HL Deb 09 October 1924 vol 59 cc668-80

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Arnold.)

On Question, Motion agreed to. House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2:

Short title and commencement.

2.—(1) This Act may be cited as the Irish Free State (Confirmation of Agreement) Act, 1924.

(2) Tills Act shall come into operation on the date on which the said Agreement is confirmed by Act of the Parliament of the Irish Free State, or, if such an Act is passed before the passing of this Act, shall come into operation on the passing of this Act.


moved to leave out all words in subsection (2) after "confirmed by," and to insert "Acts of the Parliaments of the Irish Free State and of Northern Ireland respectively or if such Acts are passed before the passing of this Act shall come into operation on the passing of this Act." The noble and learned Lord said: In the course of the speech which I made yesterday on the Second Reading of this Bill I intimated that I should put down an Amendment which is the Amendment now on the Paper and, having regard to the patience with which your Lordships listened to me yesterday, I shall not find it necessary to detain you at any great length in explaining the position. The Amendment is simply this. This is a Bill that proposes to enable certain Commissioners to interfere with the territory (I use a neutral word) that was granted to the Parliament of Northern Ireland by the Act of 1920, and the Bill very properly provides that the measure is not to become law until it has been confirmed by the Parliament of the Irish Free State. That, of course, is quite correct, because there has also been granted to them a Parliament and this Parliament ought not to interfere with what they do without their consent.

But what I cannot understand is why this Parliament should assume the right to go behind the backs of the people of Northern Ireland and, without any consultation or without even giving an intimation of what was going on, should enter into an Agreement which may have the most disastrous consequences in the territory that has been entrusted to the care of the Parliament of Northern Ireland—a Parliament elected on a popular franchise. Therefore, what you are doing is interfering with the democracy of Northern Ireland and trying to take away—or probably to take away—from them some of their territory. The original Treaty, as it was mis-called, was entered into behind the backs of Northern Ireland. Then, when Northern Ireland, within the terms of the Treaty, refused to appoint a Commissioner under the Act, it being a purely voluntary Act, this Bill was brought in as a Coercion Bill to compel Northern Ireland to have a representative upon the Commission. It is a Coercion Bill in the fullest sense. This Agreement is made, also without the slightest intimation to Ulster, without Ulster ever being consulted, and the Bill is brought in. It is for that reason that I move this Amendment, providing that they should be put in the same position as the Irish Free State, and that if this Act has to be confirmed by the Parliament of the Irish Free State it should also be confirmed by the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which this Legislature has set up.

I cannot imagine anything fairer, nor can I imagine anything more detrimental to these local Parliaments than that the Government of this country should, behind their backs, without consultation with them, enter into arrangements which affect their Constitution from top to bottom. This Bill, as I tried to show yesterday, is, on one construction at all events of the terms of Article 12, not merely a Bill that affects the boundary. It must, necessarily and consequentially, affect the contribution. It must also, necessarily and consequentially, affect the representation in the Imperial Parliament and, as I hope I demonstrated to your Lordships yesterday, it knocks the bottom out of the Act of 1920. It is impossible to suppose that, once you have altered their boundary and taken their territory, the same provisions should prevail either with regard to the contribution or the representation in the Imperial Parliament.

I placed this Amendment on the Paper to make my most solemn protest against this interference by the Imperial Parliament with the Parliament which they set up, because it will be utterly impossible for any Parliament, or any body of Ministers, to govern a community if at any moment it is open to the Imperial Parliament to go behind their backs and make fundamental changes in the Constitution they administer, or in the jurisdiction they have over certain portions of the country. Such a thing would be intolerable and no Prime Minister could accept office in such circumstances. You have made the Parliament, for good or bad. Heaven knows that we never wanted the Parliament in Ulster, but you made it and you asked the democracy there to elect that Parliament. You asked that Parliament to appoint Ministers responsible to it and then, behind their backs, you claim the right to interfere with the jurisdiction of that Parliament. That is an intolerable position and one which cannot continue.

I read yesterday with grave anxiety a speech of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Sir James Craig is not a man who speaks without weighing his words. You gave him an almost impossible task in setting up the new organisation of Government that was necessary at a time when the English Government had brought Ireland into a state of anarchy which required all the courage of a clear headed and determined man to put an end to so far as his own district was concerned. I was not surprised, though I was greatly grieved, when I saw that Sir James Craig—one of the calmest and at the same time one of the most determined of men that I ever come across, who loves Ulster more than any man I ever met and has risked his own life and health in connection with what the Imperial Government has put upon him, very often thwarting him in his efforts, but still anxious to go on in the interests of his own Province and of this country and the Empire—had said that if an attempt was to be made behind the back of Ulster to filch away territory which he undertook to govern at your request he would feel it his duty to resign the office of Prime Minister. I can conceive no situation more terrible than would be created in the North of Ireland in those circumstances. His Government would go with him, and you would get no Government to take its place. He said that he would feel it his duty, and I think he was right, to place himself at the head of the people who had trusted him to keep for them that which was the settlement of 1920.

It is an impossible and an intolerable position. If that comes about, I hope the imagination of members of the House of Lords, at all events, is sufficient for them to .see what it means when a Parliament which this Legislature has established comes into conflict with the Parliament that created it because of acts done behind its back which result in the filching away of various districts with which it has been entrusted. How can any man frame a policy? How could my man govern his people, or secure confidence in his Government at all, if such a thing is allowed to go on? I asked yesterday for precedents for treating any Parliament in such a way. The only Act upon the subject that I know is the Colonial Boundaries Act, which only operates in the scheduled districts, but never without the consent of the part of the Colony that is to be affected. This is a new departure, and if you have in your minds the determination to coerce the Parliament which you set up you are thereby coercing the democracy which elects that Parliament and the Ministers whom it trusts. I do not believe that is a matter which can be allowed to exist for one moment without creating between the Parliaments concerned friction which must end in disaster.

I am not going to pursue the subject further. I read lately some very able arguments put forward by Professor Morgan in a series of articles in one of the newspapers. He went into the whole subject and what he said was the more worthy of consideration because he is not on our side. He is a well known Liberal who contributed a great deal to the literature of the old Home Rule problem. He proved up to the hilt that nothing could be more unfortunate than intern ference by the Imperial Parliament with the jurisdiction conferred under such an Act as the Act of 1920, without the consent of the Parliament exercising that jurisdiction. The only way in which these things can be done is by consent, and the policy of coercion that you are entering upon to-day will fail just as certainly as your Lordships are sitting here. Having put a people in the position they occupy, you cannot coerce them. It is as a way out, therefore, that I propose this most reasonable Amendment, which provides that the Parliament of Northern Ireland shall be put in the same position as the Parliament of the Free State and that before this Act comes into force the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which the Imperial Parliament has set up, shall be consulted and shall give its verdict I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 2, lines 2 to 5, leave out from ("by") in line 2 to end of subsection and insert the said new words.—(Lord Carson.)


Yesterday, an Amendment was introduced into the Motion for Second Reading by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong moment at which to oppose that Amendment and before I deal with the Amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord I want to say something about the other.


Order, order!


Your Lordships have called me to order and I will cut my observations somewhat shorter than I intended them to be. The noble Marquess's Amendment was carried in a Division in which thirty-eight of your Lordships who did not approve of it voted against it. I come now to Lord Carson's Amendment. That Amendment is one which simply wrecks this Bill. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord is going to a Division, but if ho does I shall vote against the Amendment, and I think many others will do the same. I do not suppose the noble and learned Lord really means to wreck the Bill, but these phantom Amendments that are placed before us seem to me to lead to nothing at all. I know as well as possible, and the noble and learned Lord knows, that this Amendment has not the slightest chance of passing your Lordships' House. Your Lordships have given a Second Reading to this Bill, and an Amendment put forward now in Committee stage to wreck the Bill goes against everything that I have known in the course of my experience in this House.

What is the object of the noble and learned Lord in doing this? Is it for the sake of making a speech about the whole attitude of the Prime Minister of Ulster and himself in regard to this question, or is it only a political move on his part to suit his following in Ulster? I cannot conceive anything more mischievous than this when we are trying, both in the North and in the South, to keep order on both sides of the boundary. I may say for my part, and I am sure the noble Marquess who sits below me (the Marquess of Londonderry) will agree with me, that we are determined in that country that there should be order now, and if there is not order the Government of Northern Ireland will see to it on their side and I am sure the Government of Southern Ireland will also see to it on their part. I cannot see the object of these Amendments. They pass like a vision before one, meaning nothing, and doing nothing. I say without the slightest hesitation that this Amendment, if carried, would have a mischievous effect in the country in which I live. Having said that, I do not think I need trouble your Lordships very much longer, though I feel very strongly indeed upon this matter. I thought it part of my duty as a Senator of the Southern Parliament to say what I have said in this House.

Some may not agree with me, but that does not affect me in the least, nor will it affect us on the other side of the water. It is beating the air to put forward Amendments like this. The Government will remain in Office till the Election, the Commission will be appointed, and the Bill will pass. I believe there is to be a Royal Commission at six o'clock for the Royal Assent to be signified to it. The whole thing will go through, and will end the matter satisfactorily to us. Before I sit down, let me say this. I have experienced from the Labour Government, whenever I have had to speak to them about anything, the utmost civility and courtesy. With that part of the speech of the noble and learned Lord yesterday, in which he also referred to the Labour Government, I entirely agree. These things are much more serious than they appear here, when you come to the other side of the water. Perhaps it may be "Good-bye"; it may be "Au revoir"; and I wish to take this opportunity of saying that I have experienced the greatest courtesy from the Labour Government whenever I have had to approach them and to ask them about anything. I shall certainly vote against this Amendment.


Yesterday, on the Second Reading of this Bill, your Lordships thought fit to insert in the Motion for the Second Reading an Amendment the effect of which, I think it is right to say, was to make it apparent to the country that your Lordships wished to avoid making any effective Amendment to this Bill. I need scarcely say that the Amendment which has been moved by the noble and learned Lord is of a totally different character to the Amendment which was inserted yesterday. The noble and learned Lord who moved the Amendment to-day, in the course of the speech he made yesterday, with his usual candour and force, expressed his opinion of His Majesty's Government. I have no complaint to make of that; indeed, I have to thank him in that on more than one occasion he has been good enough to make observations about certain matters which we appreciate. I have also to thank the noble Earl who spoke last for his observations.

But the noble and learned Lord also expressed his opinion about our predecessors, and in the circumstances, in view of all that he said, I can quite understand why he is putting down this Amendment to-day in his own name. He will not be surprised, however, to hear that the Government offers to this Amendment the strongest possible opposition. To pass this Amendment, in fact, to pass any Amendment, would, as I have indicated, be contrary to the position which I understand your Lordships have, after the most careful consideration, quite definitely taken up with regard to this Bill. Your Lordships have made it clear that in all the circumstances you are prepared to let this Bill pass, and to let it pass without amendment.

Let me recall for a moment the course followed by the debate on the Second Reading. When I was moving the Second Reading of the Bill, I submitted that there could be no reasonable doubt as to what was, in fact, the intention both of the signatories to the Treaty and of Parliament, and that intention was that the Boundary Commissioners should be appointed. That view was questioned by some of your Lordships, but it received striking, and I think I may say conclusive, confirmation in the speech which the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, delivered. He, as your Lordships know, was himself a signatory to the Treaty, and he informed your Lordships yesterday quite unequivocally that when he signed the Treaty neither he nor, so far as he was aware, any of his fellow signatories contemplated for one moment the situation which has, in fact, now arisen. That statement was confirmation of the view which the present Government entertained, a view which is only in conformity with the evidence afforded by the debates of those times, and, as I explained two days ago at length, it is precisely because of that view that the present Government felt compelled to introduce the present Bill.

This Bill is, in effect, a Bill to establish a Boundary Commission under Article 12 of the Treaty of December, 1921, notwithstanding the fact that the Government of Northern Ireland has declined to participate in that Commission, and the effect of the Amendment is this—and nobody knows it better than the noble and learned Lord himself—that if it were carried it would simply tear the Bill in two.


May I ask the noble Lord whether the same effect would not follow if the Parliament of the Free State refused to confirm the Bill?


I am not discussing that at the moment, I am discussing the Amendment; and the effect of the Amendment would undoubtedly be to tear the Bill in two. That is what it really comes to. Your Lordships, I understand, have declined to consider inserting Amendments in the Bill in Committee stage, and that decision applies to any Amendment. If that is so, how much more must it apply to this Amendment, which realty does destroy the Bill. It is, in fact, equivalent to the rejection of the Bill, and for this reason: that if it were passed it would put the position, back to what it was before the Bill was introduced.


A voluntary Bill!


It would put things back to the position they were in before the Bill was introduced. Therefore, it is an Amendment to which the Government must offer the stoutest opposition. Your Lordships have made quite clear that it is not your intention to enter into direct conflict on this Bill with another place on any Amendment whatever. I can imagine no Amendment which would provoke that conflict in a more direct form than the present one. I do not think I need pursue the matter further. I feel confident that your Lordships will not give this Amendment your support.


The noble Lord has referred to the debate which took place yesterday. 'I do not propose to refer to it in any particular, but the fact that the House of Lords agreed to the Second Reading Motion with an Amendment does not, in my judgment, and with great submission to the noble Lord, relieve him from the obligation of dealing with the arguments of noble Lords when moving Amendments on the Committee stage. It may be convenient for him to avoid the arguments used by my noble and learned friend by referring to something which happened yesterday, but provided there is a Committee stage, and there is in this case, and noble Lords submit Amendments, it is usual for the Government to meet the arguments put forward.

My noble and learned friend has used this opportunity, and I think quite legitimately, in order to exhibit in detail the essential vice of this Bill. I agree with him entirely that the way Ulster has been treated throughout the long history of this question has been deplorable, and by his Amendment he exhibits that this Bill, in its very essence, is a fresh occasion on which you are going to ignore the legitimate option of Ulster. He advanced the argument, and a very cogent argument, that once this House and another place have created a self-governing entity they are bound to have regard to the views and decisions of the democratic bodies they have themselves created. That has become settled constitutional law in our History. The fact that the Government have not consulted Ulster, and have not deferred to Ulster, in this matter only shows the essential vice of the position. Of course, it dates from a much earlier time. Ulster was abominably treated when she was promised to be consulted about the Treaty before her interests were in any way prejudiced. She was not consulted. The noble Lord, of course, is not responsible, but it was a very unfair proceeding and a very unjust proceeding, but when you have created this self-governing body in Ulster you cannot ignore it.

I assented to the Second Reading of the Bill because I thought it was the best course to pursue, but I do not think you have got rid of the difficulties by doing so. You will not arrange your boundary in this way. It was impressed on the House yesterday that nothing is going to solve this question except a voluntary arrangement. That is absolutely true. This voluntary principle, for which the noble and learned Lord pleads perhaps only in an academic form to-day as I understand ho is not going to a Division, will yet assert itself sooner or later. It does not matter what you do, what this Parliament does or what any Parliament does, once you have created this self-governing Constitution in Ulster this voluntary principle will assert itself, and without the assent of the elected representatives in Ulster you will never get a real, true and permanent solution. That has been brought out by this debate, and my noble and learned friend has used this opportunity of doing so.

For the reasons which I gave yesterday I agree that it would be unfortunate if we entered into a conflict with another place on this Bill which would, in effect, defeat it, and I hope that my noble and learned friend will be satisfied with the discussion that has taken place without pressing it to a Division. The noble Lord, the Under-Secretary, would, I think, have been better advised if, instead of referring in a general way to what took place yesterday, he had made an attempt to meet the arguments which have been put forward.


The noble Lord, in resisting the Amendment, has thought fit to deal with the question in a very perfunctory manner. He seems obsessed with the idea that his duty, and the duty of those whom he represents, is merely to carry on the heritage which has been bequeathed to him by his predecessors. But surely the Govern- ment must have some definite view as to what effect this Bill, which is of course their own Bill, will have on the country; and it is very obvious that in refusing the Amendment the noble Lord has admitted that the Bill is nothing more nor less than a coercive Bill. The Treaty which was negotiated behind closed doors in Downing Street has naturally precluded the rights of Ulster being considered in any way throughout its stages, and we can quite well envisage the conversation between His Majesty's Ministers and the representatives of the Free State to the effect that in no circumstances must Ulster have a word in the mutilation of the territory placed under our charge by the Act of 1920.

It surely is inconceivable, when territory has been consecrated and handed over by Act of Parliament to a community, that such a question can be reopened and rediscussed and portions of that territory transferred to another jurisdiction. Yet the Treaty which the British Government have accepted at the-present moment is to the effect that it is open to the British Government and to the Free State, if a Commission so decides, to transfer portions of the territory of Northern Ireland to Southern Ireland. And the Parliament which you have set up in Northern Ireland is not to be able to say one word in the matter as to whether that territory should be transferred or should not be transferred. The reason that I have taken part in this discussion is to protest against the obvious and implied coercion which exists under this Bill, and I do feel that the time has come when this country should realise that by most of the provisions of the Bill, and especially by the omission of the provision to which the noble and learned Lord has drawn attention, this is naked coercion of a community to whom you have given, or say that you have given, the freedom of managing their own affairs. The noble Earl who sits behind me, Lord Mayo, and who seems eventually to have fallen down on the Sinn Fein side of the fence, if I may use the expression, seems to acquiesce in the coercion of Northern Ireland.




He is one of the noble Lords who used to appear to be very friendly to Ulster and who asked for our assistance on every possible occasion. We have seen now that when he has an opportunity of doing so he supports the coercion of the community with whom he has appeared to be on friendly terms. I have no doubt that the noble Earl, by his remarks, is qualifying for a seat on the Bench which is opposite me at the present moment, and I sincerely hope that he may achieve the object of his desires, because, when there are so many noble Lords who sit on this side of the House who certainly have the interests of Ulster at heart and have no hesitation in proving their support of the cause which we have endeavoured to put before you, I feel that the noble Earl will be in far better company if he joins those on the other side of the House who are imposing this coercion upon the Province to which I belong.


It is perfectly true—if the House will bear with me for one moment—that I put this Amendment upon the Paper in order to emphasise my protest against the coercion of Ulster. It was a perfectly legitimate Amendment, but at the same time, having made the protest, which there has been no attempt to answer and which remains now on the Reports and records of this House absolutely unanswered, that is as far as I am prepared to go. As I stated yesterday, I think that, whatever Government is in power, this Bill, or some Bill like it, would be imposed, or an attempt would be made to impose it, upon Ulster, and, as I certainly do not want to prolong the difficulties of Ulster, I should be sorry to do anything that would destroy the Bill. That being so, I would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Schedule agreed, to.


My Lords, I beg to move, That Standing Order No. XXXIX. be considered in order to its being dispensed with.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX. having been suspended), Bill read 3a, and passed.