HC Deb 11 April 1912 vol 36 cc1410-2

The Bill of 1893 contained, in its fourth Clause, a number of restrictions upon the powers of the Irish legislature, which we do not in this Bill repeat. We do not do so for the reason, which we think is a good and sufficient reason, first of all that they were very vague in their terms, next because we believe them to be absolutely unnecessary so far as we can foresee the course of events; further, because they would give rise to infinite opportunity for litigation upon matters which are not very fit to be subject to the cognisance of the Courts of Law, and finally, because we believe that in so far as they were directed against real dangers, those dangers are amply provided against by the other safeguards provided in our Bill. We thought, and do think it right, to make special provisions for the protection and preservation of religious equality. I will lead the exact terms of the Clause—it is Clause 3 in the Bill—which we shall submit for the consideration of the House:—

"In the exercise of their power to make laws under this Act, the Irish Parliament shall not make a law so as either directly or indirectly to establish or endow any religion"

—that was in the Bill of 1893—

"or prohibit the free exercise thereof, or to give a preference, privilege or advantage, or impose any disability or disadvantage on account of religious belief or religious or ecclesiastical status, or to make any religious belief or religious ceremony a condition of the validity of any marriage."

These words, as the House will see, are chosen specially to exclude the possibility—I have never thought it myself even a possibility—of legislation on the part of this new Irish Parliament to make any attempt to give effect to either of those recent Papal pronouncements which go by the name of the Ne temere and Motu proprio decrees, in other words, to establish any privileged status of clerical persons before the tribunals of the country, or in any way to interfere with the validity of mixed marriages between persons of different religious beliefs. These are the exclusions, limitations, and restrictions. We go on to provide, in order that the Irish Parliament may not transcend its constitutional limits, two additional safeguards.

4.0 P.M.

In the first place there is the veto of the Lord Lieutenant under the Seventh Clause of the Bill, which provides that he shall give or withhold his consent to Bills passed by the two Houses of the Irish Parliament subject to two limitations—namely, first, he shall comply with any instructions given by His Majesty—that means by the Imperial Executive of this country—in respect of any such Bill; and next, he shall, if so directed by His Majesty—that again refers to the Imperial Executive here—postpone giving the assent of His Majesty to any such Bill for such period as His Majesty—that is the Executive—may direct. So we reserve completely unimpaired, subject to the responsibility of the Executive here, the Imperial Parliament, the power of vetoing or postponing any legislation which the Irish Parliament may pass. Finally, there is and must remain, and it is expressly recognised, the over-riding force of Imperial legislation, which can at any time nullify, amend, or alter any Act of the Irish Parliament. To make that matter abundantly clear we have provided in the last Clause of the Bill in these terms:—

"Where any Act of the Irish Parliament deals with any matter with respect to which the Irish Parliament have power to make laws, which is dealt with by any Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the passing of this Act and extending to Ireland the Act of the Irish Parliament shall be read subject to the Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and, so far as it is repugnant to that Act, but no further, it shall be void."

So you have, first of all, in the veto of the Lord Lieutenant exercisable by the Imperial Executive, and subject to the control of the Imperial Parliament, and next in the inherent power expressly preserved in the Act of the Imperial Parliament itself, a complete and adequate safeguard for the maintenance of the ultimate sovereignty of the Imperial Parliament.

Now I come to the powers of the Legislature. If any question arise as to the validity of an Irish Act, as to whether it is or is not within the powers conferred by this Statute, the question will be settled—if it arise in the course of ordinary litigation which involves any such point—first of all by an appeal to the Irish Court of Appeal, and from it to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and next—even if the matter does not arise at all in the course of litigation—at the instance either of the Lord Lieutenant or of the Secretary of State here by a special reference to the Judicial Committee, which shall determine the point even before the Act has come into operation at all.