HL Deb 31 March 1922 vol 49 cc1052-6

Message from the Commons: That they agree to one of the Amendments made by the Lords to the Irish Free State (Agreement) Bill without amendment; they disagree to one of the Amendments made by the Lords and propose an Amendment in lieu thereof; they disagree to certain other Amendments made by the Lords for which they assign Reasons.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons Reasons and Amendment be now considered. May I say a few words—I shall be very brief—which I think may save time? May I, first of all, be allowed to allude to the Agreement that has been reached by the Northern and Southern Governments in Ireland. Your Lordships know that it was reached at a late hour last night. It was read out in another place at about 11 o'clock and of course, had your Lordships been sitting at that hour, a similar communication would no doubt have been made to this House. I wish to refer for a moment to that Agreement only because your Lordships will see that it must have a considerable influence upon our attitude towards these particular Amendments.

It is a remarkable augury for the success of the new Government in Ireland that these two Governments have been able to agree on so many points in a discussion covering not only the question of police but many other matters. I do not dwell upon the details, because far more important is the general fact that such a spirit has so far prevailed that these two Governments have been able to agree. I do not want, however, to underrate the fact that in spite of the general agreement that has been arrived at there are still great difficulties before both Governments. There are, as has been said, bad men in Ireland, both in the North and in the South, whose object is to make it as difficult as can be for both Governments.

As regards the attitude of another place towards these Amendments—if your Lordships will allow me to run rapidly through them—they disagree with the first two, the first referring to the Council of Ireland and the second to the Court of Appeal. These two Amendments were argued at some length in your Lordships' House. I agree, and I am acutely conscious, that there are difficulties involved in that decision; but I think your Lordships, will feel the immense difficulty at this stage of insisting upon these two Amendments. To do so would really have the effect of reopening the Treaty and causing more discussion. Your Lordships know very well that there is a Party in Ireland doing; its best to wreck the whose of the arrangement and you will feel no doubt how unwise it would be to put fresh weapons of argument into their hands.

As regards the two Amendments, both that which concerns the Council of Ireland and that which deals with the Court of Appeal, may I add this? It is generally agreed between both sides that this Court of Appeal should disappear. The only question is how the matter is to be set right. I understand the definite pledge is given that it will be dealt with when the Constitution is set up, and both sides are prepared to agree to that course. As regards the Council of Ireland, which also presented certain difficulties, there again, in consequence of the Agreement, the matter becomes far easier, because both sides now realise that a change will have to be made and at a later stage there will no doubt be no difficulty in arriving at a common method of agreement as to how these matters common to the whole of Ireland shall be dealt with by the two Governments. In those circumstances I trust your Lordships will not press those two Amendments. The other Amendment of your Lordships' House was objected to, I understand, as infringing the financial privileges of another place. The Amendment, as to the Orders in Council was accepted.

The Amendment, relating to the "Ulster month," embodied in subsection (5) of Clause 1, was rejected only to be replaced by another Amendment making the matter more definite in rather different words. I should like to remind your Lordships that there was much controversy in this House as to whether the "Ulster month" should run from the date when the first Bill becomes an Act or from the time when the Bill dealing with the Constitution becomes an Act. Fortunately, that controversy, at any rate as regards the two protagonists, may now be said to be over, because if your Lordships will look at Clause 7 of the Agreement between the Provisional Government and the Government of Northern Ireland you will see that it is there agreed to by both sides that the month shall commence to run from the second, and not from the first Act. As regards those two parties, therefore, that matter remains outside the sphere of controversy. There remain, therefore, only tire first two Amendments, which I trust, in all the circumstances, and in view of the statement made by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, that your Lordships will not wish to press.

Moved, That the Commons Reasons and Amendment be now considered.—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say one word. I need not say that I share with the Government and the noble Viscount the satisfaction that everyone will feel that the Agreement reached last night is an augury of peace in the North of Ireland. The state of things there was, and has been up to date, so formidable that there is no member of your Lordships' House, indeed no citizen of this country, who will not be gratified that such a state of things is brought to an end.

As regards the Amendments, so far as I am concerned and I think that is the view of most of your Lordships, none of them were suggested or put into the Bill with a view to attempting to force them upon another place. We intimated, in language which is quite well understood, that we put then in with a view to bringing them once more under the consideration of the Government and of the House of Commons, and that if the House of Commons did not see fit to take the same view we should not persist in pressing them. That was the view with which we approached the consideration of this Bill, the reason being that we thought it much more important that the Bill should pass into law than that the Amendments should be inserted, and we were not going to risk the Bill on any ground whatever.

Of course, that is not the view of the House on all Bills. Very often a different view prevails, and although in our relations with another place we treat the House of Commons with the most profound respect, yet there are frequent occasions when it has been our duty to insist upon our view, not, I hope, in any immoderate spirit, where we are quite certain we are right. Such a state of things is likely to occur very often in the future, but on the present occasion we made it clear at the outset that we did not approach the Bill in that spirit at all. What we desired to do was to suggest Amendments which we thought were advantageous and to leave it to the Government and to the House of Commons to adopt them or not as they thought fit.

I do not understand that in the main the Government contest the merits of the Amendments. I think the noble Viscount did not say much about the superannuation of Government servants. I do not know what his view about that may be, but I think it is clear that he thought the action of this House had, upon the merits, probably been right, but that, owing to the fear that it might be misunderstood in Ireland, the House of Commons were well advised in rejecting this Amendment. I am bound to say, with great respect to the Government, that I think they are wrong. Where the merits of the case—I am referring especially to the first two Amendments—are clear and obvious that there were omissions from the Articles of Agreement it was not only our right but our duty as members of Parliament to remedy those omissions. But acting in the spirit that I have already indicated, so far as I am concerned I do not ask your Lordships to insist upon the Amendments. All I can say is that I am sorry that the House of Commons has taken what I consider to be an erroneous view.

As regards the last Amendment dealing with the "Ulster month," as the noble Viscount most justly said, what happened last night makes a profound difference. The representatives of Ulster and the representatives of Southern Ireland having come to an agreement on the principle the reason for advancing the time of the "Ulster month" has disappeared. That reason was the unrest on the border of Ulster. If we may take it that, at any rate for the time, the Agreement which was entered into last night has restored peace along the frontier the great exigency which made it in our view so necessary that the month should be advanced has passed away, and in those circumstances there would, of course, be no sense in pressing the view which we put forward. I understand, however, that the Amendment of the noble Viscount appears from the House of Commons in another form, with which we shall be made acquainted in a few minutes. Speaking for myself, and I think I can say speaking also for my friends, I see no reason why this Bill should not be at once agreed to.


My Lords, the noble Marquess confined his few remarks to all the Amendments except the one which has reference to the payment of compensation and pensions to the servants of the Crown in Ireland. As I know the Civil Service take a very great interest in the matter and as I myself took part in the debate on the Amendment, I should just like to ask the noble Viscount a question about it. I gather that the Amendment was irregular from the Parliamentary point of view, inasmuch as it involves taxation, and also that the Government were not in favour of entering into the statutory agreement which would carry out the import of the Amendment. That makes it all the more necessary that the Government should, even if it is repetition, once more say that the British Government are willing to guarantee to their public servants in Ireland who may now be dismissed or cease to be employed by the Irish Government, their full rights to compensation and pension.

On Question, Motion agreed to.