§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (LORD ARNOLD):
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I do not think it will be necessary for me to detain your Lordships at very great length. That is not because the Bill is an unimportant one—on the contrary, it is a Bill of the greatest importance—but it is because the issue out of which the Bill arises is in itself a simple one and is one, moreover, which is very well-known to your Lordships. I propose to confine myself to some points arising directly out of the Bill, though I have no doubt that here, as in another place, subsequent debate will cover a wide field. It has been arranged—and I desire to state it now—that the noble and 540 learned Viscount who sits upon the Woolsack will reply for the Government to the discussion at a later stage, and his speech will be the main Government contribution to the debate. For myself, I will divide my observations into three parts. First, I will state the difficulty which has arisen, and will show, as I think I can, that the Bill before your Lordships is the only proper way of meeting the situation. Secondly, I will deal with proposals for limiting or defining more precisely the powers of the Boundary Commission; and, thirdly, I will say something about the question of pledges.
Before proceeding to the first part of my speech and stating the issue, I wish to say that ever since the Labour Government came into office we have earnestly desired to avoid, and I think I may claim have succeeded in avoiding, making any Party capital out of the Irish question. We have throughout simply followed the lines laid down by our predecessors when they signed the Treaty and pledged themselves to observe it faithfully: and we hold that in the Bill which is now before your Lordships we are continuing that policy.
Now, what is the issue out of which this Bill arises? It is simply this. Did the signatories to the Irish Treaty of December, 1921, when they signed it, and did Parliament when it ratified it, intend that if Northern Ireland opted out of the Free State, the Boundary Commission which was to be set up under Article 12 of the Treaty should inevitably be set up? As your Lordships are very well aware, Article 12 of the Treaty provided for a Boundary Commission, which was to consist of three persons, one to be appointed by the Free State, one by the Government of Northern Ireland, and a Chairman appointed by the British Government. Very well. Did those who signed the Treaty mean that the Commission could only be set up if the Government of Northern Ireland voluntarily participated in it? Or, alternatively, did they mean that if the Government of Northern Ireland refused to appoint a Commissioner that would stop the Boundary Commission being set up? Those are the questions which we have to ask ourselves, and I do not believe that the answer can be for one moment in doubt. You have only to go back to the situation as it existed at that time and examine the Parliamentary debates 541 and correspondence to read the answer for yourselves. The necessary evidence is already before you in a White Paper which has been prepared with a view to collecting in one convenient document every relevant statement of importance about this matter.
As for the intentions of the signatories of the Treaty, take first the Irish delegates. Is it conceivable that the Irish delegates would have signed the Treaty if they had not believed that if Northern Ireland opted out of the Free State a Commission was to be set up? But if that is so—and it really cannot be doubted—what are we to say of the British delegates who signed the Treaty? If there were any foundation for the allegation—if I may so put it—which is now made, would it not have come to this: that the British delegates, knowing quite well what the Irish delegates had believed and intended, felt themselves that as a matter of fact the Treaty did not necessarily carry out that intention and belief and that, after all, a Boundary Commission need not be set up unless the Government of Northern Ireland voluntarily participated in it? Does it come to this? Is the suggestion that the British delegates signed the Treaty on those terms? Of course, no such deceit was ever practised by the British delegates, by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, who was then Lord Chancellor, and the other signatories who signed on that day. I say that the suggestion carries its own condemnation with it and, indeed, it is capable of actual disproof. Read the letter in the White Paper which Mr. Lloyd George, who was then Prime Minister, wrote on December 5—as a matter of fact, it should have been dated December 6—in which he sent a copy of the Treaty immediately it was signed to Sir James Craig. This is the letter with which your Lordships are very familiar, in which Mr. Lloyd George intimated that if Northern Ireland opted out, a Boundary Commission would have to be set up.
Is it conceivable that Mr. Lloyd George should have written that letter if he had believed and intended that the establishment of that Commission should be subject to the veto of the Government of Northern Ireland? In his reply to that letter dated December 14, No. 56 in the White Paper, Sir James Craig fore- 542 shadows the possibility of a refusal by Northern Ireland to participate; but he does not suggest that such a refusal would invalidate the Commission, and it is perfectly clear that such an idea had not occurred to him at that time.
Take again the letter, which we have not included in this collection because its recent publication is fresh in the minds of everyone, which the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, who was then Lord Chancellor, addressed to the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, some three months after the signature of the Treaty. Lord Balfour had expressed doubts as to the effect which this provision of the Treaty might have upon the interests of Northern Ireland. If the suggestions which we are examining had any foundation in fact, if the noble Earl when he signed the Treaty had believed and had intended that the Government of Northern Ireland, by refusing to participate in the Commission, could prevent its establishment, his reply would have been a simple and conclusive one. He would have said: " This provision of the Treaty cannot prejudicially affect Northern Ireland because it cannot be put into operation without her consent." But he never said anything of the kind. Is not that proof beyond the possibility of doubt that the noble and learned Earl did not, either at the time that he put his signature to the Treaty or subsequently, believe or intend that the setting up of the Commission was to be conditional upon the consent of the Government of Northern Ireland?
So much for what was in the minds of the British signatories when they signed the Treaty. Now we have to ask ourselves what Parliament intended when it ratified the Treaty. Perhaps it might be suggested that in the interval between the signing of the Treaty and its presentation to Parliament, some minds rather more acute than that of the noble and learned Earl—if there are any such minds —had discovered that the Treaty did not carry out what was undoubtedly the intention of the signatories, and that it was in the light of that discovery, and in reliance upon the fact that the Commission could not come into being without the consent of Northern Ireland, that the Treaty was ratified by Parliament and that the Irish Free State (Agreement) Bill came into law.
543 But what are the facts? In the debates on the ratification of the Treaty, and again in the debates on the Irish Free State (Agreement) Bill, Article 12 was the Article which aroused the greatest opposition and gave rise to the fullest discussion. Member after member in both Houses attacked the Government for inserting this provision for the establishment of a Commission; and what was the answer which the Government gave? If they had replied that the Commission was a voluntary Commission and that its establishment was dependent on the consent of Northern Ireland, they would have at once put an end to that opposition. But they said nothing of the kind. On the contrary, the Government made it abundantly plain that in their view the intention of the Treaty was that, in the event of Northern Ireland opting out, this Commission was without doubt to be established. That this was the Government view can easily be confirmed from the White Paper. It can be confirmed from Mr. Lloyd George's speech on December 14, 1921, which is numbered 51, and from Mr. Bonar Law's speech on the following day, No. 55, and from the speech delivered in your Lordships' House on March 22, 1922, by the noble and learned Earl who was then Lord Chancellor.
And that opponents of this provision very definitely understood that it was on that basis, and that basis alone, that Parliament was being asked to ratify the Treaty is no less clear. This can be confirmed from Captain Craig's speech (No. 53) and from the speech which the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, delivered in your Lordships' House on the 15th December, 1921 (No. 59), in which he stated that it might be necessary for the Government of Northern Ireland to refuse to nominate a representative on the Commission, but assumed, as a matter of course, that nevertheless the Commission would be set up and make an award. There is also one more speech of importance in this connection, and that is the speech delivered in your Lordships' House on March 22, 1922, by the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead. But, conclusive as this evidence seems to us to be, the debates on the Bill in February, 1921, are still more conclusive. An Amendment was moved to the Bill in the House of Commons which, for one thing, sought to 544 eliminate Article 12 from the Treaty. The Amendment is reprinted as No. 65 in the White Paper. And that amendment was defeated by 302 votes to 60.
I do not propose to multiply the evidence to show that there can be no possible doubt as to what was the intention of Parliament when they ratified this Treaty and gave it the force of law. But there is one further extract in the White Paper to which I will refer—it is No. 68. In all the debates which took place in 1921 and 1922, one member of the House of Commons, and only one—and he was not an Irishman, but a Scotsman—asked what would happen if Ulster refused to nominate a Commissioner, and suggested that in that case the Commission could not be set up. No one answered his question. No one even referred to it. Surely, if no other proof were available, that in itself is sufficient proof that Parliament had at no time the smallest doubt that what the Treaty intended was that the Commission should be set up. The same question was raised in your Lordships' House, and in reply the noble and learned Earl who was then Lord Chancellor made a speech which was quite conclusive as to what your Lordships understood when the Bill was passed into law.
Then came the refusal of the Government of Northern Ireland to appoint a member of the Commission, a refusal which ought to have been foreseen, but which was not foreseen, and the consequences of which were not foreseen. Before I go further, I should make it clear that ever since the present Government came into office we have exhausted every attempt to settle this question by agreement. In Conference after Conference, in officially and properly constituted meetings, in informally constituted meetings, we have used every means in our power to try to get a settlement by agreement, but without success. Finally, as your Lordships are aware, the matter was referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and they advised that in view of the refusal of Northern Ireland to appoint a Commissioner, the Commission could not, under the existing law, be set up. But in the course of their Report the Committee made use of a striking phrase. They referred to the difficulty which had arisen as a "casus improvisus in an Act of Parliament." Is not that 545 phrase in the Report of the Committee a very strong confirmation of the view which? have endeavoured to put before your Lordships—namely, that this contingency was quite clearly one that had not been foreseen by Parliament.
§ LORD ARNOLD:
I cannot go into the past. It is not the fault of the present Government. That, my Lords, is the situation—a situation inherited from our predecessors, and for which we ourselves are not in any way responsible, but with which we were called upon to deal. What then were the Government to do? We had our choice. We could ask Parliament to carry out what was the undoubted intention of both parties to the Treaty, or we could take advantage of the defect in its terms which had come to light and do nothing to redeem obligations which had been solemnly undertaken. That was the choice before us. We had no doubt what we ought to do; we have no doubt that in introducing this Bill we have taken the right course. In this Bill we have made by Agreement with the other party to the Treaty the smallest possible amendment which will enable the intention of the Treaty and the intention of Parliament to be carried into effect. I have now dealt, I hope adequately, with the issue and with the reason why in our opinion it is necessary that this Bill should be passed into law.
I now come to the second part of my speech. It will be brief. I will deal with the proposals for limiting or defining more precisely the powers of the Boundary Commission.? have so far been giving reasons on which we base our statement that the effect of this Bill is to cary out the intentions of Parliament when it ratified the Treaty and passed it into law. The proposal, however, to define more precisely the powers of the Commission is of a totally different nature. It is a proposal to put into the Treaty not something which Parliament when it ratified the Treaty believed to be provided in the Treaty, but something which, as I will show, Parliament quite definitely knew was not provided in. the Treaty. Moreover—and this is a point of supreme importance—it is a proposal not to put into the Treaty something which is agreed to by the other party to the Treaty. It is a proposal to put into the 546 Treaty something to which the other party has not agreed, and never will agree.
These are, I submit, conclusive reasons for rejecting this limiting proposal, even if it were a- new proposal. But the fact is it is not a new proposal. It has already been specifically brought before Parliament, and specifically rejected. When the Treaty was before Parliament for ratification in December, 1921, Article 12 was discussed in all its aspects and ratified. When the Treaty was for the second time in February and March, 1922, before Parliament in order that it might be given the force of law, an Amendment of this limiting character was moved in both Houses. In the House of Commons on March 2, 1922, Lord Hugh Cecil moved an Amendment limiting the powers of the Commission to minor adjustments in the boundary. This Amendment was fully debated. It was well-known that there were different views as to what could or could not be done by the Commission. But the Amendment was rejected by 199 votes to 63. Then again, when the Bill came to your Lordships' House, the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, moved on March 22, 1922, an Amendment providing that there should be written terms of reference to the Commission. Your Lordships, however, after ample debate rejected this Amendment by 110 votes to 65. On what reasonable ground is Parliament now to be asked to reverse these decisions taken after full consideration two years ago? The truth is, nothing has occurred in the interval between these decisions and the present time to justify this country in breaking the Treaty in an essential point, and this limiting proposal means nothing less than that.
But it has been said in the Press, and it was said in the House of Commons by the Leader of the Opposition, (hat when Parliament ratified the Treaty and passed it into law, it did so on the clear understanding that the powers of the Commission were to be limited to effecting minor rectifications of the existing boundary. That understanding, we are told, was at least as clear as the understanding that the Commission was to be set up. Therefore, it is argued that if one understanding is to be implemented in a supplementary Agreement, such as this Bill is, the -other understanding should also be implemented at the same 547 time. I have not the smallest hesitation in asserting that it is not the case that there was any such understanding about the powers of the Commission being limited to minor rectifications. On the contrary, it must be abundantly clear to anybody who will study the debates that Parliament fully knew that there were divergent views as to the powers of the Commission, and that it must be left to the Commission itself to interpret its. own powers. No one who reads the evidence collected in the White Paper can doubt this for n moment. Moreover, I have already pointed out to your Lordships that an Amendment limiting the powers of the Commission to minor rectifications of the boundary was specifically rejected during the debates on Article 12. Indeed, two such Amendments were rejected—one by each House. It is not reasonable to ask us to believe that those Amendments were rejected for any other cause than that which those who then spoke on behalf of His Majesty's Government gave—namely, that the Amendment altered the Treaty in an essential point; and, as I have said, to alter the Treaty without the; consent of the other party to it is to break the Treaty. We must always remember that the Treaty was ratified, not only by the Imperial Parliament, but by the Parliament of the Irish Free State. On what understanding did that Parliament ratify the Treaty? Can it be doubted that it ratified it on the understanding that the Commission to be set up under Article 12 had three factors and only three, to consider—namely, the three factors set out in the Article: the wishes of the inhabitants and the economic conditions and geographic conditions? And if the Imperial Parliament now insists on interpreting the Treaty by the suggested Amendment, how can we complain if the Parliament of the Irish Free State also insists upon interpreting the Treaty? It is necessary to bear in mind that an identical Bill to the one before your Lordships has been introduced into the Parliament of the Irish Free State, and is to be read a second time in that Parliament on the 21st of this month. If, in the Irish Free State Parliament, an Amendment to that Bill is moved and inserted which is inconsistent with this Bill as it is passed by the Imperial Parliament, what are we going to do? Shall we not say, and shall we not say 548 rightly, that any such Amendment is a breach of the Treaty? And how can we claim for ourselves a licence which we deny to the other party to the Treaty?
I now come to the third part of my speech. I wish before I sit down to say something about the question of pledges. It was one of the first duties of His Majesty's present Government, when we came into power, to consider to what pledges given by our predecessors we were committed. There were, besides the Treaty, two so-called pledges in relation to Ireland to which our attention was particularly called. The first was the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and the second was the statement made by Sir James Craig on November 29, 1921, on the authority of Mr. Lloyd George, in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland.
First let me take, the Act of 1920. When it is contended that that Act cannot be altered, I must ask why should this be true of the Act of 1920 any more than of the Act of 1914? Precisely the same claim was made in respect of the Act of 1914 as is now made in respect of the Act of 1920, but the Act of 1920 did alter, in fact it repealed, the Act of 1914, despite protests. Mr. T. P. O'Connor, speaking in the House of Commons, claimed that the Act of 1914 was a Treaty. He said that if the Act of 1914 was repealed Ireland would regard the action as one of the most perfidious betrayals which she has ever had to endure at the hands of England. But Parliament did repeal the Act of 1914, and your Lordships approved that action. In exactly the same way, Parliament is entitled to amend the Act of 1920.
Parliament did, as a matter of fact, amend the Act of 1920 when it passed the Bill of 1922 confirming the Treaty. The position then comes to this. If the Act of 1920 was a pledge, it was broken two and a half years ago when, after full debate, Parliament passed the Bill of 1922. This so-called pledge was considered then, and it was decided either that it was not a pledge or that it was not necessary to be bound by it. I repeat if the Act of 1920 was a pledge, then the Act of 1914 was a pledge. Both are, or neither is. And if you say that both are pledges—which I do not admit—then both have been broken, and both breaches have been confirmed by Parliament. It really, therefore, cannot be contended 549 that there is any such obligation in respect of the Act of 1920 as is now sought to place upon us.
Finally, I come to the statement which Mr. Lloyd George authorised Sir James Craig to make a few days before the Treaty was signed. Your Lordships are all very familiar with this statement of Mr. Lloyd George, but I must quote the last two sentences. He said:" By Tuesday next, either negotiations will have broken down, or new proposals will be sent for consideration by the Cabinet in Belfast. In the meantime, the rights of Ulster will be in no way sacrificed or compromised."I am sincerely anxious to be as uncontroversial as I possibly can in dealing with these difficult and delicate matters. At the same time, I feel your Lordships will agree that any statement which is brought forward and is held to be a pledge should at any rate be scrutinised, and I might, indeed, argue at length as to whether this statement of Mr. Lloyd George was or was not inconsistent with the Treaty which was signed a. week later. The words of this statement of Mr. Lloyd George's are vague and are capable of various interpretations. For instance, they might refer to the rights of Ulster to have a Parliament of her own with certain denned powers, rights which are not affected by the Treaty.
However, I will not pursue this matter further. Assume, if you wish, that Mr. Lloyd George's statement was inconsistent with the Treaty. If so, that was a fact which we could not remedy or undo. All we could do was to consider which of the two—we not being responsible for either—was the most binding; this statement of Mr. Lloyd George's or the Treaty. To that question there can only be one answer. Here, on the one hand, was a Treaty made in full knowledge of this statement and made in the most solemn form on behalf of the people of Great Britain, and twice ratified after the fullest consideration by the Imperial Parliament. Here, on the other hand, was a statement given by one Minister to another, unimplemented by any covenant, and unratified by Parliament. If these two instruments, the Treaty and the statement, were inconsistent with one another, by which of them were we, the Government, not, as I have said, being responsible for either, to regard ourselves as bound? Were we to say: " We know that Parliament has ratified the Treaty 550 and has subsequently passed it into law. We know that the people of the country have confirmed it at a General Election at which it was one of the principal issues. But we also know there is a previous statement given by Mr. Lloyd George to Sir James Craig which is regarded—at any rate, by the Government of Northern Ireland—as inconsistent with the Treaty, and therefore we will disregard Parliament and the Treaty and take our stand on the letter to Sir James Craig." I say that is an impossible position for any Government to take up.
I have nearly finished. There are, as your Lordships know, other statements which are deemed to be pledges, but, unless I am asked to do so, I do not propose to discuss them. That is not because we have not got a complete reply on all these matters. On the contrary, if I went into the various details, I feel I could show that the Government is on . very firm ground in regard to pledges; but I think I have said enough. I have now, I hope sufficiently, outlined the reasons why we ask your Lordships to pass this Bill and to pass it into law as it stands. We believe that the Treaty cannot be fulfilled unless this Bill is passed, and passed without amendment. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a— (Lord Arnold.)
§ VISCOUNT GREY OF FALLODON:
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken on behalf of the Government in the arguments he has used and the statement of the case which he has made. I rise to put before your Lordships a personal view of what I feel is, perhaps, the most difficult situation in which any of us have ever been placed. As a rule, questions of policy are often very difficult, and questions of good faith, happily, are often simple. It seems to me that we are not confronted with a question of policy in this matter, but with a question of good faith, and yet that question of good faith comes before us in a most complicated and difficult manner. It seems to me that two engagements have been undertaken by a previous British Government and British Parliament, one with the North of Ireland and one with that part of Ireland which is now the Free State.
551 Let me take first the engagement with Ulster. For thirty-four years the representatives of Ulster offered a determined and strenuous opposition to every attempt at Home Rule which was introduced. Those of us who supported Home Rule in those days felt ourselves under no obligation to Ulster. We received from them nothing but opposition, and no help in carrying out a change of Irish Government which we believed to be necessary. We felt under no obligation towards Ulster. But in 1920 a fourth Home Rule Bill was introduced, and the whole attitude of Ulster changed towards that proposal. Those of us who were most conscious of the opposition of Ulster to previous Home Rule Bills were most struck by the change of attitude of Ulster towards that Home Rule Bill of 1920. It meant a great deal. That Bill was accepted by Ulster, as we understood, with reluctance, but the fact that reluctance was combined with acceptance only emphasised the position that that change of opinion in Ulster with regard to Home Rule was founded upon something very clear and definite. I do not look in letters or memoranda or legal interpretations of particular clauses or Acts for the evidence that the Ulster representatives, when they were supporting the Home Rule Bill of 1920, believed they were doing it upon a clear and definite understanding that in that Bill they were getting a settlement that was not to be altered without their consent. Those of us who took part in that Home Rule debate knew that that was the understanding. We knew it, and the knowledge remains with us. Therefore, I do regard that as an honourable understanding with Ulster—that when that Home Rule Bill of 1920 was passed with the consent of the Ulster representatives, there was an honourable understanding with the British Government and British Parliament that it should not be altered without Ulster's consent. Can any one who was present at those debates imagine that if, while the passage of the Bill was proceeding, the Ulster representatives had been told that in a year's time a Treaty would be negotiated with the Free State, throwing open the whole boundary question, which was the very crux of the whole settlement in 1920, the Ulster representatives would not have offered the same opposition to that Home Rule Bill as they had offered to previous Bills?
552 Having stated that, let me be equally fair in stating what was done later with the Free State. A Treaty was negotiated with the Free State in which this Article 12 was inserted. The letter of the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, which has been published—written shortly after the Treaty was passed, but only published lately—places a certain construction upon what would be the natural functions, as he thinks, in the mind of any sensible man, of the Boundary Commission. I understand the contention of the Free State to be that when they accepted the Treaty they did it believing that this was a General Commission which would throw open the whole question of the Ulster boundaries. Again, I do not apply to what the Free State thinks on the matter the narrow question of interpretation of particular words. If that is their view, then I should not claim that our obligation to the Free State is being discharged by appointing a limited Commission. And therefore the position, it seems to me, is this. We entered into an honourable understanding with Ulster in 1920, and we entered into a definite engagement with the Free State in the Act of 1922. If we carry out and implement that definite engagement with the Free State in the sense in which the Free State seems to understand it, we break our honourable understanding with Ulster. If we keep our honourable understanding with Ulster, we cannot go through with the engagement with the Free State.
One way out of a situation of that kind, which is so embarrassing, would be to say definitely to the Free State,: "The honourable understanding with Ulster was prior to that which we entered into with you. We recognise now that, however it happened, the understanding and the engagement are inconsistent with each other, and we are very sorry, but we cannot fulfil our obligation to the Free State." I think there is a great deal to be said for adopting that course. I should not be frightened of the consequences. It is urged that if we adopted that course the Free State would say: " The whole of the Treaty which we signed was, on our part, signed under a misapprehension, and must be regarded as open to revision."? would admit that plea in those circumstances. I would say definitely: "If you feel that we are unable to carry out the obligations, on the faith of which you consider you signed the 553 Treaty with us, we are prepared to reopen the whole question of the Treaty." I have no fear of that. I would rather face a demand from the Free State to be a Republic than see the understanding with Ulster broken.
Of course, if we got so far as that, there are certain points which we should have to reserve for ourselves—the question of what naval facilities are necessary in matters of life and death to this country, and, of course, the honourable understanding with Ulster. But, apart from that naval question, I would say that I do not see what more we have got to lose from the Free State being a Republic. We should be no more powerless in the Free State then than we are now. The Coalition Government, the Conservative Government, the Labour Government have all, in turn, found themselves unable to prevent, or to get redress for, things which have been done in the Free State to those who are attached to the British connection. Whatever disadvantage, or loss of power, there might be from the Free State becoming a Republic, that we have suffered, and many people in the Free State have suffered, already. And I am quite sure that if there be a real trend of opinion in the Free State in favour of a Republic we are not going to purchase the avoidance of having to face that issue sooner or later by anything we may do for the moment, for temporary convenience, about the boundary question.
Therefore, if we are going to agree to the appointment of this Commission let us be quite clear that we do not do it in the hope of staving off any disagreeable demands which we think may come from the Free State in future. We shall not succeed in that. I think it would have been much simpler if the Government which negotiated the Treaty with the Free State had said definitely and simply, at the time: "As regards the Ulster boundary, we cannot come to any arrangement about that unless it be done with the consent of the Ulster representatives." It may be that, in those circumstances, there would have been no Treaty, but there would have been no charge of breach of faith, either from the Free State or from Ulster. However, that is not the line that the Government took. They negotiated the Treaty, Parliament passed the Treaty, and the Treaty entails the setting up of a Commission.
554 The question naturally arises whether an Amendment, which was moved in another place, limiting the powers of the Commission, should be pressed in your Lordships' House. I will not spend much time over that. I think that to carry that Amendment here, without the intention of insisting upon it, would create friction, without doing any good. To carry the Amendment and to insist upon it would, I think—indeed, we are told that it would—raise the whole question of the position of your Lordships' House. Sooner or later, I think that question will have to be raised. To say that if this House insists upon an Amendment it will only do so at its peril is, in fact, to deny to this House the powers which were left to it under the Parliament Act. Sooner or later, I think, the whole question of the Second Chamber must be raised. But I do not go into that to-night. It will be for your Lordships to consider whether this is a suitable moment at which this question should be raised, and whether to have it raised at this moment would be likely to contribute to a firmer settlement of the Irish question, or even to help those to whom we are under the engagement of an honourable understanding.
But these are only tactical considerations. What I think is that it is very difficult to give a definition of the powers of the Commission. A definition is certain to give rise to the question whether the award of the Commission, when it is made, has kept within that definition or not. If so, it will introduce further complications. And this, too, is clear, that if the Commission is so definitely limited, the Free State will undoubtedly say at once that they do not accept it as a fulfilment of the Treaty engagement. In that case it really comes to this: that we had better pass the Commission Bill, as it is, or say that we are against having any Commission at all. Though I come to the decision with great difficulty, I think it would be best that that Commission should be set up, but on one understanding—that we are quite clear that we know what we are doing.
Some good may come out of the Commission. Its award will, I think, make it clear, both here and in Ireland, that no British Commission is going to bring about an Irish settlement. A gentleman of great experience in public affairs who 555 has lately been studying the question most carefully and most impartially in Ireland, has given utterance to his views on the subject in two statements. One is that the boundary question will never be settled without the appointment of the Boundary Commission, and the second is that the Boundary Commission will never settle the boundary question. Inconsistent as they seem, I believe those two statements to be about as near the truth of the present situation as one can get. I would, therefore, let the Commission function. If it results in an award which is a dismemberment of Ulster, and which Ulster will not accept, I should say definitely, after all that we have heard, that the Commission had gone beyond what the British signatories to the Agreement intended and that, consistently with the Act of 1920, we could not implement that Commission.
Here let me say by the way that in appointing this Commission it seems perfectly evident that nobody on any side is going to pledge himself in advance to accept its award as binding. Ulster has protested against it in advance. And is it contended that there is any concensus of opinion in the Free State which is saying in advance that it will accept the findings of the Commission as a definite settlement? By taking it as a definite settlement, I do not mean taking whatever can be got from the award of the Commission and then opening the question again. I have not seen any statement that they have bound themselves in advance to accept the findings as final.
§ VISCOUNT GREY OF FALLODON:
They have appointed a representative on the Commission, and, having appointed a representative on the Commission, it is quite true that if that representative signs the Report of the Commission I suppose it has some binding force. If the Commission does make a Report which is accepted by both sides, well and good. But if the Free State does not accept its Report but considers that, after all that has been stated before the Commission has been appointed, the Commission is not a fulfilment of the engagement, then let us say to the Free State: " It is perfectly clear that there can be no settlement of this question in 556 Ireland except between the two parties themselves. We are perfectly prepared to reopen negotiations with the Free State on any basis they like, provided that we start the negotiations again with a clear understanding that the Home Rule Act of 1920 was an honourable understanding with Ulster and that while we will negotiate anything with the Free State about their own territory, outside the territory allotted to Ulster in 1920, when it comes to altering the arrangements of 1920 with Ulster we can only do that if Ulster becomes a party to that settlement."
I believe that Commission will merely bring out the fact that it is impossible for any British-appointed Commission to make a settlement of the Irish boundary question which will satisfy both sides, and that until you get a settlement which is made by those two sides themselves you will have no settlement at all. Meanwhile, on all this uncertain ground, I should propose, when the Commission has reported, to stand at any rate upon one definite and firm spot, which is the first and, as I consider, the honourable understanding of 1920 with the Ulster representatives. That is a spot of firm ground and may be made a departure for further negotiations. I believe that gives the best chance of promoting a settlement of the Irish question. We know perfectly well that dealing with the boundary in this way is not going to make a settlement of the Irish question. It never will be settled until there is a united Ireland; and that can only be brought about by Irishmen themselves. So far as we are concerned we are bound by the machinery of the Act of 1920, which limited our right to do things afterwards.
If we make our position perfectly clear I believe we shall be doing that which is most likely to promote the only thing which will bring about a settlement in Ireland. We shall be making it clear, whether it be to Ulster or the Free State, that the responsibility of coming to an agreement rests with them; that if the Free State wishes for a united Ireland it is the business of the Free State to win the consent of Ulster by the best methods it can, and that we, for our part, are going to stand on the Act of 1920, anxious to see an agreement come to, but saying to the Free State: " Under that Act of 1920 we are debarred from doing any- 557 thing further to alter that arrangement so far as Ulster is concerned without the consent of Ulster." It is, therefore, for the Free State, when it is ready to do so, to negotiate with the Ulster representatives, if it wishes to have a united Ireland. If it does not wish to have a united Ireland then things must go on until, as I believe, the force of logic and the force of economic questions and the desire for a settlement produce a feeling of reasonableness in both parts of Ireland which will bring them together to make their own settlement.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY:
My Lords, I feel extremely diffident in venturing to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Grey, after the very weighty utterance which he has made with reference to the Bill now before your Lordships' House. In his opening remarks the noble Viscount stated our case most eloquently and conclusively. I feel that he really has put the case before your Lordships from the Ulster-point of view in a far more efficient manner than I can ever hope to do.
I know that I shall not be alone in your Lordships' House in regretting that one more debate is taking place on the question of Ireland. Each time I have ventured to address your Lordships on this subject, I have expressed the earnest hope that it would be the last, and that the internal affairs of Ireland in the future would be settled in Ireland itself and would not form the subject of controversy here. For some forty years the Irish question has played a prominent part in British politics, and once more we find ourselves the possible instrument of bringing about a General Election. My attitude, as representing the six counties of Northern Ireland, is one of opposition to the Bill in its present form, and even the knowledge that if your Lordships take my view we may once more be plunged into an electoral struggle with Ireland and the House of Lords as the excuse, cannot alter the position which I am bound to take up on behalf of the people I represent. I have no desire in the few remarks which I shall make to your Lordships to pass in review the history of this unhappy controversy, nor even to quote those prophecies of disaster which I and others have made during the long period in which we have fought in vain against 558 The policy which culminated in grants of self-government to Ulster and what is now known as the Free State. Those prophecies of what would be the result of Home Rule have only erred on the side of moderation, and we can only hope that the day will come when we in the North of Ireland shall no longer be called upon to make concessions and sacrifices in the hope of satisfying the unceasing demands of the South.
The previous Bill, based on the original Treaty, contained elements of coercion. The present Bill is a measure of pure coercion. It is drafted for the purpose of empowering the British Government to appoint a Commissioner to represent Ulster on a Boundary Commission which we have refused to recognise. The noble Lord speaks of a debt of honour which the Government of which he is a member feel bound to discharge. He makes no mention of the debt of honour which we in Ulster have every right to claim under the 1920 Act. The noble Lord, in a dispassionate speech, made a very ingenious case for the Government, but I somehow feel that he could have made an equally ingenious case from our point of view by looking through the White Paper and finding those statements (which? do not propose to quote to your Lordships) that strengthen the case I am endeavouring to put.
The Government of Ireland Act of 1920 granted self-government to Northern Ireland. This grant we in Ulster never asked for; nor did we desire it. In fact, it was the negation of the policy of the Union which we had supported for a hundred years, a policy under which we had expanded and nourished, a policy the wisdom of which was vindicated in the early years of this century by the peaceful and prosperous condition of Ireland, to which even Mr. Birrell paid enthusiastic testimony. We responded to the appeal of British Ministers to make this sacrifice in the cause of peace, and I feel that no one will deny that we have faithfully endeavoured, in overwhelmingly difficult circumstances, to discharge a duty which was thus thrust upon us. The only encouraging feature in this doubtful experiment—because it was nothing else —was the assertion made by responsible Ministers that not only was this a final settlement, but that our position and territory were established definitely and 559 could not be varied without our being party to such variation.
I could give your Lordships many quotations, but I will only give two. Mr. Lloyd George, then Prime Minister, in his letter to Mr. de Valera, of 20th July, 1921, detailing proposals for Irish settlement, said: —The form in which the settlement is to take effect will depend upon Ireland herself. It must allow for full recognition of the existing powers and privileges of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland, which cannot be abrogated except by their own consent.Lord Birkenhead, at that time Lord Chancellor, who was also a signatory to the Treaty, said in this House on August 19, 1921: —When the Irish Home Rule Act was placed upon the Statute Book, when, once for all, the just and indefeasible case of Ulster had received protection, and for all time had become entrenched in an Act of Parliament, it depended thereafter upon the honour and protection of the British Parliament. That position, secured for Ulster, will never be abandoned, at least by any Government of which I am a member, and I am sure that there is nothing more remote from the minds of those responsible for the passing of that Act than that there should be any surrender of the recognition now universal of the individual position and rights of Ulster.Quotations in this sense from the utterances of responsible Ministers of all Parties have also appeared in profusion in the daily newspapers; so I feel that I am carrying your Lordships with me when I assert that the original Treaty which was negotiated between the British Government and the Free State was a direct infringement of the understanding and the undertaking which Mr. Lloyd George, the then Prime Minister, had made with Ulster.
Notwithstanding these undertakings, a Treaty which seriously affected the expressed rights of Ulster was negotiated between Great Britain and the Free State. Amongst its provisions, the whole of Ireland was included within the Free State and, without any reference to us, it was agreed between Great Britain and the Free State that our boundaries should be subject to revision. This Treaty was a solemn agreement drawn up by the greatest legal experts of the day, and accepted by the representatives of the Free State on the advice of lawyers of the highest qualifications. So meticulously, so carefully had it been drawn 560 up that we were told that not a line, not a word, could be altered. Mr. Winston Churchill, in the House of Commons, in Committee on the Treaty Bill, said: —You cannot possibly go back and alter the description of the instrument, still less can you alter in any particular its provisions. On behalf of the Government I cannot possibly agree to any Amendment which alters, modifies, extends, explains, elucidates, amplifies or otherwise affects the text of the instrument which we call the Treaty.Again, in your Lordships' House, Viscount Peel, speaking on behalf of the Government, said: —These are Articles of Agreement in the nature of a Treaty. Therefore, the noble Lord will see that the difficulty of amending a Treaty of that kind is enormous. Moreover, if you once begin to amend, to alter, to modify, and to explain Articles of Agreement, obviously the other party to those Articles of Agreement will immediately claim the right to amend, to alter, to modify, and to explain.The noble Lord, when he quotes the numbers of the Divisions, must remember the express statement of the Government that no line, not even a comma, could be altered in the Treaty without that involving the Government's resignation, and that the House therefore was bound to support the Government. I ventured to move the Amendment in your Lordships' House to which the noble Lord has referred, and the answer that I met with from my noble friend Viscount Peel was that no line or comma could be altered, and that, therefore, my Amendment could not be accepted.
It must have been obvious to both parties to the Treaty, as it was to us in Ulster, that, by our refusal to appoint a Commissioner, the Boundary Commission could not be set up. This question was specially raised by is member of the House of Commons on the 16th February, 1922, but to the Question which that member put the Government made no reply whatsoever. We shall doubtless hear from the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, whether this was a flaw in the Treaty, which had escaped the notice of himself and his colleagues as well as of the Free State representatives. Naturally, I hesitate to suggest such a possibility. It is very difficult to believe that when the Treaty was drawn up by the highest legal authorities of the day such an obvious flaw, and a flaw which was not absent from our untutored minds 561 in Northern Ireland, should be allowed to remain in the Bill. Clause 12, as it was drawn and subsequently interpreted by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, certainly carried out the pledges so readily given that Ulster should not be coerced. As it was drawn it gave Ulster the power to accept, or not to accept, the Commission. A compulsory Commission, on the other hand, directing, or with powers to direct, that large portions of territory could be abstracted from Ulster, would certainly have been coercion. Consequently, I cannot help feeling that this interpretation of the clause was well understood and, at the time, was accepted by all the signatories to the Treaty.
In fact, the Dail ratified the Treaty after Mr. Bonar Law's most significant statement in the debate on the ratification of the Treaty in another place on December 15, 1921. I will venture to quote his words. He said: —I am going to deal now with the only aspect of this Treaty which is open to serious objection. That is as to the Boundaries Commission. If ever the Ulster people considered that anything was settled, and settled forever, it was the boundaries. I think it is hardly worth while elaborating, but I may point out that in the letter written to me by the Prime Minister just before the last Election he specified, that in dealing with Ireland anything which interferes not with Ulster but with the six counties is impossible.…That letter was worded in that way to settle that question, so that, so far as this Government and Parliament were concerned, it could not arise again. Then, of course, there was the passing of the Act of 1920, and there was the King opening the Parliament of Northern Ireland. Nothing, one would have thought, could have been more binding than all these things.…I say that if the Boundaries Commission is carried out in a spirit worthy of the Agreement, which means not the possibility of throwing out a county, but a real adjustment of boundaries, and if that is what it means, I think Ulster would make a very great mistake if it refused to have anything to do with the Agreement.The Dail ratified the Treaty after this very clear and explicit statement made practically on our behalf by Mr. Bonar Law. I maintain that Great Britain discharged her obligations to the full when the Government compelled both Houses of Parliament to ratify a Treaty definitely agreed with the Free State, in the same terms in which it emerged from the Conference chamber.
But what do we find? The present Government, the inheritors of the Irish 562 policy of the Coalition, believe, or allege they believe, that there has been a misunderstanding, and, in their desire to placate the South, the Treaty is exhumed and a new Treaty prepared in order to discharge their alleged debt of honour to the South by ignoring their universally acknowledged debt of honour, to the North. The whole question revolves round the Boundary Clause. We in Ulster have refused to recognise the Boundary Commission. The setting up of this Commission by the coercive action of the British Government in taking power to appoint the representative whom we in Ulster have refused to appoint provides no reason that I can see for any change in the policy which we have adopted, but only further justifies our attitude. I have no hesitation in saying, however, that an amendment of the Bill in the direction of defining the powers of the Commission to be set up under the Bill would have received a ready response from us. Although I feel that the only method of restoring peace in Ireland is the settlement of our difficulties by the mutual consent of the North and the South, still the modification of the powers of the Commission, limiting them to minor adjustments of the boundary between Ulster and the Free State, would have been a step in that direction. In that event, the obstacle which prevented us from appointing a Commissioner would have been removed.
The British Government refused to make the modification in our favour and at our request, because the Treaty was unalterable, but their successors, the avowed inheritors of their policy, the dispassionate inheritors of their policy, now amend the original Treaty by the present Treaty to meet the wishes of the Free State, even though this course involves the coercion of Ulster. Your Lordships will appreciate the reason why we have refused to appoint a representative in the circumstances, and why we can assume no responsibility whatsoever in the selection of a Commissioner should this Bill become an Act. The acceptance of the Commission entailed the acceptance of the findings of the Commission, and that is why I say to the noble Viscount who has just spoken that as the Free State have accepted the Commission they are bound by the findings of the Commission. We have always felt that a find- 563 ing which transferred territory—and if territory is transferred the population also must be transferred, or be called upon to forsake their homes—or a finding which handed Derry City or Newry over to a jurisdiction with which we find ourselves at complete variance, would be a finding with which we could not agree. Your Lordships will readily understand that, having taken up this very definite attitude on the original Treaty, we can now in no circumstances be parties to the appointment of a Commissioner made ostensibly under the Treaty by virtue of the present Bill.
I am not here to make any threats— indeed, I would infinitely prefer to retire from public life than to employ that method of endeavouring to convince your Lordships or the people of this country—but I would earnestly appeal to your Lordships to realise our difficulties. It is very easy to say to Sir James Craig and his colleagues, who in the name of Ulster carry on the necessary negotiations with the British Government, that this or that course should, or might, be pursued. The strength which our Prime Minister possesses is based, as is the case with all democratic Governments, upon the trust of the people. It is derived from the confidence which Ulster feels in his wisdom and in his loyalty to her cause, to her rights, and to her privileges. The community in Ulster, like most communities, has to face the ordinary difficulties which ordinary circumstances provide. But, in addition to that, and unlike any community in England, Scotland, or Wales, we have been for forty years, and are still, in varying degree a threatened community. We have felt that forces can be set in motion with which it would be quite impossible for us to cope by ourselves with any chance of success. Consequently, we have relied, and we still rely, upon the recognition by the British people of the justice of our cause and the rights of our position. A threatened community presents many additional difficulties to those who try to govern that community. Suspicion runs like wildfire, and any misunderstanding is liable to widen into a chasm of doubt and uncertainty. Your Lordships know well that, the moment we fail to retain the confidence of those whom we represent, a situation will arise in Ulster which may 564 wreck every hope and prospect of preserving peace, and we should be wanting in our duty if we incurred that risk.
After all, what are we, the Ulster Government, being asked to do? Let us look for a moment at the material side, apart from the sentimental side, of the Irish question. We have been asked in the name of our people to enter into a bargain over the terms of which we were not consulted. We are to require a certain number of our population to run the risk of a complete change of status as the result of the acceptance of this bargain. What does that change of status involve? In the first place, it means the abandonment of those ideals of loyalty to the Crown and close association with Great Britain which our people in Ulster have inherited from their forefathers. On the material side it involves the payment of a higher Income Tax, of higher rates and of higher postage. Our people will enter a country where there is a tariff wall between them and then-best customer, Great Britain, where the cost of living is higher, where they will have less opportunity of employment, and where they will enjoy smaller facilities of education for their children. When they are old they will receive smaller old age pensions. If they are school teachers they will receive lower salaries. This is the nature of the offer which is contained in the bargain, and which, if we had appointed a Commissioner to the Boundary Commission, we must have been prepared to accept if the Boundary Commission had gone contrary to what we believed to be the limitations of their reference.
I am well aware that, by reason of the Act of 1920, Ireland has, except in moments of crisis like the present, receded in the minds of the great majority of the inhabitants of this country into a position of relative unimportance. The problem of Ireland here is ranged alongside other problems which seem to touch more closely the everyday life of the average British citizen. There is the question of unemployment, the question of taxation and a hundred domestic questions. It must seem incredible to an average British citizen, first, that we in Ireland cannot settle our differences, and, secondly, that when Sir James Craig is asked to make a concession, which here in perspective seems so small a 565 concession, he finds himself unable to consent. That describes briefly the attitude of Great Britain. But, in spite of that, I believe that Great Britain feels that the terms of this Treaty are such that no injustice can accrue to Ulster. I believe, too, that, should any injustice accrue, Great Britain would be stirred in a manner in which she has been stirred on more than one historic occasion.
But the people of Ulster as a community cannot take up that same dispassionate attitude and wait until an injustice has been perpetrated, and we, as the leaders of that community, should not be worthy of the trust of our people if we took it upon ourselves to gamble on this issue—and by that I mean if we chanced the finding of the Commission being in our favour. An adverse finding —and by that I mean the transfer of territory—would create a situation in Ulster which I do not want to contemplate. The fact that high legal authorities proclaim that a Boundary Commission is a boundary commission, and so confined to border adjustments, is very valuable. But, if that is the accepted view, why did not the Coalition Government, and why do not the present Government, see their way clear to define the powers of that Commission?
I shall not be very wide of the mark when I say that such a definition would not be acceptable to the South, and I feel myself forced to the conclusion that the present Government, like the Coalition Government, is clinging to the slender hope that, by keeping the framework of the Treaty in being and by the avoidance of anything which might give offence to one or other of the parties concerned, a solution will be found in some indefinable way which will relieve them of their responsibilities and bring about a settlement in the process of time. That, in my judgment, is a fatal policy to pursue, and one which can only be attended by disaster. The British Government must have a policy in regard to Ireland. The noble Lord has not stated it but has proclaimed himself the inheritor of a heritage. He has not told us anything of the policy of the present Government in regard to Ireland. I feel that, if they deserve the name of Government, they should tell us what their policy is and what was intended by the Treaty. If they claim solely the 566 position of hereditary trustees of the Treaty, they should give effect to the policy of the original British signatories of the Treaty.
But, instead of a comprehensible attitude of that description, they prefer to talk of a debt of honour, and then to derogate their duties to an individual whose status and impartiality no one questions, whose integrity and character are beyond reproach, but whose lot no one envies. And this individual is to decide entirely by himself, because the one representative we know is certainly a violent partisan, and, doubtless, the Government desire to balance him by a similar partisan on the other side. Consequently, Mr. Justice Feetham is to decide, first, what was intended by the Treaty, and secondly, when he has made up his mind on this obviously debatable point, he is to come to a conclusion from which there is to be no appeal, a conclusion which will be bitterly and dangerously repudiated by either the North or the South of Ireland.
The whole question of these Treaties is one which I feel that your Lordships should consider. Are they in accordance with the traditions of Parliamentary government as we have hitherto understood them? Following the precedent of unalterable Treaties, I see no reason why, in the secrecy of Downing Street, any Treaty may not be evolved and a Bill passed into law which the Government will treat as a vote of confidence, by which all our rights and privileges might be sacrified. Would that not place your Lordships—and I know we have many friends in your Lordships' House—in the same difficult position in which you find yourselves at the present moment?
I should like to say one word in regard to the question of minorities in the North and South. I feel that this grievance, which is always put forward by the Free State, is not really a genuine grievance. The Free State knows two things. One is that our whole desire is to govern impartially those who differ from us on political grounds. The other is that there is no unanimity amongst those who may differ from us about crossing the border into the Free State. The minority in the Free State has supported the Free State Government. I feel that all honour is due to them. I 567 would not have them do otherwise. I only hope that they will make their influence felt in the direction of changing the attitude of the Free State towards Great Britain and the British Empire. That would do far more to bring peace to Ireland and to settle our unhappy differences than anything else.
I would infinitely prefer to see this Bill disappear. If it passes into law, it postulates many stages to come. Each stage can only widen the breach which exists now between North and South. I know the difficulties surrounding mutual agreement, by reason of the opposing attitudes of the North and the .South. Those difficulties may seem insoluble: but I am convinced of this, that the only possible chance of success lies in the oft-repeated invitation of the Prime Minister of Ulster to negotiate direct with the South on the adjustment of the boundary line to our mutual satisfaction. I would urge that this suggestion has much to recommend it. It removes the element of the third party who, as often as not, strikes the discordant note in a dispute. It gives an opportunity for the difficulties of the North and the South to be better appreciated by those concerned in their settlement than they are likely to be appreciated and understood in conferences at the Colonial Office or in a Boundary Commission set up by an Act of Parliament. Such direct negotiation may lay the foundations of an understanding of the fundamental differences of the temperament and outlook of the North and the South, differences which, I firmly believe, were best reconciled by the policy of the Union, but which, now, in our further stage of evolution, can only be reconciled by the recognition of the absolute freedom and equality of the North and the South of Ireland in matters of self-government.
§ VISCOUNT FITZALAN OF DERWENT:
My Lords, I do not propose to trespass upon your time for more than a few moments. I do not pretend that the short time during which, it was my duty to hold the office of Lord-Lieutenant entitles me to speak with any authority on the subject of Ireland; but nobody who has had any official connection with Ireland can but be aware of, and feel seriously, the extreme gravity and the great difficulties of the present situation. The difficulties were well brought out by 568 The noble Viscount, Lord Grey of Fallodon, and I will not attempt to follow him in that direction. I am sure we have all listened with pleasure to the speech of my noble friend who has just sat down. If he will allow me to say so, I think his speech was a model of moderation and judgment in most difficult and trying circumstances. For myself I always bitterly regretted that Sir James Craig was not informed at the proper time of the Agreement come to with reference to the Treaty, and I made no secret at the time of my regret at that omission. I believe that Sir James Craig, and the Government of Northern Ireland, have taken up on this question the only attitude they could possibly have taken up, and although personally I hope that this Bill may pass, and without amendment, none the less I believe I understand the attitude of Northern Ireland, and I agree with it. It is no use now regretting the past, or going back upon what might have happened, or might have been said. We are now faced with this Bill and we have to come to a decision upon it.
Personally, I am clear in my own mind that when Parliament ratified the Treaty, members, at any rate the great majority of them, had in mind that the Commission would be limited, or would consider itself limited, to coming to a decision upon the line of rectification and not of transference' of large areas. It might be asked: If that is so, why not amend this Bill so as to carry out that intention? Lord Grey has, I think, sufficiently answered that point. As I understand, Lord Grey, notwithstanding all the difficulties and all the dangers that he sees with regard to this Bill, advises us that it should be passed and passed without amendment. In the first place, I should regret, and I should view with grave apprehension, any action taken by this Parliament which could be construed as. dictating to the Commission. Secondly, I should view with still graver apprehension any action which could be taken advantage of, in certain quarters in Southern Ireland, to bring pressure to bear on the Free State Government not to bind themselves by the decision to which the Commission may come. I think that would be an extraordinarily dangerous position for us to be in. I hope that nothing will occur in this House to bring anything of that kind about.
569 May I say one word upon the religious aspect of the Boundary Commission? I am not one of those who want to see Catholics all lined up on one side of the ditch, and Protestants on the other. I certainly do not think that anything in that direction is likely to produce peace. I would much rather see them mixed up. At the same time, I do not for a moment ignore the grave and serious side of the religious question. But I cannot help feeling that it is a good deal more artificial than many people suppose. I mean by that that those who chiefly foment and encourage it, and keep it alive, will not be found to be amongst the most devout or pious adherents of the respective denominations.
I see no alternative to this Bill except a Conference between Sir James Craig and Mr. Cosgrave. I am afraid that the prospects of such a Conference are not very bright. Possibly the grave words which have fallen from Viscount Grey to-night may help to bring such a Conference about. We know that the right hon. gentleman, the present Colonial Secretary, has stated in his place in the House of Commons that so far as he is concerned he will still do his utmost to bring that Conference about. Failing that, we are reduced to come to a decision on this Bill. Notwithstanding all the difficulties and all the objections, I earnestly hope it will pass, and pass without alteration.
§ LORD SUMNER:
My Lords, by this stage in the debate I had rather hoped that we should have had an authoritative statement from one of the leaders on the Opposition Front Bench of the course which they intend to take themselves, and to advise their friends to take. It must be manifest that the course which this debate will naturally take is one that must be greatly influenced by a knowledge at an early stage of what that course is likely to be. But, after carefully reading the debates in another place, and carefully following, as well as I could, the journals which are supposed to be best informed as to the intentions of the Opposition and its leaders, I have come to the conclusion that the best thing is to address your Lordships upon the assumption that this Bill is going to pass. I may have read the omens wrongly, but I think I should consult your Lordships' convenience most by taking care neither to plough the sands 570 nor to beat the air in any further discussion about pledges, broken or unbroken, or about what is likely to happen in Ireland, and what has happened in the past in that incomprehensible country.
But there is one thing that I am anxious to do, and that is to grapple with a charge that has been made against the Government of Northern Ireland, which I believe to be entirely unfounded, and which, if it is unfounded, is peculiarly cruel in the present circumstances. There is no getting away from it that the inviolable Treaty of December, 1921, is about to be altered—violated, if you please, but altered at any rate—and once more against the desire of the Government of Northern Ireland. There is no question of that, and, furthermore, the only reason or excuse that can be found for doing what is proposed is that, in some way or other, the Government of Northern Ireland is in default. If the Government of Northern Ireland is within its rights, according to the terms of the Treaty and the Act of Parliament of 1922, then I say that it is a clear case of altering an unalterable Treaty at somebody else's expense, and to the prejudice of the Government of Northern Ireland, which is not in default. I think the point is of some importance, because, if heavy blows are to fall upon Northern Ireland, at any rate it is the task of us who have sympathised with them so far as we can to see that no injustice of that kind shall be done to them.
Upon what ground has it been urged that this question is one that arises now, and must be settled now? We have not heard one word, so far as I recollect, from the noble Lord opposite as to why it is that it has become necessary to bring in this Bill now. The Government of 1922 came to an end, the first Government and the second Government of 1923 came to an end, and, although the Free State had long ago nominated its Commissioner, the British Government nominated no one, and the question stood still. So far as I have been able to gather, on the surface the condition of the Free State during that time was improving rather than the contrary. Why, then, did the question of the boundary suddenly become; so pressing in the earlier part of this year that when another of those Conferences which took place from time to time had failed to 571 arrive at any result, the British Government proceeded to nominate a Commissioner and then proceeded to consult the Judicial Committee, or possibly—I forget—consulted the Judicial Committee first, and nominated the Commissioner afterwards, though I think it was the other way about? What is it that has made that necessary just now? Obviously, only one reason can be avowed, and that is that the default of the Government of Northern Ireland must be brought to an end. That is a legal argument, or ought to be a legal argument. It may be a Parliamentary argument, depending upon pledges and what members of Parliament intended when they voted for something; but it is an argument which does not touch the real underlying facts of the present situation.
We are told that terrible things will happen if this matter is postponed. We are not told, and there bias been no attempt to explain to us, what is the present danger that makes it necessary just at this moment that this matter should be pressed through. One asks oneself what the reason can be. I have long thought that Elections either in the Irish Free State or in this country or both must have something to do with it, and when I heard the impressive speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Grey of Fallodon, in which, after avowing with the utmost candour and, if I may say so, in the most convincing manner that there was an honourable obligation binding upon the Parliament of this country towards the Government of Northern Ireland—one so binding that in his view he would rather face a 'Free State demand to be a Republic than break faith with that pledge—he went on to ask: But is it a suitable moment to raise this question?— then I thought that I understood the real inwardness of the urgency of this matter.
And certainly I understood clearly for the first time for forty years why it is that Irishmen, from the North to the South and from the East to the West, have in such large numbers vowed that their affairs should no longer be the sport and plaything of English Party politics. If there is anything about the present English political situation that makes it necessary to bring on a question, which everybody is praying both parties to 572 settle by agreement among themselves, then I do say it is a lamentable thing that the matter should be hurried on when it ought to be given time, because Party exigency now makes it impossible to avoid pressing on the appointment of the third member of the Commission.
The case against Northern Ireland has been put on two grounds both in another place and on platforms in the country. The first thing that has been said was that there had been some defect in the drafting of the Treaty from oversight, something that had not been observed, and that must now be made good. One sentence, to my mind, destroys that contention. For five or six months, by day and by night, with every resource of negotiation the so-called Treaty was debated and discussed between the selected representatives of the Irish people—I think that was the way in which they were described—and the principal members of the then Government in England. There was on the English side the Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead, the then Attorney-General, now my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice, eminently learned in the law, and, furthermore, there was the Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, whose experience in negotiation is extensive and exact. Nor were the other side without the most powerful support in that particular. They had the professional assistance of Mr. Kennedy, who is now, I think, the distinguished Chief Justice of the Irish Free State. I believe I am right in saying that Mr. Duggan, whose name appears at the end of the Treaty spelt somewhat differently (but I think that is what it means for our purpose) is an experienced practitioner in Ireland and is well-known there. In those circumstances it appears to me to be farcical to say that there was any defect in the drafting of the document. That the negotiations passed from putting up the stiffest bluff, through heart to heart talks, down almost to tearful supplication from time to time, I have no doubt. But that there ever was a, time when both parties did not perfectly understand that this question, at any rate, was one as to which there could be no possibility of any forgetfulness or omission is, to my mind, perfectly clear.
What is the other way of putting it? The other way of putting it is this, that 573 upon the true construction of the Treaty there was an obligation, not an obligation of honour but the fullest legal obligation, upon the Government of Northern Ireland to appoint a third Commissioner and to do so not at its own time and when it thought fit, but when the Irish Free State and the British Government had nominated their Commissioners and thought it was high time that the machinery, as it was put-in another place, should begin to work. There are two or three grounds upon which I think I can put very shortly what seems to me a fairly clear answer to that. The Treaty says in the famous Article 12, and I ask your Lordships to mark these words, that when the Commission has done its work—the boundary of Northern Ireland shall be such as may be determined by such Commission.There is very little about which the people of England are agreed, but everybody is agreed that far the best thing is that the boundary between the two portions of Ireland should be settled by agreement between the Government of the Irish Free State and the Government of Northern Ireland, and not by the Commission. That is only possible to people who believe that this Article is not an obligatory one and that there is no binding obligation upon the Government of Northern Ireland to take part in that Commission at all.
Mark you, by this Treaty which is now an Act of Parliament—and it is very much better to treat it as an Act of Parliament —the boundary of Northern Ireland is to be such as may be determined by the Commission. Until that is done there is another Act of Parliament, the Act of 1920, which says that the boundary of the six counties is so and so, and no legal validity whatever would attach to the agreement of Sir James Craig and Mr. Cosgrave until it was again authorised by yet a third Act of Parliament, which will be necessary to alter the Act of 1920 and the Act of 1922, and to say that notwithstanding the first Act and notwithstanding that the Commission had never defined the boundary at all, nevertheless the boundary should be such as was agreed between Mr. Cosgrave and Sir James Craig. Nobody can seriously have urged that this thing should be decided by consent unless in his own mind, if he had 574 only been at the trouble to search it, he was profoundly convinced that there was no legal obligation to do it by force of law.
The second thing I desire to say is that there is a perfectly well-understood and perfectly reasonable and simple legal principle that where there is a right there is also a remedy. If a man has a right the law will, and can, and must, somehow or other, find a mode of enforcing it. I believe the converse to be true—that one of the best tests of discovering whether there is a legal right or not is to ask whether there is any remedy by which it can be enforced. We now know upon the opinion of the Privy Council that there are no legal means whatsoever of enforcing upon the Government of Northern Ireland any obligation to nominate a Commissioner under the Act of 1922. It is plain that there is not one word in the Article that constitutes an obligation. It is clear that the draftsman of that Agreement which we are now asked to turn into an enactment—the Agreement which is scheduled to the present Bill—perceived that if he wanted to make the appointment obligatory he must use some proper words for the purpose; because he says—Now it is hereby agreed … that if the Government of Northern Ireland does not before the date of the passing of the Act of the British Parliament or of the Act of the Oireachtas of the Irish Free State confirming this Agreement, whichever is the later date, appoint the Commissioner …the power of the Government of Northern Ireland to appoint such Commissioner shall thereupon be transferred to and exercised by the British Government …So he has been perfectly clear, and we are asked to enact that it shall be obligatory by Statute upon the British Government to exercise the power. I think that the draftsman of this instrument, this new Treaty, was right in that matter.
The third thing I would ask your Lordships to be so good as to notice is that when the Government at last thought fit to refer certain questions to the Judicial Committee they never put to the Judicial Committee the question whether the Government of Northern Ireland was bound to appoint a Commissioner. They carefully avoided putting that question. I say " carefully " because the language in which the questions were put avoids saying anything at all about a breach of 575 The Treaty by the Government of Northern Ireland. The Committee were asked whether, in the absence of a Commissioner appointed by Northern Ireland, the Commission can function and whether there is any constitutional method of bringing the Commission into existence so long as the Ministers of Northern Ireland maintain their refusal—language admirably adapted to recognise that they were entitled to refuse, just as the Free State was entitled to refuse and just as the British Government was entitled to refuse. I must say that it is a great pity that the British Government did not take the advice of the Privy Council long ago instead of leaving the taking of that advice in a constitutional matter until a time when the question had become as much exacerbated as it was by the events that had happened before June, 1924.
If there is anything in these arguments I cannot help thinking that it is a great injustice to the Government of Northern Ireland to say that it has become imperative now to alter the Treaty—which Parliament was told, at the time it was under discussion, must not be altered— against the desires of Ulster, at the expense of Ulster, to the great and, as I think, very justifiable alarm of Ulster, and at the instance and under the pressure of the Government of the Free State alone. I think that could only be justified if the Government of Northern Ireland was in default. Unless the Government of Northern Ireland is in default they at least ought not to be told in both Houses that their default is the very foundation of it all.
I am not going for one moment into the question of what individual statesmen intended, what individual statesmen thought the Article meant, what was the intention of Parliament, and so on. The noble Lord opposite made that a considerable part of his address to your Lordships' House and, if I followed him aright, he put this question to his opponents quite early in his speech: Did Parliament intend that if Ulster " opted out "—that was his expression— the Commission should inevitably be set up? He said the Free State negotiators intended that, contemplated that, and relied upon it. Did Parliament intend that? And then he went on to say that if the different English negotiators who Have recently stated that their intention 576 was otherwise really had that different intention they must have been consciously leading the Irish negotiators into a snare. We have had one after another of those English negotiators saying quite definitely what he always understood the words to mean. We have had Lord Birkenhead's letter to the Earl of Balfour, we have had Mr. Austen Chamberlain's statement about it in another place, we have had Mr. Lloyd George's statement of his concurrence with the view of the Earl of Birkenhead. It is not my business to defend these statesmen; they are well able to look after themselves; but it does appear to me that the effect of the noble Lord's argument is to put a dilemma, and to say: Either you were deceiving the Irish negotiators then, or else you are not telling the truth now.
The noble Lord will probably pardon me for putting it bluntly. He knows as well as anybody else that you cannot put these things clearly without being blunt at times. It comes to this:—If at the time that you sat opposite Mr. Collins, Mr. Griffith and the others, and saw them consider these words, and eventually saw them sign them, you intended them and believed them to mean that the Commission was not an obligatory 'but a voluntary matter, then you were taking the Irish negotiators in, because you must have known they believed the contrary. If, on the other hand, you were acting fairly by them then, it is not credible now that the account you give of your then intention should be correct.
There is another reason for saying that it could not have been an obligatory Commission, and it is this. I found it on the internal evidence of the matter. The Article does not contain anything whatever which provides for the enforcement of the line determined by the arbitrators. It says that " the boundary …shall be such as may be determined by such Commission," but it says nothing at all about what steps are to be taken in order to make the transfers from one side of the line to the other. And your Lordships will understand that there may be transfers both ways. It does not say anything about that within the four corners of the Article. It was mentioned by the Earl of Birkenhead in his letter to Lord Balfour that one of the precedents followed was a passage in the Annexe to the Articles of the Treaty of Versailles which 577 dealt with the transfer of part of Upper Silesia from Germany to Poland. That the words were taken from that Article I do not doubt, because they correspond, but the circumstances are totally different. That Article provides, in terms, for the holding of a plebiscite, defines who is to vote, defines how the votes are to be taken, and defines the authority 'which is to take the vote. But that Article was an Article imposed by a victorious conqueror upon a vanquished opponent; therefore, there existed abundant and instant means of enforcing the line so determined. The present Article, so far from being a compulsory Article, omits any reference to the mode by which the views of the inhabitants are to be ascertained, provides for no such plebiscite as the Treaty of Versailles provided for, and deals with a situation which is entirely different from the situation that existed with regard to Upper Silesia.
It seems to me—and everybody appears to agree upon this—that it is in truth and in fact upon agreement between the two parts of Ireland, if and when that may come about, that any real consensus is to be looked for, and in no other way. If that is so, if everybody recognises that now—and I should think everybody knew it perfectly well in 1921—the only possible way of bringing about arbitration that would result in a practical settlement is to let it stand over until both the parties to it are prepared to go into arbitration, to accept the award, and to abide by it. It is hopeless to frame a compulsory arbitration to be enforced against an unwilling party in terms so vague as this. It is perfectly comprehensible if the arbitration is only to take place when both the contestants have so much confidence, hope, and desire for union as will lead them to go into arbitration and nominate their men. Then you can have, without any further provisions, an award given which will be accepted by both parties. There appears to me to be the very strongest internal evidence that this was a Commission which was to function only when both parties felt that it was a hopeful and practical thing.
It is a total fallacy and a misunderstanding to say that the obligation of honour which is supposed to rest upon us is an obligation of honour to make a machine work and work at once. There is a great part of the machinery of the 578 Treaty which has not worked yet. Some day it may, but it would be too controversial to dwell upon that now. We know well that there are many Articles before you come to Article 12 which have never been implemented in regard to Southern Ireland, but we think they may be some day. We are not pressing. But because the Government of the Free State seem to think time precious, and to think delay impracticable, pressure is to be used to force on a voluntary and non-obligatory arbitration at this precise moment.
So much for the injustice that I believe has been done to the Government of Northern Ireland. Everybody seems to tell us that nobody will accept the award. Whether they are right or wrong I am sure I do not know, but it seems to be a view that honest people agree about. What is going to be the good of this award? It may be such an award as will bring you face to face with the question of a Republic; it may be such an award as will make the further orderly administration of the Government of Northern Ireland difficult, if not impossible. What good is going to be got by anybody out of that? I surmise that when I begin to touch this matter I am beating the air and I shall not pursue it any further. But it does appear to me that your Lordships are selecting—as I suppose you must select—this moment at which to say that this is not an opportune time to implement the pledge to Ulster but is only an opportune time to implement some kind of pledge to Southern Ireland. Your Lordships are now engaged in building a monument of your own impotence.
Let me pass to a minor point, but a short one. I think this Bill is very objectionable. It is another testimony of the growing power of the Executive at the expense of the Legislature. Much was said, and not one word too much, about the form of what was called the Treaty. Nobody who knew pretended that it was a Treaty. It was impossible that it should be any such thing. Nor had it any legal validity until it was duly ratified and turned into an Act of Parliament. We came to the discussion of it as a Bill, finding it invested with all the prestige which attaches to a Treaty, properly so called, concluded by His Majesty's plenipotentiaries in His Majesty's name, and duly concluded under the Prerogative. Now this has 579 been done again—done within three years, done for the purpose of altering that instrument which we enacted verbatim et literatim before—and the instrument which we are asked once more to enact is an instrument signed by the Prime Minister of Great Britain and by the President of the Irish Free State, an Agreement which in itself is nothing but a personal promise between those two gentlemen, a promise on the side of Great Britain without any word of consideration for it on the other side. It may be a. trifle, but I cannot help thinking that if we ever come to discuss the Soviet Treaties—the Treaty to enter into another Treaty—we shall be told that this is a very good precedent, because it pledges the honour of this country; that because Ministers have taken a step which leads the other side to expect and rely on something being done by Parliament, we are, therefore, bound in honour to give effect to what was a mere personal undertaking to use such powers as they might have to induce Parliament to ratify the Agreement.
The third thing is this. We were told in 1922, and also in 1921, over and over again, that the Treaty was the one thing which appeared to give a prospect of abandoning Ireland to itself; that upon the terms of this fundamental and unalterable Treaty Great Britain would wash her hands of, and take no partisan part in, any purely Irish quarrel. Three years have not passed and we find ourselves accepting the position that we are bound to alter the Treaty; that we are bound to alter the Treaty at the desire and for the benefit of the Irish Free State, and contrary to the desires, and, indeed, in spite of the protests, of the Government of Northern Ireland. We are once more drawn into these secular quarrels. Nay, more; Irish controversialists, whose arguments are extremely well worth readings— and it is important we should know what they are thinking—are already saying, as we have been told by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, that they take it as a matter of course, that whatever the award of the Commission may be it is, in the language of the day, " up to " the British Government to " deliver the goods," or, as a more classical writer has said, it will be the duty of the British Government to maintain order in its own house.
580 That opens a vista into which I shall certainly not lead your Lordships, but it is not a vista that was before us when we accepted the Treaty, nor is it a vista that anybody can contemplate with any manner of satisfaction. For these reasons I respectfully say that hard measure has been dealt out, and is being dealt out, to the Government of Northern Ireland. It is to be regretted that English statesmen have devoted so much of their time, and our time, to dwelling upon pledges, interpreting private letters and explaining what the situation was, when some-Body said something a. long time ago, instead of concentrating their attention upon the agreed facts of the situation and upon the indubitably paramount words of the Act of Parliament of 1922. So, however, it is, and your Lordships' will must be done. As I have said, I understand that the Bill is to pass I apologise to your Lordships, but liberavi animam meam.
THE EARL OF MAYO:
My Lords, as one who comes from that incomprehensible country which has been mentioned by the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down I hope you will allow me to say something with regard to the South of Ireland, the part from which I come. T have been a member of the Senate of Southern Ireland since 1921. This Bill has been much discussed and written about. It has been much discussed, and distorted by the Press in order to suit the several political Parties in this country. It has been a boon to the Press during the Recess and what is commonly called the " silly season." I really thought that we should have heard more about the reconstruction of Ireland than of this. I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, on the clear and precise manner in which he set forth the provisions of the Bill. It is a Bill to appoint a Commissioner to deal with the boundary as the Government of Northern Ireland has refused to appoint their representative on the Commission. That carries out to the letter Article 12 of the Treaty between Great Britain and the Irish Free State.
A great deal has been said about Ulster; in fact, the whole of this debate has turned upon Ulster. I should like to tell your Lordships exactly what is called Ulster. Ulster is an Irish Province of nine counties—Donegal, Derry, Antrim, 581 Down, Armagh, Monaghan, Cavan, Fermanagh and Tyrone. Three of these counties, Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan, are, to the complete satisfaction of their inhabitants, included in the area of jurisdiction of the Free State Government and Parliament. Let me tell you exactly what happened on the occasion of an Orange demonstration on July 12—I wish to say something from my own point of view as against the arguments which have been put forward on behalf of Ulster. On July 12 last, at the annual Orange celebration, representatives of Orangemen in these three counties bore emphatic testimony to the justice and impartiality of the Free State Administration, and at the recent Election the most prominent and respected member of the Orange Order in Monaghan was on the platform supporting the candidature of Mr. Blythe, the Minister of Finance in the Free State Cabinet. Those are facts which cannot be controverted.
The noble Viscount, Lord Grey of Fallodon, has said that this Bill opens up the whole question of the boundary. The noble Viscount also said that he would rather see a Republic than break our obligations to Ulster. There I join issue with the noble Viscount. That statement was cheered in this House. Let me say something about it. I know perfectly well that many people in this country think that a Republic is going to be established in Ireland. Let us suppose that a Republic is established. What earthly good would it do to us there? Do you suppose that we are not aware in the twenty-six counties that if any attempt of that sort were made our coasts would be blockaded and we should be left to stew in our own juice? That is well known to the statesmen who signed the Treaty with the Irish representatives. You would buy our cattle, our pigs, our sheep and our horses just the same. If they did not go out through a Free State port they would go to Belfast, through which a great deal of produce passes now.
Let me turn to the speech that was made by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry. We Irishmen are not going to quarrel because there is a question of politics in this country. Our country has been through a time of fire and blood and iron and we are not going to fight about a boundary question or anything else. We are not going to fight 582 to suit Party politics in this country I can assure your Lordships of that. No matter what you hear in this country, no matter what is written in the Press, the fact remains among those people who have stayed in the country and seen and roughed it to the end that we are going to have peace at any price, and are not for one instant going to allow at recurrence of the terrible things which have happened, which I have seen happen and of which I have lived to see the end. With regard to Lord Londonderry's remarks about the boundary and about Ulster being " taken in," or words to that effect, the real truth is that in the twenty-six counties nobody talks about the boundary at all. I had a letter from a friend of mine who lives next door to me. A small stream separates us. My house has been burnt, and his cattle have been stolen and killed, and he has had great trouble. He said: " The boundary question? We are not thinking about it. Everything is peaceful here, and I am going to London for three weeks to enjoy myself."
Let me give you another instance which was told me by a noble Lord a very short time ago in the library of this House. He told me that a young lady who is working for him—she is doing secretarial work, I believe—had not been to Cork for five years. She went to Cork, which is the most unsettled part of Ireland and has been so for a great time. They are the Marseillais of our country, ready to break out at any moment, but good traders and clever men. She said: "What about the boundary?" They said: " What boundary? We do not know anything about the boundary." What are they thinking about? They are thinking of their own affairs and their own trade. That is the state of feeling in Ireland, and as for saying that the Free State wishes to coerce Ulster there is not a word of truth in it. Nor do they wish—and I should be against it and speak most strongly in the Senate about it—to filch one inch of territory from Ulster. It would be very hard to do it, to begin with.
I dare say there would be trouble. Irishmen like fighting, and I dare say there would be blackguards who would try to create a row on the frontier. But they would be dealt with under the law— and the law runs pretty strictly now in Ireland—not only by the Northern Government but also by the Free State 583 Government. We are well acquainted with these people, and when they are caught they are put into an Irish prison which, I can assure your Lordships, is not a pleasant place to be in. The discipline is very strict and we find that when men come out after being punished they turn into very respectable citizens. That is the present state of affairs in Ireland.
With regard to the setting up of a Boundary Commission, I shall vote for the Bill. Your Lordships have passed the Treaty, you have passed the other Bill which gives effect to the Treaty, and I am not going to vote against this Bill. If I thought it a wrong Bill I should vote against it, whether I were a Senator of the Free State or not, but that we should amend, or refuse to pass this Bill, is unthinkable. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Sumner, said that this House would reduce itself to impotence by passing this Bill. I do not in the least feel in that state of mind, nor, I think, do your Lordships. I do not see the noble and learned Lord in his place, but I must say that I do not think that it was a very pleasant or polite remark to make in your Lordships' House. I do not wish to trouble your Lordships any longer. It is getting near to the dinner hour, and I am sure that many of your Lordships would like to hear a little less about Ireland and go about a pleasanter occupation.
§ LORD DANESFORT:
My Lords, we are asked to-day to alter in a most material respect a so-called Treaty which was declared by the Government who negotiated it to be absolutely unalterable. We are asked, as Lord Sumner has reminded your Lordships, to make a new Treaty. I venture to think that the issue between the Government on the one side and those who sit upon these Benches on the other, is a very clear and very simple one. The Government, at the instigation and in the interests of the Irish Free State, are going to alter this unalterable Treaty by setting up a new Commission. We, on the other hand, maintain that if the Treaty is to be altered in the interests of the Free State it is imperative also to do justice to Ulster, and, if we are to have a Commission, to define and limit the scope of that Commission. I venture to think that the arguments for amending the Bill so as to define and limit the scope of the Commission are unanswerable. In 584 the first place, such amendment is essential if you wish to fulfil the solemn pledges given, not once, but repeatedly, by responsible Ministers to the Northern Government. Such amendment is essential if you wish to carry out the declared intentions of the British signatories to the Treaty and the avowed and well-known intentions of Parliament when it passed the Treaty. Such amendment, I think, is necessary also in the interests of peace in Ireland, if you want to avoid the almost unthinkable disasters which would follow if, by an evil chance, the Boundary Commission were to take large slices out of Ulster and transfer them to the Free State.
Before I speak of the pledges which were given to Ulster, might I refer briefly to the alleged pledge given to the Free State? My noble friend Lord Arnold dealt with the pledge given to the Free State, to set up a Boundary Commission even although Ulster refused its consent. Even at its highest, that was only an implied pledge. There was no such pledge in the Treaty. On the contrary, the Treaty as it stands provides only for the setting up of a Commission if Ulster consents, and now it is proposed to set up a Commission without that consent. So much for the alleged pledge to the Free State. On the other hand, the pledges to Ulster were of the clearest character. They were openly given and embodied in written documents, and it is well not to forget that they were well known to the Free State negotiators when they attempted to negotiate the Treaty. Are we to suppose that the Free State negotiators deliberately resolved to break those pledges and to insist upon something which is a violation of honour? That, I suppose, is what the Government would have to tell us.
What was the pledge to Ulster? It was that the territory given to her by the Act of 1920 should not be taken away without her consent. I feel sure that the House was deeply impressed by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Grey, and by the view which he put before the House so powerfully of the character of the Act of 1920, and of the solemn and honourable understanding which existed at that time between the British Parliament and Ulster, that the six counties which were given to Ulster by that Act should never be taken away without her consent. For my part, I 585 cannot see that there can be any answer to the views put forward by the noble Viscount as to the effect of the Act of 1920. The pledges did not rest there. They have been quoted in various documents, and I am not going to repeat them. We find that by this Bill the Government propose to honour this alleged implied pledge given to the Free State, and deliberately propose to dishonour the solemn pledges given by successive British Ministers to Ulster, that no territory should be taken from her without her consent.
But the matter does not rest there. It is not only a matter of pledges. It is also a question of the intention of the British signatories to the Treaty, and of the intention of Parliament when it ratified the Treaty. We have had a statement from, I think, every British signatory to that Treaty, and every single one has declared that in signing that Treaty he intended to effect only minor readjustments, never contemplated the handing over of large areas in the six counties, and firmly believed that the words used in the Treaty would carry out that intention. Amongst those signatories perhaps one of the most prominent was Mr. Austen Chamberlain, and he has recently made in another place a statement from which I will read a quotation. It will be found in columns 165 and 166 of the House of Commons OFFICIAL REPORT for October 1 of this year.
After referring to the fact that he (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) had attended every Conference which preceded the signing of the Treaty, he said this: —There was never an idea that you could deprive the North of Ireland by force of the position which the Act of 1922 had given her, of the rights and privileges with which she had been endowed; or that these could ever be surrendered except by her own representatives, her own people, when they desired in their own interests to merge themselves into the larger Ireland which might be produced by the union of North and South.Then, speaking as to the form of words which they were told would carry out their intention, he said this: —We left it to the Commissioners. We left it to them under a form of words which we deliberately adopted to exclude such a dismemberment of Northern Ireland as would be created by cutting out whole counties or large slices of counties—under a form of words which we were deliberately advised, and which I see no reason to 586 doubt we were well advised, directed the Commissioners to readjust an old boundary, and not to create a new one.Now, a doubt has arisen as to whether that form of words really does carry out the intention under which the signatories to the Treaty signed, and I venture to think there is a solemn obligation upon us, now that the Free State claims that under those words they can take large slices out of Ulster, to put in words to ensure that that shall not be done.
The matter does not rest merely upon the intention of the British signatories to the Treaty. Ministers of the Crown in the House of Commons, in 1922, when the Bill ratifying the Treaty was under discussion, made similar declarations over and over again, and assured the House that under the Treaty as framed the Boundary Commission could only make minor adjustments. I speak in the presence of Lord Banbury of Southam, who was in the House of Commons at the time and, like myself, heard all the discussions. I say that without any shadow of doubt Parliament believed those assurances, and if Parliament had not I am confident that the Treaty would never have received its sanction. That is a fact which it is difficult for Ministers to ignore today. If statements were made by their predecessors, British Ministers, for the purpose of getting this Treaty through, and for the purpose of inducing members of the House of Commons to vote for it—statements which are now shown to be at least doubtful—surely it is the business of a Government who desires to respect and honour the obligation of its predecessors to ensure that those statements, on which Parliament was induced to accept the Treaty, shall be made good.
The noble Lord who moved the Second Beading of the Bill said it was the intention of the House of Commons to set up a Commission even without the consent of Ulster. For the purpose of argument let that be admitted. If, however, you are going to carry out the intention of the House of Commons in one respect, why only carry out part of that intention and not the full intention, which was to define and limit the scope of the Commission to minor adjustments of the boundary? There is one other reason why I venture to think that this Amendment is 587 essential. The peace of Ireland is concerned. If, by any chance, a Commission should go beyond the intention of the British signatories and the British Parliament—if it should go outside the pledges given to Ulster and hand over large slices of the six counties to the Free State—a state of things will arise which no one dare contemplate—a state of things in which there will be trouble, confusion, and, I fear, even civil war, and who can tell what will be the end thereof?
While there are these cogent arguments, as I think, for introducing an Amendment of that character into this Bill, I have looked with scrupulous anxiety to see what arguments were adduced, either in this House or in another place, by the Government for refusing to accept such an Amendment. I find that my noble friend Lord Arnold, used precisely the same argument against introducing such an Amendment as was used by the Prime Minister in another place. The main, practically the sole, argument used by the Government against introducing such an Amendment was that similar Amendments had been proposed in the House of Commons in 1922, and had been rejected. I do not think my noble friend was in the House of Commons at the time, and therefore he would, no doubt, be desirous of knowing what happened there. As one who followed all those debates with considerable care, I think I am right in asserting that there were two reasons, and two only, why the House of Commons rejected those Amendments limiting the scope of the Commission. One was that they were assured by the Minister responsible for the Bill that if they altered one line or one comma of the Bill the whole Treaty would be dead, all the troubles would revive in Ireland, and unspeakable disasters would occur. That was a powerful argument, but that argument would not in itself have been a sufficient one to induce the House of Commons to reject such an Amendment.
The other argument which Ministers used was this. They said, in effect: " Your Amendments are wholly unnecessary. The Bill as it stands carries out your intentions. Article 12 as it stands will not permit of any large slices of territory being taken away; it only contemplates a small readjustment of areas along the boundary.'' That argument was used with great force by Mr. Winston 588 Churchill in resisting the Amendment of Lord Hugh Cecil for the purpose of limiting the scope of the Commission to small readjustments of the areas along the boundary. And, if my memory is correct, it is a remarkable thing that the speech of Mr. Churchill in advising the House of Commons to reject that Amendment of Lord Hugh Cecil was given most inadequately—oo doubt by some unfortunate accident—in the White Paper. I would suggest to my noble friend Lord Arnold that he should look again at the debate at that time, and he will see that Mr. Churchill said most clearly that the Amendment of Lord Hugh Cecil was unnecessary because it practically expressed the opinion of the Government as to the meaning of the Article.
Only one other point as to what induced the House of Commons to pass this Bill ratifying the Treaty and to reject the Amendment. I remember well Mr. Bonar Law coming down to the House in December, 1921, and we all waited with the utmost anxiety to hear the line that he would advise his followers to take. Mr. Bonar Law accepted implicitly the declaration of Ministers that Article 12 meant only a small readjustment of areas along the boundary, and it was with that view that he advised his followers to accept the Treaty. Many people who voted for that Treaty have since told me that, had it not been for that utterance of Mr. Bonar Law's, they would never have voted for the Treaty. I think it is absolutely certain that the majority of the House would have insisted upon those Amendments had it not been for the declaration of Mr. Bonar Law and the Ministers.
Is it too late to make an appeal to the Government? Is it too late to ask them to do something to avoid these dangers that lie in our path? They are not responsible for this trouble that has arisen. They must be anxious—I assume that they are sincerely anxious—to take this opportunity of averting this possible disaster. By amending the Bill as it is proposed to amend it they can substantially fulfil their pledges, such as they are, to the Free State, and their pledges to Ulster, do justice to both parties and carry out the intentions of the British signatories to the Treaty, and the intentions of Parliament. The Prime Minister 589 told us, in another place, that this was a Bill of honour. It is in the power of the Government to make it a real Bill of honour, not a Bill of truncated or one-sided honour, as it is now. Therefore, I beg the Government to get free from any harassing influence which may hitherto have prevented them from carrying out their honourable pledge to Ulster as well as to the Free State. They can do that by accepting or introducing an Amendment of the character I have indicated. If they do that, they will merit the gratitude of every loyal man in Ireland, and, I believe, of every honest man in this country.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.