Clause 3. — (Power of Parliament of Dominion to legislate extra-territorially.)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 24th November 1931.

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Photo of Mr William Stewart Mr William Stewart , Belfast South

It may be strange for one who is not a lawyer to talk about a subject which apparently exhausts the minds and brains of the distinguished lawyers who have spoken already, but I want to approach this matter from a common sense point of view. No one here wants to interfere with the Dominions doing exactly as they Like, but we do want to prevent our own right to do as we like being interfered with. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General refers to extra-territoriality law as only legislating for their own subjects. I would like to ask whether this Bill does not make us liable to be subject to two different Dominions. If that is so, are we not liable to be interfered with when we go to a Dominion which has a different law from the law in the Dominion to which we think we are subject?

I belong to Northern Ireland, and we have different opinions about religion and about politics, as compared with our friends in the Irish Free State. Those carry us a very long way. Take the question of divorce, which has been referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Altrincham (Mr. Atkinson). If I go to the Free State, as I very often do—I have considerable business there, and I like the Free State, and I like Dublin—it might be that if this Statute is passed, the Free State might call me an Irish Free State subject. [Interruption.] They might not want me, but they might make me that by law, which is quite a different matter. I would like the Solicitor-General to tell me, if that is possible, whether I would be liable to be interfered with in the Free State as a Free State subject under their law. That is all that we want to know. If this subject is as clear as the Solicitor-General makes out, why is there this division of opinion among hon. and learned Members in this House? I cannot understand why these hon. and learned Gentlemen cannot give us something that is quite clear.

The question of different laws in different Dominions is surely a very important and a very interesting question to discuss in a business manner. Almost every business man to-day has interests outside the United Kingdom. Re has interests in Canada, and, we will say, in Ireland, and when you come to a business matter it is possible that the law in one Dominion may be different from the law in another Dominion. If a conflict is to arise in regard to nationality, surely then a conflict arises right away as to the law to which you are subject. I would impress upon the Government that we do not want to interfere with the passing of this Bill at all, but that we want to try to avoid trouble. We have had enough trouble, and we want to avoid it. Why then can we not, when we have a, chance, if this matter is as easy as the Government tell us, make it quite clear and plain?