commonwealth. By that action, the whole basis of the clauses which dealt with Ireland was cut away, and new legislation has now had to be devised to meet the new situation. That legislation, as we know, is incorporated in the present Bill, which has been recommended by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor with the same persuasive eloquence as he devoted last year to the British Nationality Bill.
I cannot say that many of us are enthusiastic about this new measure. We all honour the efforts of the Government to find a way out of the present imbroglio that is calculated to reduce friction between the two countries. I fully recognise that that is the whole purpose of this measure. I am sure that they have done what they think best, in what is admittedly a very difficult situation, to achieve that result. Indeed, I think many of us will feel that this Bill enshrines an extremely generous offer on the part of the United Kingdom. It confers no very remarkable advantages on us and it provides immense advantages for Ireland. It enables Irish people in matters of trade to enjoy all the advantages available to members of the Commonwealth. As I understand it, their citizens who happen to be resident in this country are to be treated in all respects as if Ireland were still a member of the family. They can come freely to this country; they can vote to elect members of our own domestic Parliament; they can sit in that Parliament; they can even 916 become members, as far as I know, of the Privy Council. No such offer was ever previously made in the history of the world, I believe, by one independent nation to another.
But, at the same time, innumerable questions jump to one's mind in considering this proposed arrangement. I do not know whether other noble Lords feel the same as I do. I personally feel very unhappy that men and women who are not British nationals should vote at all in British elections. But, in any case, I would like to ask this question: Will Irish nationals who are resident in Britain be able to use their status as British voters to press claims not in the interests of Britain but of Ireland? To put it even more clearly, will candidates at British elections, be bombarded by electors, who are not British nationals at all, for pledges of support on the subject of the abolition of partition as the price for their votes? There are already signs that this may be the case. A few days ago, I received—and perhaps other noble Lords have also received copies—a document signed by the President of the Paddington Branch of the Anti-Partition of Ireland League, asking my support for an amendment weakening the pledge to Ulster. In that document there are paragraphs which are not only deplorable in themselves but which constitute a really intolerable intrusion in our own domestic affairs.
The writer asks, "Why is this amendment" (that was the amendment which he proposed) "indispensable?" He then gives a number of reasons. I will quote two of them, in order that your Lordships may see the sort of thing which is already beginning. The first reason, the writer says, is:Because the Nationalist Catholic populace—which is one-third of the total population—is during quiet times effectively muzzled, shackled and oppressed and during times of public excitement is treated by the Orange mob and other Government agents in mufti with as abominable and as barbarous cruelty, involving arson, bloodshed and death, as ever were the Jews in Hitler's Germany.Your Lordships can form your own impressions of such an effusion as that, without further comment from me. But it is clearly intended to inflame opinion here against the Loyalists in Ulster. The second quotation is, in its way, even more sinister. I am giving what he alleges 917 is an additional reason why the amendment should be supported:Because the Parliament of the United Kingdom to-day—the first Parliament ever to be dominated by the British Labour Party—would be insane to permit itself to be doped and bamboozled into serving Tory-Orange intrigues which came to full strength in 1912–14 in planning an armed revolt against His Majesty's Government in order to defeat—not so much the Irish Nationalists—as the Labour and democratic forces which had coalesced with them and with the Liberals to curb the forces of reaction and to promote a humanitarian social policy. Will British Labour kiss the rod that whipped it?Well, my Lords, I do not want to go into the past too far or to revive the ashes of old controversies, but I do say this: the paragraphs which I have quoted are clearly a definite attempt to influence a Party vote in our own domestic politics. Is that the kind of thing to which we are to be subjected in the years to come? Is Ireland to be dragged back into the forum of British politics, from which she has, happily, been absent for some considerable time, by men who, in fact if not in name, are actually aliens and not subjects of the King? I would ask His Majesty's Government whether there are any means that can be taken under the proposed arrangement, to deal with such intrusions in our internal affairs in the interests of another country. I hope there is some step which can be taken to prevent that type of propaganda; otherwise, clearly, it can lead only to a steady increase in bitterness between the two countries, which all of us are most anxious to avoid. I would also like to ask what will be the position of British nationals who are resident in Ireland under this new plan for common citizenship, which is, in effect, what we are offering the Irish? Is there to be absolute reciprocity? Are British nationals in Ireland to have the same rights and privileges which we give to Irish nationals in Britain? Will they also be able to vote for the Irish Parliament? Will they also be able to enter the Irish Civil Service, and so on?
Have the Government any assurance of any kind about this from the Irish Government? The Lord Chancellor did not tell us in his speech. Perhaps he will say in his reply. He may argue that this point is somewhat unrealistic and may say that it is improbable that many Englishmen will wish to enjoy any such rights. But if that argument is used, it 918 only goes to prove how much more the Irish are gaining by this arrangement than we are. Moreover, this question of reciprocity may have wider implications and a wider importance than we at present realise. However much we may contend that this case of Ireland is sui generis, resulting from certain very special circumstances, it is not impossible—and we must not hide it from ourselves—that it may be claimed as a precedent by others in this nationalistic age. Therefore, it is important, if we are embarking on an era of common citizenship between independent States, that such citizenship should be really common in all respects.
There are many other questions I should like to ask. There is the question of the position over passports, which understand raises most difficult issues, and there are other questions of a similar character. But those are likely to be raised by other noble Lords; therefore, I will not say anything more about them this afternoon. But I should like to give warning that unless there is a definite and satisfactory answer from the Government on these points, we may have to put down Amendments on Committee stage. We are not anxious to introduce controversial matters over this Bill, but at the same time there are certain matters which need clearing up. We should prefer to clear them up with the co-operation of the Government, but, if we cannot get that co-operation, we may have to put down Amendments ourselves. I am not going into any further details. I will only repeat the words I have used already with regard to these proposals: that I do not believe any such generous offer has ever been made in the history of the world by one independent country to another, and I feel that the only justification for such an offer as we have made is if His Majesty's Government are satisfied that the Irish Government are willing to co-operate in the same spirit, if that Government are ready to bury the hatchet of the past and make concessions to our point of view in the same way as we are genuinely ready to make concessions to theirs, and if this is really meant by them as the beginning of a new era ill Anglo-Irish relations.
But I am afraid it is evident from the recent debates in the Dail that that is not at present their attitude at all. I wish it were, but I do not think it is. They seem 919 to ignore all the advantages which accrue to them from this settlement and they concentrate on the one concession which is not made to them—that is, the abolition of partition and the abandonment of Ulster. In such circumstances, I am bound to say—and although I am expressing here only a personal view, I think it may be shared by some other noble Lords—that I should have thought the right course for His Majesty's Government would be to say, in a perfectly friendly manner, "If you do not want our offer, you need not have it. If you are determined to become foreigners; very well, become foreigners, in the fullest sense of the term." I say this irrespective of any of the precedents for the present situation that may have been quoted by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, or anyone else. We should say to Ireland: "We shall be very ready to negotiate a treaty with you on terms mutually satisfactory to both parties, but you will not retain the advantages of membership of a family which you seem determined to repudiate."
That is the course that I feel would have been the right one for His Majesty's Government to adopt. It would have got over the main difficulties inherent in this settlement. No problem would have been raised over the most favoured nation clauses in our commercial treaties with other nations. There would have been no question of the Irish attempting to use influence in our domestic politics to secure results favourable to their country. If the Irish in Britain wished to vote in British elections, if they wished to join the British Civil Service or if they wished to play other parts in our national public life, they would have to make a declaration affirming their loyalty to this country. I am told, though I do not know if it is true, that it is the view of the Home Office that it is impossible to find out who are Irish and who are not. I do not believe this for a moment. We had no difficulty in finding out who was British and who was not during the war, and I think it could equally easily be done now. It is merely a matter of machinery. That, I am sure, taking into account the present frame of mind of the Irish Government, would have been the right course for this country to adopt. I gravely fear 920 that the arrangement proposed in the present Bill will not be regarded by the Irish as generosity, but will be regarded merely as weakness, and will pave the way for further demands. Instead of reducing friction between the two countries, which is its main object, it will tend only to increase it. But unfortunately—so some of us feel—the Government have not seen fit to take the course I suggested. They have preferred to go on as if nothing had happened, as if Ireland had not left the Commonwealth, in the hope of getting their return at a later date.
My Lords, I now come to the last lap of my speech. The question before those of us who feel as I do is: What should we on this side of the House do about this Bill in these circumstances? I hope I have not concealed from your Lordships my dislike of it. I wish most sincerely that it had never been brought in. But, after careful and indeed rather painful thought, I have been driven to the conclusion that this is not one of those occasions—whatever one's personal feelings—in which I should be justified in advising your Lordships to throw it out, even if you should think it right to do so. In deciding our action in circumstances such as these, it seems to me we have to consider rather more than our own personal feelings. Where it is clear that the British people, whose servants, under His Majesty the King, we are, are seriously exercised in their minds on any question, we believe it to be our function to afford the British people time to make their views felt. But I must say frankly that this does not appear to me to be a subject on which the British people are strongly moved one way or another. I see no indication that they require time for further thought. They seem prepared to accept the situation, even though they do not view it with any great enthusiasm. I am afraid it would be reckless action on our part, and indeed wrong, in such circumstances, if we were to negative the policy of the Government which is at the present time in charge of our national affairs. I have spoken very frankly, to tell your Lordships the way in which my own mind works.
Moreover, it is only right to say that, however much some of us may dislike the general policy implied in this Bill, there are certain provisions in it which 921 we can all cordially approve. First, there are the provisions which safeguard completely the position of Ulster. These provisions make it clear that there can be no coercion of the loyal Ulster majority by a temporary influx from the South. To us on this side of the House—and, indeed, I believe, to noble Lords on all sides of the House—that is a vital consideration. We owe an inestimable debt to Ulster. It implies no reflection on the many brave men and women who came from Southern Ireland to fight in the war to say that it was the staunch support which Ulster gave to the cause of freedom in the last war, by keeping open the Northern ports, which went far to preserve a free world from defeat. We cannot and will not let them down now. At present, it is abundantly clear that the overwhelming proportion of Ulstermen do not wish to amalgamate or federate with Southern Ireland. No one knows what the future will bring. It may be that at some later date they will change their view. But while they hold to their present opinion we in this country must and will support them. That cannot be said too unequivocally, and it is made quite clear—and this is to the great credit of His Majesty's Government—in the present Bill.
Secondly, it is laid down with equal clarity that if Irishmen resident in the United Kingdom are to enjoy the rights and privileges of British citizens they must be prepared to fight for them in war and undergo the necessary training in peace time in the same way as other British citizens. I think that, too, is evidently right. We can therefore say quite fairly—and this, as I have already made bold to remark, is to the great credit of His Majesty's Government—that, whatever our view as to their general policy, they have satisfied us on two matters which have been causing us great concern. Personally, I could not possibly vote for this Bill; I feel far too strongly on the general policy involved. I imagine that there will not be a Division. For the reasons I have explained, I think that there should not be a Division. If, however a Division is challenged from any quarter, I propose to abstain, and I should advise all other noble Lords who do not feel able to support the measure to take a similar course.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, this Bill has two purposes. One is to deal with certain practical consequences of the Act passed by the Irish Parliament for the separation of Eire from the Commonwealth, and the establishment of an independent Republic, so as to prevent, so far as possible, inconvenience and injury to the citizens of each of these countries resident in the territory of the other. The second purpose is to make a declaration with regard to the future constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The first of these two is the more important, for the second introduces nothing new, but merely safeguards the status quo. Nevertheless, it is the second which has aroused the greatest attention and has given rise to the keenest controversy. I propose to address your Lordships, I hope briefly, upon both of these issues.
I cannot agree with the noble Marquess who has just spoken that this Bill is of no advantage to us in dealing with Irish citizens in this country. On the contrary, I think the presence of these Irish men and women is a great strengthening of our economy; it adds to our man-power and woman-power. Many of them are skilled persons who render valuable service to this country. The question of the strength of our military position and service in the British Army also arises. And it is to the advantage of this country that no unnecessary obstacles should be placed in the way of travel and trade between the two islands, and of the comfort and well-being of the citizens engaged in trade and production in the two countries.
When the noble Marquess asks whether we can expect that the Irish Parliament will give reciprocal advantages to our own nationals resident there, I would remind him that a proposal of such an interchange of rights came first from the Irish Prime Minister, Mr. Costello, when he introduced the External Relations Bill (afterwards an Act), out of which arises the whole of these complications. When we discussed this matter in this House on December 15 last, I quoted the actual words used by Mr. Costello, and I will do so again now. In that portion of his speech he was addressing himself not only to his own nationals but to the peoples of Britain and the Commonwealth. Addressing himself to them, he said:After the passage of this Bill we"—923 that is the Irish—will continue, provided they so desire, the exchange of citizenship rights and privilges.He went on to say:Ireland does not now, and does not intend to regard her citizens as foreigners, or their countries as foreign countries.So Mr. Costello has already given the undertaking which to-day the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, says he would desire.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Viscount has made two points. With regard to the first, I never said that there were no advantages to us. I said there were no very remarkable advantages. In a later part of my speech, I indicated another method by which those advantages might have been secured to this country. With regard to the second point the noble Viscount made, as to whether there was to be reciprocity, all I desire to ask the Lord Chancellor (and I hope he will be able to answer me to-day) is whether the Government have had conversations with the Irish Government on this question and what sort of assurances they have been given. We have in the past had the example, I am sorry to say, of public statements by the Irish Government which at a later date have proved to be slightly illusory.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
With regard to the first point, it is not a nice balance of less or more. What I would ask your Lordships to agree is that this country does obtain large and substantial advantages by the provisions made in the first clause of this Bill. With regard to the second point, the Irish Government have clearly recognised the principle that these concessions should be mutual. Whether the Government have obtained a precise assurance on that matter is, of course, a question for the Lord Chancellor to answer, and not for me.
The general provisions of this Bill, therefore, seem to raise the question, given the state of affairs created by the action of the Irish Parliament, for which we are in no way responsible: Is this Bill desirable or not? To my mind, it is obvious common sense to say that it is desirable. Then the question arises whether these objects can be legally achieved. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, has on more than 924 one occasion addressed himself to the legal aspect, and no doubt he may do so again today. Unquestionably a very strong case can be made to show that this Bill is full of what may be called legal anomalies; certainly it is illogical. It may be said that what it sets out is bad law. But good law may sometimes be bad statesmanship.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
The ideas embodied in this Bill were discussed fully in December last. If I remember rightly, the noble and learned Viscount has also made statements, in public or in writing, with regard to it.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
It is not a matter of great importance, but it is just as well to be accurate. For what it may be worth—and I do not think it is worth very much—I expressed a view as to the true effect, not of this Bill but of the British Nationality Act which was passed last July.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I am speaking now in particular of the noble and learned Viscount's speech on December 15 last. Then we were discussing the matters which are involved in this legislation. The noble and learned Viscount has said more than once that legislation of this character purports to effect changes in the law which may be applied by our own courts for our own purposes but which will not be binding internationally; and that, consequently, by passing legislation of the character of this Bill we are landing ourselves in the possibility of great international difficulties over the most-favoured-nation clause and other matters relating to international affairs. To all of that I think one can answer that the law must adapt itself to policy. It has always been the custom in this country to make up our constitutional and legal principles as we go along. We first adopt certain practices, and then discover afterwards the principles to which they belong. Then, later, we apply those principles to further developments of practice. As one of our historians has said:All our great constitutional precedents are the parents of principle, rather than its offspring.So it may be in this case. We do things, and then we make the law to fit them. Then the law establishes principles, and those principles are applied in other cases.
925 Whether such legislation will in fact give rise to international difficulties with regard to the most-favoured-nation clause is not certain—I do not know that it is even probable. But if it is, we shall have to face that difficulty when it arises; and it may be that special trade negotiations will become necessary when we give preference to different countries which are no longer in the fullest sense part of the British Commonwealth. We may have to confront the other countries with the new position that we ourselves have created, and since the whole of the Commonwealth is involved in this issue—not only the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and not only Eire, but also all the great Dominions and India—there would be a great mass of bargaining power on these questions of trade relations which might make it difficult for other countries to insist upon the abandonment of Imperial Preference if this country desired that that system should continue.
All the Dominions agreed to this legislation. This Bill has been passed on Second Reading in the House of Commons by a majority of 317 to 12, and on the Third Reading, with no Division, with the support of the three Parties in that House. I have no doubt that your Lordships will be ready to pass it on this occasion. As to the title which has been taken by the State hitherto known as Eire, there is no doubt that to call that State the Republic of Ireland when, as a matter of fact, a considerable part of Ireland is not at present a portion of that Republic, is strictly a misnomer, and that the title "Irish Republic" would be a more accurate description. But as has been said on behalf of the Government, it is, I think, the invariable international custom to allow States to take the names which they themselves choose, and it is so in the ordinary life of the community. I remember seeing a reproduction of an advertisement in The Times of some date in the middle of the nineteenth century, in which a certain Mr. Bugge thought it advisable to change his name and gave notice that, in future, he would call himself Norfolk-Howard. That change of title and name was generally accepted, and it is so in all such cases. With regard to the names of nations, the United States of America is itself, as a title, a misnomer, because that country does 926 not consist of the United States of America. There are many States in Central and South America which do not form part of it. Yet no one brings up such pedantic points as that, and the name that the country chooses is naturally accepted by the whole of the world.
To turn to the second purpose of this Bill, which has aroused such great resentment in Eire, Clause 1 (2) asserts, in terms which will be familiar to your Lordships, that Northern Ireland shall remain as it is until the Parliament of Northern Ireland decides otherwise. For my own part, I have taken part in all the controversies on the Irish question ever since the days of the Parliament of 1892 to 1895 and Mr. Gladstone's second Home Rule was not a member of that Parliament—right on until 1914, when the Irish Home Rule Bill was the crucial issue before the country; and the Bill of 1912 had on its back my own name, with that of other members of that Cabinet. During all that time the Liberal Party, which was a Home Rule Party, strove to establish a united Ireland. We supported the Irish Nationalists, for whom the doctrine "Ireland one and indivisible" was an essential principle. We did so during the whole of that period from 1886, when Mr. Gladstone introduced his first Home Rule Bill, until 1914, when we came reluctantly to the conclusion that to make no compromise on the question of Ulster would be to create an Irish State which would be ungovernable. Then, with the assent of the Irish Nationalist Party, led by Mr. Redmond, we accepted the doctrine that there must be a separate Parliament in Northern Ireland.
On that, in 1914, the Buckingham Palace Conference was called, and very nearly came to an agreement, the principle of a separate Parliament having been accepted by the British Liberal Party, by the Ulster Unionists and by the Irish Nationalists. I must admit that the situation in that regard does not seem to be any different now, in 1949, from what it was in 1914. If steps were taken now to establish a United Ireland, including the whole of that island, the consequences would be the same as they were likely to be in 1914.
In all these matters I think that our policy must be governed by the broad principles laid down in what I regard as 927 one of the most important and significant documents of our age—namely, the Atlantic Charter. The Atlantic Charter, which was signed by President Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill, as Prime Minister of this country, laid down a number of objectives for national and international policy. The Third Article, your Lordships will remember, runs as follows:They"—that is, the two countries, Britain and the United States—respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live.Then the question frequently arises: What is a people? Are the Indians a people? Are those who proclaimed themselves separate, the State of Pakistan, a people? Are the Palestinians a people? Or are the Jews one people, and the Arabs another? Similarly, the question arises: Are the Irish a people, or have the inhabitants of the Northern Ireland counties separate national characteristics?
Unquestionably, the division of Ireland into two causes great inconvenience—and worse than inconvenience in many matters. It prevents the proper development of the economic resources of the whole country, and causes difficulties with transport, customs barriers, the cost of two Parliaments and continual political friction. Those are undoubtedly great evils. But similarly, the separation between Great Britain and Ireland, and the establishment of Eire as a separate country, also creates similar and very serious injury. Nevertheless, it is now recognised in this country that between the people of Great Britain and the people of the greater part of Ireland there are real national differences—historical memories, religion, language, culture in general, patriotism.
In all these matters the people of the twenty-six counties of Ireland declared themselves different from the people of Great Britain. But it is impossible to deny that there are very similar differences between the people of the six counties—or the majority of them—and the people of the twenty-six counties. History, religion, language, industrial interest to a great extent, and patriotism, are real dividing lines between the inhabitants of the six counties and those of the twenty-six, counties. And if it is said 928 that Ireland, after all, is a natural geographical unit, it may be said that the British Islands are a natural geographical unit. Still more India, that great Peninsula, is obviously a natural geographical unit, whereas the division between India and Pakistan is highly artificial and complex. Palestine is a natural geographical unit; Scandinavia is similarly a natural geographical unit and, indeed was united for several centuries, or at all events for a long period, until other considerations caused its present division. Therefore, the natural geographical area is not and cannot be the final consideration.
However it may be, the fact remains that the majority of the people in the six counties feel that they are different from those in the twenty-six counties and that history, religion, language and patriotism do bind them together and do separate them from the rest. The fact is that they have thought so, and if we laid down the principle that it is the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live, I do not see how we can bring pressure to bear upon those people to surrender their views and amalgamate themselves with the people of the rest of Ireland. Then it is said: "Ah, well, but the Parliament of Northern Ireland is not truly representative of the feelings of that population. The constituencies have been gerrymandered; boundaries have been wrongly drawn; there has been pressure from the employers; and if you are to get the opinion of the people you ought to get it by the specific means of a vote on that issue and not leave it to the Northern Ireland Parliament as provided in this Bill."
Let me say on that, my Lords, that British Liberals have never accepted the method of the referendum as a desirable part of the working of democracy. When a vote is taken on one issue, other issues must always, or nearly always, arise: the form of the question arises, the answer may depend on the way in which the question is put. Furthermore, no question can embody all the various conditions that might or might not have applied. Moreover, the referendum or plebiscite greatly weakens the whole basis of a representative system. For all these reasons, we have always preferred—and I think most democracies throughout the world have preferred, 929 though some other countries take a different view—to regard the elected Legislature as expressing the opinion of the people. I do not think it is denied as a fact that about two to one of the population of Northern Ireland are at present against amalgamation with the South of Ireland. Although there is a large Nationalist minority there is this two to one majority against amalgamation.
Again, this issue between Southern and Northern Ireland recalls a certain similarity in the course of the old Home Rule controversy, to which I have already referred. During all these years, in Parliament after Parliament, out of a hundred Members Ireland as a whole returned to the Parliament of Westminster about eighty in favour of Home Rule. The Liberal Party said, "We must accept that as the voice of the people," whereas the Conservative opponents said: "No, you cannot accept that; it is the result of the pressure of priests and agitators, and of the violent methods of the Land League, so that these members do not represent the true opinion of the Irish people"—even though that opinion had been expressed at the polls by a majority of four to one. Much the same arguments are being used to-day in the Dáil to persuade the Irish people that a two to one majority in the northern counties is manufactured, artificial, and unrepresentative. These seem to me to be very specious arguments, and it is impossible for this Parliament to base its action upon them. If union is desirable—and I think it is in itself a thing to be desired—the only way in which it can be achieved is to persuade the population of the six counties to amalgamate with the twenty-six counties.
But now conies a new factor. The twenty-six counties have taken themselves outside the Commonwealth. Hitherto they have been able to say to the people of the six counties "Come in and join us; you will be outside the Westminster Parliament, but you will be part of the British Commonwealth; you will be in the same position as Australians or Canadians." But that position is now altered. The twenty-six counties have decided of their own free will to leave the Commonwealth, altogether regardless of the opinion of Great Britain and regardless of the opinion of the six 930 counties. But the six counties are not to have that free choice. Southern Ireland says to them, in effect, "You are to come in with us, and the moment you come in you will be swept out of the British Commonwealth altogether." It seems to me, looking at the matter from the outside, that if the purpose of Eire was to secure the reunion of Ireland, and if it is true that her leaders regard that as a matter of the highest importance they have taken the one way most calculated to defeat their own purpose.
How has that come about? I think it is entirely due to the issues of domestic politics in Eire, and to the internal situation as between Parties in the twenty-six counties. Indeed, Mr. Costello made that perfectly clear when he frankly said that that was the reason that induced him to introduce legislation for the repeal of the External Relations Act. The Irish people are intensely political. Wherever they are, whether in Ireland or in the United State, or in Australia, they are passionate politicians. Perhaps I may detain your Lordships for a moment to mention a personal illustration of that. In the old days, before the establishment of Eire as a country with a Parliament of its own, a friend of mine, a lending Nationalist, Mr. White, told me he had lately been to a by-election in a constituency where the two Parties were very nearly balanced, where a majority of four, fine, six, or perhaps sometimes ten, votes would turn the election one way or the other. Every person born there was, from the time of his birth either a Catholic and Nationalist, or a Protestant and Unionist. Mr. White told me that while he was at breakfast on polling day, an enthusiastic Nationalist burst into the room and said: "There's grand news this morning." "Oh, what is that?," he asked. The visitor said: "A Unionist died at six o'clock this morning." "Well, that is not the way to talk. God rest his soul!" "That's all very well. Mr. White; but if he'd lived till eight he'd have voted."
That intensity of Irish politics still prevails. It is, ho Never, necessary to make it clear that this Bill, which recognises the independent Republic of Ireland under that name, does not alter the present status of Northern Ireland. We on these Benches regret the form in 931 which that is done in the Bill. We think it would have been much better if the Bill had been drafted in some such terms as these: "Nothing in this Act shall affect the status and Constitution of Northern Ireland." I suggest that such a clause would have had exactly the same legal effect as the clause now in the Bill, but it would not have aroused the intense resentment which has been caused by the language which now appears in the Bill. Until this Bill was introduced with that clause in it, a much friendlier atmosphere existed between this country and Eire than had prevailed for a long time past, and there was a degree of mutual confidence that had not been achieved for some years. The Irish people feel now, at the close of the negotiations, that instead of a shake of the hand on parting they have been given a slap in the face.
Therefore, though I agree with its substance, I regret that the clause should have been worded as it has been. However, I hope that is only temporary. This Parliament, this nation, this Commonwealth, will, I believe, not weary in the desire and in the effort to promote a spirit of conciliation and reconciliation between all the parties concerned, in the hope that perhaps in the next generation, and maybe in forms not now foreseen, there will be brought about a reunion of all Ireland, North and South together, with the restoration of a union such as we have known hitherto of the whole Commonwealth, North and South, East and West.
§ 4.22 p.m.
My Lords, I do not go back so far as the noble Viscount who has just addressed your Lordships in this matter, but I am one of the few members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who went through the Irish troubles after the First World War; I believe my noble friends Lord Addison and Lord Stansgate are the only other members of that Party in this House, with a couple of Members at the most in another place, who also went through those stirring times. Therefore, I think it right that I should give it as my opinion that the Bill that we are now discussing, which of course I support in principle, is not the end of the question. We are not by any means rid of the Irish problem, and 932 I am afraid we shall not be rid of it for a good many years. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was a little too optimistic in suggesting that the events of last October, the sudden declaration in Canada by Mr. Costello of the intention to assume sovereign independence, were only the results of manœuvrings or tactics between different political Parties in Ireland. If that were the case, the problem would be much simpler to deal with; but I am afraid that it is not the case, and we shall not be rid of this problem for many years to come.
We are in the midst of great events and changes affecting the British Commonwealth, of which this Irish event is only one. It seems to me a great pity that, through no fault at all of His Majesty's Government, the order of the schedule of these events has developed as it has. I refer now particularly to the recent Agreement between the Commonwealth Governments with regard to the new designation, set-up or formation of the constitutional position of the Monarchy in relation to the rest of the Commonwealth. We all know that that was primarily devised with great skill and patience, and I believe it was, on the whole, to the advantage of all concerned, in that it enabled the Republic of India (the Indians having committed themselves to a republican form of government) to remain a member of the British Commonwealth. If that event had happened before last October, before it was decided by the Government of Eire to amend the External Relations Act, the whole course of history as between Southern Ireland and the rest of the Commonwealth might have been different.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of a conversation with Mr. de Valera, and we discussed this very point. He told me (and this is no secret, because he made the same statement publicly a little later) that a proposal very similar to that to which I referred—the arrangement by which the King is recognised as the Head of the Commonwealth, and the Republic of India and any other republican form of government in the Dominions can adhere to the Commonwealth—had been made by him in the negotiations of 1921, with the approval of many of his colleagues in those negotiations; that if that proposal had then been adopted the 933 whole history of the question would have been quite different, and that it would not have been necessary now to sever the last link.
That being the case, I am inclined to agree, though perhaps for different reasons, with the Leader of the Conservative Party in your Lordships' House when he said that there should have been more negotiations. I still believe, for I am forced to this conclusion, that the last word on this matter has not been said, and that it might have been possible to endeavour to negotiate a different settlement under which Southern Ireland could remain a part of the Commonwealth upon much the same terms as the Republic of India, and as part of that arrangement—with, of course, other safeguards and guarantees—that the six counties of North-Eastern Ireland might have come in under a Federal Parliament of all Ireland. That would not be anything in the nature of an ignoble or underhand bargain. I believe that it would have been a great act of statesmanship if that result could have been brought about by mutual agreement and consent between the three parties primarily concerned—namely, Great Britain, representing the senior Dominion of the Commonwealth, the Government of Northern Ireland and the Government of Southern Ireland. I am by no means convinced in my own mind that something of the sort may not have to be done in the future in order to avoid a continuation of this friction, trouble and ill-feeling that has undoubtedly been caused by the declaration in this Bill which we are discussing, as laid down in Clause 1, subsection (2).
That brings me to what I hope will not appear to be a criticism. If I may, I would like to address myself for one moment, particularly to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, and say this: I do not really understand, although I have read every word of the debate in another place, why it was necessary—there may be a very good explanation but it has not been given yet either by the Lord President of the Council or by the Home Secretary, or by anyone else—to include sub-section (2) of Clause 1 at all. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, thought that the wording was unfortunate and that the subsection should have consisted only of 934 the first two lines. I would suggest that unless there is a very good reason, of which Parliament has not yet been informed, it might have been possible to introduce the Bill, the rest of which deals with the results of the events which we are discussing, without printing subsection (2) of Clause 1. I do not think it is necessary.
From We statement made by the Prime Minister and quoted by the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, in his opening speech, we have reaffirmed the legal and constitutional position of Northern Ireland, and it aroused no particular feeling at that time, so far as I am aware; nor did it cause annoyance or excitement in Southern Ireland. It may not have been foreseen that in this Bill, which really deals with other matters, the embodiment of subsection (2) of Clause 1 would occasion a great deal of excitement and reproaches, of which I am sure we have not heard the last. It is no use waving this aside, as I thought the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, attempted to do, by saying that it is a matter of Party tactics in Southern Ireland. It goes much deeper than that. The Irish, like the Jews, are a very scattered people; and like the Scots, they are dispersed all over the world. In many countries they hold positions of influence and importance, and everywhere—in the United Stales, the Dominions and so on—they get very angry and excited about this question of partition. As we were dealing with other matters, as they had to be dealt with, unless there are other reasons I think it is a pity that this second part of Clause 1 was embodied in the Bill. However, there may be a very good reason and I shall listen with the greatest of interest when the Lord Chancellor comes to deal with it.
The only other observation that I have to make is this. I spoke just now of the feeling of indignation that has been aroused among Irishmen because of the apparent clamping down for ever and ever—though it is not so at all, of course—of the partition of their country. Like Lord Samuel, I venture to hope that this is a matter which time will ease and modify. I suppose that modern nationalism is the most violent force in the world to-day. It can be a cause of great self-sacrifice, heroism and devotion; it can also be a cause of much ill, 935 damage and suffering. But it is comparatively recently—in the last century and a half, or perhaps back to the French Revolution — that modern nationalism as we know it has come about in such strength. In the same way it may wane; it may modify itself. The way I see this extreme nationalism, which is so evident in so many parts of the world, modifying and becoming more reasonable and rational is through the growth of the idea of the world community—world government.
We must come to some form of world government. Everybody knows it, and nobody argues against it. That must come eventually. It is necessitated by the development of modern civilisation, with all its mechanism and potential power for destruction. We have got to come to some form of world government. Whether it will be before—as we all very much hope—or after a third catastrophic world war, it is impossible to say. But in the growth of that feeling I hope to see (and I think we can all agree on this) a gradual diminution and softening of nationalist jealousy, suspicion and ill-feeling. If that happens in Ireland with the new generations, we may after all see the two parts coming together naturally, without pressure, and without the use of force, which everyone would deplore.
After all, what are the arguments that are used to-day in the four counties out of the six where there is the main Unionist majority? They are, that there is a lower standard of social services in Southern Ireland; that the education is not so good, and that sort of thing. I do not think I misrepresent the position. Apart from the ordinary usual patriotic appeals there is always that argument against the lack of efficient trade unions and the lower standard of social services. All that can be safeguarded, all that can be taken care of as regards the four north-eastern counties to which I refer, leaving out, for a moment, Tyrone and Fermanagh. They can surely have a measure of autonomy for their social services and even for their education. I am looking ahead a little. I have lived with this problem for thirty years in Parliament; I have seen great changes, and I look for great changes in the years ahead of us. I can only hope, as I am sure all lovers of their country in Ireland hope, that time will modify the present 936 differences, and that there will be a natural coming together in a country which can contribute so much in the future as it has in the past, to the culture and civilisation of the world.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, I feel obliged to intervene from this Bench because if there were to be a vote on the Second Reading of this Bill I should certainly vote in favour of it. I, too, had a long and close association with the Irish problem in another place, and my own feelings on the subject survive with all their freshness. I agree with my noble friend, Lord Salisbury, that His Majesty's Government are wise in proposing a measure which endeavours to clear up some of the doubts and difficulties which have arisen from the coming into existence on Easter Monday last of the independent sovereign Republic of Ireland. It was inevitable that they should do so, especially because of the terms of the British Nationality Act which we passed last summer.
I want to say at once that, though I have expressed the opinion that the creation and recognition of that Republic seemed to me in law to make its citizens foreigners, and that the existing Statute did nothing to alter that result, I certainly do not desire that that result should remain uncorrected. Whatever Southern Ireland has done—and I join others in regretting very much that they have thought it right to take this step, which it was for them to choose—our domestic, social and commercial relations with the people there are very close. We owe so much to Irish genius, courage, charm and culture that, as an Englishman who over long years has felt deep sympathy with the Irish Nationalist cause, and as one who treasures Irish associations, I should not desire to see this iron curtain maintained intact.
I agree with my noble friend, Lord Samuel, that if we look at it from our point of view only, we should lose here a great deal that is valuable. Many people who, under the present law of Eire may be counted citizens of Eire, are, I believe, members of our Civil Service, and many of them discharge most important duties in different parts of the country. Some, I believe, are members of one or other of the Houses of Parliament. Some are J.P.s, K.C.s or Privy 937 Counsellors. Therefore, whatever our feelings may be, I think we should recognise that this was a case for adjustment. How the adjustment should be brought about, how the mitigation should be secured, was a very difficult question, and I speak quite sincerely when I say that, for my part, I sympathise very much with the Lord Chancellor and others who have been prominently concerned because they have had to face most intractable problems. That was a very difficult matter, and it was quite different from the sentiment which is at the bottom of my judgment—namely, that it was inevitable that there should be an amending Bill to mitigate what would otherwise be the outcome. Therefore, so far as that mitigation is concerned, I have not the slightest doubt that the effort is right; and as this Bill seeks to carry it through I should certainly vote for its Second Reading, while reserving the right to consider whether the framing of the Bill is the best that can be done.
I feel it necessary to say that because I, like the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, am an old campaigner in this Irish cause; and with that part of the noble Viscount's speech I find myself largely in agreement. It cannot be disputed that, as things stand at this moment, some doubts and difficulties do arise and that they still remain to be met. And it is not at all surprising that that should be so, because it is perfectly true, as your Lordships were reminded by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that the British Nationality Act of last year was commended to us by the Leader of the House and by the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack as an agreed plan to preserve the Commonwealth intact, arrived at as the result of most careful examination by representatives from all parts of the Commonwealth. I recall—and I have just refreshed my memory upon this point—that we were told, no doubt quite accurately, that included in that discussion were five representatives of Eire. So there is no doubt about it that, whatever may be the correct legal interpretation of this or that—and I can assure the House that I have never regarded, that as the most important factor—our expectations have been a good deal disappointed. There can be not the slightest 938 doubt that when we passed the British Nationality Act we never contemplated, and we know the Government never contemplated, what was going to happen so soon afterwards. We accept—and no one does so more readily than I—the assurance that the Government never suspected that what happened was going to happen. I am quite sure that they did not. It must have been for the Lord Chancellor a rather anxious and not altogether happy time, and now we have to adjust the situation in the light of what has happened since. I therefore shall not go over that old ground.
My noble friend Lord Samuel—I have just referred to the general body of his speech, saying how much I find myself in agreement with him—:made a reference to my previous comments, which, perhaps, were not quite properly understood. I forgive him readily for the misunderstanding. He misunderstood, I think, the purpose of some observations I had made and a letter I had written which had reference not to this Bill, but to the previous position under the British Nationality Act. It seemed to me that when we passed that Act "a citizen of Eire" meant "a citizen of the Dominion of Eire," for that was the only kind of person that either Parliament or the Government were thinking about. But, whatever may be the right view about that matter, there is no doubt that under this Bill it is to be enacted that the phrase is to be understood as covering a citizen of the Republic of Ireland.
I am not going to occupy a moment of time in discussing whether that is properly done by declaring that that is the meaning of the phrase, or whether it would be, perhaps, more appropriate frankly to acknowledge that vie are making an amendment in the law of last year. It does not matter. I think I am putting the point perfectly fairly, and I hope the Lord Chancellor will agree when I say that there has been a difference of opinion about it. There very often is a difference of opinion about Irish affairs. Father Healey was once asked by a devoted young lady if he could explain the difference between "cherubim" and "seraphim." That learned and witty Irish priest replied by saying: "My dear young lady, there used to be a difference between thim, but now they have made ut up." The Lord Chancellor will, I hope, agree with me when I say that if there was a differ 939 ence between us, we, at least, have "made ut up." At first, he stoutly maintained the view that what I thought right was all wrong. He was entirely justified in asserting it if he thought it was so. He contented himself, if I remember aright, with the simple proposition that "Eire" is "Eire." Since then, Crown lawyers seem to have entertained doubts. I notice that the Lord President, during the Second Reading debate in the House of Commons, said:It must be remembered that at the moment legally the Republic of Ireland is a foreign State, and Irish folk in this country are foreigners.It was upon that statement that the Division was then taken. A few days later the Attorney-General, the Lord President's colleague, sought to correct him, and I have noted his words. He said:Our view is based entirely on the terms of the British Nationality Act, 1948. We may be wrong about it.… I am quite content to believe that my noble friend the Lord Chancellor and I may be wrong.…I must say that was very good of the Attorney-General! All Lord Chancellors suffer from that possibility. The Attorney-General continued:It is because we have realised that we may be wrong and that the matter is one which may be in doubt that we have felt it urgently necessary to remove the doubt.Later the Attorney-General said:We seek to remove doubts by the declaratory provision.I am content to leave it at that. I should regard it as a waste of time, a beating of the air, to go on at this time of day discussing which of the two interpretations is correct. But I must say, as a parting shot, that I am a little surprised to find a phrase in Clause 3 which I have never in my life before seen in an Act of Parliament. It seems almost as if Parliament were invited to legislate, if I may put it in the simplest terms:Jowitt is right; Simon is wrong.I notice that, by page 3, line 11, what we are asked to enact is this: that it should be declared thatreferences to citizens of Eire include, on their true construction, references to citizens of the Republic of Ireland.I have never before seen anything like that in an Act of Parliament. But it does not matter. If it is thought worth while 940 to make it a matter of legislative enactment that the previous opinion which I expressed on the true construction of a previous Act is wrong, be it so. Let it be the subject of a very unusual statutory phrase. All that does not matter in the least. What does matter is that we should appreciate that we are engaged in making a most important constitutional decision: we are deciding the question of what is the effect when an area which was previously under the allegiance of the Crown is recognised as becoming an independent Republic.
That is a question which it is worth spending a minute in considering. I do not think the Crown lawyers have examined it. It was carefully considered after the American Colonists fought their war of Independence, and we in this country recognised that there was then established an independent sovereign Republic of the United States. It was all discussed in detail in the English courts at that time. Merely for the purposes of record, may I observe that the decision is given in Doe v. Acklam, in the second volume of Barnewall and Cresswell, page 779, by Chief Justice Abbott. The law of England, as it stood at that time and until 1870, was that if a man was to own land in England, he had to be a British subject; only British subjects could own land in England. When the Republic of the United States was recognised as having been established as a separate State, the question arose whether a man who was previously a British subject, because he lived in one of the American Colonies, could own land in England after this recognition. Chief Justice Abbott decided that that was impossible.
In the same way, if we look at the well-known collection of constitutional decisions written by Forsyth, Cases and Opinions on Constitutional Law, we find a decision which has never been challenged: that if an American, born in New York before the United States separated from this country—and therefore, to start with, undoubtedly a British subject—afterwards went to Canada and was elected a member of the Canadian Legislature, he could not be a member of the Canadian Legislature because he had become a foreigner and was no longer a British subject.
All those who have had occasion to examine or meditate on this branch of 941 constitutional law know those propositions perfectly well. That is the true constitutional doctrine. When a portion of territory under allegiance ceases to be under allegiance, those who previously belonged to that territory as British subjects cease to be British subjects. Of course, it also works the other way. Where new territories are added to the allegiance, then persons who were previously foreigners in those territories become British subjects. That happened, for example, after the Seven Years' War, when France and her Allies were defeated, and the result was a Treaty which transferred to British allegiance various territories which were previously French. The question arose whether these people after that transfer were still Frenchmen. It was decided that the very fact they were now under the allegiance of the Crown had turned them from being Frenchmen into British subjects. There is no doubt about this, although it is of no practical importance in the matter which we are now considering—namely, to legislate (and I dare say quite rightly) to modify that doctrine.
I apologise if I spend time on this point, but there should be no misapprehension on a matter which is of real constitutional importance and which might possibly have some bearing in other cases hereafter. What is important, in my humble submission, is that we ought not to pass this Bill without realising that we are creating, so far as I know for the first time in our law, a new kind of State—a State which is neither a foreign State nor a State under the Crown. I think I am right in saying that down to this moment nothing of the sort has been regarded as conceivable, though of course Parliament in its wisdom may create this intermediate position. I am not saying that it is not right to do it, but that we should not do it without realising the fact that we are creating something new.
Your Lordships may remember the poem in which Kipling gives Tommy Atkins' comment on the precise status of a Royal Marine as "soldier and sailor too." That is what we are doing here. For the first time we are saying, "Let us enact in this particular case, for good reasons, that there shall be a State called the Republic of Ireland (which is the name the State goes by; and I think we are right to adopt the name it goes by) which shall be neither a foreign State nor 942 a State under the Crown in any sense at all." I do not think that has ever happened before, and I entirely agree with the noble Lord who spoke last that it may be a very significant and fruitful fact. It may lead to other developments, which we cannot now foresee, but which none the less will not be to the disadvantage but to the benefit of the world. But let us recognise that it is an entirely novel conception.
Of course, nothing was effected by the statement made by the Prime Minister on October 28 that the Government did not regard the creation of the Republic of Ireland as having this or that effect, because it does net depend on the declarations of any Government. I am sure that nobody supposed it did. Therefore, if we make this modification—and on the whole I thin it right that we should—it has to be made by Parliament. I venture to say these things because seems to me a pity that in the rush and hurry of our lives we should not realise that we are taking part in a very important operation at a very important moment in the history of these communities, whose interest we have so much at heart. I think it would be well to insist, as I recollect Mr. Churchill insisted from the beginning, that this ought not to bye regarded as a precedent. The Irish case is a special case from every point of view. Our association with that beautiful country, not always a happy one, alas! is still so Close, so ancient and so constant, that the case for doing something special about it is overwhelming. But I beg that the particular operation in which we are now engaged should not be regarded as an automatic precedent for other cases which differ fundamentally from the case of Anglo-Irish relations.
While all that is so, we must attend to the practical sides of this matter. There are one or two practical questions which ought to be dealt with at least in outline, before we finish this Second Reading debate. They are not theoretical or constitutional questions, but practical ones; and I have taken the liberty of communicating with the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor about them. First, there is the question of passports. Nothing is more practical than this. A man travelling from this country wants to know where he can get a passport. I have been at some little trouble to try and find out the position in 943 this respect. Here is the question: Is a citizen of the Republic of Eire, entitled as such to a British passport? Can he go to the office here in London and say: "I am a citizen of the Republic of Eire. Therefore give me a passport which assures me of the benevolent protection of Mr. Bevin and the diplomatic service"?
Nobody will doubt that that is a practical question. It is also a very important one, the answer to which I should have thought we ought to know before this Second Reading debate closed. I happen to know that the view of the Passport Office is: "No. If you come here and say, 'I am a citizen of the Republic of Eire', that is in itself no reason why we should give you a passport." That may be so. But I wonder whether the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack would look for a moment in this connection at a section in the British Nationality Act, 1948, which he knows quite well and which he has had occasion to explain to us more than once. It is Section 3, subsection (2), of that Act, which says:Subject to the provisions of this section, any law in force in any part of the United Kingdom and Colonies or in any protectorate or United Kingdom trust territory at the date of the commencement of this Act, whether by virtue of a rule of law or of an Act of Parliament or any other enactment or instrument whatsoever, and any law which by virtue of any Act of Parliament passed before that date comes into force in any such place…shall, until provision to the contrary is made by the authority having power to alter that law, 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.'Nobody will dispute that our law is that if you are a British subject you are entitled to a British passport. As we provided last year that the law is to have operationin relation to citizens of Eire who are not British subjects in like manner as it has effect in relation to British subjects.I again put my question: Can a citizen of Eire, because he is a citizen of Eire, obtain a British passport? I am sure the last thing Mr. Costello would desire is that his own citizens should move about the world under the protection of the British: he has his own system of consuls, ambassadors, and all the rest of it. But I ask the question: What is the right view of this matter? I venture to think that before we pass this Bill the answer to that question should be made clear.
944 The view which is taken in the Passport Office is that if you are a citizen of Eire and want a British passport you must first avail yourself of Section 2 of the British Nationality Act. I have always thought that a rather mysterious section—it is the one which provides that:Any citizen of Eire who immediately before the commencement of this Act was also a British subject shall not by reason of anything contained in section one of this Act be deemed to have ceased to be a British subject if at any time he gives notice in writing to the Secretary of State"—that means the Home Secretary—claiming to remain a British subject onvarious grounds there listed. But in some cases that is no help at all. Take the case of a man horn forty years ago, say in Dublin. None of us controls the place where he is born—indeed, it may well be that when we were born our mother was in a place which was not her domicile or place of residence. But take the case of a man who forty years ago was born in Dublin, and who, either from the start or afterwards, became domiciled elsewhere—say, in Northern Ireland. If such a man applies at the Passport Office to-day for a passport, can he obtain one? My information—it is as recent as this morning—is that he is refused a passport and he is refused on the grounds that he is a citizen of Eire. But the man about whom I have spoken is a man who has never at any moment of his life regarded himself as a citizen of Eire. He is domiciled in Northern Ireland—or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world. Yet it is said: "The law of Eire decides that you are a citizen of Eire and as you are a citizen of Eire, you cannot have a British passport." To my knowledge this has actually happened within the last few days.
As your Lordships see, that is due to the fact, which we so easily overlook, that in the British Nationality Act, 1948, we fundamentally altered the whole basis of British nationality. Down to last year the test was quite simple. It was: Where were you born? If you were born on British territory you are a British subject. But that has all been repealed, and at present, as the Lord Chancellor so clearly explained to us, in order to be a British subject you have to be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, a citizen of Australia, a citizen of Canada, a citizen of New Zealand, a citizen of 945 India or Pakistan, and so forth. If you are one of those, you are a British subject; and if you are not one of those, then you are not a British subject. It does not include, and deliberately does not include, a citizen of Eire. Therefore, it follows plainly, so far as Section 1 of the British Nationality Act, 1948, is concerned, that a man who is a citizen of Eire is not entitled to say: "Give me a passport. I am a British subject." I speak with all proper respect and deference to those who have been attending to this matter, when I ask whether they really thought this out, because as yet I have not seen any indication that it has been thought out at all. The inquiries that I have recently made certainly do not suggest it. It seems to me a wholly practical point, and one, therefore, which I would respectfully press. Again I would ask: Who is entitled to a British passport? Is it the case that a citizen of Eire is or is not entitled to one?
In this Bill we are going to provide—I dare say rightly—that, whether as a British citizen or as a citizen of Eire, corresponding rights should be enjoyed. I know how to find out who a British citizen is; but how am I to find out who is or is not a citizen of Eire? That has to be decided by the law of Eire; and the law of Eire may vary from time to time. Therefore it appears to me, with great respect, that more consideration should be given to this part of the Bill than has been given to it at present. I would not refer to it on Second Reading if it were a trumpery point which could be set right in a word or two. According to my understanding, it is a very practical point indeed. As my noble friend Lord Samuel said just now, it is the practical consequences of this business which must be considered.
I will mention one other matter—the Parliamentary franchise. I suppose most of us—certainly those who have been in the House of Commons—may claim to be more or less expert on this subject. Let us consider where we are. Hitherto, in order to be entitled to be put on the register and have a Parliamentary vote for the House of Commons, you had to be not only resident here but a British subject. If the registration officer or the election agent challenged that, you had to prove it. Usually it was not difficult, because you produced either your birth certificate or your naturalisation papers, 946 and that was that. But now we are to provide that a man is to be entered on the Parliamentary register if he is a British subject, or if he is a citizen of Eire. I see the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, opposite, and he knows the subject well. I would like to know how people will test that question. It obviously has to be tested by Eire law, and Eire law may change from time to time. From this point of view it is foreign law. I find some difficulty in understanding how this is to be done.
Within the last few days some of your Lordships may have had my experience: I received a buff-coloured official form from the registration officer in the part of London in which I live asking me—indeed, demanding under a penalty—to inform him within four days of the names of persons over twenty-one years of age, who are either British subjects or citizens of Eire living on the premises which I occupy—or, to be quite accurate, what people of those descriptions will be there on June 10 next. That appears to be an exercise of prophecy not within everybody's capacity. No doubt it means, "Do the best you can." I can state with fair accuracy the names of people on the premises I Occupy who are British citizens, but how can I find out whether, let us say, the maidservant in my premises is a citizen or citizeness of Eire? These are extremely practical points, and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will agree that there are occasions when it is very important to test the register and see whether people who are on it ought to be on it or not. At the present moment, I do not understand how this is to be worked out. With great respect to the Lord Chancellor, it does not seem to me to be something which can be threshed out in the courts. Surely we ought to know how one is expected to find out whether this register is properly composed. I apologise for mentioning those two points. I do not do so because these are legalistic points—I do not care two hoots about the language of the Statute—but what does interest me is to understand how those questions are to be answered.
Let me conclude by saying that I hope I have said nothing which, in the language of the Lord Chancellor, could be said to exacerbate the situation. From my long experience of Irish politics, and of our relations with that country, I know 947 too much ever to dream of doing anything of the kind. I am quite sure that we should all speak in a way which will not embitter those relations. I am sure that all of us want this Bill to be a Bill which will improve those relations—and nobody more wholeheartedly than I. In spite of some ancient history, which includes events in which one of two countries may have been wrong—and I am not excluding my own—I think it is a great misfortune that we should, at this time of day, have to spend our time in this adjustment. But it is necessary, and all one can hope is that if we do it in the right spirit, as I am sure we all wish to, the result may be good. I think I have ventured to observe in this House before that, in the political relations between England and Ireland, there are two great misfortunes. One is that the Irish memory is too long, and the other that the English memory is too short. If only, between us, we could now arrive at an adjustment which is practical and welcome on both sides on every clause of this Bill, then I should feel that this effort which the Government are making is one which could be commended without any sort of reservation. As it is, I share in a real degree the distress expressed by the Lord Chancellor in his opening sentence, and I join with all who hope that by the time this Bill receives the Royal Assent it may be an instrument of conciliation and reconciliation between two noble nations, each of which has contributed so much, and can contribute so much, to the progress of the world.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ LORD KILLANIN
My Lords, in December I last addressed your Lordships as an Irishman and welcomed the steps which His Majesty's Government were taking to deal with the unforeseen situation which arose. On Easter Monday, Ireland, or Eire, as it is known here, became the Republic of Ireland, and it is strange that on that Tuesday, after the gracious Message had been received from the King, relations were never better. Then on Wednesday, April 4, the papers in Ireland carried the text of the Bill which we are now discussing; and with one accord they jumped on Clause 1 (2). What I am saying I say with care, because very wild and rash words have been expounded on both sides of the border on this question. But there was 948 no doubt of the genuine surprise and indignation in Ireland. You may say the Irish were generously treated, and that it was ungenerous of them to react in such a way. But if we can just trace back the history of this legislation, to which the noble Viscount on the Woolsack drew attention, after the Chequers talk it was agreed that the question of partition was not under discussion and would not be discussed. It had been left out on purpose, because the six counties forming the North of Ireland, and the twenty-six counties which are now the Irish Republic, were divided by a border which was imposed by Statutes and Treaties, culminating with that of 1925. It was an understood thing, as the Prime Minister said on October 28, that there would be no change in the status without the North of Ireland's free agreement. Then on January 6 the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland came over here for talks, and there was an inference in a Press statement issued the next day that possibly the amending law required to meet the Government's decision on the reactions to the Republic of Ireland Act would include a clause about Northern Ireland.
Now the facts, as I have them, are that a démarche was immediately made to His Majesty's Government drawing attention to this, because after the Paris talks—I think this was in The Times to-day—a gentlemen's agreement was arrived at that any subsequent legislation necessary, either here in Westminster or in Dublin, would be made after joint consultation. Further, I have seen it said that not even were statements to be issued to the Press without consultation. I believe that Irish draftsmen and lawyers came over in January and discussed this Bill. No mention was made at that time of the probable inclusion of this paragraph about the division of Ireland. No reply was received to the démarche made on January 7—not even an acknowledgment—and it was presumed that no such clause was to be put into the Bill.
The first intimation that the people of Ireland had was on the Tuesday morning, when they read of it in their newspapers. Their reactions may have been right or wrong, but in my view they were quite natural because they immediately took it that this clause underlined the partition of Ireland. Most of us are agreed that there can be no coercion of the six Northern Counties. Many of us believe 949 in a united Ireland; and whilst there can be no coercion it must be remembered that certain changes may have occurred since the 1925 Treaty, and that that Treaty may need revision. If it is wrong for the Government of the Republic of Ireland to coerce the Northern Ireland Government, so surely it is wrong for the Northern Ireland Government to coerce the local majority in Tyrone and Fermanagh, who have voted for a return to the Republic of Ireland. The six counties of Northern Ireland are an arbitrary division. The reason that there are not the nine counties of Ulster is, of course, that the balance of power would have been very different.
I feel that by this clause partition has been introduced into this discussion and that it would not otherwise have been introduced. Secondly, I feel that its introduction is possibly an effort to perpetuate partition. That is the position as it is seen in Ireland. The partition question is terribly serious. The reactions were fairly universal. The Press—even that section of it which had been critical of Mr. Costello—changed round, and criticised the action of His Majesty's Government. The Irish Times said:We are convinced, however, that Mr. Attlee was badly advised. The guarantee that is contained in the Ireland Bill was legally superfluous.I think it is most unfortunate that this clause was introduced; and that having been introduced, it was presented in such a way that neither by plebiscite nor election can the two Nationalist counties of Northern Ireland opt out if they so desire. One has to be very careful what one says, because immediately something is said all sorts of wild remarks are apt to be made; efforts have already been made to inflame both sides. The politicians of Southern Ireland know what it is to go through civil war. It is only twenty-five years since they had that experience, and there is nothing that they want less. I feel, therefore, that there is no danger of that.
We have recently had an invasion of reporters in Dublin. I asked one of them why they had not come over before to study the Irish question, and why they had come only after the news of the inclusion of this clause in this Bill. They said: "We did not take any notice of Ireland until we heard that the policemen in Downing Street were armed." That 950 is the sort of thing we must be very careful about. I do not know whether the policemen in Downing Street were armed or not. The report of that, however, led at once to the wildest Press campaign. One wise reporter to whom I spoke said he had not sent a story to his paper for three days, because there had been nothing to write. He was repeatedly rung up by his news editor and asked to send a story, but he refused. Others did not refuse; I have seen the most tendentious reports, including one that hostilities had almost opened on the border—which I discovered had been written by an English reporter from a public house in Belfast.
The position is too serious for that, my Lords. We wish to live in peace with our neighbours. But there is a problem—a big problem—that possibly can be solved only from outside. But, as the subject of partition has been introduced, I must point out that it was introduced in 1920 by Westminster. If Ireland had not been divided then the position to-day might have been very different. I speak as a Southern Irish Catholic, and I firmly believe that the North would have had considerable control in the South. I believe, too, that had the division been ended Ireland would still be an integral part of the British Commonwealth. But the position is not like that.
Partition is rather like a door which was closed rather arbitrarily at a difficult time in 1920. It swung a bit, and was closed firmly in 1925. Throughout the time that Ireland was in the Commonwealth, efforts were made from the South to try to open that door; but there was always a foot against the door and a voice saying: "Not an inch." Then came the time after the war, when the door was still closed. Some people may think that Mr. Costello, by deciding to opt out of the Commonwealth, may have turned the key in that door. I do not believe that, because I think that the "Not an inch" reaction has kept it shut. I feel now that the Government have thrown away the key. A locksmith will have to be found to make another in an attempt to get the doors opened, so that we may have a united Ireland co-operating fully as an independent nation with our nearest neighbour, which is England. If that door is left locked, if 951 no locksmith is found, I am afraid that we are in for a long and possibly difficult time, a time of political hammerings at that door in an attempt to break it down, panel by panel. I sincerely hope that nobody will attempt to blast the lock off too rapidly—that would be fatal. But there is still time to find some form of compromise between the six counties and the twenty-six counties which form the Republic of Ireland.
There are great difficulties, which will need great statesmanship to solve. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that if this clause had to be included it might have been worded differently. It will certainly appear to the twenty-six counties as being provocative. It might have been better as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said, if it had been left out altogether. I do not like bringing up this subject. Coming from the political excitement in Ireland, it is very soothing to hear the quiet way in which your Lordships approach this matter, but this clause raises a serious question, and it is one that, as I am an Irishman, I felt I had to raise.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord who has just spoken that, as one who in his younger days—that is, from 1893—was actively associated with the Home Rule movement, I sympathise with his speech but, as an Englishman, I want to make the point that there is an English case, and that case is pretty strong. I should not have intervened in this debate had I not read the speech made by Mr. MacBride during the week-end. I will not read to your Lordships the whole of that speech; I will read only part. With relation to the conference at Chequers, which has been categorically remarked upon by the Lord Chancellor, he said:There was agreement even concerning the terms of any statements which may be made on the subject in either Parliament. Yet the first intimation that the Bill was about to be introduced was received in Dublin twenty-four hours before its introduction in the House of Commons. Even if there had been no understanding, it still appears to the Irish Government that the unilateral and unnecessary action of the British Government in relation to the Ireland Bill was not in conformity with a policy of friendship and co-operation.When I read that speech, I asked myself whether or not I was awake, because if 952 any unilateral action has been taken, it has been taken by Mr. MacBride and also, of course, in a lesser degree, by Mr. Costello.
After reading most of the speeches on the Second Reading in another place, it was brought home to me by the speeches made in opposition to the Bill by the Member for West Belfast, the junior Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone, the Member for Rochdale and the Member for Manchester, Platting, that Clause 1 was absolutely necessary and that it should be stated in black and white again, so that there should be no misunderstanding by anybody who can read. I wish to say that I support His Majesty's Government in having had the courage to introduce that clause as it stands to-day. From some of the speeches made in Ireland which I have read, I have somehow felt that there was a sinister movement afoot to make previous agreements "scraps of paper." When we were threatened with more noise that action would be taken abroad—and I wondered if Tammany Hall was going into full blast and operation against us, to interefere in domestic issues in this country—I felt it was absolutely necessary that this clause should be put into the Bill. I hope it will be implemented.
I share with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, regret that there may be a possibility of this intrusion into our domestic politics becoming a live issue. I occupied a very subordinate post in the Liberal Party in those far off days. I was simply what they called a "ward secretary." It was most distasteful to me when my opposite number, the secretary of the Conservative Party there, and I went cap in hand for the same purpose, to see who could promise most in order to get the Irish vote. I hope there is not going to be any trafficking in the Irish vote on this occasion. I hope so for the sake of the Irish in this country, because as Mr. McGovern stated—and I agree with his statesmanlike speech—this Bill is generous to a degree to our Irish friends and comrades who at the present time live in the United Kingdom, working with us and enjoying without question the privileges which we enjoy. I wonder what would have happened if we had acted in a similar spirit towards the Irish who live in Liverpool, Glasgow and other parts as the Irish have to us. I 953 am hoping that there will be an equal generosity of spirit from the other side of the water.
Referring to the debate which took place in another place on "referendum versus Parliament," I must say I prefer the way that we do things. If eight citizens here sign a nomination form for a candidate, that candidate can stand and be elected or defeated. That appears to me to be democracy, and the finest type of democracy one can find anywhere. Therefore I disagree with the criticism. I disagree gently with the noble Lord who preceded me, but I disagree more forcibly with some of my own friends in another place who want the old vicious idea of a referendum—because that is what they meant—to be revived. I am glad that the Lord President of the Council gave them the proper answer in forthright English fashion.
I close with this thought: that we, as Englishmen, have nothing to be ashamed of in our treatment of our Irish friends during the last twenty years. We were prepared to try to help bring about a reconciliation—which is, I agree, the ideal—a coming together of the North and the South. I remember visiting one of our prisons. It was a public holiday and therefore the men were not working, and there was a cricket match. The prison governor said, "The man who is bowling is a member of the Irish Republican Army. He has a twenty years' sentence. It is a matter of honour that he will not try to escape, so we have put him in this prison without bars, and he is enjoying the cricket match." I am glad of the generosity of the Home Secretary. Some odd things have been said about the Home Secretary. There were twenty-three Irishmen in another convict prison and His Majesty has exercised his clemency and released them. As your Lordships may know, there are convicts—or "prisoners," shall I call them?—now in a prison in the North of Ireland. As an act of faith, I would like the Parliament of Northern Ireland to use their clemency on behalf of those men, if they will give a solemn promise not to create disorder or cause disturbances. I wanted this opportunity of saying, without equivocation, that I support His Majesty's Government in all that they have done, and that, as an Englishman, I cannot and will not apologise 954 for what we have done. We may be soft in our generosity but I revel in being soft; I revel in the fact that we are generous, and I hope that our generosity will be recognised across the water and that conciliation and reconciliation will before long prevail.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD BROUGHSHANE
My Lords, I will detain your Lordships for only a few minutes. There are certain matters which have recently been brought to my attention which I should like to lay before your Lordships. As your Lordships know, Mr. de Valera was Prime Minister of Eire for some fourteen or fifteen years, and during all that time he never found it necessary or desirable to create an Irish Republic. Then comes Mr. Costello who, out of the blue, during a visit to Canada, and without any previous warning of any kind, except in a directly contrary sense, steals a march (allegedly for personal reasons) on Mr. de Valera and creates a Republic of Ireland. A friend of mine has been a citizen of Eire for many years, and has just communicated with me in these terms:The English are really a lot of mugwumps. Don't you realise that all this pother is merely a personal duel between Mr. Costello and Mr. de Valera? The creation of an Irish Republic was neither demanded nor desired by the people of Eire. By this clever personal move on the part of Mr. Costello, Mr. de Valera was forced into giving his support and influence to Mr. Costello. The whole thing was a purely personal move to make Mr. de Valera toe the line to Mr. Costello.That is what my correspondent says, and the more one examines recent events the more one is inclined to think that there is something in that suggestion. As I said, for fourteen or fifteen years Mr. de Valera saw the great difficulties which would arise should Ireland become an independent Republic, and I am bound to say that it seems, as my friend suggested, rather in the nature of a sham storm in a personal teacup.
My Lords, bearing in mind what I have just indicated, by way of qualification to my general support for this Bill, there are one or two criticisms which occur to me about the form of the Bill, which is, of course, a necessary corollary to the establishment of a Republic of Ireland. First, as to the name. The Lord Chancellor has dealt with that to-day, and in all humility, I venture to differ from him. I know it has been said that it is customary, when 955 dealing with a matter between two States, to accept the terminology suggested by one of the contracting parties as suitable for reference in the Treaty. But suppose some such words as "and the waters surrounding Ireland" had been used in a description of the new Republic. Is it suggested that we should be bound so to describe it in a British Statute? I venture to say that we should not dream of doing such a thing; and it is an idle excuse, I submit, that a purposely misleading description should be inserted in a British Statute which, by its insertion, is accepting a falsehood. The present Prime Minister of the Republic, Mr. Costello, within a week of giving a most solemn pledge that Eire would remain inside the British Commonwealth, announced—for personal reasons as I submit—that Ireland would become an independent Republic. Surely that is bordering on sharp practice, and something which should not be "whitewashed" and perpetuated in the wording of a British Statute.
To say, as has been said by Mr. Costello's supporters in Dublin, that a Bill of this sort is quite unnecessary, is an affront to all reason and common sense. The Irish Free State have created for, themselves a Republic, and it is essential that we should lay down, in words that cannot be misunderstood, that Ulster, comprising the six counties, remains part of Great Britain and the British Empire. My noble friend Lord Killanin said that these words are unnecessary. What is the objection to putting them in if they are unnecessary? It is either a fact or it is not. If it is a fact why should there be objection to it? I submit that the war very likely could not have been won without the courage and assistance of the people of Ulster, and they are entitled to have put in any words which, even if they are unnecessary (although I do not think that is the case) make them feel more secure. This country owes them so much, and if they feel they are more secure by having them in the Bill I think they are entitled to have them in. The Statute, with certain amendments such as I have indicated, has been made essential by Mr. Costello's action in the creation of an Irish Republic, notwithstanding his definite pre-election pledge that Eire would remain inside the British Commonwealth.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ LORD DARWEN
My Lords, I belong to a religious Society which has members in both Northern and Southern Ireland, and which I think it is true to say has a long history of friendship with both sides and a long record of work for reconciliation and co-operation between both sides. I want to say just a word or two as a member of that Society. I regard this Bill as a good Bill, completing a great work of justice. But it would be another Irish tragedy if the justice and generosity of this Bill were unrecognised by the people of the new Republic of Ireland, because of their intense opposition to one provision in the Bill. I, at any rate, feel that the passage of this Bill marks a great historic event, not only to Ireland and to Britain, but as an example to the world of the working of democratic principles in this difficult problem of the demand for self-government by a part of a larger State. The separation is not of our seeking; the people of this country regret it, both for sentimental reasons and for very substantial reasons. But we recognise with gratitude that the Irish people have made a great contribution to our national life, to the Commonwealth and to the Empire; that they have contributed a great deal in religion, in science and art, and in our daily work; and I think that what has been called the generosity of this Bill is really a mark of the gratitude of the British people for this Irish contribution and of the desire that that contribution may continue.
But the separation represents a very real loss to this country in many ways, a loss even in security, which has often been held in the past to be sufficient reason to refuse such separation as this. It is only just that this should be said, and that the people of the Republic of Ireland should realise that we have accorded this freedom to them because we believed it was right to do so, in spite of the fact that it was very much against our own interests to do so. They have demanded the separation, and their demand has been freely granted. Moreover, as I see it, the people of the new Republic have been accorded all the advantages of citizenship and of membership of the Commonwealth without many of the responsibilities. That is why I feel that this is so great an act of generosity by a great Power towards one of its constituent parts. I believe, as I 957 said before, that it will go down to history as a classic example of the democratic method of dealing with a part of a great State which demands freedom.
I would say just a word or two about subsection (2) of Clause 1, which has aroused so much opposition. I think I may claim to be an impartial friend of both sides, and to me it seems that this subsection is an affirmation of the right of Northern Ireland to the same freedom of choice that has been accorded to Southern Ireland. I do not agree with Lord Killanin that it tends to perpetuate partition. I regret that partition of Ireland; I hope to see, even in my lifetime, its unification. But that can come only with the consent of both parties. I respect the deep feeling that underlies the opposition to this subsection, but I would beg my friends in the Republic to consider whether it is not true that the very democratic principles upon which freedom has been accorded to them demand that the same freedom to decide their own destiny should be granted to the people of Northern Ireland—that they too should be free to choose; that they too should be allowed the right of self-determination. If your Lordships will forgive me for this allusion, there is a parable of Our Lord's that seems to me to bear inescapably on this issue. It is sometimes called "the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant." This is not a case of great debt forgiven, but of a great act of justice, and Our Lord's words seem to me to apply with equal force:Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ LORD MACDERMOTT
My Lords, as one born and still domiciled in that part of Ireland which is called Northern Ireland, I would like to say a word or two in support of one of the matters which has been referred to by my noble and learned friend Lord Simon. One of the objects of the present Bill is to clarify the situation of Eire citizens under the British Nationality Act of last year. There is one matter which this Bill does not touch, and the omission causes a great deal of confusion and anxiety amongst a class who I think all will agree ought not to be subject to any dubiety or anxiety about the matter. It arises in this way. Many persons who have always resided in the United Kingdom, and have always been 958 British subjects, who have never owed allegiance to the Government of the Irish Free State, or to its successor the Government of Eire, or its present successor the Irish Republic, now find themselves in the position that here is doubt expressed officially as to whether they can be British subjects unless they make application as citizens of Eire under Section 2 of last year's Act. It is not much comfort to these people, who value their citizenship of the United Kingdom, and their status as British subjects, to tell them that the only relief they can get is by describing themselves as citizens of Eire.
To give one example, which may make the matter clearer than references to the mere technicalities of the situation, a gentleman I know, was born in Dublin long before the establishment of the Irish Free State in December, 1922, and he went to Northern Ireland in 1921. He has for many years now been resident in London. He is told that he is an Eire citizen, and that he cannot have a British passport. He has never lived anywhere but in the United Kingdom, except during his service in the Armed Forces, for he lived in Dublin it was part of the United Kingdom. He has never borne any allegiance except to His Majesty the King. Why should he now be regarded as a citizen of Eire? There are many instances of that kind. A particular friend of my own finds himself in much the same plight, though he went to what is now Northern Ireland as a child of tender years, many years before the Government of Ireland Act was passed. I venture to think it can never have been the intention of Parliament to make people in that class citizens of Eire, and in that way to make it impossible for them to be ranked as British subjects, citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, unless they make application as citizens of Eire.
I mention this now because I think that when it is considered, and when its importance is borne in mind, it is a Second Reading point rather than a Third Reading point. I mention it, also, in the hope that His Majesty's Government will give close consideration to this matter, which I think perhaps has not been considered so fully as it ought to have been, so that when the Bill again comes before the House some effort may be made to do justice by a class who I think it is nobody's intention should be, if I may so put it, 959 left out in the cold in this way. The matter is causing a good deal of anxiety, and as I said at the commencement of my remarks, I think that the class concerned is a class which should be spared any worry or uncertainty of that kind. When all is said and done, one of the most sacred things is a man's allegiance and his citizenship. It would indeed be strange if the status of this class could be altered, as it were by a side wind, the results of which no person recognised at the time.
I do not propose to go into the controversies of Irish politics. It would be wrong that I should do so, rising from the cross-Bench and having regard to my judicial duties to this House. But there is one thing that I should like to say before I sit down. A great deal of heat and controversy has been raised over something which many people thought could not raise heat and controversy. I believe that it would be helpful to bear in mind that in 1925 the three countries concerned succeeded in meeting round the table and settling what had then been a matter of great controversy—the land boundary. I would venture to remind the House of that agreement, which seems strangely to have been lost sight of in the speeches of the last few months. May I read first of all subsection (2) of Section 1 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920:For the purposes of this Act, Northern Ireland shall consist of the parliamentary counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone, and the parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry.Then, as your Lordships know, the Act of 1920 was not worked in Southern Ireland and eventually there emerged the Irish Free State. That needed further provision for the settlement of the boundary.
On December 3, 1925, an Agreement was signed on behalf of the British Government by Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Churchill, Mr. Joynson-Hicks, Lord Birkenhead and Mr. Amery and on behalf of the Government of the Irish Free State by Mr. MacCosgeir and the late Mr. Kevin O'Higgins, and on behalf of the Government of Northern Ireland by Sir James Craig, as he then was. That Agreement recited, among other things:And whereas the progress of events and the improved relations now subsisting between 960 the British Government, the Government of the Irish Free State, and the Government of Northern Ireland, and their respective peoples, make it desirable to amend and supplement the said Articles of Agreement, so as to avoid any causes of friction which might mar or retard the further growth of friendly relations between the said governments and peoples;And whereas the British Government and the Government of the Irish Free State being united in amity in this undertaking with the Government of Northern Ireland and being resolved mutually to aid one another in a spirit of neighbourly comradeship, hereby agree as follows:The first paragraph is all I need read now:The powers conferred by the proviso to Article 12 of the said Articles of Agreement on the Commission"—referring to the Boundary Commission—therein mentioned are hereby revoked and the extent of Northern Ireland for the purposes of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and of the said Articles of Agreement, shall be such as was fixed by subsection (2) of section one of that Act.That is the subsection which I have already read. That Agreement was ratified by the Parliaments of all three countries concerned, and it is a document which must be borne in mind in these days. It is a document which, so far as I know, has never been abrogated by any of the parties. For that reason it forms the necessary legal background against which present events must be considered. It is for that reason I venture to think that it is worth bringing to your Lordships' attention. It makes clear what agreement exists and how Eire is affected by it.
That brings me to my last point, which is admittedly a small one, though it has its importance. As has already been pointed out to-day, the expression "Republic of Ireland" is misleading. Geographically, it is wrong. I appreciate the Government's view about this, and I am not suggesting that the title should be abandoned if its retention would in any way help to produce amity; but I suggest that there might be an alternative given—namely, "Irish Republic." I think there is a comity between members of the same family that does not exist between families and outsiders, and I think it would be unfortunate that the Government of Northern Ireland, when they had reason to speak officially to their next-door neighbour, should have to use a form of address which is entirely inconsistent with their constitutional position and views. It 961 is a small matter, but I think nothing would be lost and a great deal gained if, in the Bill now under consideration, the Government would allow an alternative to be used in the form I have mentioned.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, we have had a most interesting and instructive debate and I will reply as briefly as I can to certain points which have been raised. I confess I was rather sorry at the tone of the speech of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition. I could not help contrasting it with the tone of the speeches which Mr. Eden and Sir David Maxwell Fyfe made in another place. I think that the noble Marquess, for whose opinions members of this House, on whatever side they may be, have a very great regard, ploughs a lonely furrow. I do not believe he speaks for his own Party on this matter. I believe, if I may say so with the greatest respect, that the authentic voice of his Party was the voice of Mr. Eden and Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. This matter has a long history, in which the noble Marquess and his forbears have been deeply concerned, and I realise that it is difficult for him to see this matter from the same angle as that from which we see it. He is frankly hesitant, almost reluctant and, I think, doubtful and perhaps distrustful. I admit that we have taken here a step which involves a great act of faith. I admit it is a novelty. I admit it is almost, if not quite, without precedent. All the same, I believe that this is a ease where we have been completely right in taking this act of faith. We have cast our bread upon the waters and I believe that in the fullness of time good may result, and we may get credit for our action.
The noble Marquess asked why an Irishman over here should vote and whether we were sure that British subjects in Eire would have the same right. Our bargain—that is too strong a word—our understanding was that. British citizens in Eire should have comparable rights; not identical rights, but comparable ones. Frankly, I do not anticipate that British subjects in Eire will have the right to vote. I do not know, but I am not going to lead the House to suppose it is certain, or indeed probable, that they will. All the same, there are great and solid advantages in letting citizens of Eire vote 962 here. First, it would be exceedingly difficult, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, pointed out, to distinguish between the voter who is the Eire citizen and the voter who is the British subject.
At the present moment, from the point of voting, that does not matter. Therefore, we have not to go into elaborate calculations to find out whether a particular man is a citizen of Eire or whether he is a British subject, because in either case he is entitled to vote. It is different when we come to the question of passports, which I will discuss in a moment. I would say this to the noble Marquess. The first constituency for which I sat was Hartlepools, which is a great port. The next seat I had was for Preston, where there is a large Irish population. More recently it has been near Manchester, where there is also a large Irish population. When I say "Irish," I mean of Irish origin; they were probably born in England and lived all their lives in England, but were still Eire protected citizens. I can assure the noble Marquess that all this business about anti-partition and the rest will be forthcoming in full measure and overflowing, not only from Eire citizens but from those who are British subjects but who have Irish associations. You will not get rid of their influence by the simple process of saying that Irish citizens are not to vote.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
May I interrupt the noble and learned Viscount? I see a difference between a man who is a British subject expressing his view, for instance, in an election, and someone who is not a British subject at all, but a subject of another country vitally affected by the decision, expressing his view.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I can assure the noble Marquess that the pamphlet will be just as violent and the terms of the pamphlet will be just as strong, whether the writer is or is not technically a citizen of Eire.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, called attention to the fact that we get great advantages from the Irish being here. I would point out to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that if we were going to treat the Irish as aliens we would have greatly to extend our machinery for 963 control by the Home Office during the times of the year, which are not infrequent, when large numbers of Irish come over for some particular object like potato picking, for which as many as 50,000 may come at a time. If you are going to say that these people are foreigners and are subject to control, then we shall have to maintain an enormous staff of Home Office people to try and cope with the situation. We get immense advantages from the Irish being over here. I should be sorry indeed, and I think we should be doing ourselves harm, if we discouraged them from coming by putting all sorts of technical difficulties in their way, which, incidentally, would mean a great deal of expense and trouble for us.
The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked why we included Clause 1 (2) in the Bill. It was because, as a result of the repeal of the External Relations Act and the setting up of the independent Republic of Ireland, great apprehension and concern was being felt, rightly or wrongly, in Northern Ireland. I am bound to say that I think it was not unnatural that it should be felt. We thought it right, therefore, to make it plain by Act of Parliament that the position which had been arrived at as long ago as 1920, and re-stated again in 1925 (I referred to the 1925 Treaty and Act in the speech I made) should once more be re-stated to show that that position is not abrogated. The fact that the Irish Free State was one of the parties to that Treaty is no reason for saying that the Treaty is at all modified.
I am obliged to the noble and learned Viscount. This is the first clear explanation we have had on this important point. Do I understand that it was at the request of the Government of Northern Ireland that this clause was put in?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
chose my words very carefully. I said that it had come to our knowledge that there was great apprehension and concern about the subject in Northern Ireland. That is why we thought it right to make this matter plain. After all, it is no good going on with a series of misunderstandings. What is the trouble really about? If we are right, is it not much better to say so and come out in the 964 open with it? The noble Lord, Lord Killanin—whom I was very glad to see here in his seat, and I am sorry I had to go out for a few moments during his speech—talked about coercion. I agree with the noble Lord as strongly as I can that all coercion, wherever applied, is wrong. It is wrong if it is applied by the Northern Ireland Government against Eire citizens or the Catholic Irish there. It is just as bad if it is applied by the Southern Irish against the people from the Northern counties there. It is always wrong. But I am not sure that I draw quite the same conclusion as the noble Lord. If coercion is wrong, then will he not give the citizens of Northern Ireland, those who live there, the same freedom that he asks for himself—namely, the freedom to decide on their future and their own form of government? That is all we want.
The noble Lords, Lord Broughshane and Lord MacDermott, referred to the phrase "Republic of Ireland." I mentioned in my speech that other people might have referred to the phrase "Northern Ireland." The most northerly point is Donegal, after all. If this were a Bill which did not contain the clause we have been discussing, I could understand that they might have some apprehensions and misgivings. But as that phrase "Republic of Ireland" is enshrined in a Bill which contains, on the face of it, the clearest protection to Northern Ireland, I really cannot think that it is a point which should concern them. We shall be in a very difficult position if we adopt a name which is different from the name adopted by all our Dominions, and different from the name adopted by all other countries. Therefore, I hope noble Lords will not press that point.
There is one other thing I would like to say. We may have been right or we may have been wrong in the line we took, but, as I told your Lordships before—and there is no harm in saying it again—the line we took was the line that every one of the Dominions wanted us to take and pressed us to take. If we had taken any other line than that which we took, about not making them foreigners, and the rest of it, we should have been acting in the teeth of advice we received from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, three Dominions which have vast masses of Irish people, and we should have found ourselves taking a line 965 different from the line which I have no doubt they in their case will take.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, that separation is a misfortune, but I am also convinced, with the noble Lord, that if separation is to end it can end only with the free consent of both sides. That leads me to say just a word or two about passports. I was very grateful for Lord Simon's criticism; as always, he put his point very clearly. But it is the fact that we have given a not inconsiderable amount of thought to this problem beforehand. We take the view that Section 3 (2) of the British Nationality Act does not apply to this matter at all, because the grant of a passport is a prerogative act and does not depend on any Act of Parliament. There is no Act of Parliament which says that we are under an obligation to grant a passport; it is purely a prerogative act. That being so, I have considered, and those who have helped me in this matter have always considered, from the time of the British Nationality Act down to this date, that Section 3 (2), which preserves all kinds of enactments, does not touch this matter at all. In our view—I state it frankly; we can argue it hereafter if necessary—Section 3 (2) of the British Nationality Act does not entitle a citizen of Eire, as such, to receive a British passport. I say "as such," because there may easily be a person who is a citizen of Eire and also a British subject; he may combine in himself the two rôles. Of course, if he does, then by virtue of his being a British subject he is entitled to a passport, and he does not lose that because he is also a citizen of Eire.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I have not quite followed that. The noble and learned Viscount has just said that of course a man can be a citizen of Eire and a British subject at the same time. Nobody will doubt that that was so two years ago, but the Act of last year has finally abolished, has it not, the test which was always the test of being a British subject—namely, that you should be born on British soil—and has substituted for it the definition in Section 1 of the Act of last year, that to be a British subject you must be a citizen of places named, of which Eire is not one. Is not that an exhaustive definition? I 966 thought that the object of Section 2 was to provide a small loophole, so that if a man comes forward and says: "I am a citizen of Eire. I existed on January 1, and I should like to make an application to the Home Secretary," then—but only then—does the law say he can preserve his position as a British subject.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The view which I hold, after considerable study and advice, in this. In many cases you may be both a citizen of Eire and a British subject. One of the common ways, of course, is by registration—you can acquire your citizenship by registration. If the noble and learned Viscount will go through the Eire Nationality Act, he will find that there are three and a half pages in which are set out the various ways in which people can become Eire citizens; how they acquire citizenship and the rest of it. I think I can easily convince the noble Viscount (although I will not stop to do it now) that there are not infrequent cases where you may at one and the same time be a citizen of Eire and a British subject.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I thought that what was meant was that you could be an Eire citizen and a British subject without taking some special action. Of course, the noble Viscount will tell me what is right on a future occasion.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The commonest illustration is by making the declaration under Section 2 (1). Then, of course, beyond all argument you are at one and the same time a British subject and an Eire citizen.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Then we are all agreed. Here is a case where you may at one and the same time be a British subject and an Eire citizen, and there are many other illustrations. All I am saying is that, if that is possible, the fact that you are an Eire citizen does not deprive you of the rights which you receive in your other capacity as a British subject.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
Surely the question is this. Suppose a man is an Eire citizen and not a British subject, can he become a British subject by virtue of the prerogative?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
That was my first proposition. In our view you cannot, by virtue of the prerogative, grant a passport to anybody except a British subject. But so long as a man is a British subject, then even though he is an Eire citizen as well he does not lose his rights, and a fortiori if he is a British subject he does not lose his rights. What happens as a matter of practice when a person born in one of the twenty-six counties applies for a passport? The Passport Office authorities have to make up their minds before they exercise the prerogative that he is a British subject—never mind whether he is also an Eire citizen. If there is a doubt, the simple way out of the difficulty is to advise him to make a claim under Section 2 (1) of the British Nationality Act. That involves him in saying: "I, an Eire citizen." After all, it is not a disgrace to be an Eire citizen—we are not responsible for the place in which we are born. If the man is born in Dublin it is no hardship, although perhaps I do not feel these things as strongly as other people. That is one way out of it.
But there are people who, for perfectly good reasons, think to themselves: "Well I will not make this claim." What does the Passport Office do then? In practice, what they do is this: they advise him to get an opinion from the authorities as to whether he is an Eire citizen. In practice, if the Eire authorities say: "He is not an Eire citizen," then the British authorities would grant him a passport, on the principle that he must be one or the other, and that if he is not an Eire citizen he must be British. The difficulty arises only in the case of those people who, for reasons good, bad or indifferent, are unwilling to make a declaration under Section 2 (1) of the Act. However you may deal with this matter, the exact line of the dichotomy between an Irish subject and a British citizen is not an easy one to draw. The British authorities must look at the matter as best they can. Of course, they have advice available to them and they will decide in accordance with their view. It does not follow that persons domiciled in Eire are regarded as citizens of Eire; it does not follow, of course, that a person not domiciled there at that date is not a citizen of Eire.
I am afraid this is not a very easy matter, but I have explained it as simply as I can—if the laughter means that I 968 have explained it badly, may I repeat it? Under the prerogative you can grant a British passport only to a British subject. Therefore, you have to try to satisfy yourself that the particular applicant for a British passport is a British subject. One way of solving a doubt, if doubt there be, is to ask him to make a declaration under Section 2 (1). For quite good reasons he may be unwilling to make that declaration. Very well. If he is unwilling, you have to adjudicate as best you can on the facts available, to ascertain whether the man is or is not a British subject. I quite agree that whatever regulations and rules are made, it will not in the nature of things always be easy to ascertain whether he is or is not a British subject. There must be some fine points, and it will be difficult to decide upon which side of the line they fall. That we can never avoid, whatever regulations there are. I hope that is plain. It is not in the least funny, but it is as clear as I can make it.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
May I just ask the noble and learned Viscount this simple question? I appreciate how difficult it is, but I should like to know whether it is his view that in any circumstances the man who, by the law of Eire, is a citizen of Eire cannot at the same time be a British subject, unless he takes some action, either by registration or by application to the Home Secretary, to secure that position.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think that is right. He has to take some action, but it need not be registration, of course, under Section 2 (1) of the Act. So much for passports. With regard to voters, the position is quite different because, as I said, owing to the fact that we are allowing Eire citizens the right to vote over here, there is no need to put any particular person in one camp or the other. Be he a British subject or an Eire citizen, in either case he is allowed to vote: and in practice no difficulty whatever has arisen with regard to it. I can imagine that there is a difficult question which might have to be decided in the courts. In practice, a person may not know the nationality of the girl who is working in his house. But by reason of the fact that we allow Eire citizens to vote, we get out of the difficulty which 969 might arise. We can, of course, discuss this on the Committee stage, and if I can make it any clearer then I will try to do so.
We can consider whether any Amendments are necessary; I confess I hope that they will not be. But apart from those points, which must give rise to difficulty, believe that the adoption of this conception of Ireland not being foreign, but yet not being subject to the King, is the only course we can take to try to soften those asperities which have broken out so acutely at the present time, and to give both sets of Irishmen the chance to work out their own salvation. And on these lines, and these lines alone, can salvation be found.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.