Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £33,525, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1933, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs."—[Note.— £16,700 has been voted on account.]
The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
It is probably true that not during this Parliament are we called upon to discuss a more serious issue than that which arises to-day. I want to say, on behalf of the Government, that our attitude throughout this business has been, and is to-day, a genuine desire to help the Irish Free State. I do not, for very obvious reasons, propose to deal with the past history of Ireland. It is not relevant so far as to-day is concerned, and it would do no good. The present position arises directly out of the Treaty of 1921, a Treaty, let me observe, not only solemnly made, but made at great political risk on both sides. On this side, many statesmen who are in the House of Commons to-day risked their political fortunes in the attitude that they adopted. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who, we are delighted to know, is to take part in this Debate, showed great courage and great statesmanship. My right hon. Friends the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) made, if I may say so, even more sacrifices, because of the particular policy of their party on this particular issue; but at all events, in risking their political fortunes in taking the stand that they took, they did so conscientiously believing that it was to the interest of both nations that peace on a permanent basis should be established.
676 While it is true that they took risks, do not let us forget that on the Irish side also considerable risk was taken. There were statesmen on that side who not only risked their political fortunes, but gave their lives in defence of this Treaty. Those of us who are entrusted with the grave responsibility of dealing with this unfortunate situation to-day not only are not likely to forget their sacrifices, but there is a moral obligation on our part, to keep them clearly in mind.
I think I should carry the House with me if I said that, when that Treaty was made, no one assumed that it was the last word, that there could be no change of any sort or kind; because you have only to remember the circumstances under which it was made, and the difficulties, to realise that there must be, by the very nature of things, differences of opinion arising from time to time. I venture to say, however, that, while everyone assumed that there would be differences of interpretation and that changes could be made, no one assumed for a moment, then or now, that any change could be made without agreement on both sides, and throughout the case that I shall state for the Government I hope that aspect of the question will be kept clearly in mind.
If any evidence were needed to show the spirit in which both sides approached the problem, let me remind the Committee that in the past 10 years there were constant consultations on points of major and minor importance; there were three formal agreements amending or supplementing the Treaty; but in every case the Irish Free State Government asked for negotiations and took part in consultations, and the agreements that were ultimately made were made with the approval of both sides. It is necessary to emphasise that point, because it shows very clearly the different conceptions of their obligations by two Governments. No one will assume for a moment that the late Michael Collins, Arthur Griffiths and Mr. Cosgrave were not as good and loyal Irishmen as anyone in Ireland to-day. Just as they realised what was their responsibility to their nation, they never forgot their obligations and their duties arising from their signature of the Treaty. I think I am justified in saying that everyone taking part in the three Imperial Conferences that were held following the Irish Free 677 State Agreement, which were attended by representatives of the Irish Free State, would pay tribute to the magnificent contribution from their point of view, in the interests of their nation, that Irish statesmen have made during the past ten years.
That is, shortly, our experience prior to the change of Government in Ireland and, although we noted the change, although we realised that the Opposition became the Government of the day, we had no right to expect an assumption on their part that Treaties and agreements could be torn up with impunity by one side. Therefore, we received the intimation from Mr. De Valera with astonishment. So that there shall be no doubt and misunderstanding let me say that I take some responsibility for receiving any intimation. There was no change in the representation of the Irish Free State Commissioner to England, Mr. Dulanty, who had represented Mr. Cosgrave for a number of years, and everyone who knows him will agree with what distinction he represents Ireland. The relationship with the High Commissioners of all the Dominions is such that they are in daily contact with my office. I felt that I was justified in saying to Mr. Dulanty, "What is the exact position between your Government and ourselves?" We had read speeches and seen statements made as to what was taking place both with regard to the Oath and to the annuities.
Within a few days, after that inquiry, we received a document from the Irish Free State. I need not go into all the details of the case. They are set out in the White Paper, which I am sure all Members have read. Shortly, Mr. De Valera's statement was this: "We intend, and are taking the necessary steps, to abolish the Oath, and our grounds are, shortly, that in our judgment it is not mandatory in the Treaty." Later, he gave reasons why they intended to withhold the annuities. He did not make the latter statement in the document sent to me. The document sent to me, which is included in the White Paper, merely referred to the Oath. On the same day that I received the document, Mr. De Valera made his statement in Ireland that he intended to withhold the annuities.
Observe the different attitude that he adopted. I have already indicated that Mr. Cosgrave, during the whole of the 10 years that he was in office, found himself in conflict on points of interpretation 678 on many issues. Always, when there was a difference, he simply said: "Let us discuss it," and we did. Mr. De Valera, in his first intimation to me, and in every intimation since has said: "My intentions are not to have a discussion, not to thrash out our differences, not to see whether there is any legitimate difference of opinion. "He coldly and boldly said: "This is my business and, without consultation of any sort or kind, I propose to take this action." That is an attitude which is not only impossible in government, but one which would make ordinary business relationships impossible. It is simply something that is not done. It is an attitude which to-day is not understood and appreciated by any section of the community.
I replied on behalf of the Government, courteously but firmly, intimating that that was a position that we could not accept. Then Mr. De Valera replied. Those who have read the White Paper will have observed a very significant change of attitude with regard to the Oath. The first ground set out for abolishing it was that it was not mandatory in the Treaty. I replied showing that it was, and pointing out clearly that there could be no doubt about it. His next despatch said: "Never mind whether it is mandatory or not. That is not the issue now. It is purely a matter of domestic concern. "That was a change, and a remarkable change, from the first two despatches. Whether the Oath was or was not an integral part of the Treaty made 10 years ago is not now the issue. It is important to observe—at least I think so—that he either believed that it was mandatory when making his first statement and intimating so to me, or what was the reason, when I showed that it was mandatory, for him immediately to change his ground? At all events, summed up fairly, I think, as hon. Members will judge, his attitude was this: "I am going to abolish the Oath; I am going to withhold the annuities; and I am doing it regardless of anything which you may say or do."
I submit that that made the position an intolerable one. Whatever our anxieties or our views may have been, and however anxious we were, and are to-day, for a friendly understanding, that clear, bald intimation compelled the Government to leave both Mr. De Valera and the Irish 679 people in no doubt whatever as to what their attitude would be, because this was no constitutional issue. It was no question of status, and no question where lawyers might disagree and quibble over legal points. It was a short, simple issue of an agreement made between two parties, with one party baldly declaring to the other that they had an absolute right to repudiate the agreement. That was the clear intimation given by Mr. De Valera. It was accepted by us in that spirit. We said: "We meant, and we mean to-day, that if that is the attitude, we will not enter into any agreement with a Government which treat their obligations in this way." I made that clear beyond a shadow of possible doubt. It meant, and was clearly intended to mean, that, while we would not attempt to influence in any way, and we do not to-day intend to influence, our Dominions, or bring them into the conflict; we intended to leave them and the world in no doubt as to where we stood. It was not intended as a threat, but it was the clear and unanimous decision of the British Cabinet that they would not make further agreements while the Irish Government adopted that attitude. In our anxiety, not only to be scrupulously fair, but honourable to our agreements, we received a clear intimation that money legally and morally due to us was to be withheld by the Irish Free State Government. There were certain commitments due to Ireland. No one could have complained if we had said: "Very well, you have told us that you are going to withhold the money to which we believe we are entitled, we will at least keep this in reserve rather than send it to you. "That was an attitude which could have been adopted, but we said, "No, our part of the agreement says that you are entitled to that money." We sent quite recently £60,000 to the Irish Free State which was due under the Agreement, because we were not going to have it said, when dealing with a Dominion Agreement, that there could be any default of any sort on our side.
That was the position as we found it up to last Saturday week, when I received from Mr. Dulanty an intimation that Mr. De Valera was prepared to have a preliminary discussion as to the difficulties between the two countries in relation to 680 the negotiations in connection with the Ottawa Conference. That intimation was conveyed to me by the Irish Free State representative. The Cabinet discussed it. They knew that the fact that we were invited to Ireland would cause doubts and misapprehension. We knew that there would be some people who would criticise us on the ground that we were climbing down and humilating ourselves. We knew the risks. We knew all too well the doubts which would be cast upon our action, but we said, "No, neither dignity nor pride must prevent us from using every opportunity to come to a reasonable agreement if it is possible to do so." We knew our case. We had confidence in our case. We knew how just was our case, and we had no fears whether that case was going to be discussed in Dublin or anywhere else, but we did have very grave doubts as to the wisdom of refusing an opportunity at least to have a discussion. We took the risk.
The Cabinet decided that Lord Hail-sham and myself should go to Dublin. We went with a genuine desire to lose no opportunity of adjusting our differences. We met Mr. De Valera, and I will give the Committee, quite briefly but fairly and accurately, a summary of his views. So that I should not be accused of revealing anything private or of unfairly interpreting his views, and so that there need be no controversy afterwards about revealing anything that took place in a sort of semi-private way, I took the precaution before I spoke to-day of intimating to Mr. De Valera the statement that I was going to make as representing his views. Therefore, there need be no doubt that what I do represent as his views will not be in any way challenged by him.
I hope the House will remember that I am making a very serious statement of what took place.
I will intimate to my hon. Friend or to anyone else that, if there is any question, when I have sat down I will certainly answer it.
The answer is, that Mr. De Valera said that it was not for him to confirm; he would rather not, which means this, that Mr. De Valera had no objections whatever to my statement being made. He did not take exception to it, but it was not for him to say whether I ought or ought not to make it. I would again emphasise the importance of my adopting that attitude, and it is this: that, if afterwards there was a controversy as to what took place, there would be differences on facts. I now know, and I will show, that there is no difference on facts. Equally, I think it was my duty to be courteous to Mr. De Valera, no matter what the differences between the Governments might be. Therefore, it was for that reason that I did it.
Mr. De Valera's intimation to us in Dublin can be very briefly summarised under two heads. First, his views as to the only basis of lasting peace and good will in Ireland—what he called his ultimate aim. They were, first, the union with the Irish Free State of the six counties now forming Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] I hope hon. Members will not interrupt. I am stating Mr. De Valera's views. Those were his views. The second head has a bearing on the first. The first is the union with the Irish Free State of the six counties now forming Northern Ireland, and, after that was accomplished, with a united Ireland, the recognition of Ireland as a Republic with, he pointed out, some form of association with the British Commonwealth in some circumstances and for some reasons, and the recognition of the King as head of the association. That is to say, that his conception, his ideal, and his ultimate aim was a united Ireland called, understood, and accepted as a Republic; but there may arise and probably will arise certain circumstances where the whole of the British Commonwealth could act together for external purposes. Then, His Majesty the King would be recognised under those circumstances as the head.
That is a fair summary of what Mr. De Valeara honestly and conscientiously believes is the only basis that would bring what he called lasting peace to Ireland. 682 He quite frankly and fairly stated that he did not think he had in the last election a mandate to give effect to that, but it did not prevent him from making it quite clear that he assumed that he ultimately would get that mandate. He said:I am also anxious to provide some modus vivendi whereby we shall get over the present difficulty.We said:Very well, let up hear it.He said:You—that is, the British Government—must agree to accept the abolition of the Oath as being our right and our business and as nothing whatever to do with you. Secondly, not only do we intend, and believe we are entitled, to withhold the payments of annuities, but there are several other financial matters that we are looking into, and we feel equally that our attitude will be the same on them.That is a short summary of his views expressed, I repeat, quite cogently and very firmly to us in Ireland. I need hardly say that we on our side pointed out that there were very strong differences in these matters between us. We felt that we ought to leave him in no doubt as to that side of the question, and we said:We hope that you will come to London to state your case, because we are certain that no harm could arise from a free and frank interchange of views.He agreed, and last Friday we met in London. Mr. De Valera immediately outlined his views on what I call the ultimate aim which I have already described. We told him straight away that in our judgment no useful purpose would be served by a discussion on those lines. We said, quite clearly and definitely, that in our opinion not only this Government but no British Government would ever agree to any such suggestions. We said, however:Rather than make this conference abortive, let us come down to a discussion of the two differences that exist at the moment, namely, the Oath and the annuities.Mr. De Valera then stated his views on the Oath. He concentrated not only on the mandatory character of the Oath, but said that in his judgment the whole position was forced upon them by duress.
He said that they were compelled, absolutely compelled, under duress, and in his judgment it was not only not 683 mandatory but was never understood or accepted by the Irish people as mandatory. Very well. This is where we must clearly say to ourselves: whom can we bring that will give us the most conclusive evidence on this point—and I am going to submit to the House the names of some whose sincerity for Ireland or their right to express an authoritative opinion on this matter certainly no Member of this House would question. Immediately the Treaty was made it was not ended. There were days and weeks of debate in the Dail. There were not only Debates in this House, but immediately they got back this aspect of the Treaty was challenged. Everyone knows the great record of the late Mr. Kevin O'Higgins. He took part in the Debate, and I am going to quote his words as an answer to the criticism on the Oath. This is what he said in October, 1922:It has been suggested here and suggested in the press that the taking of the Oath is an entirely optional matter. We do not think it is. We do not for a moment hold that that position is tenable in common sense or in common public honesty. We do not think that in the mind of any signatory, British or Irish, there was the idea that this Oath, that gave so much trouble and tension at the late stages of the negotiations, would be anything else but an Oath to be taken by all Members of Parliament.That is the statement of Mr. Kevin O'Higgins in 1922, when the mandatory character of the Oath was being challenged. Mr. Duggan was a signatory to the Treaty—I put it to the House that it is not sufficient for hon. Members here to say what the interpretation is and to challenge such views as this—and he said:I wish to tell the Dail what was in my mind at the time we were putting our names to that Treaty. We agreed that that form of Oath should be taken by every Member of Parliament. Now, if that were not so, why should we in the later stages of the negotiations, when pressure on our time was so great, have devoted so much time and so much amount of trouble to finding out the form of Oath that would be acceptable to us.And this is one of the signatories to the Treaty—Surely, if the Oath were optional, no one cares what particular form it was in, because I am sure the British representatives knew, and we certainly knew, no Member of this Dail would take it. It would not have been of the least interest to us or them for that reason, and I can also tell 684 the Dail that the late President and the late commander-in-Chief, Michael Collins, were of the same opinion on this subject as I was.In conclusion Mr. Duggan said:I am fully prepared to take the Oath myself, and it would be well if every Member of this Dail should realise that any quibbling on the Oath means the tearing up of the Treaty.Was there ever such a forecast? Can it be assumed to-day, can it be argued to-day, that it was not mandatory, that it was something which the Irish people never understood or never accepted? I have quoted the words of the signatories to the Treaty. What is more important, two general elections followed when the present Government, which was then the Opposition and which challenged the position, had their opportunity to put their views to the country; and two general elections endorsed the statements that I have read out. The statements that I have read to the House I quoted to Mr. De Valera, and I said to him, just as I have said to the House: "How can you in the face of those statements, in the face of your own action and in the knowledge that two general elections have taken place, maintain the position that you do to-day? "I am telling the House nothing different from what I told Mr. De Valera to his face on behalf of the Government.
He said, with regard to the annuities that that was a secret agreement, made behind the backs of the people, of which the people knew nothing and could, therefore, repudiate; and for that reason, as well as for the reason that Ireland was entitled to some millions of pounds from us and not we from them, he intended to withhold this money. I reminded him not only that that was not true, but that the particular, specific agreement made between Mr. Cosgrave and the representatives of this Government was challenged in the Dail, was challenged by the Opposition; but here again, after the agreement was made and the money paid year after year a general election took place in Ireland, and the one who is supposed to have made this secret Treaty was again returned as the head of the Government. I pointed out that by a challenge of that kind he raised an entirely new issue in the conduct of Governments. To assume as he did that a previous Prime Minister could enter into an agreement, morally 685 and legally binding, and that because in the political fortunes a new Government comes in they could repudiate the obligations of the other, would not only lead to chaos, but that no Government could be conducted on that basis. Indeed, I went beyond that, and said that, "According to that answer, if we made an agreement with you now, your successors could claim the same right as you are claiming now."
Therefore, we put it to him fairly: "Look. We are getting near Ottawa. We want the Ottawa Conference to be representative of all the Dominions. We want to get there and discuss the economic problems that afflict us. We would like to put to you quite clearly and specifically a simple question. If you believe that you are right, if you are so sure that you are right on this question of the annuities, and if you have such an unanswerable case, and we, on the other hand, feel that we are right, surely there ought to be some Empire tribunal—that indeed was visualised and agreed to at the last Imperial Conference—that ought to be able to adjust this difference." He said: "No." He said: "The dice would be always loaded against Ireland." I put to him the answer that I put now. I said: "Surely, Sir, if you are going to proclaim to the world that there are not three honest people capable of doing an honest thing, that is a very serious reflection upon the integrity of the British Empire," because that is the issue. If he said, as he did say, that he could not trust the question of the difference on the land annuities to be the subject of arbitration before an Empire tribunal, he was proclaiming to the world in my judgment, and I said so, that there were not three honest people capable of arriving at an honest judgment. Therefore, we said quite clearly that that was an impossible situation. He replied that so far as the Oath Bill was concerned it was his business and not ours.
Here I must draw the attention of the Committee to a very important Clause in the Oath Bill. Supposing Mr. De Valera had said, "Very well, I am only concerned with removing the Oath," he could have argued, as he did argue, that that was his only object, because in his judgment it was not mandatory. But I pointed out to him, as I point out to the 686 Committee now, that in two clauses of the Bill, in addition to abolishing the Oath, he has taken away the only right that the Irish Free State people possess to challenge the validity of his action in their own Courts. In other words, he is not only abolishing the Oath, but in the Bill now before the Dail he takes the right to prevent any Irish citizens who want, as they have a right in the Constituent Act, to challenge the validity of the Act in their own Courts—he is taking that away. In answer to my question to him, "Why deny them that right?" he said he knew perfectly well that ho was doing it, and he intended clearly that no courts should interfere with the Act. That made the position quite clear so far as the Oath was concerned. But Mr. De Valera said, talking about a tribunal, "I would be prepared to consider, and only consider, some tribunal, not to arbitrate on the land annuities, but to go into and examine and arbitrate on the whole of the financial obligations made in the Treaty;" in other words, to scrap in substance the whole of the financial obligations under the Treaty.
That was the position last Friday evening. Therefore, we were faced with a clear and definite intimation on three points: First, the absolute refusal to withdraw the abolition of the Oath; a clear determination to refuse an Empire tribunal to consider and arbitrate on the question of annuities; and an intimation that in Mr. De Valera's mind the annuities were only the first instalment of further moneys to be withheld that we feel are due to us. That was the position as it was left last Friday night after all the negotiations. I intimated to Mr. De Valera that the position in which the question was left rendered it impossible for us to assume that the House of Commons would not want to debate the matter. I felt it was my duty to say that, while up to now the House of Commons had trusted the Government, after these negotiations it was imperative that our position should be made clear to the House and the country. I said that, that being so, I thought the Debate would be arranged for next Friday, and added "so that if you have any communication of any sort or kind I do hope we can have it before then." I again said: "I hope that you will keep clearly in mind how 687 anxious we are for a settlement, but the terms proposed by you render it impossible." That was the situation on Friday last. Within the last two hours, this morning, since I arrived at my office, I received a further despatch from Mr. De Valera, and I will read it. It is dated 16th June:The proposal of the British Government for arbitration on the question of the land annuities has been considered by the Government of the Irish Free State.The Government of the Irish Free State accepts the principle of arbitration and agrees that a tribunal, of the general character outlined in the Report of the Imperial Conference of 1930, would be suitable, but it is unable to agree to the restriction of the personnel of the Tribunal solely to citizens of the States of the British Commonwealth.The Government of the Irish Free State is of opinion that, in justice to the people of the Irish Free State, the matters to be submitted to the tribunal for determination must include, not merely the land annuities, but also the items of the other annual payments to the British Government by the Government of the Irish Free State, except those made in pursuance of Agreements formally ratified by the Parliaments of both States. I must further add that, in the view of my Government, any agreement reached between the two Governments on these matters must be submitted to both Houses of the Oireachtas for their approval.That despatch which, as I say, was received at 9.30 this morning, can be summarised in a few words. It does not depart by one iota from Mr. De Valera's original position. The Committee will observe, first, that it does not even mention the Oath, which means that he is acting consistently with his attitude that it is not our business. Secondly, it will be seen that, with regard to the annuities, while he is prepared to accept arbitration, it must be by arbitrators not limited to the British Commonwealth of Nations. And thirdly, that even if arbitration were agreed upon it is not the question of the land annuities that is to be argued, but practically the whole financial basis of the Treaty of 1921. Therefore, I have not found it necessary to alter in one word the views which I expressed a few moments ago that this despatch leaves the position, in my judgment, worse than it was before. That is the position.
I therefore want to say, in conclusion, how much the British Government deplore this situation. I opened by saying that we wish well to the Irish people. I re- 688 peat it now. We have given evidence of it by tariff preferences which benefit the Irish Free State probably more than any other Dominion. We want a happy and prosperous Ireland. We Want to live in peace and goodwill with the Irish people. We are not unmindful of the tremendous millions of Irish patriots in this country and in all parts of the world, and therefore it is to our interest to live in peace, as well as our desire, but, whatever may be the consequences, we cannot and will not countenance for a moment the breaking of agreements, nor will we—and neither do we believe will any other Government that could be elected in this country—ever attempt to force Ulster against her will. If there is to be a unity of the Irish people, Ulster and the Irish Free State must come together by their own mutual consent and agreement. But, may I ask: Is the present attitude of the Irish Free State calculated to bring about such unity? Do they think for a moment that, with the history of Northern and Southern Ireland, the attitude which I have described to-day and the position as we know it is calculated to bring peace? No, Sir, the unity of Ireland is never likely to be brought about, however desirable, by the Irish Free State Government adopting an attitude of this kind.
As to the existing preferences, our position is quite clear. We made an agreement; we observed the agreement; we are anxious to maintain that agreement. It was broken by the other side, and therefore we do not and will not enter into any agreement or attempt to make a new agreement while that position is maintained by the Irish Free State. Our preferences cannot operate after 15th November unless new agreements are made. I have already indicated our view on that subject. But, behind all this, there is a wider issue, and, in fairness to Mr. De Valera, I must say that he never attempts to disguise it. It is the issue of what part is the Irish Free State to play in the British Commonwealth of Nations in the future. The Irish people must make up their minds. They are either part of the Commonwealth accepting its responsibilities and duties, or they are not. The land annuities are a legal and moral obligation accepted by the Irish people's representatives. If they withhold money, legally and morally due to us, we on our side will not repudiate our 689 obligations to those, either in Ireland or Great Britain, who loaned the money to us, but we shall take whatever steps we deem necessary to deal with that side of the situation. That is not intended as a threat, but as a clear intimation that we intend to uphold our rights.
The Irish Free State people are entitled to know the facts and our intentions. I hope I have left them in no doubt whatever as to our attitude. But is it too late to ask, with a world in strife and turmoil, what do we gain by rehashing the old difficulties of the past? Let us, I would rather say, look to the future. The British Commonwealth of Nations is wide enough, broad enough, yes, and tolerant enough to give free scope and real hope for true democracy, and it is the choice of this association that the Irish people must ultimately make. May I not ask Mr. De Valera, who is new to the responsibilities of Government, who has not yet had the advantage of contact with all the other Members of the British Commonwealth, and who is unable at the moment, because of that lack of contact, to appreciate fully all that the British Commonwealth stands for—may I not beg him and his Government to hesitate a long time before committing the Free State to a policy which involves such grave consequences, before they have had the chance to find out for themselves the advantages that real Liberty in the British Commonwealth really means?
This is no moment when a nation can afford to neglect or be blind to what is taking place in the world. Who can deny it, except those who are blind to world facts and who refuse to see the misery and suffering existing in every land at a time when nations are clamouring for peace, for statesmanship, for a new outlook on life? This, Sir, is the moment that Mr. De Valera chooses to do what no business man does, and no statesman can survive if he attempts to do. It is, in my judgment, unbelievable that the Irish people themselves can stand for action of that kind. In conclusion, I reaffirm our profound hope that wisdom will prevail. So far as the British Government are concerned, we are prepared to be judged at the bar of public opinion.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
I think that everybody will desire to congratulate the 690 right hon. Gentleman upon the very frank and clear statement which he has put before the Committee containing a great deal of information as regards the position between His Majesty's Government and the Irish Free State. If I may say so, his argument was put forward with much conciseness and great advocacy. It almost made me jealous of the advocate's profession to hear the right hon. Gentleman develop his argument. But it was an argument which was advocating, naturally, one point of view, and though I do not propose to attempt to put forward the other point of view, there are some observations which I should like to make, and some matters to which I should like to draw the attention of the Committee, and which, I think, it is as well to bear in mind when one comes to consider the attitude of the Government and what the attitude of the country should be. The right hon. Gentleman expressed his great sympathy with the Irish people, and I am sure that the whole Committee was glad to hear of that sympathy. But behind the velvet glove there seemed to be a somewhat mailed fist at times as he was speaking, and threats as regards what would happen with Imperial Preferences. The clear threat to withdraw any Preference to Ireland is one which, it seems to us. is not likely to facilitate negotiations on the Irish question.
I want to make our position clear. The Preference, my hon. and learned Friend should know, expires automatically on 15th November, unless there is a new agreement. I intimated that we cannot make a new agreement with people who have already broken the agreement.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I quite appreciate that, but I am afraid that in regard to the somewhat ingenious argument of the right hon. Gentleman [Interruption] as to the automatic withdrawal on 15th November next of the Preferences which the right hon. Gentleman says cannot be renewed except by agreement—this House can renew them, if it wishes, without agreement. There is no condition for the renewal of Preference that there should be any agreement at all, and it is a clear indication—and I think the right hon. Gentleman wanted it to be a clear indication—to the Irish people that, unless same agreement was come to as 691 regards the Oath and Annuities, before Ottawa, they would not be treated in the position of the other Dominions. I understood it was a threat that, unless they came to an arrangement before Ottawa, the Imperial Preferences would be withdrawn. That is, as I understand it, the statement which the right hon. Gentleman, wants to make clear, but which, I feel, is perhaps a little unfortunate, in view of the fact that it is still to be hoped that negotiations may bring about a settlement of this matter.
I do not think anyone in this House would desire to minimise either the importance or the solemnity of agreements which may be come to between different parts of the British Empire. On the other hand, I presume, also, the House desires to take up the attitude of realists. It is no good this House, or Members of this House, fulminating against public opinion in the Irish Free State or in any other Dominion. If it is public opinion, this House, like everybody else, has got to accept it, and it will not assist either in bringing that public opinion round to a different view, if that is our object, or treating with the view which that public opinion holds at the present moment if we lecture them in Ireland, or if we show that we are not going to treat with them on any terms.
The right hon. Gentleman drew a distinction between the administration in Ireland under Mr. Cosgrave and the present Administration. He said that during that period of time, whenever there was an alteration under the Treaty, it was done by agreement and negotiation. I think the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten the attitude of the Irish Government to the Privy Council. After all, we must be fair, and it is not fair to suggest that the first time that Ireland has done anything as regards the Treaty is since Mr. De Valera came into power. It was a common cause of complaint that the Irish Government had nullified the provision which was said to be implicit within the Treaty as regards appeal to the Privy Council. I think, very sensibly, if I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman and the Government which he then adorned took very little notice of it. The matter was passed over. It was quite idle to protest. The Irish Government were 692 doing it. Judgment was given in the Privy Council, and they passed an Act of Parliament to revoke it. Nothing in the world could have stopped them, and I think the right hon. Gentleman, with great sense, made no fuss about it at all.
We must recollect that, ever since 1921, there has not been a static position either in. the Irish Free State or in the British Empire. We have been progressing, and things have been altering, and it is not, I think, accurate, or perhaps quite fair, to take up the attitude that everything was static to the moment when Mr. De Valera came in, and then suddenly there was an explosion, when it became dynamic. It is of the utmost importance in argument to recollect that the whole foundation of the British Commonwealth of Nations is free association—association which is not forced in any way, but which is freely given by the different parts. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that Mr. De Valera had certain ultimate aims. He spoke of a united Republican Ireland. Surely it is wiser for us not to deal with difficulties which might arise if such a thing came about, for which, I understand, Mr. De Valera agreed he had no mandate at the present time. It is better for us to concentrate upon the precise difficulties which, in fact, have arisen, in order that we may consider and analyse what those difficulties are, and see whether there is any possible way out of them.
The two difficulties are very different as we see them, both in their incidence and in their nature. The abolition of the Oath is largely a sentimental difficulty; the payment of land annuities is chiefly a financial difficulty, and the considerations with regard to the two are probably widely different. Everybody, I think, must have foreseen some months ago, especially at the. time of the passing of the Statute of Westminster, when the right hon. Gentleman was thoroughly warned on the Oath question by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and others that some such difficulty as the present might well arise. I understand that Mr. De Valera has agreed to a certain type of arbitration with regard to land annuities.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I quite understand what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, that that arbitration must be asso- 693 ciated with other matters. I meant to put that, but I understand that with regard to the Oath there has been no suggestion of arbitration on either side.
We asked Mr. De Valera clearly to get his views, and he said, "The Oath is not your business," and therefore it was not for us, having heard that view, to say. I do not want any misunderstanding in Ireland. My hon. and learned Friend should understand it, because his colleague the Leader of the Opposition and everybody associated with the late Government know that this same point was put to us at the last Imperial Conference, as to the Oath, and the late Government, with the absolute concurrence of the Cabinet, adopted precisely the same position, that the Statute of Westminster did not abrogate the Treaty. The present Prime Minister, with myself, made that clear at the Imperial Conference on behalf of the Labour Cabinet, and it is important to keep that in mind lest the Irish people should assume that there has been a change of policy on the part of the Opposition.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I am neither competent nor capable of going into the views of the Labour Cabinet, and had I been, I should not have mentioned anything that had happened in the Cabinet, but I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. Let me come back to the point with which I was dealing, which was not connected with the latter part of the interruption, and that was that, as I understand it, there has never been any suggestion on either side that the question of the Oath should be referred to arbitration. Therefore, I want to deal quite shortly with the two matters separately, and to deal first of all with the question of the Oath. Perhaps I might, in the first instance, say this with regard to arbitration. We did point out to the Government as long ago as November last, when the Statute of Westminster was being discussed, that it was a very different thing having in existence an arbitral tribunal and trying to form one ad hoc when you had a dispute going on. We pointed out, if I may quote a passage from something I said at the time:It is imperative that, as soon as this Bill becomes law, there should be some agreed and accepted tribunal that can solve problems that are certain to arise as to the exact ambit of the powers of the many independent legislative bodies that will exist 694 within the British Commonwealth. Unless such a body is in existence, we shall run a serious risk of ill-feeling developing over our differences."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1931; col. 1187; Vol. 259.]Then I pointed out that the delay in setting up such a body might have a very adverse effect in achieving a friendly settlement.
I wish my hon. and learned Friend would confine himself to the facts. It is not what he said that matters, but the present Opposition, the late Government, at the Imperial Conference brought forward the proposal themselves for an Empire tribunal, and the form of the tribunal was a unanimous decision of the Imperial Conference. I put it to him, no matter what he says, that if that was the tribunal agreed by the Empire as a whole, they should be the better judges than himself of what they required.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be very nervous about responsibility, I should be very proud if I thought I had taken any part in the suggestion for an inter-Imperial tribunal, but I am afraid that I did not. I was not there, but I am pointing out—and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman quite appreciates yet what the point is—that there is all the difference in the world in having a system under which you can set up, if you want it, a tribunal ad hoc and a system under which you have a standing tribunal to which disputes are referred. That is the very difficulty which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. He said that Mr. De Valera was very chary about the tribunal being set up ad hoc, because he suspected that it might be biased against Ireland. If the right hon. Gentleman has any experience of arbitrations between ordinary parties, he knows how very easily that suspicion creeps in, especially when there has been some exacerbation of feeling as regards the matter in dispute. It is always a most difficult matter to get parties who are well embarked upon a dispute to agree to anybody in the matter of arbitration. They always suspect each other's nominee. That is human nature, and in a matter of this importance it is even more likely to happen. That is why at the time we said that it was vital to have in being an arbitral tribunal with regard to which, directly 695 this discussion had arisen, the right hon. Gentleman could have said, "Here is the arbitral tribunal; we will refer it to them to find out the facts."
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I was speaking for the Labour party on the 20th November last year. The right hon. Gentleman seems to suspect whether I had any right to speak for them. I may tell him that I had the right to speak for them.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has yet followed what I am talking about. It does not seem to me as if he can have, because it is a perfectly clear point, and I will not repeat it, because I am sure the rest of the Committee has followed it. Had there been a tribunal already set up to deal with questions which arise between the different Imperial States, directly anybody did something which we said was a breach of an agreement or a treaty, we could have said, "We want to refer this to that tribunal which is there to decide on the facts as to whether it is a breach of an agreement or a treaty." That, after all, is the first stage in deciding whether or not we have a reason for complaint against the Free State. I know the right hon. Gentleman takes a very positive view as regards the position under the so-called Treaty—[HON. MEMBEES: "Why so-called?"] I say "so-called" because in law it cannot be a treaty. It is an agreement. It is impossible in law for one sovereign to enter into a treaty with himself. A treaty is something which is entered into between independent sovereigns. I hear the Attorney-General say it is so called in the Act of Parliament. It is called a treaty of articles of agreement, or some such title as that.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Articles of agreement between Great Britain and Ireland, but that does not alter the legal position, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman 696 the Attorney-General will agree with me that in law you cannot have a treaty in fact except between independent sovereigns. You can have an agreement between two Dominions under one Sovereign. It does not perhaps matter very strictly whether you call it an agreement or a treaty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am merely answering the hon. Member who said, "Why so-called treaty?" I am only making the distinction, although it is not a distinction which makes any difference in the consideration that we have to give in examining this question.
Let me deal with the position as I see it about the Agreement or Treaty. First of all, there can be no doubt that, so far as the legal position is concerned, the Irish Free State have had an absolute right since the Statute of Westminster to abolish the Oath in the Irish Parliament. That is a position which no one would dispute or deny. The second thing that one has to consider is how important the question of the Oath is in the Irish Parliament. Does it, in fact, make any difference to the Constitution of the British Commonwealth of Nations or does it one whit alter the position of the Free State? In other words, is it merely a domestic matter apart from the question of whether it is in the Agreement or not; is it a domestic matter constitutionally or is it a matter which concerns the other states of the British Commonwealth of Nations? I should like to read the opinion which has been lately expressed by Professor Berriedale Keith, who is looked upon as perhaps the greatest authority on the Constitution of the British Dominions. In a letter to the "Scotsman", dated the 14th June, he said this:It seems to be widely thought that in some way the Bill passed by the Dail affects the allegiance of Irish citizens to the Crown. That is clearly a complete misunderstanding. Allegiance is part of the common law of the Irish Free State and is wholly unaffected by the fact that it is desired to remove from the Constitution the obligation on Members of Parliament to take an oath of allegiance. The allegiance and its obligations will stand as securely under the law even if the oath were to disappear—a fact which incidentally, explains why many loyal Irish citizens contemplate the possibility of removing the oath, if that can be done without a breach of the Treaty of 1921.If that be the true position, which I believe it to be, the question of the 697 abolition of the Parliamentary Oath is not one of any great importance as regards the association of the different nations of the British Commonwealth. After all, the Union of South Africa is at perfect liberty to abolish the Oath in the South African Parliament whenever it likes, and I do not think that anybody would suggest that if the South African Parliament did that, which nobody could dispute their right to do, it would disrupt the British Empire.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
If the South African Government did it, whether the hon. Member suspected them or not, it would not alter their relations to the rest of the British Commonwealth. With Canada the position is different. Under Section 7 of the Statute of Westminster the Constitution Acts of Canada, the British North American Acts, are expressly excluded from any right of interference or alteration by the Canadian Government. That is to say, they can only be altered by the Imperial Parliament. Section 8 makes a similar provision as regards the Constitution Acts of the Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand. There is, however, no such statement in the Statute of Westminster as regards the Irish Free State. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) warned the House of that fact at the time that the Statute of Westminster was being discussed, and the House decided that it was not desirable to put in any Clause as regards the Irish Free State.
As to Canada, I think that almost undoubtedly the constitutional position is that if both Houses in Canada pass a Resolution asking this House to abolish the Oath of the Canadian Parliament, this House will constitutionally be bound to pass such an Act. That is to say, any alteration desired by Canada of the Canadian Constitution would have to be made under the Statute of Westminster. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Epping suggests by his interjection that that may not be so, but I think that that is probably the true view as regards the alteration which the Statute of Westminster and the declaration which preceded it made in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Let me assume for a moment that the Oath is an integral part 698 of the Treaty or Agreement. If it is, I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is perfectly clear that the Free State are not able to abolish it without consulting the Government of this country. I appreciate that this is a perfectly legitimate view to take, but I also suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is only fair to say that there is no other view which can also be taken with complete fairness and logic.
If the Agreement of 1921 made the Oath a binding part of the Constitution of Ireland, one has to look at the equally strong and equally important Agreements of 1926 and 1930. One cannot isolate the Agreement of 1921 and omit the declarations, which were the most solemn statements by the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1926 and 1930. You have at least to look at these three agreements or statements put together. If you do that, there is very little doubt that there has been a considerable alteration of the position of Ireland, and an intentional alteration of the position of Ireland, since 1921 by the two subsequent agreements of 1926 and 1930. The second article of the Treaty or Agreement of 1921 gave Ireland the same status as Canada. There has been a discussion as to whether that was a static condition or a dynamic condition; that is, whether Ireland's position altered as Canada's position altered, or whether Ireland's position was to remain always the same. But the alteration has, in fact, taken place in Ireland's position. The Statute of Westminster vastly altered Ireland's position as regards the powers of the Irish Parliament, and I think that, although it is clearly open to argument, there is a great deal to be said for the view that after the Agreements of 1926 and 1930, it was perfectly competent for the Irish Parliament, if they wished, to abolish the Parliamentary oath. That was because the Oath was a mere internal matter and was not connected in any way with the allegiance of the Irish Free State to the King or with the association of the Irish Free State with the other Members of the British Commonwealth.
There is another aspect of this question which I might mention very shortly. Whatever the position of Ireland in this matter, it must be the same as the position of this country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook 699 (Mr. Amery), speaking on the 20th November in the House, put it admirably in these words:Do not let us forget the fact that if there is equality it must be on both sides, and that we in this House have complete power, as far as law goes, to break the Irish Treaty. No one has ever suggested that we should not be free to alter any law which has ever been passed in this Parliament. But does anybody suggest that our maintenance of this agreement is really weakened by our legal power to go back upon it? We may have our misgivings and our doubts as to the actions of certain parties in Ireland, but I cannot see how, on the basis on which we have been acting ever since the Treaty, we can insist by law on obligations being imposed on one party and not on both."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 20th November, 1931; col. 1206, Vol. 259.]I suggest, from that very clear statement of the position, and, indeed, from the position itself, that it is quite obvious, however undesirable we may think it, however morally wrong people may think it, that the Free State have got perfect liberty to do this which they are now doing. We may regret it, we may feel that if we had been there we should have acted differently, but the fact is that they are not doing anything which is outside their power as a Member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. That declaration made in 1926 stated in the clearest possible way that they were autonomous, that they were equal in status to ourselves, that they were do no way subordinate. Now what can the threat, if I may put it in that way, or the suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman has made, mean except that we are trying to make them subordinate in some way to our desires? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members may say "No," but do let us face the position. Let us assume for a moment that the Irish people do want to abolish the Oath. Let us assume that in that case we say we are going to withdraw these preferences unless they come to some arrangement. Is not that a suggestion that we should make them do something because of the economic situation in which they will be put if they do not do it? [HON. MEMBERS: "They have a choice."] Certainly they have a choice, just as a man against whom you threaten to bring an action if he does not pay you has a choice, but if he knows the action is going to cost 700 him £1,000 when he owes you £50 he will probably pay up.
What about all of us that have conducted negotiations and said that we would strike if an employer broke an agreement?
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that in so doing he is bringing pressure to bear. That would be his object in saying "If you do not do this, we will strike." [An HON. MEMBER: "Why do you object?"] All I am saying is that we are trying to bring pressure to bear on the Free State to do something which under the Declaration of 1926 is solely for the Free State to decide upon, and nobody else. It is stated in the clearest possible words, and so long as we stick to the idea, which is fundamental to the present conception of the British Commonwealth, of free association, as far as I can see we have no right to bring any pressure to bear upon anybody to maintain that free association or to act in a particular way in order to maintain it. I quite understand that the hon. Member opposite differs from me as regards some of the views which I am putting forward.
§ Mr. HOWARD
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman believe that free association should imply free repudiation of honourable debts and settlements?
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
That entirely depends upon whether it has been decided whether the Irish Government have a right or not, under the agreement and the subsequent declaration, to deal with the Oath as a domestic matter. I was putting forward arguments, which I do not say are conclusive, but which show that there is much to be said on both sides, and my view, and the view of all of us over here, is that if there had been an Empire tribunal in existence it might have been possible to arbitrate that point, to get that decided first—that is, as to whether either party was right or wrong. But whatever the position may be as regards the legal or moral obligation, I think one has got to realise that this Oath question is a reality for Ireland. Apparently they intend and desire to get rid of it. In our view that will not make the slightest difference to the foundation upon which the British Commonwealth of Nations is based, it will 701 not alter it one whit, and it seems to us in those circumstances rather a pity to make a mountain out of a molehill.
As regards the annuities, it is quite obvious that if once the other questions were cleared out of the way that could be dealt with by arbitration, which is obviously the appropriate way to deal with such a financial matter; and I do not think we should be too hard on the suggestion of Ireland that other financial matters should be brought into consideration. In view of what is going on at Lausanne, the repudiations going on all over the world, our own attitude vis-à-vis the American Debt, and everything else at the present time—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—it does not seem to be an unreasonable attitude to ask that the whole financial foundation should be referred to arbitration. That is all they are asking according to the right hon. Gentleman. It is not that they want to get away from it. They want the matter referred to arbitration, and I am sure every hon. Member would be only too glad if the question of international indebtedness could be referred to arbitration.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
The hon. Member has not followed the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope the feeling of Government which has been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman towards the Irish Free State people will materialise in acknowledging the position they have taken up and in saying that somehow or other, whatever their decision must be, so long as they do not do away with the fundamental basis of association we must be reasonable and we must fit in with their desires.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
As I had the honour of leading the British delegation which negotiated this Treaty, I would crave the indulgence of the Committee for a short time while I say something about the present situation. I am very glad to find here old colleagues of mine who were also members of the delegation which negotiated what, in spite of all that my hon. and learned Friend has said, I still persist in calling "The Treaty." I was elected to this House as an opponent of the present Government, and it is a curious fate that has decreed that the first speech I deliver in the 702 House should be in support of the Government. I regret I can do no other. I have watched the proceedings which have occurred recently with very great care, and I owe to the courtesy of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs the opportunity of perusing the documents, and I have absolutely no doubt in spite of all the legal technicalities of the case, that in substance there is an attempt to commit a breach of faith about which it is essential that we should mark our protest in a clear and definite manner.
I am not going to say anything about the course of the negotiations. I was a little startled, I confess, when I first heard that two leading Cabinet Ministers were going to Dublin to negotiate, but, on the whole, I think it has been justified. We have made it clear that no one in this country is anxious to have a quarrel with our neighbour in Ireland. It is made quite clear that no false pride will be allowed to intervene in the establishment of a good understanding, and also it has served another purpose in making it quite clear to the Irish people, and to the world at large, that, if we insist on our Treaty obligations in this respect, it is not from any spirit of arrogance or stubbornness. The Government went out of their way to meet Mr. De Valera, and, on the whole, I think they were justified. I am not concerned here about interpretations of the Statute of Westminster. On the whole, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) that the policy that led to that was a mistake, but there it is. I am not concerned about that or as to whether the Free State can legally abolish the Oath or abolish articles of the Treaty; I am concerned as to the substance and the reality of the demand which is being put forward by Mr. De Valera.
Let us see what it is. I do not think the House and the country ought to be under any illusions about it, or ought to allow it to be obscured by any legal arguments or interpretations. What does it mean? I have had some experience of Mr. De Valera as a negotiator and, frankly, I have never seen anything quite like it. He is perfectly unique, and I think this poor distracted world has a good right to feel profoundly thankful that he is unique, because if you had anything like him in the council of the nations, when we are trying to accommo- 703 date all our differences, no business could ever be transacted.
I cannot say what happened between the right hon. Gentleman and Mr. De Valera—yes I can. My memory is still good, and I know perfectly well the line of argument that was pursued. What matters is what Mr. De Valera has in his mind, because he has complete command over his party in Ireland. He has not the whole of the Irish people behind him, and I doubt whether he has a majority of the Irish people behind him in this particular demand. I have good reason for saying so. What is his demand in substance? Anyone who wants to know what he is driving at ought to read, first of all, the correspondence that took place between the Government of which I was the head, and Mr. De Valera, before we had our first conference. He made clear what his demand was. If you look at the correspondence between the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and Mr. De Valera there is certainly no change in his attitude in the slightest and that is what we have to deal with, and not the legal interpretations. What was his demand? I have it here. His demand was not that Ireland 6hould be a part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, with as much right as each Dominion has by the Statute of Westminster, or by any other Statute, but that Ireland should be a sovereign State, and should have the same relation to Britain and the Empire as Belgium and Holland have to the German Empire and Portugal to Spain.
He has not changed one iota from that position. Let us not treat this as though it were merely a trumpery matter of the Oath. If Mr. De Valera had come forward and said, "I do not like this Oath, it offends some religious scruple," we should have no right to go beyond a statement of that kind, if he had made it. If he had said, "I do not like the way in which it is phrased, because the form of it is humiliating, but I am all for Ireland being a member of the Commonwealth of free nations which is known as the British Empire on the same terms as any other free nation," we then could have said to him, "Very well, that is a basis for negotiation. That is a basis for discussion as to whether there is any other form in which you could prefer that 704 allegiance and loyalty to the Empire should be expressed." I cannot understand anybody in the Government prosecuting a quarrel with a nation merely upon that. But that is not what he is after. As he himself has put it definitely in writing, his demand is that the relation of Ireland to the British Empire should be the relation of Belgium and Holland to Germany, and Portugal to Spain—Belgium that waged war on Germany; Belgium that after the war annexed a part of German territory on the ground that it really belonged to Belgium. Those are the relations which he thinks we ought to have between the British Empire and Ireland. We cannot accept that. We refused, as a Government, to negotiate with him on that basis.
I think it right, because it is a pretty serious matter, to consider, first of all, the man we are dealing with. He is not quarrelling about trivialities and trumpery things, and about interpretations of the Statute of Westminster. That is not what the is after; he is claiming that Ireland should be a sovereign independent State, associating with the British Empire, but equally associating with any other Empire for any particular purpose. He has no objection to associating with Canada or with Australia, or even with us, as a sovereign independent State. Let anyone who doubts look at the correspondence which took place, first of all, between Mr. De Valera and myself, and then lately. I can understand his fighting for a particular position, but the correspondence with the Dominions Secretary which has taken place, after 10 years' experience, shows that he is putting forward the same demands exactly.
What does he ask? We introduced into the Treaty conditions which would make it impossible for anyone to raise a great army in Ireland, not because we were afraid of it, but because it would involve our raising great armies here, and we did not want to do that. We had just abolished conscription. If you had conscription in Ireland with hundreds of thousands of troops under arms, that would enforce conscription in Ulster. It would be inevitable. It might involve the same thing for this country. More than that, we said that the ports of Ireland must be open to us for the purpose of defence. Why, we had the experience of the War, which was only just behind. We had had one of the blackest tragedies of 705 the War because the coast of Ireland north, south, east and west was the deadliest trap for our poor ships. Unless we had had command of the coast of Ireland, and if the coast of Ireland had been in the hands of an independent sovereign State which might have been friendly or might have been hostile, we might have been done for in the struggle, and we were not going to take that risk whatever happened.
But observe, Mr. De Valera, in his letter to the Dominions Secretary, includes those two conditions of the Treaty as conditions which he deprecates, and, if he has a right to abolish the Oath, if by any Act of his Parliament he can change this condition and another, he can change those two conditions. He can only have an army now of, I think, about 15,000—just enough to keep order; but he can, so I am told, if he likes, get rid of that and have a conscript army. He can have an Act of Parliament to say that, whether we are at war or not, and whatever the peril may be to the 40,000,000 people who live in this country—if we were in peril of being starved to death in a great struggle—Mr. De Valera could pass an Act of Parliament to say, "We will close our ports against you; nay, we can place them at the disposal of any other country if we wish to do so." I am glad the Government have put their foot down.
Do not let us be under any delusion that this is merely a trumpery and trivial discussion as to the form of an Oath, or as to your method of declaring allegiance to the British Empire. It is a clear demand, from which Mr. De Valera has never swerved for one day. He is that type; he will never change right to the end; he has always turned back towards the past, like a pillar of salt, and you cannot make him do otherwise. That is his demand. I think, if I may say so, that the Government has acted judiciously and with circumspection. I wish I could say the same about everything that they have done, but in this respect I am bound to say so.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I agree with the Dominions Secretary that this is really a very vital matter. We have gigantic things on our hands, things that may involve the whole collapse of our economic civilisation; and we are very 706 apt, when there are these gigantic and tremendous things constantly in our minds and before our eyes, to pass over a a thing like this, that may develop into a very grave danger to our country. I am glad that there are watchful eyes that are looking at it, and I am glad to come here to join in doing my best at any rate to safeguard the position of this country, whatever may happen to it in the future. I know that it is said that it is better that you should have the good will of Ireland. What more could we have done? I am all for having the good will of Ireland. That is why we signed that Treaty. We realised that it was a danger to this country to have a gallant people like the Irish people there with a legitimate grievance at a time when we were engaged in a great world struggle. That is what was brought home to us, and that is why we signed that Treaty. We removed the grievance. We accorded to Ireland all the liberties demanded for it by every great leader the Irish race has had. [Interruption.] My hon Friend the Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin) and I fought together on the same side for the liberties of Ireland, but let me remind him of this. The Irish Treaty accorded to Ireland far greater liberties than any of the Acts that were supported—
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman unnecessarily, but I deny absolutely and emphatically that the settlement which he brought about was greater than that which was conceded by Gladstone or by the Liberal party during the time when the Liberal party were in power; but it did concede liberty to a part of Ireland, and partitioned a large portion of Ireland from the Mother Country. I do not regard that as a concession of the character to which the right hon. Gentleman refers.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I will put it in this way, that, as far as three-fourths of Ireland is concerned, we have made concessions of a much more liberal character than any that were clamed by Grattan, O'Connell or Parnell. With regard to the other fourth, we did what the majority of the population of that corner of Ireland asked for, that is to say, we gave liberty to them. I am all for a united Ireland, but this is not the road to reach it. On the contrary, if this policy pre- 707 vails, I do not believe that there is the slightest hope of getting anything like unity in Ireland.
What happened throughout the world? That was acclaimed as a fair settlement. I am told, and I see that Mr. De Valera constantly uses the phrase, that we signed the Treaty under the threat of a terrible war. Well, the United States of America approved of it. That was not under a threat of war. When the whole of the Dominions of the Crown approved of it, they were not threatened with a terrible war. France, which was in favour of all the claims of Ireland, approved of this settlement. That was not because they were threatened. We have done everything we could to win the good will of Ireland. And what have we done since the Treaty? Can Mr. De Valera point out one particular in which we have infringed that Treaty? Can he point out any particular in respect of which we have interfered with Ireland? They have carried their own legislation for their own domestic concerns; they have passed a tariff against us; and there never was the slightest protest.
What is the good of going back hundreds of years? Why, the very ground on which I am standing now was at one time the exclusive possession of my race—[Interruption]—and, had it not been for the cruel tyranny of the Saxons, all the speeches here would have been delivered in Welsh. It is no use going back, and certainly not in these times, when things are changing so rapidly. Why, no one here would care to remind right hon. Gentlemen opposite of what some of them thought of their own comrades about 12 months ago. Things have changed. What is the use of going back on these things?
When you come to the Annuities, it is very difficult to find language to characterise that transaction. That is not a loan by this country. Let me ask my hon. and learned Friend what on earth has it to do with the default of four miserable countries in Central Europe which are most anxious to pay but cannot and who come over and say, "Will you grant us a moratorium?" Mr. De Valera is going to collect these annuities. He does not come over to us and say, "You are a rich country and a very lightly taxed country, and we are heavily taxed. We bear the burden of a war." If he had said, 708 "We cannot afford it, we are in a very bad way," we would have examined it. That is not what he is doing. He has said, "I am going to collect every penny piece of these annuities and keep them in my pocket." What has that to do with transactions with regard to War Debts? What is the transaction? To enable the Irish tenants to become the owners of their homes, at the request of the Irish Members, which I heard repeatedly in this House, the Government of the day brought in a Bill to raise a sum of money at a low rate of interest to sell these holdings to the peasants. It was at a very much lower price than any peasant here could buy his land. In order that it might be a low rate of interest, the British Government guaranteed it on the credit of Great Britain and Ireland.
Mr. De Valera says, "We are not going to pay. I am going to collect the money, but I will not pay these holders, it may be in Britain, it may be Ireland, it may be in America." He knows that we will not break faith and that we will pay. He says, "I am not going to pay." I do not believe that the Irish people will subscribe to that libel upon their fundamental integrity. Let him bear in mind the lesson of Australia. Great peoples do not show their love of freedom and their national self-respect by playing the parts of debtors of that kind. I know the difficulties the Government have—gigantic difficulties outside and great difficulties here and in Ireland. I hope, whatever the difficulties, they are not going to allow themselves to be nagged into consenting to a breach of faith or the initiation of a policy in Ireland which will be a source of danger both to this country and to Ireland.
§ Mr. J. P. MORRIS
I regard it as a very great honour to be allowed to follow the right hon. Gentleman. I am pleased to see him restored to his usual good health and in his usual good form. I little thought that, if ever I spoke in this House in a Debate on a question relating to Ireland, I should speak in a condemnatory manner of the conduct of the Irish Free State Government. I am very thankful to be allowed to intervene in this Debate because I am of Irish descent and a Roman Catholic. Being so, it gives me an opportunity of presenting to the House the point of view of many millions of people of Irish birth and 709 descent resident in this country on the Constitution (Removal of Oath) Bill, which passed through all its stages in the Dail but which, fortunately, has been rejected by the Senate. I am putting forward the claim that the people I am speaking for have some justification to have expressed in this House their point of view on the Bill to remove the Oath of Allegiance, with its consequential effects on their status and their relations with the people of this country. I make that claim for a very good reason, which has on its side all the elements of justice. Is it not base ingratitude on the part of Mr. De Valera that no regard whatever has been paid to the harmful consequencies to Irish people in this country of pursuing a policy of cutting adrift from the British Commonwealth of nations and making those people in this country aliens, with all the concomitant disadvantages attached thereto? Has Mr. De Valera forgotten that the forebears of people of Irish descent living in this country loyally supported Ireland for a period of many years, that they regularly remitted to their relations and families in Ireland millions upon millions of pounds for the aleviation of distress and the improvement of the standard of life of the Irish people?
Let me remind Mr. De Valera that these people have just as much regard for the welfare and future prosperity of Ireland as he has and, from that point of view, they are just as good, if not better Irishman than he is, and that they might very probably disagree profoundly with the attempt now being made to estrange the people of this country and the people of the Irish Free State. Every person of Irish sympathies with whom I have discussed this question looks forward with a great deal of apprehension to the future of the Irish agricultural industry once that industry is deprived of its principal market which is in this country. Distress prevails now in Ireland. The fanners have never received such low prices for their produce, yet this is the time when Mr. De Valera decides to introduce legislation which will make the position of Irish industry worse that it is.
The President of the Irish Free State cannot justify his claim to have received a mandate from the Irish people for the removal of the Oath of Allegiance. In the Manifesto of the Fianna Fail party 710 issued before the General Election in Ireland it was stated that the Oath was not mandatory and that it was not needed by the Treaty. These words used in connection with the oath appeared in the Manifesto:We pledge ourselves that if elected in a majority we shall not, in the field of international relations, exceed the mandate here asked for without again consulting the people of Ireland.Everybody who has closely followed the trend of events in Ireland knows that what was put up to the Irish people in effect was this. Give the Fianna Fail a chance; the Cosgrave Government have been in power for ten years and have not fulfilled their promises. It was not put to the Irish people that, if time proved the unwisdom of the De Valera policy, they could not go back upon it. There never will be any hope of the Free Stats Government again rejoining the Commonwealth of British Nations if now they decide to retire from it. I wonder if hon. Members of the Committee really know what responsible statesmen in Ireland think of this Bill? During the Second Reading of the Bill in the Dail, in a Debate which lasted three days, there were 18 speeches in favour of the Bill and 36 speeches against the Bill. I was agreeably surprised in reading those speeches to observe the tone, standard and temper of the speeches delivered by the supporters of the Cosgrave Government. The division of those speeches in my opinion does not prove that Mr. De Valera has such a great mandate for this Bill. I will repeat what Mr. Cosgrave said in the debate upon the Bill:It appears to me to be one of the greatest pieces of political chicanery in history.He further stated:The Treaty which was signed can only be altered by mutual agreement between the two parties.Again he stated:The Treaty which was signed contained a number of Clauses and one of these is as sacred, as solemn and as binding as another. Destroy one of them and all go.In referring to the advantages which Ireland and the Irish people have received as a result of their association with this country during the last ten years he said:At no time in the world's history was there such a combination of States equally independent, equally free, equally entitled 711 to exercise their sovereign rights as independent States as you have in the Commonwealth of British Nations.Mr. Blythe, in the same debate, said:The policy of going out of the Commonwealth is directly contrary to the national interests of the Irish people. The position Ireland enjoys in that Commonwealth gives security and status. If Ireland becomes a republic her status and respect in the world will decrease rather than increase. Whatever hopes there may be of some day there being a united Ireland, the setting up of a republic would mean that tine partition of the country would be permanent.1.30 p.m.
Mr. De Valera, speaking in August, 1927, referred to the Oath as an empty formula. Now he says that it is an oath of such importance that there will be no peace in Ireland until it is removed. Was he right in 1927, or in 1932? He cannot be right in both cases. How is he going to secure peace? Will the Sein Fein led by Miss MacSwiney remain peaceful? Will the Irish Republican Army remain peaceful? Of course not. The leaders of those two organisations have publicly stated that they will not be satisfied with anything less than a complete break with Great Britain. These people wanted Mr. De Valera and they got him elected as leader of the Irish Government. They are the people against whom the Constitution Amendment Act was passed and they are the people against whom the Bishops' Pastoral was directed. Why are they quiet now? Because they know perfectly well that the promises made by Mr. De Valera will never be fulfilled. They are satisfied that during his reign they can organise and prepare themselves for the time when the disillusionment will come. Then there will be a reaction in their favour, and that will be the time for them to strike and to set up an Irish Republic. If that day ever dawns, if that ever happens, Ireland will go to moral ruin and to economic disaster.
What then will become of the benefits which Ireland has derived during the past ten years? For ten years there has been great progress in Ireland. There have been ten years of peace. Irish resources have been built up to an enormous extent. As far as the Irish people are concerned, they have been brought further along the road of real freedom from the position of 1922 by the sanity and wise 712 judgment of the Cosgrave Government. All these things have been accomplished with the goodwill of the people with whom the Irish representatives negotiated. They have been done with the respect and goodwill of every member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I ask the people and the statesmen of Ireland, "Are all these benefits to be lost through the action of a party which has not received a mandate for the removal of the Oath or the abrogation of the Treaty?" I would ask them to remind themselves that before the Treaty Ireland could not claim to be able to fulfil the requirements of sovereignty. President De Valera himself has said so. Speaking in the Mansion House in 1921, he said that the United States of America or any other country would refuse to give international recognition to Ireland. I would ask Mr. De Valera this question Does he want to revert to that status which was existent before the Treaty?
I ask the people of Ireland whether they fully realise the consequences of breaking with this country. Are they aware that there are thousands of families in the North West, the West and the South of Ireland who rely entirely upon the earnings of Irish harvest-men who visit this country year after year? If this Bill becomes law, not only will passports be necessary, entailing expense and annoyance, but they will have to get licences to allow themselves as aliens to visit the different parts of this country. The result will be that, owing to the trouble, expense and uncertainty and the poor welcome, these people will desist from coming to this country, and all the families who are dependent upon their earnings will be reduced not merely to poverty but to absolute starvation. What is going to happen to the Irish tourist traffic if this Bill becomes law? Is it not feasible that fear and apprehension will be uppermost in the minds of the people of this country who would ordinarily visit Ireland? Is that traffic of such small importance that it can be lightly ignored? For the class of people on whose behalf I am speaking I would remind their kith and kin in Ireland of the words used by Michael Collins in the debate in the Dail on the Treaty. He said:I put my name to that Treaty not because of any threat of immediate and terrible war and not because of any duress, 713 but because it was a good Treaty and that it gave freedom to Ireland, which will enable her to restore her ancient culture and to revive her language.The dying words of Arthur Griffiths were these:Hold fast to the Treaty. It is Ireland's need and economic salvation.Those men were two of the greatest Irishmen, who ever lived. They signed that Treaty and pledged the Irish people to its observance and maintenance. They never imagined or contemplated that Ireland would repudiate their signatures to that document. I appeal to the Irish people from the British House of Commons, on behalf of the Irish people in this country. If they retain one iota of gratitude or respect for the names of those two great men, who died fighting for their country, then for God's sake let them rise in their wrath, honour their memories and refuse to accept a Bill which can do nothing but sully the fair name of Ireland.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
I feel some apology is needed from a back bencher who has no particular connection with Ireland for intervening in this Debate. My only excuse for intervening is that I had an oppotunity of spending some days in Ireland just after their election and I was able to visit a part of Ireland which contributed very materially to the victory of Fianna Fail. Also, I had the interesting experience of a long interview with Mr. De Valera. May I say a few words about the result of the general election in the Irish Free State, because Mr. De Valera in nearly every statement he has made has justified his attitude by reference to the result of the polls? For instance, in his statement on the 22nd March he said:Beside this legal and constitutional consideration there is another and paramount consideration more than sufficient in itself to make the Minister's decision final and irrevocable. The people have declared their will, without ambiguity.It is always rather difficult to analyse the behaviour and motives of any electorate. We have heard in this House any number of explanations why our own electorate behaved as they did last October. It is still more difficult when we have to try to gauge the motives which inspired the action of the Irish electorate. My view, based on only a very small experience, so far as I was 714 able to observe, is that Mr. De Valera, like some other political leaders, is under a misapprehension as to the real reason why he was returned to office. I do not say that there is not a very considerable section of opinion in Ireland which is deeply concerned over this question. It is obvious that there are a considerable number of extremists, who think on this question of the Oath, who probably regard it as a question of the greatest moment in Irish politics. But that feeling has existed for ten years, and it is very difficult to see why the feeling in regard to the Oath should be stronger in 1932 than it was ten years ago, in 1922. One would think there would be very much less reason for feeling on the subject, after ten years of of comparative peace.
There were three principal reasons for the victory of Mr. De Valera's party in the recent election. The first and most obvious one was the normal desire for a change after ten years of one Government being in office. Secondly there was the impression, which certainly got about in the Western district of Ireland, that not only would the land annuities not be paid to the British Government, but that they would not be paid at all, and that those from whom they would be due would be able to put the money into their own pockets. The third feature was that Ireland was affected by that economic nationalism which has been fashionable in other countries and is certainly not confined to the Irish Free State. In Mayo, the constituency for which Mr. De Valera sits, I spent some time examining as far as I could the evidences of the recent election, and I saw some of the posters on the walls. There was one poster which was seen frequently on the walls and hoardings of County Mayo. It was strangely familiar to anyone coming from this country. It showed a ship coming into harbour and foreign goods being dumped off the ship while the unemployed were standing by in various attitudes of depression. Underneath were the words "End all this", and "It will end when De Valera is in power". With a slight alteration it was a poster which might have been issued by the Unionist Central Office in London.
It may be argued that the electorate were quite as much concerned with the question of high tariffs and the issue of 715 economic nationalism as with political nationalism and the question of the Oath. It is open to doubt whether the question of the Oath played as large a part in the minds of the Irish electorate as the other questions. The point I want to emphasise is simply this, that De Valera, with all these aids to popularity was not able to secure a majority in the Dail, and was only able to retain office through the support of the Irish Labour Party, which is not itself very interested in the Oath and supports him on that question in order to get favours in respect of its own policy in other directions. Therefore, I think it is open to doubt whether at the election or since Mr. De Valera ever had the support of a majority of the people of the Free State on the question of the abolition of the Oath. I want to suggest that it would be a very easy matter for us to give him that majority. There are two ways in which this might be done. In the first place, it might be done if it was suggested that there was any substantial cleavage of opinion in this House with regard to the observation of the Treaty, if it were suggested that any large section of opinion in this House had any sympathy with the attitude taken by Mr. De Valera. That would clearly strengthen his hands in his own country.
In the second place, it might be done by inflammatory and ill-judged speeches in this House, which would drive a large section of hitherto moderate Irish opinion into the arms of the extremists of Fianna Fail. The bulk of the Irish people are perfectly friendly towards this country, or at any rate wish to be friendly. The difference between the attitude of the Irish Free State towards Great Britain and the attitude of other Dominions is that they regard us as friends rather than as relations. There does not exist the sense of kinship towards this country which exists in the other Dominions. That is easy to understand. The Dominions have not centuries of grievances to remember; and after all we are foreigners in the Irish Free State because of racial differences and differences in history. Therefore, it would be very easy for ill-judged and inflammatory speeches in this House to drive a large section of the Irish people into the arms of Mr. De Valera, and I hope that the extremists in this House, on both sides, will not play 716 into the hands of the extremists in the Irish Free State.
I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that in his recent conversations with Mr. De Valera he had expressed his willingness to submit the question of land annuities to arbitration under an Empire tribunal as laid down by the Imperial Conference of 1930. Mr. De Valera we are told expressed the view that he did not like the Tribunal contemplated by the last Imperial Conference of five members drawn entirely from the Empire, because he claimed that the dice would be loaded against him. I know that is his view, because I had an interview with him in his office in Dublin after Easter, and when I asked him whether he would be prepared to accept the arbitration of such a tribunal he said "our experience is that such a tribunal is not very acceptable." He thought that the dice would be loaded against him, and was a little suspicious of any tribunal of that kind. What is the constitution of such a tribunal? As I understand it Mr. De Valera and the Free State Government would be entitled to select one member of the tribunal from any part of the British Empire except Great Britain and the Irish Free State. Then they are also entitled to select another member from any part of the Empire, that is to say, they could select one of their own people. This country is also entitled to select two members in that way, and then the four delegates thus chosen have to try and agree upon a chairman who shall preside and have the casting vote. Mr. De Valera, therefore, would be in the position of being able to select two members out of the five, whilst his two representatives would be able to make their wishes felt in the matter of the choice of chairman.
It has strengthened the position of the British Government in the eyes of the public and of the world that we have offered arbitration on this point. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) said that it was unfortunate that there was no permanent tribunal in being to which we could immediately refer the question. I am inclined to agree with him, but it seems that it is possible for either Government to put this machinery into motion at once. The machinery is there, and it is open for the Government of either party to a dispute 717 to appoint its two representatives on the tribunal. Surely, it is open to any Government which wants a dispute settled by such a tribunal to appoint its own two members and to leave to the other side the onus of refusing to come into that tribunal, or to submit to the arbitration. Another point raised by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol was the question of the Oath and arbitration. I should like to know whether this question is open for consideration by the Commonwealth Tribunal, because Mr. De Valera has never gone so far as to say that he is going to repudiate a binding agreement. That may be in his mind, but he has never gone quite so far as to say that outright. He has always endeavoured to take something in the nature of a legal point. In his first communication he started off by saying that the Oath was not mandatory by the terms of the Treaty. According to a note which I took when I saw him last Easter he said this:Our view is that the Oath is not mandatory by the terms of the Treaty. Do you really wish us to believe that Lord Birkenhead was so poor a draftsman that he could not use the proper words to make the Oath mandatory if it was really intended to be so. I have no doubt that political consideration suggested the ambiguous terms used. That from the Irish point of view it was not regarded as mandatory is clear from the fact that the three drafts of the constitution prepared for the provisional Government by three separate committees including lawyers who now occupy the highest judicial positions in the State, contained on Oath clause. Neither was there an Oath Clause in the Constitution finally presented to the British Cabinet by the provisional Government, Remember that it is not the Treaty but a Clause in our Constitution which makes the Oath obligatory for Members taking their seats in Parliament. We propose to remove that Clause from the Constitution. We have an undoubted right to do so.I am not going to discuss the point raised there. The statement merely shows that Mr. De Valera is not willing to go so far as to say outright that he is going to repudiate a binding agreement. So far he seems to me to have taken two points: first, that the Oath is not mandatory to the Treaty, and, secondly, that the Treaty is now no longer binding on the Free State, and that by unilateral action in the Dail they are entitled to repeal parts of the Treaty, just as they are entitled to repeal parts of their own Constitution. Those are the two points which Mr. De 718 Valera has taken with regard to the Oath. He has his remedy open to him, and this is where I differ perhaps slightly from the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol, because, although I agree with him that the matter of the Oath, like the land annuities, is a matter which might very well be dealt with by a Commonwealth Tribunal or by a board of arbitration, surely it is for Mr. De Valera to take the first step in these proceedings.
The question of the land annuities appears to me to be different. If the annuities are not paid it would be for this country to take the first step, to take such proceedings before this Tribunal if the Free State are agreeable, or to show ourselves ready to summon this Tribunal in order to claim what we thought was due to us. On that question of the Oath you have the Government of the Free State definitely trying to upset an arrangement that has been observed for the last ten years, that is to say, ever since the Treaty. The onus does not rest upon the British Government, but it rests upon Mr. De Valera to take the initiative in summoning a Commonwealth Tribunal, or, if he objects to that, to propose some other form of arbitration to deal with this matter.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Surely the position is that Mr. De Valera is being accused of a breach of agreement. Therefore the plaintiff in the action would be the person who says there is a breach, and not the person who says there is not a breach.
§ Mr. FOOT
If we take this document, the so-called treaty or agreement, a. certain construction has been placed on it for the last ten years, and now Mr. De Valera comes along and says that he wants to place an entirely different construction on it. Surely it is for Mr. De Valera to take out the originating summons in order to determine what the construction is. That is a point that I put for the consideration of this Committee. I am not suggesting for a moment that our Government, the National Government, should be the first to propose arbitration proceedings on the Oath. I think it is for Mr. De Valera to move. It would be a good thing if it could be made clear by the Government or by anyone speaking with authority, that this remedy, of taking the matter before a 719 Commonweath Tribunal, is open to Mr. De Valera, always has been open to him, and that he has not chosen to avail himself of it.
§ 2.0 p.m.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman heard my speech. It is important to keep in mind, when Members speak in this House, that their words will be quoted somewhere else. If the hon. Member did not hear my speech there is a justification for his putting the point. If he did hear my speech he will know that I made it perfectly clear that I myself asked Mr. De Valera "What is your position with regard to the Oath?" and he replied, "It is not your business; it is my business." That was a week ago. In has dispatch this morning he confirms that by making no reference to the Oath. Do not get into a quandary by talking about a Tribunal, because Mr. De Valera's contention is that that is his business and his business alone. Do not get mixed on the point.
§ Mr. FOOT
I heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and I do not think that I am confusing the issue at all. All I was saying was that it was open, that there was a remedy or a procedure which was open to Mr. De Valera, and that he has not chosen to avail himself of it. What I want to put to the Dominions Secretary and the Committee is that if that point were plainly understood he could only strengthen the case of the British Government in dealing with this question and weaken the position of Mr. De Valera in the eyes of the world and of his own Irish electors. Those few considerations I wish to put before this Committee. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) reminded the Committee of the very big issues which underlie this dispute. May I say to the Dominions Secretary that I for one, having heard his statement today, feel that this dispute may yet resolve itself, if on our side the negotiations are conducted with the firmness and the reason that have so far been shown.
§ Mr. HEALY
In the discussion this afternoon hon. Members have talked about the Free State and breaking the Oath, but we have not heard any hon. Member raise the question whether Great 720 Britain had kept the Treaty or not. Article 12 of the Treaty dealt with the position of the six counties and Northern Ireland declaring itself outside the Free State. A Boundary Commission was set up, consisting of two anti-Free State gentlemen, and one pro-Free State member. As most people in Ireland anticipated, the Boundary Commission found against the claim of the Free State and against the claim of the people. Article 12 presupposed that the wishes of the inhabitants were to be ascertained, as to whether they should live on the one side or the other of the artificial boundary laid down by the 1920 Act. But when the Tribunal proceeded to a decision, instead of ascertaining the wishes of the people, they ignored the wishes of the people and merely ascertained the wishes of the Boundary Commission. Therefore, right at the beginning this country broke the Treaty that was signed in 1921. You have no right to put into a treaty words which are meant to deceive and if Arthur Griffiths or Michael Collins had thought that the words "the wishes of the people" meant something different from what they appeared to mean, they would never have put their hands to that document or else the Irish people would never have elected them. During the Election which followed the Treaty, the Irish signatories to that document addressed many meetings and one of the pleas made for their return was that the last ounce should be got out of Article 12.
It was, therefore, a profound disappointment to the people of Ireland when the solemn promise in Article 12 was thrown to the winds. I remember, about that time, reading a significant letter from the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who addressed the Committee this afternoon. If I may say so I never heard a more hypocritical utterance than his speech of this afternoon, taken in conjunction with that letter written by him in 1921. The right hon. Gentleman did not anticipate then that the Irish people would be prevailed upon to accept the partition of Ireland nor did he anticipate that this country would enforce such an unnatural division. I ask hon. Members to contrast the statement in this letter with the story 721 which the right hon. Gentleman told at that Box this afternoon. The letter was written to Sir James Craig, as he then was, on 14th November, 1921, and contains the following:Your proposals would stereotype a frontier based neither upon natural features nor broad geographical considerations, by giving it the character of an international boundary. Partition upon those lines the majority of the Irish people will never accept nor could we conscientiously attempt to enforce it.Having made that declaration in 1921, the right hon. Gentleman this evening makes the extraordinary plea to which we listened a short time ago. As I say, the Irish people were profoundly disappointed that the only settlement of their case should have been the division of their country, because in all the days of the Irish struggle, from O'Connell down to Redmond, no statesman and no representative of Ireland ever agreed to the mutilation of the country as a settlement. of the question. It is perfectly true to say that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs issued the threat that has been published since then, namely that it was a question, on the night of the 20th November, 1921, of the Irish delegates signing the Treaty or a reversion to terrible war. I put it to the Committee that it was not a free Treaty if it is to be called a Treaty at all. It was not an agreement entered into voluntarily but one which had behind it the force of a threat of immediate and terrible war.
§ Mr. HEALY
But you were the people who fomented trouble between Irishmen. If you had cleared out of Ireland and allowed the Irish people to settle the question themselves this present trouble could never have arisen. Ulster, in Ireland, represents 24 per cent, of the population, but Ulster has self-determination in so far as the establishment of a separate Parliament is concerned. The Nationalists in Northern Ireland represent 33 per cent, of the population of Northern Ireland, a much larger proportion than the Ulstermen bear in relation to the whole of Ireland, and yet to-day, the very safeguards which were in the Treaty for the protection of minorities in Northern Ireland have been washed away. Proportional Representation was 722 originally introduced for the protection of minorities in Southern Ireland and it is still retained in the Irish Free State but at the very first opportunity the Northern administration abolished Proportional Representation in order that they might control, not only Parliament but every single county council, district council and local public body.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
I mu3t point out that the administration of Northern Ireland is not under the Dominions office.
§ Mr. HEALY
I am merely discussing the Treaty and the consequences of the Treaty and I hope I shall not stray over the line which you, Captain Bourne, have laid down. I was pointing out that in the Treaty certain safeguards were given to minorities in both Northern and Southern Ireland and that the Free State have religiously observed their obligation in regard to the eight per cent, minority in Southern Ireland but the Northern Government have intolerantly cast aside that safeguard as far as the 33⅓ per cent, minority of Northern Nationalists is concerned. I ask the Members of the Committee to contrast those two positions. The Secretary of State for the Dominions stated in his correspondence with Mr. De Valera that there was provided in the Treaty something that might have resulted in the unity of Ireland. I think that is a most sinister suggestion in view of what took place. When Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland were set up under the 1920 Act an Imperial contribution of £7,000,000 odd was fixed for Northern Ireland. During the discussions on the Treaty that was a factor in arriving at the decision which was eventually reached. If Northern Ireland had been compelled to pay the just debt that she contracted under the 1930 Act there would probably be a united Ireland now, but, so far from wishing the unity of Ireland, the Imperial Government have been from that hour to this subsidising partition. Last year, instead of paying an Imperial contribution, Northern Ireland received a contribution from this country. I hold that in practice that is a second breach of the Treaty by the Imperial Government. There is no incentive for Northern Ireland to come into a united Parliament—
§ Mr. HEALY
—so long as this House subsidises partition. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) recently stated that he would not consider for a moment the application of financial pressure to Northern Ireland to compel her to go into the Free State. But is not that what the 1920 Act established, and whether the hon. Member for North Salford (Mr. J. P. Morris) and the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot) know it or not, the issue of the Oath was clearly and specifically put before the electors of the Irish Free State last year. There is no use burking the implication. The people of the Free State believe that they have as good a right to determine what their own domestic policy should be as you have. There can be no equality if this attitude of Great Britain to the Irish Free State remains. Either the Irish Free State is free to deal with domestic matters or it is not. The Oath is a purely domestic question. The Governor-General is a link between the Free State and this country, and, therefore, it does not matter to this country whether the Oath is abolished or not. In this connection I would draw attention to what is a rather remarkable point. The words of the Oath to be taken by Members of the Irish Free State Parliament are materially different from those in the constitutions of Canada, Australia and South Africa. Why was there that difference? I suggest it was because the signatories to that Treaty said to the British delegates that it would be a difficult matter to get the Irish people to accept an Oath at all, and the Oath therefore was modified.
Members here discuss the question of Ireland's connection with Great Britain as if Ireland were a colony. You have Colonies in Canada, South Africa and Australia, peopled from this country, but Ireland is a nation, as old a nation as this country, indeed, older. Therefore, you must not think of the relations with Ireland as you think of some of your Colonies. Undoubtedly, from 1921 to 1932 there has been a large body of opinion in Ireland which refused to come into the Dail because of this Oath, and you cannot forget that there has been a very terrible civil war. Probably the hon. Member who said there had been peace, is not in as close touch with Ireland as many people who live there. At all 724 events, on this question of the Oath a civil war has been carried on for several years, and you have no right to consign the people of the Irish Free State to a condition of warfare of that kind. It has cost you nothing to keep the peace; it has cost the Irish Free State a tremendous amount. It has provoked in Ireland one of the most serious civil wars that one can conceive. The people of the Free State have specifically told you that they want the Oath removed and they have a right—
§ Mr. J. P. MORRIS
; On a point of Order. May I recall to the hon. Member that the people of Ireland have not stated—
§ Mr. MORRIS
The people of Ireland have done nothing of the kind. Mr. De Valera has no mandate from the people of Ireland for the removal of the Oath. May I call the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that if you deducted the strength of the Labour party from the Fianna Fail, that party would be in a minority of 200,000 votes?
§ Mr. HEALY
The Labour party are just as much in favour of removing the Oath as the Fianna Fail party. The hon. Member has no right to assume that because people vote for a Labour candidate they are any less desirous of peace in Ireland than the Cumann party, and I am perfectly satisfied, living as I do in Ireland, and moving a good deal about the Free State, that if an election were held to-morrow on the question of the Oath, Mr. De Valera's majority would be vastly increased. It is all very well for hon. Members of this House who go across to Ireland on Cook's tourist trips and interview some Members of the Government and write an article in some newspaper, to dogmatise on this question. Irish people have given their verdict, and you have either to accept it or reject it. This is not the first time that the diehard influences have precipitated trouble in Ireland. Gladstone appealed in this House for Home Rule for Ireland. John Redmond made a similar appeal. The diehards frustrated everyone of those 725 efforts. It would have been far more profitable to this country to have adopted the suggestions of John Redmond than to plough the sands and precipitate civil war at a tremendous cost.
If you take the extraordinary course of driving Ireland out of the British Empire, will you have solved your problem then? Ireland will still remain where she is. You do not buy our butter, eggs and bacon because of our beautiful blue eyes; you buy them because they are good value. A whole system has grown up in this country of transit—railways and harbours—in order to deal with the traffic from Ireland. What is going to happen to the harbours and railways engaged in that commerce? What is going to happen to the people you employ on those railways and at those ports? It is true, as some hon. Member suggested, that you may get your bacon and butter from Denmark instead, but you will find that you will have to pay more because they have alternative markets, and Ireland has only one market. Ireland is the only country with which you have a favourable balance of trade. Are you prepared to wipe that out? None of your Dominions treats you with anything like the generosity that the Irish people do, and if you take the extraordinary course suggested by the Colonial Secretary, it may be your loss and not the loss of the Irish people. If the right hon. Gentleman has nothing more constructive to offer than that, it is a very poor solution of the present difficulty.
I would like to say, in conclusion, that the Irish people desire to be friendly with the people of this country, and I think the best people in this country have probably a like desire in relation to the Irish people. Surely there should be some means of arriving at a peaceful solution of the difficulty that has presented itself other than the delivering of ultimata that can only upset the ordinary trade relations between the two countries, which, once upset, will probably never be restored in our day.
§ Sir REGINALD BANKS
I beg to unite myself with other Members of this House in offering my humble but sincere congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs for his conduct of this difficult and important case, not only in this House this morning, but throughout the patient 726 and prolonged negotiations which have been its preliminary. In some quarters, no doubt, he will be criticised as having been weak, and other people will blame him for excessive optimism, but I think you can infer that that probably means that he has been wise and judicious. After listening to his presentation of the case this morning, I say without hesitation—and I am sure I have the agreement of the Committee—that he has been wise and judicious.
I pay this modest tribute as one who is avowedly inclined to a Tory point of view. When I hear that "avenues are being explored", I become uneasy; the word "gesture" causes me acute uneasiness; the knowledge that "free and frank discussions are proceeding" sends up my temperature, and when I hear the ominous word "safeguards", I prepare to take to my bed. But it is, of course, clear that this Debate turns upon a very much more important subject than any question of annuities or any point of Parliamentary procedure in the Irish Parliament. What we do in this matter will have repercussions and effects all over the world, and, as a friend of mine who has studied with great care and experience the course of events in India, said to me a few days ago, "The concessions you give to Ireland to-day may well be demanded by India to-morrow". Circumstances of that sort ought to be taken into consideration, and, therefore, in criticising the right hon. Gentleman's conduct, having in view the immense importance of this controversy, who can blame him for pushing patience to its extreme limit and for the courage and clearness with which he has stated the point of view of His Majesty's Government?
It seems to me that there is one peculiar feature of this case to which attention has not been drawn. If Mr. De Valera and his friends said to us, "We are going to be aliens", we might perhaps reply, "Very well, if you want to be aliens, you must be. Take the consequences; separate yourselves from us "; and perhaps there may be persons cynical enough to think that we should live an easier life thereafter. But we cannot disavow our paternity to Mr. De Valera and his friends without bastardising a great many sons and daughters of our own, both in Ireland and in this country, who have always been dutiful and affectionate children. Numerically they may be small, 727 but culturally, socially, and economically they are of great value indeed in every department of the State, in every department of our life, and perhaps already, not without cause, in view of their great loyalty and the sacrifices they have made for certain ideals that they have, we have been rather inclined to be "a stepmother to our own". That consideration alone amply justifies the Government for all the reasonableness, patience, and forbearance they have shown in this matter.
There are two issues here, as has been said already. One is in the nature of a legal dispute, and that is the question of the annuities. It is the kind of issue that might well be argued in law. It involves the reading of orders, documents, provisions of treaties, and many other legal matters before one can really arrive at the equity of the position. I think, personally, that our case is quite unanswerable. Nevertheless, it is a complex issue, and it is essential that the Empire at large should understand it, and the Empire at large might very well fail to understand it if it was left just where it is. On those grounds, I should be very ready indeed to support the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that this dispute should be submitted to the arbitrament of an Imperial tribunal, where the full facts of the case can be argued and where, I have no doubt whatever, the justice of our case would prevail. But it is essential, surely, that since this is a matter which concerns the Empire, if there is to be a trial at all, it should be a trial by a jury of our peers; and any other alternative tribunal is merely a subterfuge for refusing arbitration.
Now there is the other question, the question of the Oath of Allegiance, which is on an entirely different footing. No tribunals are concerned in this matter. If Mr. De Valera had offered to submit that question to a tribunal, which he has not done, and which he has refused to do, specifically and categorically, right down to this morning, I should say that that is a matter not susceptible of argument. It is no case for a tribunal at all, and it is absolutely not to be compromised with in any circumstances whatever. It is fundamental to the continued existence of this great Commonwealth of nations.
728 On the minor question of the annuities, taking Mr. De Valera's letter of the 5th April, in the White Paper, this is a document which, for impertinence and inaccuracy, beats all other documents that I have ever read in my life, not excepting pleadings in the divorce court. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to tell his Government what is theformal and explicit undertaking to continue to pay the Land Annuities to the National Debt Commissioners,and the right hon. Gentleman very properly replied in his letter, pointing out, as has been pointed out before, that theseannuities are collected by the Irish Free State Government from the tenant-purchasers and are distributed through the National Debt Commissioners to the holders of the Stock.And the right hon. Gentleman referred Mr. De Valera to the financial agreement of the 19th February, 1923, and further to the ultimate financial agreement of March, 1926. Far be it from me to say that I could improve on the right hon. Gentleman's statement of his case, but I think, in fact, he might really almost have gone further. There are other foundations upon which this claim reposes, and though I should not have the presumption to differ from him, still, it seems to me that, looking at it from a strictly legal point of view, some of the other foundations may be even more solid and secure. There is, of course, Article 4 of the Provisional Order made by the Provisional Government in 1922; there is Article 79 in the Constitution of Ireland as scheduled to the Free State Constitution Act, 1932; and further, and most important of all, there is Section 12 of the Irish Land Act, 1923, passed by the Irish Parliament, under the provisions of which, ever since that time, these moneys have been collected and have been disbursed in payment of interest and sinking fund on this debt: and they are not capable of being applied to any other purpose. They are not capable of being applied to any other purpose. I merely observe that these other arguments might well have been treated in defence of our case, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me that they are sound.
Accusations are made from all sorts of quarters that the conduct of this country towards Ireland in the past has been 729 cruel and treacherous. It is well indeed that the right hon. Gentleman takes the point that to-day, in June 1932, to reopen that volume so blotted with blood and tears is a capital mistake. We are not to go into the past, but I think that I may say this in defence of our country, that the history of Irish land purchase is no discreditable chapter. I remember well the famous Irish Land Purchase Act of 1903, and with what approbation that was greeted, not only by Englishmen but by Irishmen. Under its provisions something like three-quarters of the land of Ireland began to change hands, and much discontent was allayed. My recollection of it was that at or about that time Ireland was getting into that state of "pathetic contentment" which it is apparently the duty of progressive persons to disturb. It is true that if you take the figures for some years before for agrarian outrages, boycotting, and all that kind of thing, the position was as a pyramid reversed, and the figures narrowed to a point until 1903, when there was content. After that there was disturbance, and the figures broadened out again. I pray in aid of my statement the authority of Professor Lecky, one of the most distinguished Irishmen who ever sat in this House. He said, in 1908:It is a simple and outstanding truth that neither in the United States, nor in England, nor in any portion of the continent of Europe, is the agricultural tenant so favoured by law as in Ireland, or anything in the nature of landlord oppression made so impossible.I want to say a few words about the question of the Oath, and even there there is a preliminary point of Law. Mr. De Valera originally took the stand that the Oath was not mandatory in the Treaty. I do not know upon what he could have based that claim, but I seem to have scented suggestions in some of the speeches to-day that because it was in things called Articles of Agreement, and because all that it says is that the Oath to be taken shall be in this form, it should not be construed as having any particular binding force, and that people could take it or not as they choose. After all, what were the Articles of Agreement? I am not going to bandy legal quibbles with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), whose legal capacity and experience are so much greater than my own. 730 I cannot revel upon those high mountain tops of constitutional law as he can. All I have to say is that, as a measurement of his logical capacity, he tells the right hon. Gentleman that, if the right hon. Gentleman does not renew the preferences to Ireland when they expire in November, it is a threat. What would he say in a landlord and tenant case if the tenant said to the landlord, "I absolutely refused to pay the rent of these premises for the last two years; my time expires in November next, will you kindly renew the lease?" I suppose that if the landlord exhibited any unwillingness, he would be regarded as threatening his tenant.
These Articles of Agreement were an outline; they were the foundation upon which the Constitution of Ireland was to be built up. If you take this foundation away, the whole Constitution of Ireland collapses and Mr. De Valera in Ireland is no more than anyone else in Ireland. First, they were sanctioned by Act of Parliament in the Irish Free State Agreement Act of 1922, which set up the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government passed the Irish Constitution Act of 1922, and the Articles of Agreement were there solemnly reaffirmed and made a Schedule to the Act. There you see that there are not only 18 Articles of Agreement as there were originally; they are expanded to 82. That is the Constitution of Ireland. There are those who say, or would have us believe, that we put a sword into Ireland and not peace, that we roused brother against brother, but J would like to remind my Irish friends of the preliminary words of the Constitution Act. The Preamble, published at the beginning of that Act, says:Acknowledging that all lawful authority comes from God to the people, and in the confidence that the national life and unity of Ireland shall thus be respected. …That does not look as if they anticipated the internecine quarrels which some hon. Members say are the fruit of this abominable Constitution, but in that Constitution Article 17 gives the form of both and prescribes that it shall be taken by every member of the Irish Parliament. I pass from that to ask Mr. De Valera if he can really deny that the Oath is mandatory, where he or anybody else in the Irish Parliament would be if matters had 731 stopped with the Articles of Agreement, and, if he is going to select this for his repudiation, why does he not select the other 17 Articles of Agreement and the other 81 Articles which were embodied in the Schedule to the Act of the Irish Free State Constitution? We have heard a good deal about the Statute of Westminster. Again, this is not really a question for lawyers; it is the question of the whole spirit that lies behind this Agreement. I cannot find myself in agreement with the arguments that any other Dominion can do what it likes and still remain in the Commonwealth. The preamble of the Act says:Whereas it is meet and proper to set out by way of preamble to this Act that, inasmuch as the Crown is the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and as they are united by a common allegiance to the Crown. …That shows that allegiance to the Crown is an indispensable preliminary to family life in this great Commonwealth. Those who by sophistry or otherwise endeavour to repudiate it are not being treated as heretics; it is they who are apostates. Quite apart from the peculiar question of international law, how can anybody say that Ireland repudiated these fundamental terms? In the Act of their own Constitution they solemnly set out that the Treaty is part and parcel of the Constitution: If those in Ireland who find that they cannot take the Oath ex animo desire to abolish it legally, I suppose that they are at liberty to do it, but they will still be guilty of the lesser sin of solemnly repudiating the Treaty which they have signed. We say that there is only one link that binds the Empire together, and that is allegiance to the Crown, and there is only one test that we can use to distinguish between members of our family and aliens. That is allegiance to the Crown—impalpable, indistinguishable—I was going to say in the old sense of the word sacramental, for the sacrament was what the old Roman soldier took to the Republic.
When great statesmen meet at Ottawa in all manner of ways, in economics, in politics, in cultural matters, there will be only one thing in which they will be at one, and that is in declaring their loyalty to the Crown. Mr. De Valera, like myself, is a Roman Catholic. Does 732 he think that he can deny the supremacy of the Pope and yet keep within the Catholic Communion? No more can he deny the supremacy of the Crown and keep in communion with the British Empire. Any Minister who compromises with that will be destroying something unique, something much more valuable than the League of Nations, something older and more useful than Parliamentary Government itself. For the League of Nations, for this Parliament of ours, there may be substitutes. A man can get along pretty well with a cork leg and an artificial hand, he can lose his eyes and live—but there is one organ of the body which does one simple function, unseen, almost unnoticed, from birth to death, which cannot be dispensed with. Captain Bourne, you cannot replace the heart.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I have never had the pleasure of hearing the hon. and learned Member for Swindon (Sir R. Banks) speak before, but I understand that he made a great reputation in this House when he addressed it on the subject of the Prayer Book.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I am very sorry the hon. and learned Member did not pursue that course to-day. The hon. and learned Gentleman would have made a very remarkable contribution to the Debate, if the morals of it had been of general application instead of particular application. He has talked about the sacrosanctity of Treaties. Does that apply to all Treaties between this country and Ireland, and all parts of them, or does it only apply to this one? This Treaty was broken long before Mr. De Valera took up the attitude he has taken up in this matter. It was broken when the minority in the North of Ireland were betrayed, without one word of protest either from English Protestants or from English Catholics. I have heard some of these English Catholics deliver very powerful speeches, in which they addressed warm admonitions and advice to the Irish race, but I have never found a single instance where the Treaty was broken as regards the safeguards which were given by previous Acts of Parliament to the Nationalists and Catholics 733 of Northern Ireland as to which any protest came from any part of this House. So I advise the hon. and learned Gentleman, in the course of his future excursions into the moral value of Treaties, to study the relationship that has existed between successive Governments in this country and these minorities.
I am not asked to defend Mr. De Valera, nor do I stand up in his interests. My only association with Mr. De Valera is this, that he once contested my seat in Ireland, and I was one of the few people who have been able to beat him. But I really think there is a good deal of hypocrisy in this discussion today. You have declared through the Statute of Westminster that each part of the Commonwealth of Nations should have perfect freedom to do what it likes, and in the Free State they are merely attempting to do now what the Statute of Westminster allows them to do. If Canada did this or New Zealand or South Africa, or even if we in this country declared that we would not take the Oath, then the Oath would not be taken. It would be far better to say, as you ought to say, that you have given them freedom to do what they like, and that if the Irish Free State are no part of the Commonwealth of Nations it would be better for them to go out. With regard to the annuities I would like to say this. I myself would have taken up a different attitude on that question from that adopted by Mr. De Valera. I would have said, "You allow the Government of Northern Ireland to retain the annuities, and compel Southern Ireland to hand over the annuities to this country."
§ Mr. DEVLIN
It does not, and I will prove that in a minute. According to the Act of 1920 Northern Ireland took upon its shoulders the responsibility of paying £7,500,000 a year. They have not paid £7,500,000 a year, they have not paid anything within the past few years. They are very loyal, I will tell you what form their loyalty takes. I remember the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) once daring to visit Belfast. He remembers that incident too. I helped to organise the bodyguard to protect him, but in the pursuit of that high purpose I 734 was too feeble, and they requisitioned the forces of the Crown, and he was protected through the streets against those who are now the custodians of the interests of Northern Ireland and its Government. Subsequently these people took a different view of the right hon. Gentleman and invited him over to Northern Ireland, and I had the honour of voting £300 out of the hospitality fund for his reception. But what did they do? Mr. De Valera has been denounced as an idealist. There is no idealism in Northern Ireland. After receiving and hospitably entertaining the right hon. Gentleman in Belfast they reduced the contribution of Northern Ireland by £1,000,000. That was so splendidly successful that they said "We did well out ox Winston, we will next invite Stanley Baldwin." So they invited the Prime Minister over, and he was royally entertained too. I may differ from him in politics, and I may be opposed to his. Government, but I believe in Irish hospitality. So I voted a sum out of the hospitality fund for the reception of the right hon. Gentleman. A few months afterwards they reduced the contribution by another £1,000,000. Shortly afterwards they invited, over the late Sir William Joynson-Hicks, as he then was; but they got nothing out of him.
Now, I should not be surprised if there is not shortly an invitation to the light hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). If I were to go over a list of the persona most detested in Northern Ireland at one time there would be among them the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and the right hon. Member for Epping, who on one occasion thought he was going to put a grave issue to the test by bringing in the Naval forces of the Crown to suppress Northern Ireland. Those men were hated in Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland made up their minds to relieve themselves: of the £7,000,000 which they were compelled to pay under the Act of 1920, and the result is that they are not paying anything at all under any contribution, to the upkeep of the Empire.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I am. I live in the north, and I have not be in Dublin for a number of years. I live in Belfast. I 735 work with the people in Belfast, and I am associated with their fortunes. I am as devoted to Ulster as any man in Ulster, and it is not for a London barrister who finds it much easier and more comfortable to be living in London and occupying a seat in the House for Northern Ireland, to criticise a person like myself who lives for the people, is fighting for the people, who voted for the people and does not leave the people. Therefore, I say that I would not have taken up the attitude that has been adopted, but I would have said: "You came to a bargain by which Northern Ireland was to pay £7,000,000, and you have forgiven Northern Ireland. Therefore, we are entitled to ask that you will not ask us to pay the £3,000,000 or £3,500,000 which constitute the annuities from Southern Ireland." That would have settled the matter without any arbitration at all.
I come to the next question about the application of this Treaty. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs made a very able speech to-day, as he always does. I saw that the House rejoiced to see him here, and I join in that. He gave us a characteristically magnificent description of Mr. De Valera. He told us that Mr. De Valera was a unique figure. The right hon. Gentleman if I may say so, is a unique figure himself. He said you could not find another De Valera anywhere; neither can you find another Lloyd George anywhere. That was why we all rejoiced to see him here. I think he rather overstepped the mark when he told us to-day that these treaties were so sacred that they ought to be observed. I think the right hon. Gentleman was the chief architect of the Treaty of Versailles, and I think now that he would like to see that Treaty revised. I believe also that in regard to Reparations and Debts he would like to see the whole question differently decided.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
The difference is in the method of approach. It is a matter of the way you go about it. I believe that, fundamentally, the morality of the thing is the same. Mr. de Valera does not want to pay, and he says that the easiest 736 way not to pay is to not pay. A number of other people in Europe do not want to pay, and they will not say, "We will not pay." The wise men of Europe will sit down and gather around a table, and will try to trick and to dodge each other. They have been tricking and dodging each other for the last 10 years, and they will settle it some way and somehow. It is only a question of a different method, and there is not so much in this question of annuities as has been represented by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said something to-day about the treatment of minorities. I do not think that he is a Member of the Indian Commission, at any rate the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the House is a Member and the Dominions Secretary is also a member of it. They are drafting a Constitution for India. One of the reasons I understand, and as I have gathered from the controversies that have taken place in regard to it, why independence is not given to India is because of the position of the Moslems in India. They are drafting a Constitution with a Clause dealing with minorities in it. They are giving particular representation to the Moslems in the Government of India.
I do not want it to be thought that i am constantly introducing King Charles' head, but what have we in Northern Ireland? I am the representative of those people. I did not come into the fight for the self-government of my country in order to get the setting up of a Free State in Southern Ireland. Nothing of the sort. I would not give as moment to that. I came into it to secure the only genuine solution of the question, which is a government for all Ireland and for all the people of Ireland. I am prepared to discuss before any impartial tribunal in the world that if you had conceded to Ireland a government of herself by herself upon the lines laid down by Mr. Gladstone in 1886, you would not only have done much to avoid the hatreds, the rivalries, and controversies that have existed between this country and Ireland for the last 40 years, but you would probably have saved the world the ruin and chaos that has resulted from the conflict in Europe. I shall always be of the opinion that we should never have had a war with Germany if it had not been for the Ulster rebellion. I remember see- 737 ing representatives of Austria and Germany brought over to Northern Ireland and shown, by the leaders of the party at the time, the dumps of arms that were there.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
You got what you wanted without it—a thoroughly Scotch method of getting what you want. What Scotsman would ever have a rebellion if he could get what he wanted without it? It is foreign to the whole tradition of their race. The part of the country from which I come, Northern Ireland, has contributed as much in sacrifice, in blood, and in service to the cause of self-government as has the South of Ireland. I want a united Ireland, because I believe that a united Ireland could have avoided all these things that we are discussing today, and many of the evils that are past and gone. I trust that I am not making too large a draft upon the patience of the Committee, but I rarely intervene in these Debates, because, quite frankly, I hate speaking in this House; but I want, now that I am on my feet, to say what I think the House ought to know.
These two Parliaments were set up. What happened? Southern Ireland proceeded, through its Ministers., without any pressure at all, to give half the seats in the Senate to the Protestants of Southern Ireland, 'and the Protestants of Southern Ireland constitute 15 per cent. of the population. There were nine judgeships of the High Court in Southern Ireland. Five of them were given to Protestants. I turn to Northern Ireland, where the Catholic population is 33⅓ per cent. of the whole. There is not a single Senator belonging to the Catholic Church. There are five judges in Northern Ireland, four of whom are Protestants and one is a Catholic.
You gave us Proportional Representation as one of your guarantees. I put a question to the late Sir Laming Worthington-Evans when those Debates were taking place in the House, and asked him why Proportional Representation was being inserted in the Bill, and he declared that it was as a safeguard to the minority. That safeguard has been removed. I was not a Proportional Representationist myself until I saw it enacted, 738 but the results of Proportional Representation in Northern Ireland were the greatest possible vindication of it, because it not only gave the minority the representation to which it was entitled, but it enabled the people to return men of distinction of various classes. Before it was abolished, we had an excellent little Parliament in Northern Ireland. Now it has been abolished, 'and, ever since, the system of Catholic and Protestant representation in that Parliament has been perpetuated, destroying anything in the nature of independent representation, and stereotyping those religious differences which all of us were so passionately anxious should disappear, and which men of good will of all classes and creeds had hoped would be submerged in the general desire of the common people to see our economic, industrial and political problems worked out on lines similar to those followed here.
After the abolition of Proportional Representation, the work of reconstructing the constituencies was commenced, and what was the result? The result has been that it takes 20,000 more votes to return a Member in the Division that I represent in Northern Ireland than it takes to return one of the hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Gentleman who represents Epping (Mr. Churchill) is a modern edition of Demosthenes, and I am a very insignificant person, and yet I require 10,000 or 15,000 more votes in my constituency than he does in his. The constituencies have been so marked out that in every Nationalist district it requires 10,000 more votes to return a Nationalist than one of the other class. Again, take the case of the county councils and the rural district councils. In Tyrone and Fermanagh, where I was returned with a majority of 5,600 votes, we do not control a single board. The county council is in the hands of our opponents, and they are real opponents, because they will not allow us within miles of anything in the nature of liberty where they have control.
It is not so much the question of the Oath or the annuities that has aroused resentment and bitterness in Southern Ireland. It is the feeling that exists among the people that you have been false to your pledges to the minority there, that you have allowed them to be robbed of all 739 the safeguards and privileges that you gave them, that you have reduced them to a state of servility and slavery, and that they are outcasts and helots in their own community. That is why there was so much resentment in Southern Ireland against the condition of affairs that existed when the last election took place. We are now discussing Southern Ireland, over which you have no control, and you have a right to do it if you like. Are you going to give any consideration to Northern Ireland, which you do control? The other day, when a vacancy occurred for a judgeship there—after all, we have a great respect for justice—
§ Mr. DAVID REID
On a point of Order. I understand that any matters connected with Northern Ireland come under the Home Office Vote.
I think that is right. The hon. Member must, I think, connect what he is saying about Northern Ireland with the position, under the Dominions Office, of Southern Ireland.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
It is not of any importance whether he is here or not. I understand that it is the Home Secretary who speaks for Northern Ireland. I never speak in this House if I can possibly serve my purpose by private representation. When I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman the other day that the whole structure of public confidence rests upon the faith that the people have in justice and said to him, "There are four Protestant judges, and a Catholic has died and the Catholics should get it"., he ran away from it. He thought it was a meeting of Liberal Free Traders. He disappeared. What right had I, one of the common people from Northern Ireland, to have an opinion of my own? Why should representations made by me worry or disconcert a gentleman who was engaged in intellectual pursuits and was trying to prove that all his colleagues were wrong on the moat vital issue of the day? Therefore, he paid no attention to me at all.
I should like to say this to English Members—the last word that I want to say on this question. You still interfere in Irish affairs. Do you know why you have been hated in Ireland for so long? It was not only the tyranny of landlordism. It was not the persecution to which 740 the people were subjected. It was not the refusal of civic and national rights so long withheld from them. It was the feeling that existed that a small and dominant minority in the North of Ireland worked the Government machine, controlled Irish affairs, and were the masters of the rest of the nation. That is what made your name a name of opprobrium to so many of the people. I suggest that, if you are to retain your control over a part of Ireland and to remain friendly with the other half, you had better look into these things that I have mentioned to-day, and you English Members, many of you young men who have come into this House freed from the rancours and hatreds and prejudices of our past Irish controversies, I would beg of you not to take anything that I say but come over yourselves and investigate these conditions. It is hard upon a class like the Northern Nationalists and Catholics who love their country, who made the largest sacrifices, who fought for her freedom and who are anxious to be partners in her prosperity. These people are betrayed by everyone and left there to be treated in their own Province as helots. If anything that I have said has given offence I am prepared to apologise profoundly to the House, but I suggest to hon. Members who have free minds and a sense of British justice, that if they are still to control any part of Ireland, they ought at least to see how things are going on there.
§ Major HILLS
I am sure that the whole Committee has welcomed the return of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin) to the eloquence and power of oratory which he exhibited in Parliaments in which he and I have been associated. This House has hardly heard his voice, but, having heard it today, hon. Members will recognise in him not only an eloquent and powerful speaker, but also a great Parliamentarian, a difficult man to handle, and never so dangerous as when he is interrupted. The hon. Member has put the case and has gone back to a good many of the old problems of Ireland which I have heard so often debated in this House, and I do not propose to follow him. I have always supported a united Ireland. I have disagreed with many of my colleagues on that question. I have always believed that we ought to get a united Ireland and 741 perhaps I have some hope that it will come one day. I ask the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone whether he thinks that a united Ireland will come his way? Surely, he must recognise that the road which Mr. De Valera has chosen to travel is the very worst road to the unity of Ireland. I wish to ask a question of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). The effect of what he told us was that all bargains between the freely associated members of the Empire could be broken by one party, and that, just as this House could repeal any Statute enshrining a bargain with anybody, so any member of the Empire which made a bargain with this country could break such bargain by unilateral action.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
What I said was that, as far as the legal obligations were concerned, there was no doubt whatever that the Irish Free State had a perfect right to abolish the Oath and set aside the Treaty. There is no doubt at all as far as the legal obligations are concerned.
§ Major HILLS
In spite of the existence of the Treaty, the Free State Government by a unilateral action could abolish the Oath even though the Oath is an integral part of the Treaty?
§ Sir S. CRIPPS indicated assent.
§ Major HILLS
Does that apply to the bargain of the 12th February, 1922, between the British Government and the Irish Free State Government to pay the land annuities?
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
It applies, after the Statute of Westminster, to any legislation whatever in this country. That is to say, the Irish Parliament have absolute liberty to pass any Act of Parliament whether it is in consonance with legislation of this country or not.
§ Major HILLS
And break their bargain. Then the moral foundation of this Empire is far stronger than the legal foundation. The fact that the strict legal right which the hon. and learned Gentleman no doubt rightly interpreted, points in that direction does not conclude the whole matter. There are stronger bonds and more enduring obligations than those contained in law.
I did not rise for the purpose of a legal debate, but to bring before the Committee 742 the conditions under which the agreement of the 12th February, 1923, was signed. I had the honour of meeting Mr. Cosgrave and his collegues, and we then produced the agreement. It is the agreement which Mr. De Valera now seeks to repudiate. In most specific terms in Articles 1 and 2 the Free State Government undertook to pay the full amount of the annuities. That article was part of a general agreement. A large number of financial questions came up for settlement and we spent, I think, three days discussing them. There was give and take on both sides and, incidentally, there was the Clause about the annuities. A far more important point is this, that in regard to some of the Articles in the Agreement we could not reach a settlement and they were postponed until the ultimate financial settlement which took place three years later, but the agreement about the annuities was final and binding upon both parties and could be acted upon by both parties. We have paid our share of the bonuses on the stock issued to carry through the purchases that were pending, we have joined in the guarantee on subsequent purchases and we have taken on very high obligations. It was a free bargain. It was made 14 months after the Treaty and there was no threat then of any immediate and terrible war, such as Mr. De Valera suggests. Ireland had more or less settled down. More than a year had gone by since the events in 1921, and the bargain was a free bargain between two parties who met as equals and came to a fair agreement.
I can assure the Committee that when one meets an Irishman of any complexion, whether he comes from the North or the South, one finds a very keen bargainer, Mr. Cosgrave and his colleagues were not exceptions to that rule. Yet I think, if my recollection serves me right, about this matter of the annuities there was very little dispute. It was a clear obligation and was so accepted by Mr. Cosgrave. There was no secrecy about it. It has been contended in Ireland that the Agreement was made in private, locked up in a pigeon hole and never shown to the world. That is entirely untrue. It has been acted upon by both parties, it formed part of the relations between the two countries and it was never repudiated by Mr. Cosgrave. If an Agreement of this sort is not to stand 743 I do not know what Agreement will stand. It was a fair agreement, openly made and accepted by the parties at the time, and it ought to be held binding on Mr. Cosgrave's successors.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should not have intervened in this Debate had any new word come from the Government on this subject, and had it not been for the astringent speech, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd George). This question cannot be settled by one side or the other drawing a definite line and saying that they do not intend to recede from that point. I remember the speech made by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) during the Debate on the Statute of Westminster, and it seems to me as a layman and as one who does not presume to argue this question as a constitutional lawyer that someone on the Government side ought to answer the questions which have been put as to the powers of a Dominion, not necessarily the Irish Free State, but South Africa or Australia under the Statute of Westminster. The right hon. Member for Epping, on the 20th November, said:I am advised on high technical authority that this Bill confers upon the Irish Free State full legal power to abolish the Irish Treaty at any time when the Irish Legislature may think fit."—[OEPICIAI. REPORT, 20th November, 1931; col. 1193, Vol. 259.]My hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) put that position this afternoon and I should have thought that someone on the Government side would have dealt with it, because Mr. De Valera rests his whole case on the right of Ireland to decide these matters for herself, and she claims the right to do so as a member of the British Commonwealth of nations or not as a member of the British Commonwealth of nations.
I will answer that at once. Whatever may be the legal position under the Statute of Westminster, the late Government, of which the right hon. Member was a part, had to deal with precisely this same point at the Imperial Conference, and our attitude then was the same as it is now. We said: "Do not let us have legal quibbles, this is a moral binding obligation." I may 744 inform the right hon. Member that I put this specific question to Mr. De Valera: Is it the form of the Oath that is objectionable? Are there any words in the Oath to which you take exception or is it entire and absolute abolition which you claim? He said: "No words, no form of Oath, but entire abolition." That point was perfectly clear and the real answer is that, whatever may be the legal obligation, no one can destroy the moral obligation of a binding agreement.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not think that that is quite right. This House changes its composition and the policy of the Government to-day might be changed tomorrow [Interruption.] On this matter that is one of the objections to having a sort of written constitution for the British Commonwealth of nations; you might make something legal which formerly had been a kind of moral mutual understanding between component parts. But the two previous conferences having decided what their rights were it was considered advisable to embody these in a Statute, and no amount of talking from Mr. Cosgrave or anyone at another conference could bind the Irish nation for ever or could say that the Irish people had not the right to use all the privileges contained in the Statute of Westminster. I do not think there is any answer to that. This afternoon no one has attempted to give an answer to it. Everyone has admitted that they have a legal right to determine this matter, just as this House has a legal right, without consulting anyone, to say what sort of Oath should be taken here.
It is all very well to argue as though these matters were definite and settled and immovable for ever and ever. I am old enough to remember having taken part in a demonstration in Palace Yard, when Bradlaugh was thrown out in connection with the Oath. There was a great dispute then as to who could take the Oath and the conditions under which it could he taken. To-morrow, if it pleased, this House could change the form of the Oath or abolish the Oath. If we can do so, so can the Irish Free State. As I see it there is no question about that whatever. No one has yet stood up to challenge that position. In these circumstances it does seem to me rather stretching matters to say "We are not going to stand on any legal obliga- 745 tion; we are not even going to stand on the Treaty obligations. We are going to stand on something that the late Government said to Mr. Cosgrave and other delegates to the Imperial Conference." I do not think that in equity that can stand for one moment. I think that any body of jurists would give a verdict against us on that matter. That is that.
The next point I want to make is that the hon. and learned Member for Swindon (Sir R. Banks), whom I always enjoy listening to, although I disagree with nearly everything he says, seemed to be very worried about the effect of the Oath not being taken. I am one of those people who think that my loyalty, either to the Constitution or to His Majesty or to this House, does not depend upon my standing at that Box and reading a set of words. We have known people who have taken the Oath and so on to be disloyal. We have known people who have broken an Oath, especially when oaths are imposed on people against their will. The hon. and learned Gentleman took no pains at all to answer my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol, who quoted the statement of one of the biggest authorities on constitutional law that the allegiance of the Irish people will not be affected one bit, whether the Oath is maintained or not. Consequently it seems to me that you are begging the question altogether when you say that this question of the Oath of necessity breaks up the connection of Ireland with the rest of the Dominions. That is really the point, the major point.
Does anyone in this House really, quietly, contemplate saying that because of this agreement the people in Southern Ireland are to be looked upon as aliens? Are we going to say that the millions of Irish men and women and children in this country and in other parts of the British Dominions are now to be looked upon as aliens? It has been said to-day that the Irish Free State cannot have it both ways. Neither can we—[An HON. MEMBER: "We do not want to."] Yes, but it appears to me, from the attitude we are taking up, that we are being carried along to that position whether we want it or not. If you say that because Irish Members of Parliament have not taken a certain oath in the Dail that fact of necessity puts Ireland outside the British Commonwealth of Nations, 746 then it seems to me—[Interruption.] Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General will tell us then what the Government really mean. We have not been told this afternoon and the House of Commons and the country have cause for complaint about this matter. We ought to be told what the Government contemplate. It is not enough to say that on a certain date in November the preferences will stop, simply because the Irish Free State is going to do what it is legally entitled to do—because no lawyer has yet stood up here to say the contrary.
We are entitled to ask what position will the Irish Free State be in if this controversy is carried to its logical conclusion. Will it be considered that Ireland is still a member of the Commonwealth of Nations? And if she is worthy to be a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations why are you not going to make an agreement with her? If she is so dishonourable that you cannot treat with her in the matter of preferences then I should not have thought that she would be honourable enough to remain a partner in this free Commonwealth. I think I have a right on behalf of the House of Commons and the country, certainly on behalf of this party, to ask the Attorney-General to answer that question. He and other members of the Government have no right to sit silent, and allow that question to go by default and no one can answer for them. I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping is extremely anxious to speak.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I understood that the right hon. Gentleman desired to speak and there is no reason why he should not take part in a Debate of this kind. [HON. MEMBER: "Give him a chance."] It is not a question of giving him a chance. I want some information. I want the Attorney-General to state what is in the mind of the Government in reference to the Irish Free State. When you have cut off the preferences and taken the sort of line that the Secretary of State indicated, what are you going to do? Having said that, if I may be allowed to say something further, it is that personally I am very much in favour and my friends here all are very strongly in favour of this whole matter being re- 747 ferred to an impartial tribunal—a tribunal satisfactory both to ourselves and the Irish Free State. I think the Government will make a great blunder, as regards the question of the annuities and the other questions connected with finance which Mr. De Valera has raised, if they do not accept this offer to refer them to arbitration.
The other thing I want to say is that no one here has yet controverted the right of the Free State in the matter of the Oath. No one has challenged their right; no one can challenge their right. [Interruption.] No one has challenged their legal right to do what they are doing. About that there can be no two views. My hon. and learned Friend put the case, and no one has controverted it up to the present. The point I want to make is that I hope in Southern Ireland Mr. De Valera will see that if any approaches are made on this side, approaches ought to be made from his side, too. I do not think that this question can be really settled by either one side or the other without tremendous difficulties. If one side attempts to force their views upon the other—[Interruption.] Yes, I say that, and I mean it. I shall be told that I do not understand Mr. De Valera. That used to be said about Irish Members when there were 80 or 90 of them in this House, and in the end it was demonstrated how right they were, and how wrong were the other people who opposed them. About that there is no question.
§ Mr. HOPKIN MORRIS
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, with regard to the Oath itself, the South of Ireland Parliament has made its own municipal law? Mr. De Valera and all the Members of the Irish Free State had to take this identical oath as a condition before they were nominated.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
That is beside the point. If the Free State Parliament made that law, does the hon. and learned Member, who, I quite admit, in law is much my superior, argue that this House, if it laid down certain conditions applying to persons who wished to become Members of this House for, say, the next Election, that a new Parliament could not abolish those conditions and change the whole of those arrangements?
§ Mr. MORRIS
If Members of this House had taken the Oath before nomina- 748 tion, and if, when elected, they made that a ease of grievance against another country, I should think it would lead to trouble.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The hon. and learned Member in this matter is rather too able and subtle for me, because now he says that it might lead to trouble. I have not said that it would not lead to trouble. I am only saying now that I believe Mr. De Valera and his friends ought to come to us, or we go to them, and together we ought to find a way out of the difficulties in which we find ourselves. We, at any rate, do not accept the position that the last word is spoken on this subject, nor do we accept the position that Mr. De Valera and his friends have all the right on their side, and that we have got all the wrong. This is a subject which, for 10 or a dozen years, anyone who has been in Southern Ireland knows has been a cause of bloodshed, murder and disturbance, and a cause that produced one of the most severe Coercion Bills ever applied in any country.
That being so, we ought, I think, to do our best to help them to find a solution, but it ought to be a solution which will be honourable both to us and to them, and you can never get that solution until you really understand the other man's point of view and also the legal implications of the document that is under discussion. When I stood over there during the Debates in 1911–12 I always took the view that if once you conceded to a country like Ireland the right to choose its Government, you would find in all probability, in 99 cases out of 100, that they would make a choice which was advantageous to themselves. What people will never stand is domination, something imposed upon them, and it is because I hold that view that I want to see the Irish people and ourselves meeting as friends and finding some way by which this matter may be settled.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Is it perfectly clear that the Leader of the Opposition would not at any point resist a serious pressure or demand which was made upon this country by the Irish Free State. That has been the whole effect of the speech which he has delivered. Everything must be settled reasonably; trouble must not be made on this point or on that; we must endeavour to meet them half way. Never 749 mind what they have done about the annuities, never mind what is the issue upon the Oath, we must continue to persist in our endeavours at conciliation and at meeting them half way.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am glad not to have misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman. But at what period does this story come? It comes after we have been for 10 years endeavouring to conciliate and meet the wishes of the Irish people. It comes 10 years after the Treaty, which was accepted by them as a full settlement, and since that Treaty we have interpreted it at every stage, on every point that has been raised, in favour of their inclinations. Their position at the Imperial Conferences enabled them to develop the whole of this trend towards the Statute of Westminster, which, I agree, appears to have been very injurious and ill-judged, but which was largely done to meet their views. And these Agreements which it is now sought to repudiate are not Agreements forced by England upon Ireland. They are the Agreements freely entered into by the accredited representatives of the Irish people, and now they are the Agreements which are to be broken, which are to be repudiated, nakedly and openly, as the Dominions Secretary has shown, and as far as I can gather, the right hon. Gentleman would not raise a hand or a finger to stop any inroad upon the rights of this country.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I was only doing exactly what the right hon. Gentleman himself did during the Debate on the Statute of Westminster, quoting him as an authority that the Free State has an absolute right to do what it has done.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No. A legal right, certainly. I am afraid that that may be so, and that is why I so much regretted that His Majesty's Government did not accept the Amendment my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) moved. That Amendment sought no more than to impose upon the Irish Free State the same inhibitions which Canada, Australia, and New Zealand had imposed upon themselves, and I think it would have been wise and prudent to have accepted that Amendment. Indeed, I believe the fact that we did not accept it, 750 that the power of the Government was used to vote down that proposal, greatly prejudiced the chances of Mr. Cosgrave in the election, because Mr. De Valera was able to tell his supporters that he had a legal right, and to hold the people who were rather timid but wanted to support him by the fact that he had a legal method of achieving his ends and making them believe that the British Government on the whole would not make any trouble about it. Therefore, I do adhere most strongly to the point of view which I took up when I last spoke on this subject before Christmas.
But this question is not being argued as a legal matter. The Government have—very wisely in view of the terms of the Statute of Westminster—broken away entirely from these legal aspects of the question. We are arguing it entirely as a matter of good faith. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition says that no one has answered his question why, If the Irish have a legal right to abolish the Oath, we should resent it if they do what is their legal right to do? We say that it is a moral offence, a breach of faith. What we propose to do is also within our full legal rights. We are perfectly entitled to judge what should be our attitude towards Powers or States, whether inside or outside the British Empire, which render nugatory all treaties or agreements which are transacted with them. Having regard to the great interest of the world at the present time in promoting a process of bargaining and agreement and having bargains made between nations upon which we can rely, we are discharging not only a national but an international duty in preventing a breach of this kind by any means within our power and within our full discretion.
The ex-Solicitor-General was put up to make what I can only describe as a loathesome speech, one which is calculated to darken counsel at every point, and to arm and inspire all those on the other side of the St. George's Channel who are endeavouring to make a solution of this question very difficult. Both he and the Leader of the Opposition have shown us that the present attitude of the truncated Socialist party is one which offers absolutely no guarantee to the people of Great Britain that any one of their interests, however vital, will, once it is dis- 751 puted by the Irish Free State, ever be stood up for. So much for the right hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Lansbury), who was so personally offensive the other night. Well, we know that in any question of this kind which arises, whether in regard to Ireland or India, his counsel and that of those in his control will always be to find this or that excuse for depriving Great Britain and the British Empire of any of the remaining safeguards 'and interests which we possess.
I rejoice to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in his place again; I will not say in his place, because I am sorry to see the company that he has chosen, but at any rate he made it clear to us to-day that his situation is purely geographical and not political in any way. The right hon. Gentleman rendered a real service to the Committee and to the country upon this question, because he made it perfectly clear that this is no petty legal question. I agree entirely with him that if Mr. De Valera and his friends said, "We do not like this form of oath, we think it humiliating," we could say to them, "Have you anything else to suggest which will make you a loyal partner in the general scheme of the British Commonwealth of Nations?" But nothing of that kind has been put forward, and the right hon. Gentleman has reminded us forcibly and powerfully that the whole question of Imperial and national safety is involved the moment you accept or tolerate Mr. De Valera's demand to be an independent Republic, with the right to negotiate arrangements for aerodromes or naval bases in any part of Ireland, and the right to deny their ports or their coasts to us even in time of war.
I am very glad my right hon. Friend raised that point, because there is far more behind this than the Oath. If it were the Oath only, it could be easily settled, and I think it has been very satisfactory that this Debate has enabled the House as a whole to express a very strong opinion in favour of His Majesty's Government marking by positive, overt and speedy action their sense of injury 'at the ill usage and breach of faith to which they had been subjected. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions said that on the question of 752 annuities they intended to deal with the matter, or words to that effect. I understood that meant that they would deal with the matter in such a way as to recover for this country what is its proper due, and, believing that to be so—and I see the right hon. Gentleman, assents—I should like, as one who often criticises the Government to express my entire agreement with the course which they have adopted in this difficult matter.
§ Mr. D. REID
In the moment or two that is left I wish to deal with the speech made by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin). The £7,000,000 odd Imperial contribution fixed by the Act of 1920 was arrived at on the basis of war taxation and of insufficient data as to the origin of the taxation and expenditure. The Act provided that the amount was open to revision by a body set up by the Act called the Joint Exchequer Board. That procedure has been followed since the Northern Government was set up. Every year the Joint Exchequer Board have fixed a contribution and a contribution has been paid. As for the annuities, the Act of 1920 gave land annuities to both Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Northern Ireland accepted the Bill and retained the annuities. Southern Ireland refused to accept the Bill, and the subsequent arrangements which are known to the House were made. In the course of those arrangements the financial agreements which the right hon. and gallant Member beside me (Major Hills) has explained were made. There is no similarity whatsoever between the two cases.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at One minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next, 20th June.