Constituent Act.

Irish Free State Constitutionbill. – in the House of Commons on 28th November 1922.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Schedule stand part of the Bill."

Captain BENN:

I would ask the Attorney-General to give an explanation, which I expect he is in a position to do, in reference to the Boundaries Commission. One of the Articles of Agreement is that in the event of Ulster not desiring to come into the Irish Free State there shall be a Boundaries Commission, and the powers of the Commission are to determine, in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants, the boundaries of Northern and Southern Ireland. So far as we can ascertain, the wish of the inhabitants of Tyrone and Fermanagh are represented in this House by one Nationalist Member of Parliament and one Sinn Feiner, who is being detained under the powers—

6.0 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Charles Craig Hon. Charles Craig , Antrim

I submit that the hon. Member is not entitled to ask any questions referring to boundaries under this Bill, which is a Bill providing for a. Constitution for the Irish Free State. The boundaries question has nothing to do with the question of the Irish Constitution. The Treaty is printed with this Bill, presumably for the purpose of giving to the public the opportunity of deciding for them selves whether the Constitution, which is also printed with the Bill, comes within the terms of the Treaty or not. There are many points which, I am convinced, we could not discuss in this Bill. For instance, there are such matters as coastal defence, the ports being open to the ships of various nations, the compensation of judges, auxiliary police, and a hundred and one other matters. I submit that the question of boundaries is among the number.

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

I understand that this question has already been raised, and that the hon. and gallant Member is in order in putting his question.

Captain BENN:

I hope that the learned Attorney-General will not say that he must have notice of this question. It is a question of plain good faith. The Agreement says that this Commission shall determine, in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants, the boundaries of Northern and Southern Ireland. I understand that the two counties have chosen to be represented in this House, the one by a Nationalist, and the other by a Sinn Fein member who is at present under lock and key. I repeat, therefore, that it would be extremely desirable that the Government should say that they intend to stand fully by Clause 12 of the Treaty. If they say that they are not able to give an answer, they will lay themselves open to a serious and quite unneeessary imputation of weakness—I will not say of bad faith.

Photo of Sir Douglas Hogg Sir Douglas Hogg , St Marylebone

I rather regret that my hon. and gallant Friend has raised this point. It does not arise directly on the Bill, and I doubt very much whether it will tend to improve relations between North and South if the matter is discussed in Parliament. When the House gave this Bill a Second Reading, it accepted the provision now under discussion. No possible object can be gained by discussing it now. The question cannot arise until Ulster has used her option to contract out. It is surely not too much to hope that when the time for its discussion does arrive an agreement may be arrived at between North and South.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Glasgow Shettleston

I would like the Attorney-General to define Article 3 a little more clearly. I have had some experience recently of the difficulty of interpreting the English language as used by Parliamentary lawyers. This Article defines the people who become citizens of the Irish Free State, and it is broad enough to embrace millions of people who are not resident there now. Towards the close of the Article there are the words: Provided that any such person, being a citizen of another State, may elect not to accept the citizenship hereby conferred. Would the learned Attorney-General explain whether it is necessary for the citizens of Britain, who might become Irish citizens under this Article, to take the initiative so as to preserve their British citizenship, or whether they automatically remain outside if they do not apply for membership of the Irish Free State?

Photo of Sir Douglas Hogg Sir Douglas Hogg , St Marylebone

I have already discussed Article 3 of the Constitution, once yesterday and twice to-day. But I am very anxious that there should be no misapprehension. So far as I understand it, there is nothing whatever in the Constitution which which renders a British subject any less a British subject if he chooses to become an Irish subject.

Preamble agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the Third time To-morrow.