HL Deb 23 March 1927 vol 66 cc721-32

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is for the purpose of effecting changes in the Royal Title and the Title of Parliament so as to make them accord with the constitutional changes which have actually taken place. The Imperial Conference of last year reviewed the whole field of inter-Imperial relations and in this connection recommended that a slight change should be made in the form of the Royal Title at present in use in order that it might correspond exactly with the situation of affairs arising out of the Constitution of the Irish Free State. The Royal Title has been twice within the last fifty years altered to suit changed conditions and constitutional developments. The existing Title was, as noble Lords will recall, established under the Royal Titles Act, 1901, as follows:— George V. by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India. As there are now constitutional entities in Ireland of which one has been granted Dominion status while the other continues to be represented in the same Parliament at Great Britain, the use of the expression "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" in His Majesty's Title can no longer be regarded as appropriate.

The Title of His Majesty the King is, as was pointed out in the Report which Lord Balfour presented to the Conference, of special importance and concern to all parts of His Majesty's Dominions and the question of making an alteration to the Title was accordingly referred to the Conference for consideration. It had, of course, been previously ascertained that it would be in accordance with His Majesty's wishes that any recommendation for a change should be submitted to him, if such a recommendation was the result of discussion at the Conference. The Title to which His Majesty, on the recommendation of the Imperial Conference, has given his approval is:— George V. by the Grace of God of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India. This will involve a minimum of change in the King's Title as at present by law established, and it should be carefully noticed that it is a descriptive Title upon geographical lines of the territories of which His Majesty is King. It does not define and it does not purport to define the various political units composing the Empire. In accordance with the precedent established by the Act for the Union of Great Britain with Ireland and the Royal Titles Acts of 1876 and 1901, the new Title is not set out in the Bill itself but is left to His Majesty to determine by Royal Proclamation. So much for the Royal Title.

The Government have decided at the same time to make provision for a change in the title of Parliament, which was enacted by the Act for the Union of Great Britain with Ireland under the style of "Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland." For the reasons which I have already given the use of the expression "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" is no longer appropriate. The Irish Free State is not represented in the same Parliament as Great Britain while Northern Ireland, in addition to being represented in this Parliament, is subject in many matters to its legislative authority and has remained in all respects an integral part of the United Kingdom. The Government are advised by their appropriate advisers in such matters that it would be in accordance with the constitutional position that Parliament should henceforth be known as the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That description has the advantage of corresponding with the facts. The Bill does not in any way, of course, affect the constitution of Parliament but merely alters its name to bring it into correspondence with the facts. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Birkenhead.)


My Lords, it is not without a pang that Southern Irish loyalists note the passage of the loved and time-honoured designation of "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland." For two and a half centuries after all French possessions had passed from this country our Kings continued to style themselves Kings of France. It was not until the Kingdom of France had ceased to exist owing to the French Revolution that the Title was dropped. Nowadays we are more swift to recognise the inexorable logic of facts and, therefore, little more than five years after the Irish Revolution, we find the change proposed to Parliament which has just been explained to us by my noble friend Lord Birkenhead. When such great changes are being made in the relations of the two countries I think it might be well for a moment to dwell on those links which still remain to unite them.

First of all, I should like to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland still exists. It never has been repealed. In some ways I am sorry that it was not, because I think it would have been much more fortunate if the new state of affairs in Ireland had been inaugurated under the old Constitution of "King, Lords and Commons of Ireland" with safeguards for the closer connection which Ulster wishes to retain with this country. But that was not done and, consequently, so far as the Act of Union has not been altered by subsequent legislation, it is on the Statute Book and it is still the law of the land. I suppose it is owing to that that we may still congratulate ourselves on having the Royal Standard as before, with the harp of Ireland quartered with the devices of the sister kingdoms, the leopards of England and the lion of Scotland. It is because of that that Irishmen may still claim the Union Jack as the flag of Ireland with the Cross of St. Patrick superimposed on those of St. George and St. Andrew.

There is another matter which affects very closely your Lordships' House to which I should like to call attention for a minute, and that is that the claim of Irish Peers to 28 seats in your Lordships' House in return for the hereditary seats in the Irish House of Lords, which they surrendered on the passing of the Act of Union, still remains on the Statute Book as a right. It is true that since the Irish Revolution no elections for Representative Peers have taken place, although two vacancies have occurred. I am told that it is the view of His Majesty's Government that as the machinery to effect those elections no longer exists, owing to the abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland, it is impossible that in future any Representative Peers should be created and that the only right which still exists, the only privilege which they can claim is that of being allowed to present their claim to vote at the election of Representative Peers for the satisfaction of the Lord Chancellor—at those elections which are never to take place—the Lord Chancellor notifying your Lordships' House that the claim has been established to his satisfaction and the House directing the Lord Chancellor to acquaint the Clerk of the Crown of Ireland of the fact.

I confess that I think this is a very dangerous precedent. It is an attempt to do by a side wind what ought to be done, if it is done at all, by legislation. I should like to call the attention of my noble friend to the possibilities of what may be done by a Labour Government. We are always being told that there is a danger under the Parliament Act of your Lordships' House being done away with should a Labour Government come into power. It seems to me to be quite unnecessary to have recourse to a Bill if, on account of the lack of machinery, it is possible to prevent people exercising their rights. All they would have to do is to do away with the official whose duty it is to issue Writs to your Lordships at the opening of a new Parliament and as there would be no machinery it would be impossible to call your Lordships together. The House of Lords would be done away with and single-chamber government would be established.

I am glad to say that that view as to the rights of Irish Peers is not held by all legal authorities. On the contrary, lawyers occupying very high positions are of opinion that the rights of individuals cannot fail for want of machinery to enforce them, and curiously enough it appears that His Majesty's Government held the same view only about two years ago. In the case of the Scottish Representative Peers there was a clause in the Reorganisation of Offices (Scotland) Bill of 1924 by which the office of Deputy Clerk Register was done away with and it was specially provided that someone else should take his place at the election of Scottish Representative Peers. In addition to this we have to consider the claims of Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland have representation in the Imperial Parliament and I have still to learn that they will be satisfied with representation in the Lower House and will not insist upon representation in your Lordships' House or in whatever Chamber eventually takes its place should your Lordships' House be reformed.

I wish to express my great gratification that His Majesty emphasises the fact that he is King of Ireland. Thus we may consider that the title of the Irish Free State is more or less a sub-title to that of King of Ireland. It was a name which never attracted me very much. It had too much of a Republican sound about it to please me. Still less was I attracted by the terms which were in the Irish Constitution that the people of Southern Ireland owed fidelity to His Majesty as head of the British Commonwealth. I confess that it provoked a small, sad smile when I considered the use by Ireland of such a Cromwellian term. Cromwell's is not a name to conjure with and if there is one malediction stronger than another which you can hurl at your neighbour in Ireland it is the curse of Cromwell.

There are two questions which I should like to put to my noble friend. The first one was asked in the House of Commons and I think no reply was given to it. It is with regard to the Great Seal of Ireland. In the course of the debates in another place it was mentioned that not only was there a Great Seal of the United Kingdom but also a Great Seal of Scotland and a Great Seal of Ireland. The Great Seal of Ireland was destroyed by the Irish Republicans in 1921, but after the midnight Treaty when—I was going to say the Parliament was called together, but that would be wrong, because the Senate which was in existence at the time was not summoned—the House of Commons was summoned to decide what was to be the future Constitution of Ireland it had to be done under the Great Seal. A Great Seal had to be manufactured for that purpose.

In ordinary circumstances that Great Seal would be in the custody of the last Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir John Ross, but I think there was something in the Act of 1920 which transferred some of his duties, including that of the custody of the Great Seal, to the Lord-Lieutenant. In that case it would be in the custody of my noble friend Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent. Perhaps he may be able to say something on the subject later. I have been told, but I do not know with what truth, that it is now in this country in the custody of the Deputy-Keeper of the Records. Perhaps my noble friend will be able to give me some information on this point. I think that from an historical point of view it is desirable that its whereabouts should be known.

My second question is with regard to the Title which His Majesty is to assume. It is to be, we hear, King of Great Britain, Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas. I should like to have a clearer definition of the word "British," whether it means pertaining to Britain or pertaining to the British Empire. I can hardly think it has the latter meaning. We all know that the various self-governing Dominions were given equal status at the last Imperial Conference. I have nothing to say on that point. We are all agreed as to that. But it does not mean that their Dominions extend beyond their own borders. For instance, Canada could not be the Dominion of Australia or New Zealand the Dominion of South Africa. If, unfortunately, any of these great self-governing Dominions wished to secede from the Empire—which we trust there is no chance of their doing—we cannot imagine Canada asking to take the West India islands as her portion of the Dominions, or South Africa asking for Mauritius. Therefore I take it the British Dominions signify the Dominions belonging to what was known as the United Kingdom.

Southern Ireland has surrendered her right to that great heritage and has become the youngest and smallest of the Dominions of the Crown. That is not the case with Northern Ireland, which is still as proud of her connection with this country as she ever was. It seems to me therefore that the correct definition should be "of the British and North Irish Dominions beyond the Seas." It would be possible, of course, to move an Amendment to that effect in Committee, but there would be little chance of it being accepted, as the Title of the King was fully accepted by the Imperial Conference and has also obtained the approval of His Majesty the King. But I think for the sake of clear definition it would be very useful to know whether my interpretation of the words "British Dominions" is correct or if another interpretation may be put upon it.


My Lords, in the first place I should like to relieve the mind of my noble friend Lord Oranmore and Browne of the doubt and anxiety which seems to have taken hold of it. He says that no further Irish Peers have been elected since the Treaty Act. That is quite true, but then he goes on to suggest that they have not been elected because it has suited His Majesty's Government to omit to summon them, not to take steps which might have been taken to bring them here.


I did not say because it suited the Government, but that the Government had been advised that that was the proper course to take.


No doubt they have been advised. My noble friend went on to say: suppose a Labour Government came in, suppose a Labour Government applied this process to all your Lordships and did not summon you, what then? Revolution! Now it was a Labour Government that had to consider this question of the Irish Peers, and it fell to me, as Lord Chancellor in the Labour Government, to deal with the question. I dealt with it in the way in which I hope every Lord Chancellor will always deal with every question. I dealt with it according to law. I looked into what the law was and I found the provisions of the Act of Union made an insuperable bar to the summoning of Irish Peers unless an Act was passed setting up again the office of Lord Chancellor in Ireland which had been abolished, or something equivalent. That was not done, and the Irish Peers have not been summoned; nor do I see any reason why they should be summoned. If the noble Lord has the courage to bring in a Bill to set up the office of Lord Chancellor in Southern Ireland, then we shall hear from Southern Ireland what they think of this intermeddling with their own prerogatives. Until that has been done I am afraid that there is not the smallest legal power to summon Irish Peers. As for the suggestion that a Labour Government might adapt the precedent to the point of not summoning Peers here, I would point out to my noble friend that every Peer who has a title to sit in this House has a right at Common Law to his Writ, and he can enforce that right by the proper legal process. It is not a matter as to which there is any discretion, and accordingly even the Labour Government would be reduced to inviting your Lordships' assent to a Statute if they desired to take away the right to summon you.

Passing by the noble Lord's other points, to which the noble Earl opposite will no doubt reply, I come to the Bill itself, and I have only a word or two to say about it. Obviously the Bill is right and necessary. In Clause 1 there is a provision that it shall be lawful for His Majesty by Proclamation— to make such alteration in the style and titles at present appertaining to the Crown as to His Majesty may seem fit. It may be thought that this should have been done in the Act of Parliament itself, instead of leaving it to be done by the Prerogative. I think it would have been wrong to do it by Act of Parliament. After all, this is a matter that affects all the Dominions and, unless you have the assent of the various Dominion Parliaments to this legislation, you could not properly pass an Act of the Imperial Parliament making the change. What was much more appropriate was to put it within the power of the Prerogative to modify the Title under which the Sovereign reigned, and the exercise of that Prerogative is the exercise of a Prerogative which no doubt His Majesty would exercise only under the advice of His Imperial Ministers and possibly, even since the Conference, after consultation with and ascertaining the views of the Ministers of the Dominions. I do not know if that is necessary, but at any rate the point that I wish to make is that I think Clause 1 is right in putting the matter within the Prerogative of the Crown instead of putting it into the Statute itself. Subject to that observation, which is in favour of the Bill as it stands, I think the measure is a necessary one and I have no further comment to make upon it.


My Lords, the noble Lord who spoke first has dealt in an interesting manner with various matters of history. He recalled to your Lordships the fact that it was some 250 years before a very obvious inaccuracy was removed from the King's Title in relation to France. The noble Lord was so dispassionate in his reference to this subject that I was not sure whether he approved the somewhat imaginative description of the King of that day as the King of France, which he most obviously was not, or whether he regretted it, or was neutral in the matter; but I am sure that in modern circumstances it cannot have been desired that we should be so far behind the times as for 250 years to continue parties to what was by universal admission a misdescription of the present position of the Crown and of the present constitution of Parliament.

The noble and learned Viscount who preceded me has explained very clearly the technical circumstances—though, indeed, there were more fundamental ones, depending upon the actual change made in the Parliamentary representation of Ireland—which involved, not indeed, to our great pleasure, the present generation of Irish Representative Peers, but their successors, in a loss of the functions that they have greatly valued and very efficiently discharged for so long No one who values the traditions of history and the continuity of the past can fail to share the regrets that have been so well expressed by the noble Lord, but some of his apprehensions were, I think, of a more alarmist, and unnecessarily alarmist, character. We need not really apprehend, both for the reason that the noble and learned Viscount has given and for another reason, that any similar and more general bereavement need be feared by those members of your Lordships' House who hold English Peerages. Indeed, though my opinion of the possible action which the Labour Party might take is not uniformly optimistic, I do not anticipate that they would resort to a device in the matter of this House which would quite obviously, among other objections, disable them entirely from carrying any legislation at all. That is not a step which I think that they are in the least likely to take.

The noble Lord has asked me a question about the Great Seal, and I must certainly give him that information. There has been a separate Great Seal for Ireland from very early times, and so far back as an Irish Statute in the reign of Henry VI, separate reference is made to it. Until June 27, 1921, this Seal was in the custody of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. It was then, as has been pointed out, transferred to the custody of the Lord-Lieutenant by an Order in Council under the Government of Ireland Act. The Seal continued to be kept in the Crown and Hanover Office in the Four Courts in Dublin until, on account of certain exhibitions of high-spirited combativeness among the countrymen of the noble Lord, that building was unfortunately destroyed, and it was assumed for some time that the Great Seal had completely perished with it. There is some reason for supposing that the object of one of the sections of the noble Lord's countrymen in occupying the Four Courts was to prevent the use of the Great Seal for the Writs issued in connection with the Elections to the Parliament of Southern Ireland. If that was so, they shared the delusion of an English King upon a well-known historic occasion. The sequel was not without interest. An Order in Council of May 25, 1922, authorised a substitute Seal, and this was used for sealing the Writs for the Election.

The Lord-Lieutenant continued to be the custodian of the Great Seal until December 6, 1922, when it became obsolete in accordance with the provisions of the Irish Free State (Consequential Provisions) Act of that year. At a later date, after the creation of the Irish Free State, the original Great Seal was discovered intact beneath the ruins, and I have every reason to suppose that it is now in the possession of the Free State Government. I suppose on the whole, though I have not given deep attention to the proprietary considerations involved in this matter, if anybody is to be the custodian of it they might as well keep it as anybody else, unless the noble Lord has any preference, and he did not indicate one.

The only other point that the noble Lord put forward was the suggestion that we should call the Dominions hereafter the "British and Northern Irish Dominions." I do not think this would be a very happy experiment in nomenclature. I suppose that the noble Lord must be thinking of the Dominions as appendages of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, otherwise there would be no possible justification for a name so singular, and indeed so surprising. The words are, of course, used in the sense not that they are appendages of Great Britain but are communities, broadly, of British subjects, owing allegiance to the common Crown. We must not be too pedantic in a consideration of this kind. Men of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland—Southern and Northern Ireland alike—all played a part in the development of the Dominions, and the term British in this connection has the same meaning as the term British in the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, 1914, which defines a British subject as "any person born within His Majesty's Dominions." I hope that these answers, if they have not entirely discharged the regrets of the noble Lord, will at least have met that part of his curiosity which is to be dealt with by an answer.


The noble Earl did not tell us what happened to the Seal which was specially made in substitution of the one which was supposed to have been destroyed.


That Seal, as the noble Lord will have appreciated, had a very brief period of usefulness, and applying the same logical process that I have indicated to the noble Lord, we have placed that Seal with the Mint, which seems to have been entitled to its custody.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.