I think it is convenient, at the outset of these Committee proceedings, to remind the Government of the pledges that they have given with regard to this matter. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council will remember that the learned Solicitor-General promised us, in the most generous terms, consideration of any Amendment that might be brought forward. He said:
I am not giving a promise to accept any particular Amendment, but I am undertaking—and I hope the House will accept it on behalf of my right hon. Friend—that, with the opportunities for consideration
which, no doubt, will be given to all these important matters, every single Amendment shall be considered on its merits without any desire to compel the House to a particular course of action."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1931; col. 1248, Vol. 259.]
There are a great many of us in this House who take all these legal Amendments, without reference to the specific question of Ireland, extraordinarily seriously. We regard this as the first charter for the future of our great Empire. We think that it is only in harmony with our duty that we as a Committee of the Whole House should consider everything honourably and conscientiously to the best of our ability. Hon. Members must realise how hopelessly inadequate and hopelessly unsuitable this tribunal is for the discussion of these matters. We have beard and we will hear learned speeches from eminent lawyers discussing what they in their learning know and can judge about a Statute of this kind, not matters of interest to the general body of the House, not matters upon which the general body of the House would wish or feel it proper to base an opinion. But this is the tribunal which has been chosen by the Government to discuss the first Statute that is to give a constitution to the Empire.
Of course, the Bill should have gone to a committee of experts. It makes me feel miserable and ashamed to think that this moment should have been chosen by the Government for the discussion of this Statute. It ought to have been sent to a joint committee of Lords and Commons, as was suggested by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). Such a committee would have been able to thrash it out month by month and perhaps year by year. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh. They do not realise that the Dominions have had years to consider this matter. Hon. Members may not have read the learned speeches of Imperial statesmen like Mr. Latham, who has made great contributions to the subject. I do not know whether those speeches have been read by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. The right hon. Gentlemen would realise at once that the Parliament of Australia is second in no degree in Imperial maters to this House, and that it has given far greater and more careful consideration to this ques- tion than the National Government proposes that the House of Commons should be able to do. The Bill has been discussed throughout the Empire; on a number of occasions it has come up and has been examined with care. The Dominions look to this House to consider it and amend it.
I have reminded the right hon. Gentleman of the pledge given by the Solicitor-General. I would remind him again of the pledges given to-day by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury. He was asked specifically whether he proposed to take a vote on the Irish question after eleven o'clock at night. He gave an answer with which I at any rate was satisfied, that the Government had no intention of taking a vote at a late stage on so important a matter. I regard that as a pledge of honour. I regard all the Amendments on the Paper as Amendments which we must argue and thrash out and try to get the Government to accept. We are not wedded to any particular form of words, as the Government arc, but we ask the Government to discuss this matter seriously like men of honour.