§ LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE had the following Notice on the Paper:—
§ To call attention to the unanimous Report of the Select Committee of the House appointed to enquire as to the pledges given by Ministers of the Crown with regard to land purchase in Ireland to the effect that these pledges have not yet been carried out, and to move, That this House relies on His Majesty's Government to take such measures as they deem right to ensure their fulfilment.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be in the recollection of many of your Lordships that on February 3 last year I moved that a Select Committee of this House be appointed to examine the pledges given between 1920 and 1923, by Ministers of the Crown, in regard to the completion of Irish land purchase, and to report whether these pledges had been fulfilled. The Motion was opposed on behalf of His Majesty's Government by my noble friend Lord Clarendon and by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack. I hope in the course of my remarks to deal with those two speeches, but for the present it will suffice to say that the arguments advanced did not convince the majority of the House and the Motion was carried.
§ It may be said that the majority was a small one and also that the number of Peers who voted was not large—I think 174 it was 68 in all. But to neither of those facts do I attach much weight. It is never a pleasing task for Conservatives to vote against the present Government. It is true that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack in the course of his remarks had criticised my Motion as one which improperly and unjustly attacked the Government, and though I had strongly controverted the suggestion that this was the case, it may have had an effect upon some of your Lordships. But what I think weighed much more with the majority was their reluctance to vote against the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, who commands in so strong a manner not only the respect but also, if I may say so, the affection of his followers, and whose personal sympathy with the loyalists of Southern Ireland is so well known and has been shown so conspicuously on many occasions.
§ It was principally those who, like myself, when they realised that the fight for the Union was over, strove to effect a settlement in Ireland which would have preserved that loyalty to the Sovereign which has now been done away with and which would have given the loyalists in Ireland a share in the Government of their country, and were bitterly disappointed at the failure of all their hopes and expectations, who felt it absolutely necessary to press this Motion to a Division in order that, if possible, heavy pecuniary loss, if not financial ruin, should not be added to the changes which are now the lot of those loyalists who remain in Southern Ireland. But there were many others, I think, who, though they would not vote for the Motion, yet felt it was an accusation which deserved to be enquired into, and therefore would not vote against it. The Motion was carried not so much by those who voted for it as by those who abstained from voting against it. I have made inquiries and find that there were in the House on that day no fewer than 123 Peers and yet only 33 could be mustered to vote in favour of the Government, and of those eleven were Ministers or ex-Ministers and nine were followers either of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, or the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, who, we are so sorry to know, is by illness prevented from being in his place to-day.
§ The Motion having been carried, it fell to my lot, with the assistance of my 175 noble friends, to submit to the House the names of those noble Lords whom I had been able to persuade to sit on the Committee. It was of the utmost importance that that Committee should be one which would command the respect of all from the weight of those of whom it was composed and that it should consist of persons who were known to have no special predilection for Irish loyalists or particular sympathy for those who claimed that they were injured by the non-fulfilment of the pledges. It appeared to me that in a case of this kind, which was purely non-political and dealt only with questions of fact, it was desirable as far as possible to secure co-operation from all shades of opinion in the House. I was fortunate enough to persuade my noble friend Viscount Chelmsford to become Chairman of the Committee and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking him and the other noble Lords who sat on the Committee for the very able and exhaustive Report which we are considering to-day. The noble Viscount, as your Lordships all know, has not only held some of the highest posts under the Crown abroad but he also occupied a seat in the Cabinet of the Labour Government of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald.
§ Lord Forres represented that section of opinion which was then under the leadership of the Earl of Oxford and Asquith and now marches under the banner of Earl Beauchamp. The legal and judicial aspect of the case was amply and ably represented by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Darling, who I am sorry to say is still abroad, and by Lord Askwith and Lord Halsbury. The other two members of the Committee, Lord Lamington and Lord Redesdale, are so well known to your Lordships that it would be impertinent for me to dwell on their qualifications. As a matter of courtesy, before submitting the names to this House, I submitted them to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House. He very naturally informed me that it did not concern the Government, but I think—I may be wrong—that if he had thought any of the noble Lords were specially unsuited for the task he would probably have been kind enough to inform me of his view. The Select Committee sat and heard evidence, after which they presented a unanimous Report.176
§ The evidence they heard, if I may so express it, was for the prosecution, because the defendants refused to appear before them. His Majesty's Government, in reply to an invitation to give evidence through any of their members, sent the reply that after due consideration the Government did not propose to offer any evidence to the Committee. I have been told that it is not the habit of the Government to offer evidence to a Committee which has been set up against their wishes, but I do not think this can be the case on all occasions, because, if so, the reply would have been based on precedent, instead of which the Committee were informed that after due consideration the Government had decided to let the matter go by default and not offer any evidence. However, we shall have an opportunity, I have no doubt, in the course of the debate of hearing why the Government felt unable to assist the Committee. Mr. Lloyd George was also invited to attend, but he did not avail himself of the invitation. If there was one person more than another whose evidence would have been useful to the Committee it was Mr. Lloyd George. He was Prime Minister during, I think, the whole of the period under review. He was more than any one else responsible for the pledges given to the Southern Unionists and for the absolute neglect to embody any of them in the so-called Treaty when the final surrender to Sinn Fein took place.
§ I should have thought he would have been glad of the opportunity of attending before the Committee and of telling the Committee: "Yes, I did make promises, but the Sinn Feiners were too strong for us. They would not let us protect our nationals whom we had to surrender, but they undertook to treat them fairly and I have no doubt they meant to treat them fairly, but again their left wing was too strong for them, with the result that the Land Bill, which the Irish Free State Government introduced and which eventually passed into law, was much less favourable to the loyalists than the one which we intended to pass. Consequently, they suffered severely from a financial point of view. I shall be glad if the Government can do anything for them." That is what I imagine Mr. Lloyd George would have said to the 177 Committee. On the other hand, of course, he might have taken the view of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and if that was the case, faced as he would have been by quotations from his speeches and letters I am not surprised that he was not anxious to offer himself for examination by the Committee.
The Committee said in their Report that they had not the advantage of being helped by any evidence from members of His Majesty's Government. They have been forced, therefore, to rely on the speeches of Ministers as reported in the Parliamentary Debates for the presentation of arguments per contra. They deal first with the argument advanced by the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, whom I am glad to see in his place, and recapitulated last year in his enforced absence by Lord Clarendon. I am afraid I must ask the permission of the House to read the two paragraphs which deal with that point and the reply that was made by the Committee to the arguments which Lord Birkenhead put forward. They are to be found in paragraphs 22 and 23 of the Report. Those paragraphs are as follows:—
22. Again, the following contention has been put forward by Lord Birkenhead when out of office in 1923, but adopted by Lord Clarendon, who spoke for the Government in 1926:—
'But the Bill of 1920, which the noble Earl appears to think possesses some verbal sanctity, was a Bill which depended upon the hypothesis that agreement was reached by the Convention. No such agreement ever was reached. It depended in the second place and was stated to depend in the second place upon the agreement of the landlord and the tenant. And no one can claim that anybody was verbally bound until the conditions precedent, soon to prove themselves impossible of verbal repetition or attainment, were satisfied, the first condition being that there was agreement at the Convention, the second condition being that there was agreement between landlord and tenant.'
23. The Committee find it difficult to understand this presentation of the facts. In so far as the land purchase question was concerned, agreement was reached by the Convention as shown in paragraph 9 of this Report; indeed, Lord Birkenhead himself, in an earlier speech on 17th May, 1920, alluded to the preparation of the Irish Land Purchase Scheme as the most noteworthy practical achievement of the Convention, and that it was a tribute to the efforts of the Sub-Committee that their
report was accepted by the Convention unanimously.
As far as the second point is concerned, Lord Midleton said, 'With regard to agreement between landlord and tenant there is no question—Lord Oranmore and Browne, who was on the Committee, will correct me if I am wrong—that the Bill of the Convention was to be a compulsory one, and therefore it is not a question of agreement' ….
Finally, the Committee fail to understand how a Bill which was introduced in the autumn of 1920 could 'depend upon the hypothesis that agreement was reached by the Convention' which had in fact come to an end in 1918. The fact that the Bill was introduced by the Government clearly shows that they were satisfied on these two points, and that the conditions mentioned had been fulfilled.
§ There was another argument put forward by Lord Clarendon last year, and I am sorry he is unable to be here to-day, because I should have liked to ask him for an explanation of it. He then put forward as an argument in favour of the Free State that the Bill might have been much worse than it was because he said a Bill for confiscation without compensation would have been very popular at the time and would have strengthened the position of the Free State Government. I should have liked to ask whether he holds the view that in this extraordinary case no help should have been given to the Southern Unionists, and, if not, what is the measure of spoliation short of confiscation there should have been when the Government was relieved from its promises.
The Report then deals with the subject of the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. I must apologise for reading so many of these paragraphs, but it is the only way, I think, of presenting my arguments. I hope the House will forgive me. The Report says:
Lastly, it was urged by Lord Cave, the Lord Chancellor, on 3rd February, 1926, in the debate which resulted in the Committee being appointed, as follows:—
'Surely no one says that the bringing in of a Bill constitutes a pledge or that if a Bill is introduced and not carried the public fund must make good to those who would have benefited by the Bill all that has been lost by its rejection. No one contends that the Bill of 1920 was anything in the nature of a pledge, otherwise the difficulty of proposing measures to Parliament would be greater than it is.'
The Committee have shown in the preceding pages of the Report the declara-
tions of Ministers of the Crown, which are described, and therefore presumably defined, by Ministers themselves as pledges, and they have felt bound to accept the Ministerial definition.
They have alluded, in paragraph 18, to the Bill of 1920 not as a pledge, but as evidence of the nature of the pledge.
I think this requires no comment from me, but I submit that it completely exonerates me from the charge made by the Lord Chancellor of having improperly and unjustly attacked the Government when I moved that, this Committee should be set up.
I am afraid that I must ask permission to read two more paragraphs summing up the conclusions at which the Committee arrived. They are paragraphs 18 and 33, and the former runs as follows:
The Committee are satisfied that pledges were given by Ministers of the Crown—necessarily subject to the concurrence of Parliament that they would complete Irish land purchase upon the lines of the Convention scheme, and they are fortified in this conclusion by the facts:—
They go on, in paragraph 33, to say:
To sum up: The Committee have examined the declarations made by Ministers of the Crown in regard to the completion of Irish land purchase and they accept the Ministerial definition of those declarations as pledges.
The nature of the pledges given may be found crystallised in statutory form in the Northern Ireland Land Act, 1925.
In so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, the pledges have been substantially fulfilled by the passing into law of that Act.
In so far as the Free State is concerned, the pledges have not been fulfilled, to the extent that the provisions of the Free State Land Act differ from and fall short of the provisions of the Northern Ireland Land Act, 1925.
This is a Report unanimously agreed to by seven noble Lords who are absolutely impartial and whose names deservedly lend weight to any statement that they endorse, and I do not see how the Government, having allowed the case to go by default, can say, as a Minister of the Crown said to me the other day: "We do not agree with the verdict."
§ The defendant in a civil case, the prisoner in a criminal case, seldom, if ever, agrees with the verdict if it is against him, but this does not invalidate it. The verdict will remain on record as the considered opinion of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, drawn from all Parties in the State, after weighing the evidence which was submitted to them. It has been found by them that Ministers were pledged up to the hilt to complete land purchase in Southern Ireland on the same terms as those that have since been granted to Northern Ireland as a condition to the setting up of self-government in that country, and that up to the present the Government have refused to implement the pledge and are satisfied that those who have been our friends and supporters for 800 years should be handed over without even obtaining for them such terms as the Germans were able to obtain for their surrendered nationals in the Treaty of Versailles.
§ The Motion that I propose is purposely framed so that there may be no suggestion of a Vote of Censure on the Government. I beg to call special attention to this point. Attention is called to the Report of the Select Committee and the House is asked to express the opinion that they rely upon His Majesty's Government to take such steps as they think necessary to fulfil their pledges. More than that we cannot ask. We must leave it to the Cabinet, a Committee of English gentlemen, to see that the honour of this country goes down untarnished to posterity. No mention of money is made in my Motion. This reminds me of an invitation that I received the other day to a banquet in aid of a charitable institution, on which it was stated that no collection would be made at the banquet; but I gathered that this would not preclude a subsequent demand for a subscription. Naturally money will be needed for this purpose. The amount has been mentioned over and over again as approximately £6,000,000, or about one half of the additional money that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is taking from the taxpayers of this country under Schedule A for the present year. The interest on the total sum is approximately equivalent to the amount of a Supplementary Estimate for Northern 181 Ireland for the present year which was passed without any comment in another place.
§ Why is it suggested that these pledges alone should be dishonoured? Is it because Irish loyalists are helpless and have no votes? Enormous sums are being given, and will continue to be given for the next sixty years, to the United States of America because this country guaranteed money which was practically used for her Allies. No doubt it is quite right that this Debt should be honoured. Again, millions are being spent yearly to redeem pledges of social reform made by Ministers before the last General Election, and at the present time the whole constitution of the electorate is apparently to be changed, with enormous danger to the future of the Constitutional Party in this country, because of the dalliance of one Minister before the last Election with what is called the "Flapper Vote." Every day I hear of some new pledge that is sacrosanct, and only our loyal fellow subjects in Ireland are treated as if they were not worth considering. Millions are being spent on new bridges over the Thames, and £150,000 is nothing if it is spent for a new Embassy at Washington. But £250,000 a year, if it is to be spent on those who have given you of their all for 800 years, is money that cannot be spared.
§ These men are still loyal to the King and to this country. But how long will they remain so? They are very bitter at the treatment that they have received. If they are to have a future in Ireland it will be by joining the Republicans. They could easily become their leaders. Already one-third of the members of the Irish Parliament refuse to take their seats because they will not take even the modified oath of fidelity to the King so long as he remains Head of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and already one-third of those who have taken the Oath have voted for its abolition—the vote in the Dail the other day was seventeen to thirty-seven. If you remember now the loyalists in their time of trouble they will not fail you, but if you break the promises that you have made, if you cast them off like an old glove, can you expect that they will remain loyal for ever? Love spurned turns to hate: let your action now show that you appreciate their love and value its continuance. I beg to move.182
§ Moved, That this House relies on His Majesty's Government to take such measures as they deem right to ensure the fulfilment of the pledges given by Ministers of the Crown with regard to land purchase in Ireland.—(Lord Oranmore and Browne.)
§ LORD CARSON
My Lords, I had not intended to speak so early in the debate, but as the Government seem to hesitate to say anything at the present moment perhaps I may make at this stage the few observations that occur to me upon the very moderate Motion of my noble friend who has introduced this subject. I must confess that there is nothing that I dislike more than having to intervene in this House from time to time—and I do so as seldom as I can—to call attention to the treachery of the British Government towards those who were once their friends and who indeed were once their tools in Ireland. The reason why I dislike doing it is that I hate speaking with bitterness, particularly with regard to those with whom I was so long associated in public life, before they took that leap in the dark in 1921. They took that leap, as I will show your Lordships in a few moments, with the grim determination not merely to surrender to their former enemies but to do everything they could to trample down their former friends, or at least as far as possible to have their previous relations with the loyalists of Ireland entirely blotted out in this horrible chapter of the history of this country.
One feels every time the question comes up more and more disgust. It may be that I personally feel that disgust more than others, because for the whole of the five years that have passed since the so-called treaty of surrender, I am every day, and I might say almost every hour, either by personal interview or by correspondence, brought into personal contact with man after man who has been absolutely ruined in Ireland by the methods which the Conservative and other Parties in this country have adopted towards them. Occasionally one gets bright spots in being able to do something, but it is not generally in this House. Some three or four months ago a man of very good position in Ireland, whose father I had known as a Land Commissioner, who had acted in one of the most disturbed parts of Ireland as what they call Crown 183 Solicitor—as the representative of this country there—and who had held a number of high offices under the British Crown, came to me and said: "I am on my last legs; there is nothing for me but to go with my wife and ten children, and, at the age of 58, seek a new career in Canada. I have been turned out of all my offices, I can get no redress, and I get no encouragement"—as indeed we never do, except for the short time when the Labour Party was in office—"from the Colonial Office. I have only £300 left in the world. You knew my father and my family, and you knew me slightly when I was a well-off man with £2,000 or £3,000 a year, and now I am down to my last £300."
I knew there was no sympathy with him in this country, and although his relatives had written for me to try to persuade him not to go away, I could not take that course upon my shoulders, and I gave him a letter of introduction to a friend of this country and of mine in Canada. There he was treated somewhat differently to the way men are treated whenever they make application for help to the Colonial Office here. When he arrived there he found that my friend was a man of position who took him to the Prime Minister of the Province and to the Attorney-General of the Province, and the latter, having been a legal official himself for so long in Ireland, when he heard the story set about to make provision for this man. I have had the most grateful letter I have ever seen in my life. Thank God there is a place in the Empire where they care about men who did loyal service for this country. Therefore I admit frankly that I speak, and I cannot help speaking, with bitterness upon this subject.
But here, to-day, we have a very plain and very simple Motion. Pledges were made, when the so-called Treaty of surrender was being brought about, to the Irish landlords. Do not imagine that in talking of Irish landlords I am talking of great and wealthy millionaires. I am talking of men, many of whom this country has made paupers. Pledges were made and those pledges had a great effect in inducing many members of one Party in this House to support the so-called Treaty in 1921. I know nothing more pathetic than to read the evidence of my noble friend Lord Midleton, given 184 before the Committee which was set up and whose Report we are discussing to-day. I frankly admit that I was not at all in concurrence with the line which Lord Midleton took, though I never questioned that he was acting from the very highest and best of motives. He read the interviews with the Prime Minister of England, Mr. Lloyd George, and he is asked at the end of giving those statements this question by one of the members of the Committee:You say: 'It never occurred to me to ask for a written pledge.' At what moment of time would you have asked for that written pledge?—It really never occurred to me at any time, and for this reason. The word of a Minister is absolutely reliable.I hope he thinks so still.
This Committee was set up by a Motion in this House, with a Conservative Government in power, and here are the names of the Committee:—Lord Halsbury, Lord Chelmsford, Lord Lamington, Lord Redesdale, Lord Askwith, Lord Forres, and Lord Darling. No one can say that that was not a proper Committee. No one can say that having had a vote of the House—at least no one but a Conservative Government would say—you were to pay no attention to that vote. What happened? There was a great deal of controversy about pledges given by Ministers. There were explanations or attempted explanations, as there always are, to try and winnow away the substance of the declarations. No tribunal could be more fitted to consider what the pledges meant, or how they were to be taken in a full House, and nothing could be more proper than for this Committee to examine the statements on one side or the other. The matter went before this Committee. What happened? The pledges, both those made in public and at various interviews, both those made by various members of the present Government and by others, were all put before this Committee and they asked His Majesty's Government to come down and say what they had to say about these solemn pledges. The answer was: "We do not intend to give your Committee any help or any explanation." That is a very easy way and I have no doubt that, when some member of the Government speaks, he will proceed to justify everything by trying to mix up these pledges and the explanations of them, although 185 the Government refused to give any explanation before the Committee.
I venture to ask, because it is a question that goes far beyond this Motion, what is the function of this House, or has it any function? If this House sets up a Committee to examine into various solemn pledges made by various public Ministers in this country and that Committee on the vote of the House proceeds to do its duty and to sit and hear the cases, is it carrying out the functions of a Government—particularly a Conservative Government—in relation to this House to say: "You may hold your Committee, but we will neither help you nor explain and when your Report comes we will treat it as if it was waste paper"? That is what the matter comes to. When you come to the ex-Prime Minister and the details of his private communications—I will not call them private because they were made to deputations in connection with the settlement of 1921, and those deputations proved up to the hilt the case made by Lord Oranmore and the case referred to the Committee and the case as found by the Committee—the right hon. Gentleman is asked if he will come and explain, but he refuses likewise. What a glorious courage! What a glorious example of a method for public men to keep out of any explanation of the statements they have made in trying to induce people to pass their Bills at the critical moment and which, the moment they have got their Bills passed, they care no more about!
The pledges were proved up to the hilt and I defy any man with any sense of fair play to read the evidence and the Report of the Committee and say that I am not accurate in this. The pledges were proved up to the hilt, the pledges that helped to pass this iniquitous Bill of 1921. The moment that was passed the people to whom the pledges were made were no longer of any use. They had neither voting power nor influence. They were ignored and that is what has been done ever since the day that that Bill has been passed. It is a sorry tale and it goes far beyond this Motion. It is setting the Committee, whose character I have described, absolutely at defiance. It is a refusal to support a vote of this House solemnly given with a Conservative Government in power.
There is no use arguing the merits or the demerits of the case because the 186 House could not possibly understand them in the course of the debate. I refer to none of these pledges because in the debate here before they were read out and it was said there were explanations of them. There is nothing I hate more than to see a Minister, particularly of the Party to which I used to belong, trying to wriggle out of pledges. That is the matter that has been referred to the Committee. That is the matter to which they have honourably applied themselves to try to solve. That Committee finds that there were pledges made to these unfortunate people in Ireland which have not been fulfilled, and the very modest Motion of the noble Lord who has introduced this question this evening is simply that the Government should see that the best should be done that is possible to try to carry out the pledges.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, it is of course with regret that I find myself speaking on behalf of the Government with any difference with the noble Lords that sit on the same side of the House as I do myself. We have heard some strong words used both by Lord Oranmore and Browne and Lord Carson, who alluded to the treachery of the Government in the action they have taken. I should like to remind your Lordships that this subject has been discussed by, and has been before, no less than four Governments. It has been before the Coalition Government, the short Conservative Government of Mr. Baldwin, the Labour Government and the present Government. It is worth remarking at the outset that those four Governments, so differently composed, have one and all come to exactly the same point of view on this subject; one and all have taken the view most clearly and definitely that no pledges whatever have been broken. I merely state that at first, whatever may be the views of the Committee—and I propose to examine the Committee and its Report with some care. Bearing that in mind, it is a fact which should make some impression on your Lordships.
Some preliminary criticisms were cast upon this Government, both by Lord Oranmore and Browne and Lord Carson, although they were criticisms of a different kind. Lord Oranmore and Browne attacked this Government be- 187 cause, when this Committee was set up, the Government refused to allow members of the Government to become members of the Committee. He asked me what is the reason for that. I think the reason was very clearly given by the noble Lords themselves. This Committee was a prosecution and clearly the defendants were the Government. It would surely be a very remarkable thing if the defendants were to become members of the prosecution and sit upon the very Committee which was to inquire into their misdeeds.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
I never suggested the Government should sit on the Committee. I suggested they should appear as witnesses.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
No, I am within the recollection of the House and I think the noble Lord suggested that some of them should sit on it. The second point was made by Lord Carson, who asked why they did not come forward and give evidence before the Committee. Here was a Committee which they had opposed in this House, but the appointment of which was carried against them. Why were they going to go and give evidence before such a Committee? They had already made their statement.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
They had made their own statement, they had given their own account of the proceedings. Why on earth should they come before the prosecution, as my noble friend Lord Oranmore and Browne says, and again justify the actions they had taken? However, that is by the way. I would also remind your Lordships that this whole subject was very fully discussed only last year, and the defence of the Government was plainly put before your Lordships by my noble friend Lord Clarendon, and also by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, now sitting on the Woolsack. Indeed, the only new fact that has come up between then and now is the Report of this Committee. Before I sit down I am going to look very carefully into some of the facts that have been examined by the Committee, because this was the prosecuting Committee, and I 188 submit that, if it was such a Committee, it ought to be impartial, and it ought to be fair.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Will the noble and learned Lord allow me to finish my sentence? I say it ought to be impartial and fair. I am going to say this—that there are definite mis-statements made. I have no doubt the Committee meant well, but there are mis-statements which I am going to explain and expose, and I say that it was the duty of the Committee, if it was criticising the pledges of the Government, to take the utmost care that the whole matter was looked into most carefully.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
If the noble and learned Lord will listen I will try to explain the matter. I am not altogether certain as to the ground on which this Motion is brought forward. Though it has not been stated in so many words by the noble Lord, the request, if it can be translated into matters of fact, is that the Irish landowners, or rather that portion of them who are affected by the Act of 1923, should have paid to them the difference between the compensation that they received under the Irish Act of 1923, and that which they would have received under the Bill of 1920, if that Bill had been passed into law and had been acted upon.
The claim, as I understand it, is that this money is to be found, not by the Irish taxpayer—because obviously the Government cannot deal with the Irish taxpayer in the South of Ireland—but by the British taxpayer. Before examining this point, I should like to remind your Lordships what is the compensation which these landowners received under the Irish Act of 1923. They have secured to them a fixed, permanent and secure income of from 65 to 73 per cent. of the existing rents. Instead, therefore, of receiving a fluctuating and risky gross income of £100 they get a certain net income, without deductions and without liabilities, of about 70 per cent. of that income. From a practical point of 189 view, do your Lordships think that there really is any likelihood, however many Resolutions we might pass, or however many Committees might report, that any Government, of whatever political complexion, or any House of Commons, would really assent to this large contribution to these landowners from the funds of the British taxpayer?
I am not talking now of sympathies with Irish landowners, I am talking now of the history of Ireland—I am trying to deal with this matter as a practical question, based upon the facts of the case, as known to all your Lordships. The question, I am afraid, therefore is largely, as regards these landowners, academic. I submit, further, that it is really not fair, it is unjust to these landowners, to try and raise expectations in their minds that, by means of a Motion of this House or elsewhere, they are likely to get this larger compensation—the difference between the measures of 1923 and 1920. However many Resolutions we pass in this House on the subject I am afraid that it would be no more than a demonstration.
And therefore I can pass for the moment from the case of the Irish landowners, because nothing that can be done here can affect them, and I will deal with what I think is the real object of the Motion, and that is an attempt to fix a charge of a breach of faith—not, I think, on the Government exactly, so much as on certain Ministers who were members of the Coalition Government—and in that way to attach some discredit to the present Government as having broken pledges, or been guilty in the words of the noble and learned Lord, of "treachery." The Committee, in effect, argued that the undertaking as to the settlement of the Irish land question was a positive pledge, which would hold good irrespective of any accompanying circumstances, conditions, or qualifications. Now, the position of the Government on this was made perfectly clear last year, and I can show from the statements of Ministers themselves, quoted by the Committee itself—quoted quite fairly-and frankly—that these promises as to land purchase were conditional, were a part of the general settlement of the Irish question, and were not pledges given independently and irrespectively of any such settlement.
190 I am going to quote for that a statement—it was not quoted by my noble friend—made by Mr. Lloyd George, who, of course, was Prime Minister. He said:—If this Report commends itself to the Convention, the Government would be prepared to introduce in Parliament, as part of the plan of settlement (and simultaneously with the Bill amending the Government of Ireland Act, 1914) a measure for the purpose of inviting Parliament to give effect to the recommendations of the Convention on the subject of land purchase.That is the great governing statement of the whole, and it is absolutely clear from that, taken in its plain and literal meaning, that any pledges or undertakings as regards Irish land settlement were connected with, conditioned by, and an accompaniment of the general political settlement of the South of Ireland. I say, further, that other statements are governed by that general statement by the Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George.
Further than that, certain statements were made as late as July, 1921, by my noble friend Lord Birkenhead, who was then, I think, Lord Chancellor. He said, and these words are again quoted by the Committee:—It is true as everyone knows that the Government was deeply pledged and is of course deeply pledged on this question. But it is also clear that any undertaking of that kind must be construed in relation to the circumstances as they existed then and as they were anticipated by most people at that time.There again, it is absolutely clear from the statement of the noble Earl himself that this undertaking was conditioned by other matters. It was not a separate undertaking irrespective of the circumstances under which the pledge was given. I do not think I need quote any more of those statements because they were clearly given and they are frankly put forward by the Committee. What I do quarrel with is the conclusion drawn by the Committee. They say that they can only construe the statements above set out in their plain and literal meanings. I submit that is exactly what they do not do. If they had construed them in their plain and literal meaning they would have taken the two statements together as part of one whole and dependent one upon the other.
§ VISCOUNT CHELMSFORD
Would the noble Viscount read the last part of 191 paragraph 21 in the Committee's Report? I think that will explain why they have to interpret the statements in their plain and literal meaning.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I will read the words, but I do not think they are relevant. They simply say they haveexamined those pledges in the light of the evidence available to them, and, in the absence of evidence from the Government which might explain the circumstances in which they were made, they can only construe the statements above set out in their plain and literal meaning.I have already dealt with the reasons why the Government did not give evidence. It does not affect my argument that the pledges, apart from any statement made, are plainly connected with the larger question of the general settlement in Ireland. The Committee, in fact, separate the words in the context and ignore Mr. Lloyd George's statement that the land purchase scheme was a part, and a comparatively small part, of that plan of settlement. The larger portion of the statement was, of course, concerned with the amendment of the Government of Ireland Act of 1914. Those two were closely connected together and when the Act of 1920 failed to operate the whole arrangement fell to the ground.
I will conclude that story very shortly, because it has been told at some length by my noble friend Lord Birkenhead in your Lordships' House. During the discussions over the Treaty the Government still were anxious to deal with the question of land settlement, although their specific pledges were not in question, and finally, in the year 1923, the Irish Government, on their own motion no doubt and under the urgency of the British Government, did deal with this question and settle with these Irish landlords on terms which I have stated to your Lordships. I admit they are not terms as good as the terms that were proposed in the Bill brought forward in 1920. Then follow all those other Ministerial statements, but I think they are all governed by the general proposition of Mr. Lloyd George and by the qualifying statements made by the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead.
§ LORD CARSON
Would the noble Viscount read the criticism of the Committee upon that statement of the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, in paragraph 23 of the Report?
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I was not referring to the statement there but to the statement he made about the action he took during the negotiations for the Treaty. I will refer to the other later. I will only say that I was particularly anxious to quote the statements of Ministers made while they were the responsible Ministers of the Crown. Lord Birkenhead made the other statement when he was not a responsible Minister and when he was in the rather unusual position of defending a Government to which he was, to some extent, opposed. But I will deal with that a little later when I come to it. I want to get to what is the real gravamen of the charge about the Act of 1923 as compared with the Act of 1920.
I come now to paragraph 26 in the Report of the Committee. There the complaint is made by the representatives of the landowners about the omission of the bonus provision in the Irish Free State Act of 1923 as the main respect in which that Act has failed to fulfil the pledges of Ministers, and they go on:It is clear that the witnesses relied, as the chief ground of their complaint, on the absence of the bonus in the provisions of the Free State Act.They adopt, therefore, in their Report, the statements made by these owners. It is literally true that there was no bonus in the Irish Free State Act and they lay great stress upon that, but, though there was no bonus there was a free grant from the Irish Government amounting to no less than 10 per cent. of the purchase money, and, after all, it does not seem to me to make very much difference whether? you call it a bonus or a free grant.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
It is a free grant and in that respect it is a matter which surely ought to have been alluded to in the Report. I think the only other point that I need deal with is in paragraph 30. There the Lord Chancellor is quoted as having said:I do not think that anywhere in the whole of history can you find a promise to put a charge of £6,000,000, or, indeed, any charge at all, upon British funds.193 In the next paragraph, paragraph 31, having previously stated that they are relying upon the terms of the Act of 1920, they go back to the Convention of 1918, and quote this passage from the Report:The bonus was always regarded as 'a free gift to Ireland,' that is, it was to be paid, not by the taxpayers of Great Britain or of Ireland, but of the United Kingdom as a whole.They then refer to the evidence of Lord Midleton who said that at the time when the bonus under the Wyndham Act was being paid the expenditure in Ireland from the general funds was larger than the contribution of Ireland towards those funds and that therefore, in fact, the bonus under the Wyndham Act was paid by the taxpayers of this country. Therefore, I suppose, they argue that it ought to be paid again by them. It would, as he says, "only be a repetition of the same." They further argue, that it amounted to a pledge given by Ministers of the Crown.
On that I must point out that the whole strength of their argument on page 7 has been that the Bill of 1920 has not been carried out, and the whole gravamen of their charge against the Government is that the terms of the Act of 1923 are different from those of 1920. But in the Bill of 1920 there was no provision whatever for the payment of a bonus out of British funds. What were the arrangements of the Act of 1920? They were that the British Government were to collect the taxes from Ireland, that then they were to deduct from them the Cost of certain Imperial Services, including Reserved Services, and that then the surplus was to be handed over to the Government of Southern Ireland for the purposes of government. Yes, but there is no question there whatever of any sum coming from the British taxpayer. All that money was clearly and obviously, under the terms of the Bill, to come from the Irish taxpayer. Therefore When the Committee want to argue that a bonus should be paid to the landlords from the British taxpayer, they leave aside entirely their contention that they should be treated under the terms of the Act of 1920, and they go back two years to the Convention and base their ground for the contribution from the British taxpayer on the terms of the Convention of 1918.
I really submit that if the iniquities and the breach of pledges of a British 194 Government depend on the question of the bonus the Committee should have been more careful to see on which leg they were standing. They cannot denounce the Government because they did not carry out the provisions of the Act of 1920 and then make a claim against the British Government which they say is substantially a claim which is based not on the Act of 1920 but on the Convention of 1918. Further than that they say, in paragraph 33, that so far as the North of Ireland is concerned the pledges have been substantially fulfilled by the passing into law of the Act called the Northern Ireland Land Act, 1925. The pledges there, they say, are crystallised in statutory form. But, there is no question in the Act of 1925 of any payment to be made from the British taxpayer. On the contrary, it follows the Act of 1920. That is to say, money is collected by the British Government, certain Services are deducted, including the Reserved Services of which this land administration is one, and then the surplus is paid over to the Northern Ireland Government. There is no question there of any bonus being paid by the British Government or the British taxpayer. Therefore, on both grounds this charge fails, because if they say that the terms are fully fulfilled under the Acts of 1920 and 1925, then it is out of the question that they should demand from the British taxpayer a subsidy of £6,000,000. The whole of their charge on that ground entirely fails.
Let me add this further point, that the conditions laid down by the Earl of Birkenhead in the speech to which Lord Carson referred and which is quoted here were that there should be agreement between landlord and tenant—which of course means between landlords and tenants—and that the provisions of the Act of 1920 should be carried out. Both those conditions did prevail because not only was there agreement between landlord and tenant in the North of Ireland but the provisions of the Act of 1920 did not fail, as in the South of Ireland, but were carried out. Therefore both those conditions on which he there insists were carried out in the case of Northern Ireland.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I have stated the substance of it fully. I do not want to be turned from my argument.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I never interrupt the noble and learned Lord when he is speaking, but if he interrupts me I have no objection. I submit that if this Act of 1920 had been carried into effect as it was in Northern Ireland then the pledge of the Government by the Act of 1920 and the Land Bill of 1920 would have been fulfilled, as they have been fulfilled in the Act of 1925 as applied to Northern Ireland. But everybody knows that that is not the case. Everybody knows that the Act of 1920 never came into operation, that a different state of things prevailed, and that therefore the conditions which accompanied the pledge given by the Government naturally fall to the ground. I submit that there is no charge that can be brought against the Government of breach of pledge or treachery or anything else, and I trust your Lordships—
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
I hope my noble friend will not mind my interrupting him, but he speaks of the Act of 1920. The measure of 1920 did not pass. It way the Bill of 1920 which we complain was not made into an Act, which was introduced by the Government but was not passed.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I mean exactly what I say. There were two Bills introduced. One became an Act. That was the Bill for the Government of Ireland. That became an Act. There was also a Bill introduced which did not become an Act, the Bill for land purchase. I am perfectly correct and I have been explaining to the best of my ability that these two things hung together. Therefore I hope that your Lordships will vote against this Motion. I have shown that there is no pledge that has been broken. I have shown further that where the conditions were carried out these pledges have been carried out to the letter, that they have been carried out in the North of Ireland and would have been carried out in the South of Ireland if the Act of 1920 had there been carried into effect, and had carried with it also the Bill which never became an Act, the Bill dealing with Irish 196 land purchase. I submit, therefore, that no pledge of the Government has been unfulfilled and that the Government, so far from deserving the censure of the Committee or of your Lordships' House, is as honourable in regard to the pledge undertaken as the three Governments who have preceded it and who have taken on that pledge precisely the same view as is taken by the Government to-day.
§ VISCOUNT CHELMSFORD
My Lords, I hope you will accord me your indulgence as Chairman of this unfortunate Committee which against its will had, under the orders of this House, to examine the pledges given between 1920 and 1923 with regard to the completion of Irish land purchase and to report whether the pledges had been fulfilled. I say "unfortunate," because I think anybody who has listened to the noble Viscount who has just spoken will realise the extraordinary difficulty under which that Committee worked. It had certain speeches, it had certain documents and it had evidence from certain distinguished men from Ireland who knew the Irish Land Acts and all the details with regard to the Irish Land Acts, and from certain noble Lords who gave their assistance. But we had no one on the other hand to criticise these statements or to help us in any way with regard to what might be said on the other side. We were in the position in which I imagine anybody sitting in a judicial capacity would be if one side appeared and the other side did not. We were obliged to judge on the evidence put before us and judge as best we could what possible argument might be used on the other side. May I suggest to the noble Viscount who has just sat down that I think it is an almost unheard-of thing in this House to state that a Committee which has been set up by this House was in the nature of a prosecuting Committee.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
I beg the noble Earl's pardon. I said nothing of the kind. I said that evidence was given by the prosecution, by which I meant the aggrieved persons who thought that they had suffered from the non-fulfilment of the pledges. I did not suggest for a moment that the Committee was a prosecuting Committee, any more than I suggested, as the noble Viscount said a few minutes ago, that the Government should have formed part of the Committee.
§ VISCOUNT CHELMSFORD
At all events the point will be made quite clear in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow. I was certainly under the misapprehension, as apparently were others of your Lordships, that it was suggested that this Committee did not approach the task that this House had laid upon it with an impartial examination of the evidence that was laid before it. Let me refer also to the complaint that the noble Viscount made. He asked if there was any likelihood of any House of Commons looking at any large contribution to Irish land-holders. I say quite clearly that this was not a matter before the Committee. We had nothing to do with any action that any Government might take as the result of this Report or of their examination into this question. Nor could it be suggested that the Committee had any idea that an attack was being engineered upon any members of this Government. Those were matters entirely outside the purview of the Committee.
At the risk of being tedious, let me point out what appears on the face of this Report. We began by drawing attention to the limited character of our reference. We then proceeded to take the documents that we had and to quote, as we hoped fairly, the salient and pertinent matters which appeared in those documents. We clearly set out that which Mr. Lloyd George said in his letter to Sir Horace Plunkett in reference to land purchase. That is all on the face of the Report and any one can read it for himself. Nothing has been kept back in any way. But here again the Committee were in a difficulty. We recited some two pages of promises or declarations on this matter from various members of the various Governments. With these documents before us, but with no explanation of the circumstances under which the declarations were made, we came to the 198 conclusion that it was not an unfair statement to say that these, statements, which the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, termed pledges—and he is a master of precise language—were in fact pledges.
We then came to consider what was the nature of the pledges, and we decided that it was to be found in the character of the Bill of 1920 and in the Northern Ireland Land Purchase Act of 1925. I find it very difficult to follow the noble Viscount's argument that we must always go back to the pledge in Mr. Lloyd George's letter and that there was nothing outside that letter. I admit at once that the letter was the foundation of everything that came afterwards, but circumstances were continually changing. Why should the Northern Ireland Act of 1925 have been passed if some similar measure was not to be given to Southern Ireland or if, supposing that inadequate measures were taken by the Free State, the British Government were not to consider whether they could alleviate the difficulty of the position?
Let me pass to the noble Viscount's reference to Lord Birkenhead's speech of July 13, 1921. I hope the House will forgive me for repeating it once more. Lord Birkenhead said:—But it is also clear that any undertaking of that kind must be construed in relation to the circumstances as they existed then and as they were anticipated by most people at that time.It would have been everything for the Committee if we had had Lord Birkenhead before us and if he had kindly illuminated us upon those circumstances and said that the pledges must be read in the light of certain precise statements. I would remind the noble Earl that we had to deal with precise statements and not with rhetoric of rather a general character, and when we came to examine Lord Birkenhead's statements we found that they were not as precise as we had thought that they must be.
Paragraph 23 has been continually referred to by Lord Carson, but the noble Viscount has not given it the attention which Lord Carson would have liked. Before I read it, let me refer to one other point. My noble friend Lord Peel said that Lord Birkenhead was not a member of the Government when he made that speech. That is perfectly true, but this particular paragraph of Lord Birkenhead's speech was adopted 199 by the noble Earl, Lord Clarendon, in this House when he was putting forth the Government case in 1926. He quoted it, and I think Lord Carson challenged him at that time and asked if he stood by it, and he said, in effect, "I am afraid I must." I think, therefore, that we are entitled to regard it not only as a statement from Lord Birkenhead, who was not then in a responsible position as a member of the Government, but as one that was adopted and accepted by the representative of the Government, Lord Clarendon, when my noble friend brought the question up last year. It concerns the two points that are referred to as conditions precedent.
Lord Birkenhead said that the Bill of 1920—was a Bill which depended upon the hypothesis that agreement was reached by the Convention.He went on to say:—No such agreement ever was reached. It depended in the second place and was stated to depend in the second place upon the agreement of the landlord and the tenant. And no one can claim that anybody was verbally bound until the conditions precedent, soon to prove themselves impossible of verbal repetition or attainment, were satisfied, the first condition being that there was agreement at the Convention, the second condition being that there was agreement between landlord and tenant.Lord Birkenhead was a very busy man at that time and one can quite understand how easy it would be to make a slip in a long debate, but we should have liked to have Lord Birkenhead before us and to ask him what he meant by these "conditions precedent." I am not saying this as a debating point, but am merely justifying the attitude of the Committee. We were at a great loss because we did not have the advantage of Lord Birkenhead's assistance in these matters. If we had had that assistance, I do not think there would have been any matters in dispute, for all these difficulties would have been discussed over the table.
With regard to the question of bonus let me say that this again was an extremely difficult question and, if your Lordships will look at the Report of the evidence, you will find there was considerable examination of it. Personally I found it very difficult to believe that that bonus, as was claimed, was to be a 200 charge upon the British taxpayer, and I asked questions upon that. Then I was met in the first place by the witnesses who said: "Oh, you will find that in the Report it says the bonus was always regarded as a free gift to Ireland; that is, to be paid not by the taxpayers of Great Britain or Ireland but of the United Kingdom as a whole." When we questioned them that was their reply. Then Lord Midleton went one further and said, in effect, "Well, that actually means not the taxpayers of Great Britain or Ireland but the taxpayers of Great Britain, because under the financial conditions as between Ireland and Great Britain, Ireland is not in a position to pay, and therefore the British taxpayer would have to pay."
Then, on this last question of the Northern Ireland Act, 1925, the witnesses who came before us were asked specifically: "Do you regard the Bill of 1920 as carrying out all the pledges of the Government? Do you regard the Northern Ireland Land Purchase Act as a substantial carrying out of the pledges?" To both of those questions they replied that they would be perfectly satisfied. So with that evidence we summed up, I think not unfairly, the position as we found it, that in so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, the pledges have been substantially fulfilled by the passing into law of the Northern Ireland Land Act, 1925, but that in so far as the Free State is concerned the pledges have not been fulfilled to the extent that the provisions of the Free State Land Act differ from and fall short of the provisions of the Northern Ireland Land Act, 1925. I hope I have not trespassed upon your Lordships' indulgence too far, but I should like to impress upon Viscount Peel the fact that none of us wanted to be on this Committee. When I was asked by Lord Oranmore to sit on the Committee I declined, and it was only after pressure that I assented. I have not been concerned in Irish affairs.
§ VISCOUNT CHELMSFORD
No, but you impeach our conduct when on the Committee. You will not get noble Lords to serve on disagreeable Committees if their conduct when in the 201 chair, or as members of a Committee, is to be impeached across the floor of the House.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
I did not intend to trouble your Lordships, because although I have been connected with the subject from the very first, I had very much desired to leave it where it was left by my noble and learned friend behind me. I must, however, say that I feel very deeply one remark which was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Peel. I thought, I confess, that, the tone of the noble Viscount's speech with regard to this Committee was a deplorable tone. I think the Government from the first deprecated this Committee. When the Committee was set up they boycotted it, and now the noble Viscount goes on to reflect upon the fairness of the Committee.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
I beg the noble Viscount's pardon. I am in the recollection of the House. The noble Viscount made one or two statements for which I would like to call him to account, and in addition he spoke with a disrespect of the Committee which I do not believe I, or the oldest member of your Lordships' House, ever heard before with regard to any Committee. Not one of the members of this Committee has had any previous contact with the Irish question or any connection with Irish land, and the Committee sat with absolute impartiality. I cannot allow to pass without challenge the statement of the noble Viscount that four Governments have held that no pledge had been given, or his own final decision that no pledge was given. I have felt deeply for the position of the Government in this matter. I fully realise how difficult their course has been, owing to the course of events since the midnight sitting when the Treaty was signed. I think it is quite possible, and quite arguable, that the Government might say there were certain pledges given under certain conditions which it may not be in the power of the Government to carry out, but for the noble Viscount to tell me, with regard to pledges which I had in writing from the head of the Government during the Convention, pledges given to me privately time after time—to me and my colleagues, one of whom is sitting there— 202 pledges which were reiterated—some of which I have not even got the right to produce because they are in private letters—up to within a few months of the settlement being made, that there never were those pledges is more than any private member of this House can allow a member of the Cabinet to say without challenge.
That is my position. It has always been common ground between all Parties that you could not settle the Irish question with fairness if you left it to those who would have to contend with the difficulties which the Free State would have to contend with, to settle the most difficult and trying question which has divided all classes in Ireland. That was the reason why the Convention, by a unanimous vote, not only decided to settle it but decided that we should have it in writing from the Prime Minister of this country that he would accept such settlement as part of the general settlement. That, I have no doubt, was the full intention of those who signed the Treaty. Now, may I say in one sentence what I have told your Lordships before—namely, that my personal interests in what might be done for Irish landlords in the matter of land is exiguous. My property in Ireland is urban property and so far as I am concerned the land question was settled long ago, but even since Lord Oranmore moved for that Committee the state of those who were left in the lurch and deserted by the decision of the Government has been far worse. They were offered fifteen years' purchase compulsorily for land worth twenty or twenty-two years' purchase and had to accept it, but have not been paid. What they were told with regard to, their arrears has not been fulfilled, they have had to give up untenanted land at their own hall doors, and if my noble and learned friend speaks for those on behalf of whom he argued in and out of Parliament for years, I feel equally for those for whom I was trusted to negotiate, on whose behalf I believed in the word of a British Minister, and who have seen the inability to carry out those pledges.
I for one will not sit here and allow the noble Viscount to say that no such pledges were, ever given. So far as I am concerned, I do not want to argue the question of who should pay the owners. Undoubtedly it came out of the pockets 203 of the British taxpayer before. I was myself a member of the Cabinet which brought in the Wyndham Act. I know myself that, as a British member, I had very strong feelings with regard to the taxation of Great Britain for that purpose, but it has been done. This was promised in the 1920 Act and it matters very little to the Irish landlord whether what they were promised comes from one source or the other, but it does matter very much to them that many of them have had to take a sum of money which has left them in practical penury. In the position in which we are I had hoped that we should have had from the Government to-night at all events a recognition that the decision of the Committee was one which required very grave consideration on their part. We have had in detail what I may call a rather jaunty deprecation of pledges of any description, of the authority of the Committee and of what is due to the majority of this House who appointed that Committee. I am afraid that, in the circumstances, if my noble friend chooses to go to a Division on his very moderate Motion, I for one will feel it my duty to support him.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, I was a member of the late Government which has been stated—quite erroneously—to have come to a decision on this question. It never was before us formally and we never gave a decision about it. I am, therefore, all the more in an impartial position in rising to consider it. There is a very remarkable confusion of thought about this whole question. There is the noble Earl, who has just sat down, who speaks of this as if there were some legal contract to pay a sum out of the assets of this country, the assets under the control of the Exchequer. But there is no legal contract and what he is proposing is to give a present, notwithstanding the declarations which he made only yesterday in this House on the obligation of the State to proceed with the utmost strictness. The truth is that it is not a question of legal obligation at all and I say that when you have no legal obligation you have got to look at the whole situation.
This Committee ought never to have been appointed. It was brought about by the ingenuity of my noble friend Lord Oranmore and Browne. It was presided over by my noble friend Lord Chelms- 204 ford with his conspicuous fairness. He and his colleagues sought to examine the pledges given and came to the conclusion that there were pledges given which covered this matter. I assume all that, but the question we have to answer here is what is the obligation on this Government to provide this money. It must come out of the British Exchequer. The Irish Exchequer has dealt with it in its own way and now it is a question of the British Exchequer. Even if there had been in 1920, which there was not, a legal obligation entered into, it would have been a legal obligation to be answered not by the British Exchequer to-day but by the Irish Exchequer. To the Irish Government and to its funds have been transferred the burden of the obligations entered into before the change of Government. That has been decided by your Lordships' House, sitting judicially, and in an entirely unprejudiced matter very recently.
The result is that it is idle to talk of contracts, to talk of this matter as if it were one to be debated by lawyers. It is one to be debated by statesmen and it ought never to have been referred to the Committee, as it is a question of high policy for the Cabinet of the time. When you ask what is the character of the obligation entered into, it is very obvious that it was of a political character. There was a bonus dating back to the time of the late Mr. George Wyndham and that bonus, if it were given to-day, would, it is estimated, amount to £6,000,000. I, for my part, would be very glad if there were £6,000,000 made available for the benefit of the Irish landlords. They have had very difficult times. On the other hand, it is very difficult for any Irish Government to give them the very full payment, because there is a history behind Irish land which naturally limits the possibilities within the reach of Ministers.
The case of Northern Ireland was so different that I do not even stop to consider it. It was dealt with and debated in different circumstances. But with regard to Southern Ireland, the whole matter was transferred to the new Irish Government to be dealt with and debated as an Irish matter. That was the legal position and it was also the natural political position. I have no doubt it was hoped when it was done that the Irish 205 Government would shape their policy so as to be able to give effect to what was done here, but certainly we never said that if they did not we would make up the difference out of the taxes in this country. Certainly there was nothing said to that effect. What was laid down was a declaration of the policy of the Government which at that time governed Ireland as well as this country. Now all that is over. The government of Ireland has to be carried on by an Irish Government and one of the consequences is that the obligations are transferred wholly and entirely to the shoulders of that Government.
That Government is now dealing with them as best it can. It has found something approaching seventy per cent. of the revenue that the Irish landowners used to have. It may be that in the circumstances that is not an altogether adequate recompense. What the history of Irish land would have been if there had been no settlement I do not know. I have always agreed entirely with the views of the noble Earl opposite about the settlement made at that time. It was a precious settlement, both from our point of view and that of Ireland, because it got rid of a great many questions and it also got rid of an incalculable amount of suffering on those living in Ireland who were not of the prevalent political complexion. Therefore I think it is a fallacy from beginning to end to treat this Report as if it was the foundation of any contract or the recognising of any contract. It is not a question of legal contract, but of statesmanship and of what can be done here and of what can be done by the Government of Ireland.
The second of these questions is entirely for the Government of Ireland, which has been doing its best and has done a good deal. The other question is one for ourselves. I want to make it perfectly clear that it cannot be decided as it might be decided by a solicitor sitting down and reading it up. It is a matter of statesmanship, and statesmanship forbids the fulfilment of any obligation which has devolved upon the Irish Government by taking out of the taxes of this country £6,000,000, or any other sum, which could only be payable on the footing that there was an obligation such as does not exist.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount has just told us that it was a great mistake to set up this Committee, but unfortunately the House had a different view. The Committee was appointed and has presented a Report, and it is the least your Lordships can do, if the noble Lords who were on that Committee took the trouble to sit, to consider their Report and see what action should be taken upon it. The noble and learned Viscount also said that there is no legal contract. I am not a lawyer, but I may respectfully say that I quite agree with him. There can be no legal contract in such a case, but there is what I, as a layman, would suggest is an equitable obligation. I believe that equity never existed in the Scottish law, so perhaps it does not appeal so much to the noble and learned Viscount, but it is a point we make that as a matter of equity this should be done.
The noble Viscount, Lord Peel, told us that the pledges of the Government fell to the ground when the Act of 1920 failed to operate. But that is exactly what we complain of. He said that the Bill and the Act went together. The Act was passed, and the Bill concerning land purchase, which we said—and which the Government said—it was absolutely necessary to settle before they established self-government in Ireland, was not passed. Therefore we contend that the Bill ought to have been passed simultaneously with the Act of 1920; if so, it would have been the law of the land before the Treaty was made. We know that the Government realised that it was necessary to pass it as regards Northern Ireland, and I would point out to the noble Viscount that when he argued that £67 for every £100 which was previously received is quite sufficient for landowners——
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I did not say that. I said I was not going to pronounce on the question at all. I simply wanted to state what the facts of the case were.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
At any rate, the Government of which the noble Viscount was a member, when they dealt with the question of Northern Ireland did not think it sufficient, and passed an Act which gave them £82 instead of £67.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
Well, that was stated last year, and was not contradicted—I have just looked it up in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
The noble Viscount also mentioned a free grant from the Irish Government, and it might appear to some of your Lordships that that free grant was received by the landlords, and was therefore to be added to the amount of £67
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.208
§ which they received; but, on the contrary, it was a free gift to the tenants, so that their annuities for the future should be less. I am sorry that the Government refuse to accept this Motion, which I purposely framed in such a way that it could not be contended that it was in any way a Vote of Censure on the Government; it was only calling on the Government to recognise the Report of the Committee which this House had set up, and to express the opinion of this House that they relied on His Majesty's Government doing what was proper and just in the matter. I am afraid, in the circumstances, I cannot withdraw the Motion, which must go to a Division.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 54; Not-Contents, 36.207
|Northumberland, D.||Askwith, L.||Morris, L.|
|Banbury of Southam, L.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|Normanby, M.||Bellew, L. [Teller.]||Newton, L.|
|Carew, L.||Northington, L. (L. Henley.)|
|Halsbury, E.||Carson, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.)||Oranmore and Browne, L. (L. Mereworth.) [Teller.]|
|Morton, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)|
|Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)|
|Westmeath, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Parmoor, L.|
|Desart, L. (E. Desart.)||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Allendale, V.||Doverdale, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Farnham, L.||Shandon, L.|
|De Vesci, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Sinclair, L.|
|Elibank, V.||Hemphill, L.||Southwark, L.|
|FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Kilmaine, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Leverhulme, V.||Lambourne, L.||Strachie, L.|
|Sumner, V.||Lamington, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Templetown, V.||Lawrence, L.||Wavertree, L.|
|Middleton, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Mildmay of Flete, L.||Ystwyth, L.|
|Cave, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Scarbrough, E.||Gage, L.(V Gage.)|
|Stanhope, E.||Hampton, L.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Hawke, L.|
|Astor, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Sutherland, D.||Haldane, V.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Peel, V.||Kylsant, L.|
|Airlie, E.||Arnold, L.||Lovat, L.|
|Birkenhead, E.||Biddulph, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Clarendon, E.||Blythswood, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Shaw, L.|
|Graham, E. (D. Montrose.)||Cottesloe, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Desborough, L.||Vestey, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)||Wargrave, L.|
|Plymouth, E. [Teller.]||Faringdon, L.|