§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Churchill)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I feel that I am entitled to ask the indulgence of the House because I have had to make so many inroads on their attention and upon their patience on Irish matters during the course of the present week, but I have felt that on the whole it is a good thing to keep the House most closely in touch with every move and change in the Irish situation and to publish the full picture of Ireland which is presented both by the Northern and Southern Governments before the House and the country from day to day. It is my duty to ask the approval of the House for this Bill. It gives effect to the Treaty which both Houses of Parliament have already approved by such large majorities. It clothes the Provisional Government with lawful power and enables them to hold an election under favourable conditions at the earliest moment. The importance and urgency of this Bill are plain. Take, for instance, the object of clothing the Irish Provisional Government with law. Is it not fatal to peace, social order and good Government to have power wielded by men who have no legal authority? Every day it continues is a reproach to the administration of the Empire. Every day tends to bring into contempt those solemn forms of procedure on the observance of which in every country the structure of civilised society depends. Only three days ago I spoke about some criminals, murderous criminals, who had been caught by the Irish Provisional Government in Southern Ireland, accused of murdering and robbing a British officer, and I said that I presumed that they would be handed over to be dealt with with the full rigour of the law. I was interrupted by an hon. Friend on these Benches with the remarks: "There is no law," and "What law?" It is perfectly true, but is it reasonable to make such interruptions and not support the Bill which alone can clothe with law the acts of the Irish 1262 Government? A Provisional Government, unsanctified by law, yet recognised by the Crown, by His Majesty's Ministers, is an anomaly, unprecedented in the history of the British Empire. Its continuance one day longer than is necessary is derogatory to Parliament, to the Nation, and to the Crown. We must legalise and regularise our action. Contempt of law is one of the great evils manifesting themselves in many parts of the world at the present time, and it is disastrous for the Imperial Parliament to connive at or countenance such a situation in Ireland for one day longer than is absolutely necessary.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Yes, with the full approval of both Houses of Parliament. Moreover, what chance does such a situation give to the Irish Executive who, at the request of the King's representative in Ireland—made, of course, on the advice of His Majesty's Government—have assumed the very great burden and responsibility of directing Irish affairs? How can you expect such a Government to enforce a respect for its decisions when such decisions are absolutely unsanctioned by law? How can you wonder that such Ministers are set at defiance by the more turbulent elements amongst their followers and that the prisoners captured from the Northern Border have to be released, not by powerful authoritative action, but by processes of expostulation and persuasion? I am asked questions every day about the non-payment of rents in Ireland, about the spread of lawlessness, and even anarchy, in different parts of the country, about crimes of violence against persons and property increasingly committed among a population hitherto singularly free from common crime as opposed to political crime. I am asked these questions every day, and I ask in my turn: "How can you expect these tendencies to be arrested except by a Government entitled to display the insignia of lawful power and to proceed by methods which have the sanction of antiquity and prescription?" I notice that this succession of unanswerable truisms excites no challenge.
The Bill, in addition, will enable an election to be held in Ireland at an early date under favourable circumstances, or under the least unfavourable circum- 1263 stances which are possible. What are the objects to be sought at this election? I am going to tell some of those objects to the House. The first of these objects is a National decision upon the Treaty by the Irish people. I am asked every day by my hon. Friends below the Gangway questions about the Irish Republican Army. I will explain the view of the Irish Government on that point. It is very important we should understand the different points of view. Whether we agree with them, or sympathise with them, or recognise them, is quite another matter, but it is important we should understand them. This is the view of the Irish Government, the Irish signatories of the Treaty. Their view is that the Irish Republic was set up by the Irish people at the elections which took place during the Conference, and that this Irish Republic can only be converted into an Irish Free State by the decision of the Irish people. That is not our view. We do not recognise the Irish Republic. We have never recognised it, and never will recognise it. I am explaining their view and they say that they were elected by the Irish people on a certain basis, and that only the Irish people can release them. They are determined to stand by the Treaty and to use their utmost influence with the Irish people to procure their adhesion to the Treaty, and that will, from the Irish point of view, be the act which will disestablish finally the Republic. Take Mr. Griffith's position. Mr. Griffith has not joined this Government. He has been chosen as the President of the Dail. He is also, in Irish eyes, the President of the non-recognised Irish Republic, and if the Irish people accept his advice and guidance, and ratify the Treaty and endorse the Treaty which he has signed, he will be able to disestablish the Irish Republic and to lay aside these functions. These matters do not affect us in our procedure in any way; but is it not a desirable thing that upon the authority of the Irish people recorded at an election, the Republican idea should be definitely, finally and completely put aside?
The second object of the election is to secure an adequate constituent assembly. You certainly have not got that now. To try to make a constitution for the Irish Free State with the present truncated body, almost half of whose 1264 Members have definitely seceded from the Southern Irish Parliament, would be an impossible task, and were such a constitution made it would not command any definite or lasting assent among the Irish people. The third object—and I commend this to the serious consideration of the House, of British Members as well as of Ulster Members—is to secure afresh a normal, and if I may say so, a sensible Parliament in Ireland. How was this present Parliament made? The men who were elected to it were chosen, not because of any fitness for conducting business—[An HON. MEMBER: "Just the same as this Parliament."]—they were chosen because they were the men thought to be most obnoxious to the British power at a time when passions were at their fiercest. This Parliament was made out of men who hated this country most in Ireland. It is obvious that if any progress is to be made, we must get, or there ought to be—for after all, it is not for us finally to decide—a Parliament which represents the hope of the future rather than the hate of the past.
Lastly, it is a bad thing for any body of Ministers to continue in a position of power without being supported in that position by a national mandate. [Interruption.] If that interruption is intended to have any application to this bench, it is singularly inapplicable, considering that the mere rumour that Ministers were inclined to seek a renewal of their mandate was greeted with the most violent and most panic-stricken protest. Irish Ministers must know where they stand with the Irish nation. Some people think that they have waited too long already in choosing the time of their election. The sooner that election comes in Ireland the better. I am anxious to deal with every aspect. I shall be asked: "Supposing Mr. de Valera and his friends win this election in Ireland, what is to happen then?" If I do not deal with this now, I shall be blamed for leaving, it out. Let me say, I do not think that there is any advantage in speculating upon these ugly hypotheses. It is perfectly clear that the repudiation by Ireland of the Treaty would free all parties from their engagements, and that the position of Great Britain, standing on the Treaty, ready to carry out the Treaty, if others could be found, on behalf of the Irish nation, to do their part, that that 1265 position would be one of great moral as well as of undoubted material strength. The position of Southern Ireland, on the other hand, would be one of the greatest weakness and division—absolutely isolated from the sympathy of the world, bitterly divided in herself. The position of Northern Ireland would be also quite unaffected. I do not think it is prudent or necessary at this stage to assume for a moment such a result, and all the information we are able to obtain leads us to feel that any such treatment would not only be unnecessary but incorrect. But it Would be a pity for us to go threatening and blustering at this stage and to give the impression that the Irish people are being made to vote under duress or at the point of the bayonet. All such language and suggestions would be very unhelpful at the present time, and if such language were indulged in, the fact that it could be stated that the votes had been given under duress would tend to impair the authority of the decision at a subsequent date. That is what I have to say on a perfectly fair point which may be made as to who would win the Irish election.
There is another suggestion which is made and with which I must deal. There are those who think that the present Irish Government may be overturned by a coup d'état and that a red Soviet Republic may be set up. We do not think that is at all likely, but if it were it is quite clear that a Soviet Republic in Ireland would ruin the Irish cause for 100 years, but would not in any respect impair the foundations of the British Empire or the security of Ulster. No people in the world are really less likely to turn Bolshevik than the Irish. Their strong sense of personal possession, their respect for the position of women, their love of country and their religious convictions constitute them in a peculiar sense the most sure and unyielding opponents of the withering and levelling doctrines of Russia. What we know of the characters and personalities at the head of the Provisional Government in Ireland leads us also to believe that they are not the men who would tamely sit still and suffer the fate of a Kerensky. Therefore I do not think this second evil alternative is one which we need allow to embarrass us or obstruct our thoughts and decisions at the present time. But this Irish Government, this Irish Ministry, ought not to be left 1266 in the position in which even the most necessary measures which they take for their own defence or for the enforcement of authority, or even for the maintenance of law and the suppression of brigandage or mutiny, are devoid of formal sanction.
If you want to see Ireland degenerate into a meaningless welter of lawless chaos and confusion, delay this Bill. If you wish to see increasingly serious bloodshed all along the borders of Ulster, delay this Bill. If you want this House to have on its hands, as it now has, the responsibility for peace and order in Southern Ireland, without the means of enforcing it, if you want to impose those same evil conditions upon the Irish Provisional Government, delay this Bill. If you want to enable dangerous and extreme men, working out schemes of hatred in subterranean secrecy, to undermine and overturn a Government which is faithfully doing its best to keep its word with us and enabling us to keep our word with it, delay this Bill. If you want to proclaim to all the world, week after week, that the British Empire can get on just as well without law as with it, then you will delay this Bill. But if you wish to give a fair chance to a policy to which Parliament has pledged itself, and to Irish Ministers to whom you are bound in good faith, so long as they act faithfully with you, to give fair play and a fair chance, if you wish to see Ireland brought back from the confusion of tyranny to a reign of law, if you wish to give logical and coherent effect to the policy and experiment to which we are committed, you will not impede, even for a single unnecessary week, the passage of this Bill.
Surveying the whole situation since we met in the winter and approved of the Irish Treaty, I ask myself this question: Ought we to regret what we then did? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes," and "No!"] In endeavouring to examine this matter with candour I do not feel that that question is one which we ought to leave on one side. Ought we to regret having made the settlement and signed the Treaty? I am looking at it, not from an Irish point of view which I am not specially concerned as a British Member; I am looking at it from a British point of view. I think we are better off in every respect in this Irish matter than we were six months ago. Contrast the position which we are now in and the position in which we were six months ago. Contrast the difficulties 1267 of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, the impossible position in which he was, with the position in which the Government now stands. I know I have differences in this matter with hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. They will see that I am endeavouring to deal with the subject in a reasonable manner worthy of its gravity, and in a spirit of mutual respect, even with those with whom, no doubt, there are naturally large and legitimate differences.
Contrast the positions. It appears to me as if the tables were turned. Ireland, not Britain, is on her trial before the nations of the world. Six months ago it was we who had to justify ourselves against every form of attack. Now it is the Irish people who, as they tell us, after 700 years of oppression, have at last an opportunity to show the kind of government that they can give to their country and the position which they can occupy amongst the nations of the world. An enormous improvement in the situation, as I see it, has been effected in the last six months. Take the position of Ulster. The position of Ulster is one of great and unshakable strength, not only material strength, but moral strength. There was a time when, as is well known, I and others with whom I was then associated thought that Ulster was not securing her own position, but was barring the way to the rest of Ireland to obtain what they wanted. Those days are done. Ulster, by a sacrifice and by an effort, has definitely stood out of the path of the rest of Ireland, and claims only those liberties and securities which are her own, and standing on her own rights, supported as she is and as she will be by the whole force and power, if necessary, of the British Empire, I am entitled to say that she is in a position of great moral and material strength at the present time.
The position of the Imperial Government has also become greatly improved. It is very desirable that the great affairs of the British Empire should be increasingly detached from the terrible curse of this long internal Irish quarrel, and that the august Imperial authorities should stand on a more impartial plane. I think we have nothing to regret in the course we took last December, as far as the Imperial Government, or as far as Ulster 1268 is concerned, with one exception with which I shall deal later. But the position of Ireland is one which deserves a much greater measure of sympathy. The position of Southern Ireland is one of great difficulty and danger. The trials and responsibilities of the new Government are most serious. I have explained the weakness of their present position. I have explained how urgent it is that we should come with this Bill and clothe them with greater authority and strength. We see the efforts they are making. We cannot tell how far they will be successful. All the world is looking on at their performance. They are the people at the present time, not Ulster, not Great Britain, whose difficulties and whose task deserve sympathy and support.
Take the case of the signatories of the Treaty, the men who put their names to that document in Downing Street in December. They go back to their own comrades or colleagues in Ireland, with whom they were working. They are practically put on their trial for having betrayed the Irish Republic. These men who, whatever you may think of them, at any rate from their own country's point of view were the most vigorous and effective fighting men, were absolutely put on their trial and condemned by the more talkative section, largely composed of people whom the British Government all through regarded as perfectly harmless, and some of whom we gave the strictest instructions, should not be arrested, and when on some occasions they were arrested by mistake, they were let loose again, as you return under-sized fish to the water. These men, I say, standing by the Treaty against this kind of unfair attack, as long as they stand by the Treaty and we have confidence in them, deserve our help and deserve to be given the means of making good.
The situation on the frontier of Northern Ireland has, I think, been a little improved by the agreement of both Governments to the establishment of a border Commission to make sure that there is no hostile attack on a large scale being organised on the one side or the other. It has also been improved, I think, by the agreement of both Governments to an impartial Commission of Inquiry into the Clones affair; and it has been, I think, generally improved by the control which has been enforced. I hope that the releases of the kidnapped 1269 men will continue. Twenty-six have already been released, and I hope the releases will continue in the next few days until that matter is completely cleared out of the way. The position in Belfast is terrible. Things are being done there of a most awful character, and I know the efforts that are being made by the Northern Government to calm things there, and to control the people and the furious and inhuman passions that are alive amongst certain sections of the population, Catholic and Protestant. I do trust that in the near future, whatever may have occurred since their last meeting, there will be some form of parley between the heads of the two Governments, or representatives of the two Governments. I would point out that the Southern Government has definitely, formally, asked for such a meeting. I do trust it may be possible to bring it about in the course of the next few days or weeks. It is most desirable, from every point of view, to arrive at some method of calming the terrible vendettas and the counter-vendettas which are rife in the streets and in the alleys of Belfast.
I come to the difficult part of what I have to say to the House. I come to the question of the Boundary Commission. There is an Amendment on the Paper, which definitely challenges the whole policy and position of the Government upon the Treaty in this particular respect. I have no doubt that we shall be asked in the course of the discussion to give an assurance, on this side or on that side, of what was meant, what we thought, or what was intended. It may be very proper that legal authority should inform the House what they consider is the interpretation of the Treaty. It may be perfectly right and proper for Ministers to state to the House what they meant and intended when they signed the Treaty, but, as the House will see, nothing that can be said now can possibly affect the Treaty. The Treaty, in Article 12, prescribes what is going to be done, what is going to happen, and we have no power, except by tearing up the Treaty, to alter what is prescribed in that Article. No declaration that may be made now will have the power to alter that Article. When the time comes it will have to be interpreted in the manner prescribed in the Treaty. By that interpretation we 1270 shall be bound. Those who signed the Treaty will be absolutely bound, and those who have voted for the Treaty will also be bound to accept that interpretation.
I think it much better—and I am going to put everything quite plainly and bluntly before the House—that we should know exactly where we are. I know that will be the feeling of my hon. Friends who have the special interests of Ulster in their charge. Of course, all this trouble in regard to the boundaries surrounds the boundaries of Fermanagh and Tyrone. I remember on the eve of the Great War we were gathered together at a Cabinet meeting in Downing Street, and for a long time, an hour or an hour and a half, after the failure of the Buckingham Palace Conference, we discussed the boundaries of Fermanagh and Tyrone. Both of the great political parties were at each other's throats. The air was full of talk of civil war. Every effort was made to settle the matter and bring them together. The differences had been narrowed down, not merely to the counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone, but to parishes and groups of parishes inside the areas of Fermanagh and Tyrone, and yet, even when the differences had been so narrowed down, the problem appeared to be as insuperable as ever, and neither side would agree to roach any conclusion.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am where I was. Then came the great War. Every institution, almost, in the, world was strained. Great Empires have been overturned. The whole map of Europe has been changed. The position of countries has been violently altered. The modes of thought of men, the whole outlook on affairs, the grouping of parties, all have encountered violent and tremendous changes in the deluge of the world, but as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that has been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world. That says a lot for the persistency with which Irish men on the one side or the other are able to pursue their controversies. It says a great deal for the power which Ireland has, both 1271 Nationalist and Orange, to lay their hands upon the vital strings of British life and politics, and to hold, dominate, and convulse, year after year, generation after generation, the politics of this powerful country.
I am going to speak plainly, and if I say anything which my hon. Friends below the Gangway who represent Ulster do not approve of, do not let them think that I am expecting them to agree. I am trying to show them the outlook upon the subject which we have at the present time, and to put them in a position to do what they think is their duty, without any chance of misunderstanding or misconception. I was speaking just now of the great strength of the Ulster position at the present time, morally and materially. In that position there is, it seems to me, only one weak point and it is this: Certain of these districts in Fermanagh and Tyrone, even in the county boundary, may be districts in which—I am not pre-judging—the majority of the inhabitants will prefer to join the Irish Free State. If that be true, and to the extent to which that is true, one feels that the tremendous arguments which protect the freedom of Protestant Ulster have, in those districts, lost their application and have, possibly, an opposite application. There is also one weak point in the position of His Majesty's Government in respect to Ulster and in the position of the Ministers who signed the Treaty in respect to Ulster. I am not concealing it for a moment. I am locating it, defining it and exposing it. This is the weak point: The Boundary Commission to be set up under Article 12 affects the existing frontiers of the Ulster Government and may conceivably affect them prejudicially. It is far better to face facts and not to gloss them over. To that extent, Ulster may have a ground of complaint against the Government. What is the answer which the Government will make? I cannot do better than quote the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Glasgow (Mr. Bonar Law), the late Leader of the House. That right hon. Gentleman, whose re-appearance in the winter Session gave so much pleasure to the House, in speaking on this subject, in his cool, judicial, and fair-minded way, said:Very likely the Government felt that if they did not conclude the negotiations right 1272 away they might not conclude them at all. If so, I think that that is a defence which ought to be seriously taken into account."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1921; cols. 203–4, Vol. 149.]I think to-day also it ought seriously to be taken into account. We were bound, we considered ourselves bound, to try to reach a settlement. Had we waited to refer the details of that settlement at the last moment to the Northern Government it is quite evident by what occurred in the Dail, and by the violent opposition encountered there, that no settlement would have been achieved at all. Therefore, we agreed to the Boundary Commission. We agreed to it with, no doubt, a feeling that the argumentative position of this country in regard to some of those districts in Fermanagh and Tyrone was not as strong as in regard to what is characteristically the Protestant part. We agreed, knowing well that outside the limits of those counties there are also Protestant districts of great importance and considerable population and dimensions which it seemed to us must be taken into account and consideration in the general question of rectifying the boundaries which is entrusted to the Boundary Commission. There is no doubt whatever that we felt the difficulty in this matter. If we are accused to-day of having brought the settlement to a conclusion without having referred it, as we should have liked to do in this matter, at the last moment to the Northern Government—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I will deal with that point in a moment, and I think we shall not have any difference on the subject. If we are reproached for that, let the House consider what would have been the position of this country as a whole, not the position of the Government, but of the country, sore pressed at the present time with burdens, with threats, with menaces in every quarter of the world, if we had had to break off the Conference, destroy the negotiations, and embark upon what was literally the re-conquest of Ireland, at enormous expense in money and in men, to embark upon bloodshed, upon a far larger scale than anything that had ever occurred and to appeal to the country for support, when the only difference which could be disclosed would not be the question of allegiance to the Crown, or of common citizenship in the British 1273 Empire; not the question of the exclusion or the right of Ulster to contract out—it would not have been any of those questions which did in former times, and might in future almost justify men in their wrath in drawing the sword, but simply the question of the right of option of certain Catholic districts in Fermanagh and Tyrone and, of course, certain Protestant districts in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan and elsewhere. We may be censured, but we must be judged in relation to the whole situation and in regard to our efforts to cope with it.
There is really no need for anger on the point. If we have done wrong, action should be taken by the House without anger being shown. If our supporters in the House feel convinced that we have done wrong in the Boundaries Clause, into which we have entered, and from which, having pledged ourselves to it, it is altogether out of our power to recede, if they think it impossible on general grounds to endorse our action, then they should do their duty as we have endeavoured to do ours. This is no time for any Government to ask favours. This is no question on which this Government stands in need of asking a favour. The issues are far too serious. The days in which we live are far too difficult. The burden of affairs is far too onerous for any Government to wish to hold office except on public grounds and for public causes. The question should therefore be dealt with quite impersonally, quite dispassionately, with mutual respect, and without heat or recrimination on either side. But before any Member, wherever he may sit, takes the momentous step of voting for an Amendment which, if carried, will destroy the Treaty and the Administration pledged to the Treaty, let him ponder carefully and long upon the responsibilities to be assumed and upon the alternatives which are involved, upon the consequences which would surely follow. Let him, as Mr. Gladstone said 40 years ago at this box, think well, think wisely, think not for the moment but for the years that are to come.
If I am not trespassing on the time of the House, I will conclude the full scope of the argument which I am endeavouring to submit. If the House in its wisdom decides that we are not to take that step, if it decides, as we think it will, to stand by the Treaty at all costs, then let us see what the future course of events is likely 1274 to be. I am going to try to make a forecast and give a time-table of the next few months for the information of this House and, of course, I make it, as they say, with all reserve, and with a prophetic sense which has been frequently corrected by contact with ultimate realities—but not so frequently as is commonly supposed. The first thing to do is to pass this Bill through both Houses of Parliament, which we may hope will be achieved in the course of the next month. Do you want more margin than that?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The next thing will be the holding of the Irish election, which I might provisionally fix for March or April. The next thing is that the Irish Free State Parliament should assemble and, acting as a Constituent Assembly, should make the Constitution. Let us hope that that will be in progress in May or June. Then there is the final confirmatory legislation of the Imperial Parliament, which, we may say, will take place in June or July, if the time-table were observed. I must read on this point the actual words of what we have agreed with our co-signatories of the Treaty in this respect. The question is from what gate, according to the Treaty, does the Ulster option month begin to run. Does it run from the passing of this Bill or from the passing of the final confirmatory Act. There were differences of opinion on this point:There is a doubt as to whether on the strict reading and interpretation of the Treaty the month in which North East Ulster must exercise its option does not run from the date of the passing of this Bill. The Irish Ministers hold quite definitely that it should. On the other hand the Attorney-General holds a different view as to the correct interpretation. The Irish Ministers, however, recognising that as a matter of fairness, apart from strict interpretation, much could be said as to the advisability of allowing North East Ulster to consider the Constitution of the Irish Free State before exercising her option, they are willing not to insist on their construction and to allow the month to run as from the date of the Act of the British Parliament recognising the constitution framed by the Provisional Parliament.These are the exact words agreed to with the co-signatories of the Treaty. We have not in any way departed from our reading of the Treaty, nor they from theirs, but they have waived their point on the 1275 ground of what they think reasonable and fair in respect to the exercise of the option.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It does not require any special legislation. It is a question of the interpretation in good faith of the Treaty by the parties. We are convinced that the words of the Treaty justify the reading of which the Attorney-General has approved, but there will be no quarrel about it because, apart from questions of law altogether, the other signatories to the Treaty agree as a matter of reason and fair play, and so it comes to this—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is a question of the interpretation of the Treaty, and of extending the option, and extending it in such a form that Ulster can see what form of constitution it is and what kind of Government it is that they are invited to decide as to whether they will accept it or not. I should like to know what would have been said if we had been told that under the Treaty the option was to run from the passing of this Bill, and that Ulster had to take a decision of the kind without even seeing the kind of Government or the form of constitution with which she was invited to associate herself. There are enough real grievances now without our going out of the way to look for imaginary grievances.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
Will it be open to the Northern Government in Ireland to pass their address within a month after the passing of this Act, because their object will be to pass it at the earliest possible moment?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No. The constitutional time for presenting the Address under the Treaty will be within a month of the passing of the final confirmatory legislation promulgating the constitution of the Irish Free State. Meanwhile Ulster is wholly unaffected by this legislation. If the House will follow this time table they will see that it cannot be until the end of July or the beginning of August at the very earliest that the Boundaries Commission could commence its complicated labours.
1276 Therefore it cannot be until September or October at the earliest, and it may possibly be a much more remote date, if the constitution of the Irish Free State takes longer in the making than the 2 months, which is certainly a possibility, or if the Boundaries Commission takes longer than 2 or 3 months, before this decision upon the boundaries can possibly be arrived at.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Then our task will be greatly simplified. But it will be said—it is said, and I quite understand the feeling—"are we to be kept in this uncertainty all these months? Things will be getting worse all the time." Even if that were so, we should have to face it. There is no way of avoiding it. If it is true that things are going to get continually worse we have got to stand up to that fact.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We shall have to face what will come. It is inevitable. But why should you assume that things will get worse during all this time, provided, of course, that we all try to make them better, and that no one, who has any influence or responsibility, tries to make them worse? I do not think that things are bound to get worse. I think, on the contrary, that they are going to get better. In order to form a reasonable opinion about the next few months it is necessary to study the real interests of both parties in North Ireland and South Ireland. Let us begin with the North. There was the Craig-Collins interview of 3 weeks or a month ago, and its great decision, which was taken between the heads of the two Governments by agreement. So far as the boundaries question is concerned it is evident that the discussion which then took place was premature, and that it was not possible to arrive at a clear understanding upon that subject. When both parties to that agreement began to address their own 1277 supporters they found that the discrepancies between their views and the gaps between their claims were so large that that part of the agreement has undoubtedly at present completely broken down. But as to other parts of the agreement I do not agree, nor does the Prime Minister of North Ireland, that that has been the case. The removal of the boycott in Southern Ireland has been, on the whole, effective to a very large extent, and I know that great efforts have been made by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to mitigate the lot of the Catholic workers who were discharged during the late trouble, and who are now out of work.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I will not deal with that. I know that efforts are being made by Sir James Craig, and he has approached me on the subject, to see what assistance the British Government can render, and that these efforts will continue to be made in a loyal and faithful spirit I am confident. Then there is the most important question of an alteration in the form of the Council of Ireland. The Council of Ireland cannot be altered except by mutual consent, but anything can be done by the mutual consent of the two Irish Governments. This House, I am certain, would hasten to ratify and give effect to anything in the nature of a settlement or agreement reached between the two Governments. I have just received a letter from Sir James Craig on this subject. It is dated 15th February. The Prime Minister says:The Government of Northern Ireland has been carefully considering the subject of the continuance under the new Free State Act of the Council of Ireland and has come to the conclusion that it would be advisable for many reasons to substitute some other means of dealing with those services entrusted to the Council by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. It will be within your recollection that in the agreement I reached with Mr. Collins, a change was hinted at to which he was by no means averse. It appears to me the position of the Council under Article 12 of the Treaty would be both unworkable and likely to lead to continuous irritation between the two Governments. We have had experience already of the Ministers for Labour in Northern and Southern Ireland respectively meeting together to settle matters in dispute as regards the railways, which is one of the powers relegated to this Council. The short experience has shown fruitful results, and 1278 I feel strongly that in all matters under the purview of the Council the Executive of each Government could better deal with the subject as a separate Government consulting the other on terms of equality than by an ad hoc Committee, the majority of the members of which have no executive authority.I will not trouble the House with the rest of the letter, which is not relevant. What I am anxious to show is that the agreements which were reached between Sir James Craig and Mr. Collins at their meeting have not lapsed as a whole. There has been a breakdown on one point, but the rest of those agreements stand, and the project of endeavouring to reach a settlement of the outstanding difficulties is by no means cast aside and finally abandoned. Is it not in the interests of the North to see what sort of Parliament and Government will emerge from the elections in the South? May not that Parliament and Government be in a far stronger position and be of a far more reasonable complexion than the present Dail Eireann? Is it not better to discuss passionate questions like the boundary question after the election than when everyone is preparing for it, and when the supporters of the Treaty are constantly exposed to the bitter reproaches of Mr. De Valera and his extreme Republican sect, and when a renegade Englishman like Mr. Erskine Childers is doing his best to poison the relations between the Irish people and their chosen leaders? Will it not be very much better to take up the difficult question of the boundary after the Irish elections have been held than before? After the election let us see what comes of it and let us then make up our mind what is best to do. Let us now see what is the interest of Southern Ireland in this matter. What is their heart's desire more than anything else? [HON. MEMBERS: "A Republic."] Not at all; that is a delusion, and my hon. Friends are absolutely at sea when they say so. A Republic is an idea most foreign to the Irish mind, associated with the butcheries of Cromwell in their minds and foreign to all the native genius of the Irish race, which is essentially monarchical.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Because they have been fighting for position against this 1279 country. I say really what the Southern Irish most desire and what Irishmen all over the world most desire is not hostility against this country, but the unity of their own. They can never attain that unity by force. That they are at last compelled to recognise and admit. They can never attain it by harshness or by hostile action towards Ulster. Take the boundary question as an example. There is no one who can predict what the Commission will decide. Let me take an extreme and absurd supposition. Let us assume that the Commission, going far beyond what any reasonable man would expect, and far beyond what those who signed the Treaty meant, were to reduce Ulster to its pre-ponderatingly Orange areas. I am taking that extreme and absurd supposition. Suppose that were to happen, would not that be a fatal and permanent obstacle to the unity and co-operation of Ireland?
Let us just see what would happen. The Protestant North would be violently and finally sundered from the rest of Ireland, there would be no mitigating or modifying element or influence, and common interests between the two would be reduced to a nullity. The resentment of Ulster would be enduring, and her practically homogeneous population would, for generations, aim not, as Southern Irishmen hope, at bringing Ireland as a whole into harmony with the British Empire, but would rivet herself by every conceivable means on to England and Scotland, so that in the course of time Ulster would effectively become a part of Great Britain and not a part of Ireland. I am addressing this argument not only to this House; I am endeavouring to lay down the true way along which the permanent interests of the Southern Irish Parliament and Government lie. What would Great Britain do in such an absurd and extreme contingency as that which I have indicated? She is bound by the Treaty; but, in my opinion, if we saw Ulster maltreated and mutilated by the Boundary Commission so that she was no longer an Irish economic entity, we should be bound to reconsider her whole economic and financial position. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]
Now I hope my argument will be carefully considered; although I say it myself, it is worthy of consideration. Not only should we defend 1280 every inch of Ulster soil under the Treaty as if it were Kent, but we should be bound to take special measures to secure that Ulster was not ruined by her loyalty to us. It is evident that our position, if we only study it and reflect upon it, is one of tremendous strength, and that with patience and with care we may easily succeed in bringing about a result acceptable to all. If I were an Irish Nationalist I should dread more than anything else such a development as I have indicated, against which I could do absolutely nothing, nothing by force against the British Empire, nothing by persuasion against the inflexible will of the Northern Protestants, nothing by appeal to the judgment of the world, for the world, be assured, will always uphold the Treaty and Ulster's right to self-determination under the Treaty. If I were an Irish Nationalist, I would far rather go to the other extreme. I would far rather say: Take more Catholics, not less; make a more even balance in your Assembly; agree with us in friendship for common purposes; keep all your own rights, but share ours too, and instead of cutting this partition line deeper and deeper across the soil of Ireland, instead of painting the map on either side of this line in ever more vivid contrasts of orange and green, let us try to blend a little more and modify those contrasts and divisions.
Pursuing that line of thought, if that line of thought is found to have validity, it is clear the boundary line would cease to have the same bitter significance in proportion as North and South are associated for important common purposes in some higher organisation than their existing Parliaments. Nothing in the agreement between Sir James Craig and Mr. Collins was more important than the improved arrangements for a Council of Ireland, on the subject of which I have read a letter to the House. Since then we have had a bad set-back, but we are, I think, repairing and restoring the situation. We must have time, we must have patience, we must have this Bill. Ulster must have British comfort and protection. Ireland must have her Treaty, her election and her constitution. There will be other and better opportunities of dealing with the difficult boundary question, and if the House will take the advice of the Government, we strongly deprecate any attempt 1281 to reach a final conclusion upon that subject now.
Let me, before I sit down, leave Ireland and the Irish point of view and Irish interests, and say to the House what is the function of the Imperial Parliament. That, after all, is our point of view. That is our first and proper care in this House. Our interest is very clear, and it should be everywhere recognised and proclaimed what our interest is. The Imperial interest, taking a long view, seeks both the unity of Ireland and the unity of the British. Empire, or if you prefer it, Commonwealth of Nations. We can help Ireland to the one if Ireland helps us to the other, and we may be willing to help Ireland to the one in proportion as she helps us to the other. We ought to use our great power and our great unmeasured strength to that end, and in this method of policy, and we shall be justified in so doing at every step by our interest, by our honour, by our good faith and by fair play. From an Imperial point of view we are bound to endeavour to act in an impartial manner; but though we are impartial we cannot be indifferent. Naturally, our hearts warm towards those in the North who are helping, and have helped so long, to keep the old flag flying, and who share our loyalty and our sentiments, and address us in terms of common kinship and not in those of forced aversion.
Ulster has a great part to play in these next few months, an immense part, and the opportunity perhaps of rendering service to the British Empire of inestimable value, and of long lasting consequences in history, and I am very glad indeed to think that at this juncture there should be a man like Sir James Craig as Premier of the Northern Government and that Ulster will be represented in this House and in the House of Lords by representatives who are fully alive to the Imperial aspect of this great question, and are not likely ever to lose sight of that. I end in the way I began, upon the Treaty to which we now ask the House to give statutory effect, and the Bill which we ask the House to read a second time. For generations we have been wandering and floundering in the Irish bog, but at last we think that in this Treaty we have set our feet upon a pathway, which has already become a causeway—narrow, but firm and far-reaching. Let us 1282 march along this causeway with determination and circumspection, without losing heart and without losing faith. If Britain continues to march forward along that path, the day may come—it may be distant, but it may not be so distant as we expect—when, turning round, Britain will find at her side Ireland united, a nation, and a friend.
§ Captain CRAIG
On a point of Order. Before I deal with the question raised in the Amendment which I desire to move, I would like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it would be in order to discuss the matters which are contained in the subsequent Amendment on the Order Paper—That this House declines to proceed with this Bill until murders, outrages, and kidnapping have ceased in Southern Ireland, and all attacks upon Northern Ireland, her people, and her boundaries by Sinn Fein partisans have been definitely abandoned, and all persons illegally detained have been released.I understand that there can be a Division on only one of the Amendments, and I hope that you will see your way to allow a general discussion on my Amendment.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Certainly. That is my intention. There can only be one Amendment to the Motion for Second Reading divided upon, and therefore it is only right that full width of debate should be given, whatever the actual reasoned Amendment which is put before the House.
§ Captain CRAIG
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsin view of the fact that the Agreement provides for setting up a Boundary Commission to determine the boundaries between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, and that such provision is a direct abrogation of the rights of Ulster as secured by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and a breach of the pledges given by the Prime Minister, this House declines to proceed with the Second Reading of this Bill until the Government has given an assurance that the provision in question will be eliminated from the Agreement or that any decision of tine Boundary Commission shall only take effect after the approval of the Parliament of Northern Ireland has been given.I will say with all sincerity that I regret very much to have to move this Amendment. Nothing would please me better than to have been able to bless the agreement which has been arrived at by the Government and the Sinn Feiners. I know that in that respect I disagree with 1283 many of my hon. Friends, but I have taken the view, which I have expressed in this House on more occasions than one, that any agreement on the Irish question is better than none. Once you pass a Home Rule Bill, no matter how small the amount of government conceded to Ireland, or to the different parts of Ireland, there is no stopping place until complete separation is reached. The statesman who said—I forget who he was—that there was no half-way house between the Union and complete separation was, to my mind, one of the truest prophets who ever lived, and I venture to say, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said this afternoon, that the complete fulfilment of that prophecy will be apparent to the whole world within a very short time.
I find it somewhat difficult to know how far to go back in putting forward my plea for the rejection of this Bill on the ground of the inclusion of the Boundary Commission Clause in the Treaty, but I must at least go back as far as the Act of 1920. That Act was to a very large extent, as between Ulster and the Government, an agreed measure. There were many of its provisions which were discussed outside this House and agreed to as a matter of outside agreement, and on no other question was this more the case than on the question of the boundaries. The six counties were selected by the Government as the area over which the Ulster Parliament should have jurisdiction. That proposal was put before the Leader of the Ulster party in this House, Sir Edward Carson, as he was at that time, and his colleagues. It was discussed by us outside this House and, for a variety of reasons, into which I need not now enter, and deferring to some extent to the desires of this Government, Sir Edward Carson went to Ulster and addressed a series of meetings there, subjecting himself and his colleagues to a very considerable amount of misstatement and odium in recommending the Ulster Council, and Unionists in Ulster generally, to accept the six counties as the Ulster area under the 1920 Bill. As I have said, the arrival at that decision created a considerable amount of bitterness and heart-burning in Ulster. We have all suffered from it, and have been accused of betraying our Unionist fellow-country- 1284 men in the three counties which were conceded to Southern Ireland. We have repudiated the charge of betrayal. We maintain that we did what was best under the circumstances, that we did the only thing that was possible under the circumstances, but we do not deny that it was a very grave sacrifice on our part, and a very hard thing to do, to hand our Unionist fellow-countrymen in those three counties over to the other part of Ireland, and the man who suggests now, after the experience which we went through at that time, that we should give up one single Unionist fellow-countryman of ours, without his consent and without our consent, is asking us to agree to a thing to which we will never consent.
The 1920 Bill was passed into law, and a few months later our Parliament was set up. It was opened with great pomp and ceremony by His Majesty the King, and it is safe to say that every Ulsterman—certainly every Ulsterman who was present on that day—heaved a sigh of relief similar to the sigh that might have been heaved by the captain of a ship who had come safely into port after a long and dangerous voyage in stormy weather. We all thought that at last, after all these years of wrangling and fighting and preparing to fight, we had achieved peace. We were not far-sighted enough, perhaps, to see that there was any possibility of anything happening which could interfere with the even tenor of our way after that. We thought, in fact, that the Act of 1920 was finality—the last word—and if anybody had been asked to say in what direction we could possibly look for trouble, I venture to say that nobody would ever have suggested that it would be over the question of the boundaries. After the opening of our Parliament, a few weeks passed, and negotiations were entered into between the Government and Sinn Fein to endeavour to put an end to the terrible position of affairs which existed at that time all over Ireland, but principally in the South of Ireland. No doubt, negotiations went on behind the scenes, but the first public act in those negotiations was a letter addressed by the Prime Minister to Mr. de Valera, offering him terms so generous that I can safely say the whole world gasped at the length which the Prime Minister was prepared to go in order to effect a settlement in Ireland. That letter was a very important letter, and after setting forth 1285 the various terms which were proposed to be given to them, it ended up in this way. Speaking of the settlement which the Prime Minister hoped would result from the negotiations, he said:It must allow for a full recognition of the existing powers and privileges of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland, which cannot be abrogated except by their own consent.I shall have occasion to refer to those words later on. The negotiations continued for some months without much apparent success, and we in Ulster took up the position from the very beginning of those negotiations that, although we were intensely interested in them, they were no direct business of ours. They were, in fact, negotiations between the Government of this country and Southern Ireland, and we were never pressed to take part in them. Had we been pressed, that is the answer we would have given, but we did hold ourselves in readiness, and the Prime Minister of Ulster let it be known and informed the Government of this country that if at any time his advice was wanted on matters which perhaps affected the two parts of Ireland, he would be very ready to attend any such conference and give what help he could. I claim that, from beginning to end of that conference, Ulster acted in the most proper manner, and no fault whatever could be found with her and no act was done which could in any way be calculated to prejudice the chances of success of those negotiations. In every way we acted as we ought to have done.
The first suspicion which we had that all was not well with us was when we saw a campaign in the Press, small at first, but gradually growing greater and greater, until it included practically every newspaper in this country, with very few exceptions, which are well known. That campaign was one which was beastly—I have no other word for it—a campaign utterly unworthy of anybody. There can be no question that it was directly inspired and directed by the Government. The object of that campaign was to bring public opinion to bear upon and force Ulster into an All-Ireland Parliament. I will not say much about this; I only mention it because chronologically I have to do so. I have never been able to understand the genesis of that campaign, or how anybody with the facts in their mind—and particularly the fact that our Parlia- 1286 ment had been set up in Belfast only two or three months before, and that We were still working at it—that it was an unfinished edifice and one which, it was well known, we were keen about and determined to make a success—how any Government or party could at such a time or with what object they could at such a time launch a campaign of that sort. It has, I must confess, always been completely beyond my comprehension. However, it was launched, and the climax came when Sir James Craig received from the Prime Minister a document asking him to come into an All-Ireland Parliament. I need not say that that proposal was absolutely turned down without any discussion whatever. We would not have that at any price. Sir James Craig had to go back to Ireland, and before he left London he obtained from the Prime Minister a statement, which he read to the Ulster Parliament next morning, in the following words:By Tuesday next, either negotiations will have broken down, or the Prime Minister will send the new proposals for consideration by the Cabinet. In the meantime, the rights of Ulster will be in no way sacrificed or compromised.Exactly a week after that, instead of submitting new proposals to the Prime Minister of Ulster, and without the negotiations with Sinn Fein having broken down, the Treaty was published to the world, and in the Treaty was contained this fatal 12th Clause, which provides for the setting up of this Boundary Commission. That is the history of the Boundary question. Now I would like to make a few remarks upon it. I say, first of all, that the Government negotiators with Sinn Fain had no moral right whatever to include that Clause in the Treaty. We claim that the Act of 1920, so far as it relates to Ulster, was just as much a Treaty, and had a more binding force than any Treaty.
§ Captain CRAIG
That was never brought into operation. My hon. Friend can give us his views on that later.
§ Captain CRAIG
I said at the beginning of my remarks that I would not go back beyond the Act of 1920. I say the Prime Minister had no right to 1287 put that Clause into the Treaty, because we say the Act of 1920 was a more binding agreement than any Treaty made as this one was. We had been solemnly asked by the Government to go over to Ireland to persuade our own people to accept a boundary which was even then unpopular with them. We were told in the most solemn way that this was a final settlement of the Irish question. The Government knows as well as we do that any alteration of the boundary is the one thing above all others which is likely to create ill-feeling, and, in all probability, bloodshed; but, in spite of all that, it is put into the Treaty. That is only one of several reasons why they should not have put it in. I ask the attention of the House again to those two specific declarations of the Prime Minister. If language has any meaning whatever, I say the Prime Minister is as firmly bound by the words in the letter he wrote to Mr. De Valera as by the language in the Treaty. What could be more definite and more binding on any man a honour than these words:A settlement must allow for a full recognition of the existing powers and privileges of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland, which cannot be abrogated except by their own consent.I will deal in a minute or two with some words used by the Leader of the House. He defends this Clause in the Bill on totally different grounds from those used by the right hon. Gentleman who has addressed us to-day, but to that I will refer in a minute. I say, in the second place, that in a Treaty of this kind, where you are dealing with the territory, the property, of a third party—for that is what it comes to—you have no right to make any disposition of it without their being represented in the Conference. You had no right to touch it. We were no parties to the Treaty, and yet we had told the Government that if our interests were in any way affected we were always ready to discuss the matter with them. The Leader of the House made the following statement when the Treaty was before the House for the first time last Session:I feel the force of the objections urged by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law) the late Leader of the House, to our having gone so far in that matter without further conference with Ulster. I understand how sensitive they may fairly be on the subject, 1288 and how strong are their feelings. No one regrets it more than I do. Had they been present here in London, as at one time we hoped they would, it would have been easy for them to get into touch with us, and I have no doubt that we and they would have come to an amicable arrangement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1921; col. 357, Vol. 149.]It is quite true that the Prime Minister of Ulster was not here. He had gone home the week before. I do not profess to be able to speak on behalf of Ulster in the same authoritative way as he and his Cabinet can, but I have the honour to be the Leader of the Ulster party in this House, and I do represent Ulster at least in the Imperial House of Commons. On the very evening of the night on which the Treaty was signed, I was actually in the Prime Minister's house at 10, Downing Street, so that it is inaccurate to say there was nobody in London at that time who could have spoken on behalf of Ulster. If I had been asked to give my opinion on the insertion of this Clause, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that no amicable arrangement would have been arrived at, except by the exclusion of that Clause, because I should have told him that in touching this question of boundaries he was touching one of the things more likely to raise trouble than any other thing which he could touch. Far from coming to an amicable agreement, I am afraid the Conference would have had to be adjourned if he had insisted on this point.
I would like to deal with some of the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman (the Colonial Secretary) to-day. Put shortly, so far as I can make out, the only hope he holds out with reference to the Boundary question is that there should be a delay of some six or eight months, or possibly a year. He must understand quite well that we look upon that as of no value whatever. This at any rate is how we look upon it at first sight, not having had any time to think over it, but I am quite sure I should say exactly the same thing about it tomorrow or the next day. I would prefer to have this matter settled now, than for it to hang over our heads, and even to have it settled against us now than to hang over our heads for months. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of what may happen. He rather scoffs at the idea of this election which is to take place in Southern Ireland resulting in a victory for the followers of Mr. De Valera, but 1289 I can assure him there are a very great number of people who agree with me that that is a very likely filing to happen. We have reports coming from Ireland, for although the right hon. Gentleman, no doubt, gets information from a variety of sources there, so do we. Our advice is that there has been for some time, and there is at this moment, a steady stream of opinion changing to the side of Mr. De Valera. Where are we, may I ask, with regard to these matters if Mr. De Valera comes into power? Is he going to carry out the terms of this Treaty? Even if the Treaty were accepted by each party, is he going to be satisfied, as we are led to understand might be the case under the present regime, with a very moderate rectification of the boundaries?
We see the greatest and gravest danger in this Clause. It is all very well to say that, after an election, Mr. Collins will not then have to fear the hostility of those who put him into power. We put it quite plainly. We are not inclined to place any reliance on any consideration such as that. We see a proposal which we consider endangers our position in Ulster to a very serious extent. We are at this moment in the midst of very turbulent times, and we only see in the passage of this Clause an increase to that disorder. I say quite plainly that if that Commission were to sit, and if it were to make anything more than the very minutest change in our boundary, the inevitable result of that would be bloodshed and chaos of the worst description. I say that quite solemnly, believing that to be the case. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that he has treated this Treaty as so sacred that any question of a dot or a comma would be impossible. The other day Mr. Collins and the Prime Minister of Ulster had arrived at an agreement, which they reduced to writing and to which they both subscribed their names. That, in effect, was a Treaty, but, owing to pressure of circumstances over which Mr. Collins, probably, had little or no control, he was forced, a few days ago, to repudiate a very considerable part of that Treaty.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
That, was never mentioned in the public report that was issued in Ulster by Sir James Craig.
§ Captain CRAIG
The hon. Member is wrong. My point is that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies mentioned that in a very ordinary tone of voice, as though there were nothing more in it than that they did not arrive at an agreement, and, apparently, he did not think it at all strange that pressure was put on Mr. Collins when he got back to Dublin to repudiate this part of the bargain. That is the view he takes with regard to that little Treaty, which we call the smaller Treaty, between Mr. Collins and Sir James Craig. But he takes a totally different view of another Treaty—the one here—which he says is absolutely sacrosanct, and cannot be touched in any degree. He must have the whole Treaty or none. He admits, practically, that the Government made a mistake in putting in this Clause, and admits breaking faith to a certain extent, but the Government stand or fall by the Treaty. I say that is an absurd attitude. I say that this House, after the first discussion of this Treaty, was left under the impression—whose fault it was I am not going to say; I did my best to give them the other impression—but there is no doubt this House separated with the impression in their minds that nothing was intended by this Treaty except the merest rectification of the boundary line. I know that to be the case. It was stated in the papers, and stated to me literally by dozens of Members in this House. That being so, this House ratifies this Treaty, if I may use the term, under a misapprehension. We now know that, while that result might happen, it is very much more likely that large bits of Ulster might be decreed by any Commission that sat to go into Southern Ireland.
Those are totally different things, and I say that the House is entitled to review its decision, taken a couple of months ago, to the extent of either ruling this Clause out altogether, or modifying it to such an extent that any decision arrived at can only be put into operation after the consent of Northern and Southern Ireland respectively has been obtained. I go further, and say that is the only hope of a successful issue out of this entanglement, for entanglement it is. If you leave it to the tender mercies 1291 of a Commission, that Commission will be bound to bring trouble to Ulster; whereas, if you do it in a common-sense way, by leaving it, as originally suggested by the Prime Minister of Ulster and Mr. Collins, to be carried out by a tribunal of two, who will have to report to the respective heads of the two Governments, and the boundary will then be finally settled by both—if you put some such proposal into the Treaty, I say that that might do some good, but the proposal in the present form can lead to nothing but trouble, and do nothing but harm. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, in the course of his speech the other day when he followed me and answered me, made some remarks to which I must refer. I have referred to the words of the Prime Minister when he said that no abrogation of the rights of Ulster would he permitted. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House used the following words:My hon. and gallant Friend says that we are dishonoured because we have abrogated the rights and privileges of Ulster. We have left her rights and privileges intact. They will not be altered without her consent. To establish a Boundary Commission is not to abrogate the rights and privileges of Northern Ireland.How can anybody say that in view of this the fact that this Boundaries Commission, by the showing of the right hon. Gentleman who spoke this afternoon, may cut off considerable portions of our province and hand them over to Southern Ireland? The Commission may do that. That is admitted. To set up a Commission which may do that is not an abrogation of our rights! That is most extraordinary language. Again, my right hon. Friend, speaking after me, says:Then my hon. and gallant Friend says that we are dishonoured because we are altering or amending the Act of Parliament of 1920. How many Governments must have been dishonoured before this? Was there ever a Government that escaped dishonour of that kind? I do not understand the charge, and I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend can attach much meaning to it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1922; col. 202, Vol. 150.]I do attach great meaning to it. For the right hon. Gentleman to compare the Act of 1920 which, as I say, was a Charter and a Treaty of a most solemn kind, with a twopenny-halfpenny Act of Parliament which deals for example with the saving of the daylight, which could be altered 1292 by subsequent legislation, is absurd. There is no comparison between the two. The 1920 Act is much more than an Act of Parliament. It is a solemn Treaty, settling the Irish Question once and for all. Therefore I say that the right hon. Gentleman cannot compare the action of trying to alter the terms of an Act passed as solemnly as that with an ordinary Act of Parliament. The other two references which I have named were from the mouth of the Prime Minister himself. I do not like to use the word "dishonour" in regard to any right hon. Member sitting on that Bench, but the Prime Minister, in his own speech, said they would be dishonoured if they repudiated any documents to which they had set their hands. I have recited to the House three documents to which the right hon. Gentleman has put his hand, yet we are to understand, while he is not dishonoured by breaking pledges contained in each one of those documents, he would be dishonoured if he altered that one Clause of this Treaty to the extent which I have suggested!
I do not intend to deal with matters contained in the next Amendment. I confine myself entirely to this question of boundaries, which, to my mind, is more important than any other matter in this connection. It is a matter which affects us for all time, whereas the grave disorders upon which the subsequent Amendment is founded, I trust, will only be temporary. To my mind, they are not of the same serious nature in asking for the rejection of this Bill as this question of the boundaries. I do trust that the House will support the Amendment. It is all very serious. Not only is it a very serious matter with us in Ulster, and, as I say, likely to lead to certainly grave disorders, and I am afraid to bloodshed, but it is as glaring a breach of faith as any Government has ever been guilty of. On these two grounds and without further criticism of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies I beg to move my Amendment.
§ Mr. D. D. REID
I beg to second the Amendment.
One feels oneself in somewhat of a difficulty after the speech made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I thought at one period of his speech he was going to admit that the Government 1293 had made an agreement with Northern Ireland and that they had broken it. He spoke somewhat as tending towards that direction, but he never actually made that admission. Whether the Government do make the admission or not, I do not know. But may I put the point again quite shortly. We take our stand on very elementary principles. We say that a man can enter into a binding contract by words, by his conduct, and that it is not necessary to have it in writing. We ask that the word of the Government should be as good as their bond. We say that the Government introduced the Act of 1920 and that the area included was an integral part of the Act. An Amendment was actually moved in this House, and on that occasion the Minister of Education, who at that time was in charge of the Bill, said:It is no exaggeration to say that there is no question in connection with this Bill which has caused the Government greater anxiety than the limitation of this province of Northern Ireland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1920; col. 1313, Vol. 129.]As my hon. and gallant Friend who has preceded has said, Lord Carson, at the request of the Prime Minister, went to Belfast and recommended that Bill to his followers as a final settlement, and they accepted it. They held an election and put it into operation. I ask the House: Can anyone conceive any similar set of circumstances in which it could be said that the Prime Minister had not entered into an honourable agreement with the people who accepted his proposal and acted upon it? The Prime Minister is fond of talking about delivering the goods. On this occasion the Prime Minister has delivered the goods and they have been accepted and they are going to be kept.
The Secretary for the Colonies talked about good faith. The Government have made agreements. We say they cannot pick and choose between the agreements. They are bound by their earlier engagement. If a man inadvertently makes an engagement which is in conflict with a previous understanding, as an honourable man he goes and does his best to rectify his mistake. We have on the Bench at the present time a right hon. Gentleman (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) who formerly followed the profession of the law. Supposing one day a client came to him who had some property to sell and told 1294 him that he had sold a portion of it to A and was about to sell another portion to B when, on B's persuasion, he sold him a little bit of the land that he had already sold to A. Supposing he brought that problem along to my right hon. Friend the Minister for War. What advice would he give that client? Would he not tell him that he had not a leg to stand upon? That the only plan was to get out of the job as best he could by persuading B, when A complained, to make some arrangement? You have there the analogy of the North and of the South of Ireland. The Government should go to Mr. Collins and say: "Look here, we have made a mistake: we have put into our agreement with you a provision that we are not in a position to carry out: we will do our best in some way or other to meet you, but this thing we cannot do." We are not asking the Government to commit a breach of faith. We are simply asking them to keep faith with us, the people with whom they first made their engagement. We do not ask that Mr. Collins should be turned down, but that some fresh agreement should be made with him which will not infringe the rights of other people.
There are one or two other points to which, under the circumstances, the attention of the House ought to be called. This Treaty is a very sketchy document. There is a government already existing in Northern Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. This Bill contains a provision that no further member shall be elected to serve in this House from Southern Ireland. That is the only qualification of the Act of 1920; but if any hon. Member will take the trouble to glance at that Act he will see that the Act of 1920 is absolutely unworkable if this Treaty is passed in its present form. The Government, if they want to carry this through, should put before the House a Bill containing the necessary provisions to alter the Act of 1920 and make it workable. We have, for instance, the Council of Ireland. That may be dealt with otherwise. There is the joint Exchequer Board which has to control the relations between Ireland and Great Britain and between North and South, and which includes members of the Southern Parliament. What becomes of that? We have got a Court of Appeal in Ireland. What is to become of that? There are besides one or two significant things to which I 1295 would like to call the attention of the House, and which queries, perhaps, some Member of the Government will answer. Take Clause 16 of the Treaty, which is a Clause safeguarding the religious views of the people who live within the area covered by the Treaty. There is a very significant omission from the corresponding provision contained in the Act of 1920. I do not propose to go into the matter in detail now, but the question of what was known as the Ne Temere Decree caused a good deal of excitement at one time. It had reference to the marriage of persons of different religions. The Act of 1920 contained a provision to the effect that in the exercise of their powers of making laws the Irish Parliament were prohibited from making any religious belief or religious ceremony a condition of the validity of any marriage. That is omitted from Clause 16. Another matter which is excluded by the Act of 1920 is "diverting from any religious denomination the fabric of cathedral churches." That, again, is omitted. Why are these omissions made? What is the significance of these provisions? Whoever answers for the Government I hope will be able to tell us. How is the Act of 1920 to be worked in Northern Ireland when many of its provisions are rendered inapplicable? I have tried to put forward the points upon which we consider the Government have been guilty of a breach of faith. No Member of the Government has dared to face that question so far, but will they inform us definitely whether they admit there is any binding agreement with Northern Ireland? If they do we say the House should accept this Amendment, and if they do not then we still ask the House not to support them in a breach of faith.
I am sure the House has been impressed to-day by the moderation with which the Ulster case has been put forward. Unfortunately, they have not been able to deal with the fact that if this Amendment is accepted it will be a complete breach of the Treaty. I think that the Treaty is in many respects open to the gravest objection. I was not present during the Debate which took place on 1296 this question in December, but I have since read the report of that Debate, and I am astounded at the optimism which people gave vent to on that occasion. Admitting that the Agreement is open to grave objection, I am bound to ask, what can you suggest which is better?
This Amendment does not deal with the whole question, but there is another Amendment which does, and that is the only alternative which is being put forward. It is suggested that nothing is to be done in the South of Ireland until murders and outrages and kidnapping have ceased. How can you expect that, when the British Government for years have been helping and condoning murder in Ireland, that murder will ever cease until there is some power in Southern Ireland able to put it down with a strong hand. If the other Amendment to which I have referred were to gain support, then there is not the slightest chance of Great Britain ever producing a firm government under present conditions until the experiment of self-government has been tried. We have heard the argument of the slippery slope put forward. To me it seems to be a choice between a slippery slope and a precipice, and as between the two I prefer the slippery slope. We have been asked, if we give way in this respect. where are we going to stop if you go on acceding to threats and to force Nevertheless, I think one is justified in asking, what is the alternative policy? The only alternative is chaos. I have always been very doubtful as to whether there is any solution between the Union and separation, but the organised parties of British politics take the opposite view.
Anyhow, the leader of the Unionist party at the last election apparently was prepared, by signing the Memorandum he did, to go to any length in this matter short of complete separation. The organised parties in the State take the opposite view to mine, and they believe that you can get a solution short of complete separation. This being so, for a Government, committed to the extreme of Irish control of her own affairs to administer the machinery of the Union in alternating moods of concession and repression has steadily encouraged the extremists, and 1297 this can lead to nothing but complete chaos. We have had 16 years of this terrible policy, and it is time to test, by experiment, whether Ireland can attain peaceful self-government within the Empire in some other way. I think such an experiment is the only way out of the difficulty. If it succeeds, well and good, but if it fails we, shall again get a clean slate upon which, without a breach of faith and with the approval of the civilised world, all parties will be free to write a new programme, and enable the hands of a Union Government, palsied for 16 years, again to become firm.
There was no passage in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of this Bill to which I listened with greater satisfaction than when he said that if a breach of this Agreement comes from Ireland, then all parties will be free to reconsider the question. If I am right in my argument that chaos is the only alternative to the Treaty, and if firm government is impossible until the Treaty has been tried, surely we have to do our best to make things possible for the Provisional Government. I need not labour the difficulties and the risks which that provisional Government has to face. They have no mandate from the Irish people, they cannot use the Irish republican army and they have no organised force to back them up. Their position, difficult and anomalous already, will become impossible if it goes on for much longer without being regularised. The British Government backed by a very large majority of both Houses of Parliament have got matters into that position, and I ask the House to consider gravely the effect of throwing them over again in Ireland. It is a disastrous truth in Irish politics that the extremists have always been able to thwart the moderates, but it is not the fault of British parties because they have so continually veered about in their policy and have so often let down their friends. Would it not be playing into the hands of the extremists if by amending this Treaty you are breaking your word again with those who are trying at great risk to themselves to bring about a settlement.
I do not agree with, those who say that there is no danger of a "Workers Republic" in Ireland. That danger is a very real one, and it will he much greater if you are represented to 1298 them as having destroyed the Government of Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins in the same way as you destroyed John Redmond and his party. War in Ireland may be forced upon us, but do not let it be represented as being due to Great Britain turning back on her solemn promises. I have argued so far from the point of view of Irish peace and the interests of Southern Ireland, but if war is to come it is going to be a particularly hideous war because the British Army will not be able to do anything to protect or consider the position of friendly non-belligerents.
The position of Ulster is different. They are to remain within the Union. They will continue their contribution to the British Army and they can rightly call upon that army to defend their rights. Ulster, as far as I can gauge the case, undoubtedly has a strong grievance. It is unfortunately by no means the first case in which the Government have made inconsistent agreements, for they have promised one thing to one side and something different to the other side. It is not fair to this House to do that sort of thing. I am afraid that when a position of things arises in which you have to break faith with someone the House has got to choose the lesser evil. The Colonial Secretary promised that he was going to deal with the omission of the Government to consult Ulster in regard to her rights, and I looked forward to that explanation in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but he omitted to give it. Two wrongs will not make a right, and I do not believe that in the interests of this country or of Ulster it would be well to do anything which would wreck the Irish Treaty.
Perhaps the House does not realise how strong is the feeling in Ireland about partition, and for that reason the Sinn Fein delegates, who admitted the right of Ulster to vote herself out of the Free State, undoubtedly took a very bold step in view of the public opinion which they represent. It is true that Mr. Collins has since adopted a very different, a most extreme and an impossible attitude as to the territorial claims of the South. The boundary line is not going to depend upon the intention of the Government, the Colonial Secretary, or Mr. Michael Collins, but it is going to depend upon the choice of the Chairman who is to preside over this Committee. Ulster 1299 fears that an independent man will not be found. It is very difficult to find an independent man in a case like that, because everybody has a certain amount of bias one way or the other. I think their fears in this respect are very well founded, because it is simply a toss-up which view the Chairman takes, and whichever view he takes that particular side will get an overwhelming advantage, because the delegates from the North are bound to vote in favour of the particular interest they represent.
Personally, I cannot see any satisfactory solution, but I am going to suggest an Amendment which I propose to bring forward, that the chairman be not appointed until his name has been reported to Parliament and that his appointment shall not take effect until an opportunity has been given to the Members of both Houses of Parliament to express their view upon the recommendation of the Government. That is not the only Amendment I wish to put forward. I do not think it is reasonable that we should give an absolutely blank cheque to the Government to interpret what terms are necessary to enable the Provisional Government to discharge its duties. They have chosen unwise precipitancy in their action since the agreement. They have been absolutely reckless in their withdrawal of the troops. They seem to think that they can allow Southern Ireland to relapse into a state of tribal war, and have failed to realise that if that comes about, the boiling pot must overflow into Ulster.
Two months ago, when the agreement was come to, they were expecting an early decision to be arrived at. They have been disappointed, and the Provisional Government may have to control the affairs of Southern Ireland a great deal longer than was originally contemplated. I am indisposed to trust the Government with complete discretion under Clause 17. It would be no breach of the Treaty for Parliament to keep control of the interpretation and of the powers and machinery required for the discharge of the duties of the Provisional Government. I am going to move, therefore, that Orders in Council shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament so that they may be objected to, if necessary, before they become operative. I hope the Government will agree. I think it is 1300 to their interest to take Parliament and the public into their entire confidence and get their support in these grave matters, because the position is so desperate that we cannot afford to take any false. steps. I am not particularly optimistic as to the prospects of lasting peace in Ireland under the agreement. At the best it does give us a chance of some solution, and at the worst it promises us a clean slate. We can only gain these advantages if we stand loyally by the Treaty, and the whole Treaty. If there is to be a breach of the Treaty, let it come from the other side. I am convinced that for us to turn back at this time would be a great disaster, which could not fail to ring up the curtain on the blackest act of the whole Irish tragedy.
§ Captain FOXCROFT
The Secretary of State for the Colonies gave us a very optimistic speech. It is only right that this House should face facts. Yesterday I was reading a letter from a lady who had just been saying good-bye to the last of the police in Ireland. It was rather pathetic. The writer had thanked the police for their courageous conduct during the last few months, and it was a touching farewell; but I do not think that that farewell was as touching as the farewell of many a poor cottager all over Ireland to the British Government, to the British police, and to the British soldier. Hon Members may sneer at the idea of the people of Ireland being sorry to lose the British Government, but hon. Members who entertain that view only know a great deal about the agitators and are very little acquainted with the Irish people themselves. Many a poor Irishman, sitting over his turf fire, is to-day whispering to his wife that the good old times are gone for ever, and is asking why is it that the British Government is deserting them. They do feel that they are being deserted. I should like to say one word with regard to the Die-hards. We are sometimes accused of being very antagonistic to peace in Ireland; but it must be obvious that everyone in England and Scotland—I wish it were equally the case in Ireland—wishes with all their hearts for Irish peace. The only difference between us is not one of aim, but it is rather one of method. Six months ago the Die-hards (and the Government) held the opinion that no permanent peace was possible in Ireland unless first the law breaker was 1301 punished. But apparently now, unfortunately, it is the belief of the majority in this House that it is perfectly possible to obtain a permanent peace in Ireland by elevating the law breaker into a maker of laws.
We are asked to pass this Peace Treaty. I do not think we can possibly desire to pass it unless there is some likelihood of permanence in the future. We have already had two months of the Peace Treaty, and what do we find is the result? We were told in December when we were asked to confirm the Peace Treaty that we should have something like peace all over Ireland in a very short time. What do we find? We find chaos. We find anarchy in the South and invasion in the North. We find extremists gaining power every day everywhere. We find that the man in power is the man with the gun. Is there any hope that we shall get anything better in the future? It seems to me the only hope is that Mr. Collins and his friends shall prove that they have both the will and the power to do two things—to defend all peace-loving inhabitants in Ireland, and to maintain the British connection. Have we any good reason for believing that Mr. Collins and his friends are going to show that they have the will to do these things? Remember that something like 400,000 openly-declared loyal Irishmen and many others, secretly loyal, were handed over two months ago to a Government headed by a man who, a few months previously, was head of an organisation, the sole aim of which was the annihilation of Irish loyalists and the destruction of our Empire. Is it probable that this gentleman, owing to a conversation with the Prime Minister, has suddenly and entirely changed his view? Of course, it is quite possible for the leopard to change his skin, and we have heard of the poacher turning gamekeeper, but I cannot help thinking myself it is much more likely that the poacher may camouflage himself for the moment into looking like a gamekeeper, but only until the police and the military are out of his sight.
Suppose we take it for granted that Mr. Collins and his Government have the will to carry out this Treaty? Have they the power? We got a very instructive piece of information from the Colonial Secretary last Friday, when he told us of the lamentable weakness of Mr. Collins' Army, so lamentable in fact, that it had to be reinforced with a supply of 1.000 1302 rifles and a certain quantity of stores from the British Government, in order to give it a nucleus as an organised body. And yet this is the organisation which we were informed a few months ago by Government speakers would necessitate the recruiting of thousands of sons of British women, and the spending of hundreds of millions of British money if we dared to interfere with such an indomitable and invincible army. All this seems to be well borne out by what we hear from all sides in Ireland. We hear first of all that Ireland is rent into three parties. First there is the Communist party with its army; secondly the whole-hogger Republicans with their army, with Mr. de Valera and his army, and thirdly the "little pigger" Republicans of Mr. Collins and his army. These three armies and parties are intensely antagonistic to each other, both personally and politically: their only point of junction is that they all three hate the British and are determined to annihilate the loyalists of Ireland. Under these circumstances it does not seem very likely that. Mr. Collins, if he has the will, will have the power to either defend the loyalists or to maintain contact with the British Empire.
We have often been told what would happen when British rule in Ireland ceases. The country will get into the hands of a small band of extremists who will have three aims in view. The first to gnaw at Ulster; secondly, stab England; and, thirdly, the annihilation of the Loyalists. Ulster, with her good cause and her splendid strong right arm, with the assistance of the English people—and not, perhaps, too much assistance from the British Government—will be able to make good. I need say nothing with regard to the danger of the British Empire. The British Parliament and the British people have made their bed and will lie on it, but I would like to say one word with regard to the Southern Loyalists. They are weak, weaker than the Ulster Loyalists, but they have not made their bed. Their bed has been made for them by this Government. When we were talking about the Loyalists a little while ago, we were told that the atrocities committed upon them were just little things that must happen in the best organised Free State when power is being handed over from one Government to another. I think it was the Prime Minis- 1303 ter himself who told us that, after all, the great thing on this occasion was patience. It is one thing for the Prime Minister to preach patience when standing at that box with no deadlier weapon opposed to him than the arguments of the Opposition, he being perfectly safe when he leaves that box with a posse of police and detectives to protect him against any danger. But it is a very different thing to practice patience when you are a loyalist in Ireland. Disarmed by your own Government, unprotected, deserted, thrown to the tender mercies of your bitterest foes, there you stand, thinking, perhaps, of your wife and children, while you listen to the departing footsteps of your only friends, the soldiers and police. I have the greatest admiration for an open loyalist, whether he lives in the North or in the South; I have the deepest pity for the secret loyalist, who is sacrificed just as the open loyalist is; and I must own, in conclusion, that I have the deepest contempt for this Government, which has sacrificed both for its own selfish exigencies.
Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER CLAY
I will not follow the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken in the very interesting and pathetic picture which he drew of the position of loyalists in Southern Ireland, but I would preface my remarks by saying that I intend, notwithstanding some doubt, to support the Government. We all realise, irrespective of party, that not only this Government, but the Provisional Government of Southern Ireland, and the Ulster Parliament, are faced with the gravest difficulties in carrying out their duties at the present time. Some of those difficulties were anticipated, some were unforeseen. The Government took a grave risk in making a Treaty with the representatives of Sinn Fein, but, although it sounds paradoxical, it is sometimes a greater risk not to take risks than it is to incur them. I know it may sound like a platitude to say that Ireland is in the melting-pot to-day, but I do not think that anyone, in whatever part of the House, can be optimistic as to the future. I think that the man who is optimistic about Ireland either is a fool or wilfully ignores the lessons of history. It is, perhaps, possible that an election in Ireland may alter the situation which exists to-day, and I am certain that it is 1304 essential that an election should take place at an early date. If Mr. Collins and Mr. Griffith are returned by a substantial majority, there is a slender hope that peace may be restored in that country.
I am glad that the Secretary of State for the Colonies faced, at any rate to some extent, the position in the alternative. What is to happen supposing that the supporters of Mr. de Valera are returned? I hope that the Government have a policy ready. I hope that they are united on the course they propose to take in such an event. Many of us who have been Members of this House for some time seem to recollect that on past occasions the Government have appeared on a sort of wave of spurious optimism, but have forgotten the rocks on which the waves beat, and have found themselves in such a position that they could not recede or fulfil the promises they had made. I hope they will face the position and have a scheme ready cut and dried—that they will be prepared to face what will undoubtedly be a grave national difficulty. The Government and the House are taking grave risks in dealing with so unstable a community as the Irish, and it is no use ignoring the fact that the course of events since the signing of the Treaty has gravely tried the patience and the faith of a large number, not only of Members of this House who are supporters of the Government, but an even larger number in proportion in the country outside. Some of us begin to wonder whether the Government have really dealt with people who can, in the words of the Prime Minister, "deliver the goods"; and we have also been rather horrified, or perhaps disgusted, with the proceedings in the Irish Parliament when they were considering the Agreement between the representatives of the two countries. It made one wonder whether the people of Southern Ireland would ever be capable of forming a responsible Government in that country. Most of us, I suppose, have our private troubles and burdens, and nations also have their burdens, but I do not suppose that any nation has ever been afflicted with so terrible a burden as the British nation has in the case of Ireland. I am sure that sufficient attention has not been paid to the difficulty of carrying on government in Southern Ireland. It has been 1305 rightly said that it has almost developed into a tribal war, and that the position there is now impossible. I cannot help thinking that one of the strongest arguments for the passing of this Measure into law is that there may be some authority clothed with responsibility, in the hope that it may be in a position to carry it out.
It must be remembered that there are many who do not desire a settlement of the question. There are republican extremists, and extremists on the other side, who do not desire a settlement, just as there are extremists in the industrial world who do not desire an agreement between employers and employed—the reason, of course, being that, if a settlement were by any chance happily arrived at, they would lose their jobs and perhaps would have to find harder work to perform than they are doing at the present moment. The Government should be under no delusion as to the action which some of us may be compelled to take—of course, I speak only for myself—should further legislation be required for legalising the Constitution which it is proposed to set up for the Free State. Many of us supported this Treaty on the distinct understanding that the boundaries of Ulster were only to be altered by a slight rectification. There must be no question of large blocks being transferred from the one side to the other. My impression, and that of a great many others, was that the only idea, in this rectification or variation of boundaries was to enable better administration by the Government of Northern Ireland and the Government of the Irish Free State. No idea of considerable areas of country in Fermanagh and Tyrone or other parts being ceded from Ulster to the Irish Free State ever came into our comprehension. I am glad that the Secretary of State for War is in his place and will be replying to this Debate. I should like to ask him what is his own position in this matter, because, at a great gathering, which many of us attended at Liverpool, I was very much struck by one sentence in what he said on that occasion. He said:Nor will I agree to any settlement that requires the coercion of Ulster to assent to it.I concluded that the right hon. Gentleman was speaking at any rate for the Conservatives in the Government, and 1306 possibly for the whole Government, and my strong impression was that it was only a very minor adjustment for the benefit of both sides in Ireland that was intended by the variation of the boundaries. When this legislation comes on in May or June, it ought to be made perfectly clear that many supporters of the Government, who are willing to support this Bill in the hope of peace, may be compelled to oppose the Government when later legislation is brought into this House. I hope that nothing I have said will be considered ill-advised. I am the last person to desire to jeopardise in any way the slender chances of peace that at present exist.
§ Mr. LYNN
I am sorry the last speaker, at the beginning of his excellent speech, said that he was going to vote for the Bill and against the Amendment, because, listening to the very cogent arguments that he brought forward, I should have thought that he would have voted for the Amendment. I was rather surprised to hear him express the hope that the Government had got a policy. When has this Government had a policy on anything? Certainly it has never had a policy on Ireland during the last three years, and I think it would be absurd to suppose that it is likely to have a policy with regard to Ireland in the future. Whether it is united or not I cannot tell. The old gibe about people who hang together for fear that they may hang separately perhaps applies in the case of the Government. I know that the idea is prevalent in some parts of the House that we in Ulster are opposed to peace; but nothing is further from the truth. There is no part of the United Kingdom, no part of the Empire, that longs more for peace in Ireland than do the people of Ulster. I go further, and say that we have made, in the last few years, great sacrifices in the interests of peace in Ireland, and those sacrifices have not been treated by the Government as they ought to have been treated. I for one do not feel surprised at the Prime Minister, or even the Colonial Secretary. After all, they were Home Rule statesmen, and have been professing Home Rule for a great many years. I feel surprised that so-called Unionist Members in the Government should have been trying to prove for some time past that, after all, black is only another name for white, and these Members of the Government—I have always found that the House is anxious 1307 to be fair—have not treated Ulster fairly. We have gone very far in the interests of peace, but we have discovered these people loading the dice against us. We were told in December last what wonderful things were going to follow immediately from the Treaty. The gentlemen who signed the Treaty were just as anxious as those who called themselves Republicans to make it clear that the aim they are out for is a Republic. After all, Mr. Collins the other day admitted that he was out for the same thing as de Valera, but while the one wanted to get it at a jump, the other was prepared to crawl slowly. What is the Government going to do in the very probable event of a Republic being established? We ought to hear something with regard to that. Will the Government resist it, or will the Lord Chancellor assure us that, after all, he really was a Republican all the time, and we did not understand him? It is quite possible. During all these negotiations the Government's obligations to Ulster have been ignored.
I should like to draw attention to this question of boundaries because it is a very vital question. It is not only a question that affects Ulster, I think it affects the Empire generally and it certainly affects the honour of this House. In the year 1914, the Government then in power agreed to the six counties. Just after the rebellion in Dublin, in 1916, the then Prime Minister tried to effect a settlement and Lord Carson was sent to Ulster with a letter from the present Prime Minister stating that if they agreed to a Parliament being set up for the 26 counties, the other six counties should be left untouched. Then again in November, 1918, the Prime Minister wrote a letter to the late Leader of the House in which he laid it down specifically that the six counties should be allocated to Ulster and nothing was to be done with those six counties. Then we come down to 1920, when the Government of Ireland Bill was introduced. The greater part of a Session was spent in dealing with that Bill. During that time the whole question of Northern Ireland was fully discussed and the Government deliberately put in the six counties. That does not end it because when the negotiations were going on between the Prime Minister and Mr. de Valera he gave a written pledge to Sir James 1308 Craig that nothing would be done interfering with the rights of Ulster until Ulster had been consulted. In spite of all that, he signed away property that did not belong to him. There are parts of Canada where there is an American population. Suppose part of one of these States suggested that they should go into the United States of America and this Parliament took it upon itself, as I believe it would have a legal right to do, to transfer it, do you think the Canadian people would tolerate it? Do you think this House has any right to go back on the Act solemnly passed in 1920 and take part of our territory from us? I put it to hon. Members as a matter of fair play. We have played the game by you, we have done our best for an honourable settlement, we ask for nothing but justice, but we ask for a square deal, and a square deal the present Government seems incapable of giving. We appeal to this House in all sincerity. We ask you to see that your word is honoured. It may seem a small matter to dishonour your word in respect of Ulster, but do you think a Government that dishonours its word in a small matter will not be capable of dishonouring it in larger matters? I know this House is jealous of its honour, and it will tell the Government that it must adhere to the Act of 1920. We ask no more than that, we will take no less, and we ask the House to support us in that attitude. Probably we shall be told, not by Members in this House but by Members in another place, that if we insist on fighting the Government it will result in the horrors of Socialism coming down on the country. I would rather risk the horrors of Socialism than tolerate the hypocrisy that the present Government has displayed.
§ Mr. NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN
My bon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) told us that when he read the Debate last December he was astounded at the amount of optimism displayed. I think if he had been here he would have realised that a good many of us who voted for approval of the agreement did not do so with particularly light hearts. It was a great change of policy. It went far beyond anything which many of us would have thought of considering only a short time before. It was a change of policy, moreover, which came after a long and 1309 bitter conflict in which neither side had obtained any decisive advantage over the other. Many of us were very conscious that such a change might be interpreted as a surrender to violence. I think we knew that those on our side who did not agree with us would make that charge. It is not an agreeable one, but we were prepared to put up with it so long as we were satisfied that the course we were taking was right. But what I was thinking of was something much more serious and much more important. That was our fear lest our action might be taken, by those who had been fighting against us, as an encouragement to them to bring about further violence and as an encouragement to people in other countries than Ireland to do the same. We realised that we were embarking upon a great experiment, and that, although, if the experiment succeeded, the benefits from it might be incalculable, yet it involved very grave and very serious risks. Therefore, whilst voting for approval of the Agreement, we certainly did not do so in any unduly optimistic spirit. But we had to ask ourselves what was the alternative. There was one alternative only, and that was force, and we had to ask ourselves whether we should be justified in rejecting even the slender hope of coming to a settlement of this age-long trouble and in turning to a course which must inevitably involve more bloodshed, more bitterness of spirit, and more mischief in the relations between this country and the Dominions or the United States of America.
Weighing up all the circumstances, I and many others came to the conclusion that the possible advantages outweighed the risks and that we must vote for the Agreement provided we could be satisfied on two points—first, that the Agreement did not jeopardise the security of the Empire, and, secondly, that we should not break faith with Ulster. So far as security is concerned, we felt bound to accept the assurance that our naval and military experts were satisfied. We were not in a position to go behind that. The case of Ulster presented much greater difficulty. I listened with great attention to the speeches made by hon. Members opposite representing Ulster, and whilst I recognised that they felt sore and aggrieved, and that there was much justification for that feeling, on the other side it seemed to me that there was really only one point 1310 to which we need give serious attention, and that was whether in truth they were justified in their fears that this Boundary Clause might be interpreted in such a way as to enable big chunks of territory to be cut away from Ulster. That was indeed a vital matter. No one who knows anything of Ulster can suppose that they would or could submit to such a proposal as that. If you look at the speeches which were delivered by Ministers during that Debate you will not find any specific declaration that the boundary would be settled in one way or another. You will find them constantly referring to the words of the Treaty, but I think the impression left on the mind of the House, and the understanding upon which the House voted, was that Ministers themselves interpreted that Clause of the Treaty to mean that the Boundary Commission would be a Commission really to adjust boundaries and not to transfer large territories. It was on that understanding that the House voted, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Glasgow (Mr. Bonar Law) said that if that really was the correct interpretation, he did not think Ulster ought to tear up the Agreement on that account. I will read his words:If the Boundary Commission is carried out in a spirit worthy of the Agreement, which means not the possibility of throwing out counties but of a real adjustment of boundaries—if that is what it means Ulster would make a very great mistake if it refused to have anything to do with an Agreement of this kind.7.0 P.M.
One of the Ulster Members, I think it was the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone (Mr. W. Coote), said that to a Commission on those terms he would have no objection. So far as I remember there was no protest made or any difference of opinion expressed by Ulster Members at that time.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—I am very glad indeed to hear those cheers, because that is the point I want to make. The grievance is not that a Boundary Commission should be set up, but that the terms upon which that Boundary Commission should be appointed are such as leave doubts in the minds of my hon. Friends opposite whether they might not be so interpreted as to take away whole blocks of their territory. I read in the Press to-day that we were to have definite assurances from Ministers. I am bound to say that, in thinking over beforehand 1311 what assurances could be given, I was unable to see how any assurances of that kind could possibly be given at this stage. If you amend the Treaty in one respect obviously you can amend it in others, too, and the moment you begin to alter it—certainly if you put in words which materially alter the situation as it is understood to-day—it must inevitably jeopardise the possibility of the carrying through of the Treaty at all. Therefore it did not seem to me that it was possible for any Minister either to accept an Amendment of the Treaty in that respect or to pronounce beforehand what the judgment of the Boundary Commission might be when they came to determine this very vexed and controversial question. We did not, of course, get any such assurance from the Colonial Secretary on this point. Therefore we are driven back upon our own common sense, and once more upon what are the alternatives. After all, as my hon. and gallant Friend opposite said, the question of the interpretation of this Clause is one which is of a technical character, and which depends largely upon the personnel of those who compose the Boundary Commission. I only wish that we might have had an expression of some legal opinion from the Treasury Bench, from one of the Law Officers of the Crown, as to their view of how this Clause should naturally be interpreted. That would have been of great assistance to many of us here, because really the whole thing does turn upon this: we cannot contemplate with equanimity the possibility of this Clause being interpreted in a way which I am quite convinced, and more convinced than ever after the speech of the Colonial Secretary to-day, was never in the minds of those who framed the Treaty and which was opposed to all fairness and justice to Ulster.
If we can have some more definite assurance upon that point, then we must ask ourselves: has anything happened, since this House by a big majority gave its approval to the Agreement, which should cause us to change our minds and to alter our policy? One of our great difficulties undoubtedly, in dealing with Ireland in the past, has been the fact that we have so often changed our policy, and thereby given grounds for suspicion that we were not to be trusted to keep to our undertakings. That consideration alone would 1312 make me hesitate long before throwing on to the scrap-heap a policy which has been sanctioned so recently. But when we read in one of the Amendments upon the Order Paper that we ought not to carry through this Agreement, because of outrages, murders and kidnapping that have taken place since last December, ought we not to ask by whom and by whose authority these wanton outrages have been committed? If they had been the work of the Provisional Government, if I thought even that the Provisional Government had connived at them, certainly I should say we cannot possibly go on and complete and ratify the Treaty with men who have shown that we cannot depend on them to carry out their word. Up to the present, however, I have heard no evidence which leads me to suppose that these outrages have been committed by anyone other than those whose whole desire and interest is to make a settlement impossible; who have never accepted the Agreement; who have declared that they would take nothing less than a Republic; who have denounced the members of the Provisional Government as traitors to their country, and who will stick at nothing in their desire to wreck the Provisional Government and the whole possibility of the Treaty. If that be so, if these outrages have been devised and carried through by men of that character, should we rather not be playing straight into the hands of the enemies of our country if we allowed ourselves to be diverted from our chosen course by outrages of this kind? Should we not be falling into the very trap that these people have set for us? No, I, for one, am not going to be exasperated by outrages of this kind into changing my opinions as to the proper course to pursue. I consider, in these difficult and critical times, that our business is to keep our heads, not to allow ourselves to be flustered into courses we may regret hereafter, but to give all the powers that are necessary to enable the Provisional Government to establish itself securely and to carry out its proper obligations; and that in that way we may, at any rate, save for ourselves the only hope there is of escaping civil war.
§ Mr. INSKIP
There is no subject on which it is more proper to speak with diffidence, and more desirable to speak with restraint, and the invitation which the Secretary of State for the Colonies 1313 gave to the House this afternoon to speak with restraint has been admirably followed. The hon. and gallant Member for Bath (Captain Foxcroft) painted one black picture. He was speaking of the position in which the loyalists of Southern Ireland, as well as of Northern Ireland, find themselves to-day. As I heard him I could easily picture myself joining with zest in a fight for a return to the old Unionist principles which some of us still cherish. I confess that if I had one certain belief in politics it was in the maintenance of the integrity of the United Kingdom. I should imagine that it would be refreshing, in these difficult days, to have at least one clear call which left no doubt in our minds. It is hard to face disillusionment, but I am convinced we can only look backwards to those Unionist principles; it is impossible, to my mind, to go back on the events of the last year or two and to pretend any longer that they have brought us any guidance on this question of the Irish settlement.
It is the most elementary lesson in history, perhaps, which can be learned, that the wheels of time and the government of nations cannot be turned backwards. You may draw the nail, if I may change my metaphor, but you cannot obliterate the nailmarks. The events of the last few years have left an ineffaceable impress on the Government of this Realm. One may have one's opinions about the disastrous policy that has culminated in the present situation; one may have one's own opinion about what, I think, was the disastrous abandonment of Unionist principles in 1905; but what we are considering to-day is a situation that is radically different both from 1905 and from 1916. As we look back upon the series of Acts of Parliament, Conventions, Conferences and Agreements, it seems to me that we must turn our backs upon the past and face the future, if not with confidence, at any rate, with an open mind to receive new ideas and adopt new principles. There is another reason for adopting a new outlook with regard to Ireland. We remember the Speech that was delivered at Belfast on the opening of the Northern Parliament, when we were exhorted, in common with all Irishmen, to forgive and forget. I prefer to adopt that advice, if I may be allowed to do so, and to try and forget the sad and tragic history of the years through which we have gone.
1314 I do not desire to follow a notable example, and rake over the refuse of the past 3 years to find something which will make the name of the Government stink in the nostrils of this nation. Perhaps I may be allowed, in passing, to refer to what I think is the scandalous attack, the disgraceful attack, upon the honour of the House of Commons made by one who has received more forbearance from the House of Commons than probably any politician at the present time. In a speech which Lord Grey delivered in the Central Hall, Westminster, on 23rd January, he gave this as his first reason for returning to public life:I do it because, since the last election, there has been a House of Commons which has allowed any apparent scandal, however great, to remain unexposed.I think that that is a monstrous attack upon the honour and reputation of this House, and ventured to ask, I hope in a courteous manner, in the columns of the "Times" newspaper, whether Lord Grey had in his mind some, financial scandal or what it was, because he did not condescend to particulars in the lengthy speech which he delivered on that occasion. With perhaps less than his usual courtesy, in a speech a few clays later he said the scandals to which he referred were not financial, hut were connected with the policy of reprisals which had been the subject of so much discussion in Parliament and outside Parliament. Apparently Lord Grey, therefore, has chosen as his first reason for returning to public life the duty, under which he conceives himself to be, of raking over the litter and the refuse of those years in order to find some stick with which to beat the Government. I will not follow that evil example. I have said what I think about the attack upon the House of Commons; and, apart from the attack upon the House of Commons, I think it is an example not to be followed by anybody who sincerely desires peace in Ireland.
I would prefer, and I find a sense of relief in doing so, to date all our ideas of policy from what we did last December, when we passed this Treaty. At that time what was the position? It was the offer of our Government, our chosen Government, to Southern Ireland. It was accepted by the spokesman of that part of Ireland which was perhaps mostly concerned. I am not going to say for a moment that my hon. Friends from Ulster 1315 might not have expected to have received greater consideration; but at any rate it was accepted by spokesmen from Southern Ireland. Then in the third place it was received with the warmest approval by almost every part of the King's Dominions. It is a good Unionist principle to attend to what our brethren in the outlying parts of the Empire think about matters that concern the Empire, and it is not unfitting, I hope, for a Unionist to attach great importance to the approval which this Treaty received from different parts of the Empire. I think the House of Commons felt, and rightly felt, it would have caused dismay and disorder if we had rejected the Treaty at that time. What it was right to accept in December, I think it is right to help forward at this present time. The Rubicon has been crossed: we, have reached the other side; let us press forward to the task upon which we have entered. At any rate that is my opinion. I look around and I ask myself, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) asked, what is the alternative to the approval of this Treaty? There is one course that would be fatal and that is retreat. It may be doubtful where other courses might lead, but retreat, I think, would be absolutely and certainly and immediately fatal to the prospects of peace. Perhaps I may be allowed to advance one or two reasons why I think progress and advance upon the course we have chosen will possibly, I hope probably, procure that peace which we are so sedulously seeking.
We have a new fact in Ireland to-day, that for the first time within the last few years there is a considerable section of public opinion on the side of law and order. I do not pretend that law and order have been attained, but I think the events of the last few days in connection with the outrages are not altogether discouraging. There is encouragement to be found in the fact that these disorders are reprobated by a very large proportion of those who formerly were absolutely united in defending and covering up the outrages which the Chief Secretary found it so difficult to check. The bane of Ireland has been the absence of any public opinion on the side of law and order. Let us encourage that new development in Ireland. Let us encourage those who are on the side of law and 1316 order and try and increase and strengthen that spirit. Public opinion in Ireland is a plant of tender growth. Let us be careful lest an east wind from this island may kill it before it has time to grow strong and flourish. There is another reason why I think you may find encouragement. We find there are leaders of public opinion in Ireland who are prepared to take a stand against those who advocate the establishment of a Republic. I am putting it in a moderate way; I am not putting their position so high perhaps as it might be put. Some people distrust them. I will not say all their utterances inspire confidence; but at least they have been, and as I understand still are, opposed to some of those who have deliberately chosen to support the idea of a Republic in Ireland at the present day. I would to heaven that the utterances of these gentlemen were more likely to produce confidence in our minds, but let us encourage them. How shall we best encourage them? By showing them we are prepared to continue the course upon which we have entered. How shall we most discourage them? By breaking faith with them at the present time.
Great Britain has suffered under many accusations of ill-faith, some well-founded, many more ill-founded. It would be a strange reversal of the usual position if Mr. Collins and Mr. Griffith and the representatives of Irish opinion did not keep faith with us, but, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds has already said, I would rather they broke faith with us than that we broke faith with them. Let us encourage them in everything they are doing, whether or not they are doing as much as they might do. Let us encourage them by standing as far as possible at their side to resist those who are openly advocating and fighting for the establishment of a hostile Republic. As long as they feel they have anything to lose, Mr. Collins, Mr. Griffith and those who are working with them will be inclined to help the movement towards peace in Ireland, but destroy their confidence and they will have nothing to hope and possibly little to fear. In this connection, I hope I may be allowed to quote words once used by a representative of Bristol about Ireland. Burke said:People crushed by law have no hope but from power. If laws are their enemies they will be enemies to laws. Those who have 1317 much to hope and nothing to lose will always be dangerous.Let us teach these men that they can lose our confidence, and they will be encouraged, I venture to think, to become more assiduous in promoting the peace which they profess to desire.
May I say one word about the boundary question? I share to the full my hon. Friend's apprehensions. I feel that in some way they have been disappointed, and perhaps received less equitable treatment than they might have expected under the 1920 Act; but we cannot have everything exactly as we desire it in a world which is full of adjustments. I hear my hon. Friend say we do not want everything. I am not speaking in any hostile sense towards him or his friends. I am prepared to stand by them as far as I can, but I cannot help feeling as we look at the Treaty that whatever interpretation is put upon paragraph 12, the provisions in question were not so obscure as they have been supposed to be by some speakers this afternoon. The interpretation which might be based upon them is a wide one, but the words do suggest on the face of them that it isthe wishes of the inhabitants so far as compatible with economic and geographical conditions,which will decide. May I ask my hon. Friends why they assume the case will be decided against them so readily? Why do they assume that the wishes of the inhabitants will most certainly lead to a diminution of the area which is under the Government of Ulster?
§ Mr. MOLES
As that question has been raised it is as well it should be cleared at once. The real grievance we have against my right hon. Friends is that according to a public document we were told distinctly that nothing would happen beyond a slight rectification of the frontier, whereas when Sir James Craig and Michael Collins came together, Michael Collins assured Sir James Craig that he had the assurance of the Prime Minister that it was large areas that were to be dealt with, and that is why they broke.
§ Mr. INSKIP
My hon. Friend has not altogether answered my question, but at the same time I appreciate what he said. The only answer I would attempt to give is this—that this House is really not concerned with private conversations which take place outside, which are so subject 1318 to misunderstanding, and this House ought to be in a position to judge for itself as to the meaning of what is submittted to it. I do not know the exact interpretation the Chairman of the Boundary Commission may place upon these words. I can only hope that the wishes of the inhabitants may be consulted without any ultimate hurt or prejudice to Ulster. I would only say this further in this connection, that although I recognise the seriousness of this boundary question and recognise the seriousness of any decision, if such a decision is to be contemplated, to transfer counties of large blocks from Ulster to Southern Ireland, we must be on our guard against apprehensions of that sort which would deflect us from the course of conduct which on the whole I believe to be the right one, namely, the approval of this Treaty.
It has been said more than once to-night and on other occasions that Ireland is practically without a Government. What is happening? Not only the enemies of Great Britain are working in the dark but the Bolshevists, the enemies of law and order, are working against trade unionists who are anxious to maintain law and order according to their political opinions in Ireland. This is an opportunity for every enemy of freedom and every friend of disorder to work in Ireland, and I venture to think the sooner this House, though perhaps not altogether confident as to the future, sets up a form of government in Ireland the more likely are we to find that peace which is so much in our minds. I think there is no short cut to peace. We shall not see peace suddenly break upon our sight. It will be but a dim and distant prospect when it is first seen. We may reach it or we may not reach it, but I pray to Heaven it is no mirage that is leading us on the course we take. Invited as we were to forgive and forget, and having passed this Treaty in December, I venture to step forward, not confident as I have said, but still hoping, and it is in that spirit I hope the House will be prepared to advance.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
I think the House generally must have recognised the great moderation with which this first Amendment on the Paper was moved and seconded, especially after what I may describe as the torrential eloquence with which the Colonial Secretary moved the acceptance of this Bill, and scarcely 1319 attempted to deal at all with the serious matter which the House is asked to approve to-night. The Colonial Secretary said in his speech, "Do you expect that we should have broken up this Conference when it had reached the middle of the night, and we had to give an answer in a few moments' time? Do you expect that we should have broken up the Conference on the mere matter of boundaries? Do you expect that we should have sent back the delegates of Southern Ireland merely because we had made a promise to our friends in Ulster?" My answer to that is this: "You should break up any Conference; you should break up anything, rather than that a British statesman should break his word." Unquestionably, the most solemn assurances have been given, not once, not twice, but several times, notably to the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, that nothing would be done that affected the rights of Northern Ireland until that proposal had been submitted to the Government which had been set up by this Parliament and opened by His Majesty the King. This House is still reverberating with a greater effort of eloquence than we had this afternoon from the Colonial Secretary. I refer to the eloquent speech which the Prime Minister delivered on Tuesday evening with regard to the Government of India. The House pulsated with the effect of his words when he said:We cannot divest ourselves of our trust without shame and without dishonour."—[OFFICIAL EPORT, 14th February, 1922; col. 964, Vol. 150.]Splendid words; but as I listened to them I could not help recalling that little more than a year ago the Prime Minister, in dealing with the question of Ireland, speaking in his native place, Carnarvon, spoke in very much the same way as he spoke of India on Tuesday. He described the benefit that England had been to Ireland, and he used words to this effect:How can we divest ourselves of this great trust which has been committed to us at the instance of assassins and the gangs who have got Ireland by the throat?Where are those pledges to-day?
I turn now to what the Prime Minister said on the 7th February with reference to the Treaty, and it has been repeated to-day by the Colonial Secretary:We stand by our signatures, whatever happens. We should be dishonoured for ever if we repudiated a document which we entered into in good faith."—[OFFICIAL 1320 REPORT, 7th February, 1922; col. 52, Vol. 150.]Which Treaty is he going to stand by? Is an assurance to certain gentlemen that you agree to bring a form of Treaty before the House of Commons, and to ask the House of Commons to pass that Treaty into law, more solemn than a Treaty which has already had the consent and the approval of the House of Commons and the House of Lords and has been passed into law? I cannot conceive or understand that line of argument. It is specious and untrue. The House of Commons has, however, something to do very much more serious than to discuss the words or the pledges of the Prime Minister or the Colonial Secretary. The House of Commons is essentially responsible for its own honour, and it cannot resign that honour into the hands of Ministers, however distinguished or however eloquent, nor can it resign that honour into the hands of an arbitrator, however skilful or however impartial.
I recognise that there are many hon. Members who voted for the ratification of the Treaty, honestly and honourably, believing, as the hon. Member for the Ladywood Division of Birmingham (Mr. N. Chamberlain) has said, and as practically the great majority of hon. Members believed, that the question of boundaries was merely a question of a pocket here or a pocket there, a settlement on give-and-take lines, with practically even concessions on either side. They voted believing that the Boundary Clause meant that. If they now find, as I think will be the case, that they were mistaken in that belief, surely, as honourable men, they are bound, even at this last moment, before passing an Act of Parliament ratifying the Treaty, to insert words which will define its scope and say clearly what they meant. This matter is not only the concern of Ulster. I am proud to have been born an Ulster man, but I have the honour to represent an English constituency, and I certainly should not in that representative capacity be voicing, primarily, the case of Ulster to-night, if I did not believe, with all my heart and mind, that the pledge of a British Minister, and the assurance of this House is the concern, primarily, of the British people.
We have had a great deal of eloquence to-night, but we have dealt very little with the facts, nor has the Colonial Secre- 1321 tary deigned to give us any explanation how it came about that these words were put into the Treaty. Let me remind the House how this trouble arose, and how our attention was first drawn to it. The House will remember that Sir James Craig was coming over to see the British Government, after a preliminary conference with Mr. Michael Collins. He thought he would take the opportunity on his way to England, coming through Dublin, to see Mr. Michael Collins. On his way to Dublin, he read the newspapers in the train, and found that on the day before Mr. Michael Collins and Mr. Griffith had received a deputation from Northern Ireland on the question of Tyrone and Fermanagh. What was stated by Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins on that occasion has been circulated in the Press, but the Colonial Secretary has given no explanation of the matter regarding what is reported to have been said to the deputation. The deputation claimed that Tyrone and Fermanagh should be included in Southern Ireland, and Mr. Collins said that they were only trying to force an open door and showing unnecessary energy in doing so. Mr. Griffith said:He and his fellow delegates had urged the claims of these districts for weeks during the negotiations in London, and the result was that the Free State should extend over Ireland, that Ulster should have the option of voting herself out within a month, but that if she did so a Boundary Commission should be set up to decide if the districts in question would come into the Free State.What were the districts in question, as shown by maps which were before the Conference? The districts were the Counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone, large portions of the Counties of Armagh and Down, Londonderry City, Enniskillen and Newry. We have had no explanation from the Colonial Secretary of this serious matter. Does any Member of the Government mean to say that if the House of Commons, when they were asked to ratify this Treaty, had been told that the arbitrators would have power to bring in Fermanagh and Tyrone, Londonderry City, and parts of Armagh and Down they would, for one moment, have ratified that clause in the Treaty?
What we want to know finally, to-night, is whether it was true or not true what Mr. Griffith said, that he had been told that the arbitrator would be enabled to 1322 consider those areas in making his award. We are entitled to have some information on that point. The Prime Minister stated in the House on 14th December:What is the decision we have come to in this Treaty? Ulster has her option either to join an All-Ireland Parliament or to remain exactly as she is. No change from her present position will be involved if she decides by an Address to the Crown to remain where she is. It is an option which she may or may not exercise, and I am not going to express an opinion upon the subject. If she exercises her option with her full rights under the Act of 1920, she will remain without a single change except in regard to her boundaries. We were of opinion—and we are not alone in that opinion, because there are friends of Ulster who take the same view—that it is desirable, if Ulster is to remain a separate unit, that there should be a readjustment of boundaries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1921; cols. 39–40, Vol. 149.]Does anyone think that when the Prime Minister referred to boundaries in that sense, it was ever contemplated for one moment that it would mean a transfer of areas like Tyrone and Fermanagh? It is impossible to believe it. If he did mean it, he grossly misled the House by using the words, "Ulster may remain exactly as she is." On the 15th December the Secretary of State for War made this statement:As I understood it, the point was that the South and West are getting more favourable financial terms than the North. They are, but the North has the option either to remain with us or to go of her own free will if she chooses. It cannot be coercion to give an option. An option in the nature of things is to be perfectly free. Coercion is not to be free. … An option means a choice."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1921; col. 255, Vol. 149.]Now we are told by the Colonial Secretary that the effect of the Treaty in regard to the frontiers of the Ulster Government may affect her prejudicially. I will not read again, because it was read this afternoon, the statement by the late Leader of the House, but I would remind hon. Members that that right hon. Gentleman conclusively showed that the Prime Minister was bound under his letter to him under no circumstances to give anything away in regard to the six counties.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
The late Leader of the House is not here, but his words are here, and I will read them:I am going to deal now with the only aspect of the Treaty which is open to 1323 serious objection, that is, as to the Boundaries Commission. If ever the Ulster people considered that anything was settled, and settled for ever, it was the boundaries. I think it is hardly worth while elaborating, but I may point out that in the letter written to me by the Prime Minister just before the last election he specified that in dealing with Ireland anything which interferes not with Ulster but with the six counties is impossible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1921; col. 203, Vol. 149.]Then he adds:Then of course there was the passing of the Act of 1920, and there was the King's opening of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. Nothing one would have thought could have been more binding than all these things.It takes more than that to bind the Prime Minister. Then I turn to a speech by the present Leader of the House delivered in Edinburgh a few weeks ago. He said:We could not preserve the unity of the United Kingdom as I would have liked, but we could preserve the unity of the Empire and secure the safety of these islands. We could guarantee to Ulster that she should be mistress of her own fate. We have done all these things.I ask the Leader of the House, in view of the Clauses in the Treaty and of the statement of Mr. Griffith as to what he was given to understand at the Conference—which has never been denied by any Minister of the Crown—is Ulster still "mistress of her own fate"? That ought to be answered to-night. Then we have the statement that was made to Sir James Craig by the Prime Minister that in a week at latest he would have a reply one way or the other, and that "meantime the rights of Ulster would be in no way sacrificed or compromised." The Colonial Secretary to-day admitted that this Clause in the Treaty may affect prejudicially the rights of Ulster. There, I say, is a direct breach of faith admitted in this House. Many more quotations could be made if I were prepared to weary the House. The quotations which I have made are ample and should be answered in this House, and if an explanation of them is possible it should be given. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Antrim (Captain Craig) has quoted a clause in the Prime Minister's letter to Mr. de Valera which has never been explained away, and there are others. I have stated facts, and facts only. We want something more than eloquence, we want a reply to facts in the 1324 same spirit as that which was shown by my hon. and gallant Friend when moving the Amendment, and we do not want to be answered with torrents of eloquence which cut no ice. I will only say one word on the general question of the madness of proceeding with this Bill while murder, arson and outrage are rife in Southern Ireland.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
I am coming to that. I had not finished my sentence. Murder, arson and outrage are rife in Southern Ireland and in the boundary districts at any rate of Northern Ireland there is practically a state of civil war, while the City of Belfast is desolated by terrible crimes and outrages.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
I was there not long ago. We hear very little now of the telegrams which were despatched all over the world and to the Colonies, early in the morning of the day on which the Treaty was signed, saying that after 700 years of chaos, rebellion and what not there was at last peace between Great Britain and Ireland and Peace in Ireland. There is no peace in Ireland, only anarchy and bloodshed. Two of those who signed the Treaty have already stated publicly that they did not sign it willingly or with a view to establishing peace and amity between these two great countries, but because they were threatened by the Prime Minister of this country with a bloody military campaign. As to Mr. Michael Collins, the special protégé of the Lord Chancellor and also of the other British representatives, I find a special article written by him in an illustrated Sunday paper on 5th February in which, referring to the Treaty, he says:The little we have not yet gained we can go ahead and gain. The British Government could only he maintained by the presence of British forces. Once those are gone the British Government can no longer arrange the form which our national government and our national life will take, nor can they set any limits to either.1325 Surely that means that if in a short time Mr. Michael Collins, or Mr. de Valera if he were then in power, were to decide on forming a republic they would feel themselves entitled to do so.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
I was quoting from Mr. Michael Collins. He concludes the article under the heading of "Who Wins?" and referring to the English diehards he says:The English diehards say that Mr. Lloyd George and his Cabinet have surrendered. Our own diehards say to us we have surrendered. There is a simple test.I have a great deal of sympathy with Mr. Collins' common sense.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
He has common sense, and I hope that I am like him in that. He says:Those who are left in possession of the battlefield have won.Perhaps the Leader of the House or the Lord Chancellor will accept the statement of Mr. Michael Collins though they declined to agree with us when we charged them with a base surrender. The Prime Minister when speaking on the Address said that what the world needed more than anything else was peace. That is true, but peace cannot be obtained by fraud and trickery. Peace depends upon confidence and credit, and credit can only be re-established when the people of this country and the nations of the world can rely on the assurance and the pledges given by their rulers. What we want in dealing with this boundary question, as well as with the many other difficulties which beset us, is to lay down fixed principles on which we can act. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council received to-day the ovation which was his due. Apart from the admirable way in which he represented this country and the initiative of President Harding, the main reason for the success of the Conference at Washington was the fact that it was founded on fixed principles. It was not a question of vague generalities or looking at the clock to see whether it was time to come to an arrangement or not, but that the whole arrangements were made on fixed principles. Some speakers, in a somewhat satirical way, have suggested that Ulster surely would not claim to include within her area 1326 parishes or districts of which the majority were not in sympathy with her policy. If in some of those districts along the boundary of Ulster there is not a majority to-day in sympathy with her policy, the reason is that the men of Ulster answered your call in no stinting way when you asked them to come to your aid when you were sorely in need of help, and if the men of Ulster do not answer to their Roll call to-day in those districts it is because they are lying with your sons in France.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Gordon Hewart)
If I intervene, contrary to my intention and only for a few moments, in this Debate it is not for the purpose of making a general speech upon the Bill or even of replying to the observations of my hon. Friend who has just sat down. It is because, as I understand, some question has arisen, and has been pointedly addressed to the Law Officers of the Crown, upon the interpretation of Article 12 of the Treaty, which has to do with the Boundary Commission. May I say at once that the putting of any such question to the Law Officers of the Crown seems to me, with great respect, to involve a certain misapprehension. It it no part of our duty to interpret these articles. This Agreement has been made. When this Bill has been passed, as I hope that it will shortly he passed, the Agreement contained in the Schedule will be given the force and effect of law. It is not for me to interpret the whole or any part of it, and with regard to Article 12 it is, I should have thought, obvious that the question what is the interpretation to be put upon the words of that Article is a question which the Boundary Commission must decide for themselves. As I understand it was, and is, the intention of this Government, so far as its share in the appointment of that Commission is concerned—and it is a very important share—to appoint as Chairman a gentleman of ripe judicial experience. It will be for the Commission, and the Commission alone, to interpret the words of that Article, and I feel that I should be guilty of a kind of impertinence if I were to attempt to express a Law Officer's opinion upon the true interpretation of those words.
I will only say, therefore, speaking as one of the many Members of this House who are able to form their own opinion, that there are certain things at any rate 1327 in this Article which are tolerably obvious. May I read the important words. It is provided by Article 12 that the Commission, to be appointed at the time and in the manner set out in that Article,shall determine in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants, so far as may be compatible with economic and geographic conditions, the boundaries between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland.Those are the words, and again I deprecate the notion that it is any part of my task to interpret them. But, speaking as one of the many Members of this House, and one of the many interested readers of this document, I should have thought that there was not much room for doubt or controversy as to what those words meant. In the first place, if I may make the observation—I do not know whether it is a paradox or a platitude—a Boundary Commission is a Commission which is concerned with boundaries. As to what these boundaries are to be, the Commission has to determine in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants, subject to certain tests and limitations which are by this Article imposed. The wishes of the inhabitants are to prevail "So far as may be compatible with economic and geographic conditions." Evidently the Article is contemplating two quite separate groups of conditions, namely, economic conditions and geographic conditions. It may be that in some areas, whatever the wishes of the inhabitants may prove to be, there will be economic conditions which will be decisive. It may be in other areas that, whatever the wishes of the inhabitants may be, there will be geographic conditions which may prove to be decisive. It may be again in other areas that a combination of economic and geographic conditions will be decisive. But the Commission having ascertained, I presume by suitable methods and with the help of appropriate machinery, what the wishes of the inhabitants are, will then have to take into account not only economic but also geographic conditions.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
My right hon. Friend has skilfully avoided the real point. The wishes of the inhabitants of what? Are they to be the inhabitants of a province, of a county, of a city, or of a parish? What does the word "inhabitants" mean?
§ Sir G. HEWART
I must resist the temptation to answer that conundrum. But I assure my hon. Friend that he is quite wrong in thinking that I deliberately avoided the point. If I were to attempt to deal with the two questions which are raised by him I should then be doing the very thing which I submit that it is no part of my task to do, and which, if I were to attempt to do it, would be nugatory.
§ Sir G. HEWART
If my hon. Friend will allow me for a moment, it may be that I shall deal with the point which he is about to raise. If I were to attempt the task I have indicated, it would be an improper task and a nugatory task, because nothing that I can say could impose the slightest fetter upon the only tribunal which will have to interpret the meaning of this Article, and that is the Commission. But while, if I may say so with respect, it is no more a part of my province than it is, for example, a part of the province of Mr. Michael Collins himself to interpret this Article, I heard and I have read the observations which were made upon it when the matter had not yet reached its present stage—I mean in the Debates of the 14th and 16th December last, when the Articles of Agreement were being submitted for the approval of this House. What was said on that occasion? I am not going to read many of the words, but I cannot paraphrase them without altering them, and therefore I shall read two or three sentences. What was then said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister? Speaking on 14th December, he said this:What we propose I think is wise for Ulster, namely, that you should have a readjustment of boundaries"—the House will observe the phrase "readjustment of boundaries"—not for the six counties, but a readjustment of the boundaries of the North of Ireland which would take into account where there are homogeneous populations of the same kind as that which is in Ulster, and where there are homogeneous populations of the same kind as you have in the South. If you get a homogeneous area you must, however, take into account geographical and economic considerations.—[OFFICIAL REPORT; 14th December, 1921; cols. 40 & 41, Vol. 149.]Upon the 16th December, in answer to the hon. Member for Mid Antrim (Mr. 1329 O' Neill), my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister added this:All I have ever suggested is what I have suggested equally to the House of Commons and, I think, to Sir James Craig, that the character of the population must be taken into account and the economic and geographic conditions. That is a matter which is to be decided upon by the Commission, and I could not say beforehand what result there would be, whether to add to the number of the population of Ulster or to diminish it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1921; cols. 314–315, Vol. 149.]In the course of the same Debate, my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal spoke in precisely the same sense. May I read one or two of the sentences which he used? He said, for example, on 16th December:'"What we have proposed and what the Commission is required to do is to revise the boundary between the North and the South so as to include where possible, having regard to economic and geographical considerations, men now excluded from the Government of Northern Ireland who would wish to come under it, and to exclude from Northern Ireland men now included in it who would wish to come out of it"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1921; cols. 357–358, Vol. 149.]In another speech made on 8th February this year, that is to say, in the course of the recent Debate on the Address, my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, speaking again with reference to the Boundary Commission, added these observations:Both sides will put their arguments and urge their claims. It is not for me to say what the claim of either side should be and what the arguments by which they advance or justify their claims should be, and still less is it for me to attempt to say what the decision of the Commission will be on the case or cases so argued and presented to them; but if my hon. and gallant Friend suggests that we who negotiated on behalf of the British Government have held in private to either of the parties to this Conference, language different from that which we held in this House, he is mistaken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1922; col. 204, Vol. 150.]I only desire to add that, offering my observations to the House in the spirit which I have already mentioned, without in the least presuming to suggest an authoritative interpretation of this Article, because it is not in my power to bind or fetter the only tribunal which must determine the interpretation—speaking entirely in that spirit, I only desire to add, that in the observations which I have read from the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Lord Privy 1330 Seal, there is nothing which I should desire to subtract and there is nothing which I should desire to add.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us, either as a law officer or as an ordinary man, whether under these Articles the power of the Commissioners will be limited simply to small readjustments of territory or, on the other hand, will they have larger powers of taking away, if they thought fit, large territories from Ulster?
§ Sir G. HEWART
My hon. Friend has introduced an insidious epithet into his question. I do not know what is meant by "small"
§ Sir G. HEWART
The phrase which the Prime Minister employed, and which, with respect, I venture to repeat, is "readjustment of boundaries." What that will involve, according to the wishes of the inhabitants, and subject to the limitations of the two kinds set out in Article 12, is a matter for the good judgment and the good sense of the Commission.
I confess if I were a Member interested in this boundary question I should not feel my apprehensions very much allayed by the speech to which we have just listened. I have listened to that speech very carefully, and I find I do not know exactly what the Government mean to do on the question of this boundary of the North of Ireland. In the few words which I am going to address to the House, however, I am going to speak, not as an Ulster man, but as an Irishman coming from the South of Ireland. Before this Bill goes to a Division I want to ask the Government one or two questions which are very pertinent to the loyalists in the South of Ireland. As we have heard to-day, this Bill is one of a series of steps towards turning three provinces in the South of Ireland into a fully fledged free State, and, of course, when that has been accomplished, something like 300,000 men, women and children, who at the present moment are fully fledged British subjects, 1331 will be turned into equally fully fledged Irish Free Staters. There are several processes in this evolution. First of all, this Bill must become an Act, which means that it has got to pass both Houses of Parliament. We are then going to have a General Election in that portion of Ireland which is termed the Irish Free State. Having done that, the members returned form a Free State Parliament, they meet, and they proceed to draw up a Constitution. Having passed that Constitution, it is submitted to us in the Imperial Parliament, and I presume it is passed, as it must be passed, without alteration. That, I take it, will be the course of events—a far slower proceeding than at one time I thought it might be. We are going to pass this particular Bill as soon as we can, and presumably we must pass what to me is the all-important part of the Bill, namely, the Schedule. What that Schedule contains is, or ought to be, the keystone of all subsequent proceedings, and I would like the House to look for a moment at Article 2 of the Schedule, which says:Subject to the provisions hereinafter set out, the position of the Irish Free State in relation to the Imperial Parliament and Government and otherwise shall be that of the Dominion of Canada., and the law, practice and constitutional usage governing the relationship of the Crown or the representative of the Crown and of the Imperial Parliament to the Dominion of Canada shall govern their relationship to the Irish Free State.The next Article says:The representative of the Crown in Ireland shall be appointed in like manner as the Governor-General of Canada, and in accordance with the practice observed in the making of such appointments.That is all important. Does the Government mean to make a definite stand on Article 2 of the Schedule of this Bill? If so, they are bound to follow, and to follow closely, the Canada Act of 1867. I took the trouble a short while ago to dig out that Act from the library, or to have it dug out for me, and I hastily glanced through a few of the Clauses of that Act on which this Constitution of the Free State is going to be based. I will read a few of the Clauses of that Act of 1867:Clause 9.—The Executive Government is hereby declared vested in the Queen.Clause 15.—The Commander-in-Chief of the land and naval militia is hereby declared to be vested in the Queen.1332Clause 128.—Every member of the Senate or House of Commons before taking his seat shall take and subscribe before the Governor-General the oath of allegiance contained in the Fifth Schedule of this Act,namely, "I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty."
It might be said, on the other side, that, as a matter of fact, the question of taking the oath is provided for in the Schedules to this Bill, in Article 4, but Article 4 does not say that, members of the Free State Parliament shall take the oath. It merely says:The oath to be taken by members of the Parliament of the Irish Free State shall be in the following form.Going back to the Canada Act of 1867 I will read one or two other Clauses:Clause 132.—The Parliament and Government of Canada shall have all the powers necessary and proper for performing the obligations of Canada as forming part of the British Empire towards foreign countries.Clause 133.—Either the English or French language may he used by any person in the Debates of the Houses of Parliament.Clause 134.—The Acts of the Parliament of Canada shall be printed and published in both these languages.Are we going to require that the Irish Free State Parliament, when they come to frame their Constitution, shall frame it in accordance with the Canada Act of 1867? In other words, supposing in their Constitution there is nothing about His Gracious Majesty being Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Ireland, nothing about the Acts of the Parliament of the Free State bèing printed and published in both Gaelic and English, nothing about Debates being allowed in the Irish Free State Parliament in both Gaelic and English, when that Constitution comes to us without these things, shall we send it back and say, "No. This House passed the Schedule to the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act, and under that Schedule you have got to make your Constitution conform to the Canada Act of 1867? "That is a question which I should like answered before this Debate comes to an end.
I listened very carefully to the speech of the Colonial Secretary, and I formed an impression—I hope I am wrong—that this all-important Schedule was merely a pious expression of opinion not worth the paper on which it is printed. I formed an impression, listening to the Colonial Secretary, that what the Government have 1333 in their mind is this, and this only, that all they want to get through the House of Commons in something in the nature of a one-Clause Bill, having the effect that on and after the 1st April, 1922, this Parliament will allow the South of Ireland to do whatever it likes and to set up whatever form of Government it likes. That is what I am afraid the Government really mean to do. I do not believe for a moment, if it comes to a question of conflict of will between themselves and the Government of Mr. Michael Collins or President Griffith over the question of the Constitution to be framed according to the Constitution of Canada, that they will for a moment stand up to Mr. Collins or President Griffith. That being so, I want to say this to the House. I am not standing here to-night to plead for the fate of these 300,000 men, women, and children, who, nevertheless, have no desire to be "butcher'd to make a Roman holiday." As soon as we become Free Staters, you will have no power to interfere in our behalf. We have either got to stay in that country, or we have got to clear out. We are under no illusions whatsoever. Do not think it for a moment, and do not think I am begging for mercy, because I am not, but I ask you this. Between now and the 1st April, or the 1st July, or the 1st October, or whenever you have got these various Bills put through and made Acts, when you have got your Constitution back from Dublin and through this House, and when the whole thing is complete, between this and then I do ask you to do what you can to safeguard the interests of these 300,000 loyalists and make their lot as good as possible.
There are several things which you can do, which you ought to do. Let me mention three of them. First of all, there is the resettlement, as you promised, of ex-service men who are Irish who served in the great War against Germany, who have now come back to their country, and for whom you passed legislation saying you would give them a chance of acquiring land in their country, and of learning trades, which you have done so freely for ex-service men in this country. You have got to do something for them before you clear out of the South of Ireland. Then you have to deal with the settlement of claims for criminal injuries. They amount, as the Chief Secretary told me the other day, to about £7,775,000 in 1334 the South of Ireland. You have got to get that question settled, and it is necessary that you should, because I was sent this morning, by a correspondent, a notice in Gælic which had been cut out from a leading Dublin newspaper. I have had it more or less translated, and I find it is what is called Order No. 2, signed by the Secretary of the Irish Provisional Government. He gives his name. I cannot pronounce it, but in English it would be something like Hegerty. The Secretary of the Provisional Government states that from the day of the order, which is a few days back, no person shall make any claim before the Irish High Court or the Irish County Court in respect of any malicious or criminal injury under the two Acts. No more claims are to be made. I do not know whether the Secretary of the Provisional Government has put out that Gæelic Order with the knowledge and consent of His Majesty's Government here, because if he has not done so, it means that they are going to debar people who have claims from making them if they possibly can do so. Therefore I say it is absolutely necessary that these claims should be settled before the Free State Government finally functions and we have nothing more to say in the affairs of the South of Ireland.
Then, as regards the third point, what are you going to do about land purchase? Are you going to complete land purchase? At the present moment there is in Ireland something like a conspiracy on the part of tenants not to pay rents to landlords. The landlords, of course, are powerless, and more powerless than in the old days of the 'eighties and 'nineties. The tenants naturally say that they are going to get their land on the same terms as those who bought their land under the Wyndham and other Acts, and until they get that they are going to withhold their rent. Every day I receive questions on the subject, and I have to tell my correspondents that I can give no answer. As I said before, the future for us loyalists in the South of Ireland is very black. We have had honeyed words from the present President of the Irish Republic towards us loyalists in the South if we take up our common lot in the Irish Free State. On the other hand, only to-day I was reading an extract of proceedings which took 1335 place in Dublin a few weeks ago. There was a speech by a gentleman in the Irish Dail, and who is Minister of Agriculture, and he was quite emphatic that we Southern Unionists would have to take our chance, as there would be no preferential treatment for us, and we had to sink or swim as we could. In the few short days that are left, something can be done to give us the chance of being treated fairly, and I do ask the Government to do so. I want to get something like a straightforward answer from the Government on this question of boundaries. If the Government say it is to be a matter merely of small rectifications, well and good, but if it is to be left in the air, as it was by the speech of the Attorney-General, I shall vote against the Government.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
If I had been in doubt whether I would or would not support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Antrim (Captain Craig), those doubts would have been set at rest by the remarks which fell this evening from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, because, if I may venture to condense his remarks, they simply amounted to this, that once you appoint a Commission to settle a boundary, with only certain vague and general instructions, that Commission may come to any decision, and anything may happen. Not even the expert Law Officers of the Crown can say in advance what will happen. I would like to put to the representative of the Government Present a very definite question. I think he will agree with me that, in the face of what the Attorney-General said, it is quite possible—not to put it any higher—that the Boundary Commission may decide to give to Southern Ireland places or districts which the Northern Government refuses to part with. What is to happen then? What will be the attitude of the Government? Will not the Government be forced into the position that they will have to coerce Ulster? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give his very careful attention to this matter, which really goes to the root of the matter. Will not His Majesty's Government feel obliged to do one of two things? Will they not feel compelled to coerce Ulster themselves, or will they not find themselves compelled to give permission 1336 to Southern Ireland to coerce Ulster? Is there a third alternative course which my right hon. Friend can suggest? I do not think there is, because I do not think that the Government would consider it was possible, having passed an Act of Parliament empowering a Boundary Commission to give whatever decision it likes, to ignore that decision.
Therefore, I again ask the right hon. Gentleman most explicitly and most definitely whether he will give an answer to that point, or get some other Member of the Government to give a definite answer as to what course the Government will take if, as I say, the Boundary Commission gives a decision which the Northern Parliament refuses to accept. I lay particular stress on that, because I happen to belong to a political party which has given general adherence to the proposals of the Government. The assent of the Unionist party to the proposals of the Government was obtained at Liverpool by certain most definite pledges and promises. I need hardly remind hon. Members that on 17th December last there was a great conference in Liverpool of delegates from all over England to come to a decision as whether or not they would support the Government's policy outlined at that date. I was present there, and everybody here who was present will agree that that great conference was for a long time, as a member of the Government expressed it to me, very "wobbly." That conference was very undecided as to which way it would go. Finally, it was induced to give a large majority in favour of the Government's proposals, as outlined, by certain statements which were made; not only by the local leaders but also by a very important Member of His Majesty's Government. The pledge that was given was implicit throughout. The very Amendment in support of the Government, which was moved by the local leaders, contained these words:Consistently, with (inter-alia) pledges given to Ulster.That was a pledge which was inherent in the resolution before the meeting. The assent of that large gathering of representatives of hundreds of thousands of electors to the policy of the Government was very largely influenced by the fact that the Secretary for War made, as usual, a most powerful and impressive speech, but above all because, in that speech, he was absolutely definite in 1337 stating the policy to which he adhered. I have refreshed my memory by referring to the "Times" of 18th November to see the actual words used, and I find that in its description of that meeting the "Times" says that—the reaffirmation of his political creed in regard to Ireland by Sir Laming Worthington-Evans"—I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not now in his place—came as a dramatic rejoinder to the views expressed by Colonel Gretton, Mr. R. McNeill, and others. Speaking in an impressive manner, he said: 'Nor will I agree to any settlement that requires the coercion of Ulster to assent to it.'That was a definite public pronouncement by one of the most important Members of the Government, in a great public place, before a large assembly convened for the express purpose of considering whether the people of this country would or would not give their assent to the Government policy. It was only in consequence of that pledge, given in that impressive manner, that Members of Parliament were justified in coming back to this House, and, in turn, giving their assent to what they believed to be the policy of the Government. I do not blame some of my hon. Friends in this House who went into the opposite Lobby from me on that occasion. I believe that they thought that they had derived from that great Conference in Liverpool some authority to support the policy of the Government, and I think they believed the policy of the Government was the policy stated by its spokesman.
At the same time there was a great meeting in the Sun Hall. The Leader of my party was the principal speaker. He made a magnificent speech in the course of that speech he made one remark which won for him at once the sympathy of the whole of the audience. He said:No Government of which your representatives"—that is, the representatives of my party—are members, and of which the Prime Minister is a member, will coerce Ulster.Surely that was definite? Yes, and the Leader of the House made another remark, for which I was at the time very grateful to him. He said:I have no quarrel with the die-hards. They are men of sincere conviction and strong faith. All that I ask is that they shall wait until they have material on which to judge.1338 We have waited. In the Bill which is before us to-night, in the words of the Treaty, in regard to the Boundary Commission, we have that material by which we can judge how far the pledges given to us by our leaders have been kept or not. I say it with regret, but I must say it, that I think beyond the shadow of a doubt that the words in the Treaty relating to the Boundary Commission, as explained here to-night by the Attorney-General, make it perfectly clear that the pledges that Ulster should not be coerced have not been kept as they ought to have been kept by members of the Government generally, including the Leaders of my own party. This is not a small matter. It goes beyond the question of whether it is a few acres here or there or, for the matter of that, a mile or two here or there, or whether this village or that town should go to one side or the other. So long as it was a small matter of that kind, none of us were disposed to be too critical. We all realised that in a matter of that kind some trivial, ordinary, reasonable, rectification might be made. The situation has been entirely changed by the claims put forward by Mr. Michael Collins, because if those claims or anything approaching to them happen to be conceded by the Boundary Commission, it would not be a question of taking away a little territory from Northern Ireland and giving it to Southern Ireland, but a question of wrecking that Irish Parliament which has just been set up under the blessing of King and country. The late Lord Privy Seal, speaking in Scotland yesterday, said that would mean the destruction of the Northern Parliament. Having set up this Northern Parliament it is only right to ask that its integrity and power should be maintained.
I have spoken at greater length than I intended, and perhaps I have expressed myself more strongly than I am in the habit of doing, but I know so well what the feeling is on this question in the district I represent. We hear also of tension existing on the borders of Northern and Southern Ireland, but that tension exists in my constituency, and to-day I have had a telegram urging me not only to express the opinion which they know I hold in sympathy with them, but warning me that their patience may be exhausted and that their feelings may rise to a point of danger. I should much deprecate anything of that kind, but feeling is running 1339 high not only in Ireland but also in different parts of England, and what is desired everywhere is some definite reply. So far we have had no definite reply upon any of the crucial matters from any Minister. The Colonial Secretary to-day avoided many of the crucial points which ought to have been touched upon, and to-night I have put a very definite question to the Chief Secretary, and I hope in order that we may get down to the actualities of the case, and in order that the people may see where we are and where we are going, that he will give a definite answer to a very definite and pertinent question.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. ALLEN
I have here an Act of Parliament passed by this House, and in it I read:For the purposes of this Act Northern Ireland shall consist of the Parliamentary counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, Tyrone and the Parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry.The same Act also provides that Southern Ireland shall consist of so much of Ireland as is not comprised within the said Parliamentary counties and boroughs. That is an Act of Parliament passed by this House introduced by the responsible Minister of the present Government and the Cabinet, acquiesced in practically unanimously as a final settlement of this vexed question of my native country. In a speech made by the Prime Minister he said:The position of the Government is this, and I state it with emphasis. My right hon. Friend and I have signed a Treaty between the people of this country and the people of Ireland. We stand by our signatures, whatever happens. We should be dishonoured for ever if we ever repudiated a document which we entered into in good faith, and by that document we are prepared to stand or fall.The first passage which I have read from the Act of Parliament is the law of the land. The speech I have just read which was made by the Prime Minister recently refers to the much discussed and vexed question of the Treaty. The Prime Minister thinks it would be a dishonourable thing if ever he or his Cabinet went back on that Treaty, but he does not consider it is a dishonourable thing to break faith with Ulster, and there lies the difference between Ulster and the present Cabinet. The Leader of the House, in a speech which he made in Liverpool, re- 1340 ferred to the great opportunity that the statesmen of the present day had to settle once and for all this vexed question and he said:It was this kind of a chance that Chatham, with his eagle eye, would have fixed upon. It was a chance which Disraeli, with his deep insight and prophetic vision, would have prayed and hoped for; it was a chance which Joseph Chamberlain would have seized and made Ids own.I very much differ from what was said by the son of the late great Unionist leader. What has troubled me through all these Debates has been the speeches of our former Unionist friends, which are nothing but apology after apology for breaking with us upon this question. They are juggling with the question in every speech they make and apologising for having left us. I take the right to differ with the Leader of the House as to what the action of the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain would have been on this occasion. I remember once Sir Edward Carson telling me of the last visit he paid to that right hon. Gentleman. He informed me that Mr. Chamberlain said to him, "Carson, do you know what I would do?" He replied, "No. Sir, I do not. Perhaps you will be good enough to tell me." Then Mr. Chamberlain said: "Carson, I would fight it out." That is, I believe, what the position of the right hon. Gentleman would have been had he been living under present conditions. I am perfectly certain that the Unionist Members of this Administration will live to rue the day when they tampered with this question in the way they have done. There are words being used over in Ulster which I hesitate to repeat in this House with regard to "betrayals," "dishonourable tricks," and "trifling with the destinies," not of the six counties, not of Ulster, not of Ireland, but of the Empire. When we look to Egypt and to India, and see that the rebels there are taking their courage in both hands, feeling that they too will reap the reward of crime and murder, one is driven to feel that the phrases I have quoted have not a little truth in them.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies dwelt very strongly and very eloquently on the possible results of delaying this particular Bill. Amongst other things he said that so far as a Republic was concerned it was definitely, finally and completely set aside. I would like to remind 1341 the right hon. Gentleman of the speeches that were made by both Mr. Collins and Mr. Griffith in the Dail Eireann during the Debate on the Treaty. Let us not forget that they only carried that Treaty by a bare majority of seven. They carried it because of the speeches they delivered and the promises they made not only to their own followers, but to the followers of Mr. de Valera—promises which were to the effect that this Treaty was only a stepping-stone towards a Republic. It was because of those promises they were able to carry their Treaty by a majority of seven. What the hon. and gallant Member who moved this Amendment said is perfectly true. We are daily getting information from Ireland that it is more than doubtful whether Mr. Collins will carry the election. What a terrible possibility! What a terrible thing to contemplate, the possibility of Mr. de Valera being returned as the head of a Republic. He has not left us in any doubt whatever as to whether he will swallow everything he has said with regard to the possibility of claiming Ulster. How then can the Secretary for the Colonies say that the Republic is definitely, finally and completely set aside? I would be glad if the Unionist party in this House and in this country would follow the lead of some of those who look at this question from the standpoint of what I would call ordinary honour. The late Leader of the House, in a speech which he made at Glasgow on this point, a speech which I believe has not been quoted before, said:I wish to give this assurance to Ulster. We do not intend to support you in anything that is wrong—we are quite satisfied with that statement—but you can rely upon the support of the people of this country in continuing to use the rights which Parliament has given you.Either that right hon. Gentleman or the combined opinion of the Cabinet is quite in the wrong. The right hon. Gentleman says that we can rely on the support of this country if we go on, but the speeches that are made from the Front Bench are all by way of apology for breaking faith with Ulster. In fact, we hear nothing but apologies for breaking faith. On that we take our stand. Then I may refer to a speech delivered by a Member of the other House (Lord Derby) at Birmingham in October, 1921, a time at which negotiations were going on. The 1342 Noble Lord said that the negotiations were subject to two conditions: first, that nothing should be done which would endanger the safety of the British Empire, and, secondly, that Ulster should have nothing filched from her that the Act lately passed had given her. He said he would fight against any Government that did not abide by those conditions. Here we have a speech by a most important member of the community and a Member of this House declaring that this country is in favour of standing by Ulster in everything that has been given her under the Act of 1920, and we also have a leader of political thought and of considerable influence in the country—certainly the Government believe in his political influence, for they have used him on several occasions, knowing how useful his influence would be—and he also is in agreement as to our retaining that which has been definitely given to us by an Act passed through this House. Anyone who reads the Debates which took place in this House as far back as 1916—and I am not going to weary the House with quotations from the speeches—will see that that was definitely agreed by both sides of the House—by the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), then Prime Minister, and by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the present Prime Minister.
You tell us from the Government Benches that this Bill must not be delayed. It is not our fault if it is delayed. We want some assurance that the bargain which was made with us will be kept in the letter and in the spirit. We want that assurance from the Government. We do not want these hedging, wriggling speeches by which they are trying to get out of their honourable obligations which were accepted by all as a final settlement. We want a plain, common-sense statement from them. The speech of the Attorney-General was an insult to the House. Why he was put up I cannot imagine. He certainly gave us no information, but he did insinuate one thing. He read that particular provision, and he tried to influence the House—at least, that was my impression—from the point of view that the wording of that provision was with regard to the settlement of boundaries. He impressed me with the idea that it was an insinuation on his part that nothing more than 1343 give-and-take on the edges of the boundary was intended, but he was very careful, as most lawyers are in a case of the kind, not to trespass on the preserves of the Boundary Commission. Let it be understood once and for all that, so far as we in Ulster are concerned, we will fight to the death against any serious disturbance of the boundaries which have been given to us by this House under the Act of 1920, and that we stand by.
§ Mr. KIDD
To judge from some of the speeches we have heard this afternoon, it rather appears that some Members of the House are content to support this Bill, however much they may feel constrained to do otherwise, simply because of the fear of apparent inconsistency looking to their previous support of the Treaty. I hope I shall not be suspected of being less critical than those other Members if I take an exactly opposite view. Speaking as one who supported the Treaty, I support this Amendment, and that for the precise purpose of securing the spirit and the letter of the document to which we lent our support on the last occasion, and which can only be properly preserved in this instrument by giving effect to the Amendment which we are now discussing. It is never to be forgotten that the Treaty proceeded upon a basis of negotiation. The Treaty itself was merely an expression of negotiations which had proceeded under certain conditions, and the condition precedent was made perfectly clear in the letter of the Prime Minister to Mr. de Valera saying that nothing would be done in any way to disturb the position of Ulster under the Act of 1920. If I am called upon to see that the Treaty and the conditions harmonise, it is when we come to deal with the Bill that I make certain of that.
The Treaty was presented to the House as satisfying three conditions. The first was that to all Ireland outside Ulster it gave a form of government which, for the first time in the history of Ireland, was a form of government endorsed by her own representatives. In the second place, it was submitted that Ulster was to remain undisturbed; and the third submission was that the Treaty would enable the growth of unity between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland. These submissions were entirely in harmony both with the Prime Minister's letter and with the fact 1344 that Ulster was not a signatory to the Treaty. If Ulster was to be protected with all her rights, she had no occasion to claim to be represented in the negotiation of the Treaty. The Amendment now before the House, therefore, in no way contradicts the Treaty. On the contrary, the Amendment is necessary in order to secure that the Treaty which we supported shall be given effect to by the Bill. Since that Treaty was submitted to the House much has transpired, and this House will be neglectful of its duty if it, fails to see that both the spirit and the letter of the Treaty are preserved now.
Since the Treaty was submitted, what has been the position? Our first discomfiture was the volume of opinion in Ireland which was utterly opposed to the Treaty, and which was of such an extent that the parties representing that opinion to all intents and purposes controlled the Irish Republican Army. Our second discomfiture was that Mr. Collins was only enabled to pass the Treaty by declaring in effect that there was really no difference in principle between Mr. de Valera and himself, and that he only sought to attain Mr. de Valera's object by two stages instead of one. We understood that a new spirit had come over Ireland when the Treaty was submitted to this House, and it was in the view that the hatchet was buried for ever that we lent our support to it. Are we to regard as negligible, as something of which no account is to be taken, the attitude of the whole of Ireland as we know it now? It is a tremendous responsibility to take. It is argued that we should not take those words of Mr. Collins at their face value, that he had a difficult corner to negotiate with Mr. de Valera and his friends. I should hesitate to make the insulting suggestion that Mr. Collins is trying to bluff his own countrymen There is not the slightest justification for believing that Mr. Collins is seeking to bluff Mr. de Valera and his followers. On the contrary, his cablegram only the other day to America indicates that his attitude is one of passivity. He awaits the result of the election, and, with that result declared, he is, if need be, to be no supporter of this country; he is to be no vindicator of the Treaty with this country; he clearly indicates that his position will be on the other side. That is the position 1345 openly declared and left unrepudiated by one of the parties to the contract, and no Member of this House can honestly say to himself that if, before the Treaty had been presented here, we had known that to be the position of one of the parties to it, if we had known that this Free State was not to be accepted as a final settlement but only as a stage in the progress towards independence, I say that no man in this House dare honestly say to himself that in that case he would have supported it. The Treaty, therefore, at the very outset is vitiated by the attitude of one of the parties, and I cannot escape my responsibility as a humble legislator by seeking to shut my eyes to these facts, which have become more and more expressive every day.
Now I come to the second point, namely, the position of Ulster, particularly with regard to her boundaries. I think it is common ground that certainly every Member on this side of the House from the very start resented the introduction of the question of boundaries into the Treaty. The introduction of such a topic grated against the constitutional instinct of Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodvale (Mr. Lynn) has given a very apt illustration of what I mean. Suppose this country entered into a Treaty with America to which Canada was not a party, and proceeded afresh to delimit the boundary of Canada, would any of the stout supporters of self-government on the other side of the House have sought to vindicate the action of the Government in such a matter? The only difference between that and what the Government propose in regard to Ulster is that Canada has a larger population—a very cowardly difference if I may say so—but if such an attempt had been made against Canada when her population was no greater than that of Ulster you would have received from Canada a defiance even stronger and stouter than that which we are receiving from the men of Ulster now. How is it sought to overcome this obvious breach of the constitutional basis of all self-government? It was represented by the Leader of the House, and also indicated by the Prime Minister, that what was proposed was simply to trim the fringes of Ulster. There was no suggestion that any substantial difference was to be made. I shall be told there may not be a substantial difference made. Again, as 1346 a Member of the House of Commons immediately responsible for the legislation of the House, I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that Mr. Collins has shown clearly that his interpretation is very different from that suggested by responsible Members of the Government. Everyone wants to get this thing settled, but we are not going to settle it in a fashion that violates the root principles of our self-governing institutions. We are not going to settle it by merely glossing over difficulties which will be resurrected later, and which will be of a most serious character. That is not a thing that the House of Commons should be asked to do.
If Members of the Government truly believe that all that this instrument was intended to do was to trim the fringes of Ulster they can have no difficulty in accepting the Amendment, which only seeks to give effect to their intentions. If, on the other hand, they hesitate to do so, despite the declaration of Mr. Collins, they are acting insincerely, and a result will be arrived at which will be quite different from that intended by the Members of the Government, and you have no right to commit Ulster to such a change. If Mr. Collins' mind approximates in any degree to the mind of Members of the Government, then he can take no objection to this Amendment. If he really has accepted this Treaty in the spirit in which it was begotten on this side of the Channel he can take no exception to the Amendment. If, on the other hand, lie is speaking the truth when he regards the Treaty merely as a stage towards separation we can understand his attitude, because the Amendment will at once put that out of court. His refusal to accept the Amendment now clearly indicates that the wider purpose is his object.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies made a most eloquent appeal to Shin Fein Ireland. He said that if he represented Sinn Fein Ireland he would not be satisfied with any narrow interpretation of the Clause, but would give it the most favourable interpretation for the men of Ulster. But what has already happened? Having that in view I hardly think we can entertain the hope that the appeal is likely to be effective. The House was astonished at the practical refusal of the Attorney-General to interpret this boundary clause. He is a master of 1347 luminosity in the interpretation of documents, and one rather sympathised with him when quite frankly he jibbed from the interpretation of this Clause 12, as indicating that the basis of the negotiations must be considered in this Bill along with the Treaty itself. Clause 12 proposes to set up a Boundary Commission. It provides that the Commission shall consist of three Members, one nominated by Ulster, one by the rest of Ireland and one by the Imperial Government. I hope the Minister for War, once a devoted Unionist, now an enthusiastic Coalitionist, will give me some enlightenment on this. Supposing Ulster refuses to nominate a Commissioner, what is the position of Ulster?
§ Mr. KIDD
There is no such provision. The mere fact that there is no compulsion upon Ulster to nominate one of the Commissioners, and that there is no machinery provided under the Bill in the event of her not doing so is no mystery to me. It harmonises the Bill with the fact that Ulster was not a party to the Treaty, which harmonises with the further fact that the basis of the negotiation of the Treaty was a basis which recognised the impregnability of Ulster's position, unless that position were affected with her approval. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us some enlightenment on this matter. We are stepping along blindly. It is bad to establish nationality by the process of self-determination, that is by counting heads—a kind of paper idea that appeals to a paper brain—but it is worse to attempt to establish nationality by a process of cunning. The whole conduct of the Government since the adoption of this Treaty, and the whole conduct of the Government in this Debate, suggest that, Micawber like, they are hoping for something to turn up. Meanwhile they say, let us have this Bill.
§ Sir H. MACKINDER
I have listened to the argument of my hon. Friend who has just spoken. I agree with him, and I think almost every Member of the House agrees that it is an extremely unfortunate thing that this dispute in regard to the Boundary Commission should have arisen. I think it was admitted, perfectly frankly, by the Secretary of State for the Colonies this afternoon that the Government had taken 1348 a course which they felt it necessary to take in all the circumstances, but which they were not going to defend except on broad grounds. I feel we have reached a position in mid-stream. I feel that historical argument at the present time is not very helpful. We have got to decide what vote we are each of us going to give to-morrow in regard to the Second Reading of this Bill. The Amendment before the House is to all intents and purposes a rejection of the Bill because it would vary the Treaty. The Treaty will be varied because the Amendment asks the House todecline to proceed with the Second Reading of this Bill until the Government has given an assurance that the provision in question"——the provision in regard to the boundary—will be eliminated from the Agreement or that any decision of the Boundary Commission shall only take effect after the approval of the Parliament of Northern Ireland has been given.There can be no question that that Amendment does involve an alteration of the Treaty. In this House we have had at different times many Treaties to endorse by Act of Parliament. It has always been common ground that we ought to accept a Treaty whole or reject it whole. There are two parties to the Treaty, and although by a small majority, in a House which was the most hostile to this Treaty that there could possibly be in Ireland, yet the Treaty has been accepted on the other side. If we, on our side, after the Resolution passed in our Winter Session, were now to seek to vary that Treaty, it would be equivalent to a rejection of the Treaty.
That is the position in which I find myself. I regret deeply the circumstances which surround this dispute in regard to the boundary. The practical question I have to ask myself is whether I am prepared to re-open the whole question and run all the risks that are involved when I am in mid-stream, and it seems to me that the only chance of peace and of safety in this Empire is to reach the other bank. At the present moment my mind is set on reaching the other bank, and I am going to give my vote in favour of the Second Reading, notwithstanding the feeling that I have that it would have been better had this boundary dispute taken some other course than it has taken. In all these matters—I think 1349 Lord Morley once said that politics is one long choice of the second best—one has to judge largely, and it seems to me that there was never a question in which legal argument was more out of place than this. This is a question of faith. In a way it is a psychological question. You have got to go forward now because the alternatives are worse than if you had never embarked on the course you are now following.
I feel that those of us who, like myself, were consistently Unionist before the War, owe it to our own consciences, if we have an opportunity of speaking in this House, to state why we support this Bill now, and why we took a different course before the War. As I understand it, we are discussing the question at large, and not merely this Amendment, and I want to say two things. Before the War military and strategical considerations were uppermost in regard to this question. Europe was divided into two great hostile camps. In the opinion of many of us the whole of politics was governed by that fact. The dangers of explosion, the explosion which ultimately came in August, 1914, were obvious before us, we dare not at that time try any political experiments in regard to Ireland. The whole position is now altered. I remain a Unionist, and I believe that this policy is a Unionist policy. I believe that we dare a different method to-day with the same object that we had before, because the whole circumstances are changed. The circumstances of to-day are that we are seeking in this Empire to base our power on a broader basis. You may take the military line; that is the only alternative to what we are doing to-day. If you refuse this Treaty, you have no alternative but civil war, repression, and military action. After a great war, then is the time that you can afford to take other than military considerations into account. Before a great war, when everything is organised for the struggle, you must consider every point on your side in the camp, and you cannot afford to take the risks we are taking to-day. We succeeded in South Africa. Fortunately a period of years elapsed between the experiment in South Africa and the coming of the Great War. Had the Great War followed immediately on that experiment the results in South Africa might have been very different. We can afford to look forward 1350 to ten years of peace to-day as regards big wars, and we can afford to allow time to bring about its conciliating effect and to try this great experiment.
I believe I am a consistent Unionist, because I change the method and not the aim. The aim is the same as before the War; the method but changed. Legal arguments brought about the separation of the United States. The American Colonies did not bear their share of the financial burden due to the Seven Years' War when they were emancipated from the French threat in North America. From a legal point of view we had every right to say to the American Colonies, "You ought to bear your share," but, as it proved afterwards, and as the greatest statesmen in those days, Chatham and Burke, urged on the country at that time, the legal argument led to nowhere. A large view based on human nature was what ought to have been taken. Had it been taken, you would have had a very different history from what you did have. Therefore the legal argument as to these questions leaves me cold. I feel we are in the middle of a position when we cannot afford it. You have determined on your course. This House and the other House, by immense majorities, have made an offer. You cannot now alter the terms of that offer. Rightly or wrongly, that offer has been made; rightly or wrongly that offer has been endorsed by both Houses of this Parliament; rightly or wrongly that offer has been accepted by a small majority in the most hostile House on the other side.
Your position to-day before the world would be indefensible if you now withdrew, and this Amendment does seek to withdraw because it seeks to vary. Think of the position you would he in. You have those fighting for the carrying of this Treaty in Ireland, men who came over here and signed that Agreement with our Ministers. Those men have had a hard fight on the other side; they have just won; they are just holding their own at the present moment. You alter your Treaty and you give them away. You will take the ground from under their feet, you will be responsible for betraying them, and you will be responsible and not they for the failure, if there should be a failure. If there should be an adverse majority in Ireland you will have made a generous offer, you will have stood by your offer, 1351 you will have maintained that offer until it was thrown out on the other side. I cannot be a party to the alteration of that offer. I believe there is no very great danger in standing by that offer. I believe the Government have got to appoint the right kind of chairman; everything obviously depends upon that. In war and in negotiation everything depends on choosing your right general and on choosing your right representative.
We have welcomed back to this country to-day a great national representative in a great negotiation. You chose the right representative, and he brought back a great victory for you—for it is a great victory in the settlement of the world. To-day you have to go forward and to choose the right Chairman for this Commission, and you have to trust that chairman to use common sense in the settlement of these matters. In all these things we have to remember that in this island there is only a small community. You have only 42,000,000 or 43,000,000 inhabitants. You are carrying an enormous burden to-day. The United States standing partially outside—we hope not for all time—you are practically carrying the civilisation of the world. Diminish by every means you can the amount of that burden; by every means you can, broaden the base of your power. In order to do that you must run some risks, but there is no advantage in running a risk and then withdrawing when you get in the face of the difficulty. That would be our position to-day. The wording of this particular boundary provision may be unfortunate. It may not be what would have been adopted at any other time of the morning than that at which it was adopted; but in all these matters you have to take human nature. There are psychological moments, and I believe that the Government, and the representatives of the Government, greatly dared at that moment, and that what we have to do is not to argue legal quibbles, but to go forward, greatly daring, until we have succeeded and completed our success.
§ Mr. JELLETT
As one of the very small band of Members of Parliament coming from Southern Ireland, I would like to deal with what I might call the realities of the position as distinct from prophecies. I have the fortune or the misfortune to live in Southern Ireland. I have lived there all my life, and I shall 1352 live there to the end of my days. Accordingly, it is in the light of experience that I can look at the policy being pursued now by the Government. In my humble judgment, that policy will prove the ruin of Ireland and a danger of the first magnitude to the British Empire. I listened, as we all did, with the most intense interest to the speech of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I cannot help congratulating him on his sudden enthusiasm for law. I wish we had had a little more of it in Ireland in the last few years. For some reason or other the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have now developed an extraordinary enthusiasm for law and the reason is that they think it is absolutely necessary in order to legalise the position of the Provisional Government of Ireland and to enable them to carry out the duties devolving upon them under the Treaty.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman and the Government paused for one moment to consider how the Provisional Government is to carry out a task which was beyond the powers of the Imperial Government. Whence is their power to come? We were told the other day that, in order to give them some semblance of power, it was necessary for the Imperial Government to hand over to them a certain quantity of arms, of munitions and stores, and the rest of it. When I look back, as we are all bound to do, to the state of affairs last December when the Treaty was ratified, and compare it with the state of affairs now, what do I find? Last December there were two conflicting bodies in Ireland, Sinn Fein and the British Government. How many are there now? Sinn Fein is divided into two. The British Government is there in a sense still, and in addition we have in Ireland the Labour party, who are out for a Bolshevik republic. I have said nothing about Ulster, but so far as we living in Ireland are concerned, at the present time, leaving Ulster out, we have three sources of power it Ireland. We have Mr. Collins and his Provisional Government; we have Mr. de Valera and his provisional government because he proclaimed a provisional government immediately after the Treaty was ratified; and we have Labour.
When I am asked, as I am constantly asked, by unfortunate loyal citizens. "Where am I to look for protection? Who is going to protect my life and pro- 1353 perty?" there is no answer and there will be no answer as long as this policy is pursued. The one power that was able to protect life and property in Ireland, or at any rate attempt to do it, has gone, and that is the British power. We are left there confronted with two powers at least, Mr. Collins's Provisional Government on the one hand and Mr. de Valera and the republicans on the other. Some people appear to imagine that there is a considerable difference between the aims of Mr. Collins and his party and the aims of Mr. de Valera. I ventured to put down a question to the Prime Minister in the hope of eliciting his view of the speeches delivered in Dail Eireann while the Treaty was being discussed. The answer I got was that he was not prepared to interpret statements made in the course of controversial debate. I hope the House will excuse me if I read one or two of the observations made on that occasion in Dublin. They divide themselves naturally into two classes. First, there are the speeches of those who signed the Treaty and there are the speeches of those who supported it. Here is what Mr. Collins said:In my opinion it gives Ireland freedom, not the ultimate freedom that all nations hope for and struggle for, but freedom to achieve that end. Two essentials are absolutely necessary— freedom and security. By means of the Treaty we have obtained a chance of establishing these two essentials.Mr. Duggan, another signatory to the Treaty, said:I say that if under the Treaty the Irish people cannot achieve their freedom, it is the fault of the Irish people and not of the Treaty.Mr. Duffy, who signed the Treaty, said:The Irish people would be in a better position to resist aggression and increase their power than ever they were before. It would be the duty of those who framed the constitution to frame it according to the wishes of the Irish people, and to relegate the King of England to exterior darkness as far as they can. And they can.I will give two quotations out of many made in support of the Treaty. Mr. O'Dwyer said:The destiny of the Irish people was to be free. He was going to vote for the Treaty because he believed it led in a straight line to the realisation of the absolute dream of Irish independence. The Treaty did not mean the abandonment of their national ideals but it helped to realise them.Mr. McNeill said he should claim on the facts an equality of status for Ireland 1354 with all the other members of the community of nations and a right to complete national sovereignty in her own domain. That status included a right of secession. In reply to the question which I put this afternoon, the only answer I got was that the Government were not prepared to interpret statements made in the course of controversial debate on the other side of the water, but that theytake their stand on the Treaty, and will proceed in full reliance on the determination of their Irish co-signatories to do the same.I could have multiplied the quotations which I have read to the House. Does anyone who has heard the quotations I have read consider that the Government can rely on their co-signatories to the Treaty to carry it out to its full effect. Surely, so far from that being the case, the intention disclosed in the speeches I have read is the very opposite. I suppose that the Government voted for the ratification of the Treaty with the idea that they were going to promote peace, contentment, and prosperity in Ireland, and security for the United Kingdom. Are they of that opinion now? Do they think that we have got peace in Ireland now? Do not they know that at this moment blood is flowing freely in the North of Ireland? Do not they know that at this moment life and property in the South is not safe, that property is being confiscated, fences, walls, taken away, cattle are being driven off and people are being deprived of their property and are hardly allowed to live.
I am well aware that a large number of events that happen in Ireland are never disclosed to the public. Unfortunately, I have to live on the spot, and I know what is going on. Accordingly, I prefer not to deal with the realms of speculation, but to take the facts as I find them, under my nose, and I ask myself this question: "If this is the result of your Treaty, if this is the result of your great ministry of peace to Ireland, what are we to expect?" The ink was hardly dry on the Treaty when half the Southern Irish came out in solid revolt against it. Is the Treaty ratified after acrimonious discussion lasting many days by seven votes, a Treaty supported in the language I have read, not for its own merits, but because it leads to something else; is that going to promote the prosperity of Ireland? I should think not.
1355 I need not tell the House what we have suffered in Ireland, especially in Southern Ireland, during the last 2 or 3 years. It is only too well known. Crimes have been committed in Southern Ireland during the last 2 or 3 years which equal if they do not exceed the crimes that could be found in the most barbarous countries of the world. Crimes have been committed to my knowledge that were so unspeakable in their brutality and inhumanity that one could not even speak of them. They are all forgiven. The men who committed them are all let out. The policy is "forgive and forget." We shall have to be always forgiving and always forgetting, because these things go on every day. There is one crime in Ireland that knows no forgiveness. There is one crime in Ireland which is the unpardonable sin, and the fate of those who commit it is the loss of their lives, or the loss of their property, or to be ruined and destroyed, and that crime is loyalty. If ever you want in Ireland to have a chance of being recognised by a British Government of modern days, whatever you do, do not be loyal. You will never have a dog's chance if you are loyal.
We have been betrayed and left to our fate in Southern Ireland. It is an easy enough job to deal with us. We are comparatively small in numbers, we have no voting power, and, accordingly, it did not very much matter what happened. You betrayed us. You have tried to betray the North, but you have not succeeded, and you will not succeed. They, at any rate, have the satisfaction of knowing that they can rely upon their own right arm, and that they can insist that that which was given to them solemnly by this Imperial Parliament, and is now contained in an Imperial Statute, shall be left where it is. The Prime Minister told us a few days ago, and I heard the same thing to-day, that the Government are determined to stand by the Treaty. I suppose one ought to be grateful to know that they are going to stand by something. If I was asked to state the particular thing that they should stand by, I should not select the Treaty. However, they are going to stand by it. We have had a good many stand-bys in the past. We had stand-bys in the Act of 1920.
§ Mr. JELLETT
We had stand-bys in the earlier part of last year, and we had solemn declarations from the Front Bench as to what the Government would do and what, under no conceivable circumstances, they would not do. We had another stand-by in the letter of the Prime Minister last July with regard to allegiance to the King. "At all costs that must be preserved. We have gone to the utmost limits, and not one inch further." Now we have the last stand-by of all. The earlier ones have become what I might call "lie-bys." The important question at the moment is not whether His Majesty's' Government are going to stand by the Treaty, but is Ireland going to stand by it? In endeavouring to answer that question, all you have to do is to remember the speeches from which I quoted a few moments age. If anyone imagines that those who uttered those words intend to stand by the Treaty, he must write a new dictionary of the English language. The one thing that stands out in the controversy at the present time is that there is no finality whatever about this policy; absolutely none. There is no finality about it, and there never was. It is only repeating what every Unionist has said for the last 30 years in Ireland: "You can do one of two things, and there is no third thing. You can maintain the union, or you can grant a republic. Between the two there is no half-way house." Accordingly, we are now faced with exactly the same issue that has existed in Ireland ever since this question arose. My respected friend, Lord Carson, has used these words time after time, not simply in recent years, but many years ago. Never were they so true as they are now.
This House, for reasons to which I do not intend to refer, has preferred in recent years to avoid realities. It has declined to face facts and has endeavoured to deal with things as it would wish them to be, as distinguished from what they are. I heard in the course of the Indian Debate, a few nights ago, a remarkable statement by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister said that he could not allow a challenge to authority in India which would not be allowed here. That is a most thoroughly admirable sentiment, but, in the face of that, it is difficult to understand his mentality, when we find him not only prepared to allow but to surrender to a 1357 challenge to authority in Ireland to which he would not submit in India. I should have thought that if that was sound policy as regards the one country, it should be sound as regards the other. Apparently not. Whenever anyone comes to touch on Ireland, for some reason which I do not understand, reason appears to vanish, argument is useless, facts are ignored, realities are avoided, and you are to endeavour to frame your policy, not as a result of what you see and observe going on before you, but as a result of some picture which you have drawn up in your own mind, as to what you would like to find, and which you have thought about so much, that after a while you begin to think that the thing in the picture is a reality.
We were told the day before yesterday, with reference to what has been going on in Ireland during the last few weeks, that these things were only to be expected. I cordially agree. That is what we have been saying for years and years. We have said a hundred times that that would be the result of the policy which you are now pursuing, and it has been the result, and, accordingly, I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman who made that observation, that, the policy being what it is, it was only to be expected that it should produce the results which we know only too well. I opposed the ratification of this Treaty because I knew that it would be injurious to the welfare of Ireland and would constitute a serious danger to the security of the British Empire. I did not do that light-heartedly. I did it because I was satisfied that I was right and because I was dealing with a state of facts of whose reality I had not the slightest doubt. Anyone who has watched recent movements, not only in Ireland but in Europe, will know that the spread of communism is one of the greatest dangers of this age. Anyone who has taken the trouble to read the writings of the Russian communists will know that the promotion of disaffection in Ireland was a deliberate policy carried out by the Bolsheviks for their own ends, for they realised that as long as the British Empire stood where it does they would never achieve their ends, namely, a world-republic. Accordingly they gave assistance in money and otherwise in Ireland. They are doing the same now, and they 1358 are working hard in Ireland at the present moment. I came across this poster put up in Dublin a short time ago. It is dated 4th February, and it is rather interesting because it tells the whole story in a few lines:Should we walk into the British Empire with our heads up or our hands up? What do our Ambassadors think?Then it gives the names of the Ambassadors in the different countries.They all tell us to hold fast. They all believe that the Republic will win through without compromise, that England has no friends, and that we have the nations of the world. Whatever help from abroad we have had has come from the free nations whose good will we will lose if we join their enemies. Germany sent us arms, the United States sent us money, and Canada sent us Hamar Greenwood.I cannot help expressing a certain amount of regret, or rather of surprise, that the gentleman who prepared that poster did not appear to appreciate the value of the Canadian gift. I have stated why I opposed the ratification of the Treaty. I did so for the same reasons as those for which my constituents returned me unopposed. I oppose the Second Reading of this Bill for the same reason. Any doubt which anyone could have had in December has been removed now. It is staring you in the face. The failure of your policy is complete. The result of this Treaty is proved beyond the possibility of doubt to be disastrous. I ask every member of this House with any regard to the future of Ireland and the security of the British Empire to do the same as I am doing.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I am afraid that on a joyful and triumphant occasion of this character the appearance of the hon. Member for Dublin University (Mr. Jellett) is somewhat misplaced, because if Hamar Greenwod—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"]—I am quoting his own words—was sent to tickle us, then I take it that the hon. Gentleman may discharge the function of leading the funeral service. He told us that his constituents had returned him unopposed. That was a very long time ago.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
There are other Members for Trinity College—men of very high distinction, brilliant in their professions, men bearing honoured names, and they do not live on the banks of the 1359 Boyne. They live in the 20th century. Every one of them marched in solemn procession, and, I understand, in academic robes, to the first meeting of the Southern Parliament to declare in favour of the Treaty, and they answered their names in Irish.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I expect they know as much of what they mean in Irish, as the hon. Gentleman knows of what he means in English. However, whether they knew what they meant or not, or whether they speak Gaelic badly or English well, they at all events were there, and they represented Trinity College, the great Protestant intellectual institution of Ireland, and they were prepared to fall in with their countrymen, and to forgive and forget. They were prepared to have a larger vision, to see a finer Ireland and to see liberty and peace established upon the rotten ruins of disorder and discontent. They are thinkers and men who live in the present, and, therefore, they have taken their stand for this Treaty as against the stand—or lie-by as I think he described it—which has been taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Jellett) paid a very fine tribute to his own loyalty. He said if you are loyal you are badly treated in this country. Well, I do not know. He belongs to a class which, since the Act of Union, has had Ireland in the hollow of her hands, a class that ruled Ireland. The native race did not count, the representatives of the minority were the masters, and I have no doubt he is sorry, as all reactionaries are, that an opportunity is now to be given to Ireland to fashion out her own destinies and manage her own affairs, to bring into play her native instincts and her native genius in the promotion of all the high purposes which inspire her citizenship. In that procession of progress the hon. and learned Gentleman says he can find no place. He never did find a place in the army of progress or democracy, or in anything which advanced the general interests of the people. He took his stand against the people and he has been left behind, and he can stay there. His most pregnant utterance was when he said that an appalling condition of 1360 things had arisen in Ireland, because there are three parties in Ireland. He asks you, the immaculate British Members, to sit aghast at that most portentous announcement—that there were three parties in Ireland. How many parties are there in this country? I counted them about six months ago, but I could hardly count them now. The hon. and learned Gentleman says there are supporters of the Treaty and those who are against the Treaty, and thee in his most solemn manner he says, "and above all there is the Labour party." That is what he fears. I think a moral can be drawn not only from his speech, but from the speeches of the procession or orators from the Unionist benches in all their branches to which we have listened. The moral to be drawn is this, that if you have great evils to grapple with now, if there are greater difficulties in your way, it is because you did not do, 30 years ago, what you are doing now. Gladstone's was only a piping voice compared with the luminous utterances of men of the intellectual and mental calibre of the hon. and learned Gentleman. If the voice of Gladstone had been heard, that if his great wisdom had been attended to, if the spirit of justice and not the spirit of expediency which inspired you in the solution of the question to-day had triumphed, then you would have had for 30 years an Ireland friendly, full of good-will—
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I am not talking of Easter, 1916. I am talking of 1886. It was the policy of the Noble Lord's party and of the reactionaries of that time which destroyed Gladstone and Glad-stone's policy and created the rancour and bitterness which bore evil fruit in all the successive years and brought you up against the Irish difficulty which during the last three years was your shame throughout Europe and the world. It is because you are shamed throughout the world that you come now to settle the 1361 Irish question, and not because it is a just concession to the irresistible demand of a people for the right to govern themselves. I speak with absolute impartiality in regard to this matter. I know nothing about it unless what I read about it in the newspapers. I was not consulted about by the Government, nor was I consulted about it by anyone in Ireland.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I think on the whole that if they consulted me on these matters they would come out of them better. However I am one of those philosophic persons who if a thing is properly done, does not mind very much who does it. I am quite satisfied if this Irish question is going to he settled and it does not make any odds who settles it. It is a good thing it should be settled, good for Ireland, good for England, good for the English-speaking peoples, and good for the world. Its unsettlement has rankled in the bosoms of the nations everywhere. It has been a source of evil and difficulty to this British Empire throughout the world. The pacification of Ireland in the last quarter of a century would have been the most golden asset a Government could have possessed. Therefore the settlement of the question is not only a gigantic task, but a great international and a great human undertaking and anyone who solves it deserves the gratitude of all men. I take it that some of us, though we are not directly associated with this Treaty, are entitled to a share of that gratitude. When I listen to people taking credit for the settlement now and claiming that they and they alone have settled the Irish question, I cannot forget how much we owe to gentlemen like the hon. Member for Harrow (Mr. Mosley), my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), the hon. Member for Hull (Lieut. - Commander Kenworthy), the Noble Lord the Member for Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentick), and others, who faced unpopularity and lost influence in their own constituencies, by espousing this cause. Of course, hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot understand anybody espousing an unpopular cause, but by their joint efforts and continued exposure of the infamies that were carried on against Ireland during the last two years, these hen. Members were able to arouse the moral conscience of Christian men in these islands. It was that 1362 vast and flowing volume of public indignation among churches and citizens in England that was gathering in ever-increasing strength, which largely forced the Government to take up this question and deal with it now. I would be very sorry as an Irishman to allow this occasion to pass without paying due tribute to them and to many distinguished members of this Labour party who went to Ireland, and who together contributed very largely to this settlement. As I say, I come here without having anything whatever to do with this Treaty. Ireland selected her representatives and her spokesmen authoritatively, and she sent them here to confer with the representatives of the Government who were speaking for the people of Great Britain, and having come together and signed the Treaty and laid the basis of a settlement of this question, I, as a loyal Irishman, accept that judgment and that decision. I accept it, just as many Englishmen have accepted it from an English standpoint, and it is my business, and it is their business, belonging to two distinctive nationalities, and both desiring goodwill and kindly friendship to exist, to see if by this Treaty we can end all the horrors of the last three years—
§ Mr. DEVLIN
My hon. and gallant Friend will talk about the last three weeks by and by, and I will take some lessons in oratory from him. It is the duty, I say, of all patriotic citizens to accept this Treaty, and to help all those who are engaged in carrying it into legislative effect. I have listened to many speeches here, to many animadversions upon the Provisional Government and the manner in which they are conducting affairs in Ireland, and I am bound to say that I was somewhat surprised that to-day, less than in other Debates that have taken place, there have been very few references to that aspect of the question. If a Government, or the skeleton of a Government, for it is not a Government yet, if this, I would not call it Provisional Government, but provisional arrangement which is evolving itself into a Provisional Government—if so much is to be expected of it, if all the prescience and wisdom of the ages are to be expected of it, then I shall in a moment ask what are the credentials of its critics, and how far those 1363 who have what we are told is a real Government, a real authority, a real power, and all the machinery of government behind them, have succeeded in discharging those functions of government which they have taken upon their shoulders.
The Northern Parliament has been in existence now for nearly a year. I suppose you are all wondering where it is. We never hear anything about it. I noticed that it met for a fortnight and then prorogued the other day. I would ask hon. Members opposite if it lies in their mouths to criticise these men, with all their tremendous difficulties, difficulties unparalleled, dealing with the most delicate situations, most of them unskilled and unlearned as politicians—though that perhaps is to their advantage—but at all events neither learned nor skilled in the arts of government or of politics, and they are doing their best under tremendous difficulties. But here is a Government a year in office, with a Cabinet of all the wisdoms, men so skilled in the science of government that they occupy the dual position of being Members of this House and Members of the Northern Parliament as well. They have got their training here. This is the finest training school in the world for efficient statesmanship, I believe—at least, I am told—and with all their training, with all their knowledge and with all their experience, how have they managed affairs? I would not take part in this Debate at all, or be in this House to-night to take any part in this business, were it not for the fact that I happen to be one of the Members for Belfast, and until the General Election I retain my seat, and have a certain responsibility in defence of those interests which I was sent here to defend and conserve.
I confess that, representing 100,000 Catholics in Belfast out of a population of 400,000, and with nearly one-third of the population in the six counties, Catholic, all I have to say is that if their method of winning over the Protestants of the rest of Ireland to the new Government that is established follow the methods you pursue, then every pessimistic prognostication of the hon. and learned Gentleman will be fulfilled. For over 18 months the people I represent in this House have been treated as outlaws. They have been hunted; they have been persecuted; they have been murdered; 1364 they have been attacked by assassins, some of them uniformed and the liveried servants of this very Government. Life for a Catholic in Belfast for the last 12 months has been practically impossible. Both liberty and life are no longer held sacred there, and about 5,000 of them are walking about the streets without work to do, and have been walking about for nearly 18 months with their families dependent upon them. They have been left there with all these wrongs rankling in them, with his canker of wrong eating at their very hearts, and never has there been an attempt to conciliate them or to treat them well. The existence of 100,000 in a population of 400,000 is forgotten, and, as I shall presently show, a series of attacks has been made upon them unparalleled in the story of barbarity in any country of the world.
One of the things that amaze me is when I hear Ministers on that bench, and Unionist private Members of this House, talking about this outrage here and that outrage there in Southern Ireland, they do not seem to think there is a Northern Ireland at all, unless when some Minister stands up and places a laurel wreath upon the brow of Sir James Craig. I have no objection to their laurel wreaths, although I hope that performance is more sincere than some of the other performances of the Government, but though there are these sweeping denunciations of the outrages, as they are called, in Southern Ireland—and many of those things are merely the aftermath of the War—if you can point out in Southern Ireland for the last 12 months a case where a single man has been persecuted or tortured or shot or his premises burnt, because he is a Protestant in the South—
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I never heard of him; but I am quite certain that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not get up and say that he was attacked because he was a Protestant.
§ Captain DIXON
On a point of Order. Is not the proper place for an hon. Member to talk of the Northern Parliament in the Northern Parliament of which he is a member?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Certain hon. members from the North of Ireland sit in this Parliament, and certain observations have been made to which the hon. Member for the Falls Division is quite justified in replying. Attacks have been made from the other side.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
On a point of Order. Will it be competent for a Member sitting on these benches to decide the action of the Free State Government when that Government has been formed?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for the Falls Division, I think, is perfectly justified in what he is saying. He is speaking in reply to taunts of other Members from Northern Ireland who have directed attention entirely to certain happenings in Southern Ireland. The hon. Member seems to me to be making comments which are quite justified.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is a reply to speeches which have been made. I think hon. Members who can strike pretty hard should not be quite so sensitive when they are replied to.
§ Captain DIXON
My point is that the Members of the Government of Northern Ireland are not in this House to protect themselves?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I will put it quite plainly. It is quite true that the administrative acts of the Northern Government are matters which should be dealt with in the Northern Parliament; but we have Members who come here to take part in these Debates, and it is only right and fair that they should be answered.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Hon. Members opposite have not only the advantage of making out their own ease in their own Parliament but of enabling their own Ministers 1366 and Members to come to this House as well. I want to speak only for the citizens of Belfast. The function of a Member of Parliament is to defend his own people. I have remained absolutely silent for 12 months although I felt my blood boiling with indignation at the way my people were being treated. I remained silent because I did not want to make any speeches which would endanger the chance of peace between Northern and Southern Ireland. I will read to the House portions of a letter which I sent to the Prime Minister on the 24th of last November, and I want to know why he never sent to me even an acknowledgment of my letter much less attempt to deal with the questions which I raised. This letter was written on the 24th of Novémber warning the right hon. Gentleman of the dangers of the incidents which were taking place in Belfast and the danger of their development. I said:For the last six months I have remained silent in face of the cruel and outrageous persecution of Catholics in Belfast who number one-fourth of the population, the greater portion of whom are amongst my constituents. My silence was dictated by the desire not to say or do anything that in any degree endangered the prospects of peace. Now that the situation in Belfast has become so menacing, I should be guilty of a great dereliction of my duty if I remained silent any longer. During the past few years my constituents have been the victims of a system of terrorism without parallel in any country in Europe, and families have only been saved from starvation by the generosity of their countrymen.No less than £5,000 per week had to be raised for these people, many of whom could not get any benefits from the unemployment doles to keep them from starvation. My letter proceeds:On one or more occasions large numbers of Catholics had to fly for their lives from their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. Catholic churches and schools and the homes of Catholic workers are constantly being attacked. Neither life, nor liberty, nor property is safe, and yet the British Government is responsible for the maintenance of law and order. Looting has taken place and the city has been given up to a veritable orgy of riot and carnage. The civilised world is ringing with stories of the horrors in Belfast streets. The British Government will or cannot take any effective steps to punish the guilty, protect the innocent and restore peace and order. It has failed to perform the first duty of any civilised Government, and the failure places it in a shameful and ignominous position before the world. Are the Catholics of Belfast to he handed over to the tender mercies of an 1367 armed mob; are they to be left to their own resources to defend their lives and liberties? I can assure you these questions are urgent and call for an immediate answer.I got no answer at all. I did not even get a courteous acknowledgment. That was on 24th November. There had been no untoward incident at Clones at that date. We are told that the Clones incident which has since occurred is responsible for many of the outrages which have lately taken place. But all these things at Belfast are merely a repetition of what has been going on in that city for the last half century. They are more violent now because the people and their feelings are more violent. They use uglier weapons because, instead of sticks and stones, they have rifles, and machine guns and bombs. Therefore, I say here to this House that no Member of Parliament, unless he absolutely abrogates his entire functions as a representative, and unless he is devoid of human instinct for the wrongs done to his people, can stand idly by. I have therefore come to the House of Commons, the only place where I can speak with authority, to ask the right hon. Gentleman and, through him, the Prime Minister of the Northern Parliament, what they propose to do to end this reign of terror, this saturnalia of destruction and assassination? What hopes are they going to hold out to the citizens of Belfast who are kept in a compromise and never know from day to day whether they will live or die?
§ Mr. DEVLIN
It is the Union that has been responsible for dividing Protestants and Catholics. Ask the people of Ireland what they think of English politics? You can get your answer in the Belfast "Evening Telegraph," so far as the people of the North are concerned, while as to the rest of Ireland I will tell the hon. Members when the House rises there is one thing on which they are all united, and that is the colossal failure of the Page-Crofts to govern Ireland. What has happened in the past few days I will quote two or three incidents copied from a London paper, and published, I understand, in many other English papers:Shooting was continued in Belfast this morning. The military were in strong force in the streets. Seven more Roman Catholics 1368 were shot in their own homes or close by by the Orange murder gang last night. The casualty list since Saturday is snow 26 dead and about 70 wounded. In the early hours of this morning residents of Springfield-avenue heard moans outside, and on investigating found Frank McCoy, a Roman Catholic barman, writhing in agony with two bullet wounds in his back. He was taken to hospital where life was found to be extinct.Another savage murder was that of farmer Rice, 19, a Roman Catholic, living in the Bloomfield district. Outside his home he was knocked down and kicked, his hands were tied behind his back, and he was blindfolded with a scarf which he wore. He was then shot and his skull battered in with the butt of the revolver.Close by, the house of Patrick Bradbury, in Cyprus Avenue, was visited, and Mr. Bradbury, on opening the door, was shot in the hand and stomach. About 9 o'clock armed men knocked at the door of 28, Moore Street, occupied by a Roman Catholic, and, gaining admission, fired at and wounded John Mooney (61) and Frank McHugh (37). John McLoughlin (30), a Roman Catholic, of Seaview Street, was standing at his door when a man approached and fired point blank at him, wounding him in the mouth. He is in a critical condition. During the night a mob fired shots into the house of a Roman Catholic parish priest (Rev. J. O'Brien) at Ballyhackamore. Some men knocked at the door of a Roman Catholic named Teggart, in Beersbridge Road, and his daughter Maggie, aged 23, on opening it, was shot in the chest.These are all incidents which occurred on three nights. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes it, I will send him a volume of cuttings regarding incidents of this character which have occurred almost daily since I wrote that letter to the Prime Minister. Here is what happened in Weaver Street, off the Shore Road, which is a portion of a little Roman Catholic colony at the end of the city:A large crowd of children were playing with a skipping rope in the street when a bomb was hurled with unerring aim into the midst of them. It was a missile of the most powerful type. The explosion was heard all over the city, and the force shook all the houses over a wide area. The group of light-hearted boys and girls were thrown to the ground, mangled and mutilated by the flying shrapnel. One little girl, Kathleen Kennedy, aged 13, was struck on the head and body by large pieces of iron, and killed on the spot. Another child, Mary Johnston, received terrible injuries, and died in hospital a few hours later. Two others, one of whom was named Eliza Chambers, died in hospital to-day. All of the dead and wounded were Roman Catholics.That is a very terrible condition of affairs. It is an appalling recital, and while these 1369 gentlemen turn up the whites of their eyes at things that occur in the South of Ireland, why do they never mention these things? And what do we find? The right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary, as I saw in the paper this morning, read a communication from Sir James Craig reciting a number of these horrible incidents, and in the course of his statement what did he say? He said:In a Sinn Fein district a bomb was thrown—in Weaver Street.Now we are constantly hearing—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
There was much more than that. It stated that a dastardly outrage had been committed, by which children had lost their lives.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Very well, a dastardly outrage. That does not affect my argument at all. That is not the point I am making. A dastardly outrage occurred, but anyone who read the statement of the right hon. Gentleman this morning, and who read the statement which Sir James Craig handed to him to read at the Table of this House, for dissemination among the people of England, would come to the conclusion that it was a Sinn Feiner who threw the bomb, because it was stated that it was thrown in a Sinn Fein district. It was nothing of the sort. If I did not know the district myself I would have come to the conclusion that it was a Sinn Feiner who threw the bomb, and it was not.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Why should a Sinn Feiner throw a bomb in a Sinn Fein district? The implication of the report was perfectly clear.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
That was the conclusion that anyone would come to in reading the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no?"] That was the interpretation that I put upon it.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
They never find anyone. This Government of the combined efficiencies, this Government that is constantly calling upon you to put down the Provisional Government's inactivity in not dealing with what they call outrages in the rest of Ireland, never find one of these criminals.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
One of the best men in Belfast, a personal friend of my own, a modest, splendid citizen—[Interruption.]—I think I can speak of a dead man as I do of this man. He was no more a politician than the hon. Member opposite. He took no part in politics at all. The last thing he did was to give me a most generous contribution for a great philanthropic purpose I have in hand in Belfast. In the middle of the day they went in and shot that man dead behind his counter—a man who would not offend anybody on earth, who never was known to be connected with politics or differences of any sort, and he was shot behind his counter. These are not isolated cases. They go on and on from day to day, horrify everyone, and. make the public wonder what this extraordinary Government is doing to put this thing down. You seem to be very indignant because so many parts of Ulster are anxious to get out of your authority, anxious to get out into Southern Ireland. Do you wonder that these people want to get into some other part of the country, anywhere where their lives will be safe, where men will be allowed to worship and vote and do the things they will, where they will be allowed at all events to pursue their industrial and civic duties as they are not permitted to do now? We never hear of these things in the House of Commons. We hardly ever see them in the Press. I challenge you to say that religious persecution is carried on in Southern Ireland. To pursue these people because of their faith is a scandal and a crime and the sooner you set your house in order, the sooner you stamp out this thing, the better for yourselves, for Northern and for Southern Ireland.
If I come here to raise these matters it is not because I like to do it. If I feel strongly and speak passionately I am sorry I have to do it. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to take part in discussions in an atmosphere of peace and goodwill. Everything I stood for in politics I sacrificed for the purpose of bringing these two nations together, and the little remnant of our party that is left is a little remnant, because we have endeavoured not only to help you in the hour of your national emergency, in the moment of your deepest trial. Hon. Members opposite know perfectly well 1371 that I have even sacrificed a great deal myself to conciliate that opinion, and to meet it, and to try, if possible, to solve this Ulster problem. I have done all these things, but while doing that, I owe a higher and more sacred duty to my constituents and to those helpless people. As I have fought for them and for all that can raise them industrially and economically, so I would fight for them when they are wronged, and I plead with hon. Members opposite to do something and to co-operate with us to put an end to a state of things which, while I feel so deeply and so tremendously about it, I quite recognise that all the faults are not on one side.
I quite recognise that the faults, even in Ireland, are not all on one side. Let us try, however—and no one will be more anxious than I to contribute what I can—first of all, as the foundation of a better order and condition of things in Ulster, to extirpate this horror of religious bigotry. It is un-Christian and it is not religion. It is a blot upon our fair name. There is no other community in the world where it exists, and if our help to-night does anything in the least degree to bring about that happy ending, the service will be rendered. In the meantime, I ask hon. Members to remember, when they are inclined to make harsh attacks upon those who have undertaken to discharge delicate functions elsewhere, what their own difficulties are.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I have been silent for 12 months; am I to be silent for ever? Is wrong to be for ever perpetrated? I would not be in this House at all if I did not feel strongly. Nothing but the most intense feeling and the force of circumstances would bring me here at all, and if it were not that I feel the things that are going on, in which my people cannot be allowed to exist in the city in which they were born, and which belongs to them as much as to you. They have contributed their share to its prosperity. They do not belong to the merchant princes, but are very humble figures who have helped to make your city the pride of the world. Their hard and laborious work helped to build your ships until you drove them from the shipyards and your service, and their labour 1372 has helped to make Belfast what it is. We neither ask leave nor make any apology for the exercise of our rights and for the possession of all those things which citizens demand and must have in every community in the world. Having said so much on that question, and having now brought before the House of Commons and all whom it may concern the incidents I have ventured to recite, I leave the matter to the House.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned." put, and agreed to.—[Colonel Leslie Wilson.]
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow.