HL Deb 18 October 1932 vol 85 cc800-2

My Lords, I wish to ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, whether he has any statement to make with regard to the negotiations between the Secretary of State for the Dominions and Mr. de Valera.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving me an opportunity of making in this House the same statement as I understand is being made in another place by my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions. My right hon. friend is making in another place a statement in these terms: As stated in the communiqué issued on Saturday night, it was unfortunately found impossible to reach an agreement and the negotiations came to an end. I will not take up the time of the House with details, since by agreement the documents exchanged during the negotiations will be published shortly as a White Paper. These will indicate the points raised by the Irish Free State representatives and our replies thereto.

But the House will expect a brief account of the circumstances which led to the negotiations and of the issues discussed. Prior to the meetings of last week the position was that we had offered either arbitration on the validity of the Irish Free State obligations to the United Kingdom Exchequer, or direct negotiations, provided that there was a prospect of finality. Mr. de Valera agreed to negotiations on this basis. Negotiations were directed to the financial matters outstanding. The case of the Irish Free State delegation was presented from the historical, technical and legal point of view, and was directed to three main issues. First, they denied the validity of the Agreements from which result the payments claimed by us to be due. Secondly, they asserted that no ultimate financial settlement between the two countries was ever made. Thirdly, on this basis they claimed that a new settlement should now be made covering all outstanding financial matters between the two Governments. In this connection they put forward claims not only in respect of pre-Treaty matters, such as the alleged over-taxation of Ireland, since the Act of Union in 1801, to the extent of some hundreds of millions of pounds, but also in respect of matters arising since the Treaty, including an unspecified loss said to have been sustained by them in consequence of our departure from the gold standard last year.

There was a free and frank exchange of views; but we were unable to find that any new point was brought forward affecting the validity of the Agreements of 1923 and 1926. These Agreements were, in our opinion, made in complete good faith and have in fact been acted upon, up to this year, on both sides. We again expressed our readiness for arbitration on the legal issue; but this Mr. de Valera was unable to accept since he maintained his previous attitude towards an Empire tribunal. Basing ourselves on the view that the Agreements of 1923 and 1926 were, as I have said, made in complete good faith, and that the 1926 Agreement was intended, and stated in terms, to be the Ultimate Financial Settlement, we obviously could not accept the claim of the Irish Free State that they were entitled to reopen that settlement unless some manifest injustice was disclosed in its terms. So far from that being the case the discussions confirmed our view that the settlement was advantageous to the Irish Free State.

We expressed the view that there was neither a legal nor a moral basis for the Irish Free State claim in respect of over-taxation in the past, and we supported this view by illustration and argument. Further, we made it clear that we could not accept for a moment the Irish Free State claims in respect of any matters arising subsequently to the Treaty and the Agreements. It became plain in these circumstances that the continuance of the discussions could serve no useful purpose. I ought in fairness to add, on behalf of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, that in agreeing to these negotiations we were actuated by a sincere desire to bring to an end this unhappy dispute. But it was obvious from the two days' discussions on Friday and Saturday last that the Irish Free State representatives had no intention of admitting either the validity or the justice of the previous Agreements.

That, my Lords, is the statement which, I understand, is being made in another place, and your Lordships will appreciate that I can only repeat in this House the statement which is being made elsewhere by the Minister who is directly responsible for that Department.


I am much obliged to the noble and learned Viscount for making that statement to your Lordships.