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 Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I want to make one or two observations on this Amendment, not from the point of view of a lawyer, but from that of an ordinary person who has watched the development of this matter to some extent from inside, and who has listened to the Debate. Judging from the course of the Debate, one would imagine that all extra-territorial legislation must be mischievous. As a matter of fact, that power is enjoyed in the ordinary way by every sovereign State. All the nations of Europe exercise it, and they exercise it apparently without creating any serious friction among each other. I do not think that anything has ever arisen in which Geneva has been interested or which has led to acute controversy between different nations of the Continent because they have that power, nor has any controversy arisen between them and ourselves. More than that, the same power is enjoyed by one of the Dominions; the United Kingdom enjoys it towards both the foreign world and the rest of the Empire, and I do not believe that any serious trouble has arisen out of it. Is there any reason why these powers should not also be exercised by the other Dominions now that they have acquired their present status and now that their external interests are so much greater than they used to be?

In the original development of the Empire, the Dominions were largely remote from the world outside, and their external affairs were naturally conducted for them by the British Government. Now they are much more in the world than they were before. Over 4,000 miles Canada adjoins one of the greatest industrial countries in the world. Along that frontier there is a continual going and coming between Canadians and Americans. The United States enjoy certain extra-territorial rights over their citizens when they cross the Canadian border. Canada cannot make similar legislation at present, except by certain devious subterfuges, with regard to Canadian citizens crossing the American border. It is largely in their frontier relations with foreign countries that this question will arise. South Africa may want to make regulations with regard to her subjects crossing the Portuguese border. Is there any reason why, on an issue eminently to be decided by local considerations, as for instance, what happens to South African labourers when they go into Portuguese East Africa, that only should be susceptible to legislation by us here in this Parliament?

On the matter of uniformity, this is one of the cases where over a large part of the field uniformity is not desirable. The legislation that Canada passes with regard to bootleggers in America is not legislation that the South Africans would wish to pass with regard to absconding natives taking out diamonds or gold dust. Yet if this Amendment were accepted, then, if the terms of a law dealing with native runaways in South Africa conflicted with the terms of a bootlegging ordinance in Canada, whichever was the later in the field would become invalid. This is a matter where over a very large part of the field it is essentially a matter for the local legislature and for differentiation, not for uniformity. There is a, very important part of the field, including such subjects as merchant shipping, where uniformity is desirable, but when that question is dealt with, you have to face the further question as to who is to enforce the uniformity. Are we in this Parliament to be the only Parliament in the Empire which has the right to legislate for all the other Dominions and to enforce uniformity upon them?

I can assure hon. Members who have spoken that every one of the points they have made was discussed fully in 1926. It was then decided that, in view of the principles which govern the relations of the Empire, uniformity has to be sought by other means than the arbitrary imposition of it by one Parliament. This conclusion was confirmed after months of discussion between experts, who were the best legal minds from every part of the Empire. These results were published in this country; we all knew about them. The actual terms of this particular Bill are mostly in italics in the report of the Conference of 1929. They were again fully and anxiously considered in 1930, and, as a result of that consideration and of a definite undertaking given to the Imperial Conference, they are now presented to this House. I agree that it would be unfortunate if on some of these matters, like merchant shipping, there was a gap during which inconsistent legislation were introduced. We have been informed, as regards this instance, that the Governments of the Empire have agreed upon a convention securing uniformity, and that they intend to put it into force as soon as the Statute of Westminster goes through. Are we to say that, though they have given this assurance, there may be a few weeks during which they may run amok and pass all sorts of diverse legislation and destroy that uniformity? I admit that it is undesirable that the old uniformity should disappear before the new uniformity is secured, but you will not do that by saying, "We will not take away our arbitrary powers of control until you have made a new uniformity that suits us." You cannot bargain in that way. You have to accept the position that uniformity by dictation is no longer possible, but you will find very little difficulty in arriving at uniformity by agreement in those matters in which uniformity is desirable.

This discussion has seemed to proceed on a basis which, I should have thought on reflection, we could not sustain, even in this proud and ancient House of Commons, that is, that all wisdom is with us alone, that we alone have a sense of Imperial responsibility, and that if we give to other parts of the Empire the same licence and power they are bound to abuse them. We must accept the position that they, like ourselves, are reasonable in their outlook and are not mischievous children who have been prematurely sent out into the world, but that they are Imperial nations which have risen gradually to a position and a sense of Imperial responsibility like ourselves. Is it beyond hope that in matters that are eminently local they will legislate sanely for their own purposes, and that in matters where common uniformity is desirable they will approach that problem of uniformity in the same spirit of good will and with the same desire to serve the common weal that we possess?