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Free State Constitution Bill

Volume 155: debated on Monday 12 June 1922

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asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he can give the House an assurance that the amendment by the House of the terms and conditions contained in the Free State Constitution Bill, on which public servants in Ireland will retire or be discharged and pensioned, will not of itself involve the rejection of the Bill?

I regret that the hon. and learned Member should be dissatisfied with the replies which have already been given to this question; but it must be obvious to the House that, it is impossible to give a categorical reply as to the effect of a hypothetical Amendment to a hypothetical provision in the Constitution or in the Bill for ratifying the Constitution. No reply, other than what has already been stated, can be given to the hon. and learned Member's question except upon a consideration both of the provision to be amended and of the Amendment proposed.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he has been asked several times for a definite answer to a definite, question, whether this House will have an opportunity of considering, and, if necessary, amending the terms and conditions referred to in this question, on the Free State Constitution Bill, or upon any other occasion?

As I have repeatedly said, nothing can possibly fetter the entire power and discretion of the House to act as it may think fit in regard to any Measure or legislation brought before it. The question is what advice the Government will tender to the House, and the view the House will take of that advice.

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question on the Paper? If the House decides on consideration of the Free State Constitution Pill to amend these terms and conditions, will that, of itself, destroy the Bill?

How can I forecast what the, consequences will be of a hypothetical Amendment to a Bill which has not yet been introduced?

Does the right, hon. Gentleman recollect that in the case of the Treaty Bill, when it was before the House, the House was told that they could either take the Bill or leave it? Will the same procedure be followed in the case of the Bill to confirm the Constitution?

In the case of the Treaty Bill the Government took the view that it was vital to their position that the Treaty provisions should be given effect to without Amendment. As to whether the Government will take that view in connection with the forthcoming legislation, I cannot, at this juncture, say. At any rate, some considerable interval will elapse before it is brought before the House.

Is it not a fact that, during the discussion on the Treaty Bill it was said that the greatest latitude would be left to the House to amend the Bill dealing with the Constitution?

I could not have made such a suggestion as that. Clearly, if a definite agreement has been reached on both sides, that agreement cannot be altered here without involving a consequential alteration on the other side, and the House, before taking such a step, will have to weigh very carefully, with the perfect power to which I have referred, the consequences of such step.

Is it not clear, from the right hon. Gentleman's last answer, that the Government is going to make an agreement without consulting this House?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are literally hundreds of questions which it is impossible for the Government or the representatives of the Free State Government to have discussed during the last few days which must arise on this Bill and which are of the greatest importance to the Northern Government? Therefore, I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he cannot make a statement that we shall be allowed to discuss these questions and, if necessary, amend the Bill?

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why an agreement between two parties in the South of Ireland should not be as binding as an agreement between the Northern Government and this Government in their desire to conquer a portion of the population in the North-East corner of Ulster?

This is not a question of any agreement between parties in the South of Ireland, but a question of how this House and how the Government responsible to this House should discharge their duties in safeguarding certain important interests in Ireland in the process of transferring the powers of government,. I would ask not to be called upon at this stage to define the attitude which the Government will adopt when the final Bill is brought before the House. It may well be that there are classes of subjects contained in the Bill which it would be very proper for the House to deal with without impinging upon the main structure of the Bill or of the agreement between the two parties. I cannot say at this stage. At any rate, a considerable number of weeks, possibly months, will intervene before the stage is reached when the House will be asked to consider this Measure and when the questions which hon. Members have in view will have to be thrashed out in detail.

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that the rights of this House are safeguarded?

It will be for the House to consider whether or not it will take any advice given by the Government.