§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Major MILNER
The Motion for the Adjournment has been moved in order that a discussion may take place as promised by the Government upon the 392 position created by the recent Privy Council decision, which made it clear that the Irish Free State have power to abrogate the Articles of Agreement between the two countries. I assume that the Government desire that the Debate should have the widest possible range, and I propose briefly to outline the position as I understand it, and to ask the Government what course they propose to adopt to put the present extremely unsatisfactory relations between the Irish Free State and this country on a better basis for the future. First, I would remind hon. Members of the position at the time that the Statute of Westminster was passed. The House will recollect that Section 2 of that Statute was in these terms: 393
I imagine that most of us, reading those words, would be of opinion that the intention was to confer complete freedom of action on the Irish Free State as one of the co-equal Dominions of the British Commonwealth of Nations, but it will be within the recollection of hon. Members that, at the time that Clause was under discussion, controversy arose as to whether, by reason of the Clause, the Articles of Agreement between the two countries, which admittedly up to that time could only have been altered by consent, could be amended, or action could be taken to abrogate the Treaty in any part, by action on the part of the Irish Free State Government alone. The Government at that time were told in express terms by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), the hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton), the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), of the possibilities which were raised, but, notwithstanding the warnings, the Government persisted in passing that Statute. Indeed, the Prime Minister said that he was advised by the Law Officers that the binding character of the Articles of Agreement between the two countries would not be altered by one jot or tittle by the passing of the Statute. The then Solicitor-General, the present Attorney-General, said that the Constitution could not be amended except in accord with the Treaty, and the present Solicitor-General, who was then making his maiden speech, said:
- "(1) The Colonial Laws Validity Act, 1865, shall not apply to any law made after the commencement of this Act by the Parliament of a Dominion.
- "(2) No law and no provision of any law made after the commencement of this Act by the Parliament of the Dominion shall be void or inoperative on the ground that it is repugnant to the law of England, or to the provisions of any existing or future Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom, or to any order rule or regulation made under any such Act, and the powers of the Parliament of a Dominion shall include the power to repeal or amend any such Act, order, rule or regulation in so far as the same is part of the law of the Dominion."It is plain that if this Statute is passed it will be wholly wrong to say that the Irish Free State would have power to repeal 394 the Treaty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1931; col. 1224, Vol. 259.]The Privy Council have decided that the Treaty of Westminster gave to the Irish Free State the power under which they could abrogate the Treaty and that, as a matter of law, they did avail themselves of that power.
Naturally, the House desires to know what attitude the Government take to that decision and to the problems arising out of it, and what they are going to do about the present relations between the two countries. It is not the slightest good the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions, or the Attorney-General, coming here and talking about the morality of the position, the sanctity of agreements or contractual obligations. In regard to contractual obligations I would say that, as a principle of law, when one party to an agreement relieves the other of an obligation under that agreement, that other party is entitled to take advantage of that relief. I cannot put the position better than it was put in the Debate at the time by the hon. Member for Down (Mr. D. Reid). He said:This Measure is going to be passed in this House by the authority of one of the parties which ratified the Treaty. That means to say that this House of Commons is going to give to the other parties to the Treaty an option to annul the Treaty. Can anybody say that if we give the other side an option to annul the Treaty and if the other side exercise that option they are breaking any moral obligation? It is open to the Dail without any breach of contract to exercise that option.That is precisely, as I understand it, what they have done. The hon. Gentleman went on to give an instance:Suppose the Solicitor-General made for the right hon. Gentleman a lease for 21 years, and that some time afterwards the right hon. Gentleman came to the Solicitor-General and said: 'I would like to have power to break the lease at seven or 14 years,' and the Solicitor-General said: 'Very well, I will agree and we will have a supplementary agreement to that effect.' Could anyone say, in those circumstances, that the right hon. Gentleman was doing anything wrong in determining the lease at one or other of those periods? "[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1931; cols. 1227–30, Vol. 259.]In my submission the position was precisely the same when this Parliament voluntarily gave the Irish Free State, by the Statute of Westminster, the power which it then conferred. It is useless to 395 suggest, as may be suggested in this Debate, that the Treaty was not overruled by the Statute of Westminster. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions has admitted that. On 5th December, 1933, the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a question by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, read a despatch from Mr. de Valera and his reply thereto, and the right hon. Gentleman in paragraph 5 of his reply said:In conclusion I would state that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom feel that the free intercourse on equal terms with the other members of the British Commonwealth which the Irish Free State have enjoyed under the Treaty Settlement, culminating in the Statute of Westminster, is the surest proof of their freedom to work out their own destiny within the Commonwealth."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1933; col. 1459, Vol. 283.]I would call attention to the words:His Majesty's Government … feel that the free intercourse … which the Irish Free State have enjoyed under the Treaty Settlement, culminating in the Statute of Westminster,because they clearly convey that the right hon. Gentleman puts the Treaty and the Statute of Westminster together and says that the Treaty culminates, or is merged, in the Statute of Westminster; that the one, namely, the Treaty, was merely a step on the road to the other. How then can it be suggested, as may be suggested in the Debate, that there is, above the Statute of Westminster, a contractual, or, it may be said, a moral, obligation under the Treaty? The position is clear. We have willingly and voluntarily in this House, and, in my submission, properly, conferred certain powers upon the Irish Free State in common with all the other Dominions of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and the decision of the Privy Council is the logical outcome of the Statute passed by this House. What are the Government proposing to do about the decision? Are they proposing to accept it, as I imagine they must do, since the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General appeared before the Privy Council, or are they going to raise the question of moral obligation or contractual obligation? What are they going to do? Is the dispute between the two countries going to drag on? Is there going to be this futile antagonism 396 between them year after year, or are the Government going to take some steps to put an end to the present situation? The record of the Government in this matter is one of the worst blots on what is in my opinion a pretty black escutcheon.
I submit that the Government have missed opportunity after opportunity of discussing the matter and coming to a friendly and amicable arrangement with the Free State Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] I hope in a moment or two to give the House one or two instances of the opportunities which I think have presented themselves. Why have the Government been so intransigent in this matter? I do not know whether it is out of pure cussedness, or because of a refusal to face facts, or—as I think more likely—because they are in this matter standing on their dignity. If that should be so, I suggest that there ought to be no such thing as dignity in a family on a matter of this kind. This matter affects not only theoretical, or legal, or constitutional matters but the very lives and the welfare of the people and the trade and commerce which is so vital between these two countries. Indeed, one can contemplate even more serious issues than that.
I said that the Government had missed opportunities. The despatch from Mr. de Valera which I read was one of those opportunities. Mr. de Valera asked the Government to define their position, and the Government declined to make a statement as to their attitude in regard to the relationship between the two countries. It is perfectly true that on this as on other occasions the Secretary of State expressed a pious hope of friendly co-operation between the two countries, but he took no single step of any kind to take advantage of that opportunity to sit round a table or otherwise to discuss the admittedly difficult situation between the two countries. The opportunity was presented to him, and the right hon. Gentleman turned it down in terms. He flatly declined to give an answer to a plain question.
The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
So that we know the plain question! The question put to me was: "What will you do in the event of my declaring a republic?" The hon. Member seems to have omitted that. 397 That was the question put to me, and I said that I refused to answer a hypothetical question. Is that not so?
§ Major MILNER
I do not think for one moment that it is so. I do not think I ought to take up time in detailing this matter, but I shall be glad to do so if necessary. The despatch from Mr. de Valera was a rather long one. In it he referred to a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman in the House of Commons, and he went on to say:The experience of the last 12 years has made it abundantly evident that lasting friendship cannot be attained on the basis of the present relationship. The Government of the Irish Free State infer from your statement on the 14th instant that the British Government also now realise the evils of a forced association and have decided not to treat as a cause of war or other aggressive action a decision of the Irish people to sever their connection with the Commonwealth.The whole point was whether they had freedom to do that or, indeed, to take any other action under the terms of the Statute of Westminster. The despatch continued:This attitude of the British Government appears to the Government of the Irish Free State to be of such fundamental importance that it should be formulated in a direct and unequivocal statement. The Government of the Irish Free State would sincerely welcome such a statement. They believe that it would be the first step towards that free and friendly co-operation in matters of agreed common concern between Great Britain and Ireland which ought to exist between them.If that was not an approach of Mr. de Valera to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government, what else could it be, [Interruption.] If hon. Members will only read the despatch and the reply, which I will read in a moment, I think they will come to that conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman in his despatch said:They [His Majesty's Government] cannot believe that the Irish Free State Government contemplate the final repudiation of their Treaty obligations in the manner suggested. …That notwithstanding that it has been decided in law, as many people had previously thought, that they have that right. He went on to say:… and consequently they do not feel called upon to say what attitude they would adopt in circumstances which they regard as purely hypothetical.398 The right hon. Gentleman went on to say, in reply to the Leader of the Opposition:'"We took our stand by simply saying that we could not enter into further negotiations with people who repudiated their existing obligations. That was the origin of the disturbance and the cause of the whole dispute.The right hon. Gentleman also said:We have never closed the door, and I hope we never will, to a friendly settlement."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 5th December, 1933; cols. 1459 and 1460, Vol. 283.]But he never opens the door and invites the Free State representatives in to discuss this or any other matter. That is the position. That was the opportunity which presented itself to the right hon. Gentleman to make an effort, at any rate, to put an end to the situation. We naturally desire to know, and I am sure the country desires to know, how long this attitude on the part of the Government is going to continue. There was a further opportunity within the last month or two. Mr. de Valera caused it to be known, or indeed made a statement, that the Irish Free State would certainly not permit their country to be used as the base of operations against this country by another country.
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
The hon. Member has quoted the last statement of Mr. de Valera's. Will he also quote what Mr. de Valera said he would do to prevent a foreign nation using the various harbours in the ports of Southern Ireland?
§ Major MILNER
The hon. Member must permit me to make my own quotations. That statement of Mr. de Valera's presented a further opportunity for discussion. The right hon. Gentleman in this House expressed appreciation of what had been said, but one would have thought that after a statement like that had been volunteered the least he would have done in the circumstances existing between the two countries would be to take advantage of that opportunity to say: "Let us get round the table and talk about it and see if we cannot put the relationship between the two countries on better terms." These were two opportunities of which the Government failed entirely to take advantage.
We desire His Majesty's Government to state in plain terms their attitude to the Privy Council's decision and to say whether they accept it or not, and to say 399 what steps they propose to take to put an end to the present economic war and to the chronic aggravation of the position of thousands of His Majesty's subjects. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should awaken from his slumbers and recognise the position and that, to use an expression which will not be unfamiliar to him, he should put his cards on the table in this matter and invite the Irish Free State Government to a conference. I am convinced, and I am not without some little knowledge on this subject, that a frank and courageous effort on those lines would bring about a complete alteration in the present situation. It is not the slightest use the right hon. Gentleman and the Government standing on their dignity or on their real or imagined rights. That discussion, if it takes place, has to be between equals as any such discussion was intended to be by the House when the Statute of Westminster was passed. The right hon. Gentleman in his palmy days had some reputation as a negotiator. I hope he will forget that and that he will say plainly that if any such negotiations should take place the people of this country certainly, and I hope the Government, want to let bygones be bygones and wish to say frankly to the Irish Government: "What can we do with good will to improve the present situation?" If that frank and courageous course is adopted, I am sure it will have better results than any other course.
I would also like to ask this question. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) on the Second Reading of the Statute of Westminster Bill made it clear that he recognised the critical situation which in certain circumstances might arise after the passing of the Bill and suggested that some form of inter-Imperial arbitral tribunal should be set up to deal with such difficulties as in fact have arisen and which may in future times arise between different parts of the British Commonwealth. Have the Government taken any steps to set up such a tribunal? Have they thought of taking any such steps, or do they now propose to take any such steps to set up a tribunal of that sort? One must remember that one of the difficulties between the Irish Free State and the present Government is a mere dispute as to the constitution of an arbitration tribunal. 400 The Government here insist that it should consist of Empire representatives, and the Irish Free State—
§ Major MILNER
I should like to finish what I am saying. I shall not be long, and I shall be happy to be corrected by the right hon. Gentleman when he speaks if I am wrong. One of the difficulties between the two countries is on the matter of land annuities. There was a proposal for arbitration. As I understand it, the British Government desired that the tribunal should be partially or wholly of British or Empire constitution, whereas the Irish Free State Government desired it to be partially or wholly a tribunal formed of independent persons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Foreign persons!"] Well, persons not necessarily members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
§ Major MILNER
Had the advice of my hon. and learned Friend been taken in that matter, I submit that many of the difficulties which exist between our two countries—or between the Governments of our two countries, for I do not think there is a great deal of difference between the peoples—would have been cleared away. I desire to ask the Government if they have taken, or are taking, or proposing to take any steps in this matter? We believe that the Government's present attitude and the attitude which it has adopted for the last three or four years towards the Irish Free State has been unreasonable, foolish and detrimental to the interests not only of this country but of the Empire as a whole, and we urge them to alter it before it is too late.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Colonel GRETTON
We have all listened with interest to the speech just delivered, and with regard to some part of the ground covered I confess that I am in complete agreement with what has been said by the hon. Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), especially in that part of his speech where he described the events which transpired in this House during the passage of the Statute of Westminster Bill. But he 401 represented the matter, as I understood his speech, as if the Irish Free State was entirely in the right in all these transactions, that, in fact, the whole trouble was due to the action of the Government of this country, and that there was really nothing in dispute except the contumacious pride of the Secretary of State for the Dominions. That, I submit, is not the condition of affairs, and I would like to call the attention of the House to the real position. In my observations on the dealings of this country with Ireland, I do not propose to go further back than the days of the Treaty in 1922. It was then thought that a final settlement had been reached, and all the difficulties disposed of, in the Irish Constitution Act, and that the British nation would secure good relations with the Irish Free State and relief from the Irish problem in future. But in the Irish Constitution Act, which embodied the Treaty, there were certain reservations intended for the safety of this country and the protection of those of our fellow-citizens in the Free State who had hitherto supported the British Government. The Constitution set up was on the Canadian lines, and that was specially stated in the Treaty.
What happened? In 1925 Mr. Cosgrave's Government commenced the process of getting rid of the Treaty bit by bit. First, the Free State was absolved from Article 5 of the Treaty, and was relieved of its obligation to contribute to the National Debt—a concession made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who was at that time Chancellor of the Exchequer, and estimated by him to be worth £50,000,000, but estimated by the Finance Minister of the Free State to be a concession of £150,000,000. The next step was to set aside the decisions of the Privy Council by special Irish legislation. There were the cases of Butler and of the Performing Right Society, and there was the better known appeal of certain civil servants with respect to the pensions which were secured to them by the Treaty. In all of these cases the Irish Free State Government proceeded by special legislation to set on one side the decision of the Privy Council.
Then we come to the Statute of Westminster, in connection with which I will only mention that an Amendment was moved in this House which would, if 402 inserted in the Statute, have put the question of the Treaty and the agreement outside the legislative powers of the Irish Free State. We were assured, however, by the Law Officers that the Treaty was not affected by the Statute, and a letter from Mr. Cosgrave was read with great effect by the Dominions Secretary, in which Mr. Cosgrave stated that he proposed to adhere to the Treaty, and would look upon the carrying of such an Amendment as a blow to his Government. The House was persuaded, the Amendment was rejected by a very large majority, and a further Amendment was also rejected, to the effect that nothing in the Statute of Westminster should in any way damage or endanger the rights of British citizenship. Again we were assured by the Law Officers that the Treaty was not affected, and the House, which had only just been elected and contained a large number of Members of no Parliamentary or political experience, who quite readily accepted all these assurances without question, rejected the Amendment.
The Statute of Westminster Bill was passed in November, 1931, and within a very short period, namely, in January, 1932, as the result of a general election, Mr. Cosgrave's Government was overthrown, and all the assurances which he had given were rendered of no effect, because, after all, they were only personal assurances. They were not State documents, but were merely contained in a letter addressed to "My dear Prime Minister." Mr. Cosgrave had made considerable progress during his leadership of the Government of the Irish Free State, for he announced, on the 31st January, 1932, that the Treaty was scarcely recognisable as a result of alterations effected by Imperial Conferences and the Statute of Westminster.
Mr. de Valera's Government proceeded further to undermine the Treaty. Quite early Mr. de Valera asserted his right to dismiss the Governor-General, then Mr. McNeill, and to recommend to the Crown the appointment of Mr. Buckley, who was a shopkeeper from Maynooth and a man of no eminence or prominence in Irish political life. I would call attention to the fact that this was done over the head of the Dominions Office, because the Irish Free State Government claims direct access to the Crown, without going through the Government at Westminster. 403 The only rights that now remain to the Crown are apparently those in connection with the documents of representatives of the Irish Free State Government to foreign Governments and the signing of the Statutes of the Dail by the Governor-General.
Then came the question of the Oath of Allegiance. That was repealed, notwithstanding that it was secured, or intended to be secured, by Article 2 of the Treaty. The British Government at that time informed Mr. de Valera that they adhered absolutely to the view that the Oath was an integral part of the Treaty, and that, if the Treaty were thus set aside, they would enter into no further agreement with the Free State. Then came the question of the right of appeal to the Privy Council, which was abolished. The Bill abolishing the Senate has been passed by the Dail. It was preceded by a Bill to reduce the period for which the Senate had power to delay legislation from 18 months to three months, and, as the matter now stands, the smaller Bill having received the Royal Assent, the Bill to abolish the Senate is being held up under the delaying powers of the Senate. An Act was passed abolishing university representation, the reason being, of course, that university representatives do not support Mr. de Valera's Government in all the actions that it has taken. Then comes the question of British citizenship. The Dail has passed three Acts dealing with that matter, and the Irish Free State Nationality Code consists of these three Acts—the Nationality and Citizenship Act, the Aliens Act, and the Constitution (Amendment No. 26) Act. The effect of these three Acts is described by Mr. de Valera in these words:I hope we have made ourselves quite clear on this question of British subjects. Under Irish law no Irish citizen will be a British subject when this Act is passed. If somebody else chooses to regard our citizens as his, we will take no cognisance whatsoever of it so far as our law and legal system are concerned.It is agreed by everyone who has examined these Acts that that is their effect.
At the same time persons previously resident in the Irish Free State—for instance the large number of Irish citizens settled in Great Britain—became liable to certain conditions if they should return to their own country. Provisions were 404 inserted in the last of these Acts to the effect that the statutory claim to Irish citizenship would have to be ascertained before a commission. That means that every case will have to be examined carefully, involving interminable delay, and it will depend upon the will of officials of the Irish Free State whether any particular man or woman will be held to have established their claim.
I should add that the last Amendment made by Mr. de Valera's Government was to the effect that the operation of the Statute might be held up or delayed by an Order of the Government. Such an Order has been issued by the Irish Government, so that the effect of these Acts is at present suspended, but, if it should be the will of the Government at any moment to withdraw that Order, the Statutes will come into operation and any British subject going into Ireland will either have to establish a claim to Irish citizenship or will be treated as an alien, in which case he will be liable to supervision as to his residence, or to be ordered to move from one place to another under police supervision, or to be ordered to withdraw from the country. It is understood that, should the Irish Free State Government decide to put this Statute into operation, a questionnaire will be issued to everyone resident in Ireland, and they will have to declare whether they claim to be Irish citizens or whether they claim to be British citizens. The Dominions Secretary stated that he was advised that the Bill did not purport to deprive, and could not in any case deprive, any person of the status of a British subject. That is true outside the Irish Free State, but has the right hon. Gentleman the authority to enforce that statement in the Irish Free State?
The land annuities have been confiscated, and pensions of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the judiciary and civil servants withheld. The annuities amounted to about £3,000,000 a year and the pensions to about £2,000,000. The British Government took steps to deal with this matter by charging additional duties on Irish commodities imported into this country. The amount collected by the British Government amounts to much less than the £5,000,000. An Act of the Irish Parliament set up a system of the licensing of businesses that it was desired to set up, with a strict limitation as to the 405 amount of foreign money that could be invested and with a provision that the greater part of the capital must be Irish Free State capital. There is also a system of licensing imports, and there are quotas and bounties, causing great confusion in the commercial arrangements which the Irish Free State are making in order to obtain for the Irish people economic freedom from the bondage of Great Britain. What has been the result? In 1924 exports from Great Britain to Ireland amounted to upwards of £54,000,000, and in 1934 they were reduced to £26,000,000. In 1924 other countries imported £13,000,000, and in 1934 the figure was very much the same. Exports to Great Britain amounted in 1924 to upwards of £49,000,000, and in 1934 they had been reduced to £17,400,000, while other countries had increased in the 10-year period from £969,000 to £1,200,000.
This falling off in trade shows that the policy of the Irish Government has certainly not benefited the Free State. In order to carry on trade they have paid out of the pockets of the Irish taxpayer subsidies and bounties to the amount of upwards of £3,000,000 a year. Public debt stands at upwards of £42,000,000 which may sound a, very small sum in this House of Commons but which is a, colossal sum when it is remembered that her taxable capacity is only one-sixtyfourth of that of Great Britain. With debt constantly increasing there have been continually increasing deficits. Last year the deficit was £2,432,000 on an expenditure of £29,000,000. County finance is in a deplorable position and rates cannot be collected to the extent of 36.9 per cent. In 1933 a Land Act was passed, and those farmers who purchased their land under the Imperial Government's Land Act can be expropriated and their lands confiscated at prairie value. For instance there are cases in County Galway where some 600 acres have been scheduled and taken at far below their value in order to plant on the land followers and supporters of Mr. de Valera's Government. The amount of legislation passed by the Irish Dail since 1992, when the Free State was set up, to 1934 is upwards of 770 Acts. Now we learn that all these matters in defiance of the Treaty are legal.
The result of the decision of the Privy Council, as summarised in the judgment delivered on 6th June and published in 406 the "Times" on 7th June, is that as the result of the Statute of Westminster the Irish Government had complete power to legislate and to set aside the Treaty and that everything that they had done was legal. That is contrary to the assurances given by the Dominions Secretary and the Law Officers of the Crown and pit justifies the case that we put before the House. It is no satisfaction to be able to say "I told you so," and I do not want to press that for a moment, but the Government are now in the position that it is due to the House and the country that they should make some definite statement as to their view of the position and how they propose to deal with the situation thus created. The speech to which I have referred suggested that there had been lost opportunities and that the Government might have met representatives of the Free State and come to a settlement on at least two occasions. While this Debate has been going on it has come to my recollection that there was a meeting when Mr. de Valera came over here and discussed with representatives of the Government for some considerable time, but nothing came of it. We were informed informally that Mr. de Valera and his friends never came down to the discussion of the position of the present day. Their conversations and representations did not get beyond the past history of the relations between Great Britain and Ireland and were of no service to the progress of negotiations. What is the position? This is the kind of statement that is constantly made: Speaking in Dublin on 7th June, Mr. de Valera remarked:In the matter of our relations with Great Britain time is altogether on our side.Speaking at Limerick on 30th June, he said:Before the Government leave office they will bring in a constitution which will be an Irish one from top to bottom. We are at the moment very nearly being completely free. The only thing that is not now done with the will of the people is that a foreign King, as T. call him—a foreign King because, if the people were free, they would not select him as their King—signs some letters of credence in cases where representatives are sent to a foreign country.Allusion has been made to a statement recently published that Mr. de Valera would not consent that Ireland should be made a base or the possible attack of a 407 foreign Power. I remember the exuberant phraseology in which the Dominions Secretary welcomed that statement. He represented that it was a voluntary statement. It was voluntary in the sense that it was not asked for by anyone in this country, but it was not altogether voluntary, because pressure was exerted from the Continent. Mr. de Valera's Government have close trade relations with Germany, and they are doing their best to develop sales of Irish produce to Germany and the purchase of German goods. The German press about that time was full of statements that there was an agreement to enable German aeroplanes to use Irish aerodromes and that Ireland might be a base for Germany if there were a quarrel with Great Britain. It had gone so far that some statement had to be made. Either the Irish Free State Government had to ignore the matter, and therefore by inference admit that there was something in it, or give a reply. It was in those circumstances that a statement was published and announced to this House. That is the state of things in Ireland as regards the spirit of hostility which is inculcated and urged upon the Irish people by all parties in the Free State. When Mr. de Valera made this statement, General O'Duffy immediately repudiated it on behalf of the party which is the next largest to the governing party in the Dail, and the Irish parties compete with each other in advocating further damage to English trade and further acts of hostility.
I am not speaking to-day under a feeling of resentment, but as impartially as possible. The House does not often hear statements as to the true position. The Press is reticent on these Irish questions and the people of this country have been rather tired of Ireland for years and hope to forget it. That can never be. As long as the Irish people are dwelling in Ireland and Ireland occupies the geographical position which she does in regard to Great Britain we cannot ignore her. The Irish question is always with us, and a solution will have to be found sooner or later. Where have we got to? Everything in the Treaty which was of any value has gone except the mere signature of the representative of the King. I have a quotation here in which it is represented that that could soon 408 be done away with. The other part of the Treaty remaining is the right of the British Navy to occupy the Treaty ports and in relation to that Mr. de Valera recently anonunced that there could be no peace while the people and the country are partitioned and Irish ports are held by British forces. The ports referred to are, of course, Berehaven, Queenstown and Lough Swilly, with rights on the shore for establishments in connection with the naval bases. What are the Government going to do about that? These matters are already under discussion in the Free State, and they can come up for discussion at any time. Are they going to be surrendered? All this was brought before the House on the Committee stage of the Statute of Westminster Bill, and the Government should pay attention to it.
I need not apologise to the House for addressing it on this subject, because the state of things is serious, and it is getting worse. The Government have apparently no solution. We are here to ask the Government what they are going to do about the matter? They are not, by their inaction, helping the Irish Treaty. The state of the people in the Irish Free State is becoming steadily worse. The economic position and the difficulty of collecting taxes grow worse, and the Government have art appalling deficit. The position of Irish loyalists, and by those I mean the people who had faith in the British Government and who supported it so long as it was in Ireland, grows worse and worse under the present regime and the spirit which is being incultated in Ireland. Their position is one of the gravest anxiety, If the right hon. Gentleman could give some word of comfort that they would get some support from the Government of this country to help them to secure the rights which ought to be secured for them, and that the treaty is made and intended for that purpose, the Government would be taking a step forward far greater and more welcome than any which any recent British Government have taken with regard to Ireland. We cannot ignore the Irish question, and therefore I have ventured to detain the House in order to set before it, as briefly and as impartially as I can, how far this question has gone, and to ask the Government to make a declaration which will reassure us.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. HEALY
There have been many Debates on the subject of Ireland in this House. Hon. Members who were here in the time of John Redmond will remember that he endeavoured to settle the question from a Dominion point of view. A little earlier Parnell endeavoured to settle it on somewhat similar lines, but the attempt was always frustrated by diehards of the type of the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton). It is a curious circumstance that while the diehard group here have very little influence in matters of world politics, they have tremendous influence not only in this House but outside this House when it is a question of Ireland. The only explanation that I can give for that anomaly is that the political and religious commitments of Ireland arouse a certain resentment in Englishmen who might, in ordinary circumstances, be perfectly rational. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman made a complaint against the Irish Free State that they had appointed a Governor-General who was a shopkeeper. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman, from the higher social position in which he stands, looking down upon a shopkeeper, but I should imagine, at the same time, that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman owes a good deal in this world to the advocacy of shopkeepers up and down the country, and not least in the Irish Free State.
§ Colonel GRETTON
The hon. Member is making a personal statement about me. I am clearly a manufacturer, a shopkeeper, and a trader, and I do not disguise the fact, and I have never disguised it. I was pointing out that the gentleman I mentioned who is now Governor-General of the Free State is a man who has no eminence in politics in the Free State.
§ Mr. HEALY
Whether he has any eminence in the Free State or not, he is one whom the Free State trust, and that is the best possible title to the position he holds. Another grievance of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was that the Irish Free State have repealed a number of matters. There is one of which I would like to remind him, and that is proportional representation. That has not been repealed. It was put upon the Statute Book for the protection of his friends, the 410minority in Southern Ireland. But his friends, who are in a majority in Northern Ireland, repealed it as soon as they possibly could. I ask my hon. Friends to contrast the treatment of the minority in Northern Ireland with the relative treatment of the minority in Southern Ireland.
I have no doubt that the majority of the English people would welcome a settlement of the present dispute, but I fear that the English people will never be asked for their opinion. The vast majority of the people of Ireland would likewise welcome a settlement, not only of the land annuities, but of the wider question of Irish unity with which it is involved. It is only a small minority in. Ireland who are represented by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Burton and his friends in this House, who desire a continuance of the Border, Again, it may be prophesied that the Irish people will never be given an opportunity of settling anything in their relations to this country. The politicians here are afraid of allowing the Irish people the right of self-determination. That is why this House, without the support of any representative from Ireland either from the North or from the South, passed the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 partitioning Ireland and thereby laying the foundation of all the subsequent trouble. That made two Irelands where there was only one Ireland before, and, if the Government and the Dominions Office are really in earnest about settling this question, they must go back to 1920 when the Partition Act was put into force.
I want to make it clear at once that the majority of the Irish people, from Mr. de Valera downwards, would welcome any settlement which would establish a, real basis of peace And good will between your country and ours. We need your co-operation; you need our co-operation even in times of peace. In times of war the existence of a sore, rather revengeful Ireland might lead to the undoing not only of this country, but of Ireland herself. While there is yet time every opportunity should be availed of for settling the dispute which has gone on now for far too long a period. On the question of land annuities, out of which the dispute really arose—and not out of anything connected with the Statute of Westminster—the present Government of the Irish Free State believe that they are 411 not due, and in fulfilment of that belief they have offered to leave the question to the arbitration of any neutral tribunal. In ordinary disputes between other countries an offer of that kind would be considered fair. It is a matter of principle and not of personality. No doubt there could be found some Colonial jurist or statesman who could settle the matter amicably as between the two disputants.
§ Mr. HEALY
I will come to that in a moment. The Irish people point to the arbitration settlement of 1923, to which the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) has just referred, and the disastrous effects it has had upon the Irish people. The hon. Member knows that it was stipulated in the Treaty that the wishes of the people as to which side of the border they were willing to live should be ascertained. That article of the Treaty was as sacred as any other article of the Treaty. There was also, it is true, economic and geographical considerations, but the paramount question was the wishes of the people. The Chairman of the Boundary Commission refused to ascertain the wishes of the people in any given area, and, therefore, I am afraid, that when you suggest to the Free State Government or to the national people of Ireland a Dominions tribunal, they are not going simply to accept it, having in mind what occurred in 1925 on the boundary question. Mr. de Valera says that he is willing to submit the question of the Irish land annuities to an impartial tribunal, without conditions in any way. Therefore, it does not necessarily mean that the umpire might not be a citizen of the British Empire. Mr. de Valera simply asks that the question should be left open. On the other hand, the Dominions Office stipulate that the umpire must be a citizen of this country.
My colleague and I in this House represent 400,000 Northern Nationalists, one-third of the population over which the Northern Government holds sway today. They have no other representative here. We believe that the Treaty of 1931 between Great Britain and the Irish Free State has never been carried out. When you talk about the implementation of other Treaties, remember that the Irish 412 Treaty has never been implemented. Probably we shall hear something from the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) to-night. He was one of the original signatories of the Treaty. Griffiths and Collins, two of the original signatories of that document, went to their graves in defence of it, believing that their co-signatories on the British side would be equally honest, but when the Free State Government meticulously carried out their share of the contract you refused to carry out the most vital part of it, Clause 12. You refused to ascertain the wishes of the people of the north, with the result that you have got a large body of people held unwillingly under the control of the Northern Government who from a sense of fair play ought to be under the Free State Government.
The majority of the Irish people do not believe that you are entitled to the land annuities, either in law or in justice. I would suggest that the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs should look into this matter with a view to ascertaining whether there is not a great deal more in the contention of the Irish Free State than he was prepared to admit in 1932 when he rushed legislation through this House of a retaliatory character. The claim to the land annuities rests upon two documents, one of the 18th February, 1923, and the other of the 19th March, 1926, which the Dominions Secretary says are as binding on both countries as the Treaty. The first agreement was evidently and clearly of a provisional kind. It was not signed by a British Minister and it was not disclosed to Parliament until 1932. Hon. Members can form their own conclusions, as the people of Ireland have formed their conclusions, as to the reason for concealing this document for a period of nine years in the archives of the Dominions Office. I suggest that it was because the Irish signatory found that he had made a mistake.
In the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 one article stipulated that:The Irish Free State shall assume liability for the Public Debt of the United Kingdom as existing at the date hereofBut the Anglo-Irish Boundary Compact of 1925, signed by the Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Epping and a number of other right hon. Gentlemen, and by three Free State Ministers and two Ministers representing Northern 413 Ireland, released the Irish Free State from the obligation of contributing anything to the public debt of the United Kingdom. Except on the assumption that the land annuities do not form part of the public debt of the United Kingdom, Ireland's obligation in that respect was entirely wiped out. When the Irish land stock was issued in 1903, both in the speech of Mr. George Wyndham, in introducing the Measure in this House, and in the money article in the "Times" of the 23rd and 25th October, 1903, it was made perfectly clear that the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom would be responsible for the payment of the annuities, ultimately. When the Secretary of State for Dominions Affairs says that this is not a public debt but a debt as between the stockholders on the one hand the Irish tenant farmers on the other hand, he has no public document to confirm his statement. In the "Times" of the 23rd October, 1903, it was stated that if the income from the land annuities was insufficient it would be charged on and made payable out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom. Therefore, it was a public debt and the agreement of 1925 absolved the Free State from any contribution towards the public debt of the United Kingdom.
Mr. de Valera has never said that he is unwilling to pay. On the contrary, he has said that if an impartial tribunal decide the money is due, he will reconsider the whole matter. It must be very difficult for the American people, whose good will you seek, to see the honesty and consistency of statesmen who fail to pay their own debt, contracted through recent borrowings, and yet turn round and throttle the Irish Free State for a debt of another kind, although the alleged debtor has offered to submit the whole matter to an impartial tribunal. It must be difficult likewise for the Italian people to recognise the disinterestedness of your efforts for peace, even to the extent of ceding a part of your own territory, when they see you making war on a neighbour over a debt of which you are so uncertain and so doubtful and which you refuse to submit to neutral arbitration. We saw recently how willing you were to keep the ring during the Saar plebescite. You were exceedingly anxious that the wishes of the Saar people should be unhampered and unhindered. I can scarcely think 414 that it is the same people and the same Government who refused to ascertain the wishes of the people of Ireland but who were so tremendously interested in seeing that the people of the Saar Basin should have no obstacles placed in their way of going to the poll. You have created a special Ministry for the creation of friendliness among other nations, but your action at home nullifies your efforts abroad. You have forgiven millions of debt to foreign countries in exchange for friendly relations. You forgive and forget major injuries, even from old foes like Germany, but on the first opportunity you raise the mailed fist to the Irish people because of a small disputed debt.
Northern Ireland in 1921 agreed to pay an imperial contribution of £7,000,000 per year. Northern Ireland has not paid £7,000,000, £3,000,000 or £2,000,000. Last year instead of paying any contribution Northern Ireland received a grant from this country. In 1927 the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland made a declaration that the time might come when instead of paying this country a contribution he would be coming to you for a contribution. No party in this House has made the suggestion that Northern Ireland should be subjected to penal enactments because she has not been able to fulfil the conditions of the Act of 1920. Therefore, the only conclusion that one can draw from the disparity of treatment as between Northern Ireland and the Free State is that you are more concerned here with national prejudice and that the question of land annuities is merely a red herring drawn across the trail. Northern Ireland draws £650,000 from land annuities within her own borders, and the people of the Free State see no reason why if Northern Ireland can collect £650,000 and use that money for her own expenditure purposes there should be any differentiation between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.
The amount of the Irish Land Annuities as quoted by the Dominions Secretary is not a correct figure. It is not a real figure. It is well known that in the War years an official of the Public Debt Office was able to go into the money market and purchase £100 Irish Land Stock for as low a figure as £43. Therefore, you have largely extinguished this debt yourselves. You have bought it up, and to say that the Irish Free State owe a certain sum of money when you know 415 perfectly well that they do not owe it, is wrong. You extinguished the debt a considerable time ago. Moreover, when the Irish Land Act was passing through this House the Sinking Fund was assumed to accumulate at from 2½ to 2¾ per cent. Many times during the War you earned 6 per cent. on the money. Therefore, the figure which it is stated the Irish Free State owe is not real but bogus, almost as bogus as the whole case that you put up for the Land Annuities. You cannot coerce the Irish people into doing something that they feel they have a right not to do. History ought to have brought that lesson home to you a long time ago.
There is another aspect of the matter which may not have occurred to hon. Members. The Irish people are threatened from two sources. One is the die-hards who sit in this House and the other the die-hards in Ireland. You say to the Irish people that they cannot have a republic, and the republicans in Ireland say that nothing else but a republic can be set up. I suggest in these circumstances that the advisable thing to do is to allow the Irish people to decide whether they want a republic or not. Probably they do not. There are many people in Ireland who would go a long way to win the friendship and good will of the people in this country, and, if you would allow them to decide for themselves, you would only be doing what you have done in other parts of the world. The Irish people contend that they should have this opportunity and that you should not refuse to allow them the right of saying whether they want one type of government or another. They have been the best customers of this country and in the War took a most conspicuous part, but you give preferential treatment to those people who were your enemies a little while ago.
I should like to remind the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton that the outstanding feature of this dispute is the fair play which the minority in Ireland have received. The assemblies of the nonconformist churches have borne willing testimony to the fact that they have been given fair play by the Government, but there is not a single clergyman or individual in the North of Ireland who can truthfully say that of the Northern Government, which you bolster up with huge grants year after year. If you want 416 a settlement of the Irish question you can have it, but not on the basis of partition or a division of the country. There are many people in the North who are as intensely patriotic as the people of this country, and it is not their wish that the country should be partitioned. That was not their solution. That solution was found in this House, not, in Ireland. Until you allow the whole of the Irish people an opportunity of saying how and in what manner they desire a settlement, you cannot settle it at all.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. ROSS
It is always a real pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Healy). It is a still rarer pleasure to hear his colleague, who has been a Member for a year and a-half and has only been here once. I am looking forward to seeing him again soon. The hon. Member claimed to represent 400,000 people. I cannot recognise the grounds on which he makes such a claim, because his colleague who was elected later only succeded in collecting 28,000 votes out of 118,000, about 25 per cent. of the electors. That does not look like 400,000 people. The hon. Member talks of Irish unity. He is always talking about it. He spoke in my constituency during the election for the Northern Parliament about 15 months ago, and gave us his solution. He said that until partition was ended nothing would be achieved. He was reported to have said—I will accept his denial if the report was inaccurate—that the opportunity to achieve unity in Ireland was on the next occasion when the British Empire would be involved in war. Is that so? Apparently it is. The hon. Member is looking forward to taking advantage of a war in which the British Empire is involved; perhaps he may help to involve us in war. If it is to be such an advantage, is it not a logical course for him to assist in involving us in war. And this is the hon. Member who comes here and says that he and his people are being brutally treated. Hon. Members can judge for themselves. The speeches which are made in Ireland are different from the speeches which are made here.
Then there are the complaints of oppression, which are all nonsense. What is the test? The population in Northern Ireland is suffering from an influx of people from the Irish Free 417 State, who are eager to get into Northern Ireland. Persons living in the Irish Free State have actually offered to change on a valuation basis with people living in Northern Ireland so that our own people can get back under the British flag, but there has never been a single instance of anyone living in Northern Ireland of the hon. Member's political opinions offering to exchange his holding with any one in the Irish Free State. I should like to tell the hon. Member that if he has any hope, however remote, of the people of Ulster consenting to enter the somewhat dilapidated utopia of the Irish Free State he is building on false foundations. Apart from an entire difference of sentiment and feeling, on mere material grounds such an act would be folly.
What is the present position in the Irish Free State? There is an adverse balance of trade of over £19,000,000, greater than the total exports of the country. That is the situation which has been brought about by the Government of the Irish Free State. The allegation has been made—not for the first time; indeed, it is one which is so stale, old and utterly discredited that I should have thought the hon. Member would never have made it again—that Northern Ireland agreed to pay £7,000,000. We never agreed to any such tiling. It was part of the Act of 1920, which was not supported by either the Nationalists or the Ulster party. That Act merely laid down the contribution as a first contribution which was to be varied by the Exchequer according to circumstances. That is under Section 23 of the Act, and we have always fulfilled our obligations under that Section, always, whereas Southern Ireland has avoided paying anything.
§ Mr. ROSS
The Act of 1920 functioned for a little while, but the Irish Free State did not pay anything under that Act or under any other Act. Then there is the question of the Boundary Commission. On one point the hon. Member was prepared to be subject to the judgment of a colonial judge. I reminded him of Mr. Justice Feetham, a man of the highest standard, who has been entrusted with Imperial discussions not only in Ireland but elsewhere, and has fulfilled them with the greatest 418 distinction and impartiality. Because Mr. Justice Feetham decided against the view of the hon. Member—who incidentally always comes here to represent the Irish Free State and not his own constituency—the hon. Members says, "No, Mr. Justice Feetham was a Colonial judge. He did not decide in our favour, and we will not have any more Colonial judges. We will look for someone who will decide in our favour." So, many of our people have to live unjustly under conditions which they dislike, and they cannot, even by offering to exchange their homes, get back to Northern Ireland. Those people could have been transferred by the decision of the Feetham Commission. That decision was received by the Irish Free State Government. They were given a very good inducment to accept a status quo, which was far more than they deserved, and for accepting the status qua they were to be relieved of the national debt. With what gratitude is that received? We have the preposterous argument that the land annuities are part of the national debt. I do not need to argue that point any further, because it is so manifestly absurd.
We have constantly the cry from all Irish parties about the crime of partition. Of course, partition was only produced by the Nationalist aspirations of people in Southern Ireland. They made partition; they split the country. We were prepared to exist in the unity of Ireland and in the larger unity of the British Isles. It is no fault of ours that these two unities have been fractured. Let us examine for a moment the policy of successive Free State Governments as regards partition. Have they endeavoured to struggle with the disadvantages of partition? Have they endeavoured to counteract its effects? Not they. There has been no single instance where they could emphasise partition that they have not done so. Long before this controversy, in the days of the Cosgrave Government, every obstacle has always been put in the way of trade from North Ireland to the Free State. Every opportunity to flout the opinions which we hold has been used by the Government of the Free State. The policy of complaining of partition is controverted by every act they do. Partition need only be just a line on 419 the map. It is the Free State Government who have made it more. I do not wish to allude to the remarks of leading people in the Free State.
§ Mr. ROSS
I will. I am always ready to oblige the hon. Member. One remark will suffice. What is well known in the Free State is our devotion to Great Britain and to its Ruler, and the allusion of Mr. de Valera to our King as a foreign King was an insult which we resent. That is the kind of thing which makes the division between the two parts of Ireland a real one and a lasting one, as well as the mere fiscal and Customs regulations along the border. There is a disunion of hearts there which it will be hard to bridge. The situation has become such that now we are getting, instead of one community, two communities crystallising on each side of the frontier owing to the actions of the Free State Government.
§ Mr. ROSS
So the hon. Member says, but that plea is not supported by very much evidence. Who was it that began putting on duties at the border? Not the British Government. It was the Irish Free State Government. Who is it that is constantly being aggressive and alluding to the intention to secure the whole of Ireland under its rule? Not Northern Ireland. This Government and this House have no ambition to return to the Government of Southern Ireland. They have had enough of that. There was a sonnet written which fittingly expresses the attitude of this House towards Southern Ireland:Since there is no help, then let us kiss and part.No, I have done; You get no more of me.And I am glad; yes, glad with all my heart,That thus so cleanly I myself get free.That is fairly accurately the position of this House towards the Irish Free State.
Let me turn to what is really the subject of this Debate. The Statute of Westminster is indeed a melancholy subject, because the position as it transpires is in fact so contrasted with the position as it was represented to us at the time 420 of the Debate. I use the expression, not with any hostile intention, but with very great regret. I think that at that time the Government were buoyed up with a feeling of optimism which was entirely unjustified, perhaps even in a spirit of complacency. It is a fact that throughout the Debate on the Second Reading three Irish Members spoke, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Down (Mr. D. Reid), my hon. enemy the Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone, and myself. I think we did agree in one thing. My hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh spoke with that sincerity which I know is always his and which I have always respected and always shall. He took the Statute as being a step on the road to the destruction of the Treaty. So it is, and so it was. But the Government had formed a different view. I do not propose, as I am a very humble member of the legal profession, to deal with the legal aspect of the Statute of Westminster, but I do hope that towards the end of this Debate one or other of the Law Officers of the Crown will be able to explain to us why their advice on that occasion was so entirely different from the advice given by a Law Officer of the Crown to the Privy Council upon the present position.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Will my hon. Friend be a little more explicit if he makes a statement of that sort?
§ Mr. ROSS
Is it contended by my right hon. and learned Friend that the position as exemplified by the decision of the Privy Council is the same as that which he explained during the Debate upon the Statute of Westminster? If so, it is rather startling. I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will tell me. I did not propose to deal with a matter which seemed to me so obvious.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I do not know that it is very important, but my hon. Friend has made a statement, and then he asked me whether I deny something about which he fails to be explicit. If he will call the attention of the House to the point on which he says I have expressed two different opinions, I shall be able to deal with it. That is all.
§ Mr. ROSS
I think on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Statute of Westminster the right hon. Gentleman did not inform anybody that the appeal 421 to the Privy Council would thereby be destroyed. He cited with complete approval the maiden speech of my hon. and learned Friend the present Solicitor General who made further statements which certainly gave the impression to his hearers that the position as to the Treaty was not being fundamentally altered. To me, in my ignorance, it appears that by the recent decision to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded earlier, the position has been altered fundamentally and that one of the most important safeguards if not the most important safeguard, has by the Statute of Westminster been utterly destroyed. But we did not know that such would be the case when that Measure was going through the House. I know that there were some guarded statements by Members of the Government. I know that there was a certain amount of caution, but I certainly do not think that anyone in the House, particularly any Unionist Member of the House, believed that the safeguards of the Irish Loyalists in Ireland were going to be destroyed by the action which we were taking at that time.
I hope I have been sufficiently explicit. I raise this point not with any idea of engaging in a futile discussion on legal doctrine, because what I am interested in is the position of the Southern Loyalists and our relations with the Irish Free State. As to the general position, I cannot see how the Treaty can be wiped out by the Statute of Westminster. All that Statute purports to do is to put the authority of the Irish Free State Legislature on a parity with the authority of other legislatures in the British Common-wealth of Nations. Does that mean that a solemn agreement entered into between two of these great communities can be thrown into the waste-paper basket? In my submission, it cannot possibly mean anything of the kind, and that view is supported not only here but in the Irish Free State. What was the view of the Irish Free State Government at the time? They deposited the Treaty with the League of Nations as being, in their view, a Treaty between parties who were competent to make a Treaty irrespective of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It was deposited with the League, and I think that, technically, on a breach of the Treaty—though of course such an action would be absurd—we would be entitled to appeal to the League of Nations and to 422 get one of those forceful interventions which the League from time to time makes in order to get its will observed in the world. The view which I have mentioned was the view of the Irish Free State Government at that time and it is the view of Mr. Cosgrave to-day because he said only the night before last at a meeting in Dublin that the position of the Treaty, in his opinion, was unaffected by the Statute of Westminster. As to general considerations I think that is so.
I have only to add this. We all know that the Irish Free State, however much they may repudiate the British connection are always very well represented in London and that negotiations for trade agreements have been going on. If such negotiations are going on at present it would be interesting to know exactly what they are about. I suppose it would be too much to ask for that information but it certainly would be interesting. However, I have heard two pledges from the Secretary of State for the Dominions and I merely repeat those two pledges with the remark that, unless the right hon. Gentleman desires to vary them in any way, I take it that we can accept them as still binding. The first is that the interests of Northern Ireland shall never be jeopardised in any possible agreement come to with the Irish Free State. The other is that in the minor matter of interchange of trade the right hon. Gentleman will remember that Ulster is more affected by the reprisals which his policy—his just policy—have brought about than any other part of the Kingdom. If he is making any such agreement as I have indicated I hope he will bear in mind the interests and the rights of those who have, I think, supported his policy as valiantly as any.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
I think I can assure the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross)—at least I feel it in my bones—that whatever may be the composition of this House in future, no Government would dare to go back on their word to Ulster. I can hardly imagine that anyone, even in these days of facile change and short memories, would advocate such a policy, except perhaps the hon. Gentleman who feels it his duty to represent the Irish Free State in this House. But it is the case all through the country at the present 423 time that when this Irish trouble is mentioned everybody turns away and, as for us politicians, we are inclined immediately to assume an ostrich-like demeanour and hide our heads in the sand. But even His Majesty's Government themselves must now realise that the time has come when we have to consider the position of this country vis-à-vis the Irish Free State.
I make no apology for reminding the right hon. Gentleman that some of us did warn this House of what was going to happen. I myself tabled a Motion in 1919 pointing out what the situation would be and, in 1921, some 40 of us—the remnant of whom were associated together in the last two years on another issue—gave a similar warning. We actually proposed a Vote of Censure and told His Majesty's Government of that time of our conviction that whatever the sincerity of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffiths—which we did not doubt—there were forces in Ireland which would make it impossible for the Treaty to be honoured. I know that we were labelled "diehards" at that time. I think the term was then intended to convey that we were prepared to perish, at any rate politically, for our principles. But if hon. Members will study the few occasions on which those who were then described as "diehards" have intervened, they will find that those interventions have always been made out of love of country and for the purpose of warning our fellow-countrymen of dangers which might arise. Looking back on those occasions I think it may also be said that the term "diehard" in future can be regarded as including the term "prophet." Like my right hon. Friend who spoke earlier it is to me a tragedy that the State of Ireland should be as we see it at present because there were genuine hopes in this House that by this great gift, as great gift it was—indeed a Quixotic gift—a completely new spirit was going to be created in Ireland. I would remind the House of the words of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was responsible for negotiating this Treaty behind the backs of this House, and we were then informed of the fait accompli. He said:By this agreement we win a deep, abiding, and passionate loyalty. Our peril will be her danger; our fears will be her anxiety; our victory will be her joy.424 I am afraid that we must all confess that that has not been the spirit. The good will and the co-operation which we were told on all hands would come about have been distinctly absent. My right hon. and gallant Friend pointed out all the different occasions on which the decisions of the Treaty have been completely wiped out. He referred to the oath of allegiance, to the appeals to the Privy Council, and to those other vital questions, such as citizenship and other points of that description. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Healy) was incensed with my right hon. and gallant Friend because he happened to mention the Governor who was appointed by Mr. de Valera. I think, to be quite fair to my right hon. and gallant Friend, it was not owing to the fact that he was a shopkeeper that he was appointed. The fact was, as my right hon. and gallant Friend said, that apparently this gentleman was chosen particularly because his name was absolutely unknown in Ireland, as much as to say, "We will appoint somebody absolutely unknown, to show that the office is a cipher." Mr. de Valera announced in the Dail:There is a difficulty in getting rid of the signing of Bills; but even that can be got over. The moment we are rid of these functions, we will get rid of the office.Therefore, I do not think Mr. de Valera himself is very anxious to uphold the honour and dignity of this gentleman whom he appointed. He went on to say, on the 28th May last, on the Vote for the Governor-General's establishment:I do not think it will be moved again, because there will be hardly any good reason for the continuance of the office.It is no good anyone coming to this House and saying, "Let the Irish people have self-determination to decide what their future is to be," and at the same time deny that self-determination apparently to Ulster. Ulster has to go into the pot and to be voted down by those in the South. It will be self-determination for them, but not for their neighbours in the North. The fact remains that we have now arrived at the position that on every vital safeguard in this Irish Treaty no longer are we able to sustain the position unless His Majesty's Government are going to take action. How far are they going to allow it to go? What is their policy? No one can deny their difficulties—everybody knows them—but you cannot allow this matter to 425 drift. It is intolerable to think you are gradually going to allow the whole of this honourable undertaking, which was carried out by distinguished citizens of the Irish Free State in solemn conclave, to be torn to shreds month after month and month after month. That is impossible.
I think we have cause also to complain of His Majesty's Government, because, in the Debate on the Statute of Westminster, some of us had doubts, and they were expressed very eloquently by some of my hon. Friends, as to whether in fact the Statute of Westminster did not make it possible for the people of Leland through their Government to break the various Clauses of the Treaty. We certainly had soothing statements from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Dominions, who, I believe, is going to offer a few remarks later on, and who has been giving us solemn advice for the last few years on another subject—and time and time again we had the assurances of the Law Officers of the Crown—but innocently, no doubt, without any guile, and certainly with full belief that his soothing judgments were correct at that time. I think every Member of the House must agree, after what has happened in the Free State in the last three or four months, that if we are to take the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman as having been gospel at the time they were made, those statements have been unfulfilled. Therefore, we are in this very difficult position, that gradually under this machinery every single one of these printed parts of that Treaty have been torn up.
Ireland is rapidly passing, as we declared she would pass, into the hands of republicans. How far are we going? Have not the Government a duty to the security of this island and of the British Empire to say what their policy is and how far they are going to tolerate this position? Have they not a duty to the 200,000, it may be, Irish loyalists who have suffered so grievously owing to the betrayal by this House, in insisting that their rights are carried out; and have we not a duty to the whole fabric of Empire to see that it is impossible that this position can go from bad to worse? Many a time have I heard hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on these benches, above and below the Gangway on this side, speak of the great spirit of Abraham 426 Lincoln. When we see the British Empire gradually disappearing, and when we look at the map of this mighty confederation of peoples as it was at the end of the War, and then look at it to-day, and at what it will be in a few years' time, I ask, Is it not time that we began to stand firm and to make sure that this wreck cannot go on?
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I have listened to the greater part of this Debate, waiting to hear some constructive proposal from some of the hon. Members who have been criticising the Government for not showing a more decided policy in this connection. The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft), who has just sat down, made a very fierce attack on the Government, but he did not suggest what he wanted to do. I understand that the position of Ireland is that of the other Dominions. She has her future in her own hands. The formation of such a Government as she will enjoy in the future, she will be responsible for. Does the hon. Baronet suggest that we should attempt to mould the future government of Ireland by force?
§ Sir H. CROFT
I will reply at once. If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to admit that Ireland should become a republic, then that is an absolute betrayal of the whole of the pledges of this House, and it means the break-up of the Empire.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
It is no use going back into past history and saying what you expected might happen. We have to deal with the present position, with what will be the position in the future, and with what manner of control or influence we, on this side of the Channel, can exercise on the future destinies of Ireland. Does the hon. Baronet suggest that we should amend the Statute of Westminster? There is another Dominion besides Ireland that has taken advantage of the Statute of Westminster. Canada has done away with appeals to the Privy Council in criminal matters. The Free State has done away with appeals in civil matters. I think some of us in this House are apt to forget that the Statute of Westminster, although, when it was passed, many people did not realise what its full implications were—
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
That is quite true. We realise them now, but that Statute of Westminster gave the freedom to our Dominions that our Dominions wanted. Is it suggested anywhere in this House to-day that we are going to diminish the amount of freedom that our Dominions enjoy to-day? There is some difference, it is true, with regard to Ireland, because the Treaty was embodied in a Statute. A Treaty which is drawn up between two authorities in the ordinary course is brought to an end either by consent or by the power of denunciation which may be in the Treaty itself. In this case the House made the Treaty into a statute, and when a treaty becomes part of the statute law of the country it is open to amendment by further law. That is what has been done in this case.
The judgment of the Privy Council is perfectly clear that when the Statute of Westminster did away with the Colonial Laws (Validity) Act of 1865 it was open to the Parliament of the Irish Free State to pass an amending law, which would otherwise have been forbidden. We have to realise that the position is altered by the Statute of Westminster. I take it that it is going to remain on the Statue Book and is not going to be amended because of the action which the Irish were perfectly legally entitled to take under it. Ireland has not done anything illegal in amending the appeals to the Privy Council. I do not propose to go with some hon. Members who have spoken to-night into the past history of Ireland, either Northern or Southern Ireland. The destiny of Northern and Southern Ireland has to be settled by the people of Ireland themselves. When the Treaty was signed the drawing of that boundary across the island was regretted by everyone who saw it done. It was regarded as a regrettable necessity at that time, and one hopes that in days to come that line may disappear, but it can only disappear by the free will of both Northern and Southern Ireland. I do not see how we in this House are going to help forward that day if we meddle unduly and unfairly in the affairs of Ireland when Irishmen have the responsibility on their own shoulders.
The main cause of my rising to-night is simply to say that there has, I think, been a change of opinion in England with regard to the attitude that was taken up 428 as to the tribunal that should settle the original dispute which arose over the question of the land annuities. Great apprehension exists in this country lest this continued state of semi-warfare should be allowed to drag on year after year. The country is getting more and more desirous that it should be brought to an end at the earliest opportunity. I frankly say that I have modified my opinion in that respect. When I spoke on this matter a year or two ago I hoped very much that an Imperial tribunal would be the one to settle it. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government really consider themselves bound on that question of an Imperial tribunal. I do not suppose anyone in the House would not prefer an Imperial tribunal to a more open one, because we like to settle our domestic matters ourselves, but, if this matter can be settled by any manner of means by arbitration, is the door absolutely closed to another form of tribunal and to looking to Geneva or to the Hague for a choice of arbitrators which would meet with the consent of both parties? It does seem a miserable state of affairs that we should continue to say, "We are willing to arbitrate on this dispute if you will arbitrate in this manner," and that the Irish should say, "We are willing to arbitrate if you arbitrate in that manner." Surely two great peoples can come together in a matter like this instead of letting questions of dignity stand in the way? I ask the Government to give some assurance to the country that they will take every step to get the trouble of land annuities out of the way and to do something to improve the atmosphere.
§ Sir PATRICK FORD
Does the hon. Member, in making the proposal about a tribunal which is not an Imperial tribunal, want to give the House the impression that he talking of opinion in Scotland, seeing that he is a Scottish Member?
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
If I were in Scotland it might be a Scottish opinion. At the moment I am in London, but it is not an opinion which is confined to either. It is an opinion which I have found to be widening very much in the country. At first everyone was in favour of an Imperial tribunal, but the people are getting 429 so dissatisfied with this wretched dispute carrying on, that they say—
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
My hon. Friends in the party for which I have the honour to speak have altered their opinion, as I know that others have altered theirs. I frankly say that I have altered my opinion, and I think that there are a great many other people who have altered their opinion in the same direction, for the reason that they want to see an end put to this miserable dispute which is keeping the two countries apart.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
I do not want to enter into the arguments that have been advanced in regard to the situation between this country and the Free State except to express a feeling of regret that the Opposition should have chosen this particular subject on which to attack the Government. This is a problem affecting three nations—Britain, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is a problem on which everyone of good will should have brought constructive suggestions to bear in order that we might get back to a working understanding between the three countries. I do not think that the Government deserve any blame for the way in which they have handled this problem. In times past I have criticised my right hon. Friend the Dominions Secretary, but I do not think that in the last few years be could have taken any steps but the steps that he has taken. The trouble is that owing to the temporary fictitious prosperity which has been gained in the Free State by the excessive use of tariffs and the seizure of the land annuities, the President of the Free State has been in a position in which it has been impossible to negotiate with him, and, in spite of the conciliatory attitude adopted by my right hon. Friend, it was found in practice impossible to make any impression on the political exterior of Mr. de Valera. I do not believe I have ever found myself in agreement with a Liberal in my life, but to-night I can agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir It. Hamilton) in one point. He stated that we are dwelling too much in the past. It is a tragic tradition in Ireland to regard the past as a justification for the present, and even for the future. It is a tragic 430 tradition to blame the living for the misdeeds of the dead. That attitude has not alone been adopted in Ireland. It has been adopted in this House. I have noticed speeches year after year, including, I am sorry to say, speeches of my own, in which everyone has failed to face the realities of the moment.
We have to consider and to face the realities to-night. The first reality is the fact that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, as the final arbiter of all issues, has decided that the Statute of Westminster overrides the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922. That means that the Free State Government or any other Government in the Empire has a right to decide for itself what form of government it shall have, even to the extent of a form of government that removes it entirely from association with the British Empire. With all due respect to my many friends who have spoken on this subject it seems to me that no useful purpose can now be served by criticising the Statute of Westminster or the methods by which it was achieved. I was one of its opponents throughout the whole of its stages, but I realise that it is now the law of Britain and the Empire and we have to recognise its permanent existence. The logical and only honest course for this House is to see how it can reconcile the existence and the results of that Statute with the aspirations of the Irish Free State to-day as voiced by the various leaders in it, because on that particular question there is no divergence of opinion among them. Whether it is Mr. de Valera or General Duffy or Mr. Cosgrave, they are all united on this one subject.
I was rather encouraged to intervene this evening by a statement I saw in, possibly, not a very reputable organ, the "News Chronicle," in which Mr. de Valera was reputed to have said that what he wanted was freedom to have an all-Ireland republic; that he was quite prepared—again I am not "going bail" for the statement made, considering the source from which it comes—to proclaim that republic as part of the Empire and to regard the King as its common head. If that report is true it seems to me that two questions immediately arise, one of name and one of Ulster. There is the question of "Free State" or "republic." I want to now—I am not a lawyer, and perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend 431 the Attorney-General will give me information on this point later—what is the fundamental difference between "Free State" and "republic." I have looked at Chambers' Dictionary this afternoon to see whether I could find any light or leading there, and "Free State" is not mentioned in the dictionary; but presumably it is a state free to decide its own political destiny and it derives that power from its own people. There is a dictionary meaning attached to "republic," which is "A state in which the sovereign power is vested in the community." I ask, Where is the difference between these two? [An HON. MEMBER: "Good heavens."] If we examine the only other free state of which we know in recent history, the Orange Free State, that did not stand alone but was a member of a federal republic. These are difficulties and doubts which have suggested themselves, and I put them forward honestly and candidly. If this does not appear to be a strictly Tory speech, that does not mean that it is not an honest speech. I am putting forward certain difficulties which have probably been difficulties of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs during the past two or three years—how to reconcile these divergences of opinion, which obviously exist but which some of us believe can be reconciled.
If we have that question as to the fundamental difference between these two names settled—and I think my right hon. and learned Friend will advise us on that—let us come to the question of Ulster. Mr. de Valera and his political opponents, Mr. Cosgrave and General Duffy, make as their ultimate claim an all-Ireland Republic or Federation. That is a point we have to bear in mind—they have not stressed it, but I think myself it is a point of some significance. To that Ulster naturally says, no. Ulster has a Government of which she is justifiably proud and a connection with Great Britain which she ardently wishes to maintain and to preserve, and has a suspicion of the Free State which the latter has certainly never done anything to assuage, and it is obvious that any legislation which is considered in this House must definitely and for all time recognise and protect the integrity of Ulster. It is only Ulster's right, it is a duty 432 which we owe her for a loyalty unsurpassed throughout the British Empire.
That brings us to our great difficulty. The Ulster Government must be maintained; that is obvious, and there can be no difference of opinion on that point; but according to the Statute of Westminster the Free State apparently has the right, as the Statute is now defined by the Privy Council, to maintain its own individual entity either inside or outside the British Empire. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] According to the definition that we now have, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council have adjudged the Statute of Westminster, as far as I can read it, to give that permission to the Irish Free State, permission to decide for itself on a Government which will take it within or without the British Empire.
§ Lieut.-Commander AGNEW
Is the hon. and gallant Member suggesting that by the Statute of Westminster—the Privy Council's interpretation of it—there is given a legal right to any Dominion of the British Empire to secede from the Empire?
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
That is my reading of it. That is why I am putting these questions, so that we can have definite advice from the one who is most qualified to advise us. This is the proposition which it seems to me one can reasonably make to get out of this impasse. There are many questions of common importance and common interest between the two nations, Ulster and the Free State—the difficult questions of Customs duties, trade, financial policy, the railways, the banking system and canals. All these are questions which somehow or other could be decided by some form of negotiation or common examination, and their settlement is made more important, in my opinion, by the intermarriages and the friendships and the kinships which exist between individuals in the two communities. So while preserving the integrity of both of them surely it should be possible to establish some common medium, a council, call it "a council of common interests." The name seems to indicate an ideal and also something practical. If, as I believe, the council were successful, the result would engender a consolidation of purpose in place of the antagonism which still unhappily exists. This council 433 could sit alternately in both capitals, so that national or civic pride should not be prejudiced, or could sit in some border town, but it should be charged with the determination to meet and to consider every difficulty put before it in an atmosphere of good will and conciliation. It would be, I am convinced, the beginning of understanding, and I believe it would lead to the end of misunderstanding, and also to the end of those bitter friends of misunderstanding, suspicion and hostility, of which we have had too much.
As for ourselves, I would like us to be courageous and to be bold. If there is no dispute except that of name, I would like the Government and my right hon. Friend to look into the matter to see whether we could not retain a loyal friend in the Free State instead of an embittered enemy, as we have at present. It is no good my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) commenting on what happened 20 years ago. We are 20 years older and 20 years deeper in suspicion and hostility. For centuries Ireland has been torn and racked by living in the past. I want now to live in the future, to work for the future and to try to make both countries in Ireland, and ourselves, happy in each other and with each other. That it can be done I am satisfied, if only the task is approached with imagination and determination and with the courage which I know my right hon. Friend has got. I believe he would have the full support of the House in pursuing that object.
I would say a word of caution. No matter what the President of the Irish Free State may say, we cannot, as an island nation, allow Ireland to be used as a base of attack against us. That applies equally whether Ireland is within the British Empire or outside it. Self-preservation is the strongest of all forces, stronger than sentiment, morality and expediency. We have to be realists. While we are willing to see how reconciliation can be affected, we have to bear in the back of our minds that knowledge that our own self-preservation is the first claim that our people will demand. It may be that what I have suggested will be called by the critics an agreement of compromise, but it is not the first time that compromise has been 434 tried by Britain and been successful. It is inherent in the genius of our people to govern by compromise. I cannot believe that it could not be tried with as much effect in regard to this problem as it has been tried in the past.
A last personal word: I have a great love for Ulster, which is the land of my birth. I have a great love for the Free State, because it is the land of a very happy boyhood. I have a great love for this country, Britain, because it is the land of, I hope, my more useful middle age. If the suggestion which I have made will lead to a better and happier community existing among us three, I shall be glad that I have intervened in this Debate.
§ 9.17 p.m.
The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
When the Dominions Vote was under discussion, there was general agreement that an opportunity, that was not in order on that day, should be furnished to the House to discuss the wider issue of the Irish Free State arising out of the Privy Council decision. Therefore, to-day, that opportunity being afforded, I rise at once to say that—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me? I would like to remind him that the day has been made possible by the courtesy of the Liberal Opposition, and by ourselves being willing to part with a Supply Day in order to make it possible.
I say without any hesitation, and straightaway, that the opportunity was facilitated by the arrangement to which my right hon. Friend has just referred. It is an arrangement which I am sure the House as a whole will have welcomed. The Debate this evening has raised many issues. On the one side there are those who want to discuss what I would call the purely legal position arising out of the decision. It has been very freely stated that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General gave certain advice. It will be for the convenience of the House if I deal with what I will call the purely political side of the questions which have been raised. I shall be prepared to give very clear answers to certain specific questions which were raised. In doing so, I hope my position will not be misunderstood, 435 and that nothing that I say, although it is necessary to give clear and definite answers, will render more difficult the possibility of a settlement between the Irish Free State and ourselves.
I say at the outset that I took the view that there was a breach of agreement, that an honourable understanding between the two Governments was broken, and that if that were allowed to continue between Governments, the relationship so essential to good government would be impossible in the future. I repeat to-night that no action of our Government, even in the imposition of a duty, must be considered as punitive in character. A debt was owing to this country. A sum of money was due to the people of this country. We offered every opportunity to have an adjustment of that matter, but it was refused, and we adopted the only possible means of obtaining for the British people what we believed to be their rights. That, shortly, is the history of the economic question.
I believe that the representative of the Liberal party indicated that they had changed their view. If I am wrong he will correct me, I am sure. He said: "Up to this stage I always took the view, and the Liberal Opposition took the view, that an Empire tribunal was the right body to settle this question. Now, having regard to the length of the dispute and to the long period that has elapsed, I have altered my view." Speaking for his party he said they were now in favour of a tribunal that would include some foreign representative. I think that is a fair representation of what he said. I would first draw attention to the fact that nothing has happened since the last Debate to warrant a change, by a representative body in this House, to repudiate the accepted principle of the last Imperial Conference endorsed by every member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I note the point, and I will only repeat that I refused to believe, when I discussed the matter with Mr. de Valera, and I refuse to admit to-night, that there are not, within the British Commonwealth of Nations, three, five or six men, excluding this country, if you like, sufficiently impartial and fair to arrive at a just and fair conclusion on this matter.
436 I will now reveal to the House that at Ottawa, with the full authority of my colleagues and in private negotiation, I prepared an offer to go to the length of standing out ourselves, that is to say, Great Britain standing out, and to let the Irish Free State stand out. We would have no representative on the tribunal, provided that tribunal were chosen from the rest of the British Commonwealth of Nations. But it is very obvious this evening that a number of new questions have arisen. I have indicated, and I regret, the change of the Liberal opposition from an Imperial Conference decision—
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
Would the right hon. Gentleman point out the decision of the Imperial Conference?
My hon. and learned Friend, of course, will say on a purely legal point that there was no decision. He is right, but there was a common agreement and that was good enough. As for Mr. de Valera I pointed that out to him on the last occasion. I have been asked, and I do not think it is a very innocent question, whether I will advise the House of the difference between the Irish Free State and a Republic. I was amazed to find that question put to me by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore). We are discussing the Statute of Westminster, and I will try to give the simplest answer. This is what Chapter IV says:And 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. …The difference between a Republic was defined quite honestly by Mr. de Valera when he spoke a few days ago and alluded to His Majesty as "a foreign King." It is no good mincing matters. Either you are in the British Commonwealth of Nations or you are out of it, and if you are prepared to accept all the privileges and advantages of the British Commonwealth of Nations, then that must carry with it, naturally, the obligations and responsibilities of that allegiance.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
The reference I made was to the speech by Mr. de Valera in which he said that what he wanted, apparently, was the name 437 changed, but to remain within the Empire.
Mr. de Valera's views are well known to me. They have been expressed quite frankly, fairly and honestly by him, and I can summarise them in a sentence. He said, "First, we must be a republic, but for certain external affairs we would be prepared to recognise your King."
I am not concerned with what appeared in the Press. I am giving a fair and accurate summary of what Mr. de Valera said. I merely state the facts. My answer is that I do not believe that any Government in this country; not even a Government of which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was in charge, would ever face this country and say that the Irish Free State had a constitution that was to be used for some purposes, and in some ways when it suited them, but for other purposes was to be non-existent. That will not be tolerated by the people of this country, and I do not believe any Government would dare face that issue. That is the second point.
The opener of the Debate this afternoon, while dealing with the legal point of view, said that the Government had missed every opportunity of settling this question. I asked him to define the opportunities that we had missed. He gave two. He said that the first was when Mr. de Valera sent his despatch and asked that we should define our attitude if he declared a Republic. The Government—and this House endorsed our action—said that we refused to answer a hypothetical question, but we refused because we did not believe then, and do not believe to-day, that the Free State would declare a republic with all the consequences that follow. This is not a new question to me. Mr. de Valera himself raised it. He raised quite frankly with us the question of a republic. I pointed out to him the effect. There is a lot of silly talk about what are the advantages of becoming a republic, but we are obliged to face the facts. The first effect would be that Irish doctors, and Irish veterinary surgeons, numbering between 8,000 and 9,000, would become 438 aliens. Thousands of Irishmen who are civil servants would become aliens. The 250,000 ordinary workers who are Irishmen would become aliens, and not one of them could retain his job except by a permit similar to that granted to every foreigner in this country.
The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) asked what are we going to do about it? My answer is—and I speak authoritatively for the Government—that we are not going to be a party to, and we will take every step we can to prevent, Southern Ireland going out of the British Commonwealth, no matter what may be the temptation, no matter what the irritation may be, no matter how much we may be provoked. The geographical position of Ireland is the best indication that we ought to be friends with Ireland. The economic position of Ireland, her dependence upon us, and her great value to us as a trading community indicate the advantage it would be for us to be friends; and we want to be friends. We are anxious to be friends, but there are certain fundamental facts to be faced. I have already answered the question of the tribunal. No one assumes for one moment that the mere question of annuities is the only difficulty. We could soon get over that difficulty if that were the only matter in dispute. But are the Oath of Allegiance, the Governor-General as the King's representative, "a foreign King" as defined by Mr. de Valera, not fundamental to any settlement? Of course these things are fundamental. Of course they have to be brought into review. Not only this Government, but any other Government and every Irishman in this country, knows that the facts are as. I have stated them. We have missed no opportunity, and we will miss no opportunity.
I was challenged as to why I welcomed Mr. de Valera's statement that he would not be a, party to allowing the Irish Free State to be used as a base against this country. I will welcome any statement and any indication that shows that there is a tendency to try to see our point of view. I will welcome it from Mr. de Valera or anyone else. I will welcome any and every opportunity. But it is not for trade union leaders—and I speak as one who was a trade union leader—to be a party to merely scrapping agreements. In the Labour movement we have had 439 disputes because employers repudiated their obligations, and we have fought for and maintained the sanctity of agreements. It is necessary in the trade union movement, it is necessary in business life, it is necessary in government, and I intend to uphold and maintain the sanctity of treaties.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think that the occasion of this Debate would have been justified in itself alone by the speech which it has drawn from the Dominions Secretary. It was a very courageous speech, a very resolute speech, and one which certainly should not fall from the lips of a representative of National Labour in His Majesty's Government without receiving the sincere support of Conservatives in all parts of this House. I have no quarrel with what the right hon. Gentleman has said to-night—none whatever. But, in spite of what we have heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) about the evils of looking back on the past, I feel absolutely bound to ask the House to cast their memories back a few years. I will not go back too far. If we were to look back on this House as I have seen it as a small boy in the Gallery, with the great parties ranged on each side fighting the Home Rule controversy, we should be able to measure the enormous change which has taken place in our point of view.
If Mr. Gladstone and Mr. John Morley, and those who fought with them, could have listened to this Debate, how they would have recoiled from it if they could have heard the speech of the hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Liberal party, if they could have heard the speech of an hon. Member representing a Unionist constituency in Scotland. If they could have heard all this talk of its being an easy matter of discussion whether there should be a republic or not, or whether we should allow a foreign tribunal to arbitrate a country in or out of the British Empire, all this talk of its being quite an easy matter which can be discussed in a perfectly cool fashion, I am sure that those great pioneers would have revolted, and would have scourged these gentlemen as guilty of putting forward propositions which no patriotic Englishman could entertain.
440 But those times have passed; I am not going back to those days; I am quite content to go back over the life of this Parliament, and that is all that I am going to deal with now. After all there must be some limit. I quite agree that we live in an age of larger views and shorter memories, but I think that a Parliament ought at any rate to feel a sincere sense of responsibility for its own actions in its own lifetime. I hope that that is not an extreme proposition, and that I shall not be accused of trying to drag matters back into the dark ages when I call the attention of the House of Commons to the fact that it was only four years ago that this Parliament first met here in its pristine vigour, in its youthful ardour, in its boiled-over electioneering enthusiasm.
What were the first things that happened when it came together? I think it is a very melancholy fact that the first two things which this Parliament was asked to do when it came together were to pass the Statute of Westminster and to agree to the main outlines of responsible government in India. Both of those great proposals came before Members the great majority of whom were wholly inexperienced, and who had just come back from the country which had elected them on a great surge of national enthusiasm desiring to see Britain great and honourable and secure in the world. The first thing that those Members were asked to do was to commit themselves to these two very far-reaching matters of principle. I think it was a great pity. It was the first step which stamped the character of the Parliament, and, in my opinion, this Parliament has never recovered from the decisions that it took in the first fortnight of its existence. Its place in history will be defined by those decisions, and all the work that it has done in the intervening period has flowed naturally from them.
When the Statute of Westminster was being debated, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) moved an Amendment, and I think I am entitled to pay him a tribute for having done so, because there is not the slightest doubt that his Amendment would to a very large extent have saved us from the embarrassment in which we now stand. At any rate, it would have safeguarded our position. We all thought that the Statute of Westminster, although 441 it embodied principles which might well have taken their place in the domestic law of the British Empire as defined at the Imperial Conference in 1928, assumed, when it was cast in legal form, a repulsive guise, and I deeply regret that it was forced through the House in that form. At any rate, however, we had to accept it.
My right hon. and gallant Friend put down an Amendment to provide that the Irish Treaty, if it can be called a treaty, or the Articles of Agreement, if that term be preferred, should be immune from the overriding powers of the Statute of Westminster. It was a very reasonable Amendment, and many people thought that there was a great deal in it. Canada had asked that her fundamental law should be safeguarded in that way, and Australia similarly had desired to withdraw the Act which created her Constitution from the dissolving powers of the Statute of Westmintser. But the Government would have none of it. They resisted. They were the masters, as they are now, of everything that this House does. They assured us that there was no danger of the Statute of Westminster overriding the Treaty. Everybody knows that. That is what made me exert myself as far as I could to bring this matter up on the present occasion.
We had an absolutely definite assurance from the highest legal and political authorities of His Majesty's Government that the Statute of Westminster left the Irish Treaty intact. There might have been a gentleman's agreement, but we contended that the Statute of Westminster could only have the effect of enabling the Irish Parliament, by perfectly legal processes, to undo or destroy every point and principle in the Treaty which had been arrived at between the two nations. I think the House is bound to take note of the fact that we received on that occasion wrong advice, both legal and political, from the high authorities of the Government. We relied upon expert advice in the matter of law; we relied in the main, upon Professor Morgan. I see that Lord Birkenhead at one time described him as one of the greatest constitutional authorities in the British Empire. At any rate, it seems that he has been completely right, because everything that he said and everything that he advised at that time has now been 442 absolutely, line by line, word by word, syllable by syllable and comma by comma made good by the judgment of the supreme tribunal of British law. You cannot go beyond the Privy Council. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the law, and in this case they can give a decision as to what is the law which, owing to the character of the law, is not one from which you can possibly escape.
The Attorney-General was the legal adviser of the Government. I do not know what Lord Sankey's position was. I do not know whether he advised the Government in one sense, and on subsequent consideration of the matter took a different view as head of the supreme tribunal, but, at any rate, as far as this House is concerned, our affair is with my right hon. and learned Friend. I share the general esteem that is entertained for him in all parts of the House. I would not criticise his legal judgment if he did not stand on foundations which make it quite certain that no words that fall from me can do him any serious or lasting professional injury, but, at any rate, there is no doubt that my right hon. Friend was wrong. All the years that I have been in the House I have always said to myself one thing: "Do not interrupt," and I have never been able to keep to that resolution. Now look at this. This is the Attorney-General. His speech was quite all right from his point of view. He slurred over it and said it was doubtful, but there was a moral obligation, and where the morality ended and the law began no human being could discern. When I was speaking I must have said something that startled him, and he embarked on an interruption, and the interruption reveals quite clearly that his advice was wrong. I had been saying that I was astonished that the Government did not accept the view that we put forward on the Second Reading that the Statute of Westminster overrides the Treaty. "You do not react against that. You do not challenge that. If you were to challenge it, we might easily reach an agreement, because you could vote for our Amendment which would exempt the Irish Treaty from the operation of the Statute of Westminster." The Solicitor-General rose. He was Solicitor-General then. He has been promoted since, very rightly. I do not say that one slip like this should mar a great professional career. You 443 cannot go eclipsing these great legal luminaries because of accidents like that. He said:I did not wish to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he has made a statement which I desire to say is not quite in accordance with the facts. The right hon. Gentleman says that no dispute has been raised as to the unqualified power, if this Bill is passed, of the Irish Free State to abrogate or abolish the Treaty. That was certainly challenged in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. Somervell) and I repeated that challenge in my speech and said that in my humble judgment the Constitution could not be amended, having regard to Article 50 of the Treaty, except in accordance with the Treaty.There is no question of that being a matter of morality. This is a matter of law. Therefore, I say that my right hon. Friend gave us wrong legal advice. I am sorry to add to the burdens of the Prime Minister by reminding him of his past, but he is welcome to retaliate in so far as he feels inclined upon the extensive target which I present myself. This is what he said:The Treaty will be just us binding, so I am advised, after the passing of this Statute as before. This also occurs to rue. The Treaty has been scheduled to the Constitution by the Dail, sitting as a constituent assembly, and in it are contained provisions for the amendment of the constitution only within the terms of the scheduled treaty. Thus, the Dail now can only legally modify the constitution in conformity with the Treaty, which is actually embedded in the Irish Free State Constitution. I think this country has every security."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1931; cols. 328 and 345, Vol. 260.]There is not the slightest doubt that the right hon. Gentleman believed that and was advised on the highest authority that that was so, but it was all wrong. That is the point that I am here to make. We must look back on these four years. We are entitled to say that altogether incorrect advice was given to Parliament—to this new, young, raw Parliament. The political advice was equally unfortunate. Here is the only point where I really have to quarrel with the Dominions Secretary, because on the subject of law he is never likely to get into a scrape. I defy anyone to catch him out or to point to any part of his carefully considered and shrewd speeches which could possibly be brought to the coherent decision of a judicial body. But still the right hon. Gentleman played his part in this and produced a letter from Mr. Cosgrave, 444 which stirred the House to an enormous extent, in which Mr. Cosgrave pleaded that it would be very disadvantageous to Irish good will if any such withholding of the Irish Treaty from the operation of the Statute of Westminster were carried in this House. I thought it a very grave mistake for the Government to give way to Mr. Cosgrave in that matter and a very great misfortune for Mr. Cosgrave. As a matter of fact, he would have done much better at the forthcoming election, which I warned the House would very likely result in the return of Mr. de Valera, if he could have had a grievance against the accursed English in this respect without feeling too deeply himself and if at the same time an assurance had not been given to a certain percentage of disloyal elements in Ireland that the new House of Commons did not care very much one way or the other what they did about it. At any rate, that is what the decision of the House was on the advice of the Government.
I am a treaty man. I am one of the signatories to the Irish Treaty. We have the great advantage that we are a self-contained British Parliament, but there were terrible arguments on the other side. At any rate, we signed this Treaty and Irishmen died to make it good and to keep it as a great instrument guiding our future relations. No one can possibly impugn the conduct of Great Britain. But what has happened to the Treaty now? It has been broken and repudiated. My right hon. Friend and the Dominions Secretary unfolded to the House part of that dismal catalogue of repudiation which has marked the last four years—the oath of allegiance, the abolition of the Senate, the last remaining vestige of the action of the Crown and the Governor-General, the right of appeal to the Privy Council, and the new law which makes a British subject a foreigner in the Free State if a proclamation is made under the Act.
The whole of this great transition has speedily transformed the Ireland we settled with as a Dominion within the Empire but with the full rights of the Canadian Dominion into an alien republic. The whole of that great transition has taken place during these four years in which we have had our own troubles to worry about, and no one has concerned himself with it. But there it is. It is not complete. There are a few remaining 445 steps to be taken but not many. They are going to be taken. The whole of this thing is going to happen. Let me point out that it has been perfectly legal. When you passed that Statute of Westminster and when the Chief Whip assembled for the first time his mighty legions returned at the General Election and rolled them through the Lobby over the 50 who stood out on that occasion, when that happened and a refusal was made by the Government to exempt the Irish Treaty from the operations of the Statute, when that happened you regularised every necessary step, every necessary step that has been taken and may be taken in the future, to destroy and sweep away every vestige of the Treaty made between the two countries.
I have no doubt that we shall hear from the hon. and learned Gentleman speaking from the benches of the Labour party that de Valera has acted only within his legal rights. He may have broken every kind of good faith between nation and nation, and every kind of agreement between man and man, and made it quite clear that the word of Ireland entered into by people who were his colleagues and with whom he worked in bygone days is not of consequence to him, and that he has been the injured party for all time and that the small nations and the good faith of small nations has been impugned. But that is not a matter that affects the issue. He is legally entitled, as I understand, according to highest authority, to take all the steps he has done, and when we were advised he would not be so legally advised, we were voted down when we did not accept that.
I do not hesitate to draw a moral, which the House will quite readily accept from me, that in this great Indian Constitution Bill there are a great many things on which you have been advised by legal authority and of which the House has accepted the opinion which, when you come to look at their working out in practice year after year, will be found equally fallacious and equally injurious to what has occurred in Ireland, and injurious upon a far more immense scale in the history of the world and in the wealth and strength of this country. We are bound to draw attention to the past because it is the guide, and the only guide we have, to the immediate future, and we are bound to say that Ministers 446 who were giving all these airy assurances about Ireland have repeated them during the whole course of this vast Indian Constitution Bill.
Let this House cast its mind forward to another occasion 15 years hence when another kind of violation takes place in India such as that which we have witnessed without comment taking place within the last four years in Ireland, and we shall see hon. Gentlemen getting up from here or the Liberal benches or wherever it may be and saying, "Of course, no doubt we were wrong in assuming that this safeguard would be maintained or that principle would be preserved. It is true we were wrongly advised. It is a great pity, but, still, it is no use worrying about it now. All that is finished. We must look forward and not backward." And look forward to what? An increasing slide and decline downwards of British rights and authority. That is what I apprehend may well be taking place in regard to this vaster well-being of the Indian masses; something similar to that which we have seen operating on a smaller scale, and in a smaller organism, and much more rapidly in regard to the Irish Free State. I do not contend for a moment that these matters are similar or that there is any similarity between Ireland and India at all, but I say that we warn the House and we claim the justification which is furnished by the Debate to-night as our proof that a long series of undeceptions await us in the Indian sphere.
This Parliament is on its death bed. Whether it expires before Christmas or gasps and rattles through till the New Year, no one can tell, but I think it has a rather tragic and pathetic record. When one thinks of the high mission in which it was born, it is sad to think how much has gone wrong during this period. By no means is the Government responsible for all that has happened, but while you see in this country a great deal of contentment, a very great revival of confidence and prosperity, and a very great acceptance of our general social units, outside this island and in external affairs, just driven on by those very principles we are endeavouring to stigmatise tonight, there has been almost a degeneration of our position and interest, and it will go down, undoubtedly, to history that this House of Commons presided 447 over a diminution in arms and defensive security of Great Britain of the most serious character, has watched in a supine fashion the vast rearmament of Germany and the virtual transition of the Irish Free State into an independent republic, and has finally set on foot a process in India which, I venture to say, will be as disappointing and vexatious to the House as that which we have brought under close examination to-night. It was all needless. That is the tragedy of it. There was no great pressure and no violent forces that could have led you to these steps. It was all due to being dominated by a particular school of thought which has no relation to the realities of our Imperial life, and still less relation to the facts and forces now at work in Europe. Needless and gratuitous have been these surrenders, and my hope is, by bringing this matter forward and forcing it upon the attention of the House, we may do something to build up in a future Parliament some resisting power which will check this perpetual progress of British degeneration.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
Since the right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to criticise some suggestions which I made, will he say what is his solution for retaining the Irish Free State in the Empire if she does not want to stay?
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I said what I had to say the other evening with regard to the legal aspect of this situation, and I do not desire to go over all that ground again, but I should like to remind the House that it is quite clear from all the speeches we have heard to-night that this question of whether or not we were, by the passage of the Statute of Westminster, giving Ireland her freedom to alter the Treaty was one that was present to the mind of everybody who followed the Debates upon the Statute of Westminster. I ventured, in the speech which I made on the Second Reading, to point out that that was one of the risks that would be taken by the passage of that Statute, and I and the party I represent certainly took the view that it was a wise and proper thing to448 give Ireland that liberty at that time, just as liberty was then being given to South Africa and to other members of the Dominions.
It is hardly right for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) to say that the Irish situation has proceeded almost without comment during the life of this Parliament. Time and again the question of the situation of Ireland has been raised from these benches, and time and again we have appealed to the Government as each successive difficulty arose and forced itself upon our attention, to take the long view in dealing with the problem, and not merely act in some vexatious way which prevented a settlement and might lead to more and more exacerbation, and that it was worth settling the smaller matters in any way providing that the major objective of preserving the entity of the Commonwealth, with the Irish Free State as one of the units of that Commonwealth, could be achieved. We have watched these successive difficulties arising one after another and the problem becoming less and less capable of solution, and by no means the smallest of these difficulties, in our view, has been the attitude which the Government have taken up over the Statute of Westminster: the continued assertion by implication and statement that Ireland had not the legal right to change her Constitution, which now it has been held she has.
It very often happens that if you are prepared to acknowledge people's legal rights they will not go to the full extent of demanding them in operation. That is a common experience, as everybody knows who has attempted to settle legal disputes of any kind, and it might well have been that if at the early stage of the land annuities dispute we had adopted the attitude that Ireland was legally empowered to alter her Constitution, we should have got a settlement as regards the arbitral tribunal. The question had already arisen. The right hon. Gentleman says that it had nothing to do with it. It was the background of that dispute. It is true that in the question of the payment of the annuities itself it did not enter, but it was the background of that dispute, and it was already working up at that time to other questions. The Oath, Privy Council appeals and other matters were already working 449 up as fresh and added difficulties. As long as the assertion was made, and as long as the attitude was taken up that Ireland had not the power to change her Constitution, then we were in a false attitude so far as the law was concerned, and in a false attitude, too, so far as Ireland was concerned. Why that attitude was taken up it is unnecessary to examine. It is unfortunate but it is a fact and it has to be accepted now as one of the facts of past history.
Now that the new legal position has been discovered by the decision that has been made, what alteration is that going to make to the attitude of the Government? We are profoundly disappointed by the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has made, with its reiteration exactly of what he has been saying before about the maintenance of the sanctity of Treaties. The Treaty was embodied in a British Statute. That Statute, or a subsequent British Statute, gave a Constitution to Ireland, a Constitution accepted by virtue of that British Statute. The moment the Statute of Westminster allowed the Irish Parliament to alter a British Statute, as it did, it gave it complete freedom to alter the Statute which had been passed by this House both as regards the Treaty and the Constitution. That is the truth, and it is no good now saying that you want to adhere to the sanctity of the Treaty, when you have given the other side the means by which they themselves may alter it. You cannot have it both ways. If you give people the legal right to alter the Treaty, you cannot turn round and accuse them of using the legal right which you have given them, especially when at the time that it was given this House was fully warned of the situation by the right hon. Member for Epping and his friends, and it made up its mind to do what it has done. Whether that be a mistake or not, it is the past, and it has been done.
We do not think that any good is now going to come from a refusal to accept the position, as is put forward so clearly in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He says that we will do everything we can to compel Ireland to remain within the Commonwealth.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
We will see the OFFICIAL REPORT. If that is what the right hon. Gentleman meant, he had better get what he said put right, because it is not my understanding. I accept absolutely what he says, but I took it down at the time, and I think he said something else. However, I do not want to make any point an that. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me, and I am sure that everybody will agree with me, that there is certainly nothing we can do to compel an unwilling Ireland to remain within the Commonwealth. If she wants to go out and decides to go out, nobody, not even the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) would suggest that we should send troops to Ireland to keep her within the British Commonwealth. If we are going to examine the situation realistically, we have to realise that all parties in Ireland to-day are insisting on Irish independence, and that if we want to keep her within the Commonwealth we have to study the problem of whether there is anything that we can do which is going to avert what looks as if it might be the consequence of the situation, and that is that Ireland will go outside the Commonwealth. Surely, there must be some solution that can be found of this problem other than the continued bickering and exacerbation of feeling which will inevitably lead to the end that none of us in this House desires.
If we want to take into account the determination of the Irish people, as represented by their political parties to-day in the Irish Free State, we have to recognise that we must offer something which will accommodate itself to that point of view. I was certainly very much struck by the very courageous speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore), which was the only constructive suggestion that has so far been put forward in the course of this debate. If some solution is to be found, may we not turn our minds to the Bill which we have been discussing so much recently in this House, the Bill for the Constitution of India, because in that Constitution, whether one likes it or dislikes it, we have done a very remarkable thing from the constitutional point of view. We have provided that an independent 451 sovereign State can come within a federation which is, as a federation, a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Take the great States of India which can adhere to the Indian Federation. We shall there be witnessing what is an entirely new feature of federation; that is, an independent sovereign, in so far as certain matters are concerned, coming within a federation, a body entering another sovereignty, and both sovereignties being maintained outside the Federation.
If that conception can exist, as we see it can, within the British Commonwealth of Nations—States which were never British, which do not intend to become British, which have maintained their internal sovereignty which was never affected except by the vague, ill-defined and little understood term "paramountcy"—if that can be done, surely there might be the possibility of working out some scheme by which Ireland, having that amount of independence which she demands, willingly agrees to allow to some federal or other body some amount of sovereignty over such matters as the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs mentioned, so that the nexus could be maintained between that free and sovoreign body and the British Commonwealth of Nations, just as it will be maintained between the Indian States and the British Commonwealth. No one would suggest trying, or indeed that it would be effective to try, to force a federation upon Ireland. Once partition has been made we must be just as careful to preserve the rights of the people of Northern Ireland as we must of the people of Southern Ireland.
What we must try to do, in my submission, is to see whether we cannot in some way be of use to these people in assisting them to come towards what eventually must be the hope of everybody inside and outside Ireland, some form of federation in which Ireland will eventually be able to achieve her perfection. If a freely acting Northern Ireland and a freely acting Southern Ireland could come within some such federal body, even for a minimum of matters in the first instance, matters like defence, where there is a common interest acknowledged by all parties—if something of that sort could be freely entered upon, with a free right to withdraw if it should prove to be something 452 which could not be tolerated in the existing circumstances surely in that way we might assist in solving these unhappy difficulties which divide us from those with whom we are anxious to be friendly across the Irish Sea.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not take up the attitude that here we stand fast where we have always stood, that nothing is going to make any difference, that we must stick by everything to which we have always stood. Surely the times are difficult enough without taking up that attitude. Surely the ingenuity and inventiveness of the great lawyers whom the right hon. Gentleman has to assist him are sufficient to put forward some conception by which we can, on the one hand, give to the Irish Free State that independence which every party within the Free State demands, and yet at the same time obtain that great end we all have in view, that the Irish Free State should remain a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It is probably necessary for me to make some observations a little later with reference to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), but the House will, of course, realise that my true function is not to encroach upon matters which are more proper, indeed only proper, to be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Although I make no complaint at all of the hon. and learned Gentleman speaking at the end of the Debate, I cannot help wishing for myself—I say this without any malice at all—that his speech had preceded the contribution to the Debate of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He would have spoken with much more authority and power than I can, and my observations upon the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech must be few, restrained, and indeed cautious.
But before I make those few observations I must say one or two words with reference to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). With great good nature, and exhibiting those qualities which he said were the qualities of this House when it passed the Statute of Westminster, namely, pristine vigour and youthful ardour, he criticised me for what he 453 called the wrong and mistaken advice I gave to the House four years ago. Now that I am getting older I am not inclined to show the same zest in proving myself always right. I am content to be right sometimes. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping with his perennial youth is engaged in building up a reputation for infallibility, and I must not object to his enjoying the pleasure of telling the House that he told the House four years ago what he now tells it.
I am not going to weary the House with an examination of the statements I made on the Second Reading of the Statute of Westminster Bill. It would be an impertinence to suppose that the House is the least interested in them. But I must just say this: If the House or any Member of the House chooses to read the Second Reading speech and not the six lines which my right hon. Friend has read, he will find an explicit statement, that I wanted the House to come to its decision on the Bill upon the understanding that the only thing that would prevent the Irish Free State from abrogating the Treaty was the solemn and sacred engagement into which the Free State had entered. That is beyond controversy and I say it very deliberately. I will only refer to one sentence in the report of my speech, in which I said:Let us face up to the position that what is going to bind the Irish Free State to maintain the Treaty is the sacred and solemn obligations involved in the Treaty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1031; col. 1251, Vol. 259.]I should give precisely the same advice as I ventured to give to the House and to the Prime Minister, in conjunction with the then Attorney-General, if the circumstances to-day were the same as they then were. The Secretary of State for the Dominions read a letter, during the debate, from Mr. Cosgrave, who said in the most explicit terms that there was an intention from which they would never depart, which need not be safeguarded by the Statute of Westminster, to maintain the Treaty. In those circumstances, I was absolutely justified in making the intervention to which my right hon. Friend has alluded, and in saying that in my humble judgment that constitution could not be amended, having regard to Article 50 of the Treaty, except in accordance with the Treaty. Of course 454 if the Irish Free State were going to say, "We pay no attention to the Treaty or to any provision in it then everything would be at large and everything would be open and the circumstances in which I gave my advice would be very different. But I shall not detain the House longer with any observations on my own correctness or otherwise which is after all a purely academic and wholly uninteresting topic.
What is really interesting is the nature of the Statute of Westminster and what it has done for the Empire and this brings me to the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. My classical education does not enable me to say whether Cassandra was ever able to indulge in the pleasure of saying, "I told you so," but my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping has succeeded in giving to the House the impression—and with his authority he may give those outside the House the impression—that the Statute of Westminster in some way has been a source of misery and weakness to the Empire. Let me remind the House of its origin. By the laborious efforts of a Committee, efforts which were approved by the Imperial Conference of 1930, the Statute was framed, word for word and line for line, as it was subsequently enacted. What has been the result of the Statute upon the constitution of the Empire? My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping with, I was going to say, myopia afflicting him, has fastened his gaze on the Irish Free State.
Let him take the larger vision and look at the Empire. Let him ask himself whether or not, in this year of rejoicing, there has not been an exhibition of a fuller, freer, more harmonious Empire than this world has ever seen. I am bold enough to say, although there may be differences which all of us greatly regret across St. George's Channel, that in every part of the Empire there are proofs of the refreshing fruits of the bold enterprise of the Imperial Conference of 1930, to which this Parliament set its hand and seal in its opening Session. I am perfectly prepared, and I am sure every Member supporting the Government would be prepared to debate with any representative of a Dominion whether the Statute of Westminster was, not merely inevitable, but wholly a blessing to the 455 Empire in the stage of development which it had then reached. Now my right hon. Friend seeks to draw a lesson which he says must be applied to India. I am not going to enter into the question of the India Bill. My right hon. Friend may prophesy disaster and gloom if it pleases him, but this is not the occasion on which I can join controversy with him.
I come to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol. He gave expression to one astounding proposition. With some of the things which he said I most heartily agree, but he actually said that when we gave the Irish Free State, by the Statute of Westminster, complete freedom and power to alter the Treaty we could not complain and we could not accuse them of being guilty when they used the power which we had given them. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman realise that after the Treaty was passed, at any rate up to the time of the Statute of Westminster—and after the Statute of Westminster also—this Parliament had power to alter the Treaty. Up to the Statute of Westminster we were the only Parliament that had the power to alter the Treaty. After the Statute of Westminster, of course, we continued to have the power, as well as the Irish Free State.
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman really put his hand to this proposition, that we should not have been guilty of gross ill-faith in altering unilaterally the Treaty between 1922 and 1931, although the whole of the time we possessed the legal power to do it? It is not a proposition for which anybody on any bench in this House would stand, and I take leave to say that if anybody had pretended in those years that this Parliament, being supreme, sovereign, all-powerful, because it had the power, was justified in abrogating the Treaty, the right hon. Gentleman and his party would have been the first to cast a stone at us. What would have been wrong for us could not become right for the Irish Free State. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will not repeat that perilous doctrine, that it is always perfectly proper for people to use the power which they possess.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is, unwittingly, no doubt, not putting my argument. I said that when we gave, with full knowledge 456 and realising the situation, the Irish Government a power in 1931 which they had not before, we could not blame them if they used it.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Yes. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wants to ride off by saying that in 1931 we gave them this full power, knowing what they were going to do with it, my answer is that we gave it to them on the faith of the letter, largely, that was written by the then Prime Minister, who assured us in the most solemn terms, and perfectly honestly, that nothing would induce him, or his Government, or indeed his country, to depart from the Treaty. I am going to do the hon. and learned Gentleman the credit of thinking that he did not really intend the consequences of the argument that he used. I am not going to set up myself, nor, I am sure, does this House want to set up itself, in judgment upon the Irish Free State, and say that because they have been guilty of a breach of an understanding they are without the pale. I hope that is not the attitude which any of us adopt to a country from which men and women have come who have played such a notable part in the history of this Empire. But even that fact cannot prevent us from recognising that, if only Mr. de Valera, however much he dislikes the Treaty, had recognised that there must be some obligations that are binding other than legal obligations, we should not be in this unhappy state to-day.
Let me come to what was the kernel of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, namely, the suggestion that we really must offer something. He drew an analogy from the position of the Indian States, but let me remind him that the Indian States, though sovereign States, are subject to the suzerainty of the British Crown. Let us not use words which may be imperfectly understood. What I have said is the fact. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke as if there was some analogy between an Indian State the native ruler of which, although sovereign in his own State, is under the suzerainty of the British Crown, and the position of the sovereign State which every Dominion in the British Commonwealth is. There is no analogy between them. You really cannot propose a 457 measure for allaying this quarrel based upon the imperfect analogy of some state of things in a constitution which has not yet been thoroughly established or worked out in operation. Let us come to the kernel of the question. The hon. and learned Gentleman is aware, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) suggested, that Mr. de Valera is insisting upon his right to establish a, republic and that, if that republic is established, he and his country will be willing to be friendly co-operators in the British Commonwealth of Nations.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions said, in terms which I think nobody really could have misunderstood, that we should do everything we could to keep the Irish Free State in the Empire, but assuredly he was thinking of the chains of common interest and association which will draw them into closer harmony with us, and not of the use of weapons of force which the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to have in his mind. But this suggestion that Mr. de Valera can proclaim his republic and can then be within the British Commonwealth of nations and associate with other Dominions as one of the Members freely associated with the British Commonwealth of Nations, is one which really closes the door to any accommodation. This proposal—I am not sure whether it was adopted by the hon. and learned Gentleman or only suggested—is really one that shows that Mr. de Valera is irreconcilable as long as he is insisting upon it. To say that he will be a friend if, and only if, he has a republic is vain. Great Britain will not find it difficult to be friendly towards the Irish Free State or with anybody else. I think that, on the whole, Englishmen are a quickly-forgetting, friendly people. We may not have some of the virtues that other Celtic races have, but the Englishman has one great virtue, he has a short memory; and even if the Irish Free State were to go out of the Empire I do not suppose that after the first irritation we should find it difficult to be on friendly terms with them.
What is fatal to the resumption of good relations is for Mr. de Valera to think that Great Britain will ever co-operate with him in making foreigners of Irishmen. We owe them too much. My right 458 hon. Friend has pointed out the appalling consequences of any severance of the connection that exists. The British Empire is far greater than any of its units—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not understand my right hon. and learned Friend is in any way reducing the force of what the Secretary of State has said.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
No. I said that I must be cautious and restrained. I do not want in the least to say anything different from or in addition to what my right hon. Friend has said, and perhaps it is better that, in spite of what the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite has stated, I should not add to the comments I have already made. I can, at any rate, assure the House on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that there is no unwillingness at all on his part to make every accommodation upon the lines which he has stated with Mr. de Valera. If this Debate might possibly bring to Mr. de Valera's notice the continued readiness of my right hon. Friend to meet him and to help him to be one of the members freely associated in the British Commonwealth of Nations in common allegiance to the Crown, the two or three hours we have spent will not have been wasted.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Captain PETER MACDONALD
Before this Debate ends I should like to put a question to the Attorney-General which has already been asked by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) but which has not been answered. It is a question of vital importance. It concerns the decision at the time of the passing of the Statute of Westminster with regard to appeals to the Privy Council. I want to know whether the Lord Chancellor of the day was consulted before that decision was arrived at and given to this House, because I was one of those who were misled at the time by the ruling given by the Law Officers of the Crown to our arguments on the Statute of Westminster. I was one of the many Members of this House who were misled, and—although I did not support the Bill—whose fears were allayed by a solemn decision given by the leading Law Officer of the Crown in this House, the Attorney-General. I want to know whether the Lord Chancellor 459was consulted before that decision was made, because however much it may be said that it has no influence upon the future constitution of this Empire I say that it has. It is going to react upon the constitution of this Empire for generations to come, because by that one decision we have robbed every citizen of the Empire of a right which he has had since 1865, when the Colonial Laws Validity Act was passed, and that is a right of appeal to the Privy Council.
We may not think that what has been done in a serious thing, but go to any Dominion and ask any citizen of that Dominion what he thinks about the loss of this right, and I think it will be found that it is regarded as a very serious matter. We shall have to consider many things in the future in connection with the position of South African and other native States, and these things are very important. I want to know who was responsible, in addition to the Attorney-General, for the decision and ruling given to this House at that time. Was the Lord Chancellor consulted, and did he give the ruling that was given to the House of Commons?
§ Captain P. MACDONALD
I think we are entitled to an answer to that question. It was asked by the right hon. Member for Epping and we are entitled to know.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.