HL Deb 27 July 1931 vol 81 cc1175-83

LORD DANESFORT had the following Notice on the Paper—To ask His Majesty's Government whether any Convention has been made between the British Government and the Irish Free State Government as provided by Article 2 of the Annex to the Treaty of December 6, 1921—

  1. 1. As to the existing and future submarine cables and wireless stations in Southern Ireland for communication with places outside Ireland;
  2. 2. As to the maintenance by the Irish Free State of lighthouses, buoys, beacons and navigational marks and aids; and
  3. 3. As to war signal stations existing at the date of the Treaty.

And whether any Convention has been made between the British Government and the Irish Free State Government as provided by Article 3 of the said Annex for the regulation of civil communication by air; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Paper. The way in which this matter arises is this. The Treaty—to use the common term by which it was described—between this country and the Irish Free State, of December 6, 1921, is as follows as affecting these matters: 7. The Government of the Irish Free State shall afford to His Majesty's Imperial Forces:

  1. (a) In time of peace such harbour and other facilities as are indicated in the Annex hereto, or such other facilities as may from time to time be agreed between the British Government and the Government of the Irish Free State; and
  2. (b) In time of war or of strained relations with a Foreign Power such harbour and other facilities as the British Government may require for the purposes of such defence as aforesaid."

Then, turning to the Annex referred to in Article 7, we find this provision: 2. A Convention shall be made between the British Government and the Government of the Irish Free State to give effect to the following conditions: "— Your Lordships will see the great importance of these provisions, which are contained in this Annex— (a) That submarine cables shall not be landed or wireless stations for communication with places outside Ireland be established except by agreement with the British Government; that the existing cable landing rights and wireless concessions shall not be withdrawn except by agreement with the British Government; and that the British Government shall be entitled to land additional submarine cables or establish additional wireless stations for communication with places outside Ireland. (b) That lighthouses, buoys, beacons, and any navigational marks or navigational aids shall be maintained by the Government of the Irish Free State as at the date hereof and shall not be removed or added to except by agreement with the British Government. I need hardly pause to point out the great importance of that provision with regard to British commerce, and more especially British shipping between this country and the Free State. (c) That war signal stations shall be closed down and left in charge of care and maintenance parties, the Government of the Irish Free State being offered the option of taking them over and working them for commercial purposes subject to Admiralty inspection, and guaranteeing the upkeep of existing telegraph communication therewith. 3. A Convention shall be made between the same Governments for the regulation of civil communication by air.

The question which I wish to ask is whether those Conventions which have been referred to have been made as yet or not. If they have been made well and good, and I would like to see copies of them, but as far as my investigations have gone no such Conventions have been made. If they have not been made I should like to ask the Government why they have, not been made. Ten years have passed since the making of the Treaty. It cannot be said that those are matters of no importance, or of small importance, and it is obvious that the provisions contained in the Annex are a very sketchy outline, which has to be filled in and ought to be filled in by a properly and carefully drawn up instrument, which should be signed by both Governments.

The importance of this matter has received a very striking illustration in the course of the last few days by an incident to which I shall refer in a moment, which happened in the Irish Free State Senate; and before I come to this let me say that it is unfortunate that we in this country do not learn very much from the Press of this country of what is going on in Ireland. I do not for the moment think it necessary to go into reasons for that, but it is the fact. The result is that a careful student who desires to know the course of affairs, political or otherwise, in Southern Ireland, or who. desires to know the aspirations, intentions and desires of prominent men in Ireland, leaders of public opinion, is necessarily driven to reading the Irish newspapers, and perhaps it is even more important that he should read the debates in the Irish Dail and Senate. Without such study I am afraid that we are left in very serious ignorance of either the political or the material situation in Southern Ireland at present, or the possibilities of the future in that country.

I said that there was a debate in the Senate on July 23. Unfortunately the Official Report has not yet come out, but I have a longish report—which I will show the noble Lord if he desires to see it—in the Irish Times. I find that in the course of that debate the Leader of the Labour Party in the Senate, a person of considerable importance, made this statement, and it is with reference to the paragraph which I have just read out in Clause 7 of the Treaty—namely, that the Government of the Irish Free State shall afford to His Majesty's Imperial Forces … in time of war or of strained relations with a Foreign Power such harbour and other facilities as the British Government may require for the purposes of such defence as aforesaid. And the statement of Mr. Johnson, the Leader of the Labour Party, was as follows: It was time that the Government sought the abrogation of the clause of the Treaty under which the British Government had power to land troops in the Free States in times of strained relations. They could not say that the State was independent while that clause remained. Your Lordships will find, if you read the debates in the Dail and the Senate, that people of all Parties—I think I am right in saying of all Parties—are continually harping on that strain of Irish independence, freedom from the British Crown or from any possible relations with the British Government. If we find that an important person like the Leader of the Labour Party is endeavouring to throw over that clause of the Treaty which bears so closely on the question under discussion, it is time that we in this House gave expression to the opinion that the clause of this Treaty should be maintained, and that it is mischievous, not only in this country but exceedingly mischievous in Ireland, and excites false hopes, if such statements are passed without comment.

But that was not all, because in the course of that debate there was another point raised, which is an illustration of what may happen if these Treaty rights are not strictly maintained. Clause 4 of the Treaty provides that: The Oath to be taken by Members of the Parliament of the Irish Free State shall be in the following form: I need not read it: it is the Oath of Allegiance, slightly altered from the form in which it is taken in this country. In the course of that debate comments were made by various persons upon the position of His Majesty the King, in which it was said that they desired to get rid of the Monarchy, and one Senator went so far as to say that he did not want the British Monarchy, either as a shadow or as a reality. Some apparently were willing to allow the British Monarchy to exist in Southern Ireland as a shadow, but others did not want it either as a shadow or as a reality. Then the question arose of whether the members of the Senate had or had not taken the Oath of Allegiance. Sundry members of the Senate got up and declared most positively that they had not taken the Oath of Allegiance. The Minister denied it and said, "You did." The gentlemen in question answered and said they had not, and a very unseemly wrangle ensued; and it appears that, according to their own statements, they had not taken the Oath of Allegiance, and had thereby violated the Treaty.

I think that debate is instructive, and I should be very glad if the Minister who replies would not only tell me something about these Conventions but would express a hope, if it be possible for him to do so, that these threatened invasions of the Treaty should not be referred to. I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Passfield, would normally answer this Question, but that the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, is going to answer it and therefore it may not be possible for him to give us quite full information as to the position of affairs; but I hope he will be able to tell us that at long last, after ten years, negotiations, if there are any for this purpose, are in good progress, that the instrument has been considered, that it has been put before the Irish Free State, and that before long these Conventions will be signed. Anyone who reads the recent debates in the Dail and the Senate must feel convinced of the paramount importance, not only to this country, but to Southern Ireland, that the obligations of the Treaty on both sides should be fairly, strictly and rigorously carried out in the interests of both countries. As a matter of fact, we have carried out our part of the Treaty with the utmost precision. I beg to move.


My Lords, I do not know how far it is in order to discuss the debates in another Parliament in the British Dominions. If it is in order, it seems to me a very inconvenient proceeding, because, if what takes place in one Parliament is to be discussed in another Parliament, it can only lead to confusion and misunderstanding. therefore do not propose to follow the noble Lord in what he has said with regard to what took place in the Senate and the Dail. With regard to the specific Questions which the noble Lord has addressed to the Government, I may say that I am acting on behalf of Lord Passfield, who unfortunately is unwell. The answer to the first Question is that no Conventions have yet been concluded. Discussions have taken place informally from time to time regarding various points arising out of the provisions in the Annex to the Articles of Agreement, in particular in relation to the maintenance of the Irish lights. The subject has not been lost sight of, and, if opportunity arises, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom would be ready to seek a suitable occasion for effecting a comprehensive settlement of the various matters in question.

It may, however, be said that, generally speaking, it has been possible so far to dispose of any questions arising in relation to these matters by suitable administrative action. For example, by arrangement between the two Post Offices the Anglo-Irish submarine cable is being maintained and worked on similar lines to those in force before the Treaty; the Irish Free State Post Office has also granted licences to the cable companies for submarine cables landed in the Irish Free State on similar conditions to those prevailing before the Treaty. No cases have arisen in which wireless services between the Irish Free State and countries outside have been established since the date of the Treaty. Next, with regard to the Irish lights. The lights are maintained by the Commissioners -of Irish Lights, with money provided from the special fund for light dues which forms part of the general lighthouse fund administered by the Board of Trade. No alteration of any importance is made without the Irish Free State Government being consulted.

As regards air arrangements, at present only private flying is in question, and for this administrative action on existing lines is sufficient. But in the event of a regular commercial service being established, it will be necessary that we should have some agreement, or some Convention, as contemplated by the Treaty. Your Lordships will thus see that, although no Convention has been arrived at up till now, both Governments have been able to carry on by administrative action all that is contemplated under these Conventions. I agree with the noble Lord that the matters referred to in his Question are matters of great and serious importance, and endeavour is being made, and has been made continuously since the present Government came into office and I believe under the previous Government, to try to come to some definite arrangement in order that these Conventions may be properly effected. The noble Lord has asked for Papers. There are no Papers which will throw any light upon the matter or which have special reference to it.


My Lords, I hardly think your Lordships will regard the reply made by the noble Lord to the Questions of my noble friend Lord Danesfort as very satisfactory. He began his remarks by taking exception to my noble friend quoting from the debates in another place. My noble friend merely quoted from those debates as showing the opinions and views of those in a responsible position across the water. I would suggest to His Majesty's Government that when an arrangement was come to under a Treaty no less than ten years ago, it is highly unsatisfactory that the reply to my noble friend should be on the lines that informal conversations are proceeding but that nothing has been definitely laid down for carrying out the agreement which was definitely arrived at at that time. The matters raised by my noble friend are certainly very important. I agree that the noble Lord will have satisfied my noble friend in telling us that certain of these arrangements in connection with lights, lighthouses, buoys and beacons are on a satisfactory basis and that there is a very definite understanding between members of His Majesty's Government here and members of the Government in Dublin. I understand that from him; but I feel it is of the highest importance that we should have a much more definite reply as to why, instead of the Convention having been set up, merely informal conversations should have taken place. One would like to have seen a businesslike arrangement. For that reason I shall certainly support my noble friend if he goes to a Division.


My Lords, I am afraid I share the disappointment of the noble Marquess as to the amount of information we have received from His Majesty's Government. I realise that it may be difficult for the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, who has been called, as it were, in an emergency to answer these Questions, to give very full information. But I think the Department which gave him the information might at least have given some information why there should be a delay of ten years in carrying out a definite provision of a Treaty upon what the noble Lord admits to be most important matters. Not a syllable has been said as to the reason for that delay.

We have been told that there have been no administrative difficulties. I only express the hope that the reason why there was no friction or serious difference of opinion between the two Governments was that we did not in this case, as I am sorry to say we have done in many other cases, give in to the demands of the Free State Government without adequate consideration for the interests of this country. When my noble friend says that the administrative difficulties have not been serious or, indeed, of any particular consequence, does it not show, if that is so, that ten years ought not to have elapsed before a written agreement was come to. Either we are in agreement with the Free State or we are not. If we are in agreement why should it take ten years to incorporate in a written instrument that about which we are in agreement? If, on the other hand, we are not in agreement with the Free State, surely we ought to try at the earliest possible moment to reach an agreement, so that when difficulties arise we shall be able to point to a definite written statement signed by both parties which would govern the matter.

Therefore I trust that the noble Lord, or, perhaps, the noble and learned Lord who leads the House, will give us an assurance that no further delay will take place in bringing this exceedingly important matter to a close. In the meanwhile, perhaps he can produce some Papers which show what the course of negotiations has been, what we have proposed to them, whether any difficulties have arisen, and if so what they are. I would ask him if he cannot lay those. Papers on the Table.


My Lords, I think I might say a word or two in answer to the noble Marquess and the noble Lord who asked the Questions. During more than seven of the ten years referred to by the noble Lord a Conservative or a Coalition Government were in power. I think all Governments have followed the same view. They want, if possible, to arrange a matter of this kind by agreement and I think that is the proper thing to do. I am sorry that I cannot give any detail about that. It was only as I came into your Lordships' House that I heard that my noble friend Lord Passfield was prevented by illness from coming here this afternoon. But I am perfectly certain that everything has been done as heretofore as regards arrangement and, agreement. If it would in any way satisfy the noble Lord, I can assure him that we intend to follow the same methods now. Of course, if a Convention can be actually arranged it is better. In the meantime, for a long period of years this matter has been carried on in a friendly way by arrangement between the two parties, and in the absence of coming to a Convention that appears to me to be the best method to follow.

I am sorry I cannot give the noble Lord any further information. He will understand the difficulties that have arisen from the unfortunate illness of Lord Passfield. When the noble Lord returns if any further details can be given I have no doubt he will be glad to add them. I am afraid there are no Papers that can be published. I have already ascertained that and therefore we are obliged to hold to what my noble friend Lord Amulree has already said on that point.


My Lords, in view of the noble and learned Lord's statement, I do not press for Papers at this moment. I shall hope to raise the question again in the autumn, by which time I hope there will be some Papers which will be of value.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.