HC Deb 26 November 1948 vol 458 cc1572-92

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

12.26 p.m.

Professor Savory (Queen's University of Belfast)

In response to your appeal yesterday, Mr. Speaker, I refrained from taking part in the Debate on this subject, because I recognised the gracious conduct of the Chief Whip in moving the Adjournment of the House in order to enable my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) to speak on this question. Naturally, as honorary secretary of the Ulster Party at Westminster I was extremely anxious to have my say, but I refrained yesterday, partly owing to the fact that I knew I should get my innings this afternoon on the Motion for the Adjournment. Let me add, that I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations for being here to reply to the questions I propose to put to him.

My desire is to treat this question absolutely dispassionately, historically, and, I may say, juridically. I have always had the friendliest possible relations with Southern Ireland. I had the great honour of being examiner in French to the National University, and twice every year I had to go round the country, visiting Dublin, Cork, Galway and Maynooth; I was always received with the utmost friendliness, and I shall always be grateful for the amazing hospitality which was extended to me.

On 1st November I asked the Prime Minister whether the Law Officers of the Crown will be consulted with regard to the Agreement of December, 1921, registered by the Free State as a Treaty at Geneva and of which the contractual obligations still enjoy full validity, having been specifically reserved by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council? The Prime Minister replied: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all these matters will be considered with our legal advisers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1948; Vol. 457, c. 512.] I now ask the Secretary of State whether the legal advisers of His Majesty's Government have given these matters their consideration; and if so, whether he is in a position to give us their opinion. Speaking in this House on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, I pointed out that the contractual obligations of the Treaty of 1921 had in no way been affected by the Statute of Westminster, as the judgment of the Privy Council had so clearly shown. As some hon. Members were not present on that occasion, perhaps I might be allowed to quote what I then said: The question of the legality of amendments to the Treaty came before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It was on the attempt to abolish the right of appeal to the Privy Council. Under Clause 2 of the Statute of Westminster, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council decided that legally, technically, the Irish Free State had the right to make this amendment. I then called the attention of the House to this most important phrase: It is the unanimous verdict of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council"— given by Lord Sankey—that: It would be out of place to criticise the legislation enacted by the Irish Free State Legislature, but the Board desire to add that they are expressing no opinion on any contractual obligation under which, regard being had to the terms of the Treaty, the Irish Free State lay."—[OFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1948; Vol. 457, c. 568.] It is clear, therefore, that the contractual obligation of the Treaty has been reserved. I ask hon. Members once more to make this vital distinction, the distinction between repeal of an Act of Parliament and the repudiation of a Treaty.

I was surprised to see in yesterday's Debates in the Commons and Lords that this matter seems to be the cause of a good deal of misapprehension. When the Statute of Westminster was passing through this House, Mr. Cosgrave, who was then President of the Irish Executive, wrote to the Prime Minister, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, on 21st November, 1931, this letter: I have read the Report of last Friday's Debate in the House of Commons on the Statute of Westminster Bill, and I am gravely concerned at Mr. Thomas's concluding statement that the Government will be asked to consider the whole situation in the light of the Debate. I sincerely hope that this does not indicate any possibility that your Government would take the course of accepting an Amendment relating to the Irish Free State. I need scarcely impress upon you that the maintenance of the happy relations which now exist between our two countries is absolutely dependent upon the continued acceptance by each of us of the good faith of the other. This situation has been constantly present to our minds, and we have reiterated time and again that the Treaty is an agreement which can only be altered by consent. I mention this particularly, because there seems to be a mistaken view in some quarters that the solemnity of this instrument in our eyes could derive any additional strength from a Parliamentary law. So far from this being the case, any attempt to erect a Statute of the British Parliament into a safeguard of the Treaty would have quite the opposite effect here, and would rather tend to give rise in the minds of our people to a doubt as to the sanctity of this instrument. It was on account of this letter, which was read to the House of Commons by the Secretary of State during the Committee stage on the Statute of Westminster Bill, that the Committee refrained from doing what it most certainly otherwise would have done, and that is, it would have adopted the New Clause proposed by Colonel Gretton, the Member for Burton-on-Trent, which would have excluded the Irish Free State Act, 1922, from the Statute of Westminster. In opposition to this celebrated New Clause, the Lord President of the Council used these words, and I would call the serious attention of the House to their supreme importance: I am advised by the Law Officers of the Crown that the binding character of the Articles of Agreement will not be altered by one jot or tittle by the passing of the Statute of Westminster. The sanctity of the Treaty, which has been acknowledged over and over again in the fullest and most generous sense by Irishmen—the great sanction of that Treaty is that it is a Treaty. … That 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.] This opinion of the Lord President was strongly fortified by the amazingly able speech of Sir Donald Somervell. I would remind the House that Sir Donald Somervell was Solicitor-General from 1933 to 1936, Attorney-General from 1936 to 1945 and since 1946 has been and still is a Lord Justice of Appeal. These are the important words he used as a private Member and before he held all these distinguished offices: 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 this 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. … Of course, he is referring all the time to the Treaty of 1921. It was signed by Mr. Lloyd George and others, and representatives of the Free State. He continues: The Treaty is the foundation of their own Constitution, that 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 containing contractual obligations which they, as a separate State, have undertaken towards this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT: 20th November, 1931; Vol. 259, c. 1224–6.] After passing through this House, the Statute of Westminster went to the Lords, and Lord Sankey was at that time Lord Chancellor. Speaking in the House of Lords on 26th November, 1931, he said: I have no reason to doubt the honour of the Irish Free State any more than I have reason to doubt the honour of England, and I refuse to believe that the Irish Free State will break or repudiate a Treaty into which they have so solemnly entered. At the same time there was also in the House of Lords Lord Hailsham who, I would remind the House, was Attorney-General from 1922–23, and again from 1924–28 before he became Lord Chancellor from 1928–29, and again from 1935–38. Speaking in another place on the Second Reading of the Statute of Westminster Bill, he said: We all agree in this House that the Treaty should be maintained and we all agree that the Irish Free State—I am not using legal phrases—is as much bound as any sovereign State can be by its pledged word whether this Statute passes or does not pass. We all agree that this Statute cannot alter that position. Not only do we agree, but we have the statement from the responsible head of the Irish Free State Government that they agree … Here is a Statute, which we are asked by the Irish Free State to pass, which, in our deliberate view, cannot possibly alter the obligations of the Treaty as it stands before the Statute is passed. The Irish Free State, in asking us to pass it, gives us in their very solemn assurance by the head of the State, that it is on that basis that they ask us to pass it. Can you then doubt that the Irish Free State is bound, so far as it is possible to bind any sovereign Power in the world, by the declaration on the face of which we pass that Statute? That this was the attitude of His Majesty's Government is shown by the important reply I received four years ago when I raised this question in a Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment, on 11th October, 1944. The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs was in another place, but the Under-Secretary, speaking for the Government in the Commons, said, in reply to me: 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. I want to emphasise these important words which the Under-Secretary then uttered: 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th Oct., 1944; Vol. 403, c. 1904.] I am fortified in my argument by this most important fact: the Treaty of 1921 was amended by mutual consent in 1925, when Article 12—which set up the boundary agreement, with which I dealt on 1st November, and do not wish to refer to now—and the most important Article 5, which laid down that the Irish Free State should pay its proportional share of the National Debt and war pensions, were abrogated, with an estimated loss to the Treasury, as was stated by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, of £155 million. That amendment of the Treaty of 1921 was ratified in December, 1925, by the Parliament of Great Britain. It was also ratified, by an overwhelming majority, by both Houses of the Irish Free State and, as it seriously affected Northern Ireland, and as His Majesty's Government desired that it should be brought before both Houses of the Northern Ireland Parliament, Northern Ireland ratified what has since been called the Tripartite Agreement. That was the first essential amendment of the Treaty, ratified not unilaterally but bilaterally by this Parliament as well as by the Parliaments of the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.

Further, in 1938, another supremely important agreement was made which annulled the provisions of Articles 6 and 7 of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and of the Annex thereto. Those Articles provided that the Irish Free State Government should afford to His Majesty's Imperial Forces the harbour and other facilities indicated in the Annex, namely, those existing in the ports of Queenstown, Berehaven and Lough Swilly. These ports, in accordance with the amendment of the Treaty, were handed over to the Irish Free State, but I do not wish to comment on that arrangement, as that is not my purpose today.

There was also this most important Article, which has been so often forgotten—the Article which annulled the power of Great Britain to require for the purposes of defence in time of war or of strained relations such harbour and other facilities as it considered necessary. As Mr. de Valera himself stated, had that Article been in existence at the time war broke out, the neutrality of Ireland would have been impossible. The Agreement of 1938 was also ratified by the Parliament of the United Kingdom on 17th May, 1938, and by the Dail, the Parliament of Southern Ireland, on 29th April, after a three-day Debate.

The great importance of the Agreement of 1938 is due to its form, since it provides that certain portions of the Treaty of 1921 shall cease to have effect. Surely—and my legal friends have borne me out—that is an implicit acknowledgement by the signatories to the Treaty, as amended by mutual agreement, that the Treaty still exists as an international instrument of full validity.

These changes were ratified by what is called the Eire (Confirmation of Agreement) Act which provided, among other things, that the territory known as the Irish Free State should hereafter be known as Eire, thus accepting the new Constitution of 1937. His Majesty's Government issued a statement saying that the United Kingdom had considered the position created by the new Constitution, which was approved by the Parliament of the Irish Free State in June, 1937. They accepted this new Constitution, but they stated most specifically that it did not effect—I should like to call the attention of the House to these words— any fundamental alteration in the position of the Irish Free State, in future to be described under the new Constitution as Eire, as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. His Majesty's Government consulted the other Governments concerned in Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa. They were also prepared to treat the new Constitution as not changing the status of the Irish Free State as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. His Majesty's Government went on to say: They cannot recognise that the adoption of the name Eire or Ireland or any other provisions of these Articles involves any right to the territory or jurisdiction over territory forming part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or affects in any way the position of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It will be seen from all that I have said that all previous amendments of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 were bilateral and were ratified by both Parliaments. As I have already mentioned, as the famous amendment of 1925 vitally affected Northern Ireland it was submitted not merely to this Parliament and to the House of Southern Ireland but to the House of Commons and the Senate of Northern Ireland.

The question I wish to put—and this matter was not referred to by the Prime Minister yesterday in spite of the question I put to him on 1st November—to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations is whether the British Government are going to accept the complete repudiation of the Treaty proposed in the Republic of Ireland Bill now before the Dail. My second question is whether in view of the terms of the Eire Confirmation of Agreements Act of 17th May, 1938, he is prepared to accept on behalf of His Majesty's Government the term "Republic of Ireland."

I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he knows perfectly well that the term "Republic of Ireland" would include the whole of the 32 counties and not merely the 26 counties, which were defined as the territory of the Irish Free State by the Agreement of 1938, and which territory is described everywhere as Eire. If one looks through this Eire (Confirmation of Agreements Act), 1938, as I have, one will find that in no Section is the word "Ireland" used but always the word "Eire" in every single Section. It sets forth with the utmost clearness that it refers to Eire, that the word "Eire" is accepted by His Majesty's Government and by the Houses of Parliament as a legal description of the Irish Free State. Therefore, I submit to the right hon. Gentleman that it would require legislation by this House to make any alteration, and that the term "Republic of Ireland" is absolutely illegal and entirely inconsistent with this Act on which rests the recognition of the new Constitution of Eire of 1937.

In conclusion, I should like to quote a statement made by Mr. Lloyd George in the Debate on the Address in this House in 1921. He said: My right hon. Friend inquires, if this Treaty be broken, what shall we do to enforce it? Mr. Lloyd George was referring to Sir Frederick Banbury, a very learned statesman, who had already foreseen that the Treaty would be broken. My right hon. Friend inquires, if this Treaty be broken, what shall we do to enforce it? I am quite willing to face that. It is not a question of one Article. It is a question of the whole of the Articles. If Ireland breaks faith, breaks her Treaty—if such a situation has arisen—the British Empire has been quite capable of dealing with breaches of Treaties with much more formidable Powers than Ireland. But we want to feel perfectly clear that when she does so, the responsibility is not ours, but entirely on other shoulders."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1921; Vol. 149, col. 35–36.] I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he accepts this statement of the father of the Treaty, Mr. Lloyd George, and if so what steps he is prepared to adopt to enforce a Treaty so solemnly registered at Geneva by the Irish Free State and still declared to be valid by a number of the greatest legal authorities, and stated to be in force as short a time ago as four years by the representative of His Majesty's Government in this House.

In my statement I have tried to avoid all bitterness. I have spoken simply from the historical and still more from the juridical point of view, but I must confess that during these last few days two Latin words have come constantly to my mind "Fides punica." These words have been ringing in my head, but as I do not want to introduce any element of bitterness I refrain from introducing them here. However, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this afternoon he is going to force us to draw the melancholy and cynical conclusion of Seneca, the greatest of all Roman philosophers:

Honesta quaedam scelera successus facit.

1.0 p.m.

Mr. Paget (Northampton)

The hon. Member for Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory) quotes from a statement made by Mr. Lloyd George some 30 years ago as to the manner in which Britain was accustomed to enforce her treaties. Does the hon. Member agree that that means war? Is he asking that the Government should go to war with Eire? Surely what——

Professor Savory

I am sorry. I would not have interrupted the hon. and learned Member if he had not put that question directly to me. I say, of course not; but there are other means, with which His Majesty's Government are familiar, of enforcing a treaty.

Mr. Paget

I am glad that the hon. Member has at least made that point clear, because the final part of his speech certainly sounded very much like a desire to impose force upon Eire. I should have thought that what we wanted to do now was to be able to live as peacefully, as happily and as conveniently as possible alongside the rather awkward people on the other side of the Irish Channel. They are people with a very strong historical sense and a real historical grievance. I cannot believe that the very tendentious, historical, juridical speech which we have heard from the hon. Member is likely to improve our relations.

The hon. Member based his case upon the sanctity of treaties. Before we do that we have to consider what is a treaty, if we are to look at the matter from a juridical point of view. A treaty is an agreement between two sovereign Powers, who are recognised by other sovereign Powers in the world as exercising both de facto and de jure government within their borders. Did the Irish representatives with whom we made this treaty fulfil that condition? They certainly did not. The difficulty in international relations, where you have a state of flux owing to revolution or other such influences, is always to find a body of people whom you can bind. If we merely select a number of individuals and say: "We will make these people into a Government and contract with them," we do not effectively bind anybody but the authority whom we have created. We cannot take an area which has not a Government and, for our own convenience, create a Government and then say: "Everybody in the area is bound because we have chosen to call these people the Government."

The people with whom we contracted in 1922 were Collins, Griffiths and Cos-grave. They represented a section of the Irish people. I believe that all of us will say that that section of the Irish leaders stood with rigour by their agreement. There was another section of the Irish people, led by Mr. de Valera, who rejected that agreement, and from the very start said: "We who claim to represent Ireland just as the others claim to represent Ireland, are not bound by this agreement."

Professor Savory

May I interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman again? I am sorry to interrupt him, but surely he has forgotten that the Treaty was ratified by overwhelming majorities at two general elections in the Irish Free State and again and again, as I have shown, was accepted by Mr. de Valera himself in 1938 when he made the amendment which I have discussed.

Mr. Paget

There are two points there. Firstly, that the Treaty was ratified by general elections. It was ratified by general elections held by Mr. Cosgrave and Mr. Griffiths, the section whom we bad created. All the time Mr. de Valera rejected this treaty. Even in 1938 Mr. de Valera and, far more, the people who have now succeeded him, claimed to reject that agreement. When we made that agreement with the Irish leaders we surely knew that the reality of the situation was that we were betting upon that section of the Irish leaders being able to maintain their position. It was not a bad bet and it came off for a pretty long time. When various people here were at pains to say, "This is a treaty with Ireland," it strengthened the hands of the people with whom we dealt, but we do not really create treaty obligations such as generally exist between sovereign governments by calling a sovereign government that which is not so, because it suits the particular position which we have taken up.

We shall not improve our relations with Eire—that is what is generally wanted—by going in for this sort of juridical recrimination. Oddly enough, I do not believe that the repeal of the External Relations Act was intended by the Irish as an unfriendly act towards this country. I have read the Debates in the Dail and I have talked about the matter with various Irish leaders at the time. The way they put it, both in the Dail and in private conversation, was that the bitterness between our two peoples is rapidly disappearing, but it is bitterness created by years of subjection and exploitation. "The things that bind us together are," they say, "bonds of servitude of our people. The links are bonds to us. They stand in the way of good feeling between our countries. If we can wipe them right away and get rid of those bonds, then the field will be clear for genuine co-operation and the friendship of our peoples which we all desire."

That may seem a paradoxical way of putting matters, but the Irish are a paradoxical people. I believe that it is sincere. I congratulate the Government upon the big-minded, sensible, unlegalis- tic way in which they have treated the matter. I believe that the big attitude of the big man who is not to be irritated by small things, and is large enough to take a large view and not stand on legalistic niceties, is the one which will lay a foundation on which we can get along with the Irish. I hope that the union which is now being discontinued will very soon be recreated as part of the union of Western Europe in which we may all come together as partners.

There is a point which we should make very clear: in no circumstances whatever shall a union of Ireland be imposed upon Ulster. There is a perfectly simple and practical answer—I am not going into it now—to the question whether a small majority in Ulster would vote for it or against it. Union is utterly repugnant to a very substantial section whether it be a minority or a majority. Union is one of those things which that section would resist by force of arms—

Professor Savory

Hear, hear.

Mr. Paget

—as being against their very faith. Surely we have enough wars in the world. To impose a settlement in the North which would create that sort of bitterness would be utterly wrong. We should make that quite clear to the Government of Eire.

1.11 p.m.

Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)

While I agree cordially with the latter part of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I am afraid that I take a rather different view from that expressed in the first part of his speech. It was clear at once that he abandoned immediately any hope of being able to controvert the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Queen's University (Professor Savory) in regard to the solemn undertakings which have been entered into and which he described in due course. However, the hon. and learned Member presented his argument in a different way. He said, "Yes, the hon. Member may have admitted—" we call it "confession and avoidance"—" that these instruments existed and had been carried out, but he repudiated the authority of those who made them on behalf of what is now Eire." The hon. and learned Member apparently said that the Dail Eireann did not speak for Eire or the people of Eire. That is certainly a new and startling argument, and it is not as strong as one has reason to expect from the hon. and learned Member.

I want to ask a few questions of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. I do not expect him to answer them all now. If I happen to ask him a question which he cannot answer immediately, I would only ask him to ruminate upon it and to answer it whenever he feels himself in a position to do so. The recent development in the introduction of the Bill repealing the External Relations Act is the culmination of a very long and gradual breaking of the strands of the cable which used to unite Ireland to Great Britain. It has been very gradual, and now the last little strand is snapping. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said yesterday that it really did not make very much change.

I should like to qualify that because I think this will mark an epoch. It is the end of an epoch. It is the final severance of political association between Eire and the United Kingdom—I repeat, the United Kingdom. The first thing that must strike everybody is that it raises the barrier between Northern Ireland and Eire sky-high. That barrier was pretty stout before. There was no serious possibility—I do not say probability—of its breaking down. Much could have been overcome had the politicians of Eire had the sense and intelligence to suggest, for instance, a Customs Union with the United Kingdom, but instead of that, it was always a magnificent red herring to speak about partition so that they had not to speak about tie enormously high cost of living, the lack of social services and the frozen wage levels. Partition has, therefore, been emphasised.

The first and most obvious effect of this snapping of the last thread of constitutional attachment is that it makes so absolute and so permanent the barrier between that part of Ireland which is determined to be united with Great Britain and to live under the Union Jack and that part of Ireland which is determined to be a Republic and to live under the Tricolour of Sinn Fein, that it is impossible to imagine it ever coming to an end.

Throughout the period covered in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Queen's University, we have seen a certain irresponsibility and inconsequence in the Government of the Irish Free State, subsequently, Eire. That is one of the things which has very much impressed us in Northern Ireland. One never knows where one is. The decisions and solemn agreements of one Government can be repudiated by their successors, not with any sense of guilt but rather with a certain enthusiasm that they are doing something rather splendid.

The present Prime Minister—I hesitate to use the Irish word as I might get it slightly wrong—Mr. Costello, is a man of the highest character, as everyone agrees, and of very great repute, and yet, in introducing the Bill, he is turning a political somersault which for acrobatic agility has seldom been equalled. A very large number of those who supported him did so on the basis that his deliberate policy was to remain in the British Commonwealth, as it was then permissible to call it, and not to leave it. It is a most astonishing thing that in so short a time such a rapid change of heart should have occurred. We all know that the Bill has much more to do with internal politics in Eire than people over here have appreciated up to the present. That is, perhaps, the major factor. Of course, trying to pinch somebody else's thunder has been a well known device, even in British politics. That is one of the reasons why the Bill is now before the Dail.

The curious and ironic situation is that to deal with the attitude of His Majesty's Government in this House as regards the Bill, the Prime Minister has stated—and stated with an air of benevolence towards Eire—that citizens of Eire will not be aliens in England. The one thing they have been striving to become for generations is aliens in England. They are to remain West Britons. I am called a West Briton as a term of reproach by Mr. de Valera and his friends, and now the citizens of Eire are to suffer the humiliating fate at the hands of the British Government—I will not use some of the adjectives which I have heard applied to it below the border—of remaining West Britons in this country.

Mr. Paget

Surely the hon. Gentleman does not expect consistency from his country?

Sir R. Ross

No. I am not expecting consistency from the Government, because I do not see it, and it is the action of the Government which I am criticising. At all events, it seems apparent at the present time that the price which they are paying for this humiliation is a certain material gain, though we are not fully informed what this material gain is. To use a colloquial expression, in fact, it seems that they expect to get it both ways—to have the glories of independence, and, at the same time, the material benefits of the hated British Commonwealth of Nations. As long ago as July, Mr. McBride, in a forceful passage in the Dail, repudiated any suggestion that they could be a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, though he did not seem to repudiate the benefits of that constitutional position with anything like the same heartiness, or, in fact, at all.

It appears to me that they wish to retain the advantages of association with the British Commonwealth, although they consider that they are an independent republic. Of course, all British Governments have been considered soft by the representatives of the Irish Free State or Eire when it comes to bargaining. That is because there has always been such an abounding good will on the British side and a complete failure to realise that Eire is very much more dependent on Britain than Britain is on Eire, and I think that that is so at the present time.

I was rather hoping that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton would have dealt with the legal position of non-alien citizens, because that situation has not arisen up to the present time. According to British law, de Valera and Costello are British subjects, and I should like to know what is the real legal position of non-aliens. This is an entirely new conception to the legal mind, and seems to be the civilian equivalent of a non-belligerent—neither an ally nor an enemy—but there is going to be a lot of. I will not say fun, but a lot of discussion in the courts of law before this matter is finally settled on a definite basis. For instance, it is clear that, if a non-alien committed what, in the case of a British subject: would be an act of treason, he could not be properly convicted. I do not make any suggestion that any of these non-aliens would take up that attitude, but it would open a field of endeavour to them on much more advantageous terms than are offered to the British subject.

The point which must not be lost sight of is this. In saying that the citizens of Eire shall have the privileges of British citizenship, without its burdens, as I understand it, and, in saying that we are putting a label on the citizens of Eire and declaring that they are not aliens, we are not making any effect on the spirit of the man on whom the label is placed. In future, the loyalty of that man will not be expected to be to the Government of the United Kingdom; he will be in our midst and owing his loyalty to another country. Eire will claim, and has claimed, that it is another country, an independent Irish Republic, whose people are endeavouring to learn Irish so that they do not even speak the same language as ourselves. I do not think that, by the mere act of putting a label on a man and declaring that he is not an alien, we can change his heart, because what is in the heart of a man is a fact and is not altered by the number or letter which we may pin upon his back. That is a matter with which I do not believe it is possible to deal in the way in which an attempt is now being made to deal with it.

I wonder what obligations the citizens of Eire are going to undertake on our behalf, or on behalf of the community which is giving them certain rights, because they will vastly outnumber the citizens of the United Kingdom who will be in Eire. Are they, for instance, to be liable to military service? If I may have the attention of the Minister for a moment, because this is a most important point, may I ask him if the non-alien is to be liable to military service where the National Service Acts apply? If he is not to do military service, he should not have civic rights, and I do not see why he should be excepted. It has always been the policy of every Government, whether Conservative, Liberal or Coalition, that the National Service Acts should not be applied to Northern Ireland. Up to the present time, we have always opposed that, and have said that, as part of the United Kingdom, we should bear equal burdens with the rest. In fact, I myself have not only voted against my own side but have told against them in that interest. Now that we are to have the non-alien in our midst, enjoying civic rights but not being liable to military service, certainly, Northern Ireland would repudiate any decision as to military service which would make those who are loyal to the United Kingdom liable to serve, while the non-alien in our midst enjoying the same rights had no obligation at all. It would entirely change the whole attitude of the people in Northern Ireland.

There are many other points on which I could speak on this final step which will take Eire out of the circle of the British Commonwealth of Nations, but I want for a moment to refer to finance. At present, I think the Eire currency has the backing of the Bank of England and of the British Exchequer. It stands at par as a sterling currency. The coins are different, but they have the same denominations and the same value. We do not know what is the financial position of Eire. All that we do know is that they have not balanced their Budget, In fact, I doubt if they ever have done in the past, and, certainly recently, the adverse balance has been very heavy. The almost frantic appeals of Mr. McBride to Northern Ireland, which he describes as the only solvent part of the United Kingdom, coming from such a source should be regarded as an indication of Eire's desperate financial position.

I do not know, but I should certainly like to know, what is to be the attitude of this country towards the currency of Eire. As I do not know the facts sufficiently well, I am not suggesting that we ought, at the present time, to dissociate our currency from that of Eire. That is a very technical matter which will require grave reflection before any step is taken. I am not in any way pressing the Minister to give me an answer today. I am only saying that the question of the currency of Eire is a very important one.

Then there is another point of a quasi-financial nature—the question of preferences. At the present time—and it has been reinforced by the recent agreement as regards agricultural produce—Eire enjoys substantial preferences. No other Dominion has any better preferences. Now that Eire is going to cease to be a Dominion, there are British subjects who will cease to be British subjects, and who will become citizens of an independent Republic. That being so, are they to retain the preferences granted to members of the Commonwealth? I do not see how that can be done if we are to keep peace with other countries who export their products to us, and who enjoy what is called the rights of the most-favoured-nation clause. That implies that no other country which does not form part of a political association shall have more advantageous terms as regards their commerce.

It seems to me astonishing that Eire, having repudiated the association with this band of nations which constitute the British Commonwealth, should still continue to enjoy the terms which are appropriate only to members of that Commonwealth. If she does so enjoy those terms, it will lead to immense trouble for the Government in their relations with other Dominions, and certainty with foreign countries. That is another point which I put to the Minister, although I do not press him to answer it now as, obviously, a host of questions, some large, some small, will crop up as the result of this final step which is being taken by the Government of Eire.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday that any preferential treatment handed out to Eire must not be taken as a precedent because the position was abnormal. Of course, it is abnormal. But what I fear is that, although it is all very well for us to say to people who might wish to take advantage of the precedent, "This is not a precedent," they may say to us," But it has happened. You may say you have not treated it as a precedent, but it has happened. If it is given to them, why not give it to us? "From that point of view there is considerable danger in the action proposed to be taken by His Majesty's Government. This step, surprising from such a source as Mr. Costello, is not one which has caused me any surprise, because those optimists who thought that some limited measure of Home Rule would prevent this further course of an Irish Republic were obviously wrong. However, I regard it with great regret.

1.34 p.m.

The Minister of Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)

The hon. Member for Queen's University (Professor Savory) has charmed us today, as he al- ways does, with his recollections, and the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) has put to me a number of questions, to some of which I will reply. I hope that hon. Members opposite and my hon. Friends behind me will not think me guilty of discourtesy if I reply to their speeches with extreme brevity. Apart from his questions, the hon. Member for Londonderry made some broad political reflections.

I will deal, first, with his questions. He suggested that, perhaps, I should do better not to answer his questions, but, instead, to ruminate. Indeed, with regard to some of them, I shall follow his kind advice, and make considered answers later on. However, I would say to him at once that I think the British Nationality Act, 1948 is perfectly clear on the subject of the rights of those who are not aliens in this country. They will have the rights of British subjects under our statute law. Even aliens in the United Kingdom are liable to be punished for treason, in the same way as British subjects.

Eire citizens who are habitually resident in this country will be liable for military service. That, I think, answers plainly and definitely one of the questions he asked. I would remind him that, in return, if things proceed as we expect, it is probable that British subjects in Eire will have wider rights of citizenship than they have ever had before, and that those rights will be more firmly based. The hon. Gentleman said that we have far fewer people there. I would remind him that we have a very considerable traffic from here to there, and I do not think we can neglect it.

On the question of preferences about which he asked, I would say, first, that the preferences with Eire are not based on the Ottawa Agreement, but on the agreement of 1938 between Eire and this country.

Sir R. Ross

As amended.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

As amended this year, but the basis of the 1948 Agreement is that of the 1938 Agreement. We have always considered that the Government of 1930–38 were right to make that agreement because the preferences, with what we got in return, were of mutual benefit to us both. I do not want to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday about it. I forget his exact phrase, but what he said was to the effect that the long-standing arrangements would not, we hope, be affected. That is our hope. In any case, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the words there used.

On the matter of finance and what the Bank of England will now do, I think that is one of the matters on which I should do well to say that I will give the hon. Gentleman a well-considered answer another time. I do not propose to do much more on the broad political considerations brought forward by the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps the hon. Member for Queen's University will think, when I finish in a moment or two, that I have not done any better for him. He raised the point—which he has often raised before—about the Treaty of 1921. But he raised it on this occasion in rather different language, and if I attempted, at short notice, to reply to him, I might be led into the broadest political aspects of the present situation, and to say things which I should not desire to say at the present moment without more reflection.

Of course, I took part in the Chequers conversations on 17th October, and in the Paris conversations 10 days ago, and there is much which I might say on the general situation. However, I think I should be wiser to refrain. It was only yesterday that the Prime Minister made a statement of Government policy here. The Governments of other members of the Commonwealth are going to make their own statements. I do not know yet quite what they will say; I have not seen the terms of their declarations. I understand that the Prime Minister of Australia has already spoken in his Parliament, but I am not fully aware of what he said. Perhaps we can have a Debate another day; then I shall be able to deal with any wider points which have arisen today, and I shall be able to do so more satisfactorily than I can now.

Therefore, I confine myself to making a narrow and technical answer to the two points which were the main substance of the speech of the hon. Member for the Queen's University of Belfast. In the view of the Government, is the Treaty of 1921 still in force? Is Section 1 of the Eire (Confirmation of Agreements) Act, 1938, in our view, still valid for ourselves? The hon. Gentleman asked whether we had consulted our legal advisers on these important questions. We have been in constant consultation with them, of course, all through the recent negotiations, but I have no information that I could give him on these specific points which he has raised. I think I can answer the hon. Gentleman on these two questions most satisfactorily by using a minimum of words. Indeed, I think I can do it in a single sentence, thereby saving the House a good deal of time and giving the hon. Member complete satisfaction. The hon. Gentleman said on 1st November that he was quite content with what was said by one of my predecessors in the House in March, 1944, and again on 11th October of that year. My single sentence is this: I have no desire to depart in any way from what was then said.

I end by saying that I warmly endorse what was so well said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) just now. We have had an unhappy history in the relations between this country and the people of Eire. However much we may regret some things which have happened in the recent past, I submit it is of supreme importance that we should seek to build up friendship and co-operation between the Governments and the peoples of Eire and of this country, and that is what this Government will seek to do.