§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The House will pardon me, I am sure, if I ask it just for one moment to set aside the thoughts of the controversy into which we are about to plunge, and reflect that one who, in the whole long course of this Irish controversy, has never failed to obey the roll call when the battle was being called, is no longer with us. Lord Long has left us in the House of Commons for some time, but his death has touched a chord of sincere regret in the hearts of all colleagues whichever side of the House they happen to sit upon, and I am, sure, Sir, in paying my little tribute to his memory, I speak not merely as the head of the Government, but on behalf of the whole of the House of Commons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]
I cannot say that I rise with any pleasure to move the Second Reading of this Bill, and I certainly do not do it as a party leader. Before December, 1921, every Measure dealing with the Government of Ireland was the subject of party division. Since that date there have been many divisions on Irish affairs, but in no single case have those divisions been on party lines. All parties have combined to create this new tradition, and with all the earnestness in my power, I appeal to the House to continue that tradition un-broken now. In return, I believe that I shall be able to convince the House that, whoever was in office, no other course would have been possible for them than that which the Government are pursuing to-day.
An essential duty of every Government is to fulfil obligations which have been publicly revealed and which Parliament has sanctioned. I admit that this is no easy task in Ireland, for the whole field of Irish politics is sown with conflicting 28 pledges, and still more with conflicting claims presented to us as pledges. The seat and centre of all the present problem are in the Irish Treaty of 1921. The events which led up to it and its own political history must be within the recollection of everyone in this House. By that Treaty Agreement civil war in Ireland was stayed and Southern Ireland became a Dominion. An adjustment of the boundary was a vital part of that Treaty. The drafting of it was found to be faulty; and the machinery for adjusting the boundary cannot be set up, and in consequence the whole Agreement is brought into jeopardy. His Majesty's Government really cannot accept the contention that that Treaty was lightly made, and that the British statesmen who created it and piloted it through Parliament would have received with anything but moral resentment the argument that if on account of its drafting or of oversights in its construction it was found that in essential respects it could not work, then their duty was done and they had no further obligations.
The Government must assume that the men who made the Treaty meant that the Treaty should work. This obvious conclusion has been challenged on the ground that in 1920 Ulster had been given pledges equally sacred, but unfortunately contradictory. We are blamed for being about to coerce Ulster. I resent that charge. It is untrue, and, though Ulster, alas! is not with us, I venture to say that none of Ulster's spokesmen with whom we have been dealing will put dies charge in that language. We have had to consider this contention, however, and, in the course of examining the point, we have prepared for our guidance a compilation of authoritative statements, and we have thought it advisable to publish them for general use. The White Paper is in the Vote Office.
I must remind the House of what has happened. It was after the passing of the 1920 Act—the Act which we are supposed to violate for the first time—that the Act of 1922 which we are now considering was carried, and when the Treaty was approved in 1921, and still more when in March, 1922, it was given the force of statutory law, the relationship between the two Acts was discussed by both Houses of Parliament in the fullest detail.
29 It was after these discussions, and only after these discussions, that the Free State Agreement Act was passed by a large majority in this House. With a full knowledge of what it was doing, the very fullest knowledge of what it was doing, Parliament decided that it was entitled to modify the Act of 1920 in so far as it was proposed that it should be modified by the Treaty of 1921, and these decisions were made, not merely by an overwhelming majority in this House, but by a majority of all its recognised parties. That the records of Parliament compel me to take as a fact.
As I wish to make it clear, however, that I am most anxious to show the fullest concern for the rights of Ulster, I shall ask the House to listen to a more detailed narration of events than that. When the Coalition had dissolved and Mr. Bonar Law had succeeded to office as the leader of the Conservative party, he decided to appeal to the electorate, and, in his election address, dated 27th October, 1922, he used the following words:—Our first task, if returned to power, will be the ratification of the Irish Treaty. We are prepared to take our part in making good that Treaty, both in the letter, and in the spirit,….We are equally pledged to safeguard the freedom of choice and the security of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland.In accordance with the latter part of that declaration, he took all his subsequent actions. His first task, said Mr. Bonar Law, would be the ratification of the Irish Treaty. He was very exact in his interpretation of this pledge, and, when he made it, he had already taken steps necessary to enable him to fulfil it. Under Article 17 of the Treaty, the regime of the Provisional Government at Dublin came to an end on the following 5th of December, and, unless the Free State Constitution were enacted and proclaimed by that date, the Treaty would to all intents and purposes have lapsed—a very simple thing to have allowed if you had not found yourself bound in honour to do the opposite. At some inconvenience to himself, I understand, to his Government, and to his party, Mr. Bonar Law dissolved Parliament and fixed the date of the Election at the shortest possible notice, so as to enable legislation to be passed in time to establish the Free State Government by the 6th December and to save the Treaty. Matters so fell out in October that there was scarcely an hour 30 to spare, and you will observe that the Free State Constitution Act was only passed in time to receive the Royal Assent on the 5th December, 1922. The Free State Government was only constituted a few hours before the Provisional Government would have lapsed. Nothing would have been easier than to have allowed the Treaty to have lapsed at the moment, but why did Mr. Bonar Law make all this haste to save it? Ample reasons will be found in the speech which he had delivered the year before in support of the Treaty. But besides these reasons, Mr. Bonar Law judged that the overwhelming mass of opinion in the country was in favour of the Treaty and against allowing it to lapse. The Free State Constitution Act, which embodied the Treaty once and for all in the scheme of our Imperial Constitution, was passed through all its stages in both Houses without a single Division.
We cannot go behind these things. That was not all humbug; that was not all a scheme or a part of a scheme to betray Northern Ireland or to cheat Southern Ireland. We must assume that the House of Commons and the other place—that Parliament, knowing everything, knowing the claims of Ulster, knowing the ease by which the whole thing could collapse, had made up its mind finally and definitely that the Treaty was to be carried, and that the Treaty was to be brought into execution and made an effective working instrument. It is impossible to read these Debates without seeing that a considerable number of Members viewed the final passing of the Act with a great deal of mistrust. How, then, are we to explain the fact that no Member of Parliament, and especially of this House, recorded his vote against it? Two all-sufficient reasons were in the minds of everybody, and those reasons, I contend, are just as operative to-day as they were then. The first was that we were all fresh from our constituencies, where we had had the plainest evidence that 11 months after the Treaty was signed the people of this country were united in the resolve that the settlement which it embodied should stand. The decision was deliberately enjoined by the electorate itself after a General Election in which specific pledges were made, not only by the party which was returned to power but by every other 31 party as well, and every Member of this House was sensible of the fact and acted accordingly.
The second consideration was the position of the loyal minority in the South. The great bulk of this minority had accepted the settlement. They had suffered as no other class in Ireland had suffered. Loyal to the Free State they were, and are none the less loyal to the Empire. Their rights and status as British citizens they passionately prize, and no section here or in Ireland has any right to put its loyalty up against theirs. Now, the Treaty was and is their guarantee that such is their status, and that they will remain in the Commonwealth in which they were born. For these reasons, Parliament, without party distinction, accepted the Treaty and instructed the Government to work it. And what was the attitude of Parliament to Article 12—the Boundary Commission article—and Ulster's rights under it. The records leave us in no doubt about that. Together with the Treaty, the Government submitted to Parliament a letter addressed by the Prime Minister to Sir James Craig which sets the matter at rest once for all. It was the letter under cover of which the Treaty was first sent to Sir James Craig by a messenger who was carried to Belfast on the night of its signature by one of His Majesty's ships. This letter is headed in the White Paper:Letter from the Prime Minister to Sir James Craig, accompanying the articles of agreement"—and the first paragraph reads as follows:My dear Prime Minister,I enclose articles of agreement for an Irish settlement which have been signed on behalf of His Majesty's Government and of the Irish Delegation. You will observe that there are two alternatives between which the Government of Northern Ireland is invited to choose. Under the first, retaining all her existing powers, she will enter the Irish Free State with such additional guarantees as may be arranged in conference. Under the second alternative, she will still retain her present Powers, but in respect of all matters not already delegated to her will share the rights and obligations of Great Britain. In the latter case, however, we should feel unable to defend the existing boundary, which must be subject to revision on one side and the other by a Boundary Commission under the terms of the Instrument.That letter was laid before the. House of Commons as a White Paper, together 32 with the Treaty. It was before Parliament when the Treaty was approved in December, 1921, before it when it was given the force of law in the following March. It was before the country when Mr. Bonar Law promised the electorate to confirm the Treaty if they returned him to power. It was before Parliament when, in November, 1922, on the morrow of the election, both Houses confirmed the Treaty by unanimous votes. In the face of that letter, I really cannot see how it can be contended that our pledges to Ulster prevent us from taking the action which we now propose. When it was found that on a legal interpretation of the actual draft, Ulster, by refusing to nominate its representative, could prevent the Commission being constituted, we had at once to ask ourselves; Can the Government, in view of all the circumstances, allow this technicality to annul the decisions of the country and Parliament, and can the Government go to both Parliament and the Free State of Ireland, and say, "we can do nothing more. We accepted the Treaty in good faith, but the draft was faulty, and that is an end of the whole matter." We could not do anything of the sort. I am sure, in its heart, that Ulster itself would despise a Government that would do any such thing. In all fairness, Ulster cannot really contend that we were in that fix.
Now I shall go further with my examination. Most of the trouble with which we are now faced dates from the breakdown of the agreement reached by Sir James Craig and Mr. Collins in January, 1922. Both parties then claimed to have received private assurances with regard to Article 12, each inconsistent with the other. The course of events was such that when the controversy had raged for several weeks Parliament was called upon to formulate a decision as to what it should do. I would remind the House why this was so. Under Article 17 it was laid down that so soon as the Treaty had been approved by Parliament and by the Members elected in Southern Ireland a Provisional Government should be established forthwith and entrusted with the task of governing Ireland until the constitution of the Free State had been framed and ratified. On the 14th of December Lord Curzon had told the House of Lords, on behalf of the Government, that no legislation 33 would be required for the purpose. But no sooner was the Provisional Government established in the following January than it was found that they could not discharge the duties that they had assumed unless further provision were made for the establishment of a provisional legislature. Effect could not be given to Article 17 without further legislation, and, indeed, unless statutory force were given to the Treaty itself forthwith; and so it was that in the heat of this controversy the Government felt themselves bound to introduce the Free State (Agreement) Bill to which the Treaty was appended as a Schedule. On the Second Reading the following Amendment was moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Antrim (Captain Craig), on 16th February, 1922:In 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 the Boundary Commission shall only take effect after the approval of the Parliament of Northern Ireland has been given.That was put quite definitely as an issue by the Amendment. That Amendment was rejected by 302 votes against 60. On the 2nd of March the question was again raised in Committee by an Amendment moved by the Noble Lord who sits for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil). The Amendment was as follows:Provided that for the removal of doubts it is hereby declared that the British Government, in consenting and Parliament, in approving of Article 12 of the said Agreement, did not intend to agree to the transfer of the main area of any of the six counties of Northern Ireland to the territory of the Irish Free State, but only to such minor adjustments (if any) of the boundary between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, either in one direction or the other, as might without economic injury either to Northern Ireland or the Irish Free State satisfy the desires of bodies of persons of homogeneous opinions in respect of the territorial situation.That was the Oxford draft of the Antrim original. This again was rejected by 199 votes to 63. Similar Amendments were moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Antrim.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
Will the right hon. Gentleman note that that rather elaborate Amendment was framed by concocting together all the assurances given by Members of the Government and supporters of the Bill?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I was perfectly certain the Noble Lord would have an ingenious explanation of his Amendment.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I hope so, but, if I were to deal with this interruption, I would be inclined to confine myself to a statement in a method which hon. Members know is very unusual to me. The point is this, and I am much obliged to the Noble Lord for enforcing it. He did not put in that Amendment what he said. I am not saying he was right or wrong. That will be for hon. Members opposite to explain. But he did say he put pledges and statements made by his leaders and by the Government generally. He put his Amendment, he argued his Amendment, put his case to the House of Commons, and his Amendment was rejected, and, in rejecting his Amendment, those whose points he said he had collected voted against him. I do not want to make small capital out of that, but I do make large capital out of it in this sense, that I am sure the Noble Lord will agree that, defeated as he was, feeling that perhaps an honest man was again left out in the cold—a feeling we all have very frequently—he will not resist this, that this is my business now. I am not living in 1922 when the fight was on. This is my business now, and I think he will sympathise with me in trying to do my best to carry it through. This was a clear indication given by the House of Commons that it was not going to accept the Noble Lord's Amendment, but that it instructed the Government to pursue a different way and policy. I am trying to carry out that finding, because, when that finding was made, it became a bargain with the Free State. Similar Amendments were moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Antrim, and again by Lord Londonderry in the House of Lords. They met with a similar fate. I recommend Members of the House to scan the Division lists, because they are very instructive.
35 Now what were the grounds upon which these Amendments were rejected by Parliament? They were stated by the British signatories to the Treaty, Mr. Churchill, who was then here, the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain), Sir Gordon Hewart, the right hon. Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans), and Lord Birkenhead. They were present. I think I summarise them accurately when I say that they were satisfied that peace in Ireland had been secured by the Agreement, and that the alternative to it was the resumption of war. Secondly, these speakers said that, while Article 12 was not intended to involve the transfer of any essential territories of Northern Ireland to the Free State, it was intended that the Boundary Commission should itself be the judge of its powers in this respect, and that the Article in this form was an integral part of the Agreement. I think that is a fair summary. It was stated that the Agreement would never have been signed by the Irish signatories if this Clause had not been inserted, and, finally, it was maintained that the Agreement was a solemn contract, which, after its ratification on 16th December, 1921, was binding both on the Government then in power and on its successors. I happen to be one of its successors.
I have summarised the argument, but the extracts of speeches to which I have referred have, for the convenience of the House, been printed in the second part of the Paper we have laid on the Table. From these facts we have drawn the only conclusion, which I believe the House of Commons itself knows is the only conclusion that it is possible to draw. All the considerations which can be urged to-day in favour of allowing the Treaty to lapse—because that is what it amounts to—were fully in front of the House in March, 1922, and not a single Member who voted in those Divisions could have voted without knowing what he was doing. They were discussed at length, and by overwhelming majorities in successive Divisions Parliament then decided that the Boundary Commission was a vital part of the agreement and that, when the Boundary Commission was constituted, it must be left to interpret the terms of Article 12 for itself. It was that decision, finally, which the new Parliament did 36 ratify without a dissentient vote after it met.
Still my story is not exhausted. So far I have been dealing with the commitments we have inherited from the Coalition Government and from the Government of Mr. Bonar Law. I now come to the period after his resignation when my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Baldwin) had succeeded to the office of Prime Minister. At this point, I again find myself committed in a new but very solemn way. In September, 1923, the question of the Irish Free State admission to the League of Nations came up for decision at Geneva. The application in the first instance came before a sub-committee of the Sixth Commission, on which His Majesty's Government was represented by the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood), who was then a Member of the Government. That Government strongly supported the application of the Free State for admission. A report, dated the 6th September, was presented by this subcommittee of the Sixth Commission, which, on the recommendation of that Commission, was adopted on the 10th September by the Assembly of the League. I will read now an extract from that report:According to precedent, the subcommittee has based its investigations on the questionnaire used for the admission of new members by the three first Assemblies. The questionnaire is as follows. Omitting the first two questions, the third reads thus:'Does the country possess a stable Government and well-defined frontiers?'The answer given to this question in the Report a few paragraphs lower is as follows:To the third question the sub-committee replies in the affirmative.Yes, a stable Government and a well-defined boundary, but the matter is qualified as follows:The sub-committee has been informed that provision for the final delimitation of a part of the boundary has been made in the Treaty, dated 6th December, 1921, embodied in the fundamental law constituting the Irish Free State.I shall carry the assent of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon when I say that both he and Lord Cecil, the head of the British delegates, and also a member of the Cabinet, approved the adoption of this Report by the League 37 of Nations, with a full knowledge of the bearing that the Report was likely to have on the present position, which was then clearly foreseen and discussed. The League of Nations was thus deliberately notified that provision for the final delimitation of the boundary had been made both in the Treaty and in statutory form.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The League of Nations was informed that machinery was set up for establishing certain parts of the boundary. Does anyone dispute that the reference both to the machinery and to the working of the machinery is to Article 12?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No! then that is all right. If there was any inaccuracy, I apologise, but I have now put the House in possession of exactly what was in my mind when I read the statement.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No, because the point is this: Supposing that the last word upon Article 12 is the decision of the Judicial Committee, then the machinery does not work. Surely, we do not want to go round about in a circle of words. I shall be delighted if any hon. Member has got the ingenuity to find a way out of this difficulty, only it must be an honourable way out; it must not be merely a wordy way out. It must be a way out which will enable this House to fulfil its pledges, which will enable a Boundary Commission to be set up and do its work and fulfil the pledge which the then Government gave to the League of Nations when it supported the application of the Irish Free State to be admitted into the League.
That is the history of the matter up to the very last stage, and, as the House is aware, it was hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they were in power, who initiated the policy of exhausting every attempt to settle the boundary by agreement. It is now just a year since they announced that 38 before constituting the Commission they would convene a Conference. That they were not able to assemble that Conference before they left office was due to a train of circumstances which they could not control. Our first act, when the seals were transferred to our hands, was to call the Conference for which they had arranged. No pains were spared to effect a compromise, not merely in the interests of this country, but still more in the interests of Ireland; but no settlement has proved possible. In Conference after Conference, in officially and properly constituted meetings, in informally constituted meetings with both the Premiers together and with only one of them present, we have used every means in our power to try to get a settlement by agreement, and I am here to report to the House of Commons that, unfortunately, we have failed.
When, therefore, we were driven to recognise that a settlement by consent was impossible, we found ourselves confronted by our clear obligations under the Treaty to submit the boundary between ourselves and the Free State to arbitration. We are bound to make Article 12 work. Then our first step was to appoint a chairman—an eminent Judge from one of the Dominions, approved by three statesmen who had known and worked with him. He was known personally to not one of us on this Bench. I have not yet met him myself, and, if we here have seen very little of him, I hope he will realise that it was only because we did not wish to embarrass his position by our friendship. He has, rightly, abstained from any discussions of the vexed issues at stake until he, has two colleagues with whom to discuss them. He has met, as it was his duty to meet, the heads of the two Irish Governments. I have not heard it suggested from any quarter that we could have found any man of judicial training more able or more impartial to undertake this very difficult task which we have assigned to him. When we were convinced that the Northern Government would not appoint an official representative on the Commission, we had to ask the opinion of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as to the effect of this refusal on Article 12 as a workable instrument. This involved some delay, to which grave exception was 39 taken in the Free State. Why, it may be asked, did we not take this step before, seeing that we had every reason to believe that the Government of Northern Ireland would refuse to appoint? The answer, and I am not at all ashamed to give it, is that to have done so would have instantly closed all chance of settlement by agreement. I am sure we were right to exhaust every one of those chances, as we did, before taking the next step. You can only carry on one policy at a time. In cases of this kind, one line of action must be exhausted before you embark on the alternative line, and we moved not one minute before we were convinced that there was nothing else to be done.
I have noticed in the Press that various opinions have been offered as to the meaning of Article 12, some by signatories of the Treaty and some by persons of high legal authority. Neither any member of the Government nor myself is at liberty to express an opinion on this subject, because, as I have already explained to the House, when the Treaty was given the force of law Parliament itself expressly left the interpretation of Article 12 to the Commission. The Measure we are now submitting to the House is confined strictly to the limits within which the Judicial Committee dealt with the matter. That tribunal reported, in effect, that, owing to an omission in drafting, the Boundary Commission could not be appointed. The Bill is confined to the amendment of that error, to the smallest provision necessary to enable us to fulfil the spirit of the Treaty where the letter is at fault. If we now fail to correct this error, or make it a condition of correcting it that we are to go back on the decisions deliberately taken by Parliament and approved by the electorate in 1922, our good faith will be tarnished and the whole Irish settlement destroyed. Everybody meant this Treaty to be operated; no one meant it to be a dead letter by a technicality. We confine ourselves to the duty of removing the technicality. Supposing, however, that our plea is rejected, what will be the position? Who will then undertake to face the situation in Ireland? What will be said about our word, not only in Ireland but elsewhere? I mention this only to remind the House of consequences that are better left undescribed.
40 Once more I urge the plea which I made at the opening of my speech. Since the Treaty was signed, nearly three years ago, we have never been in danger till now of a party division on Irish affairs, and somehow I am not afraid of it on this occasion. This in itself is an immense achievement, an achievement which I have not scrupled to say is mainly due to our friends opposite, because, in the face of real difficulties, they made it so easy for us to follow the policy which they had initiated in the pacification of Ireland. If we are to have party divisions now, that achievement of priceless value to the whole British Commonwealth, and especially to this country, will have been destroyed once and for all. On the other hand, if this Measure be passed with the full support of all recognised parties in this House, not as a Bill of a Government but as a Bill of honour, it may be that it may never have to be brought into operation at all, for it does not become operative until the scheduled agreement has been ratified by the Legislature of Southern Ireland, and neither my right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Colonies nor myself will neglect any chance which can be devised in the meantime to get an agreement, if that is possible.
If all parties in this House will agree that British honour is involved in the constitution of the Boundary Commission, I cannot divest myself of the hope that the Government of Northern Ireland will relieve Great Britain from the embarrassing position in which she is placed before the agreement is ratified. If, however, we have to exercise the power we seek by this Bill, we shall do it impartially, and see that Ulster's interests are represented by our choice. I am sure the House would wish that the third member will represent the position of Ulster just as though he had been appointed by Ulster itself. The Free State would wish no other appointment either, as that would correspond exactly to what it has done in the case of its own representative. And yet I would rather not appoint anyone. I would that Ulster herself would do it. Ulster can never be indifferent to an appeal to accept the decision of the final authority in our Constitution—Parliament. Her acquiescence in decisions come to, as these have been, will win for her the gratitude of 41 the whole Empire. We know her feelings. We know the history of the struggle; we know her memories; we can put ourselves in her place. But I would ask this House to pass this Bill with such unanimity as will be an Imperial appeal to Ulster to be magnanimously loyal to a compact upon the carrying out of which Irish peace so much depends.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I am grateful, as all Members on this side of the House are grateful, for the allusion which the Prime Minister made to Walter Long—a man who by industry, by tradition and by temperament, was a true House of Commons man for the greater part of his life, and who, doughty fighter as he was, never made a personal enemy in the ranks of his bitterest opponents. It is not unnatural that, fresh from the memorial service as we, his friends, are to-day, we think rather of the man than of the statesman, prominent though the part was that he played in a variety of offices and dignities through so many years. We think of the staunch and loyal friend, of the warm heart of the man, who suffered so from domestic bereavement during those hard years of the War, and in recent years from such ill-health, accompanied by such cruel pain, but who never complained, who was always cheerful, and stuck grimly to his work as long as the call waifs with him to stay there. The memory that he leaves behind among us is one which will strengthen us in the daily performance of that common task, which is so often a burden that seems almost too heavy to be sustained.
Now with regard to the Prime Minister's speech, I have no fault to find with the history which, in his position, he was bound to dwell upon at some length. He has studiously treated the history of this difficult period with candour and with fairness, and I believe him when he says it is no task that he desires which has been his to-day in introducing this Bill. But I would add this. I think it is a tragedy that the boundary question should have been raised at all at this time. Those of us who supported the passage of the Treaty in this House have watched with anxiety, with sympathy and with admiration, the efforts which have been made against overwhelming odds, both in the South and in the North, to pacify that unhappy country, and we have seen how, 42 by the passage of time and owing to the efforts which have been made to-day, peace exists all along that border where for so long it was foreign. There is free passage from one side to the other and free communication between individuals on either side. One wonders what malign influence can be at work in that country, where the best efforts of men have so often been frustrated by the malignity of fate, which has raised this one question which may, if ill-luck attends it, be the spark that lights the combustible material that still lies along that border.
But the question has been raised and the answer must be given. The Colonial Secretary, whom we are all glad to see here escaped from the perils of the deep, told us before the House adjourned that this Treaty must be kept in the letter and in the spirit. I do not think there is anyone on these benches who would demur to that, but we must be clear what is meant when we speak of the letter and of the spirit. We have kept the Treaty so far, I maintain, in both letter and spirit. But let me remind the House that, if the Treaty be kept in the letter alone, the Boundary Commission is in a state of animated suspension and the boundary remains where it is, subject only to any alteration which might be made by mutual agreement and concession.
What we must ask ourselves to-day, and what no doubt the Government have asked themselves anxiously, is what is the spirit of the Treaty. There is nothing so difficult and elusive to define as what "spirit" is, because into the definition of spirit there enters the question of honour, and we are as sensitive to the honour of our signatures and of our country as Members who sit on any benches in this House. But honour must be consulted if the dangerous step be taken of framing a Supplementary Act to embody spirit as well as letter. We all recognise the honour that is due towards those with whom the Treaty was made. We recognise as binding on us, and we think equally binding on our country, the honour we owe to the North of Ireland. That honour is involved in many statements and pledges which have been given inside and outside this House with which I do not propose to weary Members this afternoon.
43 Bearing in mind what I have said, I ask myself what is it that the Government propose to do. They propose to set tip a fresh Commission, that is to say, a Commission differently constituted from the Constitution agreed to in the original Treaty. That Treaty was passed largely by the votes of the Party to which I belong, and we cannot contend that the setting up of a Commission is not of the spirit of the Treaty. But the spirit of the Treaty involves more. I have to ask myself what was in the mind of Parliament when the Treaty was passed. What was in the mind of the signatories? What was in the mind of Mr. Bonar Law, whose speech I think I may say was probably the deciding factor in the passage of that Bill in the House of Commons? What was in my own mind? We never had any doubt as to the meaning of Article 12 and as to the limited nature of its terms, and it was on that assumption alone, that the Boundary Commission meant a Commission to deal with the rectification of the Boundary, that the Bill passed this House, and it was because it was so firmly implanted in the minds of those who supported the Bill at that time that the Amendments to which the Prime Minister has very properly alluded were defeated, because the point had not then been raised in any quarter that there was any equivocal meaning in the words of that Article.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I agree that here and there individuals did mention it, but those who supported the Bill in this House—at any rate, I speak for those on this side of the House—were satisfied by the assurances that were given to them and by the opinion that had been expressed by a legal authority that that was the meaning of that Clause, and it was for that reason that they supported the Bill as it was. Therefore I contend that, as doubts have arisen as to the meaning, when you are bringing a Bill into Parliament to give effect not to the letter but to the spirit of the Treaty, you should express in your Bill the whole spirit and not a part of the spirit, and so fulfil the double debt of honour and not only what you conceive to be the debt to one party in the case. It is for that reason, recognising all that I 44 have admitted, that I do not propose to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, but Amendments will be moved, giving effect to what I have suggested on the Committee stage. If they are not accepted, or if it will not be in order to amend it, the responsibility for what is in the Bill must rest with the Government and with the Government alone; we can have no part in or responsibility for it, and we shall have to consider then what our action will be at a later stage. I myself do not anticipate, and never have anticipated, that any other interpretation can be placed on Article 12 by the Commission than that which was understood by the House of Commons during the passage of the Bill two or three years ago. But without Amendment there is a risk that, contrary to expectation, a decision might be come to which would go beyond what was indisputably the intention of Parliament at the time of the passage of the Bill and a situation would arise of an entirely new kind, one in which no man could foresee what would happen, and a situation in which I can see no possible solution. It is for that reason that I would beg of the Government, even at this hour, to consider carefully whether they cannot embody what I believe to be the whole spirit of the Treaty into this amending Bill.
The Prime Minister spoke with sympathy of the position in the North of Ireland. He might well do that, for they are his own countrymen and he ought to understand them. It is to safeguard their position and to prevent dire possibilities happening that I urge him, while there is yet time, to consider whether he will not embody our Amendments after consideration in the Bill. The Government have, doubtless, weighed carefully the possibilities of failure and of disaster. The Prime Minister said—I forget his exact phrase—something to the effect that no wordy settlement would be sufficient. We are, indeed, beyond the realm of words, and that is what the House, should try to realise. We so often deal here with words and with words alone. Here, to-day, we are face to face, not with 0words but with the grimmest of grim realities, beyond the phase of word making or phrase-mongering. We are in an atmosphere where a careless word or an unwise act might cause bloodshed in 45 Ireland, and when once in that country that dread stream begins to flow, there is no man who can prophesy its course, who can tell its dimensions or who can stay its current. It is for this reason that during this Debate I hope that all Members of this House will feel the grave responsibility which rests upon them. Let us hope that those words we use every day before we begin our customary business—a right judgment in all things,that that prayer may be fulfilled, and that in this 'time of great crisis those words may not be rendered in vain.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I desire to associate myself to the full with the moving expressions that have been used both by the Prime Minister and by the Leader of the Opposition as to the impoverishment, for such it is, of our public life which results from the disappearance from the scene of politics of one who in both Houses, but for a much longer time in this House, contributed so much to the common weal as Walter Long. When I came into this House, now a great many years ago, he was already an experienced Member of established position. Even then, though he was still a young man, he was recognised as, perhaps, the most typical and worthy representative in our public life of a type commoner then than it is now, but even then almost on the eve of extinction. He was a man of old lineage, large property, and with great local responsibilities, but he was the least selfish of mankind. He devoted all that he had and all that he was capable of giving, which was much, from the beginning to the end of an honourable and strenuous public life to the good of his country.
I knew him during the greater part of that time as a trenchant and formidable opponent. I have often crossed swords with him across this Table. I knew him, also, after the War broke out, as a colleague in the Cabinet. A more staunch, devoted, loyal colleague no man ever had. He cherished no animosities. He never had any private end to serve. He set a model and example to all entering public life, and even to many who are far advanced in it, of how much an Englishman of a strong, deep and devoted sense of public duty can contribute in his day and generation to the best interests of his country and of the world.
46 I am not going to occupy the attention of the House at any length. My main purpose is to say that I myself, and I believe all my political friends, propose to give this Bill hearty and undivided support. We would much rather—which of us, wherever he sits in the House, would not?—that there had been no necessity for legislation. This is primarily, I will not say entirely and purely, an Irish question. It is a matter of domestic concern, and now that we have given, and, as I think, wisely given, to Ireland the status of a Dominion, it is a question which had much better be settled in Ireland and by Irishmen. There is not an Englishman or Scotsman here who would not infinitely prefer that solution of this perennial, for it is a perennial, difficulty.
I cannot help remembering that we were confronted with precisely the same problem 10 years ago, on the eve of the War. The King was pleased to summon a Conference at Buckingham Palace, which was attended by the representatives of all parties. Ireland was represented by, on the one hand, Sir Edward Carson and Sir James Craig, and, on the other hand, by those veteran leaders of the Nationalist party, Mr. John Redmond and Mr. Dillon. Those of us who were not Irishmen belonged to what in those days were the two recognised political parties. It is a curious illustration of the changes that have taken place in our political life that Labour had no direct representation there. It is a thing that is not likely to happen again. Of the then organised and recognised parties there was a full representation by what I may call representative men. It was identically the same question, the boundary between what is called Ulster and the rest of Ireland. It centred, as it centres now, mainly or exclusively upon the position of the two counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh. Day by day, with the best desire in the world to come to an agreement, with maps and statistics and every kind of information that any of us could procure, we grappled with that thorny problem, but we found it insoluble. It was insoluble then. I hope it is not going to prove insoluble now.
I have troubled the House with that reminiscence in order to show that this is not a new burden of our time resulting 47 from recent legislation. The moment you have to deal with the Irish problem, upon the footing of self-government, and you recognise, as we are all bound to recognise, the gulf—as we hoped and still hope the narrowing gulf—that separates the South from the North, you must, provisionally at any rate arrange boundaries. The War intervened, and the matter remained in abeyance until after peace was declared. Then came the legislation out of which the particular problem arises here to-day. I can speak personally with a good deal of detachment in regard to that legislation. "Detachment" is, perhaps, a mild word to use. Of the Act of 1920—I think the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) will agree with me—I was a candid and a not wholly sympathetic critic, at any rate in regard to some of its provisions during its progress through this House.
Nor, of course, had I anything to do with the negotiations which led to the Treaty, although when those negotiations were happily brought to an end—I shall always think that it was a most patriotic combination between people who approached the matter from totally different points of view, each of them with a past which made concessions and compromise exceedingly difficult—and the Treaty was arrived at, giving the status of a Dominion to Ireland, it was welcomed by no Member of this House more cordially and more sincerely than by myself. Here let me correct a little verbal slip which the Prime Minister made in his lucid and admirable exposition of the history of the matter. He spoke of the Treaty of December, 1921, and of its ratification by Parliament, as though it gave the status of a Dominion to the Free State. It gave it to Ireland.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
The right hon. Gentleman agrees with me. That is a correct statement. It gave it to Ireland, subject, and subject only, to the provisions which are contained in Article 12. What are those conditions? Ireland but for this Article would have been constituted into a single Dominion. Very wisely, this Article was inserted. What is its effect? Its effect is that the North of Ireland as 48 constituted by the Act of 1920, subject to certain conditions as to time and so forth, contracts itself out; exercises the option to contract itself out of the Dominion. Now Northern Ireland, as defined by the Act of 1920, was, in point of area, what are called the six counties. Let the House remember that, in considering the effect of the proviso which was inserted in the second paragraph of that article granting the option of contracting out. The proviso is that, if the option be exercised, a Boundary Commission, as described in the article, shall be set up, to determine, in accordance with the conditions—I need not state what they are: they are very well known—the boundaries between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland. It is perfectly clear that the framers of that article contemplated, as a possible result, at any rate, of the operation of the Commission, that the boundary of the six counties was not to be an inflexible and permanent line, and it provides that, for the purpose of the Act of 1920, and of this instrument the boundary of Northern Ireland shall be such, not as was fixed by the Act of 1920, but as may be determined by the Commission.
Here I would like to assure my hon. Friends from the North of Ireland that I do not wish to make any controversial statement—on the contrary, no one is more anxious than I that the parties concerned should come to an agreement—when I say that I think that the Government have come to a perfectly right decision and that, prima facie, the interpretation of the powers so conferred upon the Commission should be a matter left to them. Attempts were made, during the progress through this House of the Bill constituting the Irish Free State, to impose upon the Commissioners obligations as to how they were to interpret the powers given to them. Those attempts were rejected both in this House and in the House of Lords by large, and indeed overwhelming majorities, and the inference that I should draw from all that took place at that time was that Parliament of that day deliberately left to the Commissioners the power of interpreting the nature and the scope of the functions entrusted to them. I was a hearty supporter of that proposal, and I need not say an opponent of these Amendments, and, if I may, I will just 49 quote two sentences from the speech which I made on the Second Reading of that Bill, which indicated, I think, in the clearest possible terms what my position was then and what, I believe, the position of my political friends is now. I said this:Urgent as I think the boundary readjustment to be, whether it is to come sooner or later, whether it is to come by agreement or in default of agreement by the machinery of a Commission, it is an integral part of the Treaty. It would be impossible for the Government or for this House, which has formerly ratified the Treaty, to escape the charge of gross bad faith if there was any receding from or any repudiating of that which I regard as an essential part of the understanding.That was the position which many of us took then, which I think the Government of that day took, and which I think the Government of to-day is taking up. In the lamentable event that has happened, of the Government of Northern Ireland failing to appoint a Commissioner of their own, it appears to me that His Majesty's Government have taken the only course that was open to them by filling the gap so created, in the manner in which they propose to do it in the provisions of this Bill. I know from very long experience of the Irish problem how important it is to take the advice which was offered to us by the Leader of the Opposition a few moments ago, and to abstain from any language which could tend to prejudice such a settlement, as I still hope is not beyond the bounds of political possibility. If this Bill passes into law, if the Commission, with the gap filled in the manner proposed, is appointed and set to work, I should still like to express the hope, I might say the expectation, that the interval may be used for further conference between the parties directly concerned, and for a settlement, not by a judicial award by the Commission, but by common agreement between themselves, of a problem which, difficult as it is in itself, and which is still more difficult from the historical associations which encompass it on every side, is nevertheless a problem which has been solved by statesmanship and good sense in many countries and in many different times in the history of the modern world. That is the road which we should all like to see travelled.
In the meantime, in default of agreement, we must keep our word. We must 50 provide, as this Bill proposes, a fulfilment of our pledges, and the pledges embodied in the Treaty for the maintenance in the eyes of the people of Ireland of our honour and good faith. It is a most unwelcome task, as the Prime Minister has said, to have to deal with this matter at all by legislation, and still more so to appear to deal with it in any spirit of party contention. On those grounds, and on those grounds alone, we British Members are entitled to appeal to Irishmen—to the better sections of opinion to whatever area of the country they may belong—to co-operate in the common task so vital to the future of their own country, and therefore of ours. All the more because Ireland has now acquired the status of a Dominion, we are bound together by ties which nature herself has created, and which man cannot put aside. With all the great resources which as a race they possess, and, what is more important, with that better undersanding of one by the other, better than any Englishman or any Scotsman can possess, which one body of Irishmen can have of another body of Irishmen, with their intuition and knowledge of temperament and of the history of their own country, I hope that it is not arrogant for us to make a solemn appeal to them to brush aside the whole of this instrument which we are most anxious, if we can, to avoid, and which we are only adopting under the stress of sheer necessity, and so solve that which is a most vital problem.
§ Mr. REID
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsthis House, while desirous of forwarding a constitutional and lasting settlement of the question of the boundary between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland, declines to proceed with a Bill which might enable territory to be transferred from the Irish Free State to Northern Ireland or from Northern Ireland to the Irish Free State without the consent of the Parliament to whom jurisdiction over that territory has been granted by the Imperial Parliament.I should like in the first place, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, to associate ourselves with what fell from the lips of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Leader of the Liberal party in regard to the late Lord Long. 51 We appreciate deeply the remarks which have been made.
The Prime Minister made an appeal to Ulster and to the Ulster Government and to the Members from Ulster. I would like, if I may, to ask him to appreciate the situation in which the Ulster Government finds itself. The Ulster Government was set up by the Act of 1920. That Act set up a Government on the model of the Government of this country. That Government is a constitutional representative Government. That is to say, the Members of the Government are responsible to the House of Commons, and the Members of the House of Commons in their turn are responsible to their constituents. The framers of the Treaty knew what they were doing. The Government of the clay knew the powers which had been given to the Government of Northern Ireland. It must have been obvious to anybody who framed the Treaty that the power was given to a body which might or might not exercise it. Let us take the matter a little further and consider the question of Clause 12. The Leader of the Opposition stated this afternoon that all the Members of the Opposition who signed that Treaty took the view that that, Clause was a matter of small and narrow interpretation. Then we had the Leader of the Liberal party arguing just now that the jurisdiction of the Commissioners was unlimited. If he is correct in that opinion the Commission might take away from Northern Ireland such an amount of territory as would render the continued existence of Northern Ireland impossible. That means that the right hon. Gentleman is asking the House of Commons to hand over to a Commission the right to determine whether Northern Ireland shall exist or not. That is the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal, and I do not think that he can deny it.
In those circumstances, it seems to me useless to make any appeal. It is necessary to make proposals, and the right hon. Gentleman has made no proposals which anybody could accept at the present time. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's own speech there are one or two remarks which I would like to make. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a number of things in connection with the Treaty which I cannot 52 find in the words of the Treaty. He read a great number of extracts and documents relating to the Treaty, but all the time what he was giving us was not the Treaty but his own gloss on the Treaty. What right, has he to say that the spirit of the Treaty was that a Commissioner must be appointed if the Government of Northern Ireland fails to appoint a Commissioner under Article 12. We have the actual signatories stating from time to time their different views as to what they meant, and there are obviously two irreconcilable views as to what Article 12 meant. In these circumstances, it seems to me that for the right hon. Gentleman to place one interpretation on it, to assume that that is the correct interpretation, and to bind everybody on a point of honour to adopt his interpretation, is asking a little too much of this House. There was another fault I had to find in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He talked of pledges and he talked of honour. He began his researches with the Treaty. We want to go a little further back. I can recapitulate what happened shortly. The Act of 1920 was not only introduced into this House but Sir Edward Carson was actually asked to go to the North of Ireland and ask his followers whether they would accept it and attempt to work it if it were passed. The six counties area was part of that scheme. Sir Edward Carson did go to Northern Ireland. He put the matter before his supporters and they undertook to work the constitution if it were set up. They have worked it. Let me refer to the words of Lord Carson in the House of Lords, on 14th December, 1921:And in 1920, when this Government came into power and you brought in your Home Rule Bill of 1920, was that your policy? Did it represent your policy or was it a sham? Do any of your Bills ever represent your policy or do you mean to correct them the moment the ink is dry upon His Majesty's signature? Was it your policy? All I can say, as I said in the House of Commons at the time, is that I refused absolutely to go over and ask Ulster, which loathed and detested it, to accept a Parliament there unless I had the most solemn assurances from the Prime Minister that that was to be a settlement of the case, and a permanent one, so that Ulster might proceed, after being threatened for thirty years to the natural development of her resources, etc., etc.That is a definite statement which has never been contradicted—that he had a 53 pledge from the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I recognise clearly that the present Prime Minister is not responsible for any of these things. He is the successor to a Government that gave the pledge, and he, considers it his duty to implement the pledges of his predecessor. This Bill was passed. The Parliament was set up, and the people of Ulster considered that there was a definite pledge to them that the Act of 1920 was a final settlement. We have further evidence of a pledge having been given in the letter from Lord Long, which Lord Selborne published in the newspapers yesterday. We have further the judgment of an outside and independent person in the recent utterance of Lord Grey. Lord Grey is not a statesman who has ever shown any partiality to Ulster, but he has said definitely that there were two inconsistent pledges given. There were two pledges. If it be necessary to make a choice between the pledges, what do we find? That the constitution under the Act of 1920 and the assurance given by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs were given before the Treaty was thought of or heard of. Those were in existence. The proceedings under the Act of 1920 were public property; they were known to the negotiators from the Free State who came over to this country to negotiate a Treaty. They asked for further pledge which was inconsistent with the pledge already given to Ulster. They asked for it with full knowledge that the previous pledge was in existence. They asked for the breaking of the former pledge.
We maintain that people who occupy that position have no rights whatsoever against those to whom the former pledge was given. In technical language, they are purchasers with notice. We say that the pledge to us clearly takes precedence. If you cannot keep both pledges, you must stick to that which is untarnished by any taint of dishonour. When the Treaty negotiations were in progress, Sir James Craig was in London. He saw the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and on 29th November, 1921, made a statement which concluded with these words:In the meantime, the rights of Ulster will in no way be sacrificed or compromised.We have the further statement of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon 54 Boroughs, when he entered into negotiations, that the rights of Ulster would not be abrogated without its consent. The Leader of the Liberal party said to-day that it is a question of honour to make this alteration in the Treaty. How can that be maintained by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs? The rights of Ulster cannot be compromised and cannot be affected without its own consent. How can the right hon. Gentleman or anyone who follows him take the line of saying, "It is quite true that we carried out our pledges in the Treaty, but now we propose to alter the Treaty."
So much for the question of honour and pledges. In the second place, I say that this Bill, if nothing else, is inexpedient. It will not be the end of trouble. It will be the beginning of trouble. The Leader of the Liberal party said just now that it was intended to leave the construction of Article 12 to the Commission. I say, with deference to a lawyer of his experience, that I doubt that statement very much. The Commission has no powers whatever except those conferred upon it by the words of Article 12. Therefore, any decision of the Commission is open to question. If they take away a whole county from Northern Ireland and hand it to the Free State, that decision, in my view, is open to question.
The Northern Government may be advised not to withdraw their police from that area. You would at once have conflict and a cause of dispute. The materials are combustible enough. You have all the materials for an absolute conflagration. To introduce this Bill and go on with proposals relating to Article 12 is hopeless folly. The Secretary of State for the-Colonies has been running through the wilds of Africa. If he had spent a week of his holiday on the Ulster border he would probably have learned something of material advantage to the Government. We have had utterances from time to time lately by Members of the Free State Government. There was Mr. Blythe, who recently made the statement that no-report of the Commission would be satisfactory unless it meant a large transfer of territory. There have been other utterances of a similar kind. Does the Prime Minister realise what is the position on the border? The position now is not even what it was when the Treaty was passed. At the time the Treaty was 55 signed there had been disturbances in Ireland, but since then all along that border there have been murder, arson, kidnapping and outrages of every kind.
§ Mr. REID
I am not attributing blame to anyone. I am stating only what is a notorious fact. When hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House talk about transfers of territory, whether smaller or greater, do they not realise that those areas are the dwelling places of men and women who have been living in the midst of this state of affairs? Take the people on the northern side of the border who have been living in that atmosphere. You expect them to sit down and take the matter calmly when they realise that a Commission may put them into the hands of people from whom they have suffered injury and outrage in the last two years. I was talking only a few days ago to a woman who lived near the Free State border. Her comment on this proposal for the appointment of a Commissioner was, "Two years ago my house was fired into several times. I had bombs thrown into it. There were attempts made to set it on fire. We have had peace for two years. Do they think we have had peace too long?" We were told, when the Treaty was going through this House, that we could not alter a comma or anything. Now when an Article of the Treaty affords some protection to the people on the Ulster border we are told that it must be altered.
It is sometimes said that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. Is there one kind of fairness for Northern Ireland and another kind of fairness for Southern Ireland? We say that there is no case in honour at all for this proposed alteration of the Treaty. Nor is there a case for it as a matter of expediency. Leaving out all the questions of outrages and so forth, would the right hon. Gentleman consider the position of a person who was likely to be transferred from Northern Ireland to the Free State? What would that person have to face? Much higher taxation than in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He would be separated from the flag which he values enormously. The Union Jack does not fly on the Free State side of the border. Some of those Members of this 56 House who have recently travelled along the border would tell the House that the attachment to the flag is almost a passion on the Northern side of the border. There are places where it is possible to see such petty things done as the chipping of the Crown off the old letter boxes in order to show that there is no sympathy with the Monarchy.
Can the Government not visualise and realise the position of these people who are loyally attached to the Empire, who have suffered outrage in the past, but who now are threatened with being put over the border, put out of the protection of the Crown and put into the hands of people whom they have always looked upon as disloyal? We ask the Prime Minister to realise that he is playing with fire. Only a Week ago I was at a meeting of people from the border districts held in Enniskillen. It was a spontaneous meeting, called by local people to protest against this Bill and against any alteration in the border. It was a cold wet day; it was absolutely miserable to be out of doors, yet thousands of people stood there for hours in order to voice their feelings and to show their views. The right hon. Gentleman really ought to realise that the present time is extremely inopportune for this Bill. We are quite certain there is no pledge of honour or anything binding the Government to take action, and we believe any action they may take will only lead to disorder and bloodshed, and in any case will be a check to the prosperity and progress of the country. We ask them, therefore, I will not say to leave well alone, but to leave things as they are alone and trust to time to remedy all these grievances.
§ Mr. HUGH O'NEILL
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think that there is one aspect of this discussion which has shown itself more than any other, and that is the gravity with which all right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have hitherto spoke have dealt with the question. I think everybody in the House realises that, as the Mover of the Amendment has just said, you are playing with fire with regard to this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), referring to the days When he was Prime Minister and when, before the War, he was engaged in an attempt to 57 solve this boundary question, said he found it insoluble. To try to solve it today is stirring up a hornets' nest, and it had far better be allowed to remain untouched. The object of the Amendment is to declare that when Article 12 refers to the wishes of the inhabitants, it should be construed to mean the Parliaments of the respective territories concerned. I propose to place the main theme of what I have to say on what I may call the large Imperial basis. Under the Treaty it was enacted that a Boundary Commission was to be set up and that Ulster was to appoint one of the members of it; in other words, it seems to me., those who framed the Treaty must have known that it involved a Commission which had the consent of Ulster. As a perfectly logical result of that, I believe it was understood by a large majority of Members of this House that there would be no Commission unless the Ulster representative was appointed. I know, for what it is worth, that in private conversation with me at the time many Members on this side of the House, at any rate, said they brought themselves to support the Treaty because, as they said: "Of course, in the end if Ulster does not like it she need never appoint a Commissioner." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That has undoubtedly been said to me over and over again by hon. Members of this House who sit on this side.
§ Mr. O'NEILL
It is not in the least a trick, because the whole basis of this matter is Ulster's consent, and my contention is that once you get beyond that, you are laying up for yourselves—the Government are laying up for themselves and this House may be laying up for itself—great difficulties and great dangers from the broad Imperial aspect in the future. What is the Imperial aspect of the matter? This House granted Northern Ireland a separate Parliament and Government. The fact that Northern Ireland did not want that Parliament but infinitely preferred to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom is not here relevant. That Parliament was opened in full state by His Majesty the King, and I remember the late Mr. Bonar Law, in his speech on the Treaty, said the Boundary Article was the one Article in the Treaty which made him fearful for the future. He said that if there was one 58 point which Ulster thought settled and settled once and for all, it was the question of the boundaries, and he had grave misgivings with regard to the future of Article 12. What the Government propose to do now is to alter—possibly—the boundaries between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland without the consent of one of the parties to the transaction, and, in doing so, I say they are abrogating a great Imperial principle upon which depends the stability of the self-governing portions of the Empire.
There is in existence a Colonial Boundaries Act passed, I believe, in 1895, and the main enacting words of that Act provide that the boundary of no Colony may be altered without the consent of that Colony. Ulster, I agree, is not a Colony. It is the last thing we wish to be. We who live there have always been an integral portion of the United Kingdom and the Empire, but the principle applies whether we are a Colony or not. What that Act really means is that in Imperial matters you cannot alter the boundaries of a self-governed State without the consent of that State. I believe that even to-day there is great misconception in this House and throughout Great Britain regarding the status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. The status of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom is exactly analogous to the status of a provincial Government in Canada in relation to the Dominion Government. In both cases Members are returned from the area of the provincial Government to the Dominion legislature in the ease of Canada, and to the Imperial Parliament in the case of this country, in addition to those in the local legislatures. What would be said, I wonder, if it were proposed that the boundaries say between Quebec and Ontario should be altered by an Act of the Dominion Government without the consent of one of the parties concerned in that boundary? Such a proposal would be impossible, and, if we were to carry on our great heritage of Imperial Government on such principles, we should soon find the great edifice of our Empire crashing about our ears. I have developed the larger aspect of the question, because the last thing I wish to do, and I am certain the last thing which any representative from Northern Ireland wishes to do, is in any way to add 59 bitterness or acerbity to this controversy. We hold we are being unjustly treated. We hold you are violating one of the essential principles upon which the British Empire rests, and consequently, we make our protest, and we shall carry this Amendment to a Division.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I hope the House 'will allow me to intervene in this discussion for a few moments, because, as the last Chief Secretary for Ireland in this House, I am in a peculiar position. I had as part of my duty in 1919–20 to take part in negotiations which preceded the Act passed in 1920, and, as I have already stated, my recollection of all the negotiations is quite clear and distinct, and I have no hesitation in saying that the pledge then given to Ulster in the course of those negotiations was that she would be left with her six counties to pursue her own economic and industrial destiny. I introduced that Bill in March, 1990. Soon afterwards I went out, and the Bill was conducted in the House of Commons by the late lamented Lord Long. I need not recall to the House the statement which was written only some three weeks ago by Lord Long and sent to Lord Selborne. His pledge was as clear and distinct as mine. It is, no doubt, in the possession of every Member of this House. That pledge was—and it has been substantiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Down (Mr. Reid)—that, for the future, Ulster was to be left alone to pursue her own destiny, for good and all, as a six-county area.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
I am sure the House will appreciate what I am going to say. We anticipated that the public statement of the late lamented Lord Long might be raised in the Debate, and it was our duty, therefore, to take the necessary steps immediately to ascertain the facts. No one knows better than my right hon. Friend the system of Cabinet rule which prevents a Cabinet document being produced, and I rise at this stage only to warn the House that it will be absolutely necessary to maintain that custom. We have traced the records this morning, and I can only say that it is open to any ex-Cabinet Ministers to have the documents placed 60 before them, as they are entitled to do, but I wish to state to the House that we do not want to raise an issue raised by an eminent statesman who recently died, and I hope no reference will be made to that, but our records do not bear cut the construction.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I need hardly say that no word of mine will be uttered which would in any way place the Government or anybody else in any difficulty of that kind, and, so far as I personally am concerned, I will only say that my recollection of all these proceedings is the same as that of the late Lord Long. With regard to this particular pledge, I would also crave in aid the name of a very well-known statesman in this country who is practised in the art of knowing and appreciating Treaties, namely, Lord Grey. After I had spoken and given my views to my constituents, Lord Grey, in a speech in Edinburgh, took the view which I take. He said that there were two Treaties, a Treaty with Ulster and a Treaty with the Irish Free State, and when I hear hon. and right hon. Gentlemen talking about keeping faith and regarding the honour of this country so far as the Irish Free State is concerned, I reply, quite frankly, that there are two Treaties, and if you are to talk about honour, it does not necessarily follow that a country should only keep its honour when its word is written. The great pride of this country has always been that whether one's word is written or spoken it is honoured, and I say that the pledge was a pledge given to Ulster, that it was as binding and as firm and as strong as the pledge given to the South and West, and I think that the word of this country is as much at stake with regard to Ulster as it is with regard to the South of Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in the course of a very able and brilliant speech, and, may I say, a very conciliatory speech, recited a good many of the historical facts in connection with this question, and I do riot propose to recite any of them—a good many of them have, for me, very bitter memories—but he made mention of one fact in connection with the Election of 1922, the Election which followed the passing of the Treaty, 61 and he went on to say that Mr. Bonar Law came back to the House of Commons reassured in his position on the Irish Question by the result of that Election, and that almost every Member of this House had given a pledge to see the thing through. I do not know what pledges other hon. Members have given. I have learned, in the short experience of this Government in power, that you ought to find out what pledge is asked for before you give it. I know this, that if any Member of this House was asked the question, as I was asked: "Will you coerce Ulster or will you not?" I am convinced of this, that his answer would be: "No, I will not." I say once again that it all depends on the way in which the question is put and upon the situation as a whole—[An. HON. MEMBER: as when"]—and when. It is quite true, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) has pointed out, that the Treaty gave self-government, not to the Irish Free State, but to the whole of Ireland. That is a fact which is very often forgotten, but it is an important fact, for this reason. If I remember the Treaty aright, I think that Article 10 or Article n states that self-government was for the whole of Ireland, but there was a proviso, that Northern Ireland, namely, the six-county area, had the right to contract out within a month. It is well to remember what Northern Ireland did. Northern Ireland is a six-county area by Statute, and it is a significant fact that in every document subsequent to the Treaty, Northern Ireland is always regarded as an integral part of the Empire and of the United Kingdom.
This proviso for contracting out was duly acted upon by Northern Ireland, but the Treaty, if I recollect aright, went on to say: If Northern Ireland elects to contract out of the Treaty, another thing arises, and that is that a Boundary Commission has to be appointed, composed of three Commissioners, one appointed by the Irish Free State, one by Northern Ireland, and the Chairman by the Imperial Government. I have no doubt that the House read with very great interest the speech which was delivered the other day by my right hon. Friend, Mr. Winston Churchill, who was then in reality the Chief Secretary for Ireland, 62 as Colonial Minister, and he bore out what everybody who has spoken on this side of the Irish Channel has borne out, that if there was to be a Commission it was to be a Commission on the boundary—I use the word "boundary"—for minor re-adjustments. [Interruption.] I am quoting what anybody can see in the public Press—namely, the speech of my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I have not got the facts, and I do not like to quote without them. I am sorry if I disagree with my hon. Friends, but they will appreciate my position. I have my personal word to keep, and I am going to keep it. As he pointed out in that speech, quite clearly, this Boundary Commission was to be a Commission appointed to effect minor readjustments, and Lord Long's words are "slight re-adjustments." There is no great difference between them, but he went on to say what was to me very significant. He said that the signatories on the British side did not want to include an article of this sort in the Treaty, but the delegates who represented the South and West of Ireland insisted on the inclusion of such an article, namely, Article 12. Why did they insist upon it? That is a very important point. When ultimately the British delegates agreed to the insertion of that article they included in it what I always understood was a safeguard in the interests of Ulster and, in my judgment, this safeguard is one of the most important parts of the Treaty. Ulster must, in accordance with the Treaty as it stands, give her consent before any Commission is set up. That is what it means, and there is no other meaning to be drawn from it. The Privy Council has decided that unless Ulster gives her consent and appoints a Commissioner, that article has no effect. Therefore, the whole of the value of that article is dependent upon the consent of Ulster. Ulster has decided not to give her consent, and the result is now that a Treaty which we were told was unalterable when it was passing through this House is now being altered by the Government, and it is quite well known that it is being altered at the instigation of the Irish Free State. That is common ground; anybody who reads the Press 63 knows that very well, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, whom I am glad to see back in his place, said in one of his statements, that the conditions in the South of Ireland were now so grave that this Article had to be altered.
If this unalterable Treaty is now to be altered in this respect by an Act of this House, why should it not be altered in another respect also? If this discussion in the Press or on the platform or this Debate has brought to light one thing, it has surely brought to light this, that there is no consensus ad ideal, that there is no real agreement between the Free State signatories and our signatories as to what really was meant to be done by the Boundary Commission, and if the Government are sincere, as I have no doubt in honour they are, in bringing forward this Bill now to supplement this unalterable Treaty, is it not a natural thing to ask them to include in their Bill something which will make it clear what was the real intention of this Article o? If the real intention was, as we understand it was, that there should be no annexation, no agression, but merely slight re-adjustment of the boundary on the principle of give and take, can that real intention not now be clearly expressed? It is for this that I make a plea. It is an easy step to take. If this unalterable Treaty is to be altered in a way against the wishes of one side, can it not equally be altered, let me assume, against the wishes of the Free State? Can it not be said in this Treaty that there should be terms of reference defining clearly—not interfering with the interpretation of the Commissioners, but defining clearly—what this Commission is asked to do?
It is not too much to ask this. It would certainly clarify the air, and, which is more, it would really give expression to what is the real and genuine feeling of everybody, even on these benches. It is not only on that side of the House, but men of honour on these benches, too, feel that some such clearness ought to be introduced into the amended and supplemented Treaty. My right hon. Friend who has just spoken, the Speaker of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, took a very grave view of the situation. I have 64 had experience of Ireland, and I agree with him. Anybody who knows the high tension of feeling in Ireland to-day knows that this is no light matter, and, while I am absolutely willing that we should keep faith, as this country ought always to keep faith, with the South and West of Ireland, I am equally strong in my view that we should keep faith with Ulster. During the time that she was asked by this Parliament to pursue her own destinies, she has worked wonders. She has brought peace into the North of Ireland in the most difficult conditions; she has maintained her livelihood; she has fostered her industries; she has paid her debts and her liabilities. With regard to the future of the South and West, who can tell? I have got my own strong view, which L expressed in 1919, that it will not be long until you have a republic in the South and West, and I would ask this House to hesitate long before it sacrifices the friendship and the loyalty of those who have shown themselves, through thick and thin, loyal and faithful to this country, to the uncertainty of what may come from the South.
May I say this in conclusion? I am sorry if upon this occasion I should part company with a great many of my friends, but they will understand the reason. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then go on the other side!"] I do not propose to go on the other side. I am as good a Liberal as ever I was, and, what is more, my constituents think so too. But I would like to say this. I am prepared to support any movement in connection with this Bill which will help to procure the inclusion in it of some terms of reference to the Commission. I am perfectly certain that in that way lies peace. I feel sure, too, although I do not know definitely, that if some such terms were introduced now, those who represent Ulster would willingly give this Bill an easy passage through. I hope I am speaking what is in their minds. I am equally certain of this, that it would ease the minds of a great many of my colleagues behind me. We are anxious to have peace in Ireland, and I hope I, for one, have said nothing that will endanger that peace. I have not intended to. But I do say the time is not too late yet for the Government to take its courage in all its hands, and to make this Treaty what it ought to be, a Treaty which is really expressive of the minds 65 of moderate men and women of this country, a Treaty which deals out justice and fair play to those who are loyal to us, a Treaty that, while it will reassure them, will at the same time do no injury to those in the South and West of Ireland.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
It must have crossed the minds of many people, while the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) was speaking, that there was something which, if the subject were less indescribably grave, might excite merriment in the reminiscences which he gave us. He reminded us that 10 years ago the Government of this country were then engaged in busy and anxious discussion upon the very controversy which we are again engaged upon to-day. After 10 years, partly occupied by a war, we have come back to the old controversy, and we are asked by the Government, in circumstances I am about to discuss, to re-open, or to treat as being open, the old controversy about what were and what were not the limits of that part of Ireland which could not be brought under a system of Home Rule. With much of the Prime Minister's speech I was able to agree, and I think a great many hon. Gentlemen on this side would agree. There is no dispute at all that, however badly we may think of the Treaty—I am one of those who opposed it at every stage—both the Government and Parliament are absolutely bound by the Treaty. No one disputes that. The quotation from the League of Nations records, and the large part of the quotations that the Prime Minister made from the records of Parliament, are really, therefore, unnecessary from that point of view. They merely recount a quite indisputable historic fact, that Parliament and the Government then entered into an engagement which is binding.
The question, of course, is, what is the nature of that obligation, and how far does it extend? We hear of the letter and the spirit. By the spirit, I apprehend, is meant the intention of what was done. "Intention" is constantly used in controversies of this kind in two different senses. Where you are concerned with a document which rests purely on the authority of a particular person, and you inquire into the intention of that document, you mean the intention of the person who was the author of it, and you are entitled to 66 take into consideration any light that may bear On that person's intention. It constantly arises in religious and ecclesiastical controversy. In the course of quoting, say, St. Paul's Epistle, the intention of St. Paul may be discovered in other passages of the Epistle or circumstances of the time. But where you are dealing with an Act of Parliament or a Treaty, intention means something different. That is the intention which one may call "jurists' intention." No Judge would have the slightest regard to any statement made in Parliament, for example, while an Act was passing. All Judges would insist on interpreting an Act in the light of the words of the Act, and nothing else. The intentions of the authors, or reputed authors, would not be taken into consideration at all.
Precisely the same rule holds in respect of international treaties. The Court at The Hague, if sitting on any international treaty, would take the words of the treaty, and the words of any other treaty that bore upon it, and they would not listen at all to the statement of the intention—in the very natural sense of the word—of the authors. Of course, it is not an international treaty, but it has commonly been treated upon the same principles of interpretation as an international treaty, and that is the intention, I believe, both of the Government and of the Free State. Suppose it to be so treated, then I do not think there can be any reasonable doubt whatever that the British Government have already fulfilled to the last letter their obligation under the Treaty. Let me read the words that have been read before:Provided that if such an address is so presented a Commission consisting of three persons, one to be appointed by the Government of the Irish Free State, one to be appointed by the Government of Northern Ireland and one who shall be Chairman, to be appointed by the British Government, shall determine"—and so on. Those words are perfectly clear. They lay a very definite obligation on the Government of Great Britain to appoint a Commissioner who shall be Chairman. That obligation they have fulfilled. Most properly they have taken a great deal of trouble, and have selected a very distinguished South African Judge to be Chairman of the Commission. That is the Treaty obligation laid upon the British Government. That is the only 67 obligation. To go beyond that is to go beyond the words of the Treaty. That obligation has been fulfilled. No doubt if the Government of Northern Ireland had been a party to the Treaty, there would have been a Treaty obligation upon them to appoint their Commissioner. But they were not a party to the Treaty. Everyone must sympathise with the Prime Minister in his position, because he is not in the least responsible for the embarrassment in which he finds himself. The present Government are entirely innocent in that respect, but it was one of the many defects of the arrangement made that the Northern Government were not a party to it, and they protested, and went on protesting right through against the arrangement, and would not be bound by it. It was because of these circumstances that the whole trouble arose. It was because that Article was entered into without the consent of the Northern Government. If the Government of those days had not committed that great error of judgment, we should have had no trouble. But I say, so far as the Treaty obligation goes, so far as you apply the ordinary principles by which an international Treaty is interpreted, the British Government have fulfilled their obligation, and no further obligation lies upon them. But it would be, from another point of view, both unwise and hard not to have regard to intention in the wider sense, the sense in which the authors intended, and the general expectations which therefore arise in the minds of the statesmen of the Free State.
What was the intention of the signatories? The Prime Minister read a good many extracts, and he laid an interesting White Paper on the Table, giving a great many other extracts, which we have not yet had time to master, bearing very largely on the question, what was the intention of the signatories? I have spoken of the intention of the Treaty as a document by itself. It is quite clear the intention of the signatories was different. The British signatories intended one thing, and the Irish Free State signatories intended another. I do not think it is open to reasonable doubt that the British signatories did not intend the Treaty to extend the power to revise the boundary beyond what may be called 68 normal rectification of the boundary. It is quite true they reserved the powers of the Boundary Commission, but here I find fault with the Prime Minister's account of that matter. He did not state to the House what should have been stated, that they reserved the powers of the Boundary Commission because they thought the words of their Treaty, rightly or wrongly, would be interpreted in the sense that they themselves put upon them. They reserved the full discretion of the Boundary Commission because they had in their own mind no doubt, and they left Parliament of the same opinion, that the Article would be interpreted in a particular sense. The right hon. Gentleman quoted my Amendment. Perhaps I may say that, difficult as it is to compile a Paper of this kind, I do not think it has been quite impartially prepared. I see no record of Mr. Bonar Law's very important speech on the Debate before the Treaty was ratified. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nor of Lord Birkenhead's!"] Since the Government thought my Amendment important enough to quote, I think they should have quoted also the words which Mr. Churchill, the Minister in charge, used. He, of course, resisted the Amendment, and resisted it because he did not wish to limit the discretion of the Commission.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The Prime Minister did not say what he intended to say, that if there were any omissions in the White Paper—I undertake to say it now—we will have published in the White Paper anything which any hon. Member will bring to our notice, because our view is to give a statement of the case as a whole. If anything wants to he included, I will undertake, on behalf of the Government, to have it included.
§ Lord H. CECIL
That will be rather late in guiding the Debate. It should have been printed before the House entered upon the discussion. Let me quote the statement of Mr. Churchill:It is quite true that the Noble Lord is to a very large extent expressing what the Government had in mind and what the British interpretation of these words would be.What was the position of the right hon. Gentleman? It seemed to be this: "I do not quarrel with the cleaning put into the Amendment"—but he could not fit it in, because the words would vary the 69 terms of the Treaty, "which," said the right hon. Gentleman, "we cannot do, and also, it is not necessary because, in our view, that is already implied." That was the position of the British signatories. It was not the position of the Irish signatories. The intention of the signatories differed. When the Treaty came to be applied, the difficulty, which might have been foreseen, but seems not to have been foreseen, that Ulster, or Northern Ireland, would not appoint its Commissioner, arose, and the article of the Treaty was found impossible to be worked.
The Government seem to treat that as though it was an unheard-of thing, or a mere question of drafting. It is not an uncommon thing, perhaps, for treaties not to turn out as their signatories expected and that articles are found difficult to apply. Nor is the Prime Minister at all justified in saying that this is merely a question of drafting. On the face of the Government Bill it is not a question of drafting, because the Commission they propose to set up is essentially a different Commission to what the Treaty propounded. They propose a new Commission different from the old Commission because they cannot get the old one; in no way, by a central authority, by Act of Parliament, nor in any other way can you set up the old Commission. Therefore, the position in respect of Article 12 is this, that this Article is inoperative because it is unworkable, because you cannot carry it out, not in any degree through the fault of the British Government, who have fulfilled the last letter of their obligation under the Article, and when you go behind the Article and ask for an interpretation of the Treaty the second part of the Article is found to be differently interpreted by the two signatories.
What is a reasonable and honest thing to be done under the circumstances? I am reminded of "The Merchant of Venice," and of the bond which was entered into by Antonio. There you had an engagement entered into with quite different intentions by the two signatories. Antonio regarded it as the subject of a joke—rather a grim joke I have always thought. Shylock intended it to be an engagement to he fulfilled.
§ Lord H. CECIL
That does not affect the argument I am putting forward. In this case it is the Free State, and not Ulster, that are as careful of their rights as any Semitic person. The bond was differently intended by the two signatories, but when it came to be interpreted by the Court it appeared that Shylock's interpretation was the correct one. So far as the main purport of the bond was concerned he was entitled to cut a pound of flesh from the merchant's breast nearest to his heart. It might turn out—but I hope it will not—that under the last words of Article 12 the Free State are entitled to cut two counties out of Ulster, or the North of Ireland, and so bring it to its death. That, let me observe, is the intention they loudly proclaim. They want the Article interpreted in that sense, not merely because they want two counties, or a large area, but because they want to make the economic existence of Northern Ireland impossible. When Shylock's bond came to be interpreted it was found to be inoperative because he could not cut out the flesh without shedding blood, which he was not entitled to do, and because he could not get out precisely the weight prescribed, neither more nor less. If the Court of Venice had acted as the British Government they would have so amended the bond so as to allow Shylock to shed as much Mood as he pleased. That would have removed what, in short, they would be pleased to call the technical difficulties in the way of Shyloek, and they would have allowed Shylock to carry out his bond in accordance with his original intention and in flagrant contradiction to the intention of Antonio.
That brings me to what seems to be an unreasonable feature in the position of the Free State. They seek to have full advantage of the literal interpretation as it might perhaps be set out by the Commission, in regard to the latter part of the Article, and they wish to have amended the earlier part of the Article in order to relieve them from what they conceive to be its defect. They want the wording of the Treaty to the last iota in the latter part of the Article: they want the wording of the Treaty to be amended in the earlier part because it seems to be against them. If we are going by the letter and the wording of the Treaty, as I have said, the 71 British Government have done their part and have no more to do. If we are to go behind and take a broader view, and speak of intention, then, surely, the Free State have no right to continue to express and to work upon the hope that they are going to get out of the wording of the latter part of the Treaty a conclusion which is both flagrantly against the declared intentions of the British Government at the time they made this Treaty, and also, of course, flagrantly in violation of the pledges which the British Government have given to Ulster.
I cannot think the Prime Minister dealt at all fairly or adequately with the obligation to Ulster. Something has been said about the statement of the late Lord Long. It would not be proper to refer to what passed in the Cabinet. No doubt Lord Long mentioned the matter to make it clear. That would be within the knowledge of his colleagues. It is quite evident that the Government of that time did fully promise that the six counties would be maintained intact. The late Mr. Bonar Law made it abundantly clear that that promise was given in the correspondence which passed between him and the right hon. Gentleman for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) before the Election of 1918. But it does not really rest merely on one particular statement or another. It is several times referred to in this White Paper. It was the position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley, and all responsible statesmen after the outbreak of the War that there could no longer be any coercion of Ulster, and that the settlement must be confined to the area, the six counties of the Northern Government, and should be maintained. The six counties were always referred to as the six counties. The meaning is perfectly clear that that was the area intended. Of course that was clone, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley reminded us to-day, after the controversy about this very point, as to whether it included Tyrone and Fermanagh, or what parts of these counties. It was the decision come to after it had been argued on both sides. The Prime Minister thinks he answers the argument by saying that it 72 was fully considered and debated when the Treaty was agreed to by this House. No doubt it was, but you cannot dispose of our obligation in that way. What happened? The Government of that day and the majority of the House accepted the view, turning the argument about the obligation to Ulster, by saying, "We are not breaking that obligation." That was the essence of their position: that the Treaty did not transgress the promise made in regard to Ulster. It could not possibly have passed this House or the other if it had been supposed to imply a breach of the understanding with Ulster. It has been pointed out that it was carried by a highly Conservative House of Commons, all of whom were pledged by tradition as well as personally to maintain the rights of Northern Ireland. Therefore it could not possibly have passed unless it was understood to be consistent with the obligation and the fulfilment of the obligation and the old pledge to Northern Ireland. You cannot get rid of an obligation in that way by putting it into two compartments. You cannot say, "Yes, We are keeping the obligation," and then three rears later say, "We have discussed all that three years ago" and then take the course suggested, and say, "It dispenses us from the obligation." You cannot break if into two like that and say you get rid of it altogether. We are still bound by our promise to the North. I do not want to raise old controversies, but, of course, I recognise that that implies an extremely severe censure on the Government who got us into that position. I think the Labour Government are perfectly entitled to say that they are not responsible for the position in which we find ourselves. There it is. We have a conflict of promises. What, then, is the solution?
Some people, every speaker to-day, has expressed the hope that a reasonable solution may still be found by conference in Ireland. I have been a student of Irish history and of contemporary Irish politics for a very long time, and I never knew what is called a common-sense solution prevail over there. Undoubtedly it does prevail in this country. People use very strong language and seem to be coming to a very serious issue and then the spirit of reasonable compromise intervenes. It does net in Ireland—not 73 generally! That spirit has had a long-life on this side of the Channel. It never had on the other. When St. Patrick went from St. David's Head he left that spirit behind him. It seems to me that the Irish positively like what the English people dread, and that is a sort of catastrophe. Just as in primitive times we read of people who liked to become martyrs so it is in Ireland to-day, and just as these people had to be dissuaded from the "lust of martyrdom" by strong measures so the Irish people. It seems to Inc as though there you get heroic persons who dignify some particular action required of them, and follow it even to the point of utter disaster. Therefore I am not sanguine that you will get a reasonable and a peaceful solution if you merely leave the matter to be debated in Ireland.
Why do they not appoint a Commission and give it terms of reference which are clear, and then let that Commission act at once? This could be done under the ordinary prerogative of the Crown. And let them draw the best line they can. One of the great mischiefs done by the Treaty is that it gives statutory force to a line which nobody understands. It would be far better to draw the line first and give statutory force to it afterwards. It is said that you should not buy a pig in a poke, but still less should you buy a civil war in a poke. If you once again bring Ireland to a state of unrest it will do nothing but harm. What is being suggested is in the nature of a gamble, because nobody knows quite what the Commission will say, and, consequently, great fears are being excited in the North and great hopes in the South.
If this kind of thing goes on you are sure to have a disturbing effect. If the problem is decided one way, then the fears of "Ulster will be justified and they will be driven to the point of civil war, and if the decision goes the other way, then the Free State will be disappointed. Either way you are threatened with a most disastrous result because you will allow the temperature of both sides slowly to rise. That is the very mistake which the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley made in dealing with the original difficulty in 1914. My opinion is, that if the Government of those days had made the concession at the outset, which 74 they were ultimately driven to make to Northern Ireland, there would not have been this great rise of passion which has created such a dangerous situation. I think the Government would have done much better if they had appointed a Commission at once to draw the best line they could and then submit that line to Parliament to be given statutory effect.
Whether we should all agree to such a line no one can tell until we see it. It is quite possible that a Commission might draw a reasonable line, perhaps, not entirely acceptable to one party or the other, but certainly not a line that will drive either party to despair, with the result that a dangerous situation would die down. If you appoint this Commission under statutory force, fears and hopes will be exasperated and passions will rise, but if you leave the statutory force to come after, then they will look forward to the finding of the Commission with less alarm on one side or the other, and I submit that for the consideration of the Government. I think the Government have said almost sufficient about the obligation of honour. We are quite as sensitive on that subject as the Government or their supporters in any part of the House, but when you come to fulfil an obligation of honour, it certainly loses Much of its grace when the sacrifice involved is to be borne by other people.
I have already referred to the case of Shylock and the pound of flesh. Supposing in that case the circumstances had been different and Antonio had declined to carry out the bargain and had said, "An obligation of honour requires that I should have a pound of flesh off your breast. That is sad for you, but my honour is the thing involved, and that is something which a true and chivalrous knight cannot set aside, and you must submit quietly to lose your pound of flesh." That is exactly the situation the Government take up, and they do not recognise that they will not suffer by the catastrophe and mischief which will be done in Ireland. It is other people who will be shot and whose houses will be burned. Do not let us trifle with the gravity of the situation. Let us he sure that a struggle in Ireland, besides destroying what remains of the prosperity of that unhappy country, must sooner or later involve so much strain of feeling here that we could not keep out of it 75 ourselves, although, I believe, some hon. Members opposite do not yet believe it. I think when it comes to that point the British people would certainly take the side of the North and against the South. Therefore we are threatened with a most dangerous contingency and we must face it. I am not going to enlarge upon that, but it is no use blinking realities.
§ Lord H. CECIL
If the hon. Member opposite misunderstands public opinion as much as he has indicated he is of all men the most miserable.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
We have no great wealth, nor any tradition in the commonly accepted term. Just look at the Noble Lord, who is talking about being happy. He is trembling like an aspen leaf.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I do not want to put this as a party point, and I am sure I am speaking to converted persons when I speak of the gravity of the situation. The Government must try and bring about a peaceful solution. Everyone in reviewing the Treaty must regret that, instead of Article 12, there did not appear some such words as "a boundary which will make for the peace, prosperity and good government of the whole Irish people." The thing is that they must not fight it out. No boundary would do half as much harm to the South or the North of Ireland as a violent contention would do if it reached the point of armed force. That is the essential truth. In their excitement Irishmen do not see so far ahead as other people. That is the great danger to be avoided, and therefore a peaceful solution is of all others the most necessary. I hope it may be obtained, and for that reason I coincide with the decision of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition not to vote against the Second Reading.
I have criticised the Bill and I hope I shall not be taken as receding from my criticisms. I am glad my right hon. Friend has so decided, because anything that will keep this question out of the 76 main line of party controversy and avoid the passions which must be aroused on the platform ought to be encouraged. You could only make a great battle in the country on this question by raising the feeling of England against the feeling of Ireland, and indulging once more in that public sentiment from which we have happily escaped ever since the seventeenth century. I hope we shall all strive for a peaceful solution, but I believe that you will only get a peaceful solution by showing that you are going to honour both in the letter and in the spirit the obligations which you have entered into with the Free State, on the one hand, and with Northern Ireland on the other. Unless we are faithful to both parties we shall be in the wrong, and we shall have to bear some of the responsibility for the disaster that will follow.
§ Dr. HADEN GUEST
I am not so much concerned with what has been proposed in years gone by, but I want the House to listen to the difficulties as they present themselves to a new Member who, for the first time, is having this very difficult question put before him. It has been put before us in a way which renders it peculiarly difficult not only for new Members to decide, but also for old Members. Like the Noble Lord the Member for Battersea (Viscount Curzon), I have visited Northern Ireland recently in company with other hon. Members, in order to see what the frontier was, and what the difficulties were, and order to learn by direct contact the views and feelings of the people on the Ulster side of the frontier. I have nothing but, sympathy to express for the fears to which some of them gave expression although I do not think that these fears are really justified.
All kinds of speeches made in Ireland have a way of becoming very inflammatory, and there has been an echo of them in the House this evening. I do not think that can be too strongly deprecated, because nobody is going to play with fire unless the people of Ireland, and particularly the people of Ulster, start playing with fire. Everybody wants peace, and, therefore, the responsibility will be entirely with those who start playing with fire, to use an expression which fell from the hon. Member, who is the Speaker of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. In the Irish Free State at the present time there is undoubtedly a more harmonious 77 atmosphere than in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland I was told by numerous representative men that it was impossible for Catholics and Protestants to meet in a friendly way round a table to discuss a political matter.
I had luncheon at the Viceregal Lodge in Dublin with the Governor-General, and on that occasion there were seated round the table Members of the Unionist party, the Sinn Fein party, and the Nationalist party, as well as Conservatives, Liberals and Labour Members, and the contrast between the toleration in the South and the lack of toleration in the North cannot fail to be impressive. You have got a condition of things in the South in view of which I suggest to hon. Members they ought to do their very best to minimise the difficulties and not make any inflammatory remarks about them at all. Because if there are difficulties, they are coming not from the South, but from the North. I agree that every other person who has studied this question at all considers that this matter would be very much better settled by agreement than by any other method. But is it possible to settle it by agreement? The opinions we have heard expressed this evening have been opinions which seem almost to be irreconcilable. The atmosphere of the settlement of 1921 was not precisely a calm atmosphere; it was a rather heated atmosphere. I must confess I am exceedingly glad that I did not have on my shoulders part of the responsibility of that settlement, and I am not going to criticise the action of those who had that very severe responsibility laid upon them, and who, under those circumstances, did the best they could. But the opinions then expressed were not only very different on the one side and on the other; they were perhaps rather heated; they were perhaps also rather loaded on both sides with prejudice. I suggest that in a condition where you have opinions on the one side and on the other so different as those between Ulster and the Free State you are likely to get a very much better result out of arbitration than out of an agreement, because the two parties will find it extremely difficult to agree.
Both parties at this present moment—I am sure the Members for Northern Ireland will bear me out—profess themselves willing to agree. But President Cosgrave 78 said the other day to a group of Members that they had met on various occasions and there has been no business done. Under those circumstances, I venture to say that the only way in which you will get business done is by having an impartial arbitration. It is stated that the functioning of the Commission which it is proposed to set up under this Bill was dependent upon the voluntary appointment of a Commissioner by Ulster. If that be so, how did Ulster propose that the rectification which they spoke about was to be carried out? Also, may I draw attention to the last few words—I think it is two and a half lines of Article 12. I have not got the text with me at the moment, but I think I remember them sufficiently accurately. They were referred to, I think, by the right hon. Gentleman who last spoke, who said that the Boundary Commission would be set up, and so on, but those three lines are critical—and for the purposes of the Government of Ireland Act and of this Instrument the boundary of Northern Ireland shall he such as may be determined by such Commission.Therefore, if the Boundary Commission is not set up, what is the boundary of Northern Ireland It is a very difficult question. I do not myself pretend at all to be a constitutional lawyer. Far from it. But I do suggest that the only way in Which this matter can be decided is by it being argued out by constitutional lawyers before a Commission. There are two stages quite obviously, of such a Commission. First of all, the Commission will have to have argued before it, probably, I suppose, by lawyers, what are its terms of reference, and it is at that stage, I suggest, that will he the time to interpret what is the spirit of Article 12 as suggested, by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. If the spirit be determined by those arguments, it will be, I think, very much better interpreted than will be at all possible by means of any number of Amendments. I do suggest, and I am sure hon. Members after a moment's reflection will really agree, that it will be incredibly difficult to place any number of Amendments defining the spirit which will actuate the Boundary Commission in black and white without an almost interminable argument, and passions getting outraged on this matter.
79 The second duty of the Commission will be, of course, the determining of the line of the boundary. I do not propose to express an opinion on the matter, which is to be regarded as sub judice, excepting in one main outline. It does not seem to me reasonable that anyone should imagine for a moment that a Boundary Commission set up for the purpose of determining a boundary under the Treaty of 1921, a boundary which shall be the boundary of 1921 according to the Act of 1920, should fix such a boundary as to cause the virtual destruction of Northern Ireland. It seems to me a contraduction in terms. I believe myself that the two sides are not really so far apart as they imagine. When I was in Northern Ireland, I saw a considerable number of gentlemen going about with a little flag in their buttonholes bearing the words, "Not an inch." But they did not mean it. They were going round and on platforms appearing with "Not an inch" on their buttonholes, but they were in private discussing methods of boundary rectification which in fact involved miles of territory, "Not an inch" being, of course, one of those terms which I may suggest humbly is better buried in oblivion.
When the Commission comes to sit and to adjudicate, I think it will be found that the differences between the North and the South are not as great as is imagined. It was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last that it was the express intention of the Free State to take away so much territory from the North as to render the continued existence of the North of Ireland impossible. I have discussed this matter in great detail with Mr. O'Higgins, Minister of the Interior of the Free State, and I had an interview with President Cosgrave, and I am perfectly convinced that, while that statement may have been made by non-representative extremists in Ireland, it is not the express intention of any responsible statesman in Southern Ireland. President Cosgrave said:We do not ask for anything at all in advance. We ask for a Commission to be set up, and we will abide by the finding of the Commission, whatever that decision may be.I do not believe that the Imperial view of this matter has really been adequately 80 represented. One has got to realise that the decision of the Imperial Parliament on this matter will be very jealously regarded not only in the Free State and in Ulster, but in all parts of the British Empire. It is a question of, "Is the Imperial Parliament going to honour an obligation solemnly entered into in 1921, which includes the arrangement entered into in 1920? Is the Imperial Government going to fulfil that obligation, or is it not?" That is the broad issue. If the Imperial Government were in any way to wriggle out of that obligation, then it would be taken as a sign of bad faith by millions of people all over the world, in Australia, in India, and in very many parts of the world, who are looking to the good faith of our Empire being kept, and I do think we should very closely regard this question of the Imperial obligation. It is not a question of our honour being satisfied by somebody else's loss. It is not a question only of our doing something here, but of us acting as trustees for the honour of the Commonwealth of Nations of which we are a part. Therefore, I believe it is very important that we should discharge our responsibilities in the fullest and the frankest way, not holding back anything at all, but giving what we have really intended to give; that is, the free choice of certain areas, to be decided upon by the Boundary Commission.
Let me remind certain hon. Gentlemen who sometimes talk, as was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, about the Free State becoming republican, that the Free State has made tremendous sacrifices to remain in the Commonwealth. I was present the other day when Mr. Kevin O'Higgins addressed a number of Members of the British Parliament, and he used some very impressive words. He said:Collins and Griffiths have both died for the Treaty. For the sake of the Treaty, we have had to fight against men who were our friends and comrades in the past. For the sake of the Treaty we have had to put those friends and comrades up against walls and shoot them. The Treaty means something to us.That is what they have done. They have fought and done things of a most trying character in order that they might fulfil their part of the obligation to remain within the British Commonwealth. I do believe and hope that we ought to do our part, that we must fulfil every obligation, 81 and pass this Act so that the Boundary Commission may be set up. I agree that Ireland bad much better settle its own affairs. I hope that Ireland will, even at this eleventh hour, find some method of coming to an agreement, but, if Ireland does not find a method of coming to an agreement, then from the point of view, not only of England and Ireland, but from the point of view of the British Commonwealth of Nations, we are bound to see that the Boundary Commission is appointed and that our Imperial obligations are carried out.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I shall endeavour, although an Irishman, to treat this subject without extravagance and with some commonsense, notwithstanding the graceful badinage and patronage that was heaped upon my countrymen by the Noble Lord, the Member for the Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil). In order to understand the immediate issue, I think it is desirable to have a clear view of what I may call the merits of the question, putting aside for the moment all constitutional and legal points. The position has been put by pretty well all speakers in favour of Northern Ireland to-day as if there was a sort of Imperial right to the Province of Ulster. That is a very old and very great fallacy. The Province of Ulster never stood apart from Irish Nationalism. Indeed, at one time it was the most anti-English of all provinces. But as every student of history knows, we had a series of plantations, Stuart plantations, and we had them notably in Ulster, because that was the part of Ireland that was most hostile to England, and the result of these plantations has been the gradual growth of a colony in the North of Ireland, most of it in Ulster, of a people different, in religion, different in race, and different in political views, and it is that province, and not Ulster, that is the problem of the North of Ireland. In an age not as tolerant as that in which we now live it was by reason of its religion, petted and pampered a good deal by, not unnaturally, Protestant. England. As a result, it soon adopted the social and soon acquired the industrial ascendancy which it hates to lose and which is really the root source of whatever names may be given for antipathy between that colony and the rest of Ireland. When these Irish questions 82 arose in the time of Gladstone, the real difficulty always was, "How can we at one and the same time satisfy what I call this loyal colony, satisfy the aspirations of these people and of the rest of Ireland?" That was the problem. In 1912, when the Home Rule Act was passed for the whole of Ireland, that colony took up an aggressive attitude. Whatever its protestations of loyalty, it certainly was not loyal to the Act of Parliament passed by both Houses, and it said, "We will have none of it." Its voice fell upon listening ears, because its voice fell upon the great masses of this country—exceedingly just people, who want the fair thing—and naturally they said, "Here are a people crying out their loyalty, they are one with us in religion, and are surrounded by a nation we do not understand, and we must really defend them." And they won, and the Act of 1912 became a dead letter.
It was then that for the first time it became a practical question, "How are we going to give separate treatment to this colony and still give Home Rule to the rest of Ireland?" There was Conference after Conference. We all know that the Nationalists and the rest of Ireland said, "You are only entitled to exclude, at the very most, four counties if you are to be a colony," and the colonists themselves said, "We must have six counties." Even they did not set up a claim for nine. Even they did not venture to say "Donegal," at the top of Ireland—more Roman Catholic and more national than any other part of Ireland. They did not say, "We are entitled to that and the two places running lower down, Cavan and Monaghan." Lastly, the Act of 1920 was drawn up. At that time, wisely or unwisely, the representatives of Ireland stayed away from this House. There was but one voice heard, and that was the voice of Northern Ireland. A line was drawn, a division was made in Ireland, putting together in terms of units, because they did not want to split up countries, what the Northern Ireland people themselves put forward as their maximum claim, but what I call their own crowd in six counties, and The Act of Parliament got through, giving one constitution to these six counties and another constitution to the rest of Ireland. [An HON. MEMBER: "Leave us alone!"] We certainly will leave you with your own 83 people if you will only be content with that. Now I am quite indifferent as to what was said at the time, but, just as the North of Ireland said in reference to the 1912 Act, "We will have none of it," so the South, West and East portions of Ireland said in reference to the 1920 Act, "We will have none of it," and you had three-fourths of the Act inoperative. When that was done Sinn Fein arose, and Sinn Feiners said, "You have now added to our old grievances the last and greatest of all, that you have fixed upon two or three of our counties and given them to those who are opposed to us." But you all know what occurred, the horror of that period, and then, in December, 1921, a conference was called, not without opportunity being given to the Northern Parliament to attend it if it so wished. They were asked, and would not do it.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I am not in a position to contradict the hon. Gentleman. It does not affect my point. Sinn Fein representatives, Collins and Griffiths, met here the. Government of the other side. It is perfectly futile to say that it was not an admission before the Assembly as to whether these six counties was too much or too little. I am in a position to say, and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) will bear me out, that among the materials that were used for the purpose of argument and discussion at that conference, were maps, diagrams, sketches, illustrated in terms of population and in terms of parishes and in other ways, the part that was the real colony. Well, now, an agreement was come to. One heard nothing at all of all this side talk of what one person said and the other person said at the conference. Is it not perfectly obvious that what was done was this? The 1920 Act was scrapped—[An HON. MEMBER: "No!"]—in the same sense as the 1914 Act? The 1914 Act had to cease to exist when its place was taken by the 1920 Act and the 1920 Act had to cease to exist. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] How can the 1920 Act co-exist with the. Free State of Ireland? What happened was this. The terms of settlement were these: "All Ireland shall form one entity, the Free State; but we are aware that Northern Ireland has a Parlia- 84 ment functioning under the Act of 1920, and, for that reason and also because we are determined that there shall be no coercion for the North of Ireland, we say this, 'Now North of Ireland, you have six counties given to you without any real accurate attempt to divide the people there. You have those six counties. You can take your six counties and you can keep your part, you can let your Cabinet, your Executive, you can let things go on exactly as they are now going, provided that you agree to form part of the National Free State. If you do not agree to that you have the choice.' You can say, 'We object to the South of Ireland people; we will not, on any terms, have anything to do with them; we are loyal.' If that is so, you can give notice and cease to come in under the new nation that was born under this Treaty and remain, so to speak, as part of the English nation wedged into Ireland, but, if you are going to do that, if you are going to say, 'We will destroy the symmetry of this nation, of a complete Ireland, and will drive a salient into it,' that must be cut down to its true dimensions of those Who have community of interests, sympathy and race, unity of religion and are representative of the class that we will not mix with the rest of Ireland." That was what was intended.
I never heard so grave an issue so clouded by a mass of ingenuities such as those experienced in this House. To my simple mind, no language is more plain than this: "You will have a line drawn, according to the wishes of the people, between the North and the rest of Ireland, subject only to geographical and economic considerations. You will not cut up villages, you will not break through railway lines, hut, subject to that, the dominating feature is to be that you will draw a line which will group each section of Ireland under that Government that they really in their hearts desire." I do not put it in this way because I am an Irishman: I am trying to speak as one in detachment: but I want to ask the House this: On its merits, is there any justice in a claim which says, "If you narrow us down to those who really constitute our own people, you will make us so small that we shall find it hard economically to struggle along. Therefore, tack on to us three counties that differ from us in feeling, in political outlook, and in 85 aspirations at this moment, in order that, by our coercing them, the unit may be sufficiently large to enable us economically to carry on"? Is that just?
We heard a great deal about the rights of minorities when the minority was one of five or six counties against 27 or 28, but now we hear nothing about minorities when the claim is, "Do not take away from us two counties, or 2½ counties, although they are Catholic, although their sentiments are against us, because it is fair that three counties should be allowed to tyrannise over and coerce two or three other counties for no other reason than this, that, if we have not these additional counties, we shall not be large enough to carry on." If this crowd, or whatever you like to call it, in Ireland, is so small that it cannot carry on by itself, it has no claim to a separate existence. All that the Free State say is, "We do not ask you to fix any line; we do not ask you for anything; all that we say is that it requires expert knowledge, it requires investigation, and we will do our part in appointing a thoroughly impartial Commission, leaving it to that Commission to say who are those who want to be governed by the North and who are those who want to he governed by the South. When the Commission has found out that, we will say, 'That, gentlemen, represents the areas that ought to be in the one part and in the other.'"
It certainly is a shockingly bad thing that the conditions should be such that they cut Ireland, not into two but into three, because you have Donegal at the top, and then the six counties to the South; it is bad that you should have a wedge driven into the heart of Ireland, whose political aspirations and national life are opposed to all the rest in Ireland; but what is far worse is that that wedge should be composed of warring factions. If you confine that wedge to those who think alike, then it is simply a thorn, so to speak, in the side of Ireland; but if you include in that wedge those who ought not to be in it, then it is not only a wound, but a poisoned wound.
I should like now to say one or two words upon the constitutional point that has been raised. It has been said that, by the Act of 1920 and the accompanying pledges, six counties were given to Northern Ireland, and you have no 86 constitutional right to derogate from that without the consent of the North. I think that is a fair statement of the argument that is used. I submit that there are two answers, one in fact and the other in law. The answer in fact is that it is not true to say that the North of Ireland did not consent, and I will tell the House why. When it was given its Constitution under the Act of 1912, there was expressly and distinctly reserved, out of the powers that were given to it, the power to make treaties. That was done very deliberately, and those who accepted the Constitution knew it. But, as a makeweight against their being deprived of this power and other powers, it was said to them as well, "But you can have your representatives, proportionately according to your numbers, in the House of Commons, and that power of making treaties, which you cannot exercise directly, you can have a voice in, to the extent of your size, through the House of Commons." Accordingly, when that Treaty came to be ratified in the House of Commons, they were as much parties to that Act of Parliament which ratified the Treaty as would Wales, for instance, be a party to an Act of Parliament which they opposed tooth and nail, dealing, say, with a church matter, that was introduced in this House and was carried.
Further, if under the Treaty and the Act of 1922 they were given, as they were given, the choice, "You can have your six counties in a country that you despise, or you can have your due proportion in a country that you admire," and they said: "We will have our due proportion in a country that we admire," is not that the same as saying: "You can have the big loaf at the lowly table, or the small loaf at the exalted table"? They said: "We will have the small loaf at the exalted table," and now they want the exalted table and the big loaf as well. If it follows, as a matter of constitutional law, that once the six counties were given to the Northern part they were inviolate, and this Parliament had no power over them, then, by the Act of 1912, the 32 counties were given to the Southern part, and it seems to me that, if the Northern part is to-day in a minority, the whole basis of its claim under the Act of 1922 falls to the ground, because there was no power in this Parliament to alter the Act 87 of 1912. I am not putting that forward as an argument, but only for the purpose of pointing out the absurdity of the other arguments. I think the House will not differ from me in this, that there is no foundation whatsoever in law for the denial to this Parliament of the right to take away what it gave.
Of course, there are circumstances in which, if this Parliament, as the Mother Parliament, were to exercise that right, it would be highly immoral and unjust. If this Parliament, for instance, were to say, "We will take Tasmania and transfer it to New Zealand," that would not be wrong because it was unconstitutional, but because it was highly immoral—because Tasmania has been for two generations associated with Australia, while New Zealand has been separate from them for nearly as long, and that lapse of time, the growth of the habits of the people, and the formation of traditions, would make it highly immoral. It is, however, a very different thing when only once before you have made an adjustment of six counties, and, almost before the machinery has commenced to operate, you change your mind and think that other machinery will be, better. It is not that there is a constitutional wrong in what is clone. It has to be decided on the basis of morality, and upon that alone, and no one would say, in the disturbed state of Ireland, that the giving of six counties to Northern Ireland at such a time prevents Parliament from being able to change the whole basis and institute a new system.
Just one word more with reference to the point that was made by the noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil). I agree that the Treaty has to be interpreted by what is in it. We cannot he influenced by what one person said or what another person thought. After all, when you come to look at a written document or a Treaty, what you have to consider is that the other parties to it did not sign what you thought or what you said. You may have said things quite contrary to what is written down. You may have thought things wholly contrary to what you now think. But what the other parties to a document sign is not words in your mind or on your tongue, but what you have chosen to precipitate in black and white 88 on the document. The noble Lord said that he agreed with that, but he ingeniously thought he saw a way out, and it was this. He said:—Ah, that will be all right. It is like the pound of flesh in 'The Merchant of Venice.'Shylock was thinking one thing and Antonio was thinking another. When the question of the fulfilment of the obligation came along, Shylock said, "I want the letter of my bond, my pound of flesh and the blood;" and then the Judge said, "Yes, but can you have your pound of flesh and the blood on the terms of the document?" Shylock was obliged to say, "No, I cannot," and therefore the whole bargain fell to the ground, The Noble Lord says that this is similar, but the fault of his analogy is that there the thing in question was the bond, was the agreement, was Antonio's body, while here the question is not Antonio's body, but a change in the knife.
It is very similar to what would occur in an ordinary settlement. A man makes a settlement of his property and appoints a trustee, and there is no provision in the document to meet the contingency of the trustee refusing to act. The trustee says he will not act, and the whole deed falls. What the Court says is this: "It is not your deed that is to be reconsidered. It is the machinery by which your deed is to be carried out." Here we are not discussing, because Article 12 has become inoperative, the making of a new article, and therefore canvassing what was the intention of the persons who passed it. What we are doing is this: There is your article and here is the instrument by which it is to be made effective, namely, the appointment of certain Commissioners. Your article stands, and the Court says, "In the absence of an instrument being provided by the deed itself, we will provide the necessary instrument in order to carry out what was the intention."
I shall certainly vote with the Government upon this Bill, anti I am sure a great number on this side of the House will do the same. I, an Irishman born and bred, and notwithstanding the light badinage and the contemptuous tone which has been applied to it, very proud of my country, have no wish to re-open these old wounds which we hoped by this time would have been healed, but I am convinced that nothing more calculated to 89 keep alive the internecine strife in Ireland will be found than to leave in existence this perpetual problem as to whether the present North of Ireland, the present six counties, includes or does not include those who wish to be under that Government. The whole of your controversy has been based upon the existence in the North of Ireland of a class of people who do not care to associate politically, or indeed in any way, with the rest of the people. We hope they will get over these prejudices in time, but as long as the prejudices exist we say, "Very well, we are sorry. You are endeavouring to go your own way and we will not interfere with you, but we will fight to the last any attempt to drag a fringe of our people in with you, not to do good to them but in order that their numbers may make you sufficiently powerful to enable you to resist a national Ireland."
§ Sir A. SHIRLEY BENN
Keenly anxious as I am to see any legislation passed which will bring peace and prosperity to Ireland, I cannot vote for the Second Reading of this Bill unless there is some provision in it defining the duties of the Commission and showing that it is to deal with the rectification only of the boundary. I say this for two reasons. The first is that I was one of those who voted for the Third Reading of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, after receiving a specific assurance from Mr. Bonar Law, then Leader of the House, that Ulster was not included in Home Rule for the rest of Ireland and that Ulster had its six counties. The second reason is that I believe that no decision reached by this Commission can bring peace to Ireland but will bring rather the reverse. I am afraid it is another case of England not understanding Ireland, or not understanding Celtic Ireland. The Celtic race will never be satisfied until they have a united Ireland. They will never be satisfied with Ulster with six, four, or two counties. It must be a united Ireland and the question is how you can best produce that. I believe one of the great troubles is that, through Englishmen not understanding the Celtic Irish, the Irish do not trust them. In 1918 there was a Transport Commission appointed by this House. A Sub-Committee was sent over to Ireland, and travelled all over the country holding inquiries. We had evidence given entirely regardless of 90 politics. We kept politics out of it. Conservatives, Liberals, Nationalists, Sinn Feiners, all gave evidence, and gave very good evidence, and I think the Committee came away fully impressed with the feeling that Ireland had not had proper attention given to it, and that there were numbers of things which could and ought to be done to make South Ireland prosperous. We presented our Report in November, 1918. We asked on numerous occasions what action was being taken, but it was not until 29th March, 1920, that I received an answer from the then Minister of Transport in which he said:As the hon. Member is no doubt aware, a separate branch of the Ministry has been set up in Dublin to deal with matters relating to Ireland. The Irish Branch has under consideration a number of applications for financial assistance towards new or improved facilities, including a large number of the most important proposals specified in the Select Committee's Report. Expert inquiries will be proceeded with as speedily as possible.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March. 1920; col. 856, Vol. 127.]We got that information nearly two years afterwards, and after the Committee had spent weeks in Ireland going into the matter, but not a single thing was done, and no effort was made to bring Ireland up to date or to enable South Ireland to become prosperous. I do not see that there is any hope of real peace in Ireland until we get the question removed entirely from politics. Parliament should send over a Committee to get in touch with the Free State Government, and let them deal with the Shannon and with the places that are teeming with wealth which can be brought up and put on the market, and I believe if England would then arrange to lend the necessary money in order to make South Ireland prosperous, the time would not be far off when Ulster and South Ireland would get together and you would have a Prosperous Ireland dealing with us, sending us food and cattle and taking our coal anti working hand in hand with us. It is only by some constructive Measure like that that you will ever get peace, and not by questioning what the boundary is or going in merely for words. I wished to make the statement I have made because I am keenly anxious to see the Irish question settled, and I think it is time England undertook to do something to bring about that result.
§ Sir ROBERT LYNN
The hon. and learned Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney) began his speech by declaring that he is a Southern Irishman. When I listened, and found how illogical it was, I came to the conclusion that he must be right. The one thing I was confident of was that, whatever else he knew about Ireland, he knew nothing whatever regarding Irish history, because such a travesty of history I have never heard. His idea was that all the trouble in Ireland started with the plantation under James I. Anyone who knows Irish history knows very well that there was an Ulster question before the Saxon ever set foot in the country at all. It had gone on for thousands of years, and it will go on for thousands more The Colonial Secretary referred to the statement published yesterday regarding Lord Long. The implication in his remarks was that that statement was untrue. I am sure that was the last thing in the world the Colonial Secretary would wish to say with regard to an old Member of this House, especially a Member of Lord Long's standing. But we do not need to rest our case on that, because we have the statement of one who was then a Member of the Cabinet (Mr. Macpherson) that that pledge had been given to Northern Ireland.
§ Sir R. LYNN
It was distinctly given in 1920 to the then leader of the Ulster party. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Leith (Captain Benn) was present during the whole Debate and he knows how insistent we were with regard to it, because there were Members of the House, like myself, who never trusted the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George).
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir R. LYNN
I never took his pledge. Right along from 1916 we had a series of pledges with regard to the six counties. On the eve of the election we had the joint letter from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and the late Mr. Bonar Law. It was then stated distinctly that Northern Ireland was to be constituted of the six counties. Then during the progress of the Measure 92 in this House it was stated distinctly that this was to be the final settlement of the Irish question. Not only that, but if Liberal Members will look up the correspondence which passed between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and Mr. De Valera they will see it was distinctly stated in the first letter that the privileges and rights of Northern Ireland as established by the Act of 1920 were to remain unaltered and that anything else that happened during the discussion was in no way to interfere with that. We have had statement after statement from men who signed the Agreement. The hon. Member for South Shields spoke as a lawyer. I am not a lawyer, but I understand that Treaties can only be made between two nations. There was no Treaty. There was an Agreement between the British Government and the subjects of the Imperial Parliament. We are told the Imperial Parliament can pass anything it pleases. The Imperial Parliament might pass an Act declaring that all blue-eyed babies are to be killed, but that would not make it very effective, and I do not know that it would even make it very popular in the country. What is the Government doing now? It has got this Treaty, and we were told not a single comma in it could be altered. The Government are now asking us to alter a most important part of the Treaty in favour of one section rather than in favour of both. All that we in Northern Ireland ask is a fair deal. The Government are not giving us a fair deal. They are loading the dice against us. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Healy) interrupts me. I would point out that when I was in Enniskillen recently with the Parliamentary party, I discovered that so far as the Nationalists in Enniskillen were concerned they could not be induced to come with him to meet the Members of Parliament. The hon. Member knows that in Fermanagh, at the present time, there is a small Protestant majority.
§ Sir R. LYNN
I am not going to argue with the hon. Member. He started out as a full-blooded Sinn Feiner. I think he was Lord Chief Justice, or something of that sort, in a Sinn Fein Court; but since then he has broken the heart of 93 Miss McSweeney by taking the Oath of Allegiance in this House. I am not going to waste any time upon him, because it would be waste of time. I appeal to the Government to deal fairly with Northern Ireland. We ask for nothing but fair play and justice. The loyalists of Tyrone and Fermanagh are paying 88 per cent. of the rates and 91.8 per cent. of the taxes in the two counties.
§ Sir R. LYNN
We are finding employment for people who want to take into Southern Ireland a part of the country that we have made prosperous. I can tell hon. Members opposite that they are not going to get it. The Government ought to hold the scales fairly. If the Government are going to alter this Treaty, which we were told could not be altered, they ought to alter it so that it will be fair to Northern Ireland as well as to Southern Ireland. The Treaty was framed in a way that left to Northern Ireland the option of deciding whether or not it would appoint a Commissioner. Why not give us the same fair deal that you are giving to the others? You are not doing that. You are creating trouble for yourselves. I do not blame the Labour party as much as I blame the Liberals. Some Liberals have been boasting, quite recently, that they have washed their hands of the agreement. The right hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) has said that he has washed his hands. There was a very obscure Roman governor who gained immortality by washing his hands. The fame of the right hon. Member for Rusholme will be not that of a man who has lost more seats than any other Member in this House, but that of a man who washed his hands of the Irish Treaty.
I appeal in all seriousness to the Government, because the situation is grave. It is very easy for hon. Members in this House, who will not be there when there is trouble, to talk. We who live in the country, and who love the country, and who wish to see Ireland happy and contented, do not want to see strife stirred up. We do not want to see bitterness. God knows, we have had enough of that. We want to see a prosperous and happy country, and I say to the Government that they are taking a wrong step which may have serious consequences.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I had hoped that I had made my last speech in this House on the internal affairs of Ireland. Ireland has had conferred upon it two forms of self-government, with power to settle their domestic issues, and, proud though I am to belong to my native land, I felt that intervention in its domestic troubles would be more calculated to do harm than good. I cannot, however, on the present occasion fulfil my duty to my own people without saying a few words. I represent not only the people of my own constituency but large bodies of Irish people scattered up and down Great Britain who take a very keen interest in the fate of their co-religionists and fellow-nationalists in Ireland. Therefore, I feel that I must say something on their behalf. All through this Debate, and also through the discussions in the newspapers and in public speeches, I have been assailed by a feeling that almost reduces me to despair.
Of all the fallacies that have destroyed the world and are still threatening the world there is no fallacy so disastrous or so destructive and so foolish as that you add to the strength of any nation or the part of a nation by taking land if that land be peopled by a hostile population. Take the case of France and Germany. I was old enough to write about it and to protest at the time and to anticipate and prophesy the results of Germany's treatment of France. After beating France in 1870–71 to the very ground, Germany followed up the victory by seizing two provinces of France, Alsace and Lorraine. Everybody knew that those two provinces were populated by people who would be in hostility to the new Government and the new country to which they were forcibly attached. If you want to see the last word in the habitual imbecility of great generals when they interfere in political questions you have only to recall the phrase by which Moltke defended the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine, when he said that the citadel of Metz was worth 100,000 men in addition to the German Army. Nearly 5,000,000 of Germans have died in consequence of that idiotic doctrine and that idiotic and disastrous fallacy that you add to the strength of a nation by taking more land, even if that land be occupied by a hostile people.
That fallacy on a large scale in European and world-wide events between 95 mighty countries is the same fallacy that underlies the attitude of my hon. Friends opposite in regard to the poor, limited, parochial scale of six counties in the small country of Ireland. In Fermanagh and Tyrone the majority of the population are hostile to being governed by the Northern Government, and to the extent that they are hostile to the Government under which they are kept by force they are as much a weakness to Ulster and her present Government as Alsace and Lorraine were a weakness to Germany. In the one case and in the other all such arrangements have within them the seeds of anger, hatred and very often of bloodshed. Within a few years 10,000,000 of human lives have been sacrificed to the doctrine of taking territory occupied by a hostile population. Within a few years of those lives having been lost, and just as if nothing had occurred, my hon. Friends opposite insist that they are adding to the strength of Ulster by keeping two counties with a hostile population within their boundaries.
We hear a lot of talk about breach of faith by successive Governments. There was a fish dealer in my native town who sold his wares in the public streets and who, not satisfied with that, insisted on carrying on shrill quarrels with an extremely nagging wife. When anybody tried to interfere between the husband and the wife, a wise old woman always said, "Leave them alone, betune them it is." When hon. Members make charges against various Members of this House I leave them alone. "Betune them it is." Let them fight it out between themselves. 1 am concerned with the contract which this nation made with my nation, and 1 am concerned as much for the sake of my adopted country as I am for that of my native country. What Irishman could have lived 55 years and have received the kindness and favours that I have received from the people of England without being in love with the people and the country of England. I am concerned for England. If England has a great position in the world it is largely due to the fact that the Englishman's word is considered to be his bond, from which he will never try to escape by any form of evasion. If England has a great position in commerce it is because of the skill and industry of her people and because every nation 96 knows that those who do business with an Englishman may be sure that they are doing business with a person they can trust. Business is got as much by trust as by skill.
The fair fame of this country would be ruined beyond the possibility of repair if those in my country who are anti-English were able to declare that the England of to-day is the same old England; the England that made the Treaty of Limerick and broke it, condemning to religious and political enslavement the people to whom by that Treaty they had ensured liberty. Even to-day you have only to mention the violated Treaty of Limerick and you rouse the bitterest memories and the most fierce hatreds in the Irish heart towards the government of their country by England. If you add to the violated Treaty of Limerick this violated Treaty, you will give a handle to every enemy of yours in Ireland, who will insist that once more the word or the bond of an Englishman is a thing to be violated.
That is the question from the point of view of the English people. Now take the case of Ireland. My hon. Friends know that those who want to continue the struggle between Ireland and England would be delighted to find that this Treaty was violated. It would be the culmination of their evil gospel which has been preached so long. When I listen to hon. Members opposite, I find myself asking myself the question if the English language means the same thing to them as it does to me, or if these qualities which answer to the term "logic" in my mind are not on a somewhat different plane from that of my hon. friends opposite when I read their lurid statements, accompanied by their ever rhetorical threats, as to which I shall say a word in a moment, about their determination to defend with their blood, to prepare their rifles, to gather their ammunition rather than submit to their sound and robust Protestantism being put under the yoke of Rome. The answer is very simple. Nobody proposes to put any Protestants of Ulster under the yoke of Rome except with their own consent. No prudent man can be forced under the control of the Government of the Free State in the South unless he wants to be put under the Government of the Free State. There is no question of coercion in this matter. There is a question of 97 the free vote of the people as to which Government they want, and when we hear these objections as to Protestants being driven under the yoke of Rome what my hon. Friends really mean is that a certain number of Catholics may, under this Commission, be joined to their fellow Catholics in the rest of Ireland, leaving the Protestants, if they so will, with their own friends in their own country.
The words of the Treaty have been subjected to any amount of criticism. Things have been read into them, and out of them and around them. One would think that these words had never been heard of before and were never put into any Treaty before, but, as everybody who has read these Treaties knows, these words appear in the Treaties with Czechoslovakia, Rumania and all the other countries that have a somewhat mixed population as Ireland has. There is not a single one of those Treaties that does not contain the same principle, the same clause and actually the same words, and this is the awful novelty which has been created by perfidious English statesmen and Irish Nationalists for the subjugation of gentlemen on the other side. Surely it does not require a Treaty to establish the principle that all people have the right to choose their own Government. It is a fundamental principle with all of us in this country, and the idea that people can be governed against their will has passed from the world except among my hon. Friends.
A great deal of religion has been brought into this matter. After a, long experience of Parliamentary life I will lay down as my apothegm to the future that when there is a, lot of talk about religion, there is no religion. I have known the professional religious man in my time. He is a recurrent figure in our politics, both on the side of my hon. Friends and on my own. I have known plenty of sincere religious men, but their religion was not on their sleeves or on their tongues or in their politics. Religion belongs to the secret tabernacle of every man's soul. Why do my hon. Friends think it necessary to make all this objection because a certain number of Catholics are removed from under their rule? I do wish that my friends from Ulster and some of my friends from the South of Ireland could, like me, take 98 a course of education in English life. It is astonishing how much it would. broaden them. They are pretty hopeless, but still, if they would live for a few years in England, they would lose half their bigotry and half their ignorance. Three of the civic officers of the great city of London are Roman Catholics. Personally, I do not care whether they are Roman Catholic or Episcopalian Protestants, or Methodists or Jews. That is their affair. Would such a thing be possible in Belfast?
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
1 leave the argument with the answer of my right hon. Friend. I went down to Birmingham a few months ago. I stopped at the house of the Lord Mayor—a charming host. He had been made Lord Mayor of Birmingham twice. He is a Jew. I met at luncheon next day the Lord Mayor who was to succeed him. He was an English Roman Catholic, which means a much more violent form of Catholicism than the Irish. The Catholics, English and Irish, in Birmingham are not, I suppose, more than 5 per cent. of the population. The Jews are about 5 per cent. too, and nobody in Birmingham, when choosing a Lord Mayor, asks a man whether he is a Catholic, or a Protestant, or a Jew. If my hon. Friends would only learn a few lessons like that, and take them to heart, they might even reconcile the Catholics of Fermanagh, because they then would feel that they had some chance of getting a square deal. A piece of English ignorance upon which my hon. Friends opposite have been trading for years, is the use of the word Ulster as a homogeneous entity. They even try to carry that doctrine so far that in one of their pronouncements, in favour of keeping Tyrone and Fermanagh, they lay down this astonishing doctrine: "Look at the sacrifice we have made for peace. Ulster consists of nine counties, we have been satisfied with six. We have surrendered our rights to the other three." Consider the state of a man who thinks that he is making a surrender when he gives up Donegal, where 70 or 80 per cent. of the population ate Catholics and 20 per cent. are Protestants. The 20 per cent. of Protestants are equal to 80 per cent. of 99 Catholics. If the Protestants are a minority in a nation, they can split it up. If they are a minority in a county they can keep it in. Was there ever in the history of all the tyrannies and folly of mankind a doctrine so idiotic and inconsistent as this doctrine, that gives all the rights to a Protestant minority to break up a nation and deprives the Catholic majority of the right of choosing its own Government?
I use the word "Catholic" very unwillingly, and not altogether accurately, for some of the best Home Rulers in the world are among the Protestants of Ulster. But the thing has been brought to that sectarian nomenclature and I cannot avoid it. Where I had the power of avoiding these things I used it. The Deputy-Leader of the House sat under me in his early days; that is the reason why he is so well educated in politics. I think he will bear me out in saying that if anyone in the Irish Convention of 300 or 400 who met annually used the words "Catholic" or "Protestant," I said, "Stop for a moment. What did I hear you say? I do not want such words used here, and I will not allow them to be used. We are Irishmen, irrespective of our creeds." The people in Tyrone and Fermanagh and Derry City and South Down and South Armagh have all been represented by Nationalists in this House. We once had a majority of the representatives from Ulster on the Nationalist side, and we would have had such a majority to-day if there had been a square deal. Why do they object to proportional representation? If I were the Orange Prime Minister in Ulster, what would I say to myself? I would say, "I have here a minority which is hostile. I will frame my policy so that I can change hostility into friendship." How can one change the hostility of a minority into friendship, except by absolute equality, by just and by generous treatment?
That is what they are doing in the South of Ireland, with all their faults. The trouble with these gentlemen opposite, as with all bigots, is that they see the reflection of their own bigotry in the minds of men of another way of thinking. They have not had religious bigotry in the South of Ireland for centuries. Why should they? There was 100 a time when there was not a Catholic or a Nonconformist in the old Parliament in College Green, when every Member of it was a Member of the Protestant Episcopalian minority, every one of the men whose defence of the liberties of Ireland resounds to-day as freshly as it did in the echoing rafters of the Parliament House—every one was a Protestant—Grattan, Flood and the rest. All the early rebels in the repeal days were Protestants. We learned the doctrine of friendship of our Protestant fellow-countrymen in the blood of our Protestant Martyrs. In my own time I took part indirectly in the election, three times in succession, of a Protestant Leader of a political party that was 90 per cent. Catholic. I never saw that spirit approached until the present Prime Minister lined his Benches in this House with Members the Irish race. Mr. Blythe, one of the most powerful Members of the Free State Cabinet, is a Protestant. In Monaghan there was an Orange procession recently. It was carried on under the guardianship of the Catholic majority there. They have appointed nine Judges in Southern Ireland and five out of nine are Protestants.
That is the way in which minorities should be won. That is why the minority in the South of Ireland have given their loyal adhesion to the present Government. I noticed a letter in a newspaper this morning. I get a lot of amusement out of the unconscious humour of Englishmen, and especially of Tories. I have to-day seen sitting on the opposite side of the House, quite happy, almost complacently benignant, as he always is, an hon. and gallant Friend of mine. He had a letter, I think it was in the "Times" this morning. He is a man of peace, although he is a warrior. He is always asking awkward questions about the many menaces to our Empire in many parts of the world, and especially in India, where he had a long and honourable career. Being a man of peace, be has come forward with a solution so eminently reasonable and so peaceful, that the moment it was considered and adopted by my hon. Friends opposite and myself, the House would see us rushing into the middle of the Floor, putting our arms round each others' necks, weeping tears of everlasting reconciliation, on having at last found 101 a key to the citadel of Irish disunion and Irish difficulties. What was his solution? An exchange of population. The Turks and the Greeks have agreed to an exchange of populations. The Greeks have left Asia Minor—Asia Minor has been going to the dogs ever since—the Turks are trying to drive them out of Constantinople, and Constantinople is a port without a ship to-day. An exchange of population causes a great deal of suffering, but the idea is that it is better to be poor in Greece than to be rich and to be massacred in Asia Minor.
Says my hon. and gallant Friend, "With that example before us of the just and the pacific and the practical way of settling these difficulties of territories and populations, why should not we adopt the same principle in Ireland, and bring the Catholics down to the South and carry the loyal Protestants from the South to the North?" Yet if there is anything in the world the South Protestant loyalist dislikes it is the temper of the Ulster bigot! I think I have heard sharper and bitterer things said by Southern Protestants and Unionists of the Ulster Orangemen than ever I heard from a Catholic or Nationalist. To put the Protestants of the South under a Government which, to put it mildly, they do not like—to put them under the control of the Orangemen of the North—and then to throw a few thousands of Catholics from the North into the South—such a proposal shows the abysmal ignorance of the Members of this House who insisted for a century or more on governing Ireland with Englishmen. Yet the proposal to which I refer was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Melton (Sir C. Yate). I do not think this is the end. I think it is only the beginning. My hon. Friends opposite profess to believe that they are going before a prejudiced tribunal. Are they? I never previously heard the name of the Chairman of the Commission, I have never seen him up to the present, and I do not think I would like to see him, lest I should be supposed to try to use some of the witchery of the Southern Nationalist on his decision. I do not know who the. Free State are appointing, and I do not know who the Government will appoint in ease the other gentlemen do not nominate a representative. But each side will be equally represented, and the Chairman 102 will be a man not connected with Ireland or with any party in Ireland who will give a proper decision.
What I want to know is, do my hon. Friends opposite mean, or do they not, that if this decision be not what they desire, they will resort to arms? Do they mean that? I saw this House in a state of excitement to-day, an excitement, if I may say so, entirely out of proportion to its cause. When I saw Members on both sides shaking their fists at each other, especially gentlemen on the other side, I went back in my mind to articles I have read, some of them by friends of my own opposite, and to speeches I have read on this subject. A member of that party opposite who were howling at the Government actually made a speech inviting the Orangemen to prepare with their guns. That speech was not made even by one of the infuriated zealots on the other side, be by a Tory member, a member of the party of law and order. I should have liked to have called attention to that circumstance and to have put in a little question as to the difference between one man advocating such methods, right or wrong—I think wrong—for redressing the evils and suffering of the poor and another man inciting one Christian to kill another simply because they belong to different creeds. I wonder which has the greater guilt. All that kind of talk ought to end on all sides, not merely on the side of my hon. Friends opposite, but on the side of my own people and my own fellow-Nationalists.
Finally, I put this point to my hon. Friends opposite. They know as well as I do that the present state of things in Ireland cannot remain. One of these Southern Protestant Unionists, the hon. Member for Plymouth (Sir A. S. Benn) made a speech for which I regret to say there was not a sufficiently large audience, and the first reason he gave against the Bill was not that it was unjust but that it was a step towards the prevention of that final unity of Ireland which, he said, was the only final settlement. That is one of the Unionists who is to be transferred to the hon. Gentleman opposite. The present state of things cannot remain as it is. You have a short railway line dodging in and out over a frontier. When I hear of a man making the journey of two hours between Dublin and Belfast 103 and having to pass through Customs and over a frontier, the whole thing appears so grotesque and so childish that I think I am once more perusing the pages of my great countryman Dean Swift, and reading again the orations and disputations of the Liliputians or that I am looking at the Insect Play which has been written by one of the new Bohemian writers. In that play the white ants go to war with the red ants, a blade of grass being the disputed territory between them. That is the ostensible source of the trouble, but the head of the white ants declares that great Imperial interests are being threatened and so they go to war. The Commander-in-Chief of the winning side stands up waving his sword and glorying in his victory—not much less futile than some of our own victories on battlefields—when a poor tramp who is looking on puts his heel upon the Field Marshal, saying, "Oh, you insect."
So to you Gentlemen opposite—I hope I will manage to wind up my sentence gracefully and politely—when you are insisting on your miserable little Customs barrier in this poor little country of Ireland, when you are arming your forts and shouting to high Heaven about the coming yoke of Rome on the necks of determined Protestants, one feels inclined to say, not to you, but to your policy, "Oh, you insects." I think I have said what I desired to say without being rude. The hon. Member who preceded me said the history of Ulster went back to centuries. I do not want to go back more than a century and a half to a time when the Presbyterians of the North were as cruelly used by the dominant Episcopal and landlord party as were the Catholics of the South, and 200,000 at least left Ulster, driven out as were 5,000,000 from the other parts of Ireland some decades later, by the oppressive landlord and the bigoted Anglican. That brought its Nemesis, for the right arms, the iron spirit, the indomitable obstinacy that stood behind the hungry and almost beaten armies of Washington and won him the victory, belonged to the men of Ulster whom Ulster had driven out to fight a corresponding tyranny in the new world. The last body that protested against the destruction of the old Irish Parliament 104 in Ireland was the Grand Orange Lodge of, I think, Belfast; certainly of Ulster. I have somewhere here, but I cannot stop to find it, the address sent from the Protestant patriotic organisation of Belfast to the great French Convention that destroyed the Monarchy and introduced the Republic, pledging themselves to the same great principle of the liberation of the masses of the people. I pray my Friends to think of these memories of their co-Protestants, and not of the bitter, senseless, age-worn feuds of creed and race that really are banished from almost all the world except this small corner of Ulster.
§ Mr. MOLES
My right hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) need never apologise to any quarter of this House for addressing it. We hear him on these benches with as much pleasure as do you on the other side of the House, but the difference is that we know him a little better, and we do not the least mind. We have been much toe well-used to that sort of thing, about accusations of bigotry and unscrupulous zealots and all the rest of it, to mind reckless and unfounded accusations. Why, he does not believe one word of it in his own heart, and I can tell my hon. Friends opposite that, much as he differs from us, he would rather shake one of us by the hand than half a dozen of them. He may hate us, but he has nothing but contempt for them, and he knows how to play on their feelings. One would imagine, listening to my right hon. Friend, that he really knew Ulster. But I happen to know that he has not been in the place for more than 40 years, and it is almost inevitable that in the lapse of 40 years, and with the progress of civilisation, some of us may have advanced even to my right hon. Friend's level. I do not in the least mind how he describes the people of Ulster, and I do not accept him, with the greatest respect and affection for him, as at all a gentleman in whose bosom the milk of human kindness is oozing and gurgling every day. I have heard that speech more times than one, and when I hear my right hon. Friend, as I heard him to-night, with his Celtic enthusiasm triumphing over his years, and the spirit of poetry oozing from his lips as it so frequently, and to our joy, oozes from his pen. I congratulate him. I only wish that in the closing 105 years of his life he might have taken up a more worthy cause, and that is the worst wish we have for him.
His knowledge of history is wide and deep, but the lessons which he draws from it are not such as commend themselves to one's judgment. He drew a parallel between the inclusion of Alsace-Lorraine into the body politic of Germany and the present position in Ireland, and he asked us to draw a dreadful moral therefrom. I will ask him to draw the same moral from the attempt which he and his friends desire to make to force the Alsace of Ulster into the Germany of Southern Ireland. That is the proper parallel, because my right hon. Friend has no desire in the world except that. He talks with an easy, flippant pose as if he wanted just a few scattered hamlets of his co-religionists—
§ Mr. MOLES
I said little hamlets, so there is not much between us. What I want to ask him is this: If the plan is so simple as that, how is he going to carry it oat in detail? What the Commission, presumably, would do, would be to deal with an area, and my right hon. Friend must know very well—at any rate, he is sitting near to those who do know—that when you take these areas, you do not find them composed exclusively of one particular faith, and when he talks, therefore, in that strain, and you bring it to the test of ascertaining what the real effect is, the real meaning is that the thing would not work in actual operation. I noticed one other curious phrase that fell from him. He told the House—and I noticed a somewhat startled look on the face of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle)—
§ Mr. MOLES
Then I will amend that, and say, as nearly startled as it is possible 106 for such a physiognomy to be. It certainly staggered me, when the right hon. Gentleman told the House that he did not in the least mind a breach of faith so far as Ulster was concerned. That had no concern for him. My right hon. Friend knows I would not do him an injustice for the world, but he said lie did not concern himself where certain of his own countrymen—for we are—were to be trampled underfoot and made the subject of injustice. That did not worry him. All that he is concerned for is the honour of England, and the best part of his political life, as he knows and as the House knows, was spent in traducing the very nation about whose honour he is so much concerned now.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I must give the most positive denial to the assertion that at any part of my career I traduced or tried to traduce England.
§ Mr. MOLES
My right hon. Friend knows that nothing gives me more pleasure than occasionally to review the speeches of his past. I believe I am a better authority on them than he is himself, and if it were necessary I could prove my statement, but I need not labour that point. It is not the issue. I think I I have heard from him, at least eight or nine times, the challenge that you have never seen a Roman Catholic Lord Mayor of Belfast. I make him a frank offer now, across the Floor of the House—I believe I can make it in the name of the citizens—produce your Lord Mayor. When you did produce a High Sheriff, he was absolutely unopposed—twice two High Sheriffs. But when it comes to the paid officers, that is the real test. The office of Lord Mayor costs the occupant about £5,000 a year, for there is no remuneration as there is in Dublin. The Clerk of the Crown and Peace for the City of Belfast, as well as for the County of Antrim, is a co-religionist of my right hon. Friend. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who appointed him?"] I do not care who appointed him—we pay him. The Clerk of the Peace for the County of Down is another.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Can the right hon. Gentleman mention any official or member of any authority popularly elected who is a Catholic appointed by a Protestant population?
§ Mr. MOLES
Certainly; that is the easiest thing in the world. I will take a whole series if necessary. I can take the County of Antrim. My hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Harbison) knows I prepared a list, and I will send him a copy of the document, so that he will be better informed than he is now on the subject.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I only interrupted the right hon. Gentleman because he was giving a number of officials who were appointed by the Liberal Government. If he is going to establish his case, he ought to quote instances of Catholics who have been elected by Protestant populations.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MOLES
That is the easiest thing in the world. Everyone knows the head of the Judiciary of Northern Ireland, Sir Denis Henry, who formerly sat on that bench as His Majesty's Attorney-General for Ireland, and my right hon. Friend knows what his faith is. The Chief Clerk of our House of Commons is the same. The senior paid Magistrate of Belfast is another. I need not go on. These are really asides, but I felt it would not be fair to have all this obloquy and abuse poured upon us without being answered. There have been other speeches delivered in the course of the afternoon. The hon. and learned Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney) prefaced his speech with the statement that it would he without extravagance and with common sense. I think he got his prepositions in the wrong place. First of all, he said, "You have no right to make Treaties in Ulster. What right have you to be concerned about this business at all?" Almost in the next breath he accused us of not coming into negotiations when the Treaty was made. That reminds me of two lines from a poem:Logic is logic, that's all I say,End of the deacon's one-hoss shay.One Noble Lord made much play with Shylock and Antonio and the hon. and learned Member for South Shields offered this great comfort to our hearts, "Yes, this is a Shylock's performance, but we are changing the knife. You have got to be butchered, anyhow." That is the argument. It does not make much appeal. Anyone who speaks from these benches, or who speaks in the name of a body of Irish Protestants, must speak, as I speak, 108 under a sense of deep responsibility. I am sure my hon. Friends opposite will believe that I have no desire to say one word that will in the least wound tender susceptibilities. They will, I hope, believe me also when I make the claim for myself and my colleages that we are as deeply interested in and as passionately love our country, as they do. I do not challenge their honesty, and I hope and believe they will respect mine. But when you come to examine this Treaty, the question to apply to it is surely this: Will it end this Irish controversy and turmoil, or will it not? Will it bring peace? What is the hope that this Treaty will bring? That is the test I wish to apply to it. I listened to every word which fell from the Prime Minister, and I did not hear one observation from him which indicated a belief that this would close the Irish controversy, placate the two peoples, and let us go our ways in peace. Nobody who knows the conditions in Ireland will for one moment challenge the observation I am now going to make. If you put your Boundary Commission into operation, and if, upon the one hand, it takes more than the people on that side think just, or if, upon the other hand, it falls short of what the people on the other side believe to be bare justice, so far from easing the bitterness, the strain and anxiety, it will add to it in at least one of the camps, and possibly in both.
Why are we having this amending Treaty at all? I have heard the case made by three successive Governments. I took part in the discussions upon other occasions. We were told that the letter and the spirit of the Treaty must be carried out absolutely in its entirety, and When upon this identical question my right hon. Friend who sits below me put down an Amendment which had no purpose except to clear up Obscurity and ambiguity, the right hon. Gentleman then in charge of the Bill told us: "You cannot change the Treaty to the extent of a line, a word, or a coma. You can neither amend it nor explain it. You must take the Treaty as it stands, and if you do not, the Treaty will be dead, and the Bill upon it will be dead." I am quoting the phraseology which anyone can verify for himself. The meaning was that the Treaty could not be changed in 109 any way, but the Judicial Committee, the highest legal tribunal in the land, had referred to it one or two questions of law as to what the letter of the Treaty meant. It found that the strict letter of the Treaty was, that unless Ulster proceeded to nominate her representative upon the Boundary Commission, the Boundary Commission could not be set up. That was the letter of the Treaty. Whether we like it or not, that is the letter of it, and if this Government were sincere, and if it was entitled to do no more than honour the undertakings of previous Governments, that ought to have ended the, matter so far as the letter of the Treaty is concerned.
§ Mr. MOLES
My hon. Friend opposite asks me a question: How would you carry out the Treaty? That is not a question that should be addressed to me. That is a question that should be addressed to the framers of the Treaty, who must be supposed to know what was the intention, and what they put into it. It is not for me to suggest remedies. I am suggesting what are the facts. I am suggesting the conditions by which they themselves agreed to be bound. I say that their present action does not confirm it. What about the spirit of the Treaty? I suppose nobody is better entitled to speak upon the spirit of the Treaty than the people who took part in the negotiations. I will take them one by one. First of all there is Lord Birkenhead, then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and lastly Mr. Winston Churchill.
All of these four were principal negotiators of the Treaty on the British side. Each of them has laid it down in the clearest and most precise language—and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in particular—not only in speech but in writing. They have laid it down in precise terms that all they ever understood by the Boundary Commission was merely the right of the rectification of the boundary. In the first letter, a letter of July, 1921—and if my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Healy) will look at the last three 110 lines of the first paragraph he will find the following:It"—meaning the Settlement—must make provision for the full recognition of the existing rights and privileges of Ulster which cannot be abrogated without her consent.My hon. Friend has the document before him and can see whether or not I am quoting it correctly.
§ Mr. MOLES
I cannot give way to my hon. Friend. If he will look at the document which is in the possession of hon. Members he will see that I have quoted the exact phraseology. What were the provisions? What were the rights and privileges of Ulster Amongst them were these. Jurisdiction over every foot of the six counties which were specifically and separately named in the Statute. The right to carry on the business of the Executive Government in respect of all the transferred powers in the six counties—and we are doing it to-day, which is a full recognition of the position! We are paying Imperial contribution in respect of every foot of land. In passing I wish to make this observation. Suppose the territory of Ulster is delimited and her jurisdiction curtailed? I have never heard one solitary supporter of this Treaty Amending Bill face the question of what is going to happen to the financial provisions of the 1920 Bill in respect of that particular matter. Let there be no mistake about this. You have not had sixpence—and you may take it from me you never will get one from the Free State.
Let me make this further observation—my hon. Friend opposite has no right to bind the Free State, and he knows it!—let me make this further observation: To the extent that you curtail the existing area of Ulster you lengthen the Customs frontier as against Great Britain and between her and Ulster correspondingly. When you are asked to assent to a proposition of that kind, I wish to ask hon. Members how they would feel if a similar proposal were made to them, when they knew that 92 per cent. of their entire trade is done outside Ireland, and the greater proportion of it with Great Britain? The whole position would be preposterous and impossible: soberly 111 regarded, it is the crazy conception of a crazy brain.
What was the promise made to Ulster in respect of this matter—because I take it there is general assent to this proposition—I have heard it from more parts of the House than one—you must not only keep faith with the Free State but with Ulster. I understood that proposition to be assented to. The difficulty is this, that you are promising two directly opposed things to each of the parties, and you cannot keep both promises. You have to choose now which promise you are going to keep. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs is not in his place, because there has been some controversy about this, and if anybody has been misled in the matter he is the man who has misled them. A day or two ago there was published a letter over the name of Lord Carson. There have been many in this House who have differed from Lord Carson, but I think all would subscribe to this, that he is a man who said exactly what he means. When he wrote the statement which I am about to tell the House of I am certain they would believe him, and believe him all the more because the other party concerned has never once ventured to challenge it. In the letter Lord Carson said:I received a letter from Mr. Lloyd George assuring me that the six-county area would he permanently excluded from the Act of 1914.They may talk about obligations of honour. I want to ask the House what is to become of that promise? Is it to be honoured or falsified? Is it to be implemented or repudiated? Which? There it is. You can make no kind of interference with any part of the territory of Ulster without cutting clear across the terms of that document, and also cutting clear across the Act of Parliament, and for the reason which I have already indicated. If it be the position of the present Government that the only obligation they have in this matter is to honour the undertakings of their predecessors, then I want to ask them, do they intend to honour that pledge or not? That is the test question. Is there anybody in this House who remembers the discussions on the 1920 Bill who would doubt for one moment that if 112 it had ever been suggested to this House at that time that under any circumstances whatever it was intended to take away from Ulster part of the territory that was solemnly given her by Statute that they would ever have got their Bill through this House? Undoubtedly no! Is there anybody who listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite this afternoon and who heard him declare upon his honour as a public man, as Acting Chief Secretary at the time, that that was a firm and binding undertaking to Ulster; is there anybody who doubts that does not in reality represent the truth? If it represents the truth, how can anybody in the name of British honour get up in his place in this House and ask us to treat that undertaking as a scrap of paper, and say that the men who gave it are false and foresworn? You may ask them to do it and they may do it, but in the same breath we ought not to talk of honour. I remember an old and hitter epigram once used by a distinguished Member of this House who found himself in a position not dissimilar to that which we occupy to-day. It was as follows:Silence is golden, speech is silvern, but to say one thing and mean another is Britannia metal.I make this appeal to the House. I have been through 140 different contested elections in Ireland, and there are few leading men in Ireland with whom I have not exchanged views. I have taken part in all the great moving events within the last 20 years, and I think I know my country, and I say that past Governments have made two mistakes in dealing with Ireland. One is that you have promised what you have not performed, and the other is that you have threatened but you have not carried out. In many matters you have been in a hurry and yet you have always been too late. You are now about to add another to your many blunders. Believe me, Great Britain has not too many friends left to-day in Ireland, and you can commit no mistake more tragic than one which will drive out the only friends you have left in Ireland. When I heard my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool talking with pathos and almost tears in his voice about the imaginary position of the Catholics, I asked myself what must be the real suffering of the 370,000 of my co-religionists in the South of Ireland, who 113 dare not even raise their voices in protest, who have no kind of representation, and who have not the right to come and sit in the Parliament of Northern Ireland or to make their voices heard there as Northern Roman Catholics can.
§ Mr. MOLES
My hon. Friend must really not trifle with the House. He was elected as a member of the Sinn Fein party, and no Sinn Feiner ever took the Oath or his seat in this House until the hon. Member took his seat. That was the decision of the whole party of which he is a member. I do not know by what method this Boundary Commission will proceed to act. No one will take the responsibility of saying that this Boundary Commission will do the moderate thing and the right thing. If that is the intention of the Government, why leave it to chance? The Government will not listen to such a suggestion, and my own conclusion is that they do not honestly believe that this will be the result, and they do not expect the Boundary Commission to do the right thing. In these circumstances we are expected to put the whole of our position to the gambler's hazard, to swop the substance for the shadow, for a promise which I do not think you seriously intend to carry out.
When I look at the negotiations we have had with this and other Governments, I see the whole pathway littered with the debris of broken promises. I can hardly recall a single pledge that has been implemented in the letter and the spirit, about which we have heard so much. It was at the instance of the British Government that we agreed to set up our Parliament. We wanted to continue to be represented here, and it is quite wrong to say that we suggested this settlement, because it was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who entreated Sir Edward Carson to come 114 over to Ireland and implore us to accept it for the sake of the British Empire. We were in such an unfortunate difficulty that Sir Edward Carson persuaded the Ulster people to abandon their position and accept the settlement, because it was the last concession we were ever to be asked to make. What has become of all that now? Therefore, we have come to the firm conclusion that we can no longer rely upon the promises of those who have constantly deceived us. We stand upon our Act, and we say that, if an Act of Parliament and the pledges of His Majesty's Government are not to bind Great Britain, then nothing that can be enacted would bind her.
§ Mr. HARBISON
I would first of all like to congratulate The Prime Minister on the statement of the case made by him to-day. It was an impartial statement, and as he said, and I believe he spoke thoroughly from his heart, he did not wish to speak here as a partisan. I myself would like to speak in the same strain. In anything I intend to say tonight I am not speaking for the purpose of raising any ill-feeling with my brother Ulstermen across the House. I come here to demand for the people that I represent simple justice under the Treaty. Some of the speeches that I have heard from the other side of the House to-day reminded me very much of a petty sessional court, where the litigant on one side was trying to dish the other side on some technical point. Lawyers know pretty well that when a litigant has a very had case, when that litigant has no evidence, he invariably tries to fall back upon some technical point. For instance, where a man is sued for a just debt on a promissory note but has no defence on the merits, he raises the point that because the promissory note is insufficiently stamped the debt is not recoverable. That is the tone of the speeches I have heard from responsible people and from Members of the Opposition to-day.
One would think that the matter involved was some such trivial matter as that. But this is a contract between two nations. It is an international contract, and no technical objection can hold in an agreement between two peoples. I listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) below me to-night, when he spoke of the pledge that was 115 given to Ulster in 1920. He was then, I think, a Member of the Government and Chief Secretary for Ireland. I can quite appreciate his feeling in regard to Ireland because, as with many others who went before him, Ireland proved the graveyard of his reputation—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—his political reputation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I happened to be in this House when that Act of 1920 was going through. I made a proposition, on the Third Reading of the Bill, and I think I will read it. It reads now in its simple language like a prophecy. I put the proposition across the House to Lord Carson:This Bill will bring not peace but a sword. I ask the Government, even at the eleventh hour, to settle the matter by putting it to a vote of the people. We are always prepared, and always have been prepared, to abide by the vote of the people as to whether these six counties wished to come under this Bill or to remain out.My right hon. Friend stated that a pledge was made to Ulster at that time, and by reason of that pledge he says he was honourably bound to honour that pledge. I would like to ask him, with whom or to whom was that pledge given? Was it given to the Irish people? Was it given to the people of the six counties? No, it was given to the Orange society in Belfast commonly known as the Ulster Unionist Council. Is that a bargain that is to be binding—a bargain between political sects, excluding the majority of the population? I hold that that was an illegal bargain, an immoral bargain and a bargain that has no binding effect upon anybody. I have to smile when I hear hon. Gentlemen opposite talking about pledges, promises and covenants. There was a covenant, signed solemnly in the North of Ireland, that never, never would they desert their Unionist brethren in Southern Ireland. What did they do? They not only threw away, deserted, their Southern brethren, but they deserted their brethren in three of the counties of Ulster. I think an hon. Gentleman sitting opposite during the Debate on the 1920 Act was asked, "Why do you not take the nine counties?" and his answer was, "Oh, we cannot take the nine counties because we do not control them. Nobody but a fool or a madman would take the nine counties "—and then they appropriated to themselves under 116 this immoral bargain six counties, taking in as large an area as they could, consistent with their own safety as a governing force.
It is within the recollection of every Member of this House that that was not the first time that the six or four counties area came on to the public horizon. We all remember that there was a Conference in Buckingham Palace, and this is with regard to the construction of Clause 12 of the Treaty. It throws a flood of light on Clause 12 of the Treaty. What was the Conference in Buckingham Palace? I think it is admitted that the Conference there summoned by His Majesty was as to whether under the then Home Rule Bill, which was about to become an Act of Parliament, four or six counties should be excluded from the operation of that Act. Since that time, and since the Act of 1920, there has been a civil war in Ireland, and I would ask this House, Has that issue, since that war was closed by this Treaty, been made lesser or greater? The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) to-day stated in this Debate that, in order to find the intention of the subscribers to any document, you cannot go outside that document. I agree with that. But I think I can show the House that that document, within its four corners, expresses the intention of the signatories to the Treaty. There are five Clauses all read together—the 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th. Clause 11 deals with the question of the Northern Parliament, the Free State extending all over Ireland. Clause 12 provides that if the Northern Parliament, before the expitation of one month, wish to vote themselves out, they can do so.
§ Mr. HARBISON
Article XII provides:If before the expiration of the said month, an address is presented to His Majesty by both Houses of the Parliament of Northern Ireland to that effect, the powers of the Parliament and the Government of the Irish Free State shall no longer extend to Northern Ireland, and the provisions of the Government of Ireland Act. 1990, …. shall, so far as they relate to Northern Ireland, continue to be of full force and effect, and this Instrument shall have effect subject to the necessary modifications.There are, in Clause 15, certain safeguards to be given to the Nationalist 117 majority in the six counties and these are set out. They are safeguards with regard to patronage, with regard to collection of revenue, with regard to import duties, with regard to minorities in Northern Ireland, settlement of financial relations, and so on. No, I am wrong there. In Clause 11 these safeguards were given if they went out. Under Clause 12 there are no safeguards whatever. What is the meaning of that except that the Boundary Commission should be set up, and that those people who wished to come out of the area of the Northern Parliament had the right to come out. It is a most extraordinary state of affairs. I cannot account in any way for no safeguards being given in the event of Northern Ireland going out of the Free State except that this boundary Clause was put in there in order to safeguard, as far as possible, those minorities who wished to go out from the Northern Parliament. It was entered there as a safeguard and it is the only safeguard in the Bill.
I have listened to the arguments put forward from the benches opposite as to the sacrifices they made in taking this Act of 1920 and also that they never proposed it. I am old enough to remember the Unionist Conference, or Convention, in Belfast of 1893, when the second Home Rule Bill was before the country. At that Unionist Convention it was proposed by the late Hon. Thomas Sinclair, when the Home Rule question became acute, that they the Lister Unionist Party—Ulster was then nine counties—should propose separate treatment for Ulster, not because they wanted it, but because it would wreck the movement for self-government for Ireland, as he said then, for a generation. That is the continuous policy of the Unionists of the North—to destroy the aspirations of Ireland for a separate Government for Ireland by putting forward this doctrine of partition. It has been their policy consistently since 1893.
All we ask is the fulfilment of the Treaty. Ireland has made sacrifices to preserve that Treaty. Unfortunately, two of the principal signatories on behalf of Ireland have fallen in defence of that Treaty. Ireland has shown good faith as no nation ever showed good faith before. She has, to preserve her honour, gone to 118 war with the men who a few weeks previously were her brothers in battle, fighting for a common cause. She shed her blood. Many of the men died in defence of this Treaty, and treasure was spent in tens of million pounds in defending this Treaty. When I hear men in this House trying to get out of this Treaty on technical points—well, it does not argue well for good faith if this Treaty is not carried out in the letter and spirit—and spirit, as the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University said to-night, is the intention of that Clause. It was put in as a protection, as a safeguard, and the only safeguard in the Treaty for the minority of Northern Ireland. We only ask that that Treaty Should be put into force. We are prepared to accept the finding of the Commission, let it be what it may. We will act loyally on whatever decision it comes to. I admit that it is not going to end the matter. As long as there is a boundary line, if it is only one-half of a county of Ireland cut off from Ireland, the question is not settled. It can only be properly and permanently settled by agreement between the two parties. But when we hear one party threatening what tragedies are going to happen, and swearing by the immortal gods that not one inch of territory shall he given, what can we do but demand our own rights under the Treaty?
We have been told about the tragedies that are going to happen if this boundary line is touched. I would like to know what the tragedy will be. I presume they mean that there is going to be war want to know with whom they are going to war. They have the Nationalist minority in the North defenceless at their feet. They have trampled on every right we had. We have been gerrymandered out of all our rights; we are slaves in our own land; we cannot fight them because we are defenceless. [A laugh.] Yes, a laugh is not much of an argument, but I am speaking of the facts that I know; I am speaking of my own county, for which I have fought for 40 years. We always held a majority on the local councils, but on those local councils our majority has been wiped out, and the minority are now in possession of all the councils and all the emoluments of office. 1 know, further, although it has not yet been produced, that there is a draft Bill ready to be introduced into the Parlia- 119 ment of Northern Ireland—I suppose they are awaiting events here—to disfranchise the Parliamentary constituencies so far as the prince of gerrymanderers can—to cut our representation down to nothing, or as near nothing as they can. Therefore, under these conditions, we have no alternative but to demand our rights under that Treaty, no matter what comes of it.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I desire to ask the House to look at this very important question from a business point of view. We are here asked by a Bill to alter a Treaty. The last speaker said that he is content with the Treaty, but that cannot be quite correct, because, if they were content with it as it is, there would be no necessity for this Bill at all. We are proposing by this Bill to amend the Treaty, because it is said that the Treaty as it is written and as it stands does not carry out the intention of the parties who signed it. That is the whole basis and the whole reason of this Bill. The difficulty about that is that it is always a dangerous thing to do—and I speak from a good many years' experience as a lawyer—to amend a written document and try to find out whether the parties really meant something totally different from what they said. That is always difficult, and it ought to be done with great caution.
Let us look at the proposition which is put before us to-day. A contract was entered into and ratified by this House, and Article 12, as we know, was put in the middle of that contract. There is nothing very unusual, as any lawyer would tell you, in a contract which deals, as this one did, with a large number of matters, in inserting in the middle of it one part which shall be permissive, that is to say, which shall become operative if both sides agree to it. That is very common in contracts. The Privy Council has held that Article 12 is in that position in this contract, and that is the reason why we are here to-day. The Privy Council has held that the proper meaning of this contract as it stands is that there shall be a Commission set up if both sides agree to it, and that, if both parties do not agree to it, then there shall be no Commission set up, and the boundary will remain as it is at the present time. I have the greatest respect for the opinion of the 120 Privy Council, and should be the last person to doubt it for a moment, but still, somehow, I think that a less great lawyer than the great lawyers on the Privy Council would have arrived at the same conclusion. It is not a very difficult point, and yet we are asked here to-day to believe that lawyers like Lord Hewart and Lord Birkenhead, when they signed that agreement, did not know this very elementary point of law.
I submit to the House that undoubtedly they did mean that that Clause should be a permissive Clause, and should only come into operation if both sides desired it. Let us look for one moment at the probabilities. What is it likely that they would do? The Government at that moment were under a distinct pledge to the Ulster people, from the Act of 1920, that the six counties should remain part of Ulster. Was it likely that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the others who signed the Treaty would go back on the promise they made to Ulster, at all events if they could avoid it? Is it not likely that they would make it permissive? The idea would be that, supposing any inconvenience were found in the present boundary being as it is, supposing that both parties found that there were difficulties about little bits here and there, it would be desirable to set up a tribunal. If both parties agreed to it, it would be done, and if they did not consent it would not be done. I confess that I think that that is exceedingly probable, and if I am asked to believe that a lawyer like Lord Hewart did not know what he was doing when he signed that document, it is asking me to put a great strain upon my credulity.
If he did know what he was doing and if the others who signed knew what they were doing, what possible right have we to alter the contract now? But the matter does not rest the e. I think the most courageous speech that has been made this afternoon—though I admired exceedingly, if I may say so with respect, the speech of the Prime Minister—I think the most courageous and important speech that has been made in the House to-day was that made by the late Chief Secretary for. Ireland, and if ever there was a man acting in a judicial capacity, it was he. He comes down to the House and gives evidence, and what does he say? He says 121 exactly what I have been venturing to say was the probable state of affairs at that time. In effect he said, "I knew"—as a lawyer like him would know—"the effect of what I was doing. I wanted Article 12 to be permissive, and not to come into operation unless Ulster agreed." In the face of that, how can you get over it?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman quote any statement by any Minister in either House of Parliament to the effect that the Treaty was permissive?
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
At the present moment I am dealing with what was said By the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson).
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I will deal with that in a moment. The hon. Member is a lawyer also, and he cannot get out of it. We are all in the same boat, and he knows that his interruption is quite irrelevant, but I will deal with it. He knows that it is a written document, and that, if it has to be altered, it must be done with very great care.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting him, may I put this to him? He is quite aware that, both in the special Session of 1921 and in the subsequent Session of 1922, this whole matter was discussed in both Houses, and the hon. and gallant Member for Antrim (Captain Craig) on several occasions wished to have Ulster's rights safeguarded, as an effort is now being made to do. On every one of those occasions Ministers had an opportunity of giving their construction of this Clause, and on no occasion did either Mr. Winston Churchill, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, Lord Birkenhead, or Lord Hewart make the slightest suggestion that the Clause was permissive.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I am dealing with the matter from an absolutely commonsense point of view. We are dealing here with a thing which looks probable, and you have the evidence of the late Chief Secretary for Ireland, who says that was his view all the way through. In the face of that are you really going to take the responsibility of altering the contract when you had it down in writing? There is no doubt about its construction. No one doubts that the decision of the Privy Council is right. You have the construction given in that way, and one of the parties to the Treaty says, "I always understood it to mean that and nothing else." And you have eminent lawyers who may be assumed to know what they were about when they signed the document. That being so, there is no need for the Bill at all, and you are doing a very risky thing in trying to find out what was really in the minds of the signatories when you have the written document in front of you. But if you are going to step over the boundary and go into this matter, which is an exceedingly dangerous thing to do, trying to find out by evidence what people meant when they wrote down something totally different, surely it is most unjust not to alter the contract in every particular where it did not carry out the intentions of the parties, and that is the object of the Amendment which I understand is receiving the support of the party to which I belong. Surely if you are going to alter this written contract by carrying out the idea that this was meant to be a compulsory reference to arbitration, the least you can do is to carry out what we are told on all sides was the intention of the people who signed the contract, all of whom say that what they intended was not a power to be given to the arbitrators to take in, say, a whole county or half a county or any large area. All they intended was to give the ordinary give-and-take boundary with which we are familiar in England.
If that was the intention of the parties, why should not that be put into this Bill? Personally, I prefer the written document, but if you are going to alter that and are going to put in a thing which may or may not have been the intention of the parties at that time, namely, a compulsory arbitration Clause, why not put in that which everyone in the House who does not come from 123 Ireland is in favour of, namely, restricting the Commission to a small give-and-take line on each aide? Is there one single member of the Labour party who, for a moment, would be in favour of the whole of Fermanagh and Tyrone being incorporated in the Free State? We know the extraordinary difficulties which would be put upon Ulster if those counties were taken away from her. They have made their arrangements under the Treaty and they are entitled to justice on that point. We have heard a good deal about honour from every part of the House. There is a thing that is more important than honour, and that is justice, and you have here to deal with the justice of the case. You think there is enough evidence to make you alter the document. If there is, you surely ought to go into the matter entirely and see what the signatories meant, and if you are satisfied that they only meant a give-and-take line, that is what you ought to do. The Prime Minister rightly talked about peace. The last speaker let the cat out of the bag. He said: "Whatever boundary the Commission set up, whether in our favour or against us, that will not bring us peace." I envy the Labour Member who, after his first visit to Ireland, knows all about it in 10 days. I paid my first sit 40 years ago, and I am conscious that I know very little about it. Surely, you have every reason to go steadily before you pass a matter of this kind. If you interfere with the Treaty at all, I ask you in the name of justice to alter it altogether, and to put in proper safeguards to carry out what is the admitted intention of the parties who signed the document, and to restrict it to a give-and-take line. It is a matter which, though it seems simple from a legal point of view, entails very serious consequences. I hope the Government will really consider this point and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), the most important speech we have had in the Debate. I hope the Government will consider it and act upon it if they possibly can.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MEYLER
The Prime Minister said he hoped this question would not be treated on party lines, and 124 in this corner of the House the opinions which have been voiced have been most divergent. I hope I shall not be accused of being an Ulster bigot on account of the fact of having lived among them for a certain time. As to the religious controversy we have heard so much about, until I went to Ireland I did not realise that such a controversy could possibly exist. I took not the least interest in it. The thing that interests me in the whole of the Irish question is the position of Ireland in relation to the British Empire. That is the outstanding fact that we should consider. We have had many speeches from the Irish Members, with their usual inimitable eloquence that we hear so seldom in this House, but it is most significant that Members who come from the larger of the British Islands and who are obviously going to support this Bill should have said so very little in the Debate. So far, with the exception of the Prime Minister, I have only heard one Member of the Labour party speak at all. He has come hack fresh from a 10 days' visit. I was with him part of the time, and I was glad to see that even that 10 days had an extraordinarily mellowing effect on some of his opinions. As to the rest of the Members of the Government, are they going to sit silent It is unusual for us to find such unanimity on the Government Benches. I wonder if the fact that they have been able to make such a very little impression with their policy on the hard-headed men of Ulster is the reason that, without saying a word about it, they are determined to force this legislation through. As regards the Members who sit below the Gangway on this side, I am glad to say that some, at least, of us are not going quietly to accept this legislation. There are others, I am afraid, who cannot get away from the fact that they were in this House in 1914 and cannot get away from the antagonism to Ulster which was raised in those days. Even if they were justified in their antagonism to Ulster in 1914, Ulster has more than redeemed everything that she did in those days, if only by her great deeds in the War and the success that she has made of the Government which was conferred upon her by the Act of 1920.
I was very much interested in the idea of the right hon. and learned Member who has just spoken, as to the interpretation of the written agreement with 125 which we are dealing to-day. We all recognise that under our law this is an agreement rather than a Treaty. I notice that in the White Paper, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), as Prime Minister, referred to it as the Articles of Agreement. He does not call it a Treaty. When he sent it to Sir James Craig he said, "I am enclosing the Articles of the Agreements which have been signed." It is just an agreement between two parties rather than a Treaty between two nations; but that agreement, under our law, has to be interpreted strictly. The Irish Free State representatives who signed that agreement had every opportunity to take legal advice on the subject. They had the same opportunity which our own people had when they signed it.
We know that the Government of Northern Ireland has always held the opinion that without their consent the Boundary Commission could not sit. They have been supported in that view by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, strengthened by the inclusion of two Judges from the Dominions, have upheld the view of Northern Ireland. This being a written document, I do not think we need consider the opinions of the people who signed the document, which have been voiced in many directions. The document stands, and now it is suggested that the Government are only trying to put Article 12 into force. I contend that by this Bill they are doing far more than simply putting Article 12 into force. I had the privilege of being in the same party in South Africa as the learned Gentleman who has come over to sit as Chairman of the Boundary Commission, and I would like, as one who has known him and who knows the great work which he has done in the South African Dominion, to endorse every word that has been said about his suitability for this position. I cannot imagine anyone who would have been more suitable to fulfil that most difficult position.
It has been held by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council that the majority of the Commission is to decide the points on which they agree. If the Commission had been set up by the inclusion of one member from Southern Ireland and another from Northern 126 Ireland, with Mr. Justice Feetham as Chairman, I think we should have been quite satisfied that the work of the Commission would have been entirely above suspicion. We all know sufficient of the differences between Southern and Northern Ireland to know that there would be no conspiracy of any sort between those representatives, or that they would do something in excess of what was contemplated. You would never get them agreeing as against the Chairman. Now, the position is that, if we pass this Bill, we are going to give to a minority in this House the power to select the person who is to take the place of the representative of Northern Ireland. I have heard from my own colleagues on these benches that they were not afraid to put the present Government into office, because they could act as policeman and look after them the whole of the time. On the other hand, it has been stated that this was a dangerous proceeding, because there were administrative duties in which it was possible the Government might not be trusted. In the same week that this agreement was signed with the Free State Government a Treaty was signed which, I think, is not likely to get the support of the majority of this House.
Are you going to give to the people about whom you have said so much on the platform, as to their being Socialists and untrustworthy, the power to select the man who is to take the place of the representative, of Northern Ireland? I have sufficient faith in the Government to think that they will take the very greatest care to appoint somebody whom they think will really represent the views of Northern Ireland, but those who support this Bill will have themselves to thank if anything goes wrong in that direction. I would remind the House that they will have no chance of debating the report of the Boundary Commission. The Boundary Commission's report will have the force of law before the ink on the last signature is dry. Whatever is done then will be final, and I cannot imagine this House trying, as they could do, by further Act of Parliament, to cancel what the Commission decide upon. It is a very serious matter to put upon any three men, because it is going, possibly, to affect the whole lives and the property of a large number of people. People on 127 both sides of the boundary object very much to this House taking upon itself a responsibility of that sort.
To hon. Members on the Labour benches I would like to quote the opinion of the right hon. Member who now holds the position of Lord Privy Seal, which was expressed in this House on the 22nd July, 1920. Speaking of the Chief Secretary for Ireland of those days, he said:He cannot hope that the law in Ireland will be either respected or upheld unless he secures the goodwill and consent of the Irish people themselves. The question of Ireland cannot be settled at Westminster. It cannot be settled in this country. It must be settled in Ireland itself.I wonder if that is still the opinion of the Lord Privy Seal and of the party that sits behind him? It is the opinion, I think, of most hon. Members opposite and of many hon. Members below the Gangway on this side of the House that this is a question that Ireland must settle. I would say to anyone who hopes to see unity in Ireland sonic day, and that we shall get an Ireland, both North and South, working together, that if you force this thing now upon Ireland, you are going to perpetuate the troubles and differences between Northern and Southern Ireland. Yon are going to give statutory force to a boundary which some hon. Members say is an unnatural boundary, which should not exist. If it is settled in this way it will be far harder to alter it in the future, if we can get the two parties to agree, as was contemplated in the agreement, the people on either side of the boundary will comply with what they agree upon. I understand that there are 1,400 farms through which this boundary runs at the present time. It is only natural that there should be a slight adjustment to put that right, but think of the position of a certain number of farmers, big farmers, wealthy men, who had developed their own farms in the county Monaghan, for instance, and who, when they found they were transferred to the Free State, sold them at a big loss and came back into Northern Ireland and bought farms and settled down there, and they are now threatened with being cut off again.
Imagine the position of those men. Imagine the position of those cottagers along the boundary near Newry, whose 128 houses were attacked in 1922. I was there the other day, and I saw an old man whose son was shot dead alongside him when these cottages were attacked. He himself was wounded badly in the leg and he still limps, but his farmhouse was all decorated with the Union Jack. He was showing his loyalty still. These are the men who, if there is any large readjustment, may be put back into the Free State. Then what about the water supply of the great city of Belfast, which is one of the most important industrial centres in the British isles? Can you trust that among people of an adjoining State? Are you likely to get a proper settlement if this is forced upon these people? We have heard the hon. Member who represents those two counties which are so greatly in dispute. He referred to men in the North of Ireland talking about not giving up anything. I read in the newspaper the other day a speech which was made by a certain priest who has a great deal of political influence in Donegal, and he advised the men of Donegal to allow themselves to be cut in pieces before they would ever come under the Government of Belfast. That was what he was advising these people to do in case the Boundary Commission decided to recommend that they should go into Northern Ireland. On the platform from which these remarks were made there were the hon. Members for Tyrone and Fermanagh, and I did not notice that they uttered a word of protest.
The right hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor), to whom we always listen with such great interest, spoke about a railway line which winds in and out of the border. The greater part of that railway line, so far as I know, is in Northern Ireland, and surely it would be a wise suggestion, for geographical reasons, that the rest of that railway should be in Northern Ireland as well, but that would mean cutting off a slice of Donegal, and that is the place where the reverend gentleman advised the people not to accept inclusion in Northern Ireland. Suppose that the silent majority in this House do decide to pass this Bill, how do they propose to enforce that law? That law will be binding, and it will be extremely difficult to get it altered, but it is a question how far it is going to be binding on the territory of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland, I understand, 129 make no secret of the fact that they fully intend to seek again the advice of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council if any of their territory is taken away, but what about the Irish Free State? How are you ever going to enforce this law? Suppose the Commission do give to Northern Ireland a slice of Donegal, if we are going to be logical we who pass the law and control our forces would say, "We shall use the forces of our country to insist upon this law being carried out." That will never be done. Passive resistance in any form will defeat it.
We do not want to pass laws that cannot be carried out. We have promises made to Northern Ireland and promises made to the Irish Free State. Suppose the arguments were evenly balanced. What are we to do then? I know what I would do. I would stick to the people who stuck to us; before I listened to the claim of the Free State to come and get advantages from us I would say, "You keep your bargain before you come and talk to us." There was a provision in the Treaty that a representative of the Crown should be set up in the Free State. A representative of the Crown was set up, but he dare not fly the British flag over his own residence. It was provided in the Treaty that we were to retain certain poweers over certain harbours for naval defence. Queenstown was one of those harbours. We were to have care and maintenance parties in the harbour of Queenstown in peace time, and in war we were to have much more authority over Free State harbours. Only in March last some of the men from the care and maintenance parties, who were there perfectly legally by agreement with the Free State, were shot down on landing at Queenstown by men in uniform who were in cars similar to those used by the troops of the Free State.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MEYLER
I did not infer that, but I say that the men were dressed in such a way, and travelled in a type of car which should have been very easy to trace, and had I been allowed to complete my sentence, I would have drawn attention to the fact that not a single person has yet been brought to 130 justice. So, if I had to choose between legally balanced arguments I would stick to those people who had kept the flag flying. I hope that as long as they are able to keep the flag flying there, at any rate the shadow of it will still show up over Southern Ireland, and that there will still be some value in that.
§ Mr. CLARRY
My special interest in taking part in this Debate arises from an observation which was current in this House, and outside it, at the end of last Session, namely, that British honour was involved in the passing of this legislation. During the Recess I took the trouble to visit Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, in order to see what I could gain in the way of information. If there was one point more than another between North and South that arose in the conversations I had with individuals of all political shades and every status it was this—that no peace would be brought to Ireland by the passage of this legislation. Not even did they expect that the comparative tranquillity of Ireland would be maintained. Very largely current was the opinion that if this legislation were passed it would start a renewal in Ireland of those disastrous days when civil war and violence and reprisals were continuous. I do not propose to touch on the legal argument at all, which appears to be very debatable. Not being a legal man, I prefer to look at the question from a common-sense point of view.
It occurs to me as both parties apparently consider that the best interests of the country at the present time would be maintained by not passing this legislation, the common-sense view would be to leave the matter alone at present. Undoubtedly there is a question of British honour involved on both sides. The trouble in Ireland dates back for very many years. When I have tried to discuss it with Irishmen, some of them who are rather voluble desired to date the trouble with this country from about the year 300 A.D. I think we may get a little nearer to the present than that, and point to the immediate consequences existing at the present time as arising from the date when the Coalition Prime Minister opened negotiations with the rebels in 1921. At that time certain methods were entered into in order to 131 come to an immediate agreement, and to see that peace reigned in Ireland methods were apparently adopted which might almost be termed sharp practice. An inference was given to the one side which was not given to the other. Explanations and partial pledges were given each way and they did not agree. One side took away a certain impression and exaggerated it. The other side took away another impression and exaggerated in the opposite direction.
The result is that the passage of time has made the differences much greater than they should be or were intended to be. I maintain that the methods which brought about the Agreement in 1921 and the signing of the Treaty are methods which would not be tolerated in an ordinary commercial transaction. I believe the North is the only portion of the territory of Ireland where there are any actual and outward signs of loyalty to the King and Empire. There they desire to work at peace and carry on their industry under the Union Jack. Within that territory there exists a minority. It has been stated at various figures, but the proportion who hold Nationalist views, and are partisans of the Free State, represents anything from 25 to 33 per cent. The whole trouble arises with a small proportion of that comparatively small minority in Northern Ireland. In conversation, a prominent Free State Minister a few weeks ago gave me to understand the Free State was not out for increased territory. He said they were anxious to look after those in Northern Ireland who hold Nationalist views, and to see they were properly cared for and looked after, the inference being that if these Nationalists on the border, who are comprised in these two counties, could be satisfied with the Northern Parliament the dispute would end.
That sounds very easy—too easy. What about the loyalists in the South? Surely they have the same right to be looked after as the Nationalists in the North. What guarantee is there that as soon as this matter is partially closed or hushed up, as I expect it will be, that further aggression will not take place in Southern Ireland for increased territory in the North? Then there is always the sinister menace of a Republic coming at any time in Southern Ireland. I understand that the bulk of the Free 132 State Ministers, while nominally agreeing in their constitution with the Empire, are, at heart, republican. Only a few years ago they were openly armed and at war with Great Britain for a Republic. It is not out of the question to consider that their views might change in a short time or that the Republicans might gain power in the South. It would be interesting to know what the Labour Government would do under those conditions. Would they tolerate a Republic in Southern Ireland? Does it agree with their ideas of Socialism and Internationalism sufficiently to let it pass? These questions are urgent questions now, which should be dealt with, so that this House and the country might know what they are doing—when they break an obvious pledge to Ulster and pass this legislation, which, apparently, no one wants. It is an amazing fact that the clever schemers in the South are endeavouring to manœuvre this country and this House into position where they may be called upon by force, on behalf of their open enemies in the South, to fight loyal Ulster under the Union Jack. The only conclusion that one can come to, on a general survey, without going into the legal aspect, is that the only possible peaceful settlement must arise from mutual and local agreement in Ireland, without any further interference from Great Britain or this House.
§ Mr. FOOT
I am induced to ask for the indulgence of the House for a few minutes, because of certain questions that have been raised in the course of the Debate to-day. I remember reading in Lord Morley's "Life" of Mr. Gladstone, where he speaks of the troubles that came to the Cabinet, I think, in the year 1885, the phraseThe troubles blow over, but Ireland never blows over.We are here dealing with an old controversy, and I have been struck to-day with the familiar ring of the discussion, because we are covering precisely the same ground that we covered two years ago. The arguments that have been used in different parts of the Mouse were precisely the arguments that I heard when I first came to this House in March, 1922. I heard my hon. Friend below me just now say that this was not a Treaty, but an arrangement come to between Ireland and this country. The first vote I cast in this 133 House was on the 2nd March, 1922, and I think it was in relation to an Amendment moved by an hon. Member opposite to strike out the word "treaty." It was on the Committee stage of the Ratification Bill of 1922, and I remember a prolonged argument whether or not this was a treaty. Very eloquent arguments were used to show that it was an agreement and not deserving of the title of treaty at all, and yet to-night, two years afterwards, we have the same question raised, that the agreement arrived at between Ireland and this country at that time was not a treaty, but simply articles of agreement.
Further, the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), who spoke from the Front Bench below me, quoted just now the words of Mr. Winston Churchill. Mr. Churchill spoke upon this matter a few days ago, and I was very interested to see what he had to say, because the earliest recollections I have of this House are of the speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman from that bench when he commended that Treaty to the House. I noticed that in the speech he made a day or two ago he contented himself with resounding phrases, but gave absolutely no guidance as to the course we should take in this House upon this Bill. He had to say something that would satisfy his Tory audience, but at the same time he was not able to advise us against this Measure, because it would have meant that he would have had to eat all the words he had used in this House two years before. I was astonished to hear what was said by the right hon. Gentleman below me in quoting Mr. Winston Churchill's words, because if there were one thing that Mr. Winston Churchill did say, speaking from the Treasury Bench—and he said it on more than one occasion—it was: "This may be my view or interpretation of Article 12, but my interpretation counts for nothing." The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain) said he wished the House thoroughly to understand that the opinion of any Minister in this House, or of any person outside, upon Article 12 was just the opinion of a private individual, and counted for nothing. Speaking on the 3rd March, on the Amendment moved by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) to 134 define the powers of the Boundary Commission, Mr. Churchill said:I do not wish to be drawn into controversy with the Noble Lord. I must point out that declarations from Ministers on what the Boundary Commission will do are perfectly useless."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1922; col. 764, Vol. 151.]Upon the 8th March, on the Third Reading of the Bill, Mr. Winston Churchill said:All through these Debates I have definitely refused to be drawn into attempting to write an interpretation upon the Treaty, and the reason is this: If I had dared to write such an interpretation, the only result would have been that other interpretations would have been immediately put forward on the other side of the Channel.Again, he said:If the House will bear in mind the form of Article 12, without asking me to put any interpretation upon it, which in any case would have no effect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1922; col. 1426, Vol. 151.]And he went on to commend the Bill to the consideration of this House. That was the attitude taken by Mr. Winston Churchill, who was in charge of the Measure. It was the attitude taken quite definitely and honourably by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, and what was written to Lord Balfour at the time is quite irrelevant; at any rate, we were so informed by those responsible for the Measure. If not irrelevant, it is inadmissible, and it was discussed at great length at that time. Remembering those debates as I do, I was astonished to hear the ingenious argument put forward by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University. I am within the recollection of the House when I recall that he said the only reason why the ratifying Bill went through this House with a large Conservative majority, and the only reason why it passed through the House of Lords, was because both Houses were convinced we were keeping fully our pledge to Ulster.
§ Mr. FOOT
Mr. Winston Churchill said:I absolutely decline to be drawn into any attempt to interpret or forecast—and for a very good reason—what the ultimate decision of an impartial judicial tribunal will be.I do not know how the hon. Gentleman opposite can dispute that Mr. Winston Churchill said that, or that he stated in this House that his opinion or the opinion of any other Minister in this House, or any person, was simply the opinion of an individual. That was stated most definitely, not only by Mr. Winston Churchill, but by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain), who at that time said he was very anxious the House should vote with a full sense of responsibility. I have not got his speech before me, but if the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mac[...]lesfield (Mr. Remer) was here, he will probably remember that the right hon. Gentleman took up this position. He said thatIn December last we took the very serious responsibility"—he was speaking upon the Second Reading, and dealing with the accusations of 136 dishonour that had been brought against them—That responsibility now will be shared by all who vote with us on the Second Reading.The hon. Member opposite voted with his right hon. Gentleman, and took the share of responsibility with the signatories of the Treaty which he is not now prepared to follow up. I was referring to what the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) said, which was that the only reason why the Bill of 1922 passed through this House, and through the House of Lords by a big Conservative majority was because they thought that that Bill preserved the rights of Ulster. [HON. MEMBERS "Hear, hear!"] I would ask those who cheer, those who are here representing the Northern counties, if they do not recall what was said in the debate on the Act of 1922? One hon. Member who, I think, has spoken to-night, accused the Government at that time of dishonour. Accusations of dishonour were positively made. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—who unfortunately cannot be with us to-day—for reasons we all deplore—spoke from the bench next to the hon. Gentleman, and he said this was a dishonourable action on the part of the Government. Another of his colleagues said that the opinion in Ireland held of the Government at the time was that if you went along that Front Bench with a lighted candle you would fail to find an honest man. Why were these accusations of dishonour made? Because of the proposals contained in the Treaty and in the ratifying Bill of 1992. Yet it is to-day suggested that that Bill went through this House because it was thought to be an honourable transaction so far as Northern Ireland was concerned, when at that time they bitterly protested—as they were entitled to do—because it was a dishonourable transaction They complained at that time that the rights of Ulster had been jeopardised and set on one side. Now, although at that time the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University denounced Mr. Winston Churchill, and said he was going to vote against the Bill very largely because he wanted to bring down the Government, and he said, "A few years would be able to teach us whether this Government is made up of merely politicians or statesmen, of politicians 137 who are not particularly scrupulous in their methods, and not particularly reliable in their words," he comes to this House and says that the Bill was only allowed to pass through both Houses with a big Conservative majority at time because it was thought to be an honourable acknowledgment of the pledge given by the previous Bill. It was discussed for days, and it is impossible for us to go back upon what was done by them in 1922. What astonished me to-day was the speech made by the hon. Member who is the Speaker in the Northern Parliament in which he said that the only reason why many Members in this House voted for the ratifying Bill of 1922 was because they thought Ulster would not appoint a Commissioner, and the whole thing would fall to the ground. The hon. Member said, "What does it matter, Ulster will not appoint." In these circumstances what meaning could be attached to the lung discussion in this House. I remember at the time that the "Manchester Guardian" brought out the case most clearly. It said:We are in the position of a man who is settling an account with another, and after having given his cheque it is found that the signature to the cheque is faulty.The argument of the hon. Member is that we all knew that the signature was faulty at the time. Now they say:We have got your receipt but you cannot pass the cheque because the signature is faulty. You can pin it up and admire it, but you cannot cash it.What was the whole argument used by Mr. Bonar Law and Mr. Winston Churchill. It was that what was proposed was the alternative between a truce and continued war in Ireland. I remember that one of the most eloquent speeches was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) on this subject in which he said that he approved of the Treaty because it was the only alternative to war, and he asked if we could contemplate, after having gone through one long struggle, having another war in Ireland, and he further stated that if we used our troops no doubt Ireland would be crushed, but we had to choose then between war and accepting these terms, and he told us that the only alternative was bloodshed and war. The whole basis, rightly or wrongly, was that the leaders in this 138 country negotiated with Mr. Michael Collins as speaking for all Ireland.
§ Mr. FOOT
I was quoting the positive statement of Mr. Churchill. I remember on that occasion the speech of the then Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) when he moved an Amendment to insert the word "Southern," because, he said, the Treaty was between this country and Ireland, and he moved to introduce the word "Southern" on that account. The Amendment was discussed at length, and Mr. Churchill said the whole basis of the transaction was that, rightly or wrongly, the Government were treating with these people as representing the whole of Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not true!"] I did not say it was true. I am speaking of the discussion at that time. They negotiated upon those terms, and the Amendment which sought to introduce the word "Southern" was defeated largely by the votes of those who are now sitting upon the other side of the House. They rejected the word "Southern" and approved the action of Mr. Winston Churchill and of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. (Mr. A. Chamberlain) in a Treaty which dealt with all Ireland, and that was the basis of the whole transaction.
Of course I sympathise with those who represent Northern Ireland. I think they have been very harshly treated. You are going to make it worse. But there it is. It was open to this Parliament to alter what had been done two years ago. But there is this difference between an Act of Parliament and a Treaty—in relation to an Act of Parliament, this House has power to deal with its own actions done previously, but in relation to a Treaty, you cannot alter it without the parties with whom you entered into the Treaty. [An HON. MEMBER: "Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the agreement with Southern Ireland was a Treaty?"] I am merely speaking of a matter of historical fact. My hon. Friend will say that it was an agreement, but on the 2nd March, 1922, the very first Amendment moved was an Amendment which sought to strike out the word "Treaty." Therefore, we cannot go back upon what was done two years ago. Rightly or wrongly, this 139 House declared this was a Treaty. They approved What had been done, and I sympathise with those who have been harshly treated. I think there will be trouble in Ireland whatever happens. [An HON. MEMBER: "Give us your sympathy in a practical way!"] The Treaty was ratified by a big majority. They who joined in that ratification have no right to resist this Bill. I think those who opposed it, as my friends on the other side did, are entitled to oppose this Bill now, but those who ratified the Treaty, even after a prolonged Debate, are surely bound by their own action and declaration. I think there will be trouble. I think it is unavoidable whether the Commission is set up or not. But I think that in the midst of that trouble it will be very much surer and safer if we stand by our pledged word. [An HON. MEMBER: "Which one?"] The word which was given in 1920 may have been broken by the Act of 1922. [An HON. MEMBER: "It cannot be, by a Treaty!"] The Act of 1922, which ended the Act of 1920—[HON. MEMBERS: No!"]
§ Mr. G. BALFOUR
Does the hon. Member assert that this House of Commons can by a Treaty with Southern Ireland—[An HON. MEMBER: "With Ireland!"]—with Southern Ireland, strike Ulster's autonomous rights out of the Act of 1920?
§ Mr. BALFOUR
In the Treaty it mentions a boundary which is the boundary of the 1920 Act. Does it anywhere suggest a new boundary.
§ Mr. FOOT
In the words of the latter part of Article 12 it is provided that, if such an address is so presented, and so forth—and that address was presented—they shall, in accordance with that provision, appoint a Commission consisting of three persons, one to be appointed by the Government of the Irish Free State, one to be appointed by the Government of Northern Ireland, and one by the British Government, Which shall determine as far as may be compatible with economics and geographic conditions the boundaries between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland, and for the purposes of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and of this instrument the boundary of Northern Ireland shall be such as shall be determined by this Commission. It was competent for that Act of 1922 to alter the Act of 1920. It is not at the same time competent to alter the Treaty into which we deliberately entered, without the consent of the other party, and the only course for us is to carry out the pledged word. I am quite sure the trouble that may arise, and will arise, will be exacerbated if we fail to act on the Treaty which we deliberately entered into.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Captain W. Benn.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of this day, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at One Minute after Eleven o'Clock.