Clause 4. — (Parliament of United Kingdom not to legislate for Dominion except by consent.)

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

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Photo of Mr John Withers Mr John Withers , Cambridge University

I beg to move, in page 3, line 8, after the second word "that," to insert the words "the Parliament of."

If my Amendment is accepted the Clause will read: No Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this Act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to a Dominion as part of the law of that Dominion, unless it is expressly declared in that Act that the Parliament of that Dominion has requested and consented to the enactment thereof. This Amendment, to a certain extent, is a drafting Amendment. The Parliament of each Dominion is always referred to as the authority for testing the opinion of that particular Dominion, and, therefore, to make the Clause read properly, the words I have suggested ought to be inserted.

Mr. J. H. THOMAS:

If I had only to consult my own personal wishes I should be quite willing to accept this Amendment, but the Clause was drafted in its present form at the request of the Dominions themselves. The Government were indifferent on this point, but the real answer is that as far as the Government was concerned we did not care which method was adopted, but what is now proposed was put in at the request of the Dominions.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hurst Sir Gerald Hurst , Manchester Moss Side

I beg to move, in page 3, line 9, at the end, to add the words: Provided that nothing in this Section shall prevent the Parliament of the United Kingdom from amending or supplementing any Bill so requested by the Parliament of a Dominion or the Parliament of a Dominion from assenting to such Bill as amended or supplemented by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This Amendment does not raise any question of principle, and it is simply a drafting proposal. We think a contingency might arise where a request might be made by a Dominion that an Act not of the kind contemplated in Clause 4 might be passed by the Parliament of a Dominion, and when that Measure reached this House it might be found that, in some obscure way, it did not carry out the intention of the Dominion Government, and it might be thought necessary to pass an Amendment, not of substance, but dealing with the drafting, with a view to giving effect to the real object of the Dominion which had made the request. If after being amended it was assented to by the Dominion, it might be a contentious question whether the Act passed in that way was the actual Act requested by the Dominion Government. I have put down this Amendment in order to ascertain what is the position of a Bill that has been amended in that way. It might be useful to give a certain limited power to our Parliament to deal with a question of this kind, as it may well be that the Dominions would not like the passing of such legislation to be delayed.

Photo of Mr Edward Marjoribanks Mr Edward Marjoribanks , Eastbourne

I beg to second the Amendment.

Great importance attaches to the principle contained in this Amendment, which is only an alternative form of another Amendment which appears later on the Paper. It is a drafting Amendment, but it is one which may have an immense influence on the continuance of Imperial unity, and the future of this House. This Amendment has been debated in, the Dominions, and more especially in the Australian Parliament. The Dominions must make a request for an Act before it comes to this House, but when it comes here it has to be accepted in exactly the same form as it has been requested. I do not know whether hon. Members fully realise the effect of that proposal because, in reality, it is taking away an enormous power from the British House of Commons, and transferring it to His Majesty's Government. In most legislation the House of Commons has the ultimate control, but in this case the control is handed over to the Government, and only the Government can initiate such a Bill. The request must come from the Dominions, and then their Measures can be discussed here, but these Measures can only be decided aye or no, and no Amendment can be made.

6.0 p.m.

For these reasons, I think that what is now proposed is a most proper Amendment, and it is not opposed in any way to the principle of this Statute. I think this Measure may be made a good one if machinery is introduced in it which will allow the Parliaments of the Empire to consult each other. We do not wish to deprive the Imperial Parliament of the power to discuss these matters. If this Amendment is not accepted, there will be no equality between this Parliament and the Dominion Parliaments, because the Dominion Parliaments will be able to discuss the legislation they wish to send to this House and this House will not be able either to discuss or amend that legislation. There is an important principle involved in this Amendment, and, unless it is accepted, we shall be doing away with the power of the Imperial Parliament to discuss and alter Dominion legislation. It seems to me that what I have stated is the real effect of the words contained in this Bill, and unless the Clause is amended in some such way as I have suggested, the powers of the Imperial Parliament to deal with these matters will be greatly restricted. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I have taken advice on this matter, and have asked an opinion much more valuable than my own; and I think that the House of Commons ought not to pass the Bill without a provision of this kind, without fully realising the possibility that it may emasculate itself as an Imperial Parliament.

Mr. J. H. THOMAS:

My hon. Friend has carried this question on to a much wider basis than the Mover of the Amendment had in mind. I must say again that it is not fair to new Members of the House, who may be listening to these Debates, to assume that the Government will be constantly throwing at them Bills of a complicated character without any opportunity for consideration. The hon. Member has repeated that assumption, and now states that he has certain information as to the apprehensions of some Dominions on this matter. Let me assure him, and let me assure the Committee, that the Dominions have never hesitated to express their opinions in very definite language, and, if there were any feeling in any of the Dominions with regard to any part of this Bill, surely the first person to hear about it would be the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. Our object in this matter is to assist the Dominions. We are doing this at their request; this is their Bill; and, surely, it is useless for the hon. Member to repeat, to Members who would not know the real facts, that some strong feeling exists in the Dominions. Let me assure him that the strong feeling is in favour of the Bill, as expressed by all their Resolutions at the Imperial Conference.

Look at the confusion that arises over this simple issue. The Mover of the Amendment, clearly, knew exactly what question he was asking, namely, Is there a danger of our being deprived of the power to give to any legislation for the Dominions that close scrutiny which can be given at the present time? That is a much narrower point than has been stated by the hon. Member for East-bourne (Mr. Marjoribanks). What is the Dominion legislation that we are called upon to deal with? I myself have introduced such legislation, but it was only done at the request of the Dominion of Canada, and was covered by the British North America Act. If the Dominion Parliament made such a request in the usual way, by petition to His Majesty and so on, would the House of Commons say that they should be the best judges with regard, for instance, to the interpretation of the British North America Act? Should we ever be called upon to-day to pass any legislation that attempted to interfere in any way with the status of any of our Dominions? Canada especially is protected by the British North America Act, and preserves the right to go through the usual formality of petitioning the King, and, through His Majesty, requesting the House of Commons to pass certain legislation. I think that on the last occasion on which that was done it was to confer certain rights on Manitoba. I remember introducing the Bill in five minutes, and the whole House readily agreed to it. Why should any Member of this House desire to tell Canada what was good for one of her own Provinces? That is a power which the Dominions exercise to-day, and will continue to exercise. The real answer to the Amendment is that the procedure which exists to-day will be preserved under this Bill, and that is why we are unable to accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Edward Marjoribanks Mr Edward Marjoribanks , Eastbourne

I am sorry, but the right hon. Gentleman seems to have misunderstood me to a certain extent. If the right view is that this does not deprive the Imperial Parliament of the power to discuss Imperial Bills, I am perfectly satisfied, but I wish to make that clear by putting in au express provision to safeguard it. If it only expresses what the right hon. Gentleman wishes, then, for my own part, I do not see why it should not be included in the Bill. When I said that there were misgivings in the Australian Parliament on this very matter, I was only stating what is true, because my arguments are taken directly from a speech by Mr. Latham in the Australian Parliament. I will not weary the House by reading it, but the arguments were the same with regard to such legislation being introduced at the request of the Dominion concerned.

Mr. THOMAS:

I must again correct the hon. Member. I do so because so much interest has been taken in this matter—and it is a good thing that in a new House of Commons there should be such an interest in Imperial matters —and I must not allow the hon. Member or anyone else to be confused. Suppose that a Bill were being discussed in Australia or Canada at this moment, involving Imperial questions affecting this country, and suppose that a speaker got up in support of it and said, "But I want this House to remember what Great Britain thinks of it." The implication would be that he was speaking of the British Government, but he might be quoting the Leader of the Opposition and his audience might not know it. See what an unfortunate situation that would create. So far as the Governments and the Imperial Conference are concerned, they are not, and cannot be, concerned with mere party politics. The last Im- perial Conference, and, indeed, every Imperial Conference, comprised representatives of Governments whose political opinions varied—sometimes a Labour Government in Australia, a Liberal Government in Canada, and so on; but, so far as the Governments themselves are concerned, and so far as we are concerned, the only authoritative view that we can legitimately take is that expressed by the Government of the day, whoever they are. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear in mind the fact that, so far as we are concerned, the expressions of opinion have come all the time from the Government of the day, and that that, after all, is the only authoritative opinion.

Photo of Mr Edward Marjoribanks Mr Edward Marjoribanks , Eastbourne

I quite accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and am sorry that I should have confused him.

Photo of Mr Cyril Atkinson Mr Cyril Atkinson , Altrincham

I should like to be quite clear on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that if, say, the Dominion of Canada asked us to make particular alterations in one of the Acts referred to in Clause 7 of this Bill, that is to say, the British North America Acts, this House has got to pass that Bill in the precise form in which they request us to pass it, and that we have no power to alter a single word in the Bill which they request us to pass.

Mr. THOMAS:

I do not put it so high as that. The British North America Acts give certain rights, which the Canadian people are very jealous of preserving, but the overriding part is that it rests with this Parliament, at the request of Canada, to give expression, in the way that they desire, to their petition, as was done, for instance, on the last occasion, when, as I have said, some rights to Manitoba were involved. There is a petition to His Majesty, and then a request to the House of Commons. It would not be true to say that every word of such a Bill would not be subject to scrutiny here, because we could scrutinise it, but it would be true to say that there is nothing on record to show that, in the event of a petition under the British North America Act, the principle of that petition would be interfered with by this Parliament. It would be wrong to do so. It would be saying that we ourselves are going to exercise the right to tell Canada what exactly she thinks she wants. I hope that my hon. Friend will not confuse the issue by continuing to say that it would not be possible to alter a word. I do not say that, but I do say that it would be inconsistent and inconceivable that this Parliament should alter the principle for which the Dominion had asked.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hurst Sir Gerald Hurst , Manchester Moss Side

I am quite satisfied, and I think my friends are, with what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.