HL Deb 15 December 1948 vol 159 cc1051-140

2.45 p.m.

VISCOUNT SIMON rose to call attention to the declaration made by His Majesty's Government on November 25 last in regard to the contemplated change of relations between the United Kingdom and Eire; and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, no apology is needed for the decision by those who sit on this Bench to initiate a discussion before we adjourn for the Christmas holiday on a matter of immediate urgency and of grave importance—namely, the impending change in the relations between this country and Eire. That matter was the subject of a short Government statement, made to both Houses of Parliament on November 25 last, but it has not been further debated. My purpose in raising this matter is to call attention to the terms of this statement, to ask for some further exposition from His Majesty's Government and to bring before the House some considerations which now arise.

Down to the present moment Eire, by English law at least, has been a member of the Commonwealth, and citizens of Eire have been British subjects. The Government statement makes it plain that this will soon be no longer the fact. Whatever ambiguities there may have been in Eire as to the constitutional position in the past, whatever the successive changes which have been brought about in the Constitution of that country, legislation is now going through the Dublin Parliament (I have the Dublin Hansard here, suitably bound in light green) to put Eire definitely outside the Commonwealth as an independent Republic, and to repudiate even the faintest connection between the citizens of Eire and the Crown. So far, of course, that will be a matter of the law of Eire, within the competence of Eire; and the decision one way or the other is for Eire, and for nobody but Eire. As your Lordships well know, ever since the Statute of Westminster, if not before, it has been recognised that a free and independent member of the Commonwealth may, if it desires, leave the Commonwealth and turn itself into a foreign country. We may indeed deplore it, but we do not question it or deny it; for the Commonwealth is essentially a voluntary association.

From our constitutional point of view, however, the all-important fact is, as the Government statement shows, that when the Republic of Ireland Bill comes into force, the separation of Eire from the Commonwealth will be recognised and accepted by ourselves. We can do no other. I do not want to be misunderstood, and an ancient parallel in very different circumstances might be misleading, though if the point is clearly stated it ought not to mislead. There is, of course, a world of difference between the former status of our eighteenth century Colonies in North America and the status of an autonomous member of the Commonwealth, such as Eire is. But in both cases the effect of the recognition of separation is the same. As soon as the American Declaration of Independence was followed, as it was in the year 1783, by Britain's recognition of the independent sovereign Republic of the United States, then the international status of the new Republic was acknowledged and established. In the same way, the existence of an independent sovereign Republic of Eire, completely outside the Commonwealth, will, by our own recognition, if not before, become not merely a matter of domestic or friendly agreement but an international fact.

Lest it be at all thought to be in question, let me make it doubly clear that in my view—and I hope in the view of all of us—we have no sort of right to complain if this should be the decision of Eire; and we do not do so. It would be wholly inconsistent with the true nature of the Commonwealth to do so, for, to go back, the Balfour Declaration itself laid it down, in often-quoted words, that the States of the Commonwealth are: autonomous communities, equal in status and in no way subordinate to one another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Therefore, the point which I wish to bring before the House is not as to the right of Eire so to act, or of our necessary acceptance of her decision to become an independent sovereign Republic, completely severed from the Crown. The point is as to the consequences which follow from that step, and of the attitude taken up by our Government in regard to those consequences.

I must say that I find it rather surprising that so important an event as this has received so little attention from Parliament, Press and people. Is the explanation, perhaps, that we are so much absorbed, and our reduced newspaper columns have been so much occupied, with the daily happenings of Mr. Justice Lynskey's Tribunal? Has not the importance which should attach to the fact that Eire is about to leave the Commonwealth, and that citizens of Eire will cease to be British subjects, been somewhat obscured? It seems to me that we, and all others in the Commonwealth, ought to pay close attention to this change in Anglo-Irish relations, and ought to consider carefully its bearing upon the development, or (should I rather say?) upon the shrinkage, of the Commonwealth itself? At any rate, here in the House of Lords we have the time, and I hope we have the inclination, to consider quietly, reasonably, calmly and with attention this last act in the long drawn-out drama of Ireland, a drama which has only too often fulfilled the Aristotlean dictum, that the elements of tragedy are a combination of pity and of fear. Certainly any one of us who throughout his political life has tried to comprehend the deep emotions which have governed the course of the Irish Nationalist movement cannot fail to dwell on the significance, and, I think, to be a little anxious about the outcome, of what is about to occur.

There are two aspects of this matter which I would ask the House to consider. The first is the question of Eire's citizenship, as it will hereafter be under our law. The second is the question of the reactions which this change in our relations with Eire may tend to bring about in the rest of the Commonwealth. It is no good shutting our eyes to these things, or being content to hope that everything will turn out all right. We all hope so. We all recognise the equal rights of our fellows in the Commonwealth. But the situation, surely, does require thought and study. I therefore venture to make these remarks.

First, I will deal with the future status of citizens of Eire in English law. Hitherto, an individual could be quite simply classified as either a British subject or a foreigner. There is, indeed, the important exception of British-protected persons, which is the status of so many in Africa and elsewhere; but for the present purpose that exception can be disregarded, because the last thing in the world that any sort of Irishman would wish to claim is that he is a British-protected person. This simple and long-established alternative, "Are you a British subject, or are you a foreigner?" is now to be complicated by the attempt to introduce a tertium quid or, in plain English, a third something which is neither one nor the other. Some people with a classical turn of mind might perhaps be disposed to add that the newcomers will be a tertium gaudens into the bargain! A citizen of Eire, although the citizen of an independent Republic, is (we are told) to be neither a British subject nor a foreigner, if the Government's interpretation of the British Nationality Act, which was passed last July, is right. He is to be a person who has all the privileges of a British subject, but is not a British subject. That is surely a very Hibernian paradox, as indeed is the alleged result of the creation of the Republic of Eire itself. Mr. Churchill made very good fun of it in a passage of his speech in the foreign affairs debate last week, and that lively commentator, Mr. Beverley Baxter, M.P., put the oddity of such a situation in a nutshell when he wrote the other day that previously Eire had said "Include me out," but now Eire was saying, "Exclude me in."

What I want to put to the Lord Chancellor or to the noble Viscount who leads the House, is this. When the Government commended to us the terms of the British Nationality Act last summer—and, indeed, in the case of the Lord Chancellor, rebuked some of us, more in sorrow than in anger, I am sure, because we presumed to think that it was not wisely drawn—did they contemplate, did they know, did they suspect, that the very involved language of that Act was likely to be used to facilitate the creation of an Eire Republic outside the Commonwealth, whose citizens could, nevertheless, claim not to be treated as foreigners? That is the question I want to put, and I think it is a fair one. Or, as an alternative, is the suggested application of Section 3 of the British Nationality Act a sort of happy accident, which has occurred unexpectedly, after the Act was on the Statute Book? Of course, if that was in the mind of the Government at the time they presented the Bill they should, I think, have made it plain to Parliament and to the public that it was likely that it would be sought to apply the Act in this way. I perfectly appreciate that Section 3 of the British Nationality Act provided for a situation in which a citizen of Eire might not also be a British subject—it says so. But the main ground upon which the Bill was urged upon us was that what was called the common code of nationality, which had hitherto prevailed, no longer applied, since Canada had defined its own citizens by Canadian Act and had given them the status of British subjects, and that therefore it was necessary to provide for the adoption of this new method as a better way of arriving at British nationality.

As the Lord Chancellor will remember, he himself introduced into the Bill an Amendment which provided that the expression "Commonwealth citizen" should be alternative to the expression "British subject." The argument about this is an intricate one, and I do not wish to delay the House with technicalities, because the broad point is of a much more general and substantial character. But I doubt very much whether Parliament as a whole really understood at the time that the phrase "a citizen of Eire," used in the Act when Eire was within the Commonwealth, could be given by the Government a connotation so wide as to cover a citizen of some future Republic called Eire which hereafter divorces itself from the Commonwealth altogether.

Moreover, is that the right construction of the phrase in the British Nationality Act at all? At the time when that Act was passed, Eire was by our law a Dominion within the Commonwealth, and a citizen of Eire meant a citizen of such a Dominion. It is both good law and good sense—and, believe me, the two very often go together—that a phrase like that is to be understood as what it meant when the Act was passed. The whole argument for the Government view, as expressed in this statement, must be that a citizen of Eire means a citizen of an independent sovereign non-Commonwealth Republic which did not then exist at all. But that does not seem to me by any means clear.

At any rate, if the Government interpretation is right, what are we left with? We are left with a situation in which a citizen of Eire in the future will be neither British subject nor foreigner, but will enjoy the advantages of one without the disadvantages of the other. The Lord Chancellor, speaking on the British Nationality Act, contended that the arrangement for the special position of Eireann citizens was a sensible compromise over a difficult problem. I certainly agree that the problem is a difficult one, but I do not see in the solution what is the essential characteristic of a compromise. Abraham Lincoln is recorded to have said that he once had a discussion with his wife about the colour of the paint to be used on their front door. Abraham Lincoln wanted blue. Mrs. Lincoln wanted green. Abraham Lincoln said: "So my wife and I compromised—the door was painted green. "I hope we all have the most friendly feelings towards every section of the Irish people, but I cannot help suspecting that there will be many who think that this suggested solution of a very perplexing problem is rather one-sided.

There is another question which presents itself, in the light of the Government statement, to which it is most important that we should have a clear and specific answer. What, in the view of the Government, will be the international status of Eire when the independent Republic of Eire is established? The answer to that question does not depend in the least upon how the Government are pleased to "regard" the matter. The Government statement—very carefully drafted, I am sure—includes this sentence: The United Kingdom Government will not regard the enactment of this legislation by Eire as placing Eire in the category of foreign countries. That comforting assurance has nothing to do with the international status of the Republic of Eire. The question is not how the present Government, or any Government, are prepared to regard it, but how the Republic of Eire would be regarded at the Hague Court. I should have thought—though I am open to be corrected—that there were many reasons for saying that internationally regarded, the Republic of Eire would be a foreign State. But if that be so, what would be the effect on the application of the "most favoured nation" clause in our commercial treaties?

As your Lordships will know, such a clause is contained in very many of our commercial treaties with foreign countries. The clause is not always in precisely the same terms, but the substance of it is that we undertake to afford to the other foreign State as good treatment, in matters of commerce and industry and the like, as we give to any other foreign country. I take as an example—and I will take only one—a clause in our commercial treaty with Spain. I find that the current commercial treaty with Spain says: The subjects of each of the contracting parties shall not be subject in respect of their persons or property, or in respect of their commerce or industry, to any taxes, whether general or local, or to imposts or obligations, of any kind whatever, other or greater than those which are or may be imposed upon subjects of the other, or subjects or citizens of the most favoured nation. The contracting parties agree that, in all matters relating to commerce, navigation, and industry, any privilege, favour, or immunity which either contracting party has actually granted or may hereafter grant, to the ships and subjects or citizens of any other foreign State, shall be extended simultaneously and unconditionally, without request and without compensation to the ships and subjects of the other, it being their intention that the commerce, navigation, and industry of each contracting party shall be placed in all respects on the footing of the most favoured nation. I do not think we do more than what is right on an occasion like this if we respectfully ask the Government whether they are satisfied that the proposed way in which they desire to treat the citizens of the independent Republic of Eire will not raise any difficulties under these numerous commercial treaties—forty of them, I think—which contain the "most favoured nation" clause.

Therefore I ask: Are the Government satisfied, in view of the new status of Eire and our proposed favourable treatment of her citizens and her trade, that no difficulties can arise under the "most favoured nation" clause in any of our commercial treaties? That is a branch of the subject which I will leave to my noble friend Lord Swinton to develop in more detail, for the point is of great importance, and may seriously affect the system of preference—not only preference between ourselves and a Dominion, but preference as between a Dominion and Eire. On this point I will merely add that, for my part, I do not see how any sufficient answer can be extracted from the Geneva Agreement on Tariffs and Trade of October, 1947, or from the Havana Charter of April, 1948. No doubt the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has examined these points, and it may be that he will express a different view later. The Havana Charter has indeed not been ratified; but we have signed the provisional protocol on the Geneva Agreement.

But, apart from that, I submit to the House, and to the noble and learned Viscount, that there are two reasons, which appear to be very serious, for saying that if the Government are relying on either of these documents as an answer to this question, the documents will not provide what they want. The first reason is that a large number of countries who are entitled by treaty to "most favoured nation" treatment from us have not signed and are not parties to the Geneva Agreement at all. I have a list of them; among them are Spain, Denmark, Switzerland, the Argentine, Egypt, Portugal and Turkey. The "most favoured nation" clause which I have just quoted is from the Treaty with Spain. Obviously, nothing in the Geneva Agreement can affect that. The second reason is that these later documents, so far as I can see, deal solely with tariff preferences, and do not touch an obligation, such as I have just read from the Treaty with Spain, as to ships and citizens. I do not raise this question with any desire to create trouble, but it seems to me obvious that before the Government make up their minds as to the attitude they will take up in this difficulty they ought to have considered, and to have come to a conclusion upon, matters like this.

There are two other questions that I wish to put before I come to my last point. The first is this: Can the Government tell us under what Department of State our relations with the independent Republic of Eire will fall? Plainly, it cannot be the Department of the Minister of Commonwealth Relations, for the new Republic of Eire will not be a member of the Commonwealth, as the Government statement admits. I suppose it will be the Department of Foreign Affairs. The load upon the shoulders of Mr. Ernest Bevin is heavy enough already. Are the Government going to add to this load—which includes the problem of Palestine, which the Foreign Secretary some time ago pledged his reputation to solve—the subject of our relations with the Republic of Eire?

The second question is: What is the effect of all this upon the six counties which are included in the Government of Northern Ireland? The Eire Government long to see the boundary disappear and the island of Ireland united. Our sympathy—and I am sure it is a genuine sympathy—with the Government of Eire, wherever it leads us, must not lead us to overlook the rights of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. I find it difficult to see how the proposed action of Eire is going to make for an easier solution of the boundary question. The French have a well-known phrase that speaks of drawing backwards for the purpose of making a better leap forwards reculer pour mieux sauter. It would be remarkable if Mr. Costello's Government, in withdrawing Eire from the Commonwealth altogether and severing the last link with the Crown, should be regarded with further favour by the other Government in the North, which fervently proclaims its determination to remain under the Crown.

I noticed an observation in the Irish Hansard made by one of the Deputies in a debate in the Dail to this effect. The observation seems to have weight: To argue that, by going further apart we are getting nearer together, is an insult to the intelligence of those who have been repeatedly assured that Finé Gael"— which is the Party which Mr. Costello heads— desired association with the Commonwealth. I believe that such arguments are sophistry pure and simple. It is not for us to judge. The Eire Government must decide for itself. But that is a matter which, when we think of Northern Ireland, we cannot readily omit from our thoughts.

Finally, what is the probable effect of the Government's proposed favourable treatment of the citizens of the Republic of Eire upon the rest of the Commonwealth? Is it calculated to promote, or to impair, the continued association of the other countries in the Commonwealth under the Crown? It seems to me that a most important question is here involved, upon which thoughtful men and women in all parts of the Commonwealth should reflect, although, of course, it is the unknown future which will in the end decide it. In a word, is the Union of Free Nations, which composes the Commonwealth, to become merely a friendly relationship arising from economic and social connections based upon common interests, such as we may well have with other foreign countries also? Or is it to continue to be an association of free peoples, each governing itself and conducting its affairs as its democracy decides, but sharing equally and in a special sense the acceptance and preservation of the unity which the Crown provides? I do not say that there is any certain answer to that question, but I am sure it is one upon which we ought to ponder.

It may be that Eire can be treated as a special case—I do not know. But the Commonwealth is a living and growing thing, not a sealed pattern. I agree that it may develop in a different way, but we are all deeply concerned to see that the spirit within it is preserved unimpaired. I have spoken out of a deep anxiety which the Government's statement of three weeks ago has in some respects raised in my mind. I am sure that none of us, in any part of the House, will say one word which can be construed as casting doubt upon the right of every member of the Commonwealth to decide its own course, but I wish I could believe that the way in which the Government have handled this matter is best calculated to promote that which appears to me to be the essentials of our Commonwealth relations.

It may be said: "Well, it is easy to suggest criticisms in so difficult a matter, but what other course was open to us?" Let me, in a concluding sentence or two, deal with that question. I would respectfully reply that, when you are faced with an undoubtedly difficult and complex problem, it is better to work out in detail, with the help of the different Government Departments, the consequences of a particular course of policy before you proclaim it, rather than proclaim it first and then make efforts afterwards to find out how the consequent difficulties may be met. We may be told by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor that, before he entered on this and joined in the statement made, he had studied the detailed reports of the experts of the Board of Trade on these different treaties, and gathered, both from their opinion and from his own, that there was no difficulty in the matter. I do not think he is going to say that. He may be able to tell us that, before he put forward the proposal in this form, he had had the matter sedulously considered by the Legal Department of the Foreign Office and had conferred with them in detail on what might be the results of the sort of statement that it was contemplated making. I do not know, but we shall no doubt hear.

It seems to me that the British Government might well have said to Mr. Costello that they trusted that he would maturely consider what might be the result of the action which he contemplated. They would have made it quite plain, of course—if it was ever in doubt—that the action to be taken by Eire was for Eire itself to decide; but, at the same time, they should have warned him that, while, whatever happened, we should pursue the friendliest relations with the Republic of Eire, the consequences which might follow would not be due to any desire of ours, but would be the result of what Eire itself did. They could have urged him and the Commonwealth statesmen with whom they conferred to consider afresh whether Eire's position would be improved or damaged by cutting herself off from the Common wealth. I cannot see in the Government statement any indication that they did any of those things.

In reading through those debates in Dublin in the Irish Hansard, I noticed a speech made by a Deputy who held a minority view and declared that he did not believe in the Republic of Ireland Bill. As I have said, that is a matter for the Eire Parliament, not for us, but in his speech there appears a passage which I will venture to read to the House and which I think might have been very properly part of the representations made by our Government to Mr. Costello. This is what that gentleman said: Ireland is a small country. She has been, up to now, part of the Commonwealth of Nations. I regard that Commonwealth of Nations as a group of nations in which lies the hope of the world, in company, of course, with the United States of America. We are only at the beginning of the rise of the Commonwealth of Nations and I do not want the House to misunderstand me or to think that when I say the Commonwealth of Nations I am meaning only England. I am not. I am meaning the great self-governing members of that group—Canada, which is already supposed to be the second greatest country in the world; Australia, which is rising; New Zealand, which is rising, and South Africa. We do not know to what heights these countries will rise, and it seems to me that we in Ireland, who were a part of that great body, speaking the same language, having Christian faith—because those particular members of the Commonwealth that I have named are Christians like we are—and, also, having largely the same ideals, could have had an influence on world affairs far out of proportion to the size of our country or the number of our population. Of course, this is a matter which Eire will decide. But I should have liked to be sure, before the Government declared their view and issued their statement, that they had presented, as they were entitled to do, this consideration gravely and powerfully to our friends in Southern Ireland. I hope, at any rate, that I have satisfied the House that the Government statement does call for a fuller explanation of the Government's attitude and policy. I conclude by saying that I wish to ask those who are to reply for the Government these four questions, which I sent to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, and to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, yesterday evening. I will read them, and I will say no more.

The first question is: What, in the view of the Government, will be the international status of the Republic of Eire; under what Department of State will our relations with her fall? The second question is: Are the Government satisfied, in view of the new status of Eire and our proposed changes of treatment to her citizens and her trade, that no difficulties can arise under the "most favoured nation" clause in any of our commercial treaties? The third question is: Is the suggested application of Section 3 of the British Nationality Act to citizens of the Republic of Eire (with the result that they are regarded by the Government as not becoming foreigners) an application that was contemplated by the Government when the Act was being passed, or has this contention presented itself only since the Bill became law? Finally I come to the fourth question, which I submit is within such limits of answer as the Government think wise and prudent: Do the Government consider that the favourable treatment of citizens of Eire, when the Republic of Eire goes outside the Commonwealth, is calculated to promote, or is it rather to impair, the continued association of the other countries in the Commonwealth under the Crown? I beg to move for Papers.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, let me say at the outset that we on these Benches regret that it has not been found possible to have a debate on foreign affairs in this House, as in the other House, before the Christmas adjournment. But we recognise that this question of Eire is more urgent, and we do not in any way demur from the action taken by the Opposition in putting down this matter in preference. At the same time, we hope that very soon after the reassembly of Parliament after the Recess a convenient opportunity will be found for a full debate on the foreign situation. For my own part, looking back over a long political life, it seems to me strange that now, in 1948, our Parliament should still be discussing the Irish question. I am one of the few members of your Lordships' House who can remember taking an active part in the General Election of 1892, when Home Rule was the leading issue before the country; and I was myself a candidate for Parliament at the ensuing election of 1895, when it was still very prominent. Many years afterwards, I had the privilege of assisting Mr. Asquith in conducting his Home Rule Bill through the House of Commons.

Now, speaking as a Liberal, I cannot refrain from asserting the view that if a different course had been taken with regard to either of those two measures, we should not now be faced with a situation which is likely so seriously to impair the solidarity of the British Commonwealth. We are suffering now from the nemesis of having for centuries denied political liberty to a people who had been subjected to a military conquest. The Irish people feel that they have been governed as though they were a newly settled Colony, whereas they claim (as is in fact the case) that their country is a mother country, with an ancient civilisation of her own, with high traditions of culture and of religion. Moreover, though her population is small, she claims to be—as she is—the motherland of forty millions of people of Irish blood, scattered all over the world.

After the refusal to pass into law Irish self-government before the outbreak of the war of 1914, there was a period, during and after that war, of fierce conflict in Ireland. A Treaty was signed in 1921 under which, by a majority, the Irish accepted Dominion status. But there was always a strong minority opposition in favour of a Republic, and when Mr. de Valera came into power he took successive steps to whittle down to a minimum the connections between Eire and the Commonwealth which subsisted under the Treaty of 1921. First, the Oath of Allegiance was abolished. Next the jurisdiction of the Privy Council was terminated. Thirdly, the functions of the Governor-General were restricted, and afterwards the office was abolished. Those were all unilateral abrogations of the Treaty, justified by the Eire Government on the ground that the Treaty had been signed under duress.

The position of the Crown, which is now the one point still remaining at issue, became more and more ambiguous. Eire was within her rights in declaring neutrality at the outbreak of war. South Africa refrained from doing so only by a comparatively small majority in her Parliament. But for Eire to have retained diplomatic relations with Germany all through that war, and to have had a German Minister still resident in Dublin, makes the position of the Crown almost untenable. To what Sovereign was that Minister accredited? Was he accredited to the head of the State which was actively engaged in war against his own country of Germany? It is not surprising that, when the war was over, and the Commonwealth Prime Ministers attended two Conferences—in 1945 and 1946—to deal with matters arising out of the state of affairs subsequent to the war, it was impossible to invite or to expect the participation of the Prime Minister of Eire.

The situation, as the Irish regarded it, was stated at last by Mr. de Valera in September, 1947. These were his words. I repeat them to your Lordships' House in order that every noble Lord may be seized of the situation as it appears from their point of view. As a matter of our external policy we are associated with the States of the British Commonwealth of Nations. We are not members of it. We are associates of the States of the Commonwealth, but if they regard the existence of the King as a necessary link, if they consider that it is the bond they have, then we have not got that bond.…We are externally associated with the States of the British Commonwealth. The position of the present Prime Minister of Eire is that he is proposing to do little more than to give legal form to a situation already existing.

I have had the opportunity of reading the speech of Mr. Costello, the Prime Minister of Eire, which he made when moving the Second Reading of the Bill which is now before the Dail. It was a speech which anyone who has read it would agree is both comprehensive and powerful. We may note that he does not specify any grievances of Eire with regard to the actual practical working of Commonwealth relationships. He makes it clear that his action is owing to the domestic political situation in his own country. He said, in effect, that it is not possible any longer to leave undefined the precise status of Ireland with regard to the Crown. He pointed out that there has long been, and is now, a powerful body of republican opinion in Ireland, and he, for his part, will not attempt to deal with that situation merely by exercises in what one might call legalistic casuistry. He says that the present situation may, at any time, give rise to acute friction, possibly to bloodshed, and to the need for active coercion on the part of the Eire Government. And he uses these words: I must admit that I recoiled from the prospect of a constitutional Purgatory, wherein I should spend an indefinite period of my time in perilous pirouetting on constitutional pinpoints. He proceeded, in the course of his speech, to link up his proposals with the discontent of the people of Eire regarding partition, for which the politicians of Eire have long desired to make this country responsible. His position there, of course, is much less easy to understand. In what way is this Act, which is about to be passed by the Eire Parliament, likely to promote the unification of Ireland? It is common ground among all of us—among the people of Eire and among the people of the Six Counties and of Great Britain—that there must be no armed coercion of Northern Ireland. The people of Eire would deny with indignation an accusation that they have learned nothing better from their long centuries of subjection in the past than how to enforce a similar subjection upon others. They must agree, we hope, that there is one way, and only one way, by which the unification and the reunion of Ireland can be achieved, and that is, to persuade public opinion in the North in favour of such unification. Whether the step which is now being taken in Eire will promote that object is for them to consider. They have considered it, and have decided to pass this Act. If, from the point of view of the reunion of Ireland, they have decided wrongly, and so far from facilitating it this step will render more difficult such a reunion, that is their decision and not ours. They must be responsible for its consequences; we are not.

The noble and learned Viscount who moved the Motion which is now before your Lordships' House dealt mainly with the important legal and constitutional points relating to status and points of international law arising out of the separation of Eire from the Commonwealth. The matter is obviously extremely important, because it affects, or might affect, the status of all Irish men and women resident in this country, whose presence here is of great advantage to this country. Their labour is assisting our economy and many of them are performing most useful functions. I do not know what would happen to many of the hospitals if all Irish nurses had to leave and return to their own country. With regard to conscription a question arises, and the Minister for Commonwealth Relations, Mr. Philip Noel-Baker stated in the House of Commons on November 26 that, after the passing of this Act by the Irish Parliament, Eire citizens who are habitually resident in this country will be liable for Military Service. That is an important factor in the situation. Questions of trade also arise. There is a very large trade, to the mutual advantage of both countries, passing between the two Islands. It is of great moment to both that that trade should not be in any way hindered by any change of status, owing to the passing of the Irish Act. Furthermore, Ireland has as great an interest as has Great Britain in maintaining the strength of sterling. She has enormous sterling balances, and her dollar shortage is almost as acute as that of this country, and perhaps even more acute.

All these matters show how important it is that no sudden change should be effected which would have serious practical consequences, either with regard to the status of citizenship or with regard to the course of international trade and finance. On that, Mr. Costello in his speech in the Dail made some very important observations, which I will venture to repeat in your Lordships' House, for I am sure that your Lordships will hear them with great interest. He was addressing himself not only to his immediate audience but also to this country—and indeed to the Commonwealth generally—for he begins one paragraph of his speech by saying: There is one thing I should like to make clear to our friends in Britain and the Commonwealth generally. It is that after the passage of this Bill we will continue, provided they so desire, the exchange of citizenship rights and privileges. Ireland does not now, and when the Executive Authority (External Relations) Act of 1936 is repealed, does not intend to regard their citizens as 'foreigners' or their countries as 'foreign' countries. Throughout, the position of the Irish Government is that while Ireland is not a member of the Commonwealth, it recognises and confirms the existence of a specially close relationship arising not only from ties of friendship and kinship but from traditional and long-established economic, social and trade relations, based on common interest with the nations that form the Commonwealth of Nations. This exchange of rights and privileges, which it is our firm desire and intention to maintain and strengthen, in our view constitutes a special relationship which negatives the view that other countries could raise valid objections on the ground that Ireland should be treated as a 'foreign' country by Britain and the Commonwealth countries for the purpose of this exchange of rights and privileges. Then he goes on: These are the considerations which we put forward to Britain and the Commonwealth countries. He is speaking in the past tense. We found that they on their part were equally determined not to regard the passage of this Bill as placing Ireland in the category of 'foreign' countries or our citizens in the category of 'foreigners,' but were prepared to continue the exchange of citizenship and trade preference rights. Accordingly, the factual exchange of rights that has existed hitherto will continue unimpaired. In the same speech he said he proposed, in the not distant future, to introduce a new Bill into that Parliament to review completely their nationality law. In that Bill, he said, provision will be made to ensure that Commonwealth citizens shall be afforded rights comparable to those afforded our citizens in the Commonwealth of Nations. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, has asked the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, who will speak on behalf of the Government, certain questions, which are no doubt pertinent and are certainly difficult, with regard especially to the international status of citizens of Eire after she has formally left the Commonwealth. Many have said that if she desires to remain a member of "the club," she ought to continue to pay the subscription, as she cannot expect to gain the benefits without incurring all the obligations. Clubs have not only full members, but also associate members, and it has been suggested that Irish citizens might have a character of that sort.

There is even a third class of membership. Your Lordships will remember that before the recent wars the Germans emphasised continually the superiority of the Aryan race, denouncing as lower breeds both Negroes and the Japanese and Chinese. Kaiser Wilhelm II wrote in the most violent terms, denouncing the "Yellow Peril." Later on, when Germany desired the co-operation of Japan against Russia and against the English-speaking countries, that attitude became somewhat inconvenient, and the device was adopted of declaring that the Japanese were "honorary Aryans." I do not know whether it is possible to make the Irish honorary members of our "club." I am not sure that would be possible; but some kind of intermediate status is evidently contemplated by the Government of Eire, and might be found to be feasible.


The noble Viscount has referred very kindly to the question I put, but he has not, if I may say so, quite apprehended what the question is. The question is not what we may wish to do as a friendly arrangement with the citizens of the Republic of Eire. The question is quite a different one. It is: What, in the view of the Government, under the new conditions, would be the international status of the Republic of Eire as a State? I am afraid that the rules of the "club" would not be very effective at The Hague.


The noble and learned Viscount has spoken one sentence too soon, because my next sentence was to be: It is not only a question of citizenship in one country or another, but a question of international status. The question of international status might become acute at any time on the issue of Imperial Preferences—whether they could still be upheld in face of the fact that the relationship was not that which had hitherto prevailed under the Commonwealth. That is a matter which, of course, may come ultimately before the International Court at The Hague, as the noble Viscount said, and in putting these questions to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack he has possibly put the Lord Chancellor in a somewhat embarrassing position. If he were to review the matter judicially and express an entirely impartial view, weighing the arguments on each side, it might prove extremely inconvenient to his colleague, the Attorney-General, when the right honourable gentleman came to plead on one side or the other at the International Court at The Hague.

I hope the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will forgive me if I say—meaning no disrespect and by no means comparatively—that it reminds me of an incident I once heard of which took place in a court in one of the Southern States of the United States of America. The magistrate was dealing with a chicken-stealing case and the witness on whose evidence the case largely turned was a very simple-minded Negro. When he took his place in the witness stand, he was asked by the judge: "Do you know the nature of an oath?"—"Yes, judge."—"What will happen if you tell a lie in court?"—"I shall go to hell and burn for a long time."—"And what will happen if you tell the truth?"—"We lose the case." If on this occasion (and I repeat, no comparision is intended) the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor makes a strictly impartial statement, it may well have embarrassing consequences. If he makes a strictly partial statement, it will not be very helpful to your Lordships. The important matter just now, I venture to suggest, is to decide on what is the right approach for public opinion in this country to the problem which has been set before us by the action of the Dail.

I would like to say that we members of the Liberal Party do not associate ourselves with the general attitude which has been taken up hitherto by the Conservatives. When this question came before the House of Commons on November 25, on the Government statement which we are now discussing, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, who is also the leader of the Conservative Party, said: In the debate on the Address they had every reason to suppose that the Government would resist the proposals of Mr. Costello's Government to sever the last tenuous link with the Crown. The Government would resist this action! And the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said in this House on the same date: Eire has repudiated her allegiance to the Crown. Of her own free will she has destroyed that family relationship. She has, of course, a perfect right to do this if she wishes, but I cannot see why, in these circumstances, she should retain all the advantages of membership. I consider it, indeed, deplorable that she should do so. Is that the right course to take? To my mind it is not the right approach. That Eire has a legal right to act as she is doing, no one disputes. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, has reaffirmed in terms that it would be impossible to dispute it, after the decision of the Imperial Conference of 1926 and the passage into law in 1931 of the Statute of Westminster. Now we see that the Irish Parliament has approved the Second Reading of this Bill without a single vote against it. We are, therefore, bound to accept it as the wish of the Irish nation. The noble Viscount has pointed out, with great force and no doubt with great truth, the inconvenient legal consequences that might follow from our agreeing to this situation. But he has not spoken of what would be the political consequences of our not doing so, and what other course he would, in fact, suggest.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount again. I thought I made the argument, whether good or bad, quite clear. I never for a moment suggested that we should not accept the decision of Eire about her own future. I thought I made that entirely plain. That is not the issue at all. The question is: How are we to proceed, in view of the fact, which nobody would dream of disputing, that the Republic of Eire will become a completely independent State? That is the question, and it is not an easy one to answer.


But that does not square with what was said by the Leader of the Opposition in the other place, that this Government ought to resist it.


I do not think he meant "resist" in that sense.


Then in what sense did he mean it?


I hope the noble Viscount will not fail to read the remainder of my statement. I said that we dissociated ourselves entirely from it. We cannot accept this as a fair settlement, as I propose to show when I speak at the end of this debate. The noble Viscount will see that I did say that we would dissociate ourselves entirely from it.


The noble Marquess also said that it would be deplorable that the Irish people should be allowed to retain the advantages of membership when they had renounced it.


I take that view, certainly; and I should have thought the two statements were quite compatible the one with the other.


As I have said, the whole question is: In what spirit are we to handle this situation? Are we to try and make it run as smoothly as we can and to overcome these difficulties one by one, as we have overcome other difficulties previously with regard to Imperial Preference, and so forth? Or are we to say, "We do not like this. It will have all kinds of serious consequences for your own nationals and for your trade. If that happens, it will be your fault and not ours, and we can do nothing to prevent it"? Are we to approach this matter in a spirit of friendship, hoping to arrive at such a settlement that some day, perhaps, the Irish may come back into the Commonwealth? Or are we to take a churlish and resistant attitude, and say, when it works badly, that that is all that could be expected?

The position affects not only ourselves, but all the members of the Commonwealth. I should like to quote a few words that were spoken on behalf of Australia by Mr. Chifley, the Prime Minister, in the Australian Parliament, at Canberra, on November 26. The Times report reads as follows: He said the Australian Government deeply regretted that Eire's association with the Commonwealth should be broken. Accordingly it agreed that Eire's repeal of her External Relations Act should not be regarded as placing her in the category of a foreign country in relation to Australia, or citizens of Eire in the category of foreigners in Australia. Australia must reluctantly accept the factual position, which she hoped would be only temporary, that Eire by her own choice could not now be regarded as a member of the British Commonwealth. He went on later to say—and these words are important: It may even be that, subject to certain safeguards, common rights of citizenship as now envisaged in relation to Eire will ultimately be found to afford an additional basis of association which will not merely sustain the negative position that Eire is not to be treated as a foreign country or her citizens as aliens, but also on the positive side will constitute a sufficiently close connection to permit the free re-entry of that country, to which so many Australians are attached by the closest ties of kindred, into full membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations of the future. That view was supported by an article in The Times on November 26, where these words appeared: The recognition of what Mr. Attlee called 'factual ties' is clearly the path of wisdom, and it is the more justified because Eire has made plain her sincere intention to keep this recognition mutual.… Yesterday's statement is the first move towards finding a new footing for Anglo-Irish friendship. We Liberals share that view. We regret that opinion in Eire should have found it necessary to bring this matter to a head. We would have preferred to see it left as it was. But it is not surprising that the result of the past history of Ireland, of the long centuries of subjection of which that history mainly consists, has given the Irish people a retrospective cast in their politics. Their eyes are continually turned to the past. But it has been well said that, "No one can walk backwards into the future." If we look to the future we must see that what the world needs in this age is a greater measure of integration and not a less measure. The dissolution of Empires may be necessary, but it usually—I think it would perhaps be true to say that it invariably—leads to centuries of conflict, anarchy and suffering. As I have reminded your Lordships on a previous occasion, that was true not only in the case of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, but afterwards with the Spanish and the Turkish Empires and, in our own day, the Austrian and the Chinese Empires. The British Empire, which, only just in time, perhaps, changed from an Empire into a Commonwealth, has been shrinking, and is now shrinking. Such a contraction may have similar results to the States that separate, and indeed to the world.

We have an interesting object lesson in the East now, if we compare Burma with Malaya, two countries closely comparable in many respects. One of them has left the Commonwealth, and the other remains inside. It will be instructive to see how they fare in comparison with one another, both as regards their own internal welfare and also the part that they are able to take in promoting the peace and progress of mankind. From that standpoint I, for one, regard the issue we are now debating not only from the angle of the immediate interests of Eire, nor that of the unification of Ireland, nor indeed, that of the interests of Great Britain or of the Commonwealth; I regard it more from the standpoint of the future fortunes of the world, in which for a hundred years the centrifugal forces have been dominant. We need now a hundred years when the centripetal forces shall be restored and strengthened.

The British Commonwealth is an entity which has discovered the secret of combining the freedom of all the parts with the unity of the whole; and on the globe it has been a powerful element for good, not only for the one-fourth of mankind included in its boundaries, but in the interests of the other three-fourths as well, maintaining stability and peace combined with freedom. Let us, therefore, in all parts of the Commonwealth, think long before we take any steps to break up whatever organisations still exist for harmonious co-operation in the world. Let us rather cherish and preserve them. I hope that, recognising this, the people of Ireland will of their own motion at some future and not distant time, perhaps with some different status, return to the Commonwealth, in order to strengthen this great agency for world peace and good will, believing that thereby they may best fulfil their duties to mankind.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to-day in rather a strange position, because I am not sure that I may not be making the first speech of an embryonic foreigner. My maiden speech to this House was at the time of the return of the ports. I feel it is my duty to speak to-day, because I am purely an Irishman, in that I live there and have travelled overnight on an Irish passport. I am a citizen of Ireland and, therefore, will be subject to the decisions and rulings which arise from legislation here. I am only sorry that there are not other United Kingdom Peers like myself, or Irish Representative Peers, on the list of speakers to-day, because I feel that this is an occasion which affects us very closely. By tradition I am a King's man. By reason of family tradition I am a Unionist, although I do not actually hold those views myself. I was brought up in surroundings of nothing but lampoons and the worst possible caricatures of Mr. Gladstone and Home Rule. I have served, as so many Irishmen did, in the British Army as a volunteer. I have worked, as so many Irishmen have had to work, in London. During a period when I had no family home (my home was burnt not during the Anglo-Irish war but after the Treaty, in the Civil War) my only home was England. Therefore, I hope that anything I say will be taken as coming from a sincere friend and not as an Anglophobe.

The position which has arisen to-day is in some ways to be regretted. It is the end—except for one point which I will raise later—of a series of unfortunate handlings of the Irish situation. I feel that the Conservative Party will not agree with me when I say that it is the final indictment, culminating to-day, of their policy through the nineteenth century. But I would like, first of all, as an Irishman, as one who has voted in Ireland, and who supports and takes an active part in politics (although I am not a member of an actual political Party there), to draw attention to the circumstances in which this discussion has arisen in this House to-day. After the Treaty in 1921 we in Ireland had ten years of rule by Mr. Cosgrave's Party. He had ten difficult years, in which he built up our little Army, our police force, extended our Civil Service, started our industries, and reviewed and encouraged our agriculture. Then in 1932 he went out, and Mr. de Valera's Fianna Fail Party came into power. It is always assumed that Mr. Cosgrave's Party was a Commonwealth Party. In fact it was not, because it is quite clear that the Treaty, when it was signed, was accepted by that Party as a modus vivendi, as a link upon which to build the ultimate complete freedom of the country.

However, as I say, the domestic details rather took the upper hand. In 1932 Mr. de Valera came in, and as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has said, a series of steps were taken which slowly eliminated the Crown from Ireland. There was the Oath in the Parliament, the appeal to the Privy Council, the Constitution and, in 1936, the passing of the External Relations Act. That Act was passed on December 12, 1936, at a time when there was a great constitutional crisis here over the Abdication. Since then the only link between the countries has been this Act. The Act used the Crown as an agent for the appointment of Ambassadors and Ministers. There are many people in Southern Ireland who are King's men, and who regret that at that time no steps were taken to raise the subject over here, because since then the Crown has been used merely as a "rubber stamp"; it has been insulted on every possible occasion. It has been an extraordinary state of affairs, and that is why I personally welcome this move in Ireland to remove the Crown. Originally, I would certainly have been a strong Commonwealth man, but having gone so far I feel that the moment has arrived at least to be honest about the matter.

We in Ireland are in an extraordinary position. You can argue whether you are in or out of the Commonwealth, and whenever anyone gave an answer you could read what you wanted into it. Even to-day in this House, I have heard it assumed that we are definitely out of the Commonwealth. Only this summer, of course, there was a Commonwealth Conference to which Ireland was not invited. Delegates were summoned later, when the Conference met to discuss this legislation which has been passed in Dublin. We had a King in Ireland and we had not a King in Ireland—it was a most extraordinary position. I wish again to make it quite clear that I am a King's man by tradition. Through history the Crown has not been in Ireland the symbol which it has been in the colonised Dominions of Australia and Canada. In Ireland it has always been a symbol of oppression. That is the result of history, and largely the history of the last century, when the situation might have been saved.

I can assure your Lordships that if, for instance, there had in the nineteenth century been an Irish Balmoral, the whole attitude to the Crown would have been different. The Crown has become a foreign institution in Ireland; it is not understood as your Lordships understand it, and as those of us Irishmen who have travelled in the Commonwealth and in the Empire understand it. I would like to say that removing the symbol of the Crown at this moment is in no way intended by any Irishman as an insult to the King in person, or to the Royal Family. There has been the greatest concern that this Bill should be discussed at a moment when the King's illness was announced, and there was genuine sympathy. There is genuine sympathy in Ireland with the Royal Family, because we are a Catholic country, and our basis of life is the family. Wherever one goes in Ireland one feels the greatest respect paid to the standard set by the British Royal Family. It is something which even the most extreme Republicans admire, because, as your Lordships know, we have no divorce or divorce courts, and the Christian family is our basis of life.

The Bill which has been introduced in Ireland does two things. It gives the President of Ireland—who up to now had only internal responsibilities—external powers. The head of the twenty-six counties in Ireland is now in a position to appoint his own Ambassadors and Ministers. It was an odd position before, because we had a head of a country who, in point of fact, could never leave it, because wherever he went, whether it was to France, Rome or the Vatican, the representative there was not appointed by him, but by the Crown in England. And, as those of your Lordships who read the Irish Hansard will have seen, Mr. de Valera has said that he might as well have used the President of the United States for appointing them. This new Bill was introduced in Ireland to give the President external powers; it now also gives the country the name of the Republic of Ireland. Up to the present, we have been a sovereign State but not defined as a Republic.

Mr. Costello, the Prime Minister, has explained clearly—as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has pointed out in a quotation—that the definition was really for domestic politics. Since 1922 there has all the time been a subversive movement in the country: there have been coercive acts. Now this is the first time that we have no political prisoners and no guns in the twenty-six counties. When the Bill was introduced in the Dail only four Deputies spoke in any way against it. Two took the line that it would retard the ending of partition; one member criticised the Bill and then supported it; and one Deputy (from whose speech Lord Simon read) was opposed to it but did not vote, as his was the only dissenting voice. When the Bill reached the Senate there was only one speech against it. The criticism has been made in Ireland that it has been rushed; and there has been some criticism about the method of it; but those are local details which, of course, do not affect us over here in any way.

There are two alternatives before the Government here. One is to be quite firm and say "Very well: you have decided to be foreign, and foreign you will be; and you will take all the consequences." Or there is the possibility of mutual legislation to solve the difficulties and differences. We do not want to have it both ways. We are willing to take whatever comes to us. But there is all the time an inference that we are getting the better of the deal. Take, for instance, the question of Imperial Preferences. In Ireland we have our industries, and this country will not accept our industrial products. On the other hand, £53,000,000 worth a year of British goods are sent to Ireland under Imperial Preference. If those goods do not come in under some treaty continuing to give the same preference, it may well be that Ireland will look elsewhere for commodities.

Then, too, we have agricultural produce of an increasing amount to sell; and there are many buyers. Only two days ago, in another place in a debate on food, that was made abundantly clear by the fact that the Belgians and the Dutch had purchased from us cattle which had been earmarked for Britain. If we are treated as aliens there are all sorts of disadvantages which may accrue to Britain. For instance, it will result in stopping any form of recruiting for the Services or for nursing, for doctors or black-coated workers. It will mean that half the civil servants who come over from Ireland will no longer be able to come. The position is not all to Ireland's advantage. I am no constitutional lawyer, and I am rather nervous of raising these points in this House, but I believe—and I have discussed this with lawyers in Ireland—that most of the difficulties can be solved. They are difficult but they can be solved, and I appreciate very much the attitude of His Majesty's Government in the matter.

The subject of partition has already been mentioned this afternoon. It has been said that the abolition of partition has been put back. I should like to draw attention to one or two points. First, since the introduction in the Dail of the Republic of Ireland Act, Sir Basil Brooke, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, and various other people, have said that the end of partition was possible. Well, my Lords, for twenty-six years, not one step has been taken in that direction. We have often been told "We should like to remain united," but nothing is done about it.

There is a very important new aspect. Only last week the General Assembly of the United Nations, following the Hague ruling, reported back to the Security Council that Ireland should be admitted to U.N.O. When Ireland is admitted to U.N.O., the question of partition will be raised as an international issue. It will, or can, be raised by Ireland. Moreover, we must remember that, both in the past and to-day, although Ireland is a small country it has great influence, especially on the Continent of America, where there are so many Irish kinsmen, and in certain of the more Catholic countries of Europe. Many people have said that the partition of Ireland was a Commonwealth matter. But after the repeal of the External Relations Act it is no longer a Commonwealth matter.

I must make it clear that in Southern Ireland it is the intractable view of the majority that Northern Ireland is occupied by force. Many of your Lordships may disagree with that view, but it is the one which is held. It is held because there is a garrison there far and above the requirements of the normal holding of bases. The police are armed and live in barracks. The "B" Special recruiting campaign has been started again. There are Special Powers Acts. Whatever one may say, there is no representation of minority religion in the six counties—and, incidentally, it is only just a minority. There is no doubt in the minds of the majority of people in Southern Ireland that there is religious intolerance in the North. I feel very strongly that some steps must be taken soon to deal with that belief. As I have already indicated, Mr. Costello has said that we have removed the guns from politics; I certainly hope that we have removed them from the twenty-six counties. But if some step is not taken in the matter of partition—and I believe that such a step should come from here—sooner or later the young people of the North, the increasing number of young Republicans, will take the matter into their own hands. I have heard a Nationalist member in the North say that the only people who can obtain freedom are those who rattle the sabre. There are people in the twenty-six counties who draw comparison with the history of Burma, and of Palestine and India. I see a very great danger that if something is not done soon about partition, there may be civil war in the six counties of the North.

Mention has been made of our neutrality in the late war. I should like to refer to this one small point. There has been considerable prejudice against us for our political neutrality. I am not here to defend it one way or the other. I was not in Ireland then; I was otherwise engaged. However, I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that, although there was political neutrality—and, remember, many nations did not enter into the war until they were attacked—there was a contribution from Southern Ireland, not only in men (in respect of which, incidentally, the figures have never been given by His Majesty's Government, although they have been available and have been requested by the noble Earl, Lord Cork) but also in bombproof factories, wherein goods were being produced in the twenty-six counties at a rate that would not have been possible if those factories had been situated elsewhere. I think that fact is often forgotten.

In concluding my remarks, I would like to say that we believe that legislation on both sides, and, if necessary, decisions of the Court at The Hague, can solve our problems. We in Ireland believe that we are starting on a new era of hope of realistic relationship, an era without pretence. We are a young country; we wish to get on with our normal social developments. We wish to take our part in the world. We have much to offer, not only in respect of our strategic position on the western outskirts of Europe, but also by reason of our philosophy and our faith. In a world where materialism is spreading from Russia through China and across Europe, we, at least, although we are a small country, wish to contribute our share towards peace. I believe that in due course the steps that are being taken now will lead to our being able to do that. Fortunately, as I am sure it will appear to your Lordships, our link with Ireland is not the link of the Crown; it is the link of kinsmanship, the link of blood as parent nations not only with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, but also with the United States of America. I have given your Lordships these views, which are only my personal views. I give them because I am living in Southern Ireland and I think my own views on the matter are fairly clear.

I would like to ask the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack whether, when he comes to reply, he will give some indication of what the position of Irish representative Peers will be after the passing of the Act, and also what will be the position of the United Kingdom Peers who are purely resident in Southern Ireland—the "green passport" Peers, like myself—because I think it is an interesting point and of importance. I am glad to have this opportunity to address your Lordships. Although I do not agree with all that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, has said, I am glad that he has raised this issue. I am also glad to have heard a speech from the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Samuel, which, I can assure him, will be read to-morrow in Ireland with deep appreciation and a belief in the real Liberalism of this country.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken in the curious observations which he has made about Northern Ireland. I have no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition will have something to say on that when he speaks in his turn. I would merely say this. First of all, fortunately, the Government have made it perfectly plain in another place, as I am sure the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, when replying, will confirm to-day, that they have no intention whatever of abandoning Northern Ireland in any way, and that Northern Ireland's position is as secure in law and in the heart of the Commonwealth to-day as it ever has been in the past. I would only add that it seems to me it would be a most odd consequence of the happy results which were to flow from this new arrangement if the immediate consequence were to be the kind of action in Southern Ireland against Northern Ireland which the noble Lord has indicated and, indeed, so far as I could make out, advocated, if not threatened.

I rise for only a few moments to reinforce one particular aspect of the matter which we are debating to-day—that is, the possible effect of what is proposed upon Imperial Preference. It would not be appropriate on this occasion to argue the case for Preference, nor, indeed, do I think it would be at all necessary. I think the great majority of your Lordships in all quarters of the House share the views which I have so often expressed, that not only is Imperial Preference essential for Commonwealth development and mutual trade within the Commonwealth and Empire, but that the prosperity which is bred of that Preference is reflected in the increased trade which Commonwealth countries do with the rest of the world. While we consider it essential to retain our rights to make preferential agreements within the Commonwealth, we equally welcome the even closer and tighter economic customs unions such as the United States and the Benelux countries have because we believe that they conduce not only to their prosperity but also to the benefit of world trade.

But it is vital that existing preferences or the right to extend them should not be prejudiced by anything which is done or is proposed to be done in relation to Eire. Years ago, the policy of preference in relation to the "most favoured nation" clauses in treaties was discussed at great length at the League of Nations. For many years it has been universally accepted as good law and good sense that Commonwealth countries are free to give mutual preferences to one another without any breach of the "most favoured nation" clauses in our many treaties with foreign Governments. As has already been pointed out, however, all those treaties provide, in more or less the same form, that any preference or any trade facility which is granted to any one foreign country must be extended to all others. All the time I was administering those treaties at the Board of Trade, and later on at the Colonial Office, I was advised that the clauses of those treaties must be construed strictly.

May I give the House a brief account of the experience which I had in regard to Palestine, for I think it is relevant to this matter. When I was Secretary of State for the Colonies, I was extremely anxious to extend Preference to Palestine. Palestine was under mandate to us. It was what was known as a C mandate. There was no doubt that we were able to give Preferences to what were called the A and B mandates, but Palestine was at least a doubtful case. Naturally I took the highest possible legal advice, and the advice I received was that I could not do it—that on the whole, although Palestine was a mandated territory, yet the terms of the C mandate made it equivalent in this matter to a foreign country, and therefore we were not entitled to give a Preference to Palestine, whereas we were entitled to do so in regard to, say, Tanganyika. I said at that time, "If the matter is in any doubt at all, why should we not take a chance on it and give the Preference to Palestine? Then, if the matter is taken to the Hague Court and they rule that it is wrong, it can be abandoned and withdrawn." But I was advised that that would not do at all. If I remember rightly, my noble friend Lord Hailsham was one of the people who advised me, and he will check and correct me if I am wrong. I was told: "You cannot do that, for this reason: you cannot do a thing you ought not to do, and then say the position is to be one of 'as you were.'" I was told that the moment we had extended that Preference and levied the lower rate of duty on one orange coming from Palestine, every single foreign country which had a "most favoured nation" clause in our treaty with them, would immediately be entitled to claim that the preferential rate of duty should be levied in regard to themselves.


If the noble Viscount will allow me to interrupt, may I say that I do not think his argument is well founded? If he will read the Covenant of the League of Nations, he will find that in regard to countries under C mandate no preferential treatment should be levied, and that every nation has equal rights.


I am sorry the noble Earl has not followed my point, but what I said was not inconsistent with what he is saying. The Law Officers gave me very good advice. I wanted to extend preferential treatment to Palestine. I am not ashamed to say that I did, but I was told that the terms of the mandate made it impossible for me to do so.


The terms of the Covenant itself.


If you please; the mandate was in the Covenant. That is not the point. If the noble Earl follow my argument he will see where it leads. The force of it is, not that I am denying that the Covenant said I ought not to give Preference to Palestine, but that if I could not give Preference to Palestine, which was a mandated country, it may be extremely dangerous to give Preference to Eire, which is now in law a foreign country. The noble Earl is no more an international lawyer than I am. He may have been a very good Secretary-General of the League of Nations, but I would much prefer to take the legal opinion of the Lord Chancellor of the day, Lord Hailsham, than his opinion on a matter of law. This is far too serious a matter. Before I finish, I hope to convince the House that it raises the question of the whole structure of Imperial Preference; and unless we can be assured that there is no risk to Imperial Preference in this regard, then I believe the majority of your Lordships will feel that we may be embarking on a very perilous and disastrous course. At any rate, it was made quite clear to me then that I could not give that Preference to Palestine because, if I did, every other foreign country would have a right to claim the same lower rate of duty. The test was: Is the country a part of the Commonwealth or not?

Leaving aside the Geneva protocol (which I will come to in a moment), surely a country which leaves the Commonwealth and declares itself an independent republic is, for the purposes of the most favoured nation clauses in our commercial treaties, a foreign country, and any other foreign countries would be entitled to claim the same rates of duty and other trade concessions which were granted to Eire. Obviously this is not a matter merely between the United Kingdom and Eire. It is not that we want to penalise Eire's trade in the least—we want to do all the trade we can with Eire; to buy as much from her as we can and sell as much to her as we can—but it might deprive all the Commonwealth countries of the value of the preference on any articles affected. If there is some other treaty which entitles us to continue to treat Eire preferentially without incurring these risks, we may be safe. As I say, nobody wants to penalise Eire, but we must not run the risk of penalising the other countries which are still members of the Commonwealth and so undermine the whole structure of Preference. That is what we have to guard against.

In another place Mr. Henderson, dealing with the case of Burma, said that this matter could be effected under the Havana Draft Charter. Obviously that was a slip, because that Charter is not in force, and the Leader of the House has given us the most specific assurance that the Havana Charter will not be ratified until it has been brought before Parliament and Parliament has expressed an opinion. There is, of course, what is called the Geneva Protocol, which is a temporary agreement. That Protocol has been signed by some, but by no means all, of the countries with whom we have "most favoured nation" treaties. As between signatories, so long as that Protocol remains in force, it would, I think, undoubtedly entitle us to continue existing preferences to Eire. I understand that as between the signatories it overrides the "most favoured nation" clause. But I submit it cannot override the "most favoured nation" clause vis-à-vis other countries which are not signatories. A "most favoured nation" clause is a contract, and it can be varied only by another contract in the nature of another treaty.

Therefore I submit that we are entitled to rely upon the Geneva Protocol only vis-à-vis those countries who are parties to the Geneva Protocol itself. There is a long list of countries (twenty-five or more) with whom we have "most favoured nation" treaties, which have not signed that Protocol. They include the Argentine, Denmark, Poland, Spain, Turkey, Egypt, and Russia. A few of those have signed the Havana Final Act, but we, of course, have not ratified that and shall not ratify it unless both Houses of Parliament approve of it. We do not even know whether we shall ever be asked to do so. But there are a number of countries—for instance, the Argentine, Poland, Spain, Turkey, and Russia—who have not signed either the Geneva Protocol or the Havana Final Act. I ask, What is the legal position vis-à-vis those countries who have signed no document which varies their "most favoured nation" rights? Unless we can be assured on the highest legal authority that we are absolutely safe in giving preference to Eire, then I submit the Government cannot take the risk, with all that it may involve to Imperial Preference and Commonwealth trade. To lose, or risk losing, Imperial Preference by inadvertence would be unforgiveable. We have still time, and I submit that we must be sure that we do nothing which can risk the structure of Imperial Preference—either the preference which we and the Dominions, the Commonwealth countries, mutually enjoy to-day, or possible extensions which may lie before us in the future.

I have put as clearly as I can, as un-controversially as I can, and as fairly as I can, what I believe, and what I do not think the Lord Chancellor will deny, are very vital issues. And an equally categorical answer is required. On the broader issues—I do not know that they are broader, but on the other issues—I would add only one thing. I would venture to repeat to the House some words which I used less than two months ago in the debate on the Address, with which most of your Lordships were, I think, in a large measure of agreement. I said this: I do not think the development of the Commonwealth is any more likely to follow a sealed pattern in the future than it has followed one in the past. The essence has been, and surely must always be, in the reality of our union. If it were not a real union of spirit it would lose its value and its strength, both to its own members and to the world. The rules of the club can be elastic, but it must still be a club. It would be a profound misfortune if we were to find some formula which provided a façade but lost the reality which is our abiding strength.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, over a hundred years ago Sydney Smith said this about debates on Ireland: The moment the very name of Ireland is mentioned the English seem to bid adieu to common prudence and common sense and to act with the fatuity of idiots. Whether or not that was true of the last century—and I am inclined to think that it was—I believe that we are suffering from the mistake of having done too little too late. But certainly there has been no trace of fatuity in the course of our debate to-day. The matter we have to consider and discuss is one of great difficulty and it does need very cool heads. For my own Part, I propose to start with a rather fundamental fact. I thought I detected, both in the article which he wrote for a newspaper and in the speech which he made to-day, some suggestion on the part of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, that we might have had this sort of point in our minds when the British Nationality Act was being debated in your Lordships' House.

I hope that your Lordships now know me well enough to realise that, if I had had that in my mind then (if I may use an Irishism) I should not have kept it up my sleeve. I can tell your Lordships precisely when I first knew—and when I say I first knew I am speaking for all my colleagues—of the intention to repeal the External Relations Act. It was when I read the report of the speech Mr. Costello made during his visit to Canada. How much earlier his own colleagues in his own Government knew, of course I cannot guess; nor have I the smallest complaint. There was no reason why he should tell me his Government secrets, any more than I should tell him mine. But it is a fact that the pronouncement of this policy at that time was the first I knew of it, and I had no knowledge whatever that it was to be done.

I have made it plain that I am not suggesting that either Mr. MacBride or Mr. Costello, with whom I had the pleasure of spending some time whilst I was in Ireland last August, were in any way guilty of over-reaching or unfair dealing, because they are the last men in the world who would be capable of such conduct. But that is the fact, and it has this relevance: it is so much more difficult to dissuade people against a particular course after they have announced that they are going to take it. I will continue to speak with candour. Looking at this matter from the point of view of an Englishman, when I heard of what was proposed I regarded it as a very grave misfortune, and I regretted, for many reasons, that it should be done, particularly at the present time.

First of all, I believe that Western civilisation and Christian standards are facing a peril to-day such as they have never in history faced before, and it seemed to me lamentable that there should be even an appearance of dissension on the part of those who ought to be standing together, shoulder to shoulder, to face this common peril. Secondly, I thought it singularly unhappy that this matter should come up just when our Commonwealth is inevitably going through a formative and, perhaps, transitional stage, when problems concerning India are in the background of our minds. Thirdly (and again I am speaking as an Englishman), I thought it was unhappy from the point of view of the people of Eire themselves, because if they want to remove—as I can well understand they do—the barrier which separates Northern Ireland from Southern Ireland, it seemed to me so obvious that this was not a good tactic to pursue. I want to say quite frankly that if that problem is to be solved—and I, as a well-wisher of Ireland, devoutly hope that it will be—there is only one way in which it can be solved; and that is by the freely given consent of both sides. I cannot think of any responsible statesman, in Eire, in this country or in any other country, contemplating that a solution can be reached, or any worth-while object attained, by force of arms. What could be achieved, even supposing that one side or the other were to win most resounding victories, but eternal bitterness and hardness of heart?

As I have said, I can speak only from the point of view of an Englishman. But there is one quality Englishmen do try to cultivate—the quality of tolerance, of trying to possess enough imagination to think out what is going on the other side of the hill. That is a quality which enables them to realise that people who have very different traditions, who have had very different upbringing and a very different history, may look at things from a wholly different point of view. There can be no doubt but that the Ministers of Eire are much better able to judge the requirements of Eire than can I or any other Minister in this country. They are responsible for the peace, order and good government of Eire, and if they say that this is necessary to ensure the peace, order and good government of Ireland, who am I, and who are we, to say them nay?

I would like to say to the noble and learned Viscount who initiated this debate that even if he had tried to do with much greater force and eloquence what I confess I tried to do, if he had tried to dissuade the Ministers of Eire from their determination to go on with this course, if he had spoken with the eloquence of Demosthenes and at greater length even than Mr. Gladstone, I am convinced that he would have failed—as I failed. In his speech in the Dail, Mr. Costello used these words: … neither King nor Empire nor Commonwealth, nor the fact that there are little bits of inconvenience caused by having a passport instead of a permit or a residence permit instead of a free passage, will deflect us from our resolve to continue with this measure in the interests of peace, concord and unity in our own country. Not even the question of preferences or trade rights would have done it.… I have no doubt that that statement represents the view of the people of Eire. I believe I am right in saying that this Act has been passed without a dissentient vote. If I had known Mr. Costello's views earlier—and I am making not the slightest complaint—I should have been at any rate in a better position to argue against the step proposed than I was after the announcement had been made.

My Lords, that is the position. In those circumstances, what would you have done? That is the question which requires a cool head. This debate will be valueless unless we find an answer to that question, and unless we consider calmly and dispassionately the two courses open to us—and there were essentially only two. Faced with this very difficult position, I believe the first thing you would have done would have been to take counsel with the leaders of the other States of the Commonwealth. There are three States in the Commonwealth which are almost as closely affected by this problem as we are, because they have vast Irish populations—Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In my own case this was the second action, because the first thing I did was to study the subject very carefully. I studied the treaties and the "most favoured nation" clause, and discussed the matter with officials of the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the Board of Trade. I soaked myself in these matters. Then we arranged a meeting for which the Irish Ministers came to this country to meet privately a few of the Ministers of the Commonwealth—Mr. St. Laurent, Dr. Evatt and Mr. Peter Fraser.

So far, I think the noble Viscount will agree, we did not go wrong. We discussed the matter; I exposed as best I could the difficult situation which would arise, and it was arranged that we should meet again in Paris. We met again, with the exception that Mr. St. Laurent could not be there and Mr. Pearson took his place. Perhaps I should add that I was accompanied by all the aforesaid officials, with all the treaties. I will say no more about our further discussions than this—and I think it is right your Lordships should know this: if we had taken a different line from the one we decided to take, we should have acted in the teeth of the advice of the representatives of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.


May I interrupt the noble and learned Viscount? He is giving us the clearest account, and I am grateful. He tells us that he studied the treaties with great attention and then met, as was most wise and proper, the other representatives whom he has mentioned, and exposed his view. May I ask him to consider telling us whether or not he attaches importance to the difficulties that now arise under the "most favoured nation" clause?


Of course, I was coming to that, if the noble Viscount had done me the courtesy of waiting for a few moments. I could not possibly conclude this speech without dealing with that question. Were we to act in accordance with the advice of those distinguished statesmen? We have a perfect right in this to consider our own advantage. Indeed, bearing in mind always that the friendship of other countries is itself an advantage to us, we should be guided by our own advantage in this matter. Let us consider where our own advantage lies. It is traditionally supposed that when a schoolmaster administers chastisement to a small boy he says, "My boy, this hurts me more than it hurts you." I think that if it really hurt him more than it hurt the boy, there would not be so much corporal punishment. Punish Ireland as much as you like, so long as it is not going to hurt us more than it hurts her.

What is the right course? Suppose we say that we will amend the 1948 Act, which comes into force on January 1, and under which, by definition, Eire citizens are not to be aliens and are to be treated as though they were British subjects, still possessing the rights accorded to British subjects. Suppose we alter that and say that they are foreigners. We then expel, as we should have to do, from our Civil Service, from our Diplomatic Service, from our Army and our Forces generally, all citizens of Eire. What should we gain from that? We should have to substitute for the comparatively small aliens control a great body of officials; otherwise the existing aliens control would break down completely, for the Irish, fortunately for us, come over at certain seasons in very large numbers—for example, for potato picking. We could not possibly work the aliens control with anything like the present staff; it would break down utterly. I say again that, from the point of view of our own advantage, let it not be forgotten, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, pointed out, when reading Mr. Costello's speech, that if Mr. Costello makes good the promise in his speech our citizens will have corresponding advantages in Eire.

Apart from that, what could we hope to gain if we suddenly made all these people aliens? No doubt we shall have to make some minor modifications to our law; but we do not propose to make the major modification in our law which would be required if we intended to make all Eire citizens aliens. I hope the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, when he comes to speak, will address himself (I am sure he will not mind my asking him this) to the particular point: What precisely does he say we shall gain if we alter our law and enact that, as from the repeal of the External Relations Act, all Eire citizens shall become aliens? Nothing is more certain than that our law here governs what goes on in this country, just as the law of Eire governs what goes on in Eire. We are perfectly entitled—subject, of course, to the problems of international law, to which I shall come in a moment—to pass what laws we like here for our own people, just as Eire is; and we can say, as we have said, that we propose to continue, in substance, the present law.

Mr. Costello has indicated that he proposes to review the nationality law of Eire. At the present moment that law has this unfortunate feature: it provides that if any citizen of Eire acquires the citizenship of another country he thereby loses his citizenship of Eire. I very much hope that when the Irish authorities review their law they will consider whether any such provision is really necessary. We have found, rather contrary to our expectation, that the system which allows dual nationality does not work nearly so badly as many of us feared it would. At any rate, my Lords, I believe we have much more to gain from friendship with Eire than the reverse, and I believe that fact alone was a factor which made it desirable that we should take this course. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition in another place that the position in regard to Eire is so special and so peculiar that it can afford no precedent whatever for any other case.

Let us not forget that what we have to decide, unhappily, is what is to be done in view of the fact that Eire is going out of the Commonwealth. It is not as though she wished to stay in the Commonwealth, with some kind of a limitation on her obligations. But let us also, as Mr. Churchill said, look at the matter realistically. It is the fact, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, pointed out, that, in spite of the External Relations Act, Eire was neutral during the war; we were deprived of the use of her ports at a time of great peril to us; a German Minister was sitting in Dublin, and an Eire Minister in Berlin. All these things were done while the External Relations Act prevailed. Therefore, as Mr. Churchill said—and I quote his words: Whatever may be the sentimental issues, no real or material change is involved in the position which has been accepted and endured for the last ten years or more. When I come to consider the problems of international law, I would ask your Lordships to remember that phrase.

Mr. Churchill asked in another place, and the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, asked here: Why should Eire retain all the advantages of membership? But, my Lords, does Eire retain those advantages? Surely, the great benefit the Commonwealth brings is the joint consultation, alike in matters civil and military, the sharing of information, and the resulting solution of common difficulties. But Eire is not to receive that constant flow of information, much of which is secret and confidential, which goes to Commonwealth Governments on matters of foreign policy and economic affairs; she is not to be brought into the consultation which goes on within the family circle of the Commonwealth on all matters of common interest; she is not to be treated as a partner with Commonwealth countries in matters of defence; she is not to get the special information, consultation, advice and assistance of military missions which are exchanged between Commonwealth countries; she is not to be invited to the periodical meetings of Commonwealth Prime Ministers, or to other meetings of Commonwealth Ministers, and she is not to be entitled to membership of Commonwealth committees which now exist or may be appointed to deal with technical questions. No one has greater experience of these matters than the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. But I would venture to say that the flow and interchange of communication and information, and the sharing of common tasks and common perils, are the hallmark and the importance of the Commonwealth relationship. From all those things Eire must now be excluded. Not by our wish, but by her own act, she has made it plain that she is no longer a member of the Commonwealth.

I now come to consider the question of preferences and the treatment of nationals. For the reasons which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, gave, I shall consider this matter without going into great detail. Down to this point I hope I have satisfied your Lordships that the course we have taken is obviously the better of the two.


The noble and learned Viscount has not satisfied me, and I do not think he has satisfied any noble Lords on this side of the House by what he has yet said.


Even although there is no difficulty whatever about preferences, and even although there is no international difficulty about the treatment and status of citizens, still the noble Marquess says that we ought to have taken a different line. If he takes that view, I realise that I shall not convince him by the rest of my speech.

The first Trade Agreement with Eire that I have in mind is that of 1938. It was concluded by a Government of which both the noble and learned Viscount who opened this debate and the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, were distinguished members. Why did they conclude that Agreement? They concluded it because they thought it would confer mutual benefits. They decided that it would confer benefits on this country, and no doubt the Irish Ministers thought it would confer benefits upon Eire. But the Government here would never have concluded that Agreement unless they thought it conferred benefits on us. Therefore, I say, if it is possible to keep that Agreement, let us keep it. Indeed, we extended it, as I think your Lordships will remember, on July 31 of this year, the day after the British Nationality Bill received the Royal Assent, because we believe it was a matter of mutual benefit. If it were not a benefit to this country we should never have made it and, therefore, if we can, let us continue it. It is quite true, as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, said, that in these days of rather abnormal trading, with bulk purchases between Governments, preferences matter much less than they did in the pre-war days. When we get back to the old system this matter will again assume importance.

All this was discussed and explored with the other Dominion statesmen and with the Eire Ministers. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was right: the question, broadly, depends on whether or not Eire is to be regarded in international law as a foreign country—subject always to this further point, that the question does not arise in the abstract. It would arise on some particular treaty, and the question would then be: "Are you entitled to do that which you are doing?" The question would be whether the treaty is construed having regard to the circumstances existing when it was made. That, of course, is a very important question. The real consideration, however, is whether an international Court would now regard citizens of Eire as aliens, and on that I cannot, of course, make any definite assertion. There are arguments which would have to be countered if they should be advanced, but one of the factors which an international Court would consider would be: How do these two nations regard each other inter se? If the Court find that these two nations have continu ing history, such as we have with Eire, with uninterrupted trade relations, and if the Court were to find that we are conferring certain rights—not common citizenship—upon each other's citizens, that obviously would be a fact upon which the Court Would rely in considering whether or not Eire had become a foreign country within the meaning of the particular treaty.


Will the noble and learned Viscount forgive me? I think he put that a little badly, and it may be dangerous. It is not a question of conferring equal rights, but of not removing existing equal rights.


So far as Eire is concerned, they contemplate new nationality legislation, which will be "conferring" as far as we are concerned. I quite agree that it will be retaining, and I should have said "retaining and/or conferring." Of course, I agree that under the Geneva Agreement on Tariffs and Trades, no country which was not a party to it could be affected by the Agreement. Some of the countries—I hope, for instance, Denmark—will associate themselves with that Treaty in due course, but I do not know. In so far as any country is bound by the Treaty, they cannot complain. In so far as any country is not bound, the questions then would be: (1) Under the new arrangements, has Eire now become a foreign State? and (2), Should not the position be considered as at the date the Treaty was signed? I hope, and I think I may say I believe, that this point will never be brought up.

If he will forgive my saying so, I cannot understand the advice which the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, received from very distinguished lawyers and I think his memory must be wrong. He had much better hear the indictment against him before he interrupts! I think the noble Lord must be wrong, and for this reason: that the "most favoured nation" clause is merely an obligation to extend to all nations that which you are extending—in the present tense—to any other nation. Suppose, for example, the noble Lord had extended a preference to Palestine, he would have been extending it against the law, and he must have known that he was doing wrong. If he had then been brought before this Court and they had told him: "You are doing wrong," what could he have done? He could have stopped doing what was wrong and stopped giving a concession to Palestine. Had he then stopped giving a concession to Palestine he would not have had to give it to anybody else. The most that could have happened was that he might have had to pay damages for the period of time when he was wrong. But to suggest that because you have once granted a preference to Palestine it follows that you must go on extending that preference to Palestine for the future, and are therefore bound to extend it to everybody else, is a proposition of law which I am quite confident no lawyers—and least of all my noble friend opposite—would possibly advance. It is an impossible proposition.

So far as that matter is concerned, I have not the slightest fear that it might be said we were wrong. I am not concealing from your Lordships that these are difficult questions. I hope that we shall be able to counter such an attack, in the unlikely event of an attack being made. But I am quite certain that the fact that we were wrong and the fact that we could not counter the attack would not imperil our whole system of preferences. It would merely mean that we should have to stop giving that particular preference to Eire. Of course, I need hardly tell your Lordships that I have pointed that out to them quite plainly, as I indicate it to your Lordships now. I do not think it is a very real point, because I do not believe that the question will ever arise.

The real question, then, is this: Because of all the rights and privileges which we have been giving over all these years, is it really to be said that an international Court is going to be so legalistic, to consider the form so much and the substance so little, that they will say: "These momentous consequences happen from a change from something which, in Mr. Churchill's words, 'involves no real or material change'"? I hope, and I believe, that an international Court would take a broader and more common-sense view. International law is a growing and a living thing, constantly adapting itself to meet new situations. Only last week the Court considered some proposition which seems to be now accepted and for which, if I had had it in an examination paper when I was a young man, I should certainly have received very low marks indeed. I feel confident that there is no such danger as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, envisaged.

Now I pass to one or two other matters. When the Government announced this policy it was stated that: The United Kingdom Government will not regard the enactment of this legislation by Eire as placing Eire in the category of foreign countries or Eire's citizens in the category of foreigners. That meant plainly enough that we were not going to propound to Parliament any legislation amending the British Nationality Act of 1948—that is, no major legislation: there might have to be legislation on minor matters. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon (whom I am glad to see seeking new laurels in a new profession, judging by his writings in the Sunday newspapers) said that the use of the expression "will not regard" in a country which still lives under "the rule of law" had a totalitarian flavour. I would remind the noble Viscount that the Irish Constitution which was passed on December 13, 1937, contained no reference whatever to the King, and it invested supreme command of the Armed Forces in the President. The Government of that day then made a somewhat similar pronouncement as follows: We are prepared to treat the new Constitution as not effecting a fundamental alteration in the position of the Irish Free State. Is it totalitarian and denying the "rule of law" to say, "We will not regard," but perfectly all right to say, "We are prepared to treat"? If there is a distinction no one can put it better than the noble and learned Viscount; but if he does, to use a phrase of Mr. Costello's, quoted by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, he will be "perilously pirouetting on a pin-point."

I have been asked the specific question, which Department will in future deal with Eire. I do not know what will be decided ultimately, but certainly for the time being the Commonwealth Relations Office will do so. It is useless to say that that is not logical—nothing is logical in our connection with Eire—but the Commonwealth Relations Office contains men who know all about the subject. It is not a matter for the Foreign Office, as the citizens of Eire are not foreigners. I do not think we can do better than keep to the existing system.

I think I have answered the other questions that were put to me. The noble Lord, Lord Killanin, asked an interesting question about the Irish Peers. Unfortunately, they are a race who are gradually dying out, and I only wish there were more of them. Those who are still with us as Irish Peers will remain, but I fear that the day may come when there will be no more of them. With regard to the position of Peers of the United Kingdom who are citizens of Eire—of whom he himself is such a shining exemplar—I need hardly say that in the future we shall, as in the past, hope to welcome him in this Assembly, and I am sure we shall profit from his presence.

I believe that if noble Lords will bear in mind that the decision we reached is the one which accords with the strong views of other members of the Commonwealth, and that to treat the citizens of Eire as foreigners would inflict more damage on us than it would on them—although I agree it is a very difficult situation—all will come to the conclusion that the way we have taken is the right way.


I did ask the noble and learned Viscount a question about the phrase "a citizen of Eire" in the British Nationality Act. Would it apply to the citizen of a republic not then created, which would be wholly outside the Commonwealth?


In my opinion the position is plain: Eire is still Eire. I have no doubt that the provisions of our Statute of 1948 applying to citizens of Eire will apply notwithstanding the repeal of the External Relations Act.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, the Lord Chancellor has made an interesting, profoundly informative and, I think, honest attempt to answer the questions put to him, and I think we are all grateful to him for that. He dealt in detail—not satisfactorily to my mind, but as satisfactorily as circumstances permit—with the very difficult question of Imperial Preference. One of the great difficulties of which I have no doubt he is aware, is that while he may say no international Court would invalidate treaties already adopted, this may be establishing a very difficult precedent; that fact must be borne in mind.

I should like to deal with the last point which the noble and learned Viscount made, and that is the wider implications of the present relationship with Eire—whether Eire is to be perpetuated and regarded as a feature of our relationship within the Commonwealth, yet possessing a foreign status. In his speech, as I understand it, Mr. Costello definitely gave the impression that he did not regard the present situation as more than a passing phase. He said: I believe that as a result of this measure, our relationship with that country"— that is, Great Britain— will be far closer and far better and will be put upon a better and firmer foundation than it has ever been before. Well, my Lords, no one can call the foundation very firm as it is at the present moment, and I presume that Mr. Costello used language of that kind because he had in mind some future developments of which we are not at present aware. I think also it is perfectly clear, from the passage which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, quoted from Mr. Chifley, that Mr. Chifley also regards this as a passing phase, and that something more definite must be established in regard to what is meant by "citizenship" or "sharing the rights of citizenship within the Commonwealth."

In my view, one thing is crystal clear; we cannot allow it to be said that people can be in and out of the Commonwealth simultaneously. In regard to Ireland, anything is possible; but let us remember that what is done in regard to Ireland may become a precedent elsewhere, and that when we are discussing this question we are discussing issues very much broader than the Irish question itself. What use could be made of the precedents thus established? How are they going to affect the relations of the rest of the Commonwealth? Are they going to attenuate the links which exist? Are they going to act so that the centrifugal process which has been going on so long may be accelerated? That is what we on this side of the House fear. It is on this point that we must make an endeavour to clear our minds, even if we agree—as I do agree with the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor—that for the time being we have to accept an absolutely illogical position and allow ourselves a brief respite. We must think where we are going. We must have a clear policy in regard to this matter. I do not think His Majesty's Government have that. I do not pretend that I have it myself. All I say is that we ought to think this thing out, and make certain reflections upon the conditions in which this difficult new problem has to be solved.

In the first place—and I think we ought not to forget it—under a Motion of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack in this very year, we have taken a step which ought to have helped to solve the difficulty which has confronted Eire in the last few weeks. Under his Motion, when we were dealing with the British Nationality Act, we brought in an entirely new concept, a concept of citizenship of the Commonwealth which was to be equivalent to British subjecthood and which, in our opinion, was to remove altogether any sense of paramountcy arising out of the use of the terms "subject," "British subjecthood," and so on, in the relations of the Commonwealth. We on this side of the House gladly accepted that new conception. I think that before it was introduced some of us said that a new conception of that kind was obviously required. It is sad to think that, at the very moment when there was established that new concept which ought to have given Eire the chance of saying "We can accommodate ourselves to this," she should have remained with her eyes riveted on the past, and should have insisted upon an action which will raise very grave difficulties for us and for herself in the future.

When we come to the question of Commonwealth citizenship, we shall have to consider what is the content of this problem. Clearly, it is accepted by Eire and by everyone that movement within the Commonwealth must be governed by the local immigration laws. With that we all agree, subject to the condition that citizens of the Commonwealth cannot be aliens in any part of the Commonwealth. I gather that Eire accepts that condition and that she is establishing, or is going to establish, in Eireann law a position for British subjects or Commonwealth citizens which will be the same as we give her citizens in the Commonwealth.


The noble Lord is quite right, but he must bear this in mind. This is not a scheme for common citizenship, so far as Eire is concerned. It is a scheme for an exchange of citizenship rights. Under the scheme, Commonwealth citizens will continue as they are, because it is open to us to make an arrangement, if we like, with the Siamese for the exchange of citizenship rights. That is what they are doing with ourselves and contemplate doing with the various nations of the Commonwealth.


I am glad to have that explanation. I was coming to that point. I was going to say that the exchange of citizenship rights is not the same thing as common citizenship, and it upon common citizenship that the unity of the Commonwealth will depend. We must be careful about doing anything which attenuates that conception of Commonwealth unity. I am considering the effect upon the rest of the Commonwealth of condoning and accepting Eire's action, not as a matter of temporary accommodation but as a permanent influence in our relations with Eire.

The second concept of citizenship must clearly be the right to countries to give each other preference. As a matter of fact, that is not at all clear under our arrangement with Eire. Whatever may be true in regard to past treaties, it cannot be true in regard to future development. In any case, we must beware of anything which weakens in any way the right of the rest of the Commonwealth to develop preference to the utmost possible extent, because it is the one constructive and unifying factor which has been continuous during the last fifty years, during which time so many other links have been weakened and, indeed, in some cases entirely lost. Let us remember this about preference. It was not introduced to this country or proposed by this country. In the first place, it was proposed by the greatest Dominion, Canada, in 1898. It was proposed not by a British Statesman but by a French Canadian, Sir Wilfred Laurie. It is the one solid continuing factor in the life of the Commonwealth—apart from its deep rooted sentiment—which has given the Commonwealth unity.

I suppose—and many people will also think—that in the concept of citizenship we should include the principle that, when one part of the Commonwealth is at war, every part is at war. It need not be belligerent, but it cannot be neutral; that if one part of the Commonwealth is at war, the whole of the Commonwealth is at war in that sense. I do not insist upon that because, as a matter of fact, that principle is not accepted in the whole of the Commonwealth at the present time. I mention it because I feel certain that it is going to be put to us by the new Asiatic Dominions as one of the considerations affecting citizenship. We shall have to be ready to answer it. My own feeling about it is that it will not be solved by trying to get accepted any principle applying to the Commonwealth as a whole. It will have to be solved by regional defensive groups.


Would the noble Lord tell me what he means by being at war but not belligerent?


I meant this: that active participation in war is not required, to the extent of fighting, sending contingents of men and so on.


The noble Lord means at war de jure, and not de facto.


Egypt is a perfect example of that. I agree with the noble Lord.


When we analyse the possible content of citizenship—and I think we have to clear our minds upon this—we come to the final and inescapable question about citizenship of the Commonwealth: of what does that citizenship consist? What is the international status of this Commonwealth of which one is a citizen? Is it simply a treaty status, like that of the groups which have come together in Europe recently? Is it a charter status, like that of the nations which have been brought together under the San Francisco Charter Treaty? Or is it something more intimate, more abiding and more definite? I think we all agree here that it must be something more intimate, more definite and more abiding than a loose relationship between nations united by treaty, or even between nations which decide to act under a given charter of international conduct. That is a system which is not working very well at the present moment. For us there is only one institution which represents that link, and that is the Crown. That is the historic position in the Commonwealth.

Not only is it the historic position, but it is laid down by our constitutional conventions and rules. In the Preamble to the Statute of Westminster, under which membership of the Commonwealth is defined—and it is defined nowhere else—allegiance to the Crown is the essential principle. White that is merely in the Preamble of our own Act, let us remember that it was adopted and followed by every nation of the Commonwealth at the time of the Abdication; so it is established definitely in that way. Let us also remember that, although it is contained merely in a Preamble so far as we are concerned, in South Africa and in some other Dominions, if I am not mistaken, it is not in the Preamble but in the actual Act. There is the Statute which governs and defines membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations at the present time, and I think we must be very careful how we depart from it.

It is not merely that reference to the Crown as a symbol of unity is deeply rooted in tradition and sentiment in the hearts and minds of millions throughout the world; it is not merely that that sentiment is not confined only to the British but is felt by many who are not British at all in stock—for instance, it is held quite sacred by the people of Quebec, as it is part of the guarantee of their constitutional liberty—but it is also that the Crown is recognised internationally as our hall-mark. It is the common Crown which gives the Commonwealth its international status, and my conviction is that the Commonwealth cannot maintain its unity or its distinctive international status without some common interest like the Crown to represent common ideals, hopes, interests, sense of comradeship and a common purpose, transcending nation, creed and race. Can there be any institution except the Crown which can do that?

I agree with the noble Viscount that we must have open minds upon this subject; that we must not allow rooted habits of thought, as we have sometimes in the past, to obstruct creative development. There was a time in this House when many noble Lords resisted the proposals made by Lord Durham, and yet we all recognise now that what he proposed was the basis of the modern Commonwealth—a great new development, a miracle of constructive imagination and thought upon which this magnificent structure has been built.


I am afraid that this House has resisted Home Rule not once but many times.


I agree, but that is another example. I am talking at the moment of the Commonwealth as a whole.


I was only supplementing the noble Lord's words.


It is a fact that Lord Durham is not one of those statesmen who have been in any way commemorated in this House, so far as I am aware. In these days events move fast, and our minds must be receptive and alert if the British Commonwealth of Nations is to enter, as I believe it can, a period of even greater utility and influence. I agree with what Lord Swinton said just now in regard to there being no sealed pattern, for all of us have open minds upon this subject. But three guiding principles seem to me absolutely essential. I think we are absolutely agreed upon them on this side of the House, and before the end of this debate I shall be happy to hear that they are accepted by the noble Viscount opposite. They are these: first, that the Commonwealth must be based upon a common citizenship—not merely upon an exchange of citizenship rights, but a common citizenship uniting the whole; secondly, that no innovation as regards citizenship can be considered by us which is not fully approved by all existing members of the Commonwealth, and thirdly, that no innovation can be considered by us which would lead to any further attenuation of the ties which bind existing members of the Commonwealth. If the noble Viscount would give us some assurances on those points, we should feel that a rather doubtful position—


What was the third point?


That no innovation should be accepted here which would lead to any further attenuation of the ties which bind existing members of the Commonwealth. I thank the noble Viscount for giving attention to those three principles, and I hope he will be able to tell us before the end of this debate that he accepts all three.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with a great deal of the speech of the noble Lord who has just addressed your Lordships, but I think the last part showed a complete underestimate of what has really happened in regard to the matter we are discussing this afternoon. Some of the speeches from the other side of the House have, I am afraid, ignored the significance of this event, which is one of the great events in European history. It is not just a question of adjusting citizenship and preferences and that kind of thing. The Irish people, by an overwhelming majority of the twenty-six counties, have decided that they are going to break completely away from us and become again a sovereign State. That is a tremendous event. The extraordinary thing is that, while the people of Eire are doing that, the Prime Minister of Eire has declared that he wishes to remain in the closest relationship with us and offers the exchange of citizenship which we have just heard described by the Lord Chancellor, which retains in practice a very close link between the two countries. That is the extraordinary part of it.

It is all very well to say that this is a short-sighted act on the part of the Irish. But it is something they have dreamed of for centuries, and many have said in the past that this was their ultimate destiny. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, whom I thank for his words, reminded your Lordships that the Irish are one of the mother peoples just as much as we are ourselves. It was the one place where the torch of learning and culture was kept alive when the whole of Europe, including this country, was overrun by the barbarians in the Dark Ages. The actual culture and art and learning of Ireland is older than ours, and to discuss the future of these people in the terms of such questions as we have head to-day from the Opposition is wholly to misunderstand the situation. For Lord Altrincham (who I am sorry to see has left the Chamber) to lay down conditions, in these circumstances, as to what shall constitute Commonwealth citizenship in the future, and so on, is altogether to miss the point.

Could this present situation have been avoided? From the British point of view this event has come at a very difficult time, and I commiserate with my noble friend and my other friends in the Government on having to deal with this extremely awkward situation at this particular time; and I shall in a moment, in the very few remarks which I have to make, deal a little further with the reason for their difficulty. Could this event have been avoided at the present time and in the future? The noble Viscount who spoke for the Liberal Party gave me a nostalgic feeling when he spoke of the great political struggles of the past, and Lord Pakenham reminded the last noble Lord to speak that Lord Durham was not the only reformer who was resisted in this House. What would have happened if the Home Rule Bill of 1886—the year I was born—had not been thrown out by the then Marquess of Salisbury who led the Peers at that time?


On a small point of information, it was a later Home Rule which was thrown out.


I am much obliged to my noble friend. There have been too many such Bills thrown out in your Lordships' House. I wonder what would have happened if the later Bill, the one of 1893, had passed. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, rightly took a pride in the later third Home Rule Bill. No doubt, he assisted the Liberal leader, then Mr. Asquith, when he introduced it. I think that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House was in Parliament at that time and that he also played an active part in connection with the third Home Rule Bill. I wonder, if one of those three Bills—especially the first, the one of 1886—had reached the Statute Book as the result of wiser leadership and wiser counsels among the Conservatives in this House, whether Irishmen would have been satisfied with what could have been made into an extended Dominion status, or whether they would now have thought it necessary and desirable to break these last tenuous links. I cannot answer that question; none of us can. I can only quote the words of Parnell who, when asked what was the ultimate aim of the Irish people, said: Who can set boundaries to the march of a people? It may be that this was the ultimate aim: that Ireland should again become a sovereign State and completely sever her connection with this country. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House and his colleagues are now faced with that situation. I have listened carefully to the whole of this debate, but what I have failed to hear yet from the spokesmen of the Conservative Party—and this applies to the noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, who has just spoken—is what different policy they would have pursued. I would respectfully ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, to whom we are going to listen—I am sure, with great pleasure, as we always do—to tell us what he would do in this situation. Would he throw back this gesture of friendship, this offer of some system of co-operation with us, under which a British subject, or an Australian, or a Canadian is not to be regarded in Ireland as an alien, and a citizen of Eire can go about freely here, and not be regarded as a foreigner? Would he and his supporters have thrown that back in the faces of the Irish people? Do they suggest that that would really have been to the ultimate advantage of the Commonwealth?

We have not only to think of our own country in this matter, but we have also to think of the position of Canada, Australia, South Africa and the other Dominions. In deciding what course to take, the Government, I am sure, have had close regard to this question of creating precedents. Why I said just now that this great event had occurred at a very difficult time was because the future relationships with the new Asiatic Dominions have still to be settled. What happens with regard to Eire, I think, must have some bearing on the future discussions which will have to take place in that connection. It is no use trying to ride off, saying: "Anything can happen in Ireland; the Irish situation is in a category of its own." That is not the case. If it is possible for a Republic to be established in Ireland (and the appointed day has not yet come), with complete and independent sovereignty and, at the same time, for good practical and sentimental reasons, possible to retain some measure of common citizenship, will not the same suggestion be made if, in the case of India, the intention is carried out—as I understand it may be—to declare India a Republic?

We know that the Dominion of Pakistan intends to remain a member of the Commonwealth. I believe that I am right in saying that that is also the intention, or will be the intention, of the Constituent Assembly in India. But certain of the Indian leaders and the Indian Parties are committed to a republican form of government and our problem (this is a problem of great importance, I suggest, and it may also become one of great urgency) is: Can we define and discover some new form of Commonwealth citizenship which will enable this new form of Dominion—if I may so call it—to remain in close association and co-operation with the older Dominions? That is a most difficult problem, which not only His Majesty's Government here but His Majesty's Governments overseas must face. I think it is unfortunate, therefore, that in respect of this particular case of Ireland, a broader and more statesmanlike view of this great event has not been taken by the leaders of the Conservative Party in this country. From the wide point of view of Commonwealth relationships I think it would have been better if a more generous attitude had been adopted, and we had heard less legalism or talk of difficulties over preference and the like.

One noble Lord who addressed your Lordships earlier in this debate quoted some words of a speaker in the Dail, in which reference was made to future developments of the British Commonwealth and the great changes that might take place in the whole of the British Commonwealth. What will the British Commonwealth look like in fifty years or sixty years' time? I would only touch on the question of population trends. Australia can easily maintain, at a high standard of living, 100,000,000 people. In sixty years' time, Australia may contain 100,000,000 people. With regard to Canada I have heard much dispute, but I do not think it will be gainsaid that the potential population possibilities in Canada amount to 50,000,000—and possibly more. New Zealand certainly could support 20,000,000.

As I say, there has been great dispute about some of these matters—particularly about Canada—and some American scientists who have taken part in the discussions have argued at considerable length, basing their contentions on climatic conditions in Canada and so on. So I am purposely underestimating. Now in the same period of which I have spoken, what could be the population of these Islands? By controlled and well-organised emigration—emigration carried out with due regard to our economic interests—it is estimated that we might well have reduced the population of these Islands to perhaps 30,000,000. Then the predominant partner in the Commonwealth will not be Great Britain—that is, England, Scotland and Wales. The predominant partner will be either Australia or Canada, with whom the Irish people have no quarrel at all, and in both of which Dominions there will be found vast numbers of people of Irish descent and with Irish memories. And if there is one thing that an Irishman never loses, it is his memory, his memory of past wrongs and past glories—and the Irish have had plenty of both.

It may well be that the whole of that race which has once owed allegiance to the Crown of England will then be reunited. I myself, not only out of sympathy for my noble friend and his colleagues in the Government who have this very difficult task, but for other reasons also, regret very much, speaking here as a Scot, that this event has happened at all. I fought against the necessity for it. In another place I stood, sometimes almost alone, against the excesses and cruelties which have helped to build up this present situation. I think I can claim to have been a friend of Ireland in bad times, when the names of assassins in Ireland were execrated as much as the gunmen in Palestine to-day. I regret this event, but I understand it. We living here in England do not always know the feeling of people who have lived under foreign subjugation; and in Irish eyes it has been foreign subjugation. A Scotsman or a Welshman can understand that better; it is difficult for an Englishman. It is necessary for us to remind ourselves of some of the ghastly events that have happened in Ireland over the last five and a half centuries. No wonder Irish memories are long! I can understand their urge to be able to say that the last link has gone—that even the Crown, which (as the noble Lord, Lord Killanin, has said) is in Ireland a symbol of oppression, has disappeared from their shores.

I take up the point on partition mentioned in the moving speech of the noble Lord, Lord Killanin, on which I congratulate him. We are committed here to the present Act. We must support the six counties against any aggression from outside. I do not believe there is any chance of that whatever. What are the hopes of patriotic Irishmen in the twenty-six counties of ending this truncation of their land? I believe there is a hope in the younger generation in the six counties. I believe there is a change among the younger men and women, and I have had evidence of it. I believe that they will come to see, in a new united Ireland, a link which may reconstruct the chain of common citizenship; it may provide the answer to the problem which is so difficult at the present time—that of trying to reconcile the sympathy and friendship of the Irish people with their desire to assert complete independence and yet maintain co-operation and mutual help between two peoples who have gone through so much together in the past and shown, in their private and domestic affairs, such friendship and comradeship through the centuries.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, as eighth speaker on the list, I naturally find that many of my points have been dealt with to a large extent. Therefore, I am not going to keep your Lordships long this afternoon. I would, however, like to address a few words to your Lordships on the question of trade and Imperial Preference. The exit of Eire from the British Commonwealth is an accepted fact, or rather it will be by the middle of next month. The repeal of the External Relations Act and the passing of the Republic of Ireland Act complete this process. I think it will be regarded on all sides as a very unfortunate event, because it makes very close to our own shores a breach in the family relationship which we have all come to regard as the Commonwealth and Empire. But as the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor pointed out, quoting from a speech by Mr. Churchill, it really brings into effect what has actually been happening and has been in existence informally for a long time.

I think it would be well to consider one or two facts in relation to the results of this event. My first point has been dealt with fairly extensively. Neither the Havana Charter nor the Geneva Agreement abrogates existing commercial treaties. It has already been pointed out that we have forty commercial treaties containing a "most favoured nation" clause. Therefore, if we are to give preferential treatment to Ireland on her leaving the Commonwealth, we should be acting in flat violation of all those treaties. Apparently the citizenship problem has been solved to the satisfaction of a good many Governments, including that of the United Kingdom, by the simple process of pretending that there is no change. I am sure that that is going to lead to trouble. For instance, what will be the position of a citizen of Ireland in a high position in the Civil Service, when his first allegiance must be to a foreign country, and a foreign country which, after all, has not always been entirely friendly to us? Again, it has been blandly assumed that the trade relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland may and will remain probably exactly the same as before the passing of the Act. With all the good will in the world, I fail to see how this can possibly prove to be so in practice. Take the Havana Charter which, as has already been stated, remains still to be ratified. It was signed by a large number of countries, including Ireland. I would like to draw attention to the fact that the word "Ireland" was used; I think use of that name was in anticipation of the intention to discard the word "Eire" and revert to the word "Ireland." That cannot be said for certain, but it looked to me as though it was put in deliberately in this way in order that in commercial as well as in political matters the claim to sovereignty over the six counties might be maintained.


If the noble Lord will allow me to say so, it seems a pity, late in the debate, to put a point which I think can be easily answered. If the noble Lord will look at the signatories to the Havana Charter, he will see that one is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Then on the same page there is, as he says, the word "Ireland"; but, in fact, Ireland is the English word which corresponds to the word "Eire," and whatever the implications may be, it was quite legal, I think, to put it in that form. I do not know whether the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, would agree with me. I think that is the true position, and it is a pity that there should be unnecessary suspicion on a matter which, I would have said, was quite legal.


I am obliged to the noble Viscount for having given me the answer to that question, but it is a pity to have any division of opinion on it. I think I was perfectly right to put the point, and I believe the Government can quite easily answer it. Although Eire signed the Havana Charter, she did not participate in signing the general Agreements on Tariffs and Trade at Geneva. The countries which subscribed to the Geneva Agreement have undertaken to observe "to the fullest extent of their executive authority" all the provisions in the Havana Charter, except those bringing into being the International Trade Organisation. To my mind, therefore, the position is that if the Havana Charter is ratified, Ireland is a party thereto. If, as seems quite possible, it is not ratified, and the Geneva Agreements take its place, Ireland, at any rate up to the present, has no lot or part therein at all; in the language of the Agreements, it is not a "contracting party." Under the non-discrimination and preference clauses, therefore, any contracting party to the Geneva Agreements is entitled to claim from Great Britain exactly the same treatment in commercial matters as that given to Ireland. Ireland will, unless protest is made, continue to receive preferential treatment within the Empire, but, as a party entirely unconnected with the Geneva Agreements, will be under no obligation whatever to concede anything to any one inside or outside the British Commonwealth and Empire.

With regard to preferences, the Geneva Agreements make provision—as does the Havana Charter—that preferences in force between the countries of the Commonwealth and Empire were to be allowed to stand. This dispensation was not given to the Commonwealth and Empire as such, but was given to countries specifically named, of which Ireland was one. I suppose it may, therefore, be argued by Great Britain and Ireland that that dispensation having been granted, the preferences may be allowed to continue. On the other hand, it might equally well be argued that when those Agreements were signed it was not contemplated that one of the countries would take action to constitute itself as a country foreign to all the others, and, therefore, that any arrangements then made were rendered null and void by that action. This argument could well be supported by pointing out that in the one case in which preference existed between two foreign countries—namely, between the United States of America and the Republic of Cuba—special provision was made in the Agreement for their maintenance.

From the point of view of expediency, it might be a very satisfactory arrangement that the products of this country and of Ireland should be exchanged on specially favourable terms. But it does not stop there. As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has mentioned, it has been specifically stated that India proposes to regard herself as a Republic in the future, and she may take action very similar to that of Ireland. The Union of South Africa may follow suit. The Lord Chancellor and others have spoken about precedent, and it has been said that the question of precedent has been exaggerated. But it is no use pretending that the case of Ireland need not be regarded as a precedent, when the Union of South Africa will very likely ask for the same thing. The particular problems which will arise in that case are very much more widespread and complicated than they are on the present issue.

And what of the other countries of the Commonwealth and Empire? One cannot help but recall the words wrung from Lord Elgin, Governor of Canada, when in 1846 the repeal of the Corn Laws gave the United States of America a tremendous advantage over the then Colony of Canada. Lord Elgin said this: All the prosperity of which Canada is robbed is transplanted to the other side of the line, as if to make the Canadian feel more bitterly how much kinder England is to the children who desert her than to those who remain faithful. Have not those words, spoken one hundred years ago, a significance to-day? This haphazard method of dealing with the commercial problems of Ireland cannot be regarded with any satisfaction at all. It is one thing to be disposed to give favours to those who have been very closely connected with us; it is quite another thing when such favours cut right across commercial treaties and agreements which we have signed. Those agreements may have been misguided, but we have put our signature to them.

The question is always asked by speakers on the opposite Benches: What would you have done about it? I am merely pointing out many of the genuine difficulties which will arise as commercial difficulties. The obviously straightforward and immediate course would have been to retain the dispensation secured for the British Commonwealth and Empire for that body alone, and in due course to have made a separate commercial treaty with Ireland within the terms of the agreements to which we have pledged ourselves. The proper and final solution, of course, is to have nothing whatever to do with the Havana Charter, and to get rid of the non-discrimination clauses of the Geneva Agreement at the earliest possible moment.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, the subject of this debate, during the four hours we have been engaged upon it, has been so well covered by those who have already spoken that there does not really remain a great deal for me to say. However, I would like, if I may be allowed, to sum up the main points of the discussion. I think it will be agreed on all sides that it has been a debate of very high importance. As the Lord Chancellor himself said, it obviously raises not only delicate but substantial issues—one might almost say vital issues—for this country, for Eire herself and for the Empire as a whole. This debate could not usefully have been delayed, for if any alteration of policy is to take place, or any action is to be taken, it must be taken quickly. I would like to emphasize what I think has already been made clear in all the speeches to which your Lordships have listened (I think this has been recognised in all parts of the House), that this Motion is not a mere attempt to embarrass the Government. Certainly that was far from the minds of any of those who supported it on the Paper. Anyhow, if I may say so, I thought our speeches and our Motion a good deal less likely to embarrass the Government than the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Killanin, and especially that part of it which dealt with partition, a subject on which we have not ourselves trenched.

I do not propose to answer the noble Lord's remarks, or to pursue the matter further, other than to say this. I hope it may be possible for the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, when he winds up the debate and answers for the Government, to repeat the assurances, which I understand have already been given by the Government, with regard to the position of Ulster. In the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Killanin, has said, there may well be perturbation in Northern Ireland. If the Government can make the position clear, so far as they, at any rate, are concerned, I am sure it will tend to have a useful result in that country. Nor, I would assure the noble Lord, Lord Killanin (I am afraid he is not present at the moment), is this debate in any way inspired by hostility or resentment against the people of Southern Ireland. We know very well—certainly I know, who have had the privilege of being at the Dominions Office—that there are wide sections of the population of that country who are actuated by the friendliest feelings towards this country. That, I think, applies even to certain Republican circles. Indeed, I think the general good will to Britain was borne out in a notable way by that wide concourse of brave men and women who came and stood at our side in the darkest days of the last war.

The purpose of this Motion, as I think your Lordships realise, is to put before Ministers, and before the country at large, certain vital considerations, arising from the recent Agreement with Eire, which have emerged from an examination by some of the foremost constitutional experts of the day of the Government statement of November 25. When the Government made that statement, as your Lordships may remember, on behalf of the Party for whom I speak I expressed extreme uneasiness as to its effect. I did not say that we in this House would resist it, but I said that we would dissociate ourselves from it. I can only say that, after listening to this valuable debate, in my mind at any rate that uneasiness still persists.

I thought the Lord Chancellor passed rather lightly over the actual points of law which were raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Simon. He talked about the Commonwealth conversations—which I agree are of the first importance, and about which I propose to say a word later on—and he spoke of the necessity for common sense, which is always valuable in politics, as elsewhere. But he did not seem to me to be unduly worried about the legal aspect. He poured scorn upon our anxieties over the word "regard" in the Government statement of November 25, and he quoted a precedent which he thought was an analogy, but which, as I hope to show, I do not think, in one vital aspect, is a complete analogy.

In my view, we still have to consider—and it is upon this point that my mind is not happy—what validity the wording of the Government statement has in national and international law. I still feel (if I may say so with all deference to the Lord Chancellor) that on this particular aspect he has not made his case. Even in dealing with Ireland, which is always sui generis, the legal aspect cannot be ignored. I believe that Mr. Jorrocks once said: "The law is a hass." That may be true, but it is with the law that we have to deal if we in this country are to avoid at a later date grave national and international complications.

I think it was Lord Simon who pointed out that we are faced here with an entirely new situation. The position has fundamentally changed, even since the time of the passing of the British Nationality Act last summer; for then, at any rate—while I would entirely agree that the main bonds which united Great Britain and Ireland had been almost severed—one thin, tenuous strand still remained. It was the existence of that strand which, to my mind, makes a difference between the precedent which the Lord Chancellor quoted and our situation now. He quoted the circumstance of 1937, when we said we would continue to treat with the Government of Ireland as if no change had occurred. But, at that period, this thin strand of connection with the Crown still persisted and, in my view, it was this very fact which made it possible for us to adopt that view at that time.


May I give the words again? They were: "To treat the new Constitution as not effecting a fundamental alteration."


Under British law and Irish law, this strand of connection with the Crown still existed, and to my mind that was what made it possible for us to do that. I know it was a very slender strand. Indeed, if I remember aright, it was merely that the letters of credence which were presented by Eire diplomats to foreign Courts contained the name of the King. It may be argued that that was mere legal fiction, and I think probably that would be the sort of view which was taken by the noble Lord, Lord Killanin, this afternoon. But personally I do not agree, and I think that my view is held by most noble Lords on this side of the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Killanin, was concerned with the position in Eire itself. I thought that that was the main weakness of his speech, and perhaps of the general Irish attitude. If I may say so, in all deference, the Irish are slightly parochial; they are not interested very much in what happens outside Eire itself. But we here are bound to take a wider view, and I submit that, from the wider aspect, that thin link to which I have referred has a very real importance, because it did maintain, so long as it endured, a difference in law between Eire and other foreign States. It made possible, therefore, a differentiation in law between Eire and other countries. That is no doubt the reason why Mr. de Valera, who is an extremely skilful and experienced statesman, preserved that link. It was not from any special love of British connection; it was because it enabled Eire to occupy a special position, which he believed was in the interests of Eire itself.

Now, as your Lordships know, the new Government of Eire have broken that last strand. I make no complaint of that—I do not think any of us does. Whether they had technically the right to do so, in view of existing treaties, is no doubt arguable. But Eire in fact has Dominion status, and Dominion status, as we all agree, confers a right to secede from the Commonwealth. But by doing so, the Eire Government have un doubtedly made their country a foreign nation, in the international sense of the word. I think that was one of the questions asked by my noble friend Lord Simon, of the Lord Chancellor, and to which he received an affirmative answer. The fact that the Government of Great Britain say that we will not regard them as having done so, does not, as I see it—I speak with all deference—in the legal sense alter that very hard fact. We have it—and I always believed it was the case—On the authority of the Lord Chancellor, that the Irish action faced the Government here with a totally unforeseen situation. I have always believed that. I have never had a suspicion that the Government attempted to deceive the House last June, when the British Nationality Bill was under discussion. In the situation with which they were faced at the beginning of November, I am sure they have the profound sympathy of us all. But that does not meat that we need necessarily applaud or approve the steps which they took to extricate themselves from their dilemma.

As I understand it—and it is inherent in the statement of November 25, which is, after all, our main official source on this subject—His Majesty's Government base their case for putting Eire citizens in a special category on what they call—I quote their words: a specially close relationship between Eire and the Commonwealth countries. But on what does this assumption, in reality, rest? In this I speak in all friendliness to Eire itself. The Government may base that argument on geographical proximity. But, of course, that is even truer of France. They may argue that Eire was formerly part of the overseas territories of the Crown. But that is true also of a large part of the United States. Or they may argue that we are a main market for the agricultural products of Eire. That is true equally of Denmark. Or, finally, they may argue that there are many Irish citizens resident in the United Kingdom and in other Empire countries. That is perfectly true, but it is true also, in a lesser degree, of many other foreign States. In one respect, indeed, I should have thought that the relationship between this country and Eire was less materially close than that which joins us to some other foreign countries. Take the Benelux countries, for instance. With them we have a Treaty of Mutual Assistance. We have no such treaty with Eire.

From any reasonable and practical and factual point of view, therefore, it is difficult to see how it is possible to maintain the fiction that there is any difference, in the situation which has been created by the new Eire Legislation, between Eire and any other foreign country.


If the noble Marquess will forgive me, he has left out entirely the fact that Ireland was governed from England for nearly five centuries, and he has not mentioned the common language and the great intermingling through intermarriage, and so on, between the two countries.


Those points are equally true of the United States.




They have a common language with us; we were united from the time we landed in North America until about 1787. As for intermingling of blood, that also applies equally. I do not think the noble Lord has hold of anything really good there.

If it is impossible to maintain this fiction, as I think it is, it is really no good merely hoping everything will be all right, and trying to ignore the possible consequences of the Irish action. Take the position of Irish nationals in this country and the Commonwealth, and particularly in the United Kingdom, with which we personally are mainly concerned. In passing, I should like to say one word to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. He spoke of our "turning out" these people. But there is no question of turning out Irish citizens in this country. The only question is with what status they remain here, if they wish to remain.

During the Second Reading of the British Nationality Bill this summer the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor enumerated a number of advantages enjoyed by a British subject. A British subject qualifies for the Parliamentary franchise; he can become a Member of Parliament, a member of the Civil Service or of the Privy Council, or master of a British ship; and a number of other things of that kind. We all know that there are numbers of extremely distinguished persons emanating from Eire, who at present, I believe, occupy these positions. What will be the status and position of such persons when the Republic of Ireland Act passes into law and becomes operative? No doubt His Majesty's Government here will still regard them as having all the rights and privileges of British subjects. But what will be their position under the law? This was a point rightly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lyle, and I should like to carry it a little further. Take the case of a man of Eire nationality at present resident in Britain and registered as a Parliamentary elector. Will he retain that position and keep his vote? Is that a position which could conceivably be challenged in the Courts? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, would care to give us his personal opinion on that point. And if the name of this person is not already on the list of Parliamentary electors, could he be put on the Register after the passage of this Bill into law? This is not a purely academic point, for this reason: such votes, cast in effect by citizens of a foreign country, might easily sway the result of an election—and it might be an election which had a considerable bearing on the future of this country.


This is rather a legal matter, and perhaps I might be permitted to deal with it. I have no doubt at all in my own mind that if the British Nationality Act of 1948, which will come into force on January 1, remains unaltered, an Eire citizen will have the same rights as British subjects and will be entitled to vote. We shall have to consider these questions in the legislation which I have foreshadowed. But so long as the 1948 Act remains the law, under Section 3 (2), the Eire citizen will be treated as if he were a British subject.


That is a very important statement. To many of us it appears that the situation has been changed since the passage of the British Nationality Act this summer. I can tell the noble and learned Viscount that many legal experts take this view: that the overriding consideration of that Bill, the reason and the conditions under which it was put before Parliament, were that this strand of connection of which I have spoken earlier maintained a relationship between. Eire and the Crown, and that that strand existed at the time of the passage of the Bill. The cutting of that strand since that date seems to many people to create an entirely new situation.


I hesitate to argue with the noble Marquess on a legal matter, but I am very surprised to hear that. Where there is some ambiguity of language it is quite legitimate to consider the reason for it. The Statute was based on the circumstances then prevailing, but where there is ambiguity of language in the Statute you may consider the reasons which induced Parliament to pass the Statute.


It is really impertinent for me to argue with the noble and learned Viscount on a point of law, but I should not quite have accepted that position. It is not merely the wording in the Statute; it is the conditions under which that Statute passed through Parliament. I put this to the Lord Chancellor: I understood him to say that at the time that Act was passed, the Government had no notion that this position was likely to arise. If they had, would they still have recommended that Act?


I do not know. I have never considered that. This Act having passed, in plain, unambiguous language, the Act prevails, notwithstanding this change.


Is it a mere windfall, of which the Government are taking advantage with regard to the position which has now arisen? If so, in justice to the country they ought to bring in another Bill and allow it to be discussed again, because the situation is entirely different. If, when they passed and recommended the Bill, Parliament in all good faith thought that the link with the Crown would continue, and then the link was broken, and, as a result, the citizen of a completely independent Republic has all the rights and privileges of a British citizen, that is a matter to be considered by Parliament. I think that is a view which is widely held.

I should like to remind your Lordships of what the position would be as a result of what the Lord Chancellor has said. It would be possible for a citizen of Eire—a citizen of a foreign State and a State which might be neutral or hostile in given circumstances—to be adopted for Parliament. He might even begin his campaign. Then somebody might get up and challenge his position. If the position were challenged, then he would, I take it, be able to prove his case by quoting Section 3, subsection (2) of the British Nationality Act. But what would happen when he came to be elected? Would he have to take the oath of allegiance to the King?


So far as I know he would.


So far as the Lord Chancellor knows. That is what I say—nobody has considered what would happen under this Bill. There are some very real and difficult problems which may arise. I will give you another. Suppose war were to break out and conscription were re-imposed at a time when Eire was neutral—which is, of course, a possibility. What would be the position of the men and women of Irish blood who lived, not in Ireland, but in the great cities of this country? Would they be subject to the law of this country, if Eire were not engaged in hostilities? If Irish people, regarded as subjects of a foreign State, were called up and forced to fight for Britain, there would be great and wide indignation in Eire itself.


It would depend on the conscription law. Anybody in this country is subject to the law of this country. If we decide to pass a conscription Act calling up everybody, no matter whom, we can do so.


But the Government would not call up foreigners in any case, would they? I mean that we could not pass a Conscription Act calling up nationals of other countries. That has not been done.


That would be very unlikely, because there would then be international complications.


Where would the Irish come under such a law?


Surely that would depend upon the conscription law. We have not got it yet.


Would they be called up under the existing National Service Act?


They can be.


And that would continue?




There is no intention on the part of the Government to interfere with that?


There would be a large number of minor amendments of the law to be considered.


I do not regard this as a minor amendment. After all, as I have said, if they are called up, it will be likely to cause intense indignation in Eire, and if they are not called up it will cause the utmost bitterness in Britain, because it will be said that these people enjoy all the advantages of residence in this country in times of peace but will be under no obligation to fight for Britain when Britain is in danger.


There was exactly that situation in the late war, in the case of the six counties of Northern Ireland. There was no great difficulty about that.


It is an entirely different situation.


The inhabitants of those six counties were not conscripted.


This is a different situation, because here are citizens of an entirely separate State—or it could be argued that way. I should have thought that if they, having enjoyed the advantages of living in this country, were not called up there would be bitterness in this country.


There was no bitterness in the case of the six counties.


It is a matter upon which anyone is entitled to his own opinion, but I should have thought that there would be little doubt about this. At any rate, that is my view. In the speech which the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor delivered to us this evening, he quoted, as one of the great disadvantages which Ireland is going to suffer, these words: They would lose the advantage of participation in Commonwealth defence. That is one of the things he quoted. But they have never shown any very great enthusiasm for participation in Commonwealth defence, and so I would not refer to that as a disadvantage at all. They took no part as a Government during the last war, and they have taken no part since.

I still feel that all these points, which noble Lords opposite may regard as small, pettifogging points, will raise very serious and practical difficulties if an attempt is made to adopt this twilight system—the tertium quid, as Lord Simon called it in dealing with this problem. Such examples might be multiplied endlessly. I do not say that these things will happen, but can the Government give us absolute assurances that they cannot happen? Then, what are to be the rights and privileges of Englishmen in Ireland? There is a rather obscure word—"comparable"—which is used in the Government statement. Does that mean identical? Will Englishmen living in Ireland vote at the Irish elections? If Parliament is going to accept this agreement, ought we not to know a little more about these things than we have yet been told?

Then there is the question of the "most favoured nation" treaties. I listened to an extremely interesting and erudite argument between the great lawyers whom we have in this House and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, who has been in charge of the Government offices which deal with these matters. I admit that I am not an expert on this question. I should like to study what has been said by the Lord Chancellor. The only thing I would say to him is this. He seemed confident that no question over the "most favoured nation" treaties would arise. He said that: "It was most unlikely that this will ever be taken to The Hague." I do not think it is possible for us to take quite so rosy a view of the position as that. There are numbers of nations which have "most favoured nation" treaties with us, and they are not inhibited by subsequent agreements from bringing those matters to The Hague. I think the temptation would be considerable for them. I would urge upon the Lord Chancellor, and on the Government, that this is a vital matter. For on the result of such a case might depend the fate of our whole system of Imperial Preferences, upon which our trade is largely built up.

These are some of the detailed issues that arise. There is, however, a wider one, which is causing us on this side of the House deep concern. What is the effect of this recent Irish settlement to be upon the whole structure of the Commonwealth and Empire? After all, what is it that holds this Commonwealth together? What is the basis of that family relationship which differentiates us from other nations? It is allegiance to the King. It is the fact that all these great countries owe loyalty to the same King. Discard that common link, and very likely there will be nothing left but what I think Mr. Menzies called a series of watered-down alliances. On such a basis, I gravely fear that the Commonwealth could not possibly endure. I may be wrong, but I feel it in my bones that, once we get there, we are on a very slippery slope indeed. That seems to me to be the danger of the present settlement. In order to gain some temporary illusory advantage, we cut away the only firm basis, the rock upon which the Commonwealth has always stood and weathered all the storms that have beset it. That is the risk that the Government are running. I cannot believe that any temporary convenience in regard to Eire itself justifies it.

The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has told us that the Government agreed to this settlement only under pressure from other Imperial Governments.


Not at all.


Please do not take that line. That would be quite wrong. I said that the other Commonwealth Governments hoped that this would be the line we would take. There was no pressure put upon us.


I received the impression that the Lord Chancellor had said that, if we had been there, we would have seen them absolutely united in favour of this case. I do not wish to misrepresent the Lord Chancellor—indeed, it is unnecessary to do so for the argument of my case. I would like to hear a little more about this aspect. I should like to read a little more about what the Commonwealth statesmen say on this question.

The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Samuel, quoted some remarks made by Mr. Chifley. No doubt, those remarks were very relevant and convenient, from the point of view of the case he was making in his speech. I do not make any criticism of him for quoting what he did. But he did not quote the rather less convenient remarks of Mr. St. Laurent, the Prime Minister of Canada, who expressed serious doubts as to the effect of this agreement on Imperial Preference. His words, which appeared just after the news of this agreement, were reported in The Times on November 26 of this year: In trade relations the question arises whether tariff rights given to Eire would entitle countries that have most-favoured-nation agreements with Canada to the same rights. That is exactly the point we have been making here this afternoon. That is the consideration that is troubling us on this side of the House. We are really worried about it.

We do not think that it is a question that can be slurred over. We feel it is a situation which ought to be cleared up. We cannot help feeling that, if the other Empire Governments had been given a stronger lead by the United Kingdom Government, a very different decision would have been reached. When the British Nationality Bill came up for consideration we were told the same things as we have been told to-day. But, after what we have heard since, I am exceedingly doubtful whether the people from the Dominions were so enthusiastic about the British Nationality Bill as we were told at that time.

My Lords, the Government have asked—and I think it perfectly fair that they should—"What would you have done in similar circumstances?" That is not a question which it would be right for the Opposition to burke, and, indeed, the answer, to me, is a very simple one. I would not in any way have quarrelled with the decision of the Government of Eire to leave the Commonwealth: they have a perfect right to do so if they want. It is entirely their affair, and it would be wrong if we questioned their right. But I would have pointed out to them that there were certain results which would inevitably flow from their decision. One of them would be that their nationals would become foreigners in all the countries of the Empire and, as foreigners, would lose the advantages accruing from membership of the Commonwealth. I would have emphasised the difficult questions which could arise over Imperial Preference, and pointed out the danger that might face the Empire and Eire itself.

If Eire wished to enter into negotiations, like other foreign countries, over treaties of mutual advantage to her and to us—however farreaching those treaties might be—I should have been very ready to meet her. I was entirely in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Killanin, said in regard to this matter. By all means, let us co-operate. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said co-operation was very important. I entirely agree with him; of course it is. We do not want to be on permanent bad terms with the Irish, and I would be very ready to negotiate with them; but not on a basis of a special relationship which does not, in fact, exist. She could not, and should not, enjoy the advantages of membership of the British Commonwealth, without satisfying the necessary pre-conditions. That, my Lords, if the Government would only recognise it, is, I believe, the overwhelming view of the British people at this time. Mr. Costello himself would certainly have had no reason for complaint, and I am sure would not have complained at such an attitude on our part. In a recent speech he used these words: I counted up the pros and cons of being inside the Commonwealth and couldn't find a single advantage. Mr. Costello presumably, therefore, would be rather relieved at being rid of what he obviously regards as serious inconveniences.

In conclusion, my Lords, I would like, if I may, to return for one moment to the word "regard," which occupied so prominent a place in the Government statement on November 25. When your Lordships were children (if I may take you back so far) there were probably some of you who indulged in childish games which began with the words "Let's pretend" this or that. I cannot help thinking that, in effect, that is the real meaning of the Government's word "regard." The Government say "Let's pretend that Eire is not in the category of foreign nations, and that Eire citizens are not foreigners." But, my Lords, they are. This is not the time for pretences of that kind; this is a time for both countries to face the hard realities that have been created by the action of the Eire Government.

If the Government can convince your Lordships—and they have not convinced me yet, I am afraid; I do not know that I can speak for everybody in this House—that Eire is still, in spite of recent legislation, in a position which differentiates her entirely in national and international law from other foreign countries, that no doubt would make a real difference to our attitude to the settlement, though even then we should have some serious doubts as to its repercussions on the general structure of the Commonwealth. But if, on the other hand, after further consideration, we succeed in convincing the Government that our anxieties have real substance, I submit that the right course before them is to reconsider the whole question urgently with the other Governments of the Empire, with a view to adopting some modification of their present policy which avoids the manifold dangers to which, as a result of this settlement, this country and the Empire are now exposed.

7.6 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Marquess that we have had an exceedingly interesting debate. I think it is fair to say that amongst the numerous questions which were put to us and the suggestions of difficulties that might present themselves owing to this act of the Eire Government, there was not one that I can remember which had not been discussed in great detail by the experts who advised the Government, and particularly by those associated with the Lord Chancellor. I do not think one single question has been mentioned to-day which was not presented to us in the position with which we were confronted. Everybody knows that the position was not of our making. We were suddenly confronted with this decision on the part of the Eire Government. I am glad to associate myself with the rest of your Lordships in saying that it was not for us to challenge their decision. Nobody has challenged it; we quite accept it. But we were suddenly confronted with it, and the question we had to ask ourselves was: What are we going to do? That was the question, and I would say that many of the conundrums which have been presented to us this afternoon, together with a great many of the questions raised by the noble Marquess, may, in fact, never emerge at all.

If we had waited until we could have a definite answer to all those complex and difficult questions, the whole case would have been lost. We should still have been waiting, because I can quite imagine that a number of eminent lawyers arguing on some of the questions would keep themselves and the Court occupied for a very long time. As practical people who have to do with the affairs of the nation, it was just an impossibility for us to wait, or to be expected to wait, until there was received from some body or other an authoritative reply to the numerous questions such as have been showered on us this afternoon. It was not, in fact, practical politics. We were confronted with this situation and we had to decide what we were going to do about it.

Perhaps I might be permitted one short digression, to pay a tribute to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who was, I think, really at his best this afternoon. It made me think of days gone by, when I was a member of the House of Commons and the noble Marquess's predecessors made those dreadful blunders. If it had not been for those blunders this issue would never have arisen. We should never have had all the miseries we had to endure year after year for many years past. All that came back to my mind while the noble Viscount was speaking—and, indeed, how true it is! This would never have arisen if the Conservative Party had had a little more statesmanship to influence their decisions. My Lords, I hope they are not going to make the same mistake again.

The Eire Government repealed or proposed to repeal this Statute. What did it amount to? It has been described in legal terms, and it is not for me to try to repeat them. The noble Marquess described it as "a tenuous link," and he then used other words, describing in various forms of tenuity, what it was. He attached great importance to it. Did that "tenuous link" place the Irish ports at our disposal when we were fighting for our lives? No—not that tenuous link to which so much importance is now attached. We were denied the use of the Irish ports. Eire had representatives in Berlin—


I am afraid that the noble Viscount has entirely misunderstood my argument. Perhaps I put it very badly. It was the existence of these links—these tenuous, constitutional links—which enabled us to differentiate between Ireland and other nations in international affairs. The question of Irish ports has nothing to do with that.


My point is that the tenuous link represents such an extraordinarily tenuous argument. That link was not worth anything—it did not amount to anything; it was not a link at all. We all knew that. Therefore what has really happened, or is happening, is what you might call recognising the realities of the case. At all events, we were confronted with that situation.

The noble Marquess has asked a number of questions about the views of the Dominions. It so happened—and this was a very fortunate circumstance—that this declaration by Mr. Costello was made at the time when the Commonwealth Prime Ministers were assembled with us. That was exceedingly fortunate. We were, I agree, taken aback—it was a surprise to us. It was indeed. We did not know anything about it beforehand—certainly when we had the Nationality Act before us we had never dreamt of it. But, as I say, we happened to have the Dominion Prime Ministers or other representatives of the States of the Commonwealth with us here, and we talked the matter over with them in an informal way, in the first instance. What was their immediate reaction? They said in effect: "We have large numbers of Irish people in our countries. Many of them were bred in Eire."The fact is, of course, that large sections of the populations of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand consist of Irish people or their descendants. Representatives of those countries were, like us, very anxious to explore the situation thoroughly and to see what was best to be done in the circumstances.

Then my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor was deputed to get together his experts and examine with great care the various issues which were presented by this decision. He did so. I cannot profess that I have, myself, attempted to read all the learned memoranda which has been drawn up. I was quite willing to be guided by the noble and learned Viscount. Still, all the issues were explored and discussed with great frankness with the Dominion representatives. Then they had to go over to Paris to deal with questions at the Assembly there. In order to carry this matter further when we had had the advantage of this various advice, my noble and learned friend went to Paris himself, and representatives of Eire, with great good will, also went there. The whole issue was discussed in an atmosphere of the greatest friendliness, and at the same time in an atmosphere of realities. We had to take our decision in the light of the cases that were presented to us. And what really was the issue? That issue was, and is, governed in the Dominions, the other States of the Commonwealth, and here, also, by the facts of the situation. Were we suddenly to use the term "foreign"—I will come to this matter in a few minutes—in the way in which I rather suspect the noble Marquess would have liked us to use it; or were we to act in the spirit represented by the noble Viscount; that is, in the spirit of friendliness, the spirit of looking forward to friendship in the future? Was that to be the guiding influence in our minds?

Clearly, in that regard we had to take account not only of the lessons of the past but also of the facts of the present. One fact is that in all our Services, up and down our country, there are thousands of people of Irish descent. Some of them are in very high positions. In fact, one of the best memoranda drafted for us to consider had been drafted by a man whom the noble Marquess, no doubt, would count as a foreigner and would boot out of the Civil Service. I suppose that is what the noble Marquess would do, but we do not take the same view. There were 40,000 Irish citizens who volunteered and fought for us in the recent war. We cannot disregard all this part of our history. These people are in our life, from one end of the country to another. It was facts such as these which naturally influenced our decision. We cannot, and we could not—and what applies to us applies to every member of the Commonwealth sitting round the table with us—say, in the light of the snapping of this tenuous link, which was of no value when it was a link, that we would treat all these people as foreigners, with all the difficulties that that would bring upon us and upon them. We were bound to have regard to the facts of the case. It would have caused endless and needless dislocation and damage, both to us and to them, if we had treated the matter in any other spirit.

Let me also say this. I cannot, of course, go back a very long way, as human history goes; but so far as I have known our relations with Eire they have never before been so friendly as they are now. During the last two or three years we have deliberately sought friendly co-operation with Eire, and it is unthinkable that we should have had Irishmen sitting round the table with us, discussing the difficulty in a common spirit of trying to arrive at a friendly solution, unless we had had a spirit of true friendship and of trust between us. And that is what we have got.

I pass from various issues that arise out of preference, or difficulties that may arise. I think that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack replied to them completely, and it is not for me, who am no lawyer, to attempt to add anything to what he said. I will answer a specific question which was put by the noble Marquess with regard to Ulster. He asked a specific question and I will give him a specific reply. We were asked by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland—who, I may say, was fully informed about the whole of this matter in the most friendly conversations, and so was well aware of all that was going on—if we could give an assurance that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland is not to be prejudiced by Eire ceasing to be a member of the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister here, on behalf of the United Kingdom Government, gave him the assurance that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland would be fully safeguarded, and in pursuance of that he made this statement in the House of Commons on November 25: The view of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom has always been that no change should be made in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without Northern Ireland's free agreement. And we stand by that.


Thank you very much.


That, I think, is a sufficient reply. Many a time when this question was brought up to me or mentioned to me when I was Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, I said: "What you Southerners have to do is to persuade the men of Northern Ireland that they want union as well as you. If you all want it, North and South, we shall be very happy to see your desires realised."

A case was presented by the noble Marquess, I think, in an aspect that does not accord with realities. It is not a question of saying that you are either members of the Commonwealth and remain as hitherto or you are completely foreign, as if you were inhabitants of Yugoslavia. I would ask noble Lords to think a little longer on this question of the continuous development of the Commonwealth. It has altered a great deal, even in our lifetime. The Statute of Westminster was a landmark in the history of the Commonwealth, and that is not necessarily to be the last word in the development of this association of nations. We have to look forward to the development of wider forms of the association between nations, and we must not be afraid to look at them. In our contemplation of these developments, I hope we are not to be tied too much by the stricter definitions that might have applied in times past.

Finally, I cannot finish this debate without expressing a real sense of disappointment. We took the decision which we did take, and on which we are acting, in the light of all the circumstances—and I am sure it was the right decison—which accorded with statesmanship. I am disappointed that we have not had a vestige of a suggestion of what else we could have done. The only suggestion that has been made is that we should have waited until somebody gave us a reply to all these questions.


The noble Viscount is wrong; it is unfair of him to say that. I went out of my way to say that I would be asked this question and that I was quite ready to give the reply, and I gave it. I can repeat it at length, if the noble Viscount desires, but it was perfectly clear. I said that we have no quarrel with Ireland. She has the absolute right to leave the Commonwealth. But by that fact, by law, she automatically makes of herself a foreign country and of her people foreigners. That was a fact which had to be faced. It might be inconvenient for her and for us, but it was a legal fact, and it was no good trying to gloss it over. That is what I said. There is no question of months and months of inquiry by eminent lawyers. It is a question of coming to a decision on principle. His Majesty's Government came to one decision and came to it very rapidly. I have come to another, and I still think mine is the right one.


I am glad that the noble Marquess has amplified his statement, but I do not understand it to be a clear reply. If it is, it is the most unfortunate reply he could possibly have given. If I understand it to have any meaning at all, I would have said that he meant that from this date every citizen of Eire is a foreigner, and we are going to treat him as a foreigner. We are going to apply all alien restrictions, make him report to the police and get him out of the Civil Service.


The noble Viscount has become the most unfair arguer I have ever heard. In the last two or three debates he has deliberately misrepresented me. I never said these things. The noble Viscount knows our attitude. The Government, unfortunately for us, are not standing up for the principles in which we all believe. The noble Viscount is trying to wriggle out of this. What I said was that the position automatically existed that, in law, citizens of Eire would be internationally foreigners, a statement with which the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor himself has agreed. I do not think this halfway house is going to work. I think it is going to be utterly disastrous. I would conclude any agreements of mutual advantage to both countries, but I do not believe that the status which the Government are trying to establish will work. It is going to be an enduring injury to the Commonwealth and Empire.


Your Lordships will bear in mind that what I was putting before the House was the actual result of what the noble Marquess was saying he would do. He said he would regard them as foreigners and treat them as such.


I said "warn them." If the noble Viscount will read my speech, he will find that I said I would warn them of what would happen.


The Irish people were told in full what the various consequences would be. If the policy which the noble Marquess recommends had been adopted, it would have necessarily been followed by the consequences I have mentioned. If we had said they were as much foreigners as a Frenchman or a Yugoslav, those would have been the consequences, and there would be no escape from them. I know that the noble Marquess did not say this, but I am saying that that is what would have happened in consequence. If they had been treated as foreigners, in the usually accepted sense, that is what would have happened, and that would have been a first-class disaster. Such a disaster or anything like it had to be avoided at all costs. The last thing in the world I want to do, as the noble Marquess knows, is to misinterpret what he says. I do not wriggle out of things, and I do not seek to be unfair. If he thinks over all the implications and inevitable consequences of what he has recommended, he will see that the things I have said would have followed. In my view, confronted as we were by the situation presented to us, we had no alternative but in wisdom and friendship to come to the decision we have come to.


The noble Viscount has not answered the question I put to him, and perhaps I may put it again. Does he believe that common citizenship is an essential condition of unity in the Commonwealth?


That is a question I should put to the lawyers. I think we all want to have common citizenship in the Commonwealth, but Ireland is not in the Commonwealth. She is putting herself out.

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, I think it will be agreed that we have had an important debate. It is a debate which has led to some valuable explanations which we shall all want to study. I was a little sorry that in the course of his reply the noble Viscount opposite spoke as if there were some division in this House on whether we should approach this very difficult question in what he called "a spirit of friendliness." I do not know of anybody who does not wish to approach it in that way. I am bound to say that I did not think it necessary, or indeed relevant, to the particular questions which I was raising, to begin by protesting that I had a life-long belief in the necessity of meeting, and meeting entirely, the claims of the Irish Nationalist movement. This attempt to draw a distinction between people on that point is rather absurd.


I agree with that.


There happen to be three people left in this country whose names are on the back of the Government of Ireland Bill. One of them is the present Leader of the Opposition in another place, Mr. Churchill; another of them is the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel; and the third is myself. I have never changed in the very least in my belief that that ought to have been done long ago, and I entirely share the feeling which the noble Viscount expresses, that, looking back in history, a sad mistake was made. But that is not the point of this debate. The point is: Is there a difference between being divorced and being separated but unhappily married? Or is the argument this: that there is really no difference; it is only the last strand? There is all the difference in the world between them.

While I am sure the Lord Chancellor has done his best to produce some reasons, I must respectfully beg to say that I do not think what he has said will convince many lawyers that, in an international sense, an independent Republic of Ireland is not a foreign State. The circumstance that there was only a strand left has nothing to do with it. The point is that, so long as there is a connection, even although it is a tenuous connection, it is right to contend that really and truly this is not, in international law, a foreign State. Take away that strand, and a wholly different question arises.

The Lord Chancellor, in his very ingenious reply, seemed to me to adopt two perfectly inconsistent positions. One was this: "Just let me point out, as I have pointed out to the Irish before, all that they are losing by this new step. They are losing consultation; they are losing joint defence; and they are losing the communication of confidential information. They are going outside and shutting the door." I am sure he deplores it, and I know I deplore it, but what is the good of saying that that is happening and at the same moment saying: "Well, really our connections were merely a strand and there is no substantial difference." He may be right—it is not for me to say—in advancing the view that if this question did arise the independent Republic of Eire—which will be at liberty, of course, if it feels inclined, to take sides in a war with our enemy—would not be said to be internationally a foreign State. It is not for me to say more than that I do not think everybody would agree with him.


May I ask the noble Viscount a question? Would not his argument apply equally, under the Statute of Westminster, to any member of the Commonwealth?


Yes, of course it would. I thought it was agreed that if any member of the Commonwealth went completely outside the Commonwealth it could no longer be contended that that member, in that new position—say, as a foreign Republic—was internationally other than a foreign State. That is the question I put. That question is not to be answered by saying: "Let us approach this in a spirit of friendliness." Everybody wants to be friendly. I am not going to spend time talking about my own relations with Southern Ireland, but they have been in my mind ever since I was a child. There is nobody living, I think, who more clearly understands the deep impulses in the Irish breast—and, as I said the other day, Ireland is a mother country and the Irish a different race—which have led the Irish to this view.

But that is not the question. The question is: What is the result of it? While, as my noble friend Lord Salisbury has said, that circumstance is no reason why we should not seek some means of accommodation, it is a reason for asking: Is it necessary to say, "I was suddenly faced with this, so what else could I do?" That is what we have just been told. What would have been the result if this had been firmly pointed out, and if it had been insisted that we must consider the matter, because it might vitally affect our preference arrangements? I am interested to hear that there has been as much consideration of this matter as we have been told, and that those who are responsible have come to this conclusion. So far from wishing to be difficult, I would say, if it is so, so much the better. But I still think it was a very risky thing to take that attitude without more consideration.


May I interrupt the noble and learned Viscount? As one who has not taken part in the debate, I would like to put it to him that we on these Benches are not at all clear as to what noble Lords opposite would have done. Would they have made Irish citizens foreigners; would they not have made them foreigners? Or are they not certain what they would have done?


The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has stated it quite clearly, and if the noble Lord has not followed it—


None of us has, and we have all been listening.


I am sorry. Noble Lords had better read in Hansard what the noble Marquess said. When you are discussing this, the question is: With how much emphasis did you point out what are the dangers and risks which Ireland will run?


I do not wish to interrupt the noble and learned Viscount unnecessarily, as he knows, but all these matters were fully placed before the Irish visitors.


I would accept not only that but anything which the noble Viscount told me. However, I think we shall agree that the least satisfactory way is to look into the British Nationality Act (I was assured that when that Act was being passed no member of the Government ever dreamed that it would be used in this way), and say: "What a lucky thing. Here is a phrase in the British Nationality Act;"—which was never intended to be used in this way—"it will just fit the case." That does not seem to me to be the best way in which to deal with this very difficult problem. At the same time, our ultimate object, which is that we should find an arrangement which will stand and be satisfactory all round, is exactly the same. If the Government have found it, nobody is more delighted than I am. But I must say that the result of this debate on me is to leave me filled with considerable anxiety.

There is one thing which the Lord Chancellor said which I would like to underline before I withdraw my Motion for Papers. It is this. I think I understood him to say—and I am glad he did say it—that he, at least, regards this particular case as standing by itself. I think that is most important. I gather that the Leader of the House agrees that it should be clearly understood that this is not a precedent for what might be claimed or developed elsewhere. If that is so, then we have to deal with this matter by itself. I have heard it argued in exactly the contrary sense, that it was necessary to do this, because this was the best way in which to allay the anxieties of other parts of the Commonwealth. I hope that is not so. I sympathise from the bottom of my heart with the desire to reach the most satisfactory and friendly arrangement. I think our debate has been useful, not because we have differed, in the least, as to the object we have in view, but because we now have a much clearer explanation, for the House and for the country, as to the way in which the Government have felt it had to happen. That being so, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.