Orders of the Day — Irish Free State (Agreement) Bill

– in the House of Commons on 31st March 1922.

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Order for Consideration of Lords Amendments read.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Lords Amendments be now considered."

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Dundee

I think perhaps it will be for the convenience of the House, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with the permission of the House, that I should on the first Amendment

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

—On the Motion "That the Lords Amendments be now considered."

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Dundee

—on the Motion "That the Lords Amendments be now considered," make a very brief general statement to the House indicating the effect produced upon the Amendments by the Agreement reached yesterday between the Northern and Southern Governments of Ireland, and the course which His Majesty's Government propose to take in regard to them. The House will have had an opportunity of studying at leisure the text and the terms of the Agreement which has been made, and I should like myself, at the very outset, to pay a tribute, which I had no opportunity of doing last night, to the statesmanlike courage and earnest goodwill which have been displayed at this most critical juncture in the fortunes of Ireland by Sir James Craig and his colleagues in the Ulster Cabinet. Ulster at this moment has lent a helping hand to the Irish Free State and to the cause of peace in Ireland, the value of which cannot possibly be over-estimated, in the first place by taking all measures which are humanly possible to bring about a cessation of the religious and partizan warfare in Belfast itself and of the acts of repeated injury and counter-injury which have been done by Catholics and Pro testants one against the other. By removing, or by taking every method practicable to remove that cause of irritation, Ulster gives to the Treaty Party and to the Provisional Government in the South of Ireland a far greater chance of success than would ever otherwise have been possible. There is no doubt whatever that the conflict which has been raging in the slums of Belfast, in the under-world of that city, has armed the foes of the Free State with every sort of argument to rally to their side forces which otherwise would have had nothing to do with their wrecking and destructive campaign.

In so far as the measures now taken may have the effect of producing a peace ful and a tranquil situation in Belfast, the cause of those who are fighting for the Treaty will be enormously strengthened. But in addition to that, there is a hope in this Agreement of a co-operation between North and South, a co-operation only forthcoming on the basis of the Treaty, a co-operation obviously, finally, and fatally destroyed were a Republic to be set up. This hope of unity and co-operation undoubtedly opens out to Irishmen in all parts of Ireland a prospect for the peaceful, progressive future of their country which has never before been laid before them. In those two ways Ulster and the Ulster Government have rendered a supreme service not only to Ireland, but to the whole British Empire, and I take this opportunity of saying that all the more in consequence of this action must our obligations and pledges to Ulster to secure Ulster her rights, to defend her soil if necessary, to secure her all that she is entitled to under the legislation of this House and under the Treaty which has been agreed upon—our pledges and our obligations are, in my opinion, redoubled by what has taken place. After such a gesture and action at a moment of such difficulty has been taken, it is a binding obligation upon us to see that Ulster does not suffer by the effort she has made in the common interest. In addition, I venture to think that the position of Ulster will have been strengthened before the whole world by the plain proof of her earnest desire to bring about a condition of peace and goodwill throughout Ireland. I felt bound to express these sentiments to the House at this moment.

I come to the general method with which the Government propose to deal with the various Amendments. We cannot consent to any alteration of the Treaty, however small. We cannot consent even to make an alteration of the Treaty of the smallest kind, when it can be demonstrably shown that it would be convenient to do so. Even if it be proved that some of these provisos are convenient in themselves, we cannot accept them where they impinge in the smallest degree upon the Treaty, and for this reason. A great struggle is proceeding throughout Southern Ireland between those who adhere to the Treaty and those who seek to overturn it and to levy war against the British Empire, and any alteration which we make for the purpose of convenience would be used by the enemies of the Provisional Government, by the enemies of Ulster and of the British Empire, as a means of misleading public opinion, as a means of confusing the issue, and as a means of forcing the Provisional Government to embark upon long explanations as to the character and degree of the alterations. I cannot think of anything more dangerous than that. Do not mar the symmetry and solidarity of the position that has been taken up. The House knows well how easy it is for people of bad will to make the kind of statement that, "It is not the same Treaty; the Treaty has been altered," and how very laborious and slow-footed is the argument which falls to those who have to prove that the alteration is only temporary and immaterial.

The whole strength of those fighting for the Treaty would be most seriously compromised if any part of the Treaty were altered, however small, even for a good purpose, and my submission to this House and to the House of Lords on this subject is that, even if you feel that the Treaty is in some respects defective, those defects are not comparable in importance to the danger of beginning to mar the symmetry of the position of those who are fighting for the Treaty. It is no unreasonable spirit to this House or to the House of Lords that leads me to adhere to this attitude at this juncture, and I am sure I shall have the House with me in the reasons which I have given. So far from wishing in any way to take up an obdurate attitude towards the House of Lords, or the Amendments which have reached us from that place, I should like to say that the debates there have been, in my opinion, of the most creditable character. It is an Assembly in which there is, undoubtedly, a large majority who have the very strongest feeling of anxiety about the policy embodied in this Bill, and yet they have most carefully refrained from taking any attitude which seemed to threaten to wreck the Treaty, or to destroy the pact. Lord Lansdowne, speaking with the great responsibility which always attaches to anything he says, made it perfectly clear that, whatever the opinions of the House of Lords, or however weighty the arguments behind their opinions, they would not persist in any attitude which would mean the wrecking of this Bill, or the impairment of the Treaty settlement upon which this Bill is based.

I could not, therefore, assent to the proviso which deals with the arrangement for the Council of Ireland. I admt that, in its present form, there appears to be a certain inconvenience resulting therefrom, but the inconvenience will not be great, and will not be long; and it is perfectly clear that that inconvenience can be removed by a continuance of co-operation between the two Governments. They can make any arrangement which they like for dealing with the diseases of animals and with railways in the interim period before the final legislation dealing with the Irish constitution and with the consequential effects of that Constitution has been passed through this House. They can quite easily make arrangements between themselves, and they have, I gather, reached the conclusion that conversations and consultation between individual Ministers responsible for different subjects, and between the two Governments when necessary and convenient, will be the best method of adjusting these matters of common interest in the interval.

The second proviso about the High Court stands in the same position. It involves a technical alteration of the Treaty to accept it as it stands. It is agreed by all parties concerned—by the Northern Government and by the Government of Southern Ireland—that it is premature to deal with this at the present moment. The proper time for dealing with this subject will be at some period before the Constitution Bill and the final ratification of the Treaty is brought before this House, and, in the meantime, I am assured no inconvenience will result.

The proviso about the payment of pensions, etc., does not stand on the same footing. It is not an infraction of the Treaty, but I shall on that ask the House to consider, when the time comes, the undesirability of our relieving the Free State Government, if and when it is ultimately constituted, from Treaty obligations which they have definitely assumed, and which they have shown no disposition to evade. I shall also renew the pledge, which has been repeatedly given, that the Imperial Government accepts full ultimate responsibility in regard to these payments of all kinds, in the event of default in other quarters, which default I do not anticipate.

Lastly, I shall have to submit—and here I use my strongest argument last—that the Amendment constitutes a breach of the privilege of this House. I shall have to submit that to you, Sir, as it seeks to impose a financial charge upon this country. Then there is a proviso about laying the Orders in Council on the Table. The principal Order transferring powers has been for some days ready, and will be made public as soon as it has received the assent of the Council to-day or to-morrow. That is the principal and most important Order, and I must point out, as I pointed out when we were discussing this Bill in Committee, that once the powers have been transferred, it is very doubtful whether, if the House subsequently chose to take exception to the Order, and move an Address praying that His Majesty might annul the Order, the powers could be, in fact, recovered. Powers which are transferred are necessarily transferred, and I cannot hold out to the House any great assurance that in practice and in effect they will have a power of recalling action which must necessarily be taken at each moment when action is required. At the same time, the fact that these Orders will lie on the Table, and that the subject can be raised and discussed in a formal constitutional manner in either House, will have the effect of placing the House in continual and intimate contact on this subject with the Government, and of conferring the means for closer concerted action between the Executive and both branches of the Legislature in regard to all these matters. Therefore, since it was desired, and since it was accepted in the House of Lords, on this occasion I shall propose that we agree with the Lords in regard to that proviso.

Then there comes the question of serious principle involved in what is called "the Ulster month"—when shall the Ulster month date from; shall it date from the passing of this Act, or from the passing of the final Act? From the beginning this controversy has proceeded entirely on the basis that we were bound to clear up the ambiguity, or, at any rate, the doubts which admittedly existed as to what the legal effect of our legislation was. Otherwise it would have been said that Ulster, if she did not contract out after the present Act, might find she had lost her chance for ever. We put an Amendment on the Paper which we were led to believe in all respects cleared up that ambiguity, and made no doubt whatever that the Ulster month ran from the final Act, and not from this Act. I shall be prepared to move that Amendment in a different form to-day, in the form which has been agreed upon by all the parties concerned, a form which gives an overwhelming assurance to Ulster that her option will in no respect be compromised if it is not exercised until after the second Act has been passed—an overwhelming assurance which cannot possibly be doubted in view of the legal authorities to whom we have had recourse—and we have had recourse to the highest legal authorities at the disposal of the Government. The question of whether, as a matter of policy, we should endeavour to make the month run from this Bill or from the other has been settled by the Agreement yesterday. Article 7 of that Agreement clearly contemplates that it was intended to prescribe that the Ulster month was to date, not from this Bill, but from the subsequent Bill. Anyone who likes to read Article 7 will see this: During the month immediately following the passing into law of the Bill confirming the constitution of the Free State (being the month within which the Northern Parliament is to exercise its option) and before any address in accordance with Article 12 of the Treaty is presented, there shall be a further meeting between the signatories to this Agreement. … That makes it perfectly clear. We have agreed upon a form of words which removes all ambiguity, and settles matters on the basis that the Ulster month runs after the second Bill. I shall move, instead of the words which the Government moved in the House of Lords, that the following words be inserted: This Act shall not be deemed to be the Act of Parliament for the ratification of the said Articles of Agreement, as from the passing whereof the month mentioned in Article 11 of the said Articles is to run. That, I am advised, makes the matter absolutely beyond the slightest suspicion of doubt, and also decides it in a form agreed upon by all the parties concerned. So much for the treatment of the various Amendments.

I have only a word or two more to say in inviting the House to consider the Lords Amendments. We must not, I fear, allow ourselves at this juncture to rejoice as if our task had reached completion. We must not even allow ourselves to rejoice in the confidence that our policy will succeed. A long and a wearing period of anxiety and uncertainty lies before us. The whole of our Irish journey will be a pilgrimage of discouragement until perhaps at the end we may find we have arrived safely. I am certainly loath to encourage undue optimism at the present moment. I have complete confidence in the good faith and goodwill of the Irish signatories to the Treaty. I am sure that they will stand by their undertaking. Those men will, to the best of their ability, labour faithfully to discharge what they have undertaken to do. I have less confidence in their power to discharge fully what they undoubtedly desire to do. I am speaking absolutely frankly to the House, and I feel that it is very much better in this matter to face the facts quite brutally, and not to nourish illusions, which if they should turn out a disappointment, might have the effect of weakening our strength, our resolution, and our patience to deal with the new situation that would arise.

The infant Irish Free State, while still in its cradle, is exposed to deadly foes, foes who would not hesitate to use any means however cuel, however treacherous, however mad, to destroy it, or to prevent it ever coming into full life. We have seen only in the last few days attempts, in some cases successful, to seduce from their loyalty to the Provisional Government the uniformed troops of that Government. We have seen attempts, in one case successful, to stifle the freedom of the Press, to destroy a great Irish newspaper which had been defending the Treaty cause. We have seen and, no doubt we shall see, a continuous effort on the part of those who wish to destroy the Treaty, a continued effort on their part to prevent any free expression of opinion by the majority of the Irish nation upon this great question.

We have even greater dangers than that to anticipate. These Agreements, which have been entered into between the British Government and the Irish signatories, or between the Northern and the Southern Governments of Ireland, will, I am confident, be carried out with the utmost good faith by all concerned. But there will be forces in Ireland anxious to wreck these arrangements by violent action, by treacherous action, and, if possible, to throw suspicion upon the good faith of those with whom we have entered into a covenant. We must be prepared in our minds for that. We must be prepared for attempts to mar all this fair prospect. We must carefully, even patiently, discriminate in these matters between the good faith of our friends and the pitiless animosity of our foes. It is at this juncture that the powerful aid of Ulster in the cause of Irish peace is timely and doubly precious. That is all I wish to say to-day. I may, in the course of the next few days, have to use plainer words about some aspects of what is occurring in some parts of Ireland, but I do not desire to do so to-day; and I only wish to correct by what I say any undue elation over what has been achieved, great and memorable as this achievement undoubtedly is. All I say is that our national position will be unshakeable, our Imperial position will be unshakeable before all the world as long as we adhere strictly and faithfully to the Treaty, and as long as we stand by our obligations to Ulster, which are secured to her under the Treaty and under this legislation.

Photo of Hon. Charles Craig Hon. Charles Craig , Antrim South

Unfortunately I was not in the House when the very important statement was made last night by the Colonial Secretary on the subject of the Agreement made between representatives of Southern Ireland and Ulster. I am sorry that I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we have been able to study "at leisure" the terms of this document since then, because it is only a couple of hours ago that I became aware that this Agreement had been reached. Therefore it would be very injudicious for me or other hon. Members to say very much about it. I will say, however, that I heartily agree at least with that part of the Agreement which says in Clause 2, that from to-day the two Governments undertake to co-operate in every way in their power with a view to the restoration of peaceful conditions in the disturbed areas. That to me is the crux of the whole Agreement. As far as the Government of Ulster and my colleagues from Ulster in this House are concerned, everything that can possibly be done will be done to carry that provision into force.

The speech of the Colonial Secretary might be divided into two parts. In the first place, he drew a picture of a peaceful and united Ulster, and he rather led us to believe that this agreement would settle all the difficulties of Ireland. That was in the earlier part of his speech, but in the latter part I am glad to say that he struck a much truer note, when he said that it would be folly on our part if we were to assume that from now onward all would be well in Ireland. We Ulster people have often been accused of being a suspicious people. I admit that we are suspicious, but we have good reason to be so, and it is because we are suspicious by nature that I find myself quite unable to join in the picture of peace and contentment which the right hon. Gentleman has put before us. I hope it will be so as heartily as any man in this House, and we shall do all in our power to carry out this Agreement.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his reference to pledges securing to Ulster all that she is entitled to under past legislation. I thank him for that, but again I cannot help reminding him that pledges almost as precise and as sincere as he has now given have been given to us on many occasions, and yet we cannot forget that in the very Treaty with which this Debate deals our interests, to put it in as mild language as I can, were very seriously impaired. If the right hon. Gentleman will refer to the Debate at the time of the passing of the Act dealing with Ulster, he will find numerous occasions on which the Government promised that the interests of Ulster would be safeguarded at all times. The House knows that, through inadvertence or some other cause, our interests have not been safeguarded, but they have been very gravely jeopardised. Were it not for the boundary question a great deal of the opposition raised in this House to the ratification of that Measure would never have arisen.

I want to make it clear why we cannot join the general chorus of approbation which the signing of this latest Agreement has aroused in the country. The right hon. Gentleman says he feels sure that the signing of this Agreement will create a feeling of relief and joy not only in this country, but all over the world. Almost exactly the same words were used when the Treaty was signed. I have to remember however that the representatives of Ulster are signatories to this document, and that was not the case with the Treaty. We have not had full time to study or realise the effect which this Agreement will have on the position in Ireland. I want, however, to warn the House and the people outside that it is premature to be too jubilant over this Agreement. These words of mine, I do not think, will do any harm, and although we consider ourselves to have been badly treated in the matter of the Treaty, we are as anxious as the Government, that the dreadful and horrible state of affairs which exists not only in Belfast, but all over Ireland, shall cease as soon as possible. As far as Belfast is concerned, we are thoroughly ashamed of the state of affairs that exists there. We hate it, and will do anything to bring that orgy of crime which has disgraced our city so long to an end as soon as possible. I am not going into the question of who is responsible. Three parties may be accused of the present state of affairs in Ireland, and they are the Government of the country, the Sinn Fein party, and the Ulster Loyalists. I am not for one moment going to apportion the blame amongst those three, but whoever is responsible, we are all anxious to bring that state of affairs to an end at the earliest possible moment, and will do everything in our power to help the authorities in so doing.

With regard to the proposals before the House, I realise at this stage that it is not reasonable for us to ask the Government to accept any Amendment which would actually alter the terms of the Treaty. With regard to the Ulster month, I think it would be better if that month had dated from the passage of this Bill, but as it was agreed between the representatives of both parties that it should date from the passing of the Bill confirming the Constitution I will not take any exception to that. I thank the Government for accepting the Amendment with reference to the laying on the Table of Orders in Council transferring powers, etc. With regard to the two other Amendments, of course a great deal of our opposition to the proposals of the Government has been removed by the result of yesterday's Conference, but I would like the Government to explain to us—I really think it is a matter which we ought to know—whether, when they were negotiating the Treaty, these important matters, such as the Council and the Court of Appeal in Dublin, were ever considered by them at all, because, if not, it seems to me that it was a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the Government to leave such very important matters undealt with. They are matters which under any circumstances if likely to arise must cause a great deal of trouble, and, if we can avoid that trouble, it is something gained. I cannot understand why the Government or their advisers, or whoever drafted the Treaty, should not have dealt with matters so closely affecting the life of the two parts of Ireland, particularly the question of the Council. These I admit are small matters in comparison with the Treaty as a whole, and they are reduced in importance, I also admit, by the result of yesterday's Conference. In view of yesterday's Conference, I feel sure that the passage or rejection of these Amendments will not consume very much time.

Photo of Lord Hugh Cecil Lord Hugh Cecil , Oxford University

I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that it would not be wise to contest with the Government at this stage what they think it right to do about the Amendments before the House. My right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary dealt with the matter in a very conciliatory spirit, and showed that he was not indisposed to go as far as he could to meet the wishes of the other House of Parliament. He told us again of the intangibility of the Treaty, and in that he has maintained a perfectly consistent attitude. I want to say once more that that intangibility is a kind of inherent weakness. The Government has really presented Ireland with a statue of Peace made in snow. When the snow of reality shines upon it, it tends to melt away. I am afraid that the very fact that we have to treat the Treaty with such profound respect that we are not allowed to make even improvements in it shows that there is no driving power behind it in Ireland, and, if there be no driving power behind it in Ireland, how is it possibly going to solve the Irish Question?

Let mo say, before I part from the Amendments, that I earnestly hope that the Government will carry out what my right hon. Friend himself told us they would do to the full, and will give equitable and even generous consideration to officials in the employ of the Irish Government, or, may I say, to professors and others in the Southern Universities, if in the end it should be found that they are hardly treated by their new rulers. Nothing could be more to the dishonour of our Government here than if they abandoned the interests of the loyal officials who have served the State, whether in education or in any other capacity, and I trust, when we reach that Amendment, that my right hon. Friend will see his way to give us some assurance. I will not argue the question of privilege now, but I should have thought that it was quite clear that the Amendment does not lay any fresh charge on the people, because it only continues the charge that already exists.

The Government are great believers in conferences, and it is part of the weakness of their way of dealing with the Irish Question. Conferences, no doubt, are sometimes a very useful engine of conciliation, but they are only so when you can have present leaders who are absolutely masters of their followers, so that whatever they agree their followers outside will accept. Again, generally they are only useful when the points in dispute do not cut very deep into human passion, and when, prehaps, the matter is really an obsolete controversy, a little temper arising out of the controversy keeping the dispute going, but with all reality passed away from it. In such circumstances, conferences are very useful, but a conference on the Irish Question has always seemed to me a foolish plan, and the Conference out of which the Treaty has revolved has abundantly justified that view. If you can get comparatively reasonable people into a room, and can persuade them by all the engines of personal influence to agree to a particular form of words more or less doubtful and ambiguous, and if then that form of words has to be dealt with by people outside by no means so reasonable, the whole thing breaks down. That always happens in a conference, and I believe it is a profoundly unwise way of negotiating where you have real convictions deeply held, and apparently undisciplined parties to deal with.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the gloomy prospect before Ireland at present. The truth is that self-government is not possible to a community unless the mutual sympathy that binds the members of the community together outweighs the mutual antipathy that divides them. Obviously, if there be not a larger measure of mutual sympathy than mutual antipathy, self-government is a mere metaphorical expression, because you cannot have self-government if one part of the community hates the other part as the Protestants and Catholics in Belfast hate one another. You cannot have self-government anywhere unless there be on the whole a general mutual sympathy between the members of the community which outweighs any smaller mutual antipathy; and, if it turn out that that is the case in Ireland, it is not merely the Government scheme—the Treaty—which will break down, but every plan for separate and distinct self-government or autonomy in Ireland.

If it be true—and no one will deny that there are signs which seem to suggest it—that the mutual antipathy that divides Irishmen is stronger than the mutual sympathy that binds them together, then you must give up the whole plan—not only this Measure, but any scheme of Home Rule—and find some other way of governing Ireland which does not depend upon agreement or co-operation in Ireland. I am afraid that the prospect is a dark one. The Government have neglected the laws of the universe, and the Irish have neglected the laws of the universe. There was a time when my right hon. Friend (Mr. Churchill) was a student of aviation, and—this is not without allegorical significance—he had at that period one dangerous accident. That was because he despised the law of gravity. The laws that govern political actions are quite as imperative as the law of gravity. If, as the Irish have done, you commit murder on a wide scale, you suffer for it in the end, and if you surrender to murder, as the Government have done you suffer for that in the end. You do not escape. The law of the universe will have its way.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Wilfrid Ashley Lieut-Colonel Wilfrid Ashley , Fylde

I do not think that the House would like to part from this Bill without paying a tribute to the tact and skill which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies has displayed in piloting the Bill through the House. A great number of us have totally disagreed with this Bill. We have disagreed with the attitude which he has taken up, and with the speeches which he has made, but we have been impressed by his arguments and his tact, and I think a public expression of appreciation is not inappropriate. He has also, at any rate, succeeded in bringing together the Governments of the North and of the South. It is really a great step in advance in Ireland, as far as regards the position in which we find ourselves to-day. It is true that the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was far more attuned to the realities of the situation than the first part. There are prospects ahead which may wreck the ship of Peace, but we have, at any rate, reached this stage that we have now in the South of Ireland, outside the six counties, one party which is definitely and, I think, honestly desirous of having peace with their Northern neighbours, and maintaining the Imperial connection. It is willing generally to let bygones be bygones, and to look forward to a better and happier future. That is certainly an asset to which we must not close our eyes.

All the information I get tends to confirm the view that at the present moment Mr. Arthur Griffith and Mr. Michael Collins do not command a majority of the efficient electors in the South of Ireland. If the elections were held under proper conditions, no doubt they would get a majority, but I use the word "efficient" because it is pretty certain that the other side will take care to prevent those opposed to them voting. Cork, Limerick and Galway are held by the extremists. Dublin is doubtful. Many tracts of the county are thoroughly Republican. Leitrim is Republican. Sligo is doubtful, and all we can do is to give assistance by all means in our power, material and otherwise, to the new Government, and to do nothing in this country, by speeches, or in any other way, to make their position more difficult. In passing I will say I was rather suspicious of this Conference in Downing Street between the Northern and Southern Governments, from the British taxpayers' point of view, because when the two parties in Ireland do come together, it is usually the British taxpayer who suffers. I see we have now to provide half-a-million sterling to cement the Treaty between these two Governments. Personally I am perfectly willing, if that will bring peace to Ireland, to bear my share of the burden.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Ashley) has addressed himself to this question in a rather patronising spirit.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

He told us that the substantial sum of £500,000 is to be paid by the British taxpayer for the purpose of satiating the abnormal appetite of the Irish people for British money. May I point out to him—I think he is an Irishman—that Ireland paid last year to the Imperial Exchequer very many millions more than she was entitled to pay. I think the entire revenue of Ireland last year was £45,000,000 and the expenditure only £25,000,000, and therefore I do not think it was worthy of the hon. and gallant Gentleman to make that point with regard to this £500,000. I quite agree that this Treaty does not come up to the standard methods of perfection, but I think perhaps the position of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil), who has just spoken, is perhaps the most indefensible position of any one in this House. He told us that when you get a party which can speak absolutely for the nation, then it is possible to deal with it. I do not think there is any man in this House who has so deliberately, for the last 25 years, prevented the solution of this question at a time when it was more easy of solution than it is now. There was a time when 86 Members came to this House from Ireland. They spoke with an authority and prestige unequalled by that of the representatives of any people in the world. They had behind them not only their own people in a disciplined unity unparalleled, but they had also the moral sympathy of the whole world, and from Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the United States of America—from the Parliaments and Legislatures of those places—came appeals to this country to grant Home Rule as it was first introduced by Mr. Gladstone. I do not know that at any time during these controversies the Noble Lord ever submitted to the wisdom of this House the desirability of conceding that claim which was so irresistible, and which was backed up by an authority that was unquestioned.

12 N.

If the Government are in difficulties to-day, we must really not forget that the main responsibility—I will not say all the responsibility but the main responsibility—lies on the shoulders of those who have prevented any settlement in the last quarter of a century. There is no doubt about it, and one profoundly believes that not only for the salvation of Ireland, but for the salvation of society, constitutionalism is the one great method by which society can be saved everywhere. If the principle of constitutionalism had been admitted by those who have been in the past described—I hope I shall not be taken as using the word offensively—as the "Die-Hards" of the last quarter of a century, we should not now be up against the tremendous difficulties which face us to-day in the solution of this problem, because it cannot be forgotten that, if there be unrest throughout the British Empire to-day, if there be a spirit of discontent abroad, if there be threatened a universal uprising of the people, it is due to the refusal of men in high positions of responsibility to recognise the constitutional and authoritative demand of the people for reasonable and defensible concessions. There is no question about it that if Parliament had not been overridden by extremist forces—and that was justified by no one in language so magnificent as that of the Noble Lord—then counter-rebellion can justify itself, and so we go round and round the vicious circle; and I and one or two of my colleagues are really the only people who can come here to this House with clean hands, and speak on this matter.

If you had settled this Irish question in 1886, in 1893 or in 1914—and at any one of those times, it could have been readily settled—you would not have been faced now with the great difficulties which have called forth the gloomy speech of the right hon. Gentleman. Look what Ireland would have been to you during the last quarter of a century, what an asset she would have been in your difficulties and dangers even in 1916. Indeed, then she rallied to your support with a wonderful spirit of friendship and goodwill. It seems to be forgotten in this House—and I want to say this for the last time—what a magnificent part Southern Ireland played on your behalf in the Great War, providing you with some of the bravest and most gallant of your fighters; in fact, Ireland's contribution during the War was magnificent, although Ireland had been so badly treated. Had you treated her properly, had you settled the Irish question 30 years ago as you could have done, you would have had Ireland among the most enduring links in the Imperial chain, you would have had behind you in Ireland a most powerful and moral force. You refused to concede that, and you are now face to face with these difficulties.

It is no use the Noble Lord saying that the best way to settle it is to do nothing at all. That is why he is always in opposition. That is a character sketch of himself. The Noble Lord, with all his splendid gifts—and no one has listened with more pride than I have to his magnificent oratorical addresses in this House—suffers from one thing, and he suffers from it through his own fault, and not like me. I suffer from detachment because nobody will have anything to do with me. The Noble Lord suffers from detachment because he will not have anything to do with anyone else. I am egotistical enough to believe that if I had the chance I would do splendid things. The Noble Lord is so modest that he could do splendid things and will not do them. Therefore, I say that really the Noble Lord ought to remember that these things must be settled some time and somehow. The longer they are delayed, the longer they drag out, the worse for all the interests involved.

I have nothing to do with this Treaty. I know nothing about these negotiations. I am judging these things purely as an interested observer, and as one who is anxious for the welfare of Ireland and for peace and good will among all sections of her people. That is all. But the thing must be settled, and that is an attempt to settle it. It may not succeed, but my own belief is that it will succeed. We may have to pass through turmoil, through the welter of blood and tears which are the incidentals of our whole historic record of fighting for free- dom. No doubt this may be the horrid experience which we who live in Ireland will have to bear, but a brave effort, a generous attempt to do a noble deed, will have its own reward. And when the blood disappears, the tears are dried up, and the people settle down to consider how profoundly essential it is that this long and weary battle which has been waged between these two nations should end, and that Ireland should settle herself to the task of fashioning her own destinies, and building up the structure of her own national life, then, I say, with a prescience and political acumen of which Ireland is not devoid, that I believe the question will be settled, and that at all events the foundations have been laid.

I have one word to say in conclusion as to the Amendment which has been accepted by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies with regard to the laying of Orders on the Table. I really do not know what effective purpose this can serve, and I have come to that conclusion because of an experience of my own. An Order in Council was laid on the Table transferring the National Health Service to the Ulster Parliament, and I, taking advantage—one of the few advantages I have—of the conventions of the House, came here at 11 o'clock one night to oppose that Order in Council. I made a most eloquent speech, profoundly impressive, to about 22 people. If I were to measure my oratory by the strength of my audience, I would have as modest an opinion of myself as the Noble Lord. What happened on that occasion? My hon. Friend below me stood outside the door, and invited everyone who was coming in to stay out, and invited everyone who was in to come out. I saw him pursuing his task with a physical agility that commanded my admiration. He never got such exercise in his life. He came into the House and went out of it. He roamed round its boundaries. I was about to suggest, Mr. Speaker, that when next I addressed myself to an Order in Council, you ought to appoint a Boundary Commission. My hon. Friend succeeded, and he turned up, after having me counted out, in excellent physical form the next day. If, taking advantage of the forms of the House, a Member, when an Order in Council is laid, can only discuss it after 11 o'clock at night, and any Member can come in, count him out and prevent him from speaking, what is the good of it? Anyone coming here to object to these Orders in Council would find that he would have a very small attendance of Members, or that there might be someone, perhaps, less proficient in the new art than my hon. Friend, and perhaps physically even less agile than he proved himself to be on that occasion, but still no consideration whatever will be given to what he says. Therefore, I cannot see the value of the acceptance of this Amendment at all. That is all I have to say; that is my contribution to the Debate.

Photo of Viscount  Curzon Viscount Curzon , Battersea South

I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Falls (Mr. Devlin), and should like to pay my humble tribute to the right hon. Gentle man the Colonial Secretary. Like my hon. and gallant Friend who spoke from the other side of the House (Lieut.-Colonel Ashley), I have admired the way in which he has piloted the Bill through the House, although I do not in the least agree with it. With regard to the Agreement reached last night, it all seems to hang upon Article 6. It is obvious from the state of Ireland to-day that there are two parties in Southern Ireland—that of Mr. Arthur Griffith and that of Mr. De Valera. I should like to ask, is it possible for Mr. de Valera to upset this Agreement by getting the disloyal element in the Irish Republican Army to recommence their active campaign against Belfast? Another question is that of the boycott. Only the day before yesterday three trains were stopped, their contents were emptied out on the ground, one carriage was derailed, and the Belfast property was looted, stolen or burnt. There is nothing that I can find in this Agreement to provide against that, but no doubt the subject was alluded to at the Conference, and I hope that we shall get some assurance in the course of the Debate that the boycott also will be called off. I was a little sorry to hear the hon. Member for Falls try to remind us about our responsibility in the matter. I thought the whole of this Agreement and the whole of the Treaty was conceived in the spirit of forgiving and forgetting. I only hope such a spirit will really continue to the end. I have disagreed with the Treaty, and have voted against it whenever I could. At the same time, whatever party is in power will have to see it through, and therefore we shall have to do what we can to ensure that it goes through.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The Agreement reached last night is not really open to discussion in any detail to-day, but only in so far as it may relate to the Lords Amendments.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for the Falls Division (Mr. Devlin), but I am afraid I could not agree with his statement that if forty years ago certain events had not happened, there would have been peace in Ireland. My belief is that if forty years ago the policy of the then Conservative party had been carried out, there would have been no Irish question now. Had we in 1886 given way to the Irish, the only result would have been that, having got what they asked for, they would have proceeded to ask for something more. I am sorry I was not in the House last night when the statement was made by the Colonial Secretary, but I read it in the papers this morning. It begins, "Peace is declared." I thought that was done last December. I was not aware that war had been declared since. I do not know what peace is declared, or by whom, because statements have been made by the Chief Secretary and other members of the Government that all the world was aghast with wonder at the peace we had secured in December, 1921. I have never seen any statement that war had been declared between those two dates. If war has been declared between those two dates, it only shows how absurd was the statement made in December last that peace had been declared. It was said we must forgive and forget. We are saying the same to-day. What is going to happen in another two or three months? I also remember that an agreement was made between Sir James Craig and Mr. Collins in January, and the boycott was declared off. The boycott has remained on and is on at the present moment. The only result from my point of view is that we are going to spend £500,000. I do not see anything else. We are repeating the old game. We are all going to have peace, but England has to pay £500,000.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

One of the arguments held out to us last December was that if the Irish people liked to fight it out themselves it did not matter to us, and we should not have anything to do with it. It seems to me that is not correct. At any rate we have one thing to do, and that is to pay the money. There is always a disposition amongst Irishmen, irrespective of party, to put their hands in the pockets of the British taxpayer. If we could have peace in Ireland, no one would be more pleased than I should. It is hardly worth discussing it because it is a self-evident proposition. But are we going to have it by these continual new and fresh Agreements made one after the other? Is there any likelihood that anything will ever restore peace in Ireland except firm government by the only party who apparently can govern the Irish, and that is the English.

Colonel NEWMAN:

If the right hon. Baronet were a Protestant farmer living on the borders of Tyrone, he would have read with great interest and relief that there has been some sort of peace declared on the Ulster frontier. I only wish that peace on the Ulster boundary could be extended to other parts of Ireland. This is the first time the three Governments—our Government, the Provisional Free State Government, and the Ulster Government—have actually met officially, and it is doubly unfortunate that only two Governments out of the three can be spoken for in this House. We can learn from the Government Front Bench what our Government is able to do. We have the advantage of having the brother of the Prime Minister of the North of Ireland here to tell us what the Northern Parliament is able to do, and what Ulster thinks of it. But we have no one here to speak in any way at all for the Provisional Government, I hoped the hon. Member for the Falls Division might have been able to do so, but he never does. Therefore we who try to represent the scattered minority of 350,000 people in the South of Ireland are absolutely in the dark as to what is happening. We do not know what negotiations, if any, took place between the Colonial Secretary, Mr. Collins, Mr. Griffith, Mr. O'Higgins and the other Irish Ministers Our position is pretty bad. We Southern loyalists have endured and are enduring great wrongs and great sufferings. We have endured them for several years, and at present there is no immediate prospect of these sufferings ceasing. Take Article 8 of this new Agreement between the three Governments—the return to their houses of persons who have been expelled to be secured by the respective Governments, the advice of the Committee mentioned in Article 5 to be sought in case of difficulty. That is splendid, as far as it goes, for those Catholics who have been expelled from their homes in Belfast or other parts of Ulster. Is it reciprocal? The Orange Hall was seized by parties of the Irish Republican Army. Is that going to be evacuated? Then, again, take the position of Southern Irish Loyalists who have been expelled from their homes, and had to leave Ireland and are living here, helped by funds provided by the generosity of people in this country and to a certain extent helped also by the Government. Has anything been done? Has Mr. Collins, Mr. Griffith, Mr. O'Higgins or anyone else been asked by the Colonial Secretary, "Cannot you get these poor Southern Loyalist refugees allowed to return to their homes?"

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

It is not open to hon. Members to discuss this Agreement, as I said just now, except in so far as it be relevant to the Lords Amendments to this Bill.

Colonel NEWMAN:

I think I ought to be allowed to go as far as one or two other Members have gone, and to ask one or two questions arising out of the Agreement reached last night. Has anything been done between our Government and the Provisional Government to allow these unfortunate people, living in great poverty and want, to go back to their homes? That is the only question I want to put, and having asked it, I will sit down.

Photo of Sir Maurice Dockrell Sir Maurice Dockrell , Dublin Rathmines

I bow with all respect to the ruling of the Chair, and do not intend to make any remarks bearing upon details that will be out of order. As an Irishman who has lived all his life in the South of Ireland, and who represents in this House a Southern Irish constituency, I have from the start supported this Treaty. I consider that I ought not for one moment to interpose between the House and the ratification of the Treaty. I would like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Secretary of State for the Colonies upon his very great and marked ability in piloting this question through the House. It reminds me of an incident recorded of a man on the staff of the Duke of Wellington who was going into action. Someone remarked that he was looking very pale; in fact, he said he was a coward. The reply was, "No, he is not a coward; he is a brave man who realises what he is facing." The Secretary of State for the Colonies knows more than is known by myself and others in this House, for he has access to facts that are not available to us. I congratulate him upon the way he has dealt with this question.

Considerable apprehension exists in Ireland as to what will be the position of various classes under Article 10 of the Agreement. There is one class in particular, a very splendid class, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, who have rendered very great service in the past to the Government. They have certain guarantees given to them now, but in their opinion those guarantees fall short of what they might reasonably demand. The Royal Irish Constabulary are in a stronger position than the Dublin Metropolitan Police. I appeal to the Government on the subject. I have already had an opportunity, during an interview which lasted more than two hours, of expressing my views to the Chief Secretary, and I must say that the right hon. Gentleman received sympathetically the arguments addressed to him. At the same time we must have regard to the transition period. A force of about 700 men will be affected by the proposals of the Government. I appeal to the Government to treat these men with generosity. It will be found to be a paying proposition. It will relieve the Free State of pensions. These men should be able to enter into the service of the Free State without the feeling that they have been treated in a mean or an unfair way.

As to the other classes affected, I do not propose at the moment to say anything except that I heartily reciprocate all the hopes expressed here. I have the strongest confidence that all the best elements in Irish life will come to the front, and although possibly, as some hon. Gentleman has said, we may have to face very serious difficulties yet, we must try to back up the men who are to govern Ireland. Then we Irishmen will have nothing to blame ourselves for, and this great Empire will have done a very good stroke for the country.

Photo of Sir William Davison Sir William Davison , Kensington South

Before this Treaty leaves the House, I wish to say what a danger, in my opinion, is the mad idea which the present Government have that they can settle the most difficult problems both in Europe and in this country by formulas and conferences. What is still more serious, and what has been exemplified especially by the Treaty which we are discussing, is the fact that so obsessed are the Government with the idea that a conference or a formula will settle the matter in hand, that as soon as the conference has been held, they actually take action on the assumption that what they desire, or what they have in mind, has actually taken place? What did they do with regard to Ireland? The very moment that this so-called Treaty was agreed to, they sent telegrams all over the world saying, "After 700 years of turmoil, we have peace in Ireland." Naturally, they received replies congratulating them on this splendid accomplishment. There is something more serious still. Not only did they send telegrams all over the world, but they at once gave orders for the removal of the police and the, military and all the implements of government in Southern Ireland, on the assumption that what the Agreement aimed at had actually been accomplished.

There has been nothing which has done more to prevent those who signed the Treaty on behalf of Southern Ireland—Mr. Collins, Mr. Griffith, and those associated with them—from carrying it to fruition than the fact that the Government have already given away everything they had to give away at the moment the Treaty was signed. If Mr. Collins could go to the electors in Southern Ireland and say, "If you will only approve of this Treaty, the soldiers and police will be removed, and you will have the government which you have so long desired," what a tremendous argument that would be for him in meeting the contentions of Mr. de Valera. No, everything has been given away, and, what is worse, there is no government at all in Southern Ireland. I remember very well that some months ago the Secretary for the Colonies, in justifying the expenditure of many millions in Mesopotamia, said—he convinced me by his argument—"We have destroyed the government in Mesopotamia. We have not yet set up a government in its place. Is it right to remove our troops, to remove the military government which we have there at the moment before a government has been set up to take its place? Surely this House of Commons will not grudge me the necessary money to keep in existence some form of government, and will not leave that area to anarchy." Yet in regard to Ireland that is the very thing which the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have done. They have removed the troops and police, and have left Southern Ireland in a state of anarchy before the new government is in a position to take over responsibility. I think this is one of the most serious abnegations of government which any responsible body of Ministers could possibly have committed.

I desire to reply to the criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for the Falls Division of Belfast (Mr. Devlin) regarding those who are opposed to his view. He did not refer to me personally, but I associate myself with the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford (Lord H. Cecil) and others who have consistently opposed Home Rule as not only bad for this country, but bad for Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Member of the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) said we still believed we were right. It is not a question of belief. We have proved that we were right. When Mr. Birrell took over the government of Ireland, after 12 or more years of Unionist government, he said Ireland was absolutely peaceful and prosperous, indeed more so than at any time in the past 700 years. Those who hold another view from that which we hold, have created turmoil, have brought malefactors from overseas into Ireland, and have destroyed the peacefulness and joyousness of life, which naturally characterises the Irish people both North and South. It is not open to the hon. Member for the Falls Division to throw these criticisms in the teeth of those who are just as devoted to Ireland as he is—and I know he acknowledges that—but who have different ideas as to how peace and tranquillity can be attained.

The hon. Member also referred to the gallant men from Ireland who supported us during the War. I acknowledge the debt of gratitude which this country owes to those splendid Irish soldiers, but how are those men being treated in Ireland to-day? They are being hounded out of every kind of public life; they can get no place at all. I have letter after letter from such men asking me to get them tickets to come over here to England so that they may get some kind of work. They write in the following strain: "I am in distress and penury. I served your country during the War. I see you have been asking questions in the House of Commons, but what is the good of questions if you are going to leave me in Cork or Kilkenny or Galway in fear of my life? Send me money or get me a job over there. We stood by you in the War, and this is the way we are treated when we get back to Ireland." Letters of that sort are constantly being received by me, and it is clear that by this Treaty, without safeguarding the interests of these men, a grave injustice has been done.

Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD:

There is one point on which I desire information. Since last December, when the Treaty was agreed to between the Irish Southern representatives and the Government, and a favourable position seemed to have been created so far as the Southern Irish people were concerned, certain developments have taken place. I want to find out, if possible, who is responsible for the delay which has given an opportunity to those who have no intention of working the Treaty, but whose business it is to attempt to destroy it, and to put an end to the possibility of peace between Ireland and England. On whose responsibility was this done and this opportunity given to the opponents of the Treaty? The only Motion allowed during the previous discussion of the Treaty in this House was a Motion proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary allowing for a delay in bringing about the elections, setting up the constitution, and carrying out the final settlement. Was that done on the responsibility of the Government? In view of what may happen during the next year or two, judged from an impartial outside view, the Government should make it positively clear to the public generally and to the world that they were not responsible for this delay.

I think even the most hidebound "Diehard" in this House wishes well to the Irish people, and hopes that the Treaty will end the present turmoil and disputes naturally engendered as a result of the feeling created in Ireland. We all hope it will change the present dismal outlook—for it is dismal—and bring peace to the Irish people. When the Treaty was signed, it was hailed with delight, and when Dail Eireann followed up the decision of this House, and ratified the Treaty, I think, could the matter have been put at once to the people of Ireland, there would have been a ten to one vote in its favour. As far as one can see, that would have been the case. Once it had been adopted by the Irish people as their policy, as the result of a plébiscite, any attempt by de Valera or by the Irish Republican Army to fight the Treaty would have been an attack on the decision of the Irish people themselves. Some sinister influence, however, has been at work to delay and delay and delay from time to time, until an opportunity has been given to de Valera and the other opponents of the Treaty to propagate their views, and to divide Irish opinion on the subject. Only a few days ago that delay and that opportunity culminated in a meeting of a certain section—a considerable body—of officers of the Irish Republican Army in Dublin, in which they declared for a Republic, and determined to work only for Republic.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

That is really not relevant to the Lords Amendment. The hon. and gallant Member must not go into a review of the situation in Ireland.

Lieut.-Colonel WARD:

I only desire to have the one point made clear. I can see that this delay is very likely intended to produce a deliberate effect, and to secure a bloody military dictatorship in Ireland. I want to be assured that the British Government are not responsible for that delay, but that we were, as I believe, quite willing to have taken a vote of the Irish people at the first available opportunity, and that the Motion officially put forward in this House by the right hon. Gentleman was at the request of somebody in Ireland, and was not really the intentional policy of the British Government.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Dundee

As I can only speak by indulgence of the House, I crave that indulgence to intervene now. Let me assure my hon. and gallant Friend that he is perfectly correct in his assumption that the British Government in this matter held a different view to that which was adopted. We consistently advised that the appeal should be made at the earliest possible moment, but we recognised that it was really not for us to judge, that the Ministers who had undertaken the responsibility in Ireland must be the judges, and must be taken as knowing their own business best. It remains to be seen whether the course they have adopted is not the wiser course after all.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I think it is desirable that there should be some words from the party which I represent on the final stages of this Treaty Bill. I am sure the hon. Members who sit behind me—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"]—join in the good wishes expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward) for the Irish people, and for the future of Ireland under the Treaty. We all extend our best wishes to the Irish people. Some do so with a good conscience and some with a bad conscience—a conscience that may have been seared by a period of Black and Tanism. But in any case that period is now at an end. All sections of the House of Commons hope, that the present Provisional Government will pull through. If any great result does come from this Treaty, it will be to a certain extent due to the extremely tactful handling of this question by the right hon. Gentleman who is now in charge of Ireland (Mr. Churchill). It is a death-bed repentance on his part, but it is a handsome death-bed repentance, and if only he carries on in the way he is now going there will be a possible chance of a real settlement. But it is obvious that a party such as he leads now, with a past such as they have behind them, are not eminently fitted for bringing any permanent settlement to Ireland. Although his method of dealing with the question in the House has been an improvement on that of a previous Secretary for Ireland, we may hope that when this Government eventually leaves its present position, and comes on to these benches, the party that takes its place will be better fitted, through its past and its capacity, for dealing adequately with the Irish people.

Question, "That the Lords Amendments be now considered," put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendments considered accordingly.