§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, may I first be allowed to say that I have received a communication from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to the effect that he very much regrets that, through indisposition, he is unable to come down to your Lordships' House this afternoon, but that he hopes to be able to attend to-morrow? Last December your Lordships came to a very notable and very momentous decision. You approved the Articles of Agreement between His Majesty's Ministers and Delegates from the South of Ireland. You signified your assent and approval, not in any hasty manner but after prolonged discussion and debate covering some three days. During the course of that debate this Agreement and the policy that led up to it were exhaustively canvassed and discussed. I think I have never myself heard an instrument submitted to more close and critical examination than that particular instrument. It was presented to your Lordships by the Lord Chancellor. The noble and learned Viscount never pretended that he was thoroughly satisfied with every Article in that Agreement, nor did he pretend that there were not portions of it which, if he had had his way, might not have been different. He did, however, present it to your Lordships as the best that could be done, after long conference, in the very difficult circumstances that then obtained.
When that instrument was presented, the batteries of criticism were unloosed and for some three days there rained down fire and hail upon it. The Agreement was 511 attacked from almost every conceivable angle and point of view. It was described by some as a surrender, and it was even criticised by others, who approved generally of the Agreement, as having been made at the wrong time. That is a very old argument in political controversy, one which is as old as Parliaments and which I think will probably survive them. The Agreement was penetrated and criticised by the legal acumen of some of the most distinguished lawyers of the day, and then something remarkable happened. When it came to the Division, and when the lists were counted, it was found that, in spite of all this attack, criticism and condemnation, your Lordships gave your approval by a majority of something like four to one. I should be rash if I were to attempt to interpret the motives and views which guided your Lordships—
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I have not the figures—but I think I may say that what your Lordships felt was that, although there was much cogency in the arguments advanced against the instrument, yet you were confronted as practical statesmen by the necessity for action, and among the alternatives presented you accepted this one as the least difficult of several very difficult courses. The approval of that instrument constituted a great change in the situation. Before the approval of that instrument, it had been the act of His Majesty's Ministers, but by that solemn assent, given by your Lordships on that occasion, you did, I think, take your share in that responsibility and signify that in the opinion of this House you did assent to that instrument. What does this Bill, which we have before us to-day, do? It does really no more than give legal authority to that instrument then approved of.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
It is, in effect, the necessary and legal consequence, you may say, of the action then taken by your Lordships. It confirms and puts into legal form what your Lordships did then by Resolution. Now let us see what is the history of the situation since that decision was taken.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
First of all, under Article 17, and in accordance with that article, a Provisional Government was set up in the South of Ireland. But we shall all admit that such a Provisional Government is in itself an anomaly. It was a Provisional Government recognised by our Government here, but yet unsanctified by law, and how are you to expect a Government so constituted, not resting on the sanction of law, to have full force and authority unless it has attained that sanction? Let me give an example of what has happened and does happen in such a situation. As your Lordships know, certain outrages and lawless acts have been committed in Ireland. What was the attitude, and what could be the only attitude, of the Provisional Government under those circumstances? They had to reason with the perpetrators. They had to expostulate with those charged with criminal acts. They were unable, in their comparatively weak position, to exercise that direct action of authority which is the right and duty of Governments. Again, how is it possible to expect that a Government so conspicuous, shall I say, in its legal weakness, can feel sufficient confidence in itself and in its own authority properly to execute the duties of Government? This confirmation is done by this Bill.
But, as the noble and learned Lord has said, I think the Bill does more than that. It also proposes to set up a Constituent, Assembly—an Assembly before which the new Constitution of Ireland, when it has been drawn up and approved by the Provisional Government, will be placed for assent and criticism. It has, perhaps (shall I say?) another object, and that is to secure a Parliament not elected during the heat of the conflict with this country, but a Parliament whose eyes are more directed towards the rebuilding and reconstruction of the Irish social state than to the practice of another Parliament of heaping higher the fire of fury against this country.
There has been much criticism of the Provisional Government because they did not hold an Election at an earlier period. There were many ill this country also who thought that the postponement of that Election might have an unfortunate effect upon the acceptance of the Treaty. Under 513 this Bill, if it become an Act, the Election is not to be held later than four months after the Bill becomes an Act. I think there are a good many advantages in the postponing of this particular Election. Recalling past Elections, one can remember that the beaten party has generally attributed its ill success not to the failure of its arguments but to the fact that the Election was taken at an unpropitious moment, when it was not well prepared to put its arguments before the country. This at least is avoided by the delay. No one can deny that when the Election comes the decision will be taken by the people of Ireland with the fullest consciousness of the decision they are about to make.
I think your Lordships will admit that under a Parliamentary system and a Parliamentary Government it is a very dangerous thing to have Parties divided on what I may call the Constitutional line; that is to say, to have a Party in the Government which wants to alter or change the existing system of Government. It is much more suitable to the genius of Parliamentary institutions that Parties should be divided on social, economic or other lines of division, and not on the line of division which, in the minds of one Party, produces a lack of interest in current economic and political questions. It may be that the result of this long discussion and the Election, if, as we hope, there is a large majority for the settlement, and the Republican Party are unsuccessful, will be to do something to do away with the necessity, or the reason, for having in that new Parliament a Republican Party; and that there may be the more legitimate and proper forms of Parliamentary controversy resting on the basis of ordinary domestic and economic divisions and quarrels.
But there is another, and perhaps more important, reason. Suspicion, I suppose, is easy to arouse in any country, and suspicion, certainly under present circumstances, is not always difficult to arouse in Ireland. And those who are opposed to this settlement might find it easy to attack the good faith of the British Government by saying that, after all, they did not mean what they had intended to do, and that they might withdraw as easily as they had granted them these new privileges. But the advantage is that they now have under their eyes the process going on; they now see buildings, institu- 514 tions, and public offices being handed over to the new Government, being taken possession of by the new Government. They have, therefore, before their eyes the full sight of the good faith with which the British Government is acting, and it does not become possible for anybody to suggest, however suspicious he may be, that there is a danger of the Government departing from the pledges it has given and the promise that it has made.
There is also the great advantage, that, if you had had that Election at once or very shortly, it would have been taken on the Agreement itself. By postponing the Election you will have not only the Agreement but the actual Constitution—the full body and form of the Constitution—arising, as it were, out of the Agreement. So that when the Irish people come to exercise their vote and arrive at their decision, they will have the whole story before them. They will have, not only the Articles of Agreement, but the actual, solid, written form of the new Constitution, on which they can pronounce, and, with full knowledge and full understanding, they will be able to judge of the details of the Constitution under which they may desire to be governed.
Your Lordships know that there is a Party—a large Party perhaps, in the South of Ireland—a Republican Party. You may say, in fact, that the larger number of them consider that they are governed by a Republic. It is true that that Republic has never been recognised, and never will be recognised, by the British Government. But if that is so, and if in their own minds they have the feeling that they have a Republic, and that they are Republicans, surely it becomes of great importance, if that Republic is to be altered and a new Government is to be brought in, that that should be done by the very votes and by the assent of those who have most strenuously supported and maintained this Republic. Old political writers spoke of a Social Contract in some remote period of the past as the ground of political obligations. But here you have a new Social Contract, not based upon some imaginary period in the past, but actual and living, based on the present and on the votes of the people, voting with full knowledge of what they are about.
I think I must pause here to deal with the point which was raised a few days ago by the noble and learned Lord, Lord 515 Carson. He said, in effect: "Will not this new Constitution, when drawn up by the Provisional Government, be presented first to this Parliament for the criticism of your Lordships and of another place, before it is presented to the Irish Parliament, because, supposing this Constitution is first criticised and accepted by the Irish Parliament, how difficult it will be for the Houses of Parliament over here to amend or to criticise." And he proceeded to say that that might be some reflection on the powers of Parliament. If there is one thing certain about this Constitution, and a thing that will most help it to be properly worked and to be accepted, it is that it should be absolutely clear in every particular that it is not an article of British manufacture, but that it is wholly Irish, and that even the finishing processes have not been introduced in this country.
But is there really so difficult a dilemma as the noble and learned Lord has suggested? This Constitution, so presented, must be within the Articles of Agreement. No doubt the Provisional Government in Ireland will fully assure themselves, before they present it to the people or to that Parliament, that it does so come within the Articles of Agreement. If it does, and the British Government, also assuring themselves of this, present it to your Lordships for approval, what advantage would there be in introducing these Amendments? Supposing it be secured that it is within those Articles of Agreement, why should we trouble ourselves about the details of an arrangement which must be far more interesting to the Irish than to ourselves? Parliament, of course, can do what it likes, but, if the Constitution of the Irish Free State, so drawn up, is regular and legal, and comes within the terms of the Articles of Agreement, it would be very much better to leave the whole of the execution and the working out of it to the Irish themselves.
May I refer to another point that was raised, with reference to Amendments to the Treaty itself? After all, what was this Treaty, and this Agreement? It was arrived at after five mouths of discussion between the representatives of the delegates of the South of Ireland and the British Ministers, after long and almost interminable conferences, and was naturally the result of compromise, arrangement, discussion, of acceptance of one Article here and rejection of another there; in fact, of a general balance produced as the 516 result of those long discussions. How dangerous would it be if Amendments to some particular part of it were passed, or even explanations, because, supposing Amendments or explanations were introduced—let us say in your Lordships' House—it is clear that the road would be fully open, and it would be claimed by Ministers on the other side that they also had the right to explain and to amend. And you would have the spectacle of this Agreement, settled and arranged after these long discussions, again being settled and arranged after a series of discussions between the Parliament here and Ministers there, and there would be an almost endless chain, backwards and forwards, of Amendment, explanation and co-explanation. In fact, you would have commentary on the text, and then gloss and commentary on the commentary, until finally, I suppose, in the mass of emendations, commentaries and glosses the original Treaty would probably vanish for ever.
There is one other point, as I am on that subject, to which I must allude, because it was raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson. It is as to the date upon which the Ulster month—that is to say, the period within which Ulster has the full right to contract itself out of this Constitution when it is made—begins to run. He suggested that that month might run from the passing of this Bill into an Act, and I said that I would ask that the matter should be carefully considered. The Government, I understand, are clearly of the view that no other construction could be put upon those Articles than that the Ulster month begins to run not from the period when this Bill becomes an Act, but from the period when the Bill constituting the Irish Free State and the Constitution is approved by Parliament. I might add that there is this additional point, that though I believe the Irish Ministers indicated that they took the opposite view—that the period began to run from the first Act—yet they entirely agreed to abide by the interpretation that was put upon it by the British Ministers, and the British Ministers, acting on advice no doubt have come to the conclusion I have indicated.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
Will the noble Viscount say whether this is a legal interpretation, or whether it is the opinion held by Ministers?
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
h is the opinion held by Ministers, acting, no doubt, upon the best legal advice they can take.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
If the noble and learned Lord is dissatisfied he will, perhaps, put that point to-morrow to the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I thought that was a convenient point at which to interpolate into the general course of the argument I am presenting to your Lordships the answers to those specific questions. Now, having approved of this Agreement, the question I have to ask your Lordships—and I think it is a very grave one—is this. After having expressed your approval, has anything happened which should lead you to consider that you ought to change your opinions on the approval of that Agreement? This is a point I address to those critics who, while approving of the Agreement, thought His Majesty's Government had gone rather far in some of the proposals. Your Lordships will observe that, after you met in December, when that Agreement was submitted to the Dail Eireann it was passed by an unexpectedly small majority, and I think that showed that if there was to be an Agreement and if those Articles of Agreement were to be passed, the British Government had rather nicely gauged the feeling in another country and that they had not gone for acceptance one whit too far.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
But I think the same thing may be said of the other signatories to the Agreement. What happened? 518 As soon as the other signatories to the Agreement got over to the other side of the water they were greeted with charges of having surrendered and of being traitors—precisely the charges which, with that rich vocabulary of vituperation which some noble Lords possess, were addressed to those who signed the document over here. It is rather interesting, therefore, to see that both sets of signatories were greeted with almost exactly the same form of attack when they either got back to their own country or presented the document to their fellow countrymen.
We are only too well aware that during these last few months many terrible and horrible crimes have been committed—crimes which have roused in my countrymen great disgust and abhorrence. But the question I have to ask your Lordships is this: Is there the slightest evidence that in any way the newly set up Provisional Government has connived at, assisted, or done otherwise than attempted to deal most severely with those crimes that have been so committed? I think the whole of the evidence is the other way, and that, though it is extraordinarily difficult, if I may say so respectfully, to get the same opinion out of two Irishmen on the state of Ireland, this is one point on which, I think, there is more agreement than on any other, and that during these months and under great difficulties the Provisional Government have been doing their best to govern and to maintain what order they can. It is only fair to say here that the Provisional Government is beset with the greatest difficulties. One of the chief of those difficulties is that among their sharpest critics, among their chief opponents—and it is an experience of which we have constantly recurrent examples even in this fortunate country—are their old allies. Those are the people who very often place the greatest stumbling blocks in the way.
It is a difficult matter for men inexperienced in government, as these are, to turn suddenly to the difficult work that has been put into their hands and deal with new and difficult problems of government; but it becomes a thousand times more difficult when they seek to reorganise and produce some sense of order in a country that has been so demoralised as that country has been for the last two or three years. Nevertheless, I understand from those most conversant with the subject 519 that the Provisional Government is attacking these difficult problems with great energy and is gradually, but slowly perhaps, gathering strength and support.
Let me now turn for a moment to a very difficult matter connected with the position of Ulster, because I am certain we all feel that, even if peace or a settlement was procured in the South of Ireland, it would be deplorable if that peace were purchased at the expense of the good feeling and the friendship of our friends in Ulster. They have, of course, as your Lordships know, the fullest right of maintaining the powers they obtained under the Act of 1920. They have the fullest privilege and right—it is more than a privilege; it is a right—of separating themselves entirely from the Government that is to be set up under the Articles of Agreement. Their position in that respect is thoroughly safeguarded. They have the full right to refuse to join that Government when it is established. They have, if I may say so, one small advantage even over the people in this country, because they manage, and have the right to manage, their own affairs and are able to come here and deal most fully not only with Imperial affairs but with all our domestic affairs.
Trouble has arisen, no doubt, over the boundary question. I do not think need deal with the history of that question, because the noble and learned Viscount gave a full explanation on a previous occasion. Nor need I state how it was that these Articles appeared in the Agreement itself, since the reason for that was also given by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and he, as one of the signatories of the Treaty, is able to speak with the fullest authority. It would be absurd, therefore, of me to add to or subtract from anything he has said. I think I am correct in stating that the anxieties of Ulster have arisen not so much from the insertion of this particular Article in the Treaty as from some of the unauthorised interpretations that have appeared of the Article in various quarters. They have been alarmed, I understand, at the extension which they think might be given to that particular Article in relation to the question of boundaries. This is, of course, a thing of which I must speak with reserve and caution, because I understand that it really is a matter—and solely a matter—not for the interpretation of the Government but of the Chairman of the Commission.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The noble and learned Lord says: "Why not make it clear now?" I will give him an answer at once. If I did so, I should immediately be infringing the rights and duties of the Chairman when he is appointed. But the fears of Ulster—and I want to deal as squarely with them as I can—seem to me to rest upon a number of assumptions. They rest, first of all, upon the assumption that all the decisions of the Tribunal are to go against Ulster, and in favour of the rest of Ireland. They seem to assume that there are no homogeneous Protestant populations to the south of that line which, under the operations of the Tribunal, might be transferred north of the line. They seem to assume that the Boundary Commission is not a Boundary Commission, and that the term Boundary Commission has no meaning. They assume, further, that this Chairman, when selected, will not act with that average amount of intelligence and common sense which you would expect from a man selected to deal with so important a business. They also seem to have forgotten, or to attach no meaning to, the words of limitation in the Article regarding the question of "economic and geographic conditions" which, read with the other words, have so clear a limiting effect.
It seems, therefore, that their fears rest upon a great pile of assumptions which put before them dangers which they apprehend could happen. It is of the very gravest disadvantage that the Conference between the Prime Minister of Ulster and Mr. Collins should have failed or broken down on this point, but the Government still hope that some arrangement may be reached at a later date before that Commission is set up, and that when the Commission is set up its Chairman may merely have to accept and confirm an arrangement already made, rather than himself act as an adjudicator and arbitrator. The last observation I make on that matter is that for those who are interested in a united Ireland by the combining together of Ulster and the rest of Ireland in one country, it would be a most unfortunate thing if all homogeneous populations were removed from the Ulster boundary, and Ulster thereby became so far reduced that it formed one homogeneous block which would be more unwilling than ever it has 521 been to enter into an arrangement with the rest of Ireland.
I think we must all agree that during the last few months—I am passing away from the boundary question now—the position of Ulster has been vastly strengthened. She has shown, under great difficulties and not without some provocation, great dignity and self-restraint. She has done her best not to lay any stress upon those grounds of bitterness which it would have been so easy to exaggerate. She has shown a great and high degree of self-sacrifice in refusing any temptation to obstruct the grant to the rest of Ireland of greater rights than she possessed of self-government herself. There is no question that in the minds of the people of this country she has thereby confirmed the strength of our friendship, and established a position of great moral and political strength.
Is there any reason, therefore, why your Lordships should not persevere in the determination to carry out the Agreement? Let us look at one or two of the alternatives which might take place, and see what are the risks and dangers that might occur to this country. Supposing—unfortunate as would be the supposition and unlikely as I think it is that Ireland repudiated her bargain. In that ease she would, I think, be swept entirely bare of that sympathy which she received from the great Dominions. She could hardly expect to receive any sympathy from those Dominions if she refused a position, of which they themselves are proud, of being one of the great associated territories and nations of the British Empire. She would have proclaimed to the world generally that her desire was not for complete self-government, but was for definite separation from the British Empire. She would have given out to all Irishmen in all the Dominions that they were themselves aliens within the Empire. How much sympathy would she thereby have lost by showing that she refused to recognise those limitations which the proximity of Britain necessitates should be made in the interests of Britain's legitimate demands for security? I understand that no such anticipations may be entered into, and that all the recent information received by the Government from Ireland is that there is a slow but certain movement by the people of the country away from Mr. de Valera and the Republicans and towards the acceptance of the Articles of Agreement.
522 There are other alternatives. Supposing this Agreement is accepted, and supposing it unfortunately happens that that good will which we hope may begin to be established between this country and Ireland does not result, what are the dangers that may be apprehended from ill will on the part of that country under its new Constitution? It is very often useful not only to look at the size of countries, but to examine their relative populations. I think it was Sir Robert Giffen who pointed out, in a very interesting essay, the immense difference in the distribution of power in Europe that had been caused by the relative changes in the populations of the different countries, and if you look at the beginning of the Union at the time of Pitt, when he was afraid of the action that might be taken by a separate Parliament in Ireland, you will find that then the proportions of population were something like two to one in the two islands. This has changed to about nine or ten to one, so that the relative importance of the two populations has enormously altered, and has altered, as far as numbers go, certainly in favour of the people of this country.
You have also this security. So close is, I will not say the economic dependence of Ireland, but the economic interest and connection of Ireland with this country, that something like ninety per cent. of her trade is done with this country, and even if you have some divergence of sentiment yet the tremendous unity of interest is so close that, of itself, it is sonic security against any results from ill will in that country.
We have been familiar for so long with the Irish question that we have become somewhat too much obsessed with it. We have had an Irish Party in our Parliament for many years with unusual and unequal power because it has been able to exert a balance between the different Parties in this country, and it may be that these problems and questions have been brought so closely to us that we have tended somewhat to exaggerate the importance of the Irish question in the economy of these islands. It may be that when we are able to deal with our own affairs in our own Parliament without these Members the Irish question will be relegated to its real place in our considerations; that it will not bulk so largely in all our political arrangements or cause such a great disturbance amongst our Parties and political business.
523 The situation is now, or will be for the future, wholly changed. For the future, as it has never been in the past, the searchlights of history will be turned in this matter not on England and the British people but on the Irish people themselves. Their testing time, not our testing time, will come, and we shall look—the people of this country will look—with great sympathy, but not, I think, without some relief, upon them while they are engaged in the task of reconstruction and rebuilding in Ireland. It has generally been a matter of criticism or complaint that the Irish have almost too keen an historical sense, and one would wish that in some ways we could shorten their memories. It may be that when the pressure of the present struggle is removed and a new range of subjects and interests fills their minds, when all the fresh problems coming from the division of Parties and interests in that country supervene, that these new matters will make old memories indistinct, will make t hear forget the Treaty of Limerick and blur even the masterful figure of Oliver Cromwell.
I do not wish to prophesy because prophets are of no use unless they are melancholy; they have a monopoly of melancholia. I should like, however, to be allowed to speculate, I think it may be an advantage to Ireland if, in the years to come, she is no longer able to attribute her shortcomings in her own country, from whatever causes they arise, to the exceptional stupidity of successive British Governments. I think it may be of some advantage to her if, in the future, she can no longer lean upon the mighty arm of England but has to rely on the strength and manliness, and experience, of her own sons. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Viscount Peel.)
§ LORD SUMNER
My Lords, with your Lordships' indulgence, I venture to intervene at this stage of the debate. The place, I am conscious, is far more prominent than any which my position in your Lordships' House would entitle me to occupy, and it is certainly more prominent than any I should have desired to take of my own motion. But this Bill involves many extremely complicated questions of constitutional and administrative law, and it has been suggested by those to whose 524 better judgment I feel I ought to defer that I might be of some assistance to your Lordships by intervening at this stage. If that be so—I am quite unable to tell whether it is so or not—I should not think it right, from any diffidence of my own, to refuse to place before your Lordships any assistance that I can possibly offer.
Before I proceed, however, I wish to say what I do not doubt expresses the united feeling of your Lordships' House, that we regret the indisposition, which we trust is purely temporary, that prevents us from having the benefit of the presence of the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor. May I also be allowed to say that we congratulate ourselves on the fact that the introduction of this Bill has been placed in the hands of the noble Viscount. He has never introduced a measure into this House without discharging a most difficult task with very great success. He propitiates us at the outset by a conciliatory introduction; he accepts criticism with good temper and he takes defeat, if any defeat occurs, in good part. I trust, therefore, that this happy accident may render this debate perhaps less lurid than the subject might have led us to expect it to be.
Before I come to the actual provisions of the Bill, may I draw attention to two or three observations which the noble Viscount made in the course of his speech? He explained that this Bill is the necessary consequence of the vote which your Lordships and another place passed last December in approbation of the Treaty, and he then proceeded to treat it as a necessary, almost a harmless, consequence of the proceedings on that occasion. I am not aware that anything further was necessary to approval of Parliament to the Treaty than the Resolutions which were passed, which said that the Treaty was approved. I am not aware that there is one word in this Treaty which says anything at all about the particular legislation required to give effect to it, unless it be the reference in Article 11 to "the passing of the Act of Parliament for the ratification of this instrument." We are told that this is not to be the Act of Parliament in question, and for that purpose, therefore, the introduction of this Bill was not necessary at all.
Then, with a little more exordium of that kind, he proceeded to explain to us that 525 the Bill sets up a Constituent Assembly—an expression which I do not find anywhere, either in the Treaty or in the Bill, and which we can only extract by speculation from its provisions. And after that, he proceeded to pass a eulogy upon the arrangements in contemplation with regard to the passing of the Constitution of Southern Ireland which, I must say, filled me with amazement. By a fortunate circumstance an interval of time, not longer than four months after the passing of this Act, is anticipated for the steps which are to be taken for the assembling of that Constituent Assembly and for the issue of its deliberations. That interval, so fortunately, so providentially interposed, will have the result of calming the temper of Southern Ireland, of preventing anyone from saying that the occasion is not a propitious moment for an Election, and it will further give to the people of Ireland, who have for so long been struggling to give expression to their ardent desire for moderation and for a constitutional settlement, an opportunity of adopting a Constitution not made in England, but of wholly Irish, or rather of wholly Southern Irish manufacture, and we may then expect that, from that fortunate concurrence of events, those better days will dawn which were the subject of a prophecy, which the noble Viscount disclaimed as prophecy, because be regards prophets as melancholy persons among whom he cannot class himself, but nevertheless painted in glowing colours, only less attractive than the tints, which were devoted to his picture of the state of Ireland as it is to-day.
I have no intention of following the noble Viscount in his prophecies, or anybody else's prophecies, melancholy or merry. Personally, I have no use for prophecy, least of all official prophecy, and I think it will be very much better for us not to flatter ourselves that, as the proportions of population change, the consequences pointed out by Sir Robert Giffen may be expected to follow; not to flatter ourselves that when Ireland governs herself we shall hear no more about her; not to imagine that the people of Southern Ireland will do better when they learn no longer to lean on the mighty arm of England—though I thought the portion of our anatomy with which they had concerned themselves was our back—and that when these happy things have happened, the fortunate results of the last six or eight 526 months of politics will all be gathered in. I will ask your Lordships to consider what I conceive to be the meaning of this Bill. If I express myself in terms which are rather blunt, I hope I may also manage to make them rather plain; and if at last plain language can be introduced into the arrangements that have been made, and are being made, with Ireland, I cannot think that the public welfare of either island will be the worse for it.
At the present moment the Government of Southern Ireland is being carried on by the Provisional Government headed, as I understand, by Mr. Collins; and if I speak of Mr. Collins when I should say the Provisional Government, I hope I may be pardoned, for I intend no reflection on his colleagues, whose past, I do not doubt, is as distinguished as his own. For some reason, however, the personality of Mr. Collins has been so attractive or picturesque that it has caught the public imagination, and the Government of Southern Ireland is represented to us to-day, and, I imagine, to a good many of the inhabitants of Southern Ireland, as the Government of Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins was until comparatively recently, and may, for all I know, still be Minister of Finance in the Republican Government of Ireland. Whether he holds that office still I do not know, but I should very much like to know what other office he holds, in virtue of which he is governing and is to carry on the government of Ireland. Under the existing law the Government of Ireland is carried on, subject to various Statutes of which the Act of 1920 is the latest, by Ministers of the Crown. Is Mr. Collins, in any sense of the word, a Minister of the Crown, or is he to be so? He is at any rate, I suppose, a Minister of the Crown, who has not yet gone through the ceremony of taking the Oath of Allegiance, as other Ministers do.
Mr. Collins and his Government are a revolutionary Government. Mr. Collins and his Government are carrying on such government as Southern Ireland is blessed with, and are carrying it on without any legal authority whatsoever. I am not here making any random assertions. Your Lordships have, no doubt, familiarised yourselves with the discussion in another place. This Bill was there introduced—if I may be permitted to say so, very ably—with the frank avowal from the beginning that the present Provisional Government 527 of Ireland had no legal powers and no legal rights, and that the necessity for this Bill was that of investing them with some legal powers and some legal rights. Indeed, when the Motion for the approbation of the Treaty came on in your Lordships' House last December, I remember being struck by the speech of the noble Marquess who leads the House, in which he explained to us, as if he were explaining part of the ordinary machinery of Government in the British Empire, that what was to be done was to set up a Provisional Government, and to hand over to the Provisional Government the government of Southern Ireland; and that then there would be an Indemnity Bill. It was as though the system of government, which takes the place of the statutory and constitutional regulation of our lives, was that Ministers should hand over the powers which had been placed in their hands by law to persons recently in arms against the Crown, and then conic to Parliament and say: "There may be some illegalities in what we have done; these illegalities may be more or they may be less; there will therefore be, in the ordinary course, an Act of Indemnity, so that we and our instruments, at any rate, shall not suffer."
That is the position, and I agree that a position like that, whatever may be said of those who brought it about, is a position which it is urgently necessary to regularise. The noble Viscount said, I think very truly, but using a new adjective in this connection, that the Government of Mr. Collins was unsanctified by law. I am not aware that it is sanctified by anything at all, but it certainly rests upon no foundation of law, and the sooner whatever Government is carried on in Ireland does rest upon some foundation of law the better. It is an unprecedented position in the British Empire that a considerable portion of these islands should be governed, so far as it is governed at all, by Ministers who have no legal authority, who have no legal force, and who derive their present power from a precarious and scanty majority in an Assembly, which is at any rate not recognised by the British Constitution. How is this to be done? It is done in a form which is not only novel but appears to me to be highly inconvenient, and I venture to say deliberately inconvenient.
Of course, I know that as soon as a lawyer gets up at this box, and says a Bill is not in proper form, he provokes at once 528 an expression which was heard in these discussions not long ago. He is accused of being a constitutional pedant. Well, anybody can call me a constitutional pedant that likes, but when I believe that the course taken is a breach of the Constitution and an invitation to future difficulties, instead of the closing of old ones, at the risk of pedantry I think it my duty to point out the difficulty that I foresee.
This short little Bill contains one subsection which says that the Treaty "shall have the force of law as from the date of the passing of this Act"; that is to say, that the instrument which reached its fruition in the small hours, I think, of December 6, in circumstances which still remain in dispute, is to be for the present at any rate an Act of Parliament, expressed as no Act of Parliament ever was before, dealing with a variety of subjects which require the greatest precision of statement, and dealing with them in a mariner which leaves a great deal to the imagination. That is one thing. The other thing which it does is to provide that "for the purpose of giving effect to Article 17. …Orders in Council may be made transferring to the Provisional Government established under that Article the powers and machinery therein referred to." That is the real business part of the Bill. Let us see how all that is done. Under the Treaty, by Article 17, it was provided as part of the Agreement that when the Provisional Government was established the British Government should "take the steps necessary to transfer to such Provisional Government the powers and machinery requisite for the discharge of its duties." That, and that alone, is the limit that is placed upon the powers which this Bill is to confer upon His Majesty's Government, to legislate for the administration of Southern Ireland.
The Bill does not define, the Treaty did not define, what the duties of this Provisional Government are, but I suppose they are administrative duties, such as any Government calling itself by that name will have to carry on in the twenty-six counties, and the powers and machinery which are to be transferred are such as His Majesty's Government at present possess in law, and which they require legal authority to transfer to somebody else. That is to be done by Orders in Council. Hitherto, the government of any large tract of these islands has been decided upon within the walls of Parliament by carefully framed legislation, passed 529 through all its stages in both Houses, subjected to the examination of experienced and careful men, and when it issues in the end it has taken the form of a carefully constructed Act of Parliament.
The government of Southern Ireland, during the interval of the Provisional Government will, under this Bill, be carried on under powers transferred by His Majesty's Government, without consultation with Parliament, without the knowledge of Parliament, at dates that they select for themselves, in instalments exactly as they please, and they may or they may not extend beyond the limiting words, namely, those "requisite for the discharge of its duties." If they do, Parliament will have no opportunity of interfering to prevent it, and this is what is called placing Mr. Collins in the position of having an authority which at least rests on law, and which will enable him to do in his distracted country that which, without it, he cannot do, or has not hitherto succeeded in doing. Piecemeal there are to be doled out to him by His Majesty's Government powers given by themselves, with which he is to carry on his authority in Southern Ireland, and this is supposed to be attractive to a population whose principal grievance, so far as I can make out, has been hitherto that it was governed from England.
The constitutional method would have been to bring these matters before Parliament, to defend them in the presence of legislators of both Houses, and to seek a formal statutory Parliamentary authority. I understand the excuse to have been—I do not think anyone will call it a justification—that if it were not done in this way, and if the Orders in Council were to lie upon the Table and be subject to the approval or disapproval of either House or both Houses of the Legislature, the result would be that there might be delay in the transfer of much-needed powers to Mr. Collins, which would hamper him in the performance of his duties.
Another excuse is that after all it is not for long, and that the error, if error it be, is but a little one. Let me examine that for a moment or two. These Orders in Council either are drafted at this moment or they ought to have been drafted by this time, and considering how little the officials connected with the Irish Government have had to do with the actual details of Irish Government for the last two months, I cannot believe that there is, or 530 has been, any difficulty whatever in preparing these Orders in Council. If there is any delay it is entirely due to the fault of His Majesty's Government in not acquainting themselves beforehand with the details to lay before Parliament. There would be no difficulty in laying these Orders in Council upon the Table now, and circulating them to your Lordships, so that in Committee it would be possible to examine them and see whether they do or do not require the criticism or amendment of either House of Parliament.
But of course the advantage of doing it in the way in which it is to be done is the same advantage as is accorded to the new constitutional divergence, which has marked this transaction from the very beginning. That is to say, Parliament is not consulted until the end of the process, instead of Parliament being taken into the confidence of Ministers from the very beginning. I do not know that I ought to appeal to the House to consider what Mr. Gladstone would have done. He is one of those figures of the past not very much remembered now, but what would Mr. Gladstone have done? In connection with Home Rule what he did was to introduce elaborate measures in the House of Commons at the outset. This is a Home Rule Bill for Southern Ireland, to be passed in this omnibus shape, to be carried out by His Majesty's Government without direct examination in Parliament, which in troubled times is very much easier for them than the ordinary constitutional method. I cannot believe that that is a right way of proceeding.
Allow me to turn to another matter. To my mind the great blot upon the Bill as it stands is that, instead of taking the opportunity of clearing up ambiguities, of which there are so many in the Treaty, and instead of taking the opportunity of completing it by enacting clearly and in detail those things which the Treaty does not deal with at all, the apparently easier course has been taken of putting off those difficulties and saying either that they will settle themselves, or, at any rate, that perhaps somebody else may have to settle them. The formula adopted is to say: "Here is the Treaty, and not one jot or one tittle of it can be altered." The Bill can be altered. I think it is admitted by the Government that the Bill can be altered by others than themselves.
531 The Bill has been altered twice already, once virtually at the bidding of Messrs. Collins and de Valera, who discovered that the only way of solving an awkward Parliamentary situation was to postpone the whole thing until June; whereupon it was also discovered that it would be a very fortunate thing not to have that Election at once—as the Bill had said, "as soon as may be"—and on the other occasion when there were introduced into the Bill some further words enlarging the powers to be taken to make Orders in Council by words which certainly seem to be very ample, though I do not dispute that in certain connections they are quite common:—Any Order in Council under this section may contain such incidental, consequential, or supplemental provisions as may appear to be necessary or proper for the purpose of giving effect to the foregoing provisions of this section.If the power of legislating for Southern Ireland without further consultation with Parliament needed amplification it has got it by amendment of the Bill. And I take it there is no doubt that, whatever sanctity may attach to the text of the Treaty, to its very dotting and punctuation, does not attach to the Bill itself. As the Government can alter it, I suppose any other Amendments may be proposed and carried. It is an opportunity of which I trust your Lordships will think it right to avail yourselves.
But, as the Bill stands, it contains a number of deliberate ambiguities which are a great misfortune in the circumstances in which we have to deal with Southern Ireland. I will not take your Lordships through an instrument which is so familiar to you, but let me draw attention to one or two. Take, first, the point that arises on the fact that it is called a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland—a term which is retained in the Schedule and therefore becomes the enactment of the Legislature. There is also the point which arises upon the form of the Oath which members of the Irish Free State are to take, though there is no repeal of any other of the Statutes with reference to the taking of oaths, and therefore all other officers who have to take oaths by Statute will have to take the old Oath of Allegiance, seeing that there is no authority for any other.
I am perfectly well aware that His Majesty's Government have all along maintained—and, I do not in the least doubt, with perfect sincerity and resolution—that they never will recognise the 532 Irish Republic, and that they never will admit that Ireland has the right to say: "We are out of the Empire now, and we are only going to come in upon our own terms." But, unfortunately, the use of this language has given to the constitutionalists of Southern Ireland an argument to which they hold with great tenacity, and I am quite sure that your Lordships will agree that nothing could be more unwise than that we should under-estimate our opponents and deride their arguments, merely because we do not agree with them. May I point out that they say that these words recognise the Republic? I do so for the purpose of showing that, until you clear away the ambiguities of this instrument, and place your legislation on some basis that is free from doubt, you provoke disputes, you exacerbate quarrels, you invite trouble, and you are throwing away the most valuable opportunity to make peace while there is still time.
They say that no Treaty could be made between one part of the United Kingdom and another, even though it be a part of the United Kingdom which enjoys that modified form of union to which the Act of 1920 reduced it. They say that no Treaty can be made between two such parts, and that in any arrangement that may be come to between the inhabitants of one part and the Government of the whole there could be no question of allegiance to the Sovereign, unless it arose out of some doubt as to the real position which they occupy within the Empire.
Their argument therefore is this:—"Ireland is a separate, unconquered, independent nation, and always has been so. Ireland has set up a Republic for herself. Mr. de Valera was and Mr. Griffith is" (at least I think so, but I am not quite sure that I distribute the offices correctly) "the official head of that organisation. Nothing can destroy the Irish Republic except the power which created it—namely, the vote of the people. If the vote of the people, when it is taken at the next Election, is for entering the British Empire as the Irish Free State, then its President, justified by the vote of the people, will be able to bring it within the British Empire upon the terms of the Treaty. If it does not, it will remain out." And, as I understand, both sides in the discussion in the Dail say that till then they will remain out of it. That is, of course, absolutely opposed to what His Majesty's Government have 533 always contended. But have they not used language which was calculated, unfortunately, to lead to these unfounded expectations, and have they not gravely prejudiced the possibility of a settlement going through without the most serious difficulty, by allowing the matter to remain in doubt in any way?
There is a little more. If you attend to the arguments of their constitutionalists, their professors, their King's Counsel, and their historical students and so forth, you will find that they say this:—"This is a Treaty, and the faith which we swear to His Majesty is in virtue of the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain, and her adherence to and membership of the group of nations forming the British Commonwealth of Nations." Not for nothing was the term "the British Empire" discarded; not for nothing was the common citizenship of Ireland with the group of nations forming the British Commonwealth of Nations referred to; not for nothing is the faithfulness to be in virtue of her adherence to and membership of that group. They say that it means that no Treaty lasts for ever; that any Treaty may be annulled by its being denounced by one of the parties to it; that those words recognise their right to secede if they please; and that there is no power whatever to prevent them from seceding if they choose. And they say that this adherence to the British Commonwealth if it came to an end by Ireland's retiring from it, would ipso facto relieve those who had taken this Oath from their duties under it.
They say that there is a further advantage about this. They say: "if we are still in the British Commonwealth of Nations, then we are entitled to be Members of the League of Nations," an institution with which, perhaps, your Lordships are not so familiar, except from outside, as you should be, because I do not think we have hitherto appreciated that it was likely to touch us at all near home. They refer to Article 12 of the Covenant, which says—The Members of the League agree that if there should arise between them any dispute likely to lead to a rupture, they will submit the matter either to arbitration or to inquiry by the Council, and they agree in no case to resort to war until three months after the award by the arbitrators or the report of the Council.Very sensible! Then Article 13 provides that—The Members of the League agree that whenever any dispute shall arise between them which 534 they recognise to be suitable for submission to arbitration and which cannot be satisfactorily settled by diplomacy, they will submit the whole subject-matter to arbitration.Disputes as to the interpretation of the Treaty are declared to be among those matters which are generally suitable for submission to arbitration.
Then there is this provision in Article 16—Should any Member of the League resort to war in disregard of its covenants under Articles 12, 13 or 15, it shall ipso facto be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other Members of the League, which hereby undertake immediately to subject it to the severance of all trade or financial relations, the prohibition of all intercourse between their nationals and the nationals of the covenant-breaking State—and sundry other penalties of the same kind.
Their argument, therefore, is that if they exercise what they claim to be their right to retire from this Treaty, their right to do so is expressly made a subject suitable for arbitration or determination by the Council of the League of Nations; that if this country were to take the view which President Lincoln took in 1861 and resort to war and decline to go to arbitration on such a subject, there would be brought down upon our heads immediately all the penalties of Article 16, and we should be ipso facto "deemed to have committed an act of war against all other Members of the League." I do not desire it to be supposed that I think that there is a word of foundation for that. I do not desire it to be supposed that I am prophesying that there will be any necessity to deal with that situation; but I deplore the fact that, by adopting this method of getting a so-called delegation into a room where conversations take place, which only become known to a limited extent outside, and by arriving at an Agreement which nobody seems to be very well pleased with, as I gather from the noble Viscount, and which at any rate was signed at last under circumstances that have been the subject of controversy, you have entered upon and perpetuated those very misunderstandings, which have led to so many of our difficulties in the past.
Two of these gentlemen—I forget which they are, but I think Mr. Barton is one and Mr. Duggan another—said they were brought to sign by being threatened with war. On the other hand, judging by the explanations given in another place in the course of the recent debate, I understand 535 that our position is that it would never have done to break off the negotiations at that stage. We had gone much too far; we had, in the words used, allowed our arms to rust; we had dispersed a large part of our forces. So far from any threat of war being possible it was the other way about, and if the Irish delegates had thought there was a threat of war their remedy was to have called the bluff. Whatever be the truth as to that, the unfortunate thing is that here is a document which, before it is given the force of law, ought to have been rewritten in intelligible and unmistakable terms, and rewritten in those terms by agreement with the other side. Then we should have known where we were.
Why was it not done? I pass over the advantage that I pointed out—the Parliamentary advantage of getting the Bill through. I understand that as we put all our chances upon Mr. Collins it is considered to be our business to do nothing that can hinder his chances. We have backed Mr. Collins. He has been selected as the person who can deliver the goods. The date of delivery is postponed. The discount to be paid for immediate delivery might be very large. At any rate, it is to Mr. Collins and his friends that we are told to look. Therefore, if we were to introduce any Amendments into the Treaty, first of all, Mr. Collins would be prejudiced in his Election controversies with Mr. de Valera—such is the position into which we have got ourselves—and, in the second place, if we proposed Amendments Mr. Collins would claim to introduce Amendments also. That is to say, that the Imperial Parliament, which legislates for the whole of the United Kingdom at present, except that part of its powers which have been delegated to the Parliament of Northern Ireland, is not to be allowed to legislate without Mr. Collins and his fellow members of the Provisional Government having a corresponding right to say what is to be in the instrument. That seems to me to be an absolute negation of the hitherto accepted doctrine of constitutional law. But, again, that is constitutional pedantry, and I quite recognise how very difficult it would be to ask Mr. Collins now to cross a "t" or to correct the spelling of a word in this instrument. And I do not forget what happened last December.
May I draw your Lordships' attention to one or two other deliberate ambiguities 536 or omissions. Among the duties which I suppose the Provisional Government has to discharge under the Treaty is the ordinary administrative duty of collecting Taxes, and I suppose there is also the ordinary administrative duty of paying the local obligations of the State. I should be glad to know that this is wrong, but I am assuming at present that among the powers transferred to the Provisional Government there will be included the power of collecting the Taxes in Ireland, and, as the power of collecting the Taxes would then be transferred away from the Imperial Government and they could not exercise that power any further, I suppose there would be transferred to the Provisional Government the power and the duty of paying such things as old age pensions and other pensions in Southern Ireland. But Mr. Collins is not responsible to any Parliament unless it be to this Parliament. There is no Parliament in Southern Ireland, because the Parliament which was elected has not taken the Oath of Allegiance and, until June or whenever it is, there is not to be any other to take its place. In the meantime, Mr. Collins will be occupying the difficult position of being a theoretically responsible Minister, responsible, if to anybody, only to the two Houses of Parliament at Westminster—an Assembly which, I suppose, it would cost him his office, certainly his office in Ireland, to recognise.
Under Article 5 of the Agreement the Irish Free State has to assume liability for the service of the Public Debt of the United Kingdom. It is not said what that means exactly; but it is said that if the amount cannot be determined by agreement it is to be determined by arbitration. Surely, if that has the force of law it is perfectly fruitless as it stands. It does not say who are to agree; it does not say when they are to agree; and it does not say what arbitration there is to be when the arbitration takes place. How many arbitrators are there to be? In case of dispute is there to be an umpire who can decide? What powers will the arbitrators have with regard either to the definition of their functions, or to the taking of evidence, and what not? Did you ever hear of a practical arbitration clause to be put into force in the business of life, which did not say how many arbitrators there were to be, who were to appoint them, and how they were to exercise their powers? The thing cannot work as it stands. It 537 would be no contradiction of the Treaty to provide at any rate for the British Government's side of the matter and to say how and when the British Government is to enter upon this agreement, with what powers, and so forth. But it is preferred to leave that in a state of ambiguity.
On the other hand, under Article 8, there is a provision which counts in the population of Ulster in reckoning the number of troops that Southern Ireland may raise, even although Ulster has exercised its option and has come out. That may not have been intended, but it is clear to my mind, because "Ireland" means, in this instrument, the island, and the provision is that the proportion allowed to Southern Ireland is to be the proportion winch the population of Ireland bears to the population of Great Britain. On the other hand, under the financial clause when Ulster has gone out the Irish Free State still has to assume liability not for a portion of the Public Debt of the United Kingdom proportionate to the twenty-six counties, but, so far as I can make out, proportionate to the whole island of Ireland. If these things were intended. I think they must be a surprise. If they were not intended, the sooner the ambiguities are cleared away the better.
I do not propose to say much about Article 11. I do not feel that I have any right to endeavour to present any case on behalf of Ulster that would prejudice or anticipate the observations that will be addressed to your Lordships by those noble Lords who are entitled to speak for Ulster, but I do make two observations briefly and very earnestly. The first is that the sooner Ulster is put out of her pain the better. I cannot believe that any good is served, and I am quite satisfied great mischief will be done, if the question as to whether there is to be an alteration in the boundary of a grave or of a trifling kind is kept dragging on until that distant date when Southern Ireland has had an Election, has adopted (by popular vote if you please) at the polls a complicated Constitutional Bill, and has then succeeded in satisfying the Imperial Parliament that that Bill should become an Imperial Act. During that time the inhabitants on the other side of that line, to a depth which we cannot anticipate, will be unable to tell whether they will come under the Southern Government or not.
538 I say that the sooner they know that the better. I appreciate the difficulty that His Majesty's Ministers have in telling us what they think the words mean. I appreciate their argument that it is for the Commission to decide. But let me point out that the Commission is not a judicial Commission, and that it is assumed that the construction of the words would be decided by the Chairman—that is to say, that, if the two representatives of the two parts of the island will not agree, it is then assumed that the right to modify the Act of 1920 is to be conferred upon an unknown and an unnamed person, who is to have the task of interpreting of obscure words and is to be subject to no appeal, and, as far as I can make out, is to be entirely guided by such right reason as may descend upon him.
Why should not His Majesty's Ministers tell us what they mean? I thought Ministers were responsible to Parliament. I do not contend that they can alter the meaning of the words by saying what they think they mean, but they have already made it quite plain here, and I think in the other House, that Mr. Collins's extreme interpretation has taken them by surprise, and I cannot help thinking that no such idea as that entertained by Mr. Collins dawned upon your Lordships when you approved the Treaty last December. Why should not they frankly say not only that we cannot know, but that Southern Ireland cannot know, and that so far as they are concerned they do not believe the words mean what they have been said to mean, and that they certainly never intended that they should have that meaning. It would be of great assistance to the distinguished gentleman who is to occupy this position of interpreting this instrument. I do not know to whom he is to turn (unless it is to his solicitor) if he does not get some guidance of this sort, because the words are so framed that you would think at first sight there was no doubt about them, but when you look at the matter you see that is is arguable. I therefore entreat the noble Viscount to come out into the open and let us know.
Another thing I entreat the Ministry to do is to recognise that when you give these words, "from the passing of the Act of Parliament for the ratification of this instrument," the force of law you have passed an Act of Parliament which ratifies this instrument. I do not believe that 539 legal opinion, for what it may be worth, can in any considerable proportion be cited for the proposition that enacting that this Treaty shall have the force of law does not in itself ratify the Treaty. What else does it do? It gives it the force of law, but it does not ratify it. How can Parliament hereafter refuse to ratify it after it has turned it into an Act of Parliament? It would be very much better to face the fact, especially as I gather that it was Mr. Collins' view from the beginning, and he has only consented—after the Treaty is concluded and after it has been approved—privately with His Majesty's Government to take a different view.
I know it has been said—I think the late Attorney-General has expressed the opinion—that that refers to the constituent Act. I have the greatest possible respect for any opinion of his, as I have the greatest possible regard, as so many of us have, for hint, and I express no opinion about the view of a distinguished lawyer until I have seen the reasons he gave for it, and until I have seen the facts and circumstances under which his opinion was taken. All I can say is that according to my poor understanding of the matter the words are too plain, and if the matter should come to decision by a Court of Law you have to face the fact that the opinion of the Attorney-General will not avail at all, and nor will an agreement with Mr. Collins avail. Give this the force of law, and any Court that has to interpret it has to decide for itself whether, when this Bill has been passed, the Ulster month begins to run or not. I trust that the Government may see their way to making some concession there.
This is a copious subject, and I have trespassed on your Lordships time far too long already. We have been told that opposition, at any rate, cannot, shall not, alter this Bill. I want to put to your Lordships what I conceive, speaking only as a lawyer, to be the actual position. If your Lordships choose, there is no legal power whatsoever which will prevent you from throwing this Bill out, and the Bill will then, for the session, be dead. I have been told that it was said in another place that with the death of the Bill the Treaty would die, and the Government would die—a dreadful prospect! Let us, however, have full credit for what we do, and if we have to claim credit for 540 ourselves—because few others are disposed to give it to us—let us, if we think it right, pass the Second Reading. Let it be remembered then that in an instrument so covered with blemishes we might have found reason for rejecting it, but, in the public interest, we thought we ought not to do so.
Speaking for myself I can only say that last December I felt that then, and not on any subsequent occasion, was the time to decide whether that Treaty should be approved or not. We may deplore that there ever was a Treaty at all. We may think that the negotiations should have been conducted to a happier issue. We may anticipate unfortunate consequences, but I do not myself see how this House, having approved that Treaty, under whatever apprehensions or misapprehensions as to it meaning, can now refuse to recognise that the Treaty ought, in due course, to be ratified by this House in a Statute. The honour of England is at stake. I do not see that it is necessary to consider whether the fate of Ministries depends upon it or not. If the word of this country has been pledged by those who were in a position to pledge it, I take it to be our duty to implement that pledge; and speaking for myself—I have no title even to advise any of your Lordships—I think we cannot rightly hesitate to pass the Second Reading.
But that ought to be on some sort of understanding and terms. If the Treaty is respected, if no word of it is altered and no word of it even explained, if we refrain from an attempt to better it though it were to the manifest advantage of both sides, still anything that has to be provided in order to carry it out, the machinery that is requisite though not prescribed by its words, remains to be supplied by Act of Parliament and, therefore, remains open for discussion and amendment. I venture to appeal to His Majesty's Government and to all sections of the House, whether they regularly support the Government or not, at this late moment to take what I believe to be the grave and the responsible view of the situation. You ought not to go on, warned in time, with your eyes open, insisting upon the last letter and word of an imperfect and ambiguous instrument, and try to carry it through by calling it an Act of Parliament, which it will be only in name in so grave a conjunction of affairs, when you have an opportunity of amending 541 and clearing it up, although you have to accept suggestions, and may I say without offence assistance, from this side of the House. I noticed that when I alluded earlier in my speech to an endeavour to assist the Government in this matter one of the Ministers by his appearance seemed to say to himself: Timeo Danaos.
It is entirely wrong that these proceedings should be conducted by Orders in Council. You have done enough to unloose the bonds of the British Empire by the way you have paltered with the Oath of Allegiance, the terms of the Treaty and the position of Ireland; and you will make a further wide breach in our constitutional practice, take a further step to enthrone the Executive on the shoulders of the Legislature and deprive it of its just rights of control over the Executive, unless you insist that Parliament shall see these Orders in Council and approve them before they become law, and become the instrument in the hands of Mr. Collins by which he is to carry on an interim Government.
I believe you will propagate dissension and provoke strife unless you close the dispute, one way or the other, about the boundary question, and unless you make it quite clear, by Ministerial declaration or otherwise, that Parliament retains its control over this Commission by at least nominating the Chairman or having his name submitted to Parliament. Unless you make it clear that Parliament retains to the end its right of amending or rejecting the Constitution as ultimately framed, you will have done your worst to constitutional government in this country and will have shaken the ordinarily accepted fabric of the British Empire very seriously. I trust I may be forgiven for having occupied so much of your Lordships' time, and I desire to conclude with what I hope is a word of peace, though it may not be accepted as such, and that is to entreat that in Committee we shall be allowed to combine our forces in order to try to amend this Bill and make it a more workmanlike instrument.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I am not going to attempt to follow the noble and learned Lord in his masterly criticism of the constitutional aspects of this Bill. I must say that his logic seemed to me to be as incontrovertible as it was merciless, and I think every member of this House will feel that it is a great misfortune that the noble and learned 542 Viscount who usually sits on the Woolsack should not be able to be in his place to-day. We greatly regret the cause of his absence and extend our sympathy to him in his illness, but it is almost a Parliamentary misfortune that he should not have had the opportunity of listening to the arguments of the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down. May I express a hope that some member of the Government will make it his business to call the Lord Chancellor's attention, as soon as possible, to what has been said by the noble and learned Lord, so that he may be prepared when the debate closes to deal thoroughly with the very serious points that have been raised.
To us laymen certain things have become abundantly plain. The speech to which we have just listened shows that the Bill involves not only a very serious disturbance of our domestic affairs but a grave tampering with the very foundations of our constitutional system, and I am afraid that I must add that the speech delivered by the noble Viscount who introduced the Bill makes it plain that, so far as this stage of the Bill is concerned, Parliament is to have no sufficient opportunity of effectually criticising its provisions. I do not think that was by any means the understanding between His Majesty's Government and the Houses of Parliament when these discussions first began. On the contrary, we were led to believe that we should have full opportunities of criticising and dealing with details.
I do not want to weary the House with quotations, but I should like to remind you of what was said by no less a person than the Prime Minister in the House of Commons last October. He was asked whether the terms of settlement were to be open to revision and alteration by Parliament. What was his reply? He said—The whole of the terms will be submitted to Parliament on the assumption that there is a settlement and every provision will have to be ratified by Parliament even to the smallest detail.Many of us certainly took that as meaning that there would be an opportunity not only of commenting upon the details but, if necessary, of modifying them by Amendment. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, who has taken a conspicuous part in these discussions, said about the same time—I think it may be found that the Agreement will stand a good deal of knocking about from all quarters.543 And, finally, the Lord Chancellor in this House described the Treaty as an "imperfect and fallible document" the Articles of which will require to be supplemented. We now find that this knocking about of the details of the Bill is to be so tender that not a word is to be altered or a syllable added, even by way of elucidating the plain meaning of the Bill.
I wish here to ask a question which I hope will be answered before the debate closes. If these discussions of details are impossible now, will there be any further stage at which they will be admissible, and if so, at what stage and by whom may such discussion be conducted? As for the debate in which we are now engaged, I may be asked, if nothing is admissible in the way of amendment or alteration, what is the use of taking up the time of the House in criticism? I am perhaps sanguine, but I still venture to hope that criticism during this debate may serve a useful purpose hereafter, and I will tell the House why. We understand that at a future time we shall have before us a Bill embodying the new Constitution of the Irish Free State. I noted particularly what fell from Lord Peel with regard to that Constitution. He told us—I think I quote him accurately—that it was to be wholly Irish. He does not contradict me—
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
If I may interrupt the noble Marquess for a moment, I said that so long as it is within the four corners of the Agreement it is obviously better that it should be dealt with entirely by the Irish themselves.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I think "wholly Irish" were the words the noble Viscount used, and he warned us against any attempt to put before the Irish people any constitutional proposals of British manufacture, because he said that would be enough to damn them in the eyes of the other side. The question I want to ask is this. This Constitution is, I understand, to be framed finally by the Irish Government, but is it or is it not to be framed in consultation or communication with His Majesty's Government? Are His Majesty's Government to be consenting parties to it? If so, is their consent to be something more than a merely formal consent? I hope this question will be answered, if not now, at any rate at a later stage. But until I am told the contrary, 544 I shall assume that His Majesty's Government will be consulted, will be a consenting party, and that their consent will not be given unless they are satisfied that upon the whole the scheme of the Constitution is a sound and proper one, and not calculated to do injustice to any persons who will be affected by it. If I am right in my surmise, then I express the hope that His Majesty's Government, although they may be able to do nothing at once, will at any rate pay some attention to our arguments, and that they will make it their business to remove, or to attempt to remove, any blots which we are able to point out in the scheme, and to make good any obvious omissions.
Let me indicate one or two of the blots and the omissions which seem to me to be obvious. One of these blots is what seems to me to be a signal neglect in this Bill of any attempt to protect the rights of minorities. It has never been the custom of this country to hold to the doctrine that minorities must suffer. On the contrary, we have been the protectors and advocates of minorities. We have had a case quite lately. Have your Lordships noticed the Agreement which has lately been imposed upon Egypt by His Majesty's Government? Let me read you half a dozen words from that Agreement—The following matters are absolutely reserved to the discretion of His Majesty's Government until such time as it may be possible by free discussion and friendly accommodation on both sides to conclude agreements in regard thereto between His Majesty's Government and the Government of Egypt:—If we are so solicitous for the protection of minorities in Egypt are we to have no solicitude for the protection of minorities in Ireland?
- (a) The security of the communications of the British Empire in Egypt;
- (b) The defence of Egypt against all foreign aggression or interference, direct or indirect;
- (c) The protection of foreign interests in Egypt and the protection of minorities"—
Let me cite another authority of a different kind. I do not know that it will appeal to the whole of the House, but it certainly ought to appeal to some members of it. There was a great conference—I think it was called at Liverpool in the autumn—a conference of the Unionist Party. Several distinguished members of the Government were present at it, and I 545 should like to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that the resolution which pulled together the whole of the rather conflicting elements which were present on that occasion contained this proposition. The conference advocated "a solution of the Irish question consistent, first, with the supremacy of the Crown; secondly, with the pledges given to Ulster; and thirdly, with the safeguarding of the interests of the minority in Southern Ireland." So that this great official meeting unanimously carried a resolution in which the protection of Unionists in Southern Ireland was put upon the same plane as the supremacy of the Crown and the pledges given to the province of Ulster. I hope those who took part in that great Liverpool meeting will not forget the policy to which they then committed themselves.
Apart from that resolution, I am not at all sure that the Sinn Fein leaders themselves, in principle, are not quite prepared to agree to the policy of safeguarding minorities. There have been communications between His Majesty's Government and Messrs. Collins and Griffith. A letter was published over Mr. Griffith's signature giving the most satisfactory assurances as to the intention of the Irish Free State to give the Southern Unionists their full share of representation and the amplest protection for their interests. I believe it was on the strength of that letter that the Prime Minister in the House of Commons not long ago announced that—Written assurances have been given by the Plenipotentiaries that they are to take into full consultation the representatives of the Southern minority.The Prime Minister added—I am convinced that the leaders of the majority in Ireland mean to do in all their power to make it not merely possible for the minority to live there, but to make it as attractive as possible for them to continue their citizenship amongst them.It will require considerable effort to make life in some parts of Southern Ireland altogether attractive, but I am quite ready to believe that when the Sinn Fein leaders use that language they are sincere. I believe they really wish to make good those aspirations, but the question we have to consider is not the bona fides of Messrs. Collins and Griffith, but whether, when the time comes, they will be able, to use a hackneyed expression, "to deliver the goods"; and it seems to me there is the greatest doubt in the world whether, with all the good will in the world, these gentle- 546 men, considering their environment, are likely to be able to give effect to all the fair words that they have used throughout these discussions.
As far as the Bill before your Lordships is concerned, the important question of compensation is dealt with in a single passage only. There is a clause which secures compensation for any officials who may be deprived of their offices under the new régime. That is well and good, but is it not rather striking that if a dismissed official is to be guaranteed compensation there is no compensation, so far as this Bill is concerned, given to the man who has had his house burnt over his head, or to the woman whose husband has been mercilessly butchered, in order to carry out some local vendetta. I think it is evident from what has been said to us that, although there is nothing about cases of that kind in this Bill, it is the intention of His Majesty's Government, or of the Irish Free State Government, at some stage or other, to deal with the question of compensation.
We have heard a good deal about it. The noble Viscount on the front bench told us something about it the other evening. I own I was not entirely reassured by what he had to tell us. There seemed to be some awkward gaps in the story. For example, he told us, I think—we were certainly told—that there was to be no compensation for any injury done since the truce, except such compensation as could be obtained at the hands of the Irish Courts. It is a matter of common notoriety that after the truce a number of abominable cases of crime and outrage occurred in different parts of Ireland. Why are the sufferers from those outrages to be handed over to the tender mercies of the local Courts? Will the noble Viscount lay his hand on his heart and say he feels absolute confidence that, at the hands of those local Courts, people injured in this way are sure of getting the satisfaction to which they are entitled?
Another omission from the Bill is the question of the risk of double taxation in Ireland. That is a very serious point, so serious that when Parliament had before it the Bill of 1920 clauses were specially inserted, in order, at any rate to a certain extent, to secure people resident in Ireland from the terrible confiscatory oppression to which they would be liable if this power of double taxation were left to the Irish 547 Parliament. If it was necessary to make that good in the case of the Act of 1920, why is it less necessary to make it good now? I cannot help believing, and I cannot help hoping, that we shall be told that this is a point which His Majesty's Government will make it their business to watch with close attention.
Yet another omission is the question of land purchase. As the noble Marquess said the other evening, His Majesty's Government are pledged up to the eyes on this question of land purchase. There was an answer given by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to Lord Oran-more and Browne, in which the most emphatic assurance was given that His Majesty's Government recognised this obligation and that they considered themselves bound to deal with this question concurrently with the Home Rule proposal. Why is it to be allowed now to slide back again? I am glad to see the noble Viscount (Lord Peel) making a note of that point, because it seems to me to be an extremely serious one for the future of Ireland, and the question which I want to ask is: Are we going, in regard to all these and similar points, to give absolute carte blanche to the Irish Government, or are His Majesty's Government going to watch the case and, at the proper moment and in a proper way, insist upon justice being done to the parties concerned? What I venture, with great deference, to suggest is that, by agreement with the Irish Free State representatives or in some other way, some kind of a Court or Commission might be set up for the express purpose of dealing with all cases of hardship of this kind, and of adjudicating equitably between the parties concerned. I cannot see that there would be anything derogatory to the dignity of the Irish leaders in giving their adhesion to a perfectly reasonable proposal of that kind.
I want to say one word about a question which was dealt with so effectually by the noble and learned Lord—namely, the question of boundaries. I cannot help thinking that that question has been very unfortunately handled by His Majesty's Government. I really almost wonder why they found it necessary to stir that wasps' nest at all. Just consider what has happened. The boundary question was settled with all solemnity by the Act of 1920. The Ulster Parliament was opened by His Majesty, the question of boundaries was 548 regarded as finally disposed of, and I cannot conceive that anyone should be surprised to find that Ulster felt very bitterly at having this question reopened, and reopened without previous consultation with her. I am quite ready to admit that the boundary line of the Six Counties is not a good boundary line. I believe it to be impossible to get a good boundary line for the reserved portion of Ulster. I recollect the Conference which sat at Buckingham Palace, I think in 1916. It was summoned by His Majesty the King. Two Unionist leaders were present, two Liberal leaders, two Irish Nationalists and two representatives of Ulster, and the Conference was presided over by Viscount Ullswater, the then Speaker of the House of Commons, with all the dignity and skill which characterised him. That Conference ended in a failure, not for want of good will; on the contrary, the atmosphere was one of entire good will and desire to find a solution. But it broke down, I verily believe, because the problem was insoluble.
The same difficulties were before His Majesty's Government when the Act of 1920 was framed, and, with their eyes open, knowing the puzzles, the geographical and ethnographical puzzles of the case, they adopted the Six County line. Why could not it be left there? You give up the Six County boundary, and you take instead a hopelessly vague formula, directing the Commission to take into consideration "economic and geographic conditions," and also the wishes of the population, although what population is meant we are not told. I say that is not a formula that has a proper place in an Act of Parliament. Even as an instruction to Commissioners it would be, to my mind, very vague and unhelpful. But to put that into an Act of Parliament, and to say that those principles are to be given effect to seems to me utterly hopeless. You may appoint a Commission to find out what the geographical features of a country are, where the rivers run and the mountains are situated, but to turn loose at the present time a Commission to gauge the wishes of an irascible and highly-strung population seems to me something like midsummer madness.
I think you are riding for a fall over this Boundary Commission, and I do venture to support what was said by, I think, the noble and learned Lord—Can you not do something now to put Ulster out 549 of her pain on this? Is there really any sufficient reason why you should not make it clear that, while you desire to bring the parties together and obtain an adjustment of these boundary disputes, you do not intend to impose that solution unless it is acceptable to the parties? I cannot see why you should not have your Commission of Inquiry and your independent Chairman, but if the result is to lead to proposals which are distinctly distasteful to either side I really do not see why you cannot make it clear that you have no intention to go back to coercion on that one particular point.
One word more about the boundary question. Are your Lordships quite sure that this policy of what I call segregation is a wise policy? Given a country with a composite population like Ireland, is it a wise thing to endeavour to segregate the different kinds of people, the different kinds of religions, the different kinds of race, and to shut them up in watertight compartments? I believe that it is a mistake. I believe it is very much better that you should leave a certain admixture of races both in Northern Ireland and in Southern Ireland. The besetting sin of Irishmen is intolerance, and I think that by sorting them carefully and herding them together you will only make them more intolerant than ever. I am one of those who look forward to the ultimate coming together of the whole of Ireland. I believe that it is in that direction that we have got to look for any permanent solution of this Irish question. That was the policy of the Act of 1920, and it was to my mind the best feature in the Act. But I believe that you will delay the time when this uniting of different parts of Ireland will take place by this plan of watertight compartments. What all the best Irish opinion is absolutely sincere about is the hatred of partition and the desire to bring about the union of the whole of Ireland. I think it a great pity to do anything which runs counter to that current of opinion.
I hope that before this debate ends we may be given some assurance that at the proper time our suggestions will be considered and discussed on their merits. At this moment our choice is between this Bill and a reversion to the state of chaos and disorder which has been a disgrace to the United Kingdom for some time past. I remain myself an unrepentant Unionist, but, although our treatment of Ireland has at different times promised to be extremely 550 successful, although Ireland has thriven, has become richer and more prosperous under British Government, I recognise that the policy of the Union has been thrown overboard, and that we have now launched our ship on a current which leads in an altogether different direction. But whatever one may feel about this, I cannot help believing that when you come to measures of this kind in which great questions of principle are involved, whether you are dealing with India or with Ireland, when you have gone a certain distance there is no turning back. You cannot deal with these measures as if they were mere experiments which you could adopt for a time and then lay on one side if they do not happen to be wholly successful.
I am afraid I must say with great regret that there is nothing for it but for us to see this thing through and to do what lies in our power to make the policy work successfully. One can only hope that out of this welter of crime and misery there may emerge a better state of things in Ireland, and that amongst the new leaders in that country there may come to the front men who will show themselves not unworthy to take their place amongst illustrious Irishtnen. That we have to see. But of this I feel sure that if your Lordships were on this occasion to reject this Bill you would extinguish the only slight ray of hope which, as far as I can see at this moment, illuminates a melancholy and depressing horizon.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, I wish to utter a few sentences only, but they are directed to a question which is rife. I have listened with the utmost pleasure to the speech of the noble Marquess. The wise tone of his peroration recalls many speeches which he made as Leader of the House, and yet that peroration was hardly consistent with the first three-quarters of his speech. What is the situation with which we are dealing to-day? This is not an ordinary Bill for conferring a Constitution on some dependency of the Crown. It is not even such a Bill as we have negotiated on occasions with Colonies which have risen to a high status. It is a Bill to ratify what was, in effect, a Treaty for putting an end to civil war. The situation before we came to the question we are now considering was one of actual civil war and of bitter, brutal strife in Ireland, and this Treaty is the instrument by which it has been settled.
551 I have never reproached the Government for not having been able to do this earlier than they did. I have always felt that their difficulties were immense. I am one of those who were in the other House in 1886 and who voted for the Home Rule Bill of that date. It was a measure negotiated between Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Parnell. I have never regretted that vote, and I have often wished that the measure which was then brought forward could have had effect. But looking back on it to-day, I feel that I cannot reproach those members of the Unionist party who said that more time must be given before they could embark upon such a policy as that to which the noble Marquess referred in the concluding words of his speech. It was a very difficult question; it was a speculative question whether Home Rule would have worked out then. That was the view which the majority of people in this country took and that was the view on which they acted. Some of us thought otherwise, but we have no right to complain if the majority, for anything so sudden, desire more time to consider it.
What has been the consequence, the inevitable consequence, with a people permeated and penetrated with the spirit of nationality which exists in Ireland? Things have gone from greater to greater difficulties. There was a time before the war when possibly the Liberal Government might have made a settlement on the footing of the Act which was passed then; but although that was true then it is not true now. Every ten years that have passed have made the situation more difficult, and since the war the recrudescence of the spirit of nationality that has taken place all over the world has made the situation more difficult than ever. The Government finally could not make any complete end to the matter at all. I voted for their Bill which became the Act of 1920, and I am glad it did, because it accomplished one great thing—it took Ulster for the time being out of the question, or partly out of the question. By that Act the Ulster question was put on a footing which enabled one to deal with Ulster separately. That was a great thing accomplished, and it was worth while passing that Act if only to accomplish that.
But the noble Marquess seemed to me to be dealing with the situation as if it had remained unchanged from that time, whereas the situation has changed pro- 552 foundly. The appeal which the noble Marquess made to us in the first two-thirds of his speech is, I venture to submit to him, not an appeal concerning the situation as it is now but a situation that once was. He speaks of the past. We are concerned with the present, with the very bitter and very difficult present. There was civil war. I never abused the Government for resorting to the utmost strength they could put in the field to vindicate life and liberty in that civil war. I have never abused them even for using the Black and Tans, bad as the Black and Tans were in many respects, because I felt that things in Ireland had got to a stage in which you were face to face with nothing short of a conflict which could only be settled in one way. If that situation had continued then I would have said that probably the only resource for the British nation was to put forth all its strength and to bring matters to an end.
Fortunately, however, a settlement was made; a Treaty was negotiated. Whenever you settle a civil war in that way the instrument by which you settle it is more analogous to a Treaty than it is to a contract between private persons or to any Statute, and that is where I feel that, in the argument of the noble Marquess and of the noble and learned Lord who preceded him, the basic fallacy of the criticism of this Bill lies. I agree with the noble and learned Lord and with the noble Marquess that there are many points in this Bill to which one could take great exception if one were looking at it and construing it as an ordinary measure. But it is not an ordinary measure. It is a Bill for giving effect to a Treaty. You cannot touch the substance of that Treaty. You can touch very little of it even if you think that in certain points the provisions are bad; it is not in your power.
A great deal of reference was made to Mr. Collins as if he was the person with whom we had to deal. But Mr. Collins has, perhaps, a more difficult task even than His Majesty's Government. He and Mr. Griffith have to settle with a very difficult set of people in Ireland and to settle with them as best they can, and this Treaty is the very minimum with which they can get along. If you do things which the noble Marquess seems to suggest, if you reconsider the provisions, and, indeed, attempt to make provision outside what stands in the Treaty, what will 553 happen? You will make the task of Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins an impossible one, and we shall fall back into the old welter. I dread what is the only alternative to accepting what has been negotiated, and that is a state of civil war in which we shall have no choice but to pour out blood and treasure in order to bring it to a successful conclusion. That would be an appalling calamity. Our only alternative to-day is to accept the bargain made. Whether it be a good bargain or a bad one is secondary to the question whether it is a bargain which will give us the substance.
The noble Marquess made several criticisms. He said that no provision had been made for the safeguarding of minorities. Did anybody ever, in making a Constitution of this kind, under circumstances analogous to these, venture to provide for the safeguarding of minorities? If you want to do irreparable injury to those minorities in the future, put provisions into the Statute by which they are to be protected. There is only one way to protect minorities, and that is to encourage the people with whom you are dealing to live together as a whole, and to look to the majority for the fair treatment of the minority. You did not venture to protect minorities when you were setting up the Constitution of South Africa, and experience has shown that you had no necessity for doing so. You have never tried, when you have worked successfully, to put in protective provisions when you have been dealing with people whom you regard as equals. In the case of Egypt—I am not here to defend the negotiations about Egypt—the situation was a very different one from that which the Government had to face in dealing with Ireland, where the Treaty was a settlement of actual warfare.
The noble Marquess said that the Constitution was one which was to be shaped by the Irish themselves. When have we given a Constitution to a new Dominion without leaving it to that Dominion practically to settle what the Constitution was to be? There are, of course, great basic principles which are always observed. There is supervision in the interests of the Empire as a whole. Let me recall to your Lordships' memory two cases. I will take that of Canada first, for it is the one which is taken here, and is one which the noble Marquess himself knows well. The Canadian Constitution was the outcome of 554 Resolutions passed in Quebec in October, 1864—Resolutions that were incorporated almost verbatim into Lord Carnarvon's Act of 1867, which made the Canadian Dominion.
Take the next case, that of Australia. In the case of Australia the Constitution was worked out line by line by the Australian people themselves, so much so that although they put in a provision which interfered with one prerogative of the Crown in the administration of ultimate justice, and although that provision was objected to by the Government to which the noble Marquess belonged it was nevertheless felt that we ought not to object to it, because, otherwise, we should be creating such unrest in Australia that the whole scheme might go to ruin. These are comparatively small cases compared with the one that we are dealing with here. Here we are settling civil war with the greatest difficulty.
The Government has made an instrument which may be, in many respects, a very imperfect instrument. I listened to some of the criticisms of the noble and learned Lord who spoke just after the representative of the Government, and I thought that he made some formidable points showing how the Government might have improved this Bill in many respects. But in the main, and on the whole, they have produced a Treaty. The noble Marquess suggested points with regard to which that Treaty ought to have been better, and referred to things which might be done in the Statute which is to give it vitality. He would bring about those improvements, but the first question I ask is: What will be the effect of the settlement on Ireland? It is difficult enough now to carry that settlement through, and if these new elements are introduced I would not give much for the prospects of the settlement becoming law.
Between the line of argument taken in the first part of the noble Marquess's speech and what he said at the conclusion of that speech, I think there is a gap and a gulf. The last part of his speech had the true note, but effect can only be given to the tone of that note if this country is prepared to treat itself as having got rid of a calamitous situation, got rid of it in some ways unexpected, but got rid of it by an Agreement which may not be a perfect Agreement but still is an Agreement which, in substance, appears to effect the purpose. 555 My own earnest hope is that that Agreement may receive effect, and I for one shall certainly support the Government by both voice and vote, if it comes to a vote, in giving effect to a measure without which I see no light for the future.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I do not propose to criticise the measure which is now before your Lordships' House, because the matter has gone so far that I believe it is impossible for England to retrace her steps, and I can only hope that the Treaty will be attended with the success which its most earnest admirers anticipate. But I think all your Lordships will agree that this is a great revolution, and, as in all other great revolutions, there must be people who will suffer. In this case I believe that it will be the poorer Southern Irish loyalists who will suffer. The noble Marquess has already touched on this question, but I venture to go further, because I should like to allude more particularly to the poor Southern Irish loyalists whose future I believe to be so black.
I trust that your Lordships will not think that I am basing my opinion merely on inherited theories. I have lived all my life in Ireland, and so attached was I to the country that when, in order to relieve congestion, I sold practically the whole of my home, I went so far as to buy another place in Ireland, where I settled down and made my residence. I did my utmost to overcome the prejudices in which I had been brought up. I did my utmost to become a Home Ruler. I went into the society of that part of the community in Ireland which hated, and hates, English rule, and I tried to gather their ideas. I came to two conclusions, and those were: first, that the vast majority of Irishmen outside the Six Counties hate England and anything to do with England, and that their ultimate aim is complete independence; and, second, that if any measure such as this were to pass there would be no room for any Irishmen who not only did not agree with those views, but would not give them their full support.
Believing as I did that some measure of this sort was bound to come, and believing also, as I still believe, that Irish residence is impossible for a loyalist, I made my home elsewhere. But there are many thousands of Southern Ireland loyalists who are not in so fortunate a position, and 556 whose whole stake is situate in Ireland. Unless they are able to realise their stake in that country, which means the whole of their livelihood, I see nothing for them but to starve. I do not allude to what is still erroneously known as the Irish landed gentry. Most of us are in a fortunate position under the Wyndham Land Act as we have been able to realise five-sixths, nine-tenths, and nineteen-twentieths of our property. We can go when we like; we run no financial risk. But the people to whom I allude are the poorer Southern Irish loyalists; the farmers, doctors, solicitors, small business men and the shopkeepers. It will be difficult for them, if they find they cannot live in Ireland, to leave the country except to face starvation in another land.
Long before my time and ever since I have known Ireland it has been an accepted fact amongst the lower orders of Home Rulers in Ireland that when some measure of independence came the property of Irish loyalists was to be divided among them. They still believe this and are determined that this belief shall be vindicated. I know that some arrangement has been promised by which Southern Irish loyalists shall receive their fair need of representation, but these people cannot be saved by any legislation. They will be subject to that local persecution of which all of us in Ireland are well aware, and to the invincible weapon of the boycott. If the boycott has proved to be invincible, as it has been in many cases, how much more invincible will it prove when the Government and the police themselves are drawn from the ranks of those who sympathise politically with the boycotters?
While it is said that Irish loyalists will have proper representation I foresee great difficulty in getting Irish loyalists to stand for the Southern Parliament; and my reason for saying so is this. Although I no longer live in Ireland I think every Irishman will support me in saying that there is no chance of any Irish loyalist being returned to the Irish Parliament unless he stands on the coupon of Mr. de Valera, the coupon of the Irish Transport Workers, or the coupon of the Irish Free State Government. Everyone will agree that no loyalist can stand on the coupon of Mr. de Valera. But will it be any easier for loyalists to stand on the coupon of the Irish Free State? I will read two short extracts from reports of speeches of two leading members of the Irish Provisional Government.
557 On January 7 of this year Mr. Boland, in the Dail Eireann, asked Mr. Collins whether in his opinion this was a final settlement of the question between England and Ireland. And Mr. Collins said—"It is not." Mr. Collins is reported to have added—The Treaty had been brought back. It had brought, and was bringing, such freedom to Ireland in the transference of all Governmental powers, but above all in the departure of the British armed forces, that it had become safe and simple and easy and courageous to stand now for what was surrendered in July because the British armed forces were still here. They could not beat the British out by force, so the Republican ideal was surrendered. But when they had beaten them out by means of the Treaty, the Republican ideal, which was surrendered in July, was restored. Every one knew then, and it is idle and dishonest to deny now, that in the event of a settlement some postponement of the realisation of our full national sentiment would have to be agreed to.I call your Lordships' particular attention to the fact that Mr. Collins spoke of "the postponement of the realisation of our full national sentiment," and not its abandonment.
Then Mr. Duffy, a signatory of the Treaty and, I believe, Foreign Minister in the Irish Government, is reported to have said—The Irish people would be in a better position to resist aggression and increase their power than ever they were before. It would be the duty of those who framed the Constitution to frame it according to the wishes of the Irish people, and to relegate the King of England to exterior darkness, as far as they can; and they can.I think it would be extremely difficult to find any Irish loyalist who would stand on the coupon of a Government which held such opinions as these. It is said that for the protection of loyalists there is to be a Second Chamber. My knowledge of Ireland tells me that no Second Chamber nominated by the Governor-General would dare for a moment to throw out legislation which, had been sent up to it by the elected representatives of the Irish people.
There are other reasons why many of the Irish loyalists want to leave the country. They may be sentimental but I think they should be respected. I do not wish to reopen old wounds, but there are some wounds so deep and so recent that it is not a question of reopening them. We cannot forget the means by which the present Irish Government has won its way to power. We have lost brother officers, comrades, relations, friends. Is it to be 558 wondered that many of us wish to go? It may be said that there is no precedent for enabling Irish loyalists to leave the country. I happened to be reading yesterday the history of the American Revolution, and I came across an account of the evacuation of Philadelphia which seems to me to be in many ways an excellent instance of the position of the loyalists in Ireland.
It had become known that after the departure of the British Army an Oath of Allegiance to the United States would be exacted from all private citizens under pains and penalties of extreme rigour. Sir William Howe, the previous Commander-in-Chief, had somewhat lightly advised a deputation of loyalists to make their peace with the adversary, and throw themselves on the tender mercies of Congress, but these poor people knew only too well what that resource was worth. They were in an agony of distress and alarm; and Sir Henry Clinton, the new Commander-in-Chief, as the person responsible for the honour of England, assured them that no one who desired to sail would be left behind. Every one of those loyalists in spite of the difficulty of moving them and of getting transport was taken away by the British Navy. That is a precedent, I think, for what might happen now.
There is another section of Irish loyalists whose claim on your Lordships' attention, and also on the attention of this country, is even greater than that of the Southern Irish loyalists. I mean the Irish Constabulary. Through no fault of their own—they are unconquered—they represent a conquered force, and those who live in Ireland remember the awful meaning of the words Vae victis. They have been loyal to their Oaths of Allegiance, they have done their duty at all costs and through all dangers, and many of them are now marked men. Things are not forgotten. I venture to hope that your Lordships will remember these men when there is an opportunity of enabling those who wish to go to leave the country.
It may be said that the expense, at a moment like this, will be too great, but I venture to suggest to your Lordships that if an inquiry is instituted by your Lordships' House it will be found that the expense is far less than is anticipated. First of all, we are not asking for compensation in money so much as that an arrangement should be made and observed that 559 their businesses, their stock and the value of their farms shall be sold at their proper value, that they shall be able to realise what these things are really worth. That would be sufficient for those who wish to go to enable them to go. In the second place, we must remember that out of the 350,000 Southern Irish loyalists—I believe that is supposed to be the figure—a great many are children, and that it would be unnecessary to provide for all these 350,000 per capita. On the contrary, it would be necessary only to enable their parents to go; and their parents would be responsible for the welfare of their children as they are now, and that would reduce the numbers enormously. In the third place, we must remember that there are a great many Irish loyalists who have been so embittered by the treatment they have received from England during the last thirty years that they are willing to adopt political views which they have hitherto opposed, and to remain in Ireland. We cannot blame them. England has not shown them that fidelity which would give her the right to ask for an unending fidelity in return.
I know that what I suggest may be a difficult matter, but I believe that, however serious the difficulty, something, and something great, ought to be done for these men. England owes them a debt of gratitude which she can never repay, a debt for their loyalty during days of difficulty and danger of which those who have not passed through them can form no conception. I venture to hope that your Lordships will insist upon something being done to try and repay men the gravity of whose position is due to one thing alone—to their loyalty to the Empire and to their fidelity to the Crown.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned accordingly till tomorrow.