HC Deb 11 October 1944 vol 403 cc1897-904

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Pym.]

7.37 p.m.

Professor Savory (Queen's University of Belfast)

I am sorry to have to detain the House at this late hour, but I am sure hon. Members will realise that this is the only opportunity I have of raising this question. I certainly should not raise it if I did not feel that it was essential to do so. What we have to do here is to reply to an attack that has been made upon us during the last few weeks, and especially during the General Election which took place in Southern Ireland. We are never the aggressors. We always stand upon the defensive. When our very existence is at stake, when our whole constitutional position is being attacked, we must make use of all the opportunities this House provides us in order to reply. Otherwise, our silence would be mis- understood. We cannot treat these attacks with silent contempt because, if we did, we should lead the public to believe that there is some justification in them. It was only on Tuesday of last week that the following Question was put in the Parliament of Southern Ireland by a Deputy: To ask the Minister for External Affairs if he is aware of the urgency of the question of partition and if he will now take steps to make a final approach to the British Government so that, in the event of their failing to give satisfaction to our claims in the matter, a case can be made and placed before the coming European Peace Conference. This was the reply of Mr. de Valera in his capacity as Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs: The need and urgency of restoring the unity of Ireland is ever before the Government. No opportunity for bringing home to those concerned the injustice of the present position and its bearing on the relations between Ireland and Britain has been, or will be, neglected. In other words, Mr. de Valera intends to bring before the Peace Conference a purely internal question which concerns the United Kingdom. I do not want to weary the House with quotations, but during the campaign that was carried on during the whole month of May previous to the General Election in Eire, speech after speech was made attacking us to the extreme limit. This is what Mr. de Valera said, speaking at Claremorris on Sunday, 28th May, 1944: Not a single inch of the 26 counties is now occupied by any foreign Power. The "foreign Power" is, of course, Britain, and the 26 counties, that is Southern Ireland, have been freed. He went on: We have got the 26 counties free and, please God, we will not be dead before we see the whole 32 counties free. He was including in the 32 counties the six counties of Northern Ireland. He added: We are working for it, anyhow, and you know how we are working for it night and day. I would call the attention of the House to the fact that, in 1921, a most solemn Treaty was signed between Great Britain and Southern Ireland and the object of one of the principal Articles of that Treaty was to confirm the Act of 1920, under which the six North-Eastern counties of Ulster were given to Northern Ireland. This was subject to a Boundary Commission. The Boundary Commission was duly set up, and it sat in the year 1925. It was presided over by a very eminent South African judge, and it held the inquiry on the spot. It would have reported in December, 1925, but by an unfortunate indiscretion on the part of the "Morning Post" there was a leakage, and a map was published which was believed to be authentic, showing the proposed boundary. If that map was authentic—and there is every reason to believe that it was—it showed that it was the intention of the Boundary Commission, so far from handing over to Southern Ireland the two counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh, which Southern Ireland was claiming, to hand over part of East Donegal—a county in the Free State—to Northern Ireland. As regards the rest of the boundary, only slight rectifications of the frontier were intended.

What happened? This was on 7th November, 1925. The Free State Government took fright when they saw what the Boundary Commission was going to propose, and Mr. Cosgrave applied to the British Government to come to an agreement on the subject. That was the origin of the famous Tripartite Agreement which was signed by Mr. Cosgrave and Kevin O'Higgins on behalf of the Free State, by our present Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, and Mr. Baldwin on behalf of Great Britain and by Lord Craigavon representing Northern Ireland. It was the most solemn Treaty that one could possibly imagine. It was ratified by all three Parliaments. It came before the Parliament of Southern Ireland at the end of December, 1925, when it was passed and approved by the Lower House by 55 votes to 14. The majority in the Upper House in Dublin was equally significant. That solemn Tripartite Agreement guaranteed, for ever, the six counties of Northern Ireland. I should add that there was a very adequate quid pro quo because in the next Clause of the Agreement it was decided to abandon Article 5 of the Treaty of 1921 under which the Free State had agreed to pay its fair and proportionate share of the British National Debt and the cost of pensions. Mr. Baldwin, the then Prime Minister, speaking in this House, estimated the liability at not less than £155,000,000. That was confirmed by Lord Birkenhead, Leader of the House of Lords.

The Free State had this immense concession. This debt which was hanging over them had prevented them from launching loans either in New York or London. It was a financial liability, and by the great generosity of the British people the whole of this liability was wiped out. All that the Free State gave in return was to ratify definitely and permanently the six counties of Northern Ireland. It is often alleged by those who perhaps are not as familiar with the Statute of Westminster as they should be, that the Statute of Westminster allows this most solemn Agreement, which ratified the Treaty of 1921, to be wiped out. I would like the House to consider what was the Treaty of Westminster, and what was the advice given to this House when that Treaty of Westminster was passed. This is what Mr. Baldwin, then Lord President of the Council, said when he was moving the Second Reading of the Statute in this House: I am advised by the Law Officers of the Government that the binding character of the Articles of Agreement will not be altered by one jot or tittle by the passing of the Statute. … The Treaty will be just as binding, so I am advised, after the passing of this Statute as before."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1931; Vol. 260, c. 344–5.] Then again, Sir Austen Chamberlain said: I am satisfied with the public acknowledgment by the authorised spokesman of the Irish Free State Government that the Treaty is an agreement between the two nations, standing irrespective of statutory authority, upon their mutual faith, and only to be altered by their common consent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1931; Vol. 260, c. 313.] But perhaps the ablest speech made on that subject was that made by the right hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Sir D. Somervell), now the Attorney-General. It was a maiden speech, and may I be allowed to quote that famous verse of Corneille:

Et pour son, coup d'essai c'était un coup de maître.

In this speech he set forth, as clearly as anyone could, what was the bearing of the Statute of Westminster. He said: The Irish Free State came into existence as the result of what is called a Treaty. Whatever legislation may be passed by this House or by the Irish Free State that Treaty remains a Treaty, and it remains an agreement binding the two parties who entered into it, unless it is modified by agreement or a subsequent Treaty. I submit that that is not a doubtful point because 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 the Treaty it has entered into with this country.… The Treaty is the foundation of their own Constitution. It is a Treaty which they have entered into as a separate State, a Treaty which they have themselves registered as a Treaty at Geneva, rightly or wrongly, and contains contractual obligations which they, as a separate State, have undertaken towards this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1931; Vol. 260, c. 1224–6.] He was supported also by the then Solicitor-General, Sir Thomas Inskip, who said: There can be no suggestion of the possibility of repeal of that Treaty. As far as I know, there is nobody in a responsible position, either in this country or in Ireland, today who intends to repeal that Treaty. … I assert that His Majesty's Government have no intention of condoning or excusing or permitting the repudiation or a breach of the Treaty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1931; Vol. 260, C. 1249–51.] That being the case, if the Statute of Westminster in no case invalidated the Treaty, because the Treaty was a contractual obligation which the Free State had freely undertaken, the Treaty is as binding to-day as ever it was, and I very much regret that this Treaty should be broken in the way that it is being broken. We hear a good deal in Ireland about the broken Treaty of Limerick. I maintain that that Treaty of Limerick was never broken; but this Treaty of 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty, has been broken again and again. The Statute of Westminster, as I have shown, does not in any way invalidate the Treaty, nor can it be maintained that the Statute of Westminster allows the neutrality of Southern Ireland, in the sense that she, while being a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, can harbour in Dublin the Legations of States with which His Majesty is at war.

While I would be the very first to concede that Eire as a Dominion has a right to non-belligerency, because you cannot compel the Parliament of a Dominion to vote credits for a war, I absolutely deny —and no constitutional authority has ever put forward such a proposition—that, while His Majesty is at war, Eire has a right to harbour centres of espionage in Dublin. The great Prime Minister of Canada, Lord Bennett, who himself carried through the Dominion Parliament the Statute of Westminster, made a very important pronouncement on this subject, when speaking to the Royal Society of Arts, on 3rd June, 1942. He said: If a member of the Commonwealth can declare its neutrality, logically it might, if engaged in a war make a separate treaty of peace with the enemy which would involve the Crown in maintaining war against an enemy with which the Crown was negotiating a treaty of peace—an obviously impossible and ridiculous situation. The enemy does not divide the British Commonwealth for the purposes of war but is engaged in hostilities against the Commonwealth as a whole. The Crown, through the Secretary of State far Foreign Affairs, on 3rd September, 1939, declared war against Germany; but the Crown, through the Eire Minister at Washington, who has been accredited by the Crown, protested against the landing of American troops in Northern Ireland, in 1942. Therefore, the Crown, having declared war, is protesting at the same time against help being given to it in the war which it has declared. That is what we used to call at school a reductio ad absurdum. It shows clearly the absolute impossibility of this so-called neutrality, from a constitutional point of view. I would just like to add that this neutrality is interpreted in a very extraordinary way. Twice Mr. de Valera has protested, on 2nd May, 1939, and in May, 1941, against the application of conscription to Northern Ireland, a matter with which he has no concern whatsoever. I have already referred to his protest against the landing of American troops in Northern Ireland. Neutrality is a one-edged sword in the hands of Mr. de Valera, directed solely against Northern Ireland, and its implications are very extraordinary.

There is a complaint which I have here before me, by Deputy McEwen in the Dail, that the Kingstown Presbyterian Church was not allowed to use the word "Kingstown" because that introduced the name of the King, and the consequence was that it was compelled, in its advertisements of its services, to call itself the Dun Laoghaiire Presbyterian Church. I have here another complaint made by Sir John Esmonde in the Dail that, at the last election, a gentleman who was a candidate put after his name the letters "K.C." He was a member of the Inner Bar and was pleased and proud to call himself a K.C. But what did "Blue Pencil" do? He struck out "K.C." and put in the letters "S.C." and said he must not call himself a King's Counsellor but a State Counsellor.

I want to allow time for my hon. Friend to reply, but I would like to say this. During the whole of the election, over and over again—read the Irish papers and you will see—it was stated, "Why not return Mr. de Valera to power, because he is the best man to represent us at the Peace Conference?" I prefer to make no comment. But I will conclude by saying that our Prime Minister made a very pregnant statement on 2nd August in that great speech, in which he said: Nations must be judged by the part they play. Not only belligerents, but neutrals will find that their position in the world cannot remain entirely unaffected by the part they have chosen to play in the crisis of the war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1944; Vol. 402, c. 1484.] President Roosevelt, speaking at Washington, on 29th September, 1944, quoted this declaration of the Prime Minister and said he subscribed to it whole-heartedly.

7.58 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Emrys-Evans)

It will only be necessary for me to reply shortly to my hon. Friend, for, as I pointed out when he raised this question as long ago as last March, the facts are not in dispute. Nevertheless, I fully sympathise with the desire of Northern Ireland in present circumstances, to reaffirm and underline the agreements which so closely concern them. These agreements are the basis upon which Northern Ireland exists as a separate entity. The Treaty of 1921 provided for the separation of Northern Ireland under a separate Parliament and under a separate Government, and, without such provision, no settlement could then have been arrived at. The agreement of 1925, as my hon. Friend pointed out, finally settled the border between Northern Ireland and the then Irish Free State, and was approved by Parliament in this country and in Dublin. Later on, in 1932, Mr. J. H. Thomas, then Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, said in this House that there could be no alteration of the present position except with the full consent of Northern Ireland. Whatever may be said elsewhere, this continues to be the policy of the United Kingdom Government.

My hon. Friend raised the question of the Statute of Westminster and its relation to the agreements before it became law. In the view of the Government, the passage of the Statute of Westminster did not, and could not, have any effect on contractual obligations resulting from existing agreements. This was the view of the Government at the time and it was accepted by the House in the Debate on the Statute of Westminster Bill. No subsequent Government here has departed from this position in any way, and I think my hon. Friend can be satisfied on the point which he raised.

I have told my hon. Friend on a previous occasion that, in the view of the Government, it is very undesirable that there should be any Axis representation in Dublin, and he knows that we have already made representation on this particular subject. It is a situation which is being very carefully watched, and I can give him an assurance that we shall continue to watch it with vigilance. We are all very much alive in this country to the importance of Northern Ireland during the war. The fact that it is part of the United Kingdom has been vital to us, and not only to us, but indeed to the whole cause of the United Nations. Without Northern Ireland, we should have been unable to protect our shipping and to bring safely to our shores those vast quantities of material, and those millions of men which have been carried safely across the seas. It is, I think I can say, universally recognised, that Northern Ireland has made a great and important contribution to victory.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at One Minute after Eight o'Clock.