I beg to move Clause 1 as follows:—"No action or other legal proceeding whatsoever whether civil or criminal shall be instituted in any Court of law or equity in Saorstát Eireann for or on account of or in respect of any act, matter or thing done after the 23rd day of April, 1916, and before the date of the passing of this Act, by any person or under the authority of any person who, at the time when the act, matter or thing was done, held any office under or was employed in the service of the British Crown or the British Government in any capacity, whether naval, military, air-force, police or civil, provided such act, matter or thing was done or in good faith purported to be done in execution of the duty of the person doing the same, or in exercise or execution of any authority conferred on such person or on the person under whose authority such person was acting by any statute of the British Parliament or any statutory or other order of the British Government, or was in good faith purported to be done for the defence of the then existing form of government in Ireland, or for the public safety or otherwise in the public interest."
APPOINTMENT OF COMPTROLLER AND AUDITOR-GENERAL. - AMNESTY (BRITISH MILITARY) BILL—COMMITTEE.
I have given notice of two amendments to this Clause, and I had hoped that the President in moving the Clause might have given some intimation of the views of the Government upon the points raised by my amendments. The first amendment which will raise the question definitely is to insert after the words "Saorstát Eireann" in line 17 the words "against any person." The reason for that amendment is this. The Crown is not bound by statute unless the Petition of Right is a claim against the King personally for compensation for property taken in the name of the Crown as such for the defence of the realm, and a later clause in this act expressly says that a Petition of Right is an action or legal proceeding within the meaning of this Act. Therefore, there is no doubt whatever that if the Bill passes into law in the form in which it stands at present, no Petition or Right would lie for compensation for property taken in the public defence, or in the words in the last line of Clause 1, "for the public safety or otherwise in the public interest." My impression was that when leave to introduce the Bill was asked for, we were told, and I have no doubt it was the intention of the Government, that this Act should apply only to those servants of the Crown, military or civil, who, in the course of what is called the recent conflict with the British Government had performed their duty or exceeded their duty, and had by such performance or excess become liable to personal action against them. I do not think that there ever was any intention that the public funds of the then United Kingdom should be relieved in any way from any relief claimed against them by the citizens of Saorstát Eireann. Now, to my own knowledge, there are many cases in which property was taken, not for the purposes of the conflict between Great Britain and Ireland at all but for the purposes of the European War, and in that sense for the public safety or public interest after April, 1916. It is common knowledge that America did not come into the war until long after April, 1916, and property was taken in many parts of Ireland and to my own knowledge in the neighbourhood of Cork for American Aerodromes, Hospitals, and American Naval Services, to make provision for the forces that came later from the United States to help the Allies. In many cases compensation for property was demanded and the question is still pending, and no compensation was given. Until quite recently the view of the British Government was that these claims could only be brought before a tribunal they set up for the purposes of the war called the "War Claims Compensation Committee," or something of that sort. That Committee awarded compensation as a gratuity and a gratuity only and declined to recognise any right of the subject to receive compensation as a right. But in a very well known and important case of a great hotel in London commandeered, not for defence purposes at all but for administrative purposes, a claim was formulated against the Crown in the form known as a Petition of Right, and after many vicissitudes it found its way to the House of Lords, and the House of Lords finally decided against the Government, that nothing in the Defence of the Realm Act or the orders made under that Act debarred the right of the subject to petition against the King himself, to proceed for such lawful compensation as he may be entitled to for the taking of his property for the defence of the realm. It was a very important decision indeed because it overthrew the contention of the Government of the day that you had to go with your hat in your hand to a committee that ladled out so much compensation as it thought fit, and you had to take that, and if you did not choose to take what they gave you, you did not get anything at all. The decision in the hotel case resulted in this, that the subject who did not care to go before this Committee on Gratuities had the right to go to the tribunals of the country, to the juries of his fellow countrymen, and get them to assess reasonable compensation which the State should pay. Now, if this Amnesty Bill becomes law in the form in which it is drawn it seems to me to be perfectly clear that none of those citizens of our country who have at present unsettled claims against the British Government for property commandeered in the conflict between us and them, and for the conflict in which the Allies with Great Britain were then engaged in Europe, will have any right at all against any person to recover compensation. The only right they have left is a claim under the Defence Act of 1842, which was really an Act, like the Railways Act, which gave that right to every citizen to have compensation assessed by the jury of his fellow-countrymen who could reasonably assess the proper compensation to be paid by the Crown as representing the State. The form of Petition of Right is a claim by the subject against the King himself as representing the head of the State, and damages are awarded out of the public exchequer. The public exchequer out of which that compensation would be given would be not the exchequer of the Irish Free State, which was not then in existence, but the British exchequer, and would be payable properly out of that, because it is compensation for property taken for the preservation of the then United Kingdom against a foreign foe. I have put down a series of amendments, and I think they all either stand or fall together. They are small in extent, but the object and the effect of them will be to preserve the right of any citizen of this country whose property is taken by the State for the defence of the State to proceed against the then State for the compensation to which he is lawfully entitled. If these amendments are not accepted and the Bill passes in the form in which it has been drafted, no citizen who is entitled to compensation will have any right to recover against anybody at all. The object of this Bill, as we all understood, was to relieve those servants of the Crown from personal actions against themselves for personal wrongs done, or alleged to have been done, by themselves, and it was never intended to relieve the State against any lawful claims against the State for property taken by the State for State purposes. The first amendment I have proposed will, as I have said, really raise the matter, because I move to insert after the words, "Saorstát Eireann" the words "against any person." I do not think that "persons" there can be held to include the King as representing the State, provided you strike out in Clause 3 "the provision by Petition of Right." I do not know how the Petition of Right got into this Bill. The Bill was intended to relieve civil and military servants of the Crown, and no petition lies against them. As Deputies know, Petition of Right is a form of claim against the King himself, and not against any of his subjects. I do not think there was any intention in this Dáil when the Government entered into negotiations of amnesty between England and Ireland for wrongs done by either country against the other in conflict, to exonerate the State from what it had done. I beg to move the first amendment.
There are three amendments dealing with Clause 1. The first is to insert after the words "Saorstát Eireann" the words "against any person." I have to ask the Dáil for time to consider that until the Report Stage. We are prepared to agree to substitute the word "maintenance" for the word "defence" in line 30. I have to ask for time also to consider the amendment proposing to delete the last paragraph in lines 31 and 32, commencing with the words "or for the public safety."
Does the President accept the first amendment?
I say it is one that we have to consider. We accept the word "maintenance" for "defence" and we would have to consider the other two.
I do not want to press this amendment in any way that would embarrass the Government. I know the Bill has been prepared naturally with speed and that certain negotiations must go on in connection with it. I spoke fully on the amendment because I want to bring home to the Government and the Dáil the very great importance of the question involved.
Will the deferring of any decision on this stage of these amendments preclude the possibility of a full discussion on the Report Stage? Would it not be better as these are the only amendments, to defer discussion on the Committee Stage until the Government have had time to consider them?
As a matter of order it was hardly possible, in view of the time this Bill was issued, to conform to the requirements of the Standing Orders in the way of amendments, and I had intended, with your permission, to inquire whether the consideration would take the form of putting up suggestions to the Minister rather than of actually proposing an amendment. I presume that would be in order.
It seems to me the best procedure would be to postpone the Committee Stage as the only object in having the Committee Stage to-day is in order that the Bill might pass through all stages on Wednesday next, or whenever the Dáil meets again. If the Committee Stage was postponed now it might be agreeable to take it and all the other stages on the same day, if there were any urgency. That I think would allow for amendments and a fuller discussion in the Dáil.
Is the Committee Stage postponed?
Perhaps all the amendments could be taken on the one day.
If that is so, I would like, and it would save time, if I hand to you, and through you to the Minister, a further amendment I had proposed in lieu of the deletion of Clause 3. I had intended to move it in Committee, but it seems to me it would meet the object I had in view better than the deletion of Clause 3, and it might commend itself to the Ministry. That was instead of the deletion of Clause 3, sub-section A, to provide "That a Petition of Right shall not be deemed to be an action or a legal proceeding." The effect of that would be to preserve the remedy of the subject by Petition of Right, and make it quite clear that claims against the Crown as such were not wiped out by this statute.
Perhaps I might also refer to one very small matter which might meet the wishes of the Ministry to make the title conform to Clause 6; that is to say, instead of calling it the Amnesty (British Military) Bill it should be called the Indemnity (British Military) Act There may be nothing in it, but when one notices that in addition to military, police or civil persons are included, it might be unwise to confine the title to British military You could say, servants of the British Crown, or something of that kind.
I take it the Committee Stage will be taken on Wednesday.
I wonder if Deputies can let us have amendments to-morrow, so that they can be circulated on Tuesday, allowing Deputies a whole day to consider them before the Committee Stage comes on. Certain notices have already been given.