§ Order for Second Heading read.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I rise to move the Second Reading of a Bill which is to confirm the agreement which was come to a few days ago between the British Government and the Government of the Free State and the Government of Northern Ireland, to confirm and amend the settlement which the Treaty of 1921 made law in the early days of 1922. It is not, perhaps, inaccurate to say that just as, partly owing to the lapse of time, and partly owing to the growth of a finer spirit, it was possible to ratify the Treaty of Locarno—following the Treaty of Versailles—so it is found possible to-day to make a step in advance towards peace between the North of Ireland and the Free State by superimposing this. Agreement on the one which was passed four years ago.
If hon. Members will look at the Bill, they will note that I have to deal, first, with the first Sub-section of the first Clause which is, indeed, the operative part of the Bill. This is the part of the Bill which contains implicitly the Schedule, the latter it self being the Agreement. I would ask the House first to look at the Agreement, and, by way of illustration of what I am saying as to what is possible to-day with what was possible four years ago, to note that the first four paragraphs contain in themselves expressions of amity, concord and goodwill which would have been deemed impossible four years ago by this country or by any of the parties to the Treaty. one has only to look back for a moment at the circumstances in which that Treaty was passed. It was passed during the great armistice which came in one of the bloodiest period of internecine strife that Ireland had ever known. It was an Agreement carried through almost -against time. It was an Agreement which, indeed, was ratified by this House, and which I supported in a speech with my whole heart, as I would again 310 to-day support it. It was a grand act of faith. Even those of us who had the most faith in it could not but be conscious of the difficulties and dangers that lay around that Treaty, both from the nature of the circumstances in Ireland at that time and also because, owing to those very circumstances, there were one or two points left in the Treaty which really were not settled but were only postponed to same future day of settlement—questions which at that moment were too difficult to settle.
I remember very well the late Mr. Bonar Law making his first appearance in this House in December four years ago after his retirement on the ground of health. In a speech supporting the Treaty, he said that the only serious objection to it was Article 12, the Article with which we are dealing this afternoon. Article 12 we propose to revoke by this Agreement and by the power of this Act. I would ask the House for a moment to consider what Article 12 has meant in Ireland. Owing to no fault of those who concluded the Treaty, owing possibly to the way in which that Clause was drafted —and I feel very strongly that: it could not have been drafted at that time more definitely and clearly than it was—the expectations of the Free State were aroused no less than the apprehensions of the North, and yon had on either side of the Border a feeling living all the time, and at the same time growing up with threatening force, of these expectations on the one hand and those apprehensions on the oilier, which made those who were most really anxious for the peace of Ireland feel that until the boundary question was settled and out of the way there could be no question of permanent peace in that island. It resulted in the maintenance in the North of that large force of Special Constabulary which was, in itself, a charge, and to which the Government of this country felt that it owed a duty to subscribe.
During the four years that have elapsed a better feeling has undoubtedly arisen along the Border. Yet the very fact that a better feeling had arisen made all those who were following the history day by day view more anxiously the risk of that feeling being disturbed by some unhappy decision, or, indeed, by a decision which might commend itself to one of the two parties but which might not win the approbation and the support of the other 311 side. So far as the Government of this country and the Government of the Free State are concerned, they have adhered in the letter and in. the spirit to the Treaty which was signed between them four years ago; and it was because of their loyalty to the Treaty that last year this House, at the instigation of the Government then in power, implemented the Treaty by setting up the Boundary Commission, at the request of the Free State,
As the House knows, By Act of Parliament the Report of the Boundary Commission had to become law the moment that it was promulgated. I am convinced, whatever Commission had attempted to deal with that question, whatever body had had to deal with it. it would have been beyond the power of mortal man to give any decision which could have been equally acceptable to both sides of the Border. Had the Commission remained united to the end, and the unhappy circumstances not- occurred which led to the breaking-up of the Commission before it made its Report, and had a unanimous Report been made, then I think it is highly probable—at least, it is certain—that the Report would have been presented, and highly probable that the Report would have become effective. But I am dear that neither that Report nor any "Report would have become effective without leading at the best to a prolonged unsettlement along the Border, and very possibly to trouble of a kind which we are at the moment relucant to contemplate. I would say here that the House must not be misled by any statements that have been made as to the contents of the Report of the Commission.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
; The map that has appeared and the statements that have been made are., in many respects, far from accurate. I am in the position of being the only one of the three Prime Ministers who has seen the map and has seen an advance proof of the portion of the Report which was to have accompanied it. My two colleagues, Sir James Craig and Mr. Cosgrave, for reasons of their own which I fully appreciate, have not thought, fit to see these documents, 312 and they do not intend to see them in any case. It was in anticipation of a situation arising fraught not only with difficulty but with danger that the Governments came together to discuss what could be done The Governments, as the House knows, came to this Agreement, but all the while there was hanging over them and over the country the Report of a Commission; for it must be clearly remembered that the Commission are an entirely independent body over whom, once set up, no Government have any power or authority. If they choose to issue their Report to-night, there is nothing to prevent them doing it, and their Report would have the force of law. Therefore, it was necessary to see—we saw them last Thursday—Mr. Justice Feetham and Mr. Fisher.
I wish here to say a word about that interview. We had to tell the Commissioners that we knew how prolonged and arduous their labours had been, and the sacrifice of time they had made to carry out the work entrusted to them. We had to tell them that, however much their Report could be justified, as it could be, in law and in equity, yet we were convinced that the issue of that Report-—and I say again the same applied to any other Report—would bring conflict and misery in Ireland; suppression might bring, probably would bring, peace. I cannot speak too highly of the way in. which Mr. Justice Feetham met us. He said at, once that he rejoiced that an agreement had been come to, which appeared to him to be a far better thing than any result that might be imposed upon the people, and that- so far as he and his colleagues were concerned no question of amour propre,, no question of wounded pride. no question of the loss of their time and their labour, and the feeling that, possibly, it had all been in vain, would weigh for one moment with them. I explained to him, and I am sure the House will agree, that though their labours at the moment may seem to have been in vain, yet they really are bearing fruit far beyond what could have been expected when that Tribunal was set up, for had it not been from the, may I say belated, realisation of those responsible for the two Governments of Ireland of what an imposed boundary might mean, we should never, the three of us, have been brought together in that Conference that providentially ended in such an agreement as 313 we were able to conclude. That must be the consolation and the reward of the Commissioners, and I think it is a real one.
The award itself will not see the light. It will be presented to the Government and put away with their archives, for publication, possibly, in some future year, when, maybe, the Irish boundary itself will arouse about as much excitement in Ireland as Offa's Dyke or Hadrian's Wall between the component parts of this island. I wish to-day, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, to record in the most unqualified way our sense of gratitude to the Commissioners. I record our sympathy with them in the position in which they have been placed. I do this because I consider they have been most unfairly attacked. They have been charged with giving way to improper influence and to political pressure, with having allowed their judgment to be distorted by outside influences. They have been unable to refute these charges publicly, because they were begged to keep silence even from good words until we had secured the passage of this Act. It is entirely in deference to our appeal that the results of their labours are being suppressed. Their failure, if failure it was, was a failure inherent in the situation. It was rooted in the indefinite terms of Article 12, in the inevitable postponement from 1921, because the difficulty could not be resolved at that time. There is little use in agreeing on the revocation of Article 12 unless at the same time you can amend the Treaty of 1922 in such a way as will take out of it every possible source of friction, every possible source of trouble in the future. It would be an incomplete work if we left it at this point.
Now I come to the second Clause in the Agreement, the revocation of Article 5 of the Treaty and Clauses 2, 3 and 4 of the Schedule of the Bill. I wish to make some observations before I come to the details of these Clauses. When I spoke about leaving in the original Treaty a subject of friction or of trouble in future years, I was not alluding to the definite payment of a definite sum of money. It was a different kind of friction and trouble I was thinking of. What there is in Article 5 is a perfectly indefinite possible liability, undefined, and as such it hangs round the neck of those whom it concerns, and indisputably, whatever the 314 result of arbitration in future years might be, the existence of that Clause as it stands affects their credit. We have to remember this. Had there been no settlement of the Boundary question by agreement, one of two things would have happened. You would either have had chaos in Ireland as the result of a decision which was not acceptable either to the North or to the Free State, or you would have had the award, which could and would have been put through, but would have left behind it, either in the North or in the Free State, a sense of injustice, a sense of having been unfairly treated, a sense that they had been deceived. I do not say that would have been deserved, but I do say, without fear of contradiction, that that would have been left behind. Under the circumstances of the case, I think it is much more likely that it would have been left behind in the Free State than in the North. Had that been the case conceive the atmosphere in which this Government would have had to have proceeded to arbitration on the original Clause 5 of the Treaty. It would have held out no hope of a permanent settlement, no hope of agreement, nothing but the prospect of creating one more of those festering sores in the life between Ireland and ourselves which it has been the supreme object of British statesmanship for many years past to eliminate.
Let us look for a moment, by way of preface, at one or two facts connected with the economic position of Ireland which I think are hardly familiar to Members of this House unless they happen to he close students of Irish affairs. As soon as the Treaty operated in the Free State the country was plunged into civil war. the new Government had to maintain an army of 50.000 men, costing in 1923 £10,000,000, in 1924 £7,000,000, and that in a country whose revenue amounted to £26,000,000. The damage done cost them £10,000,000 in compensation alone, apart from damage done to public property and the inevitable losses to trade and commerce. Moreover, and this is a point that I think will come as a surprise to many Members of this House, the Free State Government are collecting the land purchase and local loans annuities, which will continue for many years under past legislation, to an 315 amount in round figures of about £3,000,000 a year and are paying pensions to police and civil servants retired from public service in that State to an amount of over £1,600,000. That latter payment will not, of course, last for nearly as long as the former, but the point I wish to impress upon the House is this, that between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 of that amount is being paid annually and will be paid outside the country, being paid to this country. It is an external debt and that while Ireland is suffering from an adverse trade balance. She is suffering from that as we are, but it does not make the payment any easier. As a matter of hard fact, the Free State is paying outside her own borders a, sum that is calculated at not less and may be rather more than one-tenth of her revenue, a greater sum proportionately than this country is paying out in similar conditions. It is difficult to estimate what we have to pay out outside our own borders; in any case, I feel certain that it is not as much as one-tenth of our revenue. I think that those circumstances, when you come to consider the question of finance as between Great Britain and the South of Ireland, must have due weight given to them, and they are circumstances which are not present to the minds of moat people in this island.
Where does the interest of Great Britain lie? Does it lie in keeping the South of Ireland poor and trying to squeeze debt out of them? As a matter of pure business, and that alone, the interest of this country lies in a prosperous Ireland, and it must do so for two very good reasons. The first one is this, that Ireland ought to be a great market for our manufacturers, and the second reason —and this is rather a selfish one—is this, that if you have a prosperous Ireland Irishmen will work in their own country and will try and make their own country rich and prosperous. A poverty-stricken Ireland means a continuous flow of immigration of a poor class of people into Great Britain, where at present our own problem of unemployment and bad trade is as severe as we can face. For those two reasons, if for no other, our interest lies in a prosperous Ireland, and one of the reasons why I commend this Bill so whole-heartedly to the House is that I believe that if Irishmen themselves will 316 follow on in the spirit in which they have negotiated these Amendments to the Treaty prosperity w ill be assured to them.
Now I must trouble the House with a brief statement of the position—so far as I can explain it—of the finance. My right hon. Friend who will speak later will deal with any points which may be raised during the Debate, but as I undertook to my hon. Friend the Member for York (Sir J. Marriott), I think it only right, in introducing this Bill, that the House should be put in possession of all the facts I can lay before it. Under Article 5, the British Government have put forward a preliminary claim as a basis for discussion. This claim was that the free State should assume a capital liability in respect of the public debt of the United Kingdom and War pensions as existing at the date of the Articles of Agreement, and the amount put forward was £128,000,000. The addition of the accrued interest would increase this sum to £155,000,000, or I might express it in a form easier to understand, as an annuity of about £6,250,000 for 60 years. But this claim was subject to abatement—and here we get into the region of hypothesis and very difficult calculation—in respect of the value of British assets connected with public debts, including the proper share of the Free State in our claims against the Allies and reparation receipts, and also subject to discussion of the Free State counter-claims under Article 5, as to which we have no concise knowledge. In default of agreement the question was to be settled by arbitration.
It will therefore be clear to the House that the amount which might have been awarded, to whomsoever it was awarded, is wholly speculative, and it is an x in the equation to which now no solution will ever be found. In consideration of the abrogation of this undetermined liability, if it be a liability, under Article 5, the Free State have now undertaken to bear full liability for compensation for material damage done in the Free State area since January, 1919, and to repay to the British Government the amount which this Government has paid or is still liable to pay under the previous agreements. Those amounts are calculated at something; over £5,000,000, and the representatives of the Irish Free State offer to discharge that obligation by 317 immediate payment of £150,000 and an annuity of £250,000 for 60 years from the 1st April next. That offer has been accepted by the British Government. The initial payments due from the Free State Government under this Agreement will be set off against payments amounting to approximately £900,000 which would have been made to the Free State Government by the British Government under the existing Agreement.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I will come to that. The boundary settlement will enable the police forces in Northern Ireland to be placed on a more normal footing. The British obligation, which we have always felt on this side of the House to assist the North of Ireland in maintaining this force, will therefore cease after the present financial year. To assist Northern Ireland in meeting the expenditure necessarily involved in maintaining the force since last April and demobilisation, we have undertaken to ask Parliament to vote a Grant-in-Aid of £1,200,000 as a final payment by the British Exchequer in aid of this force. I wish to make it abundantly clear to the House and to the country that this agreement makes no change of any sort or kind in the obligations, whatever they may be, which the British Government have undertaken towards those who have suffered injury to person or property in the Free State either before or since the truce. It is purely a transaction between the two Governments, and it does not mean that any individual who, before the present Agreement, was entitled to look to the British Government, must in future look to the Free State. It in no way affects any of the arrangements previously made for the alleviation or relief of distress arising out of civil disturbances which took place in the Free State during the period covered by this Article of the Agreement. The Irish Grants Committee continues in being, and the Committee which the Government recently promised to set up will operate as though the Agreement had never been made.
In addition to the financial obligations which I have endeavoured to describe, the Free State Government have undertaken to promote legislation increasing by 10 per cent. the measure of compensa- 318 tion under the Free State (Damage to Property) Compensation Act, 1923. The Free State are alone responsible for compensation in respect of damage done since the truce of June, 1921, and that compensation is awarded under the Act referred to. The meaning of this provision is that everyone who has obtained a decree under that Act and everyone who has obtained a report, that is to say, a recommendation by the court, for an ex gratia payment by the Free State Government, will have the amount of his decree or report increased by 10 per cent. This, of course, will apply not only to those persons why may feel that they are entitled to look to the British Government for assistance but to everyone who has suffered damage for which compensation, either statutory or ex gratia, was payable under the Act. The Free State representative estimated that the cost to the Free State Government of this Article would amount to approximately £1,000,000, payable in 5 per cent. stock redeemable in 10 years. We believe that this increase will provide a substantial measure of relief to those who have suffered. As I have already said, we do not regard it as discharging the British Government from any obligation which it made itself in the past towards any of the sufferers.
Now I come to Clause 5 of the Agreement. That deals with the Council of Ireland Services. I think the House will remember that separate Parliaments were to be established in Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, but certain services, railways, diseases of animals, and fisheries were allotted to the Council of Ireland, consisting half of representatives of the Free State and half of representatives of Northern Ireland. Under the Articles of Agreement the provisions relating to the Council of Ireland were kept alive in Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland alone, so that if and when this provision came into effect the Free State would have had the complete and solo control of those services within her borders, but the Free State would have had a 50 per cent. representation in Northern Ireland.
It is quite obvious that to put that into force to-day would be a source of great trouble in the future. The Free State agreed soon after the Treaty came into force to postpone that portion of the 319 Treaty for five years, but in two years' time the Free State would be able to demand her representation. By this Agreement she surrenders her right and gives to Northern Ireland complete control over those services, as she herself has in the South of Ireland. It has been represented that this is a retrograde provision in that it adds one more element of permanency to the partition between Northern and Southern Ireland. The contrary is the truth. To enforce a settlement on Ireland whether regarding the control of the services or the boundary must indefinitely put off the day, if that day should ever come, when North and South may unite; and it would afford a better chance of a union, in Ireland some day when they can agree between themselves on this union than if they had a settlement imposed upon them, and especially if that settlement were imposed upon, them from across the water. Let me remind the House that we must read the words of this provision in the light of the words at the end of the Article, namely, thatthe two Governments of North and South shall meet together as and when necessary for the purpose of considering matters of common interest arising out of the exercise and administration of the powers in question.These words were put in, not only with the consent of Sir James Craig and Mr. Cosgrave, but at their desire, and there is a real intention on the part of those two men that these words shall be translated into action.
Now I have finished with Subsection (1) of Clause 1 of the Bill, and it only remains for me to say a few words about Sub-section (2). As I have often told the House when I have been dealing with Bills, I am not a lawyer, and I confess that the words of Sub-section (2) convey nothing to me. This is what they really mean. For the purpose of greater accuracy, I have provided myself with something in writing. Sub-section (2) fixes the 1st April next as the day on which the Council of Ireland Services in Northern Ireland are to be transferred by the British Government to the Government of Northern Ireland and repeals as from that date the provisions in regard to the Council of Ireland laid down by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. The date has been chosen because it 320 coincides with the end of the financial year, and any other time would have made it more complicated with regard to those services. The proviso in this Subsection authorises the continuance of the present position with regard to railway rates and charges in Northern Ireland until the Parliament of Northern Ireland have had time to legislate.
I have described, as I have been best able and at greater length than I intended or should have desired, the provisions of this Bill which I am commending to the House this afternoon, and which I hope the House may think fit to pass to-day. There is no doubt that a Measure of this kind is like to bring a little sooner that peace and settlement in Ireland which we all desire, and, it passing such a Bill, the more readily and the more wholeheartedly it is done the more apt it will be to fulfil what we all hope. The Irish border is in a way an accident of history. It has been an accident fraught with terrible events in that history to Ireland and to this country. For the first time in history, you have Irishmen themselves agreeing as to what that border shall be. That is an Immense advance. I remember at the time when the Treaty passed this House four years ago, I had the honour of speaking last in the Debate in December, 1921, and I used one phrase: —We have in the Agreement the seed* of peace.That was true then, but the ground at that time was hardly a fertile soil. It was a question whether those feeds would ever germinate, but I wish to say in this House that during this last fortnight I could have had no more staunch, loyal helpers in the cause of peace than Mr. Cosgrave and Sir James Craig, and I wish to express my gratitude to them for their courage and for their statesmanship. I wish also to express my gratitude to those of my own colleagues who have worked so hard on the details of this settlement in order to bring it to a successful conclusion.
Now, in this House and throughout this year, we have been engaged in much strenuous and controversial work, and sometimes our struggles have been bitter, and so they will be in the future. But there are two pieces of work to which this House will have put its hand by the time we go to our own homes for 321 Christmas, two pieces of work that will have received the almost unanimous support of all parties, both directed to securing peace, one the Pact of Locarno and the other this Pact here. It is impossible to say what may accrue from this. I would not put our hopes too high, but, at any rate, for the first time the Irish people are agreed where they have never been agreed before.
The two peoples or, rather, the four peoples, the Irish, the Welsh, the Scottish, and the English, have indeed been through the fire during the last 10 years. They will never feel again as though they had not passed through it, and time alone will show whether those people will emerge as dross or as purified by the refiners fire. I have always believed it would be as purified by the refiner's fire, and I believe that in the future, building on these foundations and seeking for that peace which we have tried to embody to-day, we may all of us, English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish, as component parts of the great British Commonwealth, rise in time to the full height of our stature for the betterment of ourselves and of our own people, for the betterment of our own Empire, and of the whole world.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
We have listened to one of those characteristic speeches of the Prime Minister which, from beginning to end, we all recognise as giving expression to absolute sincerity. But, curiously enough, the Prime Minister this afternoon seemed to jump over, as I feel bound to point out to the House, various episodes and important decisions in connection with the Irish history that he has given us. I cannot help drawing the attention of the House to the fact that, in approaching this problem to-day, when we go into the Lobby, as we shall do, in support of this Bill, we shall be adopting in connection with Irish affairs precisely the same attitude that we adopted when we were on the Government side of the House; and incidentally, I may remind my right hon. Friend that that attitude is not quite the attitude that was adopted towards us. When we took office, we found ourselves in the difficulty which the Prime Minister has already pointed out. We found ourselves called upon to interpret something, namely, Article 12, about which we knew nothing. We 322 refused to give any interpretation, because we recognised then what the Prime Minister proves to-day—that to attempt to impose a settlement on Ireland by any outside authority was not only likely to cause trouble, but was ultimately doomed to failure.
The first thing we did as a Government was to invite Sir James Craig and Mr. Cosgrave to meet us, and I do not mind saying now that the first suggestion we made as a Government to both of those gentlemen was this: "You yourselves agree amongst yourselves to say that Article 12 shall not operate." The very first proposal that we as a Government made to them both was the very proposal that is now to be embodied in an Act of Parliament. Why did we make that proposal? We made it because any knowledge of Ireland, whether it were North or South, proved conclusively, to us at least, that the only way to get permanent peace was by both sections mutually agreeing amongst themselves. Unfortunately, we failed. We gave effect to Article 12, and we gave effect to it in spite of the opposition of my right hon. Friend. In spite of everything that was said against us, in spite of the challenge in this House, in spite of the challenge in the country, we said, "This promise is a promise by England to Ireland, and we intend to ratify it." That was our attitude.
We appointed the Boundary Commission, and here let me say that I associate myself whole-heartedly with everything the Prime Minister said about Mr. Justice Feetham. He is not the little, pettifogging lawyer that some people have called him. He proved, as the Government must admit, and as they have very generously admitted to-day, that he was not only a big man, but recognised, whatever may be said about his chairmanship or about the Commission, that his first obligation was to bring peace to Ireland. Therefore, I want to associate myself whole-heartedly with everything that the Prime Minister has said in that connection. There is, however, an old saying that Irishmen, North and South, only agree when they are getting something out of England. That was the experience of my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is the experience of the present Chancellor, it has been the experience of everyone, and, 323 incidentally, it is the experience in my own union. Our members, both in Northern and in Southern Ireland, all agree that there is plenty of money in London, and they always unite in trying to get it. Therefore, I can quite understand that, when this announcement was first made, there were a number of people who merely approached it with the feeling that it represented another attempt to bleed the British taxpayer.
I want to say quite frankly what my view of Article 5 was. Let me observe that, although there have been many questions about Article 5 in this House, I think those on the Government benches who are now responsible for Article 5, and especially my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will agree that neither he nor anyone else who was a party to that settlement ever assumed that Article 5 could be given effect to until Article 12 had been determined. I am quite sure my right hon. Friend will agree with that interpretation. Not only was it impossible to separate them, but by the very nature of things, the one depended on the other. I have heard the calculation of my right hon. Friend that the Treasury estimate was somewhere in the region of £150,000,000 under Article 5. I think £128,000,000 was the first figure, with interest up to £150,000,000. I understand that that was the Treasury estimate of what Article 5 was worth to the British Exchequer. I also had an opportunity of hearing what the South of Ireland's estimate of Article 5 was. 11 was put to me that the estimate nf the South of Ireland—and they have made some wonderful calculations— was £250,000,000 due to them. As one who knows something of the Irish temperament in this matter, I quite frankly told my friends, and I think it was the view of all of us who were connected with it, that when we got down to brass tacks and attempted to estimate any value so far as pounds, shillings and pence were concerned, in the case of Article 5, we must write it down as nil; and I should have no hesitation in saying that that must have been the view of anyone who had gone carefully into the question and made anything like a calculation.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his head. All I can say is that, if he is anticipating very 324 much revenue out. of it, I hope that, if he is making any forecast on any other items, it will prove more profitable than even his anticipation has been in connection with this, or God help us next April! But, whatever the view may be, whatever the estimate may be, whatever may be said on one side or the other, there can be no doubt that you cannot estimate peace in connection with this great question on a mere balance-sheet of pounds, shillings and pence. No one could say what the ultimate cost to the British taxpayer would be if trouble arose, and, therefore, I do not approach it in that spirit. But, on the other hand, I want to put this point: Although the boundary is said to be stereotyped at the moment, the value of this settlement will not be the abrogation of Article 12 and Article 5, but it will be the meeting together of representatives of the North and South to deal with, to administer, and to settle things that are common to both; and I believe that, just as when people who have differed in the past, who have been almost enemies, have been thrown together, they understand each other better, and I believe that that in itself will be the befit guarantee of peace in Ireland that could be provided.
I hope, however, that not merely the letter but the spirit that is behind this will be manifest in North and South. I hope, for instance, that in the North It means that the Catholics will themselves take part and contribute to the well-being of Northern Ireland. Instead of isolation, instead of boycotting Parliament, instead of standing aloof, I hope that, as a result of this settlement, we shall find the Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland taking part and contributing, as they can contribute much, to the well-being of Northern Ireland. I hope, equally, that that spirit will prevail in the South. I hope, also, that the spirit of which the Prime Minister spoke will be given effect to. There are a number of prisoners in Northern Ireland at this moment, and I believe there are some in Southern Ireland. If I can make any appeal here, let me say that there are people in this country who feel very keenly for those prisoners. There are people in England and in Scotland who not only are deeply interested in those prisoners, but who believe that, if this great scheme is to be the success 325 we all desire, the real spirit of peace and good will must enter into the whole thing, making a clean start by releasing those people as evidence of that new spirit. I have to say, on behalf of every member of my party, that we not only wish well to the scheme, we not only say we hope it will be a real and final settlement, we not only say we will do nothing to hamper or cripple the settlement, but we are entitled, in making those statements and giving that assistance, to voice this appeal on the Floor of the House of Commons to both Governments, and to say to them, "Now is the time to release your political prisoners; now is the time, when you are making a fresh start."
There is one other question that I should like to ask the Prime Minister. I could not quite follow all the details of the finance as he read them out, but I presume my right hon. Friend is going to deal more fully with them. Do I understand that the £1,200,000 referred to is a final grant for the constabulary of Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. THOMAS
It is a final instalment, due exclusively in connection with the constabulary. There is no other commitment of any sort or kind implied or understood in this Agreement at all. I only want to know that quite clearly, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will deal with it when he comes to reply. There may be criticisms about the finance of the Bill. It may be that there are people who will even to-day say the British taxpayer is making too much sacrifice. So far as my knowledge of Ireland goes, I have no hesitation in saying that Members in all parts of the House ought to welcome this settlement. It will enable the Irish people to see that, whatever may have been their complaints in the past about the treatment of them by the British Government, since the Irish Treaty was made we have fulfilled and discharged every obligation. That, I think, will be admitted on their. side, and it is only fair that the British people 326 should understand some of the difficulties of the Irish Free State. No one without knowledge of their financial difficulties can appreciate all they have been up against, and I have no hesitation in paying tribute to the way they have performed a difficult task and at the same time endeavoured to be faithful and honourable to their obligations. That is the spirit in which we approach this settlement, not in a desire to make any party capital, but to say to the Prime Minister, "You have done well in this. You have made a good settlement. But please remember that, just as in Locarno, you reaped where we sowed; we prepared the ground for this settlement."
§ Mr. HERBERT FISHER
I think there will be very great regret in the House that my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who has been so long, so closely, and so prominently associated with the handling of Irish problems unfortunately should be absent to-day. On his behalf, and speaking for my Liberal friends and associates on these benches, I wish to offer to the Prime Minister and the Government our unstinted congratulations upon this Irish settlement. We welcome it, not only as affording a satisfactory settlement of a very perilous and difficult controversy, but also as offering the bright hope of a happier chapter in Irish history in the future. The. Prime Minister alluded, in his eloquent and sincere speech, to the difficulties inherent in Article 12 of the Treaty of 1921. Those difficulties were indeed formidable. They did not become easier as time went on. I have very little doubt that the solution which has now been so happily reached is by far the best solution of the problem that could be conceived. It is certainly a great advantage that the boundary question should be settled by the accord of British statesmen, the representatives of the Irish Free State and the representatives of Northern Ireland, rather than that it should be imposed on the country by the award of the Commission. I wish to associate myself with the tribute the Prime Minister has paid to the statesmanship and moderation of Mr. Cosgrave and Sir James Craig and also the width of view, the self-control and the statesmanship of Mr. Justice Feetham.
327 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) indicated that there might be in various quarters of the House some dissatisfaction with the financial provisions of this instrument. I admit that, when we consider the estimate which the Treasury formed in the first instance and the various burdens as to which we are about to have some painful reminders in the course of the next few days, the financial side of this operation is likely to give a good deal of anxiety to many Members of the House. But I am wholly in accord with the Prime Minister in thinking that, even if the sacrifice is great—and we cannot, as we pointed out, estimate its dimensions—it is a sacrifice well worth incurring in the cause of Irish peace. I very well remember the discussions between Ireland and England that arose many years ago as the result of the Report on the Financial Relations between the two countries, and when I was concerned, as I was, as a Member of the Government with the drafting of the Act of 1920, one of the great difficulties was the difficulty, -indeed the impossibility, of forming a just estimate of the claims on the one hand and the counter-claims on the other. I, therefore, very heartily welcome an arrangement under which all these perplexing and irritating sources of financial difference may be swept out of view at one blow. I am sure the Prime Minister has done wisely in including a financial settlement in the same instrument as that which is primarily devoted to a settlement of the boundary question, and I hope very much that the voice of the British taxpayer, hard pressed as he is, will not be too loudly heard.
We on these benches have always cherished the belief that if Ireland were ever to be given responsibility for managing her own affairs, our faith in her capacity and her integrity would not be misplaced. We have held that view for many years. We have urged it, and I think the events of to-day prove to us that our faith has not been misplaced. The solution, indeed, has not some in the exact way in which the leaders of Liberal thought expected it would come. We did not, I think now, give full weight to the deep and sincere sentiment of Protestant Ireland, and I believe the settlement that has now been reached—a settlement 328 under which the Protestant Irishmen of the North and the Catholic Irishmen of the South are left free to work out their own destinies, and to combine when it appears to them reasonable that they should combine on matters of common interest affecting both sections of the community—holds out a real hope of an enduring Irish peace. I remember very soon after the outbreak of the War I was in the company of Lord Morley, who took a view very unfavourable to the war policy that was followed by the Liberal Government. I remember his closing a discussion on the War with these words:Remember there is a little island on the other side of St. George's Channel with its wounds unstaunched, with its wrongs unredressed, waiting for justice, When the War is over, you will hear of Ireland.We did hear of Ireland. Ireland passed through some of the most tragic and tormenting years of her unhappy history, but in the end statesmanship found a way out, and, fortunately, the statesmen were not confined to one party in the State. Conservatives and Liberals, and I will gladly add members of the Labour party, too, worked for a settlement that should be enduring. So we earnestly welcome this Bill as marking a further stage towards the conciliation of both sections of Irish political thought and political opinion and as affording an earnest of the reconciliation of the Irish and British races all over the civilised world.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. D. D. REID
Perhaps it is fitting that a representative of an Irish constituency should say a word on this Bill. I am afraid I must deal with the matter on a lower level than the eloquent speakers who have preceded me. May I remind the House that, between the time of the introduction of the Irish Treaty Bill and the time last year when the Bill was brought in by the Labour Government enabling a member to be appointed to the Commission in place of the Commissioner to be appointed by Northern Ireland, we placed it on record that it was our view that the proviso under Article 5 of the Treaty, which set up the Boundary Commission, was not justified at any time in view of the pledges made to those who were responsible for accepting the Act of 1920 in the North of Ireland. I have no wish to go into what has happened since 329 that time, but now we find, as the result of this Agreement and the Bill which proposes to carry it into effect, that our contention is sustained—we find the boundary is loft unaltered and therefore I need hardly say we welcome the Bill. I f hon. Members who talk so glibly about unrest had lived through times like there have been near the border, when people are distracted from their ordinary occupations, when they are not only distracted in mind but have the time taken away from their ordinary occupations, we should probably hear less about finding our own salvation. What we want is to have causes of friction removed, and in this question of the border we have one cause of friction removed, and therefore we welcome the Bill. There is a second point, the Council of Ireland. When the Council of Ireland formed part of the original scheme, to deal with certain general services in Northern and Southern Ireland, there was a reason, perhaps, for its existence, but when it was confined to Northern Ireland, and when it only enabled representatives of the Free State Government to interfere with certain services in Northern Ireland, it had practically become nothing more nor less than a bargaining council. It would only have been the means of introducing a great deal of difficulty. That has been cleared out of the way and we welcome it.
Hon. Members who have spoken have, perhaps, somewhat exaggerated the disunion between North and South. It is true that we have different views on many subjects, but it is not true that we live in an absolutely cat and dog state. The practical result of this Bill is that we have two great potential sources of evil, two great potential sources of trouble, cleared out of the way, and for that reason we frankly welcome the Bill. As to Article 5, I agree with the view taken by the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas). I do not believe that Article 5 would ever have produced any appreciable revenue for the British Government. Therefore, when Article 5 is given up it means very little in hard cash. I do not think the British taxpayer need feel aggrieved about that For these very commonplace reasons, we welcome the Bill and wish to see it passed into law as soon as possible.
Mr. ROSSLYN MITCHELL
This is a good Bill. It is the first contribution which the Unionist party, or the Conservative party, have made to the prosperity of Ireland. It is the one and only thing for which the Irish people have any cause to be grateful. It seems to me that this country is in danger of being chloroformed into forgetting the past, by the unction with which converted rakes talk about their good actions of the present. Throughout the whole length of this controversy there has not been one helpful contribution made towards healing the wounds of Ireland or assuaging her sorrows from hon. or right hon. Members on the other side of the House. The fact that this Bill is brought forward is a definite and complete vindication of the men of the past who for 40 years were slandered and reviled by Members who sat opposite in this House. It is a complete repudiation of the whole policy of the Unionist party from the day it was formed right up to the time when it culminated in the Black and Tan policy of the party which now sits on the benches below the Gangway on this side of the House.
I am not going to talk about the money part of this Bill, because the liabilities of peace are always negligible compared with the costs of war. In this Bill, whatever sacrifices there may be, they are negligible, if they bring peace to Ireland, compared with the enormous expenditure which would have been involved in any development of dis-peace. I cannot help wondering what would have happened in this House if, in the course of time and the change of circumstances, a Bill which involved the sacrifice of a potential, and perhaps unrealisable, asset of £150,000,000, had been brought forward from these benches instead of the benches opposite. I can imagine the country being stirred by the fervid eloquence of those whose names I see appended to this Bill. I can see the newspapers, in the control of men whom we would look upon as perverted if we Sid not know they were imbecile, filled, from the "Christian Herald" to "Comic Cuts," with malignities against the Irish, with charges of treason against the Socialists, with talk of our being lovers of every country but our own, and of our being willing to scatter broadcast the pinched and parched resources of this 331 struggling island for the sake of bribing votes from the Southern Irish who dwell in this country.
I can imagine the wonderful rhetoric with which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, under whom I have sat with delight and instruction so frequently—
He would have stirred not the minds but the passions of the people, over which he has much more control, by his speeches in regard to the Socialist Government daring to introduce a Bill of this kind. It has been introduced as though the whole record of the present occupants of the Government Benches had been one of kindness and benignity towards Ireland. There used to be a custom that men who came to the Bar of the House of Commons went down on their knees. The last man who made obeisance in the House of Commons bore the unusual name of Baldwin. It would be not an unfitting thing. I think, if the Leader of the Unionist, Conservative, Tory party, in bringing in this Bill— which he has been driven to bring in. not by the impulses of justice but by the influence of the facts of force in the past—had come to this House and asked forgiveness on behalf of his party for the havoc, the tragedies, the misery, the woe and want which he and they have caused in that unhappy land.
The whole history of this country has been shouting lessons to the Tory party about their conduct in Ireland. The monuments which we see in St. Stephen's Hall are daily proclaiming lessons to which the Tory party have not listened. They have had the lesson of the United States, they have had the lesson of Canada, they have had the lesson of United South Africa, and yet. they went on until they even corrupted right hon. Gentlemen of the. Liberal party to their way of thinking, and they wound up with the Black and Tans. Have they not yet-learned the tragic and pathetic futility of this effort to dominate another set of people with the ideas and the policies which we ourselves have?
There are other problems to be solved. This Bill is a declaration that the Unionist party have been wrong Tight through in their attitude to Ireland. 332 There are now other problems to be considered. I will not speak about the problem of Home Rule for Scotland, because there is not there a problem which excites the same passion and the same misunderstanding. There is the problem of Egypt. There is the problem of India. There is the problem of China. There is the problem of Africa.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
This Bill does not range over the whole world. It refers to Ireland.
I agree that it does not range over the whole world but the principle which is embodied in this Bill has affected the whole world and may yet affect the whole world. The Prime Minister has, very largely, the future of this country and of many other countries in his hands. He is, if I may say so, without either the effect or the appearance of flattery probably the most lovable man in public life to-day. If he would learn by the history of this Bill and would apply his mind to the problems which confront this nation in other spheres, and, instead of listening to the whisperings of the dull and twilight souls which surround him, would rely upon his own sure instinct be could abolish all this idea of domination. He could completely destroy all those sorrows that come from misunderstanding. He could recognise that other civilisations of great age are built up under different traditions. Then, instead of having Britain looked upon as a tyrant, as she is it some places, he could have her looked upon as a nation that uses the pure gold of statemanship, that makes those who hate us love us, that makes those who fear us have faith in us, and that makes those who are suffering to-day receive from this great nation the blessing that can come whenever one great nation touches another. The choice is in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman.
I am glad that this Bill has been brought in. I shall vote for it with a full heart. I only hope that the lesson will be carried further over a wider area and that we may have in other parts of the world the same blessings of peace, understanding and good will that have been brought, however tardily and it may be reluctantly, to the sorrowing island across the sea.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I will not attempt, even for one minute, to follow the nights of imagination of the hon. Member who has just sat down. He appears to consider that the highest act of statesmanship is to haul down the British flag throughout the world and to make speeches of beaugeste to the rest of mankind. That is not a policy which the people of this country are as yet, thank God! ready to accept. I return to the subject of the Bill before the House. Frankly, it is a Bill which takes the place of what has been from the. beginning a bad business. It is; a distinct improvement, in my judgment, of the situation. May I ask the House to consider how this case has arisen. I need not go further back than the Home Rule proposals which were brought forward by the Liberal Government shortly before the commencement of the Great War. In the negotiations, the claim of Ulster to he still included under the British flag was urged most strongly, and the Ulster representatives at that time were always ready to accept the present boundary, or something very nearly like it. The case was raised again in 1916 and in 1920. The whole difficulty regarding the boundary has been that those who represented, first, the Southern Provisional Government, and later the Free State Government, made claims to large areas of the territory of Northern Ireland which it would have been impossible to concede, and which the Boundary Commission was well advised to set on one side.
The British Ministers did not act wisely over this Boundary Commission. Article 12 was put into the Treaty in order to get agreement toy the representatives of Southern Ireland in 1921. It was not desired by Northern Ireland, and there was no reason why any British Minister at that time should have desired to keep the boundary question open. It was a characteristic device of the Government of that day to get over the difficulty. The Commission was set up. One of the great difficulties in obtaining a settlement in Southern Ireland was that all parties of politicians in Southern Ireland held out exaggerated hopes as to what the result of the Commission was to be, in the accession of territory to the Free State. When it was found that these great accessions of territory, which 334 had been ignorantly and wrongly anticipated, were not to be realised, the Government in Dublin found itself in a difficulty. I am conscious that they, in the interest of the Free State, have come to the best conclusion possible by accepting the position as it stands, and as it might have been stabilised in 1914, 1916, 1918 and 1920. The whole matter, moreover, has been a cause of great expense and anxiety to the Northern Ireland Government.
I want for one moment to turn to the case of the British taxpayer and Article 5. The Prime Minister, in representing the burden which the Free State have to bear in the form of exporting cash to this country, took rather an extreme view. One of the payments which he mentioned, about £4,500,000, is the old payment under the Land Purchase Acts. Those Acts, passed by successive British Governments, enabled tenants in Ireland to acquire their land at a very low rate of purchase by paying an annuity—a rate which was generally lower in total than the rent which they had paid before they had any purchase attached. Those payments were made without difficulty, and there were extraordinarily small arrears, amounting to only a few hundreds a year, while the British Government ruled in Ireland. The case is not so easy now, for the Free State Government are having difficulty in collecting these annuities, and I am informed on credible authority that there are some 22,000 warrants out for non-payment of arrears. However that may be, this is a payment in the form of rent, which was formerly collected without difficulty and paid to those who advanced the money for the purchase of the land under the various land purchase schemes.
Then there is the payment for civil servants and others whose liability to pension was taken over by the Free State. Many of them are still living in Ireland, but a considerable number have come over here. They have come here because they were the loyal servants of the British Government, and they found that residence in some parts of Ireland was far from comfortable. What is the British taxpayer sacrificing in payments under Article 5? He is sacrificing something, some important moral claims. Northern Ireland undertook the same obligations as were undertaken by the 335 Free State. Northern Ireland punctually-paid every penny, but the Free State have done nothing of the kind. Whatever the reason or excuses, the Free State never paid one penny, and it has never hitherto made the British Government fix what the amount of these contributions should be. Mr. John Dillon, a well-known Member of this House for many years and a prominent Irishman who has a great knowledge of Irish affairs, declared that the annual payment should have been some £10,000,000, and others have agreed as to that sum. It has been said that there are high counter-claims which may be set against this payment of debt. In his speech, the Prime Minister said frankly that they had never been formulated. No, they never have been formulated, because no serious man in his senses with any knowledge of finance or the facts would accept the exaggerated sums talked of loosely in Southern Ireland, and such claims have never been presented to any British Government. They were derisive claims.
There were, no doubt, some off-sets of one kind or another, but, on the other hand, the payment by the Free State of the share of War debt and War pensions would have been a substantial and serious relief for the British taxpayer. There has never been hitherto any sign of any intention to pay one penny. There are very few in this country who know anything of the situation in the Free State and the way in which these financial questions have been dealt with hitherto, who believe that any substantial sum would have been paid. In fact, it is said that the British Government have made a good arrangement because they have sacrificed no money. There is a good deal of truth in that view. The Government of the Free State have shown no eagerness to meet their obligations. For that reason, I think that the British taxpayer, in the long run, is sacrificing very little money in abandoning Article 5.
There is another aspect of the case. What is going to happen in regard to the payment of damages? There was the rebellion against the British power and the later rebellion against the Government of the Free State. The damages amount to very large sums. A terrible tale of sufferings and loss has been told. 336 An extraordinary arrangement in the Treaty of 1921 was that the British Government would undertake to pay damages inflicted by its armies and its Black and Tans up to the time that the Provisional Government was set up in Tune, 1920, and that after that date the Provisional Government, and, later, the Government of the Free State, should undertake to pay for injuries. That has worked out in this way. The British Government undertook to pay damages claimed and approved, which were inflicted in the days of the rebellion, and the Provisional Government and the Free State Government undertook to compensate those Irishmen and others who had been loyal to the British flag and had supported British rule in Ireland so long as it lasted, and had suffered in consequence.
What has been the effect of this agreement? A Commission has been set up and the claims first dealt with were those claims made by the adherents and friends of the present Government in Ireland. The Commission could go no further until the terms of reference were extended in the early part of this year, so as to include a wider class of cases. The British Government have met their obligations in full. In the last vote taken in this House on that account some £900,000 was voted to be spent. What has been the case as regards those, in Ireland who are loyalists? A very great number of them have been driven out. because the persecution and the boycotting have by no means ceased in Southern Ireland, though they are less prevalent than they were. I may be wrong, but I believe that the Free State Government are doing their best to suppress than kind of thing. But the Free State Government is not a very powerful Government, nor is it a very stable Government. No Government founded upon violence, upon arson, and upon assassination can expect to be powerful or stable. They themselves in the days of the rebellion created the very state of things which it is now their duty to repress. They are face to face with the spectres of their own acts. I would remind hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House that every act of statesmanship, good or bad, has its consequences.
This is not the time nor the place to go through a long catalogue of the wrongs 337 which have been suffered by the unfortunate people in Ireland who were abandoned by the British Government. The British Government have done what they can up to a point;, but the Ministers of succeeding Administrations have been very shy about pressing the Free State Government strongly upon these cases of damage. At last in another place, in consequence of a Debate during the summer, it was agreed to set up a Committee to investigate cases of claims for compensation by loyalists. That Committee has not yet sat, although it was appointed in July. I hope it will proceed without delay, and that such cases as it may find to require pressing will be dealt with vigorously, and that steps will be taken to see that they are met justly if not generously by the Free State Government. The point in most of these cases seems to be concerned with what are called consequential damages, which have hitherto been ruled out by an official set up in Ireland to deal with damages.
Let me give the House an instance. There was a hotel keeper who had been a sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary, and during the bad times a party of nine or ten of the Royal Irish Constabulary were ambushed near his Hotel, six or seven being killed. He went out and brought the bodies and the survivors into shelter, and nursed and cared for those who were wounded. In consequence of his action, his hotel was raided, plundered and burned, and the little land he had was taken from him, and, under threats to his life and to the Jives of his family, he was driven out of Ireland and was never able to go back. That man gets no compensation, in so far as damage he suffered comes under the head of "consequential damage."
There is another class of case which should be pressed very strongly. It is the case of a man who had a small property in Ireland with a house. A farm which was attached to the property had been let for several years, but he had not been able to collect one shilling of rent. This man was driven out of his house: the house was burned, and the contents were lost or destroyed, and the demesne was taken over by others. This man has been served with Income Tax demands by the Free State Government as if he were still occupying the house, 338 and he has, in fact, paid the claims for Income Tax. The other day he went to the Commission and obtained an award of some thousands of pounds, and the whole of that award was immediately claimed by the Irish Free State Government for unpaid arrears of Income Tax of which he know nothing until he received the award. The award was sequestrated, and not a shilling of it has been paid. That case, I happen to know, is now before the Government. It is a shocking case, and no one in this House would defend an action of that kind.
I came across another case of the same kind the other day. It is the case of a widow who had a very small property. The little land she had was taken from her; she could not collect her rents, and, after a long time, the case came before the Commission, and there was an award. The Free State Government claimed Income Tax in respect of the land—the use of which had been denied to her because they had not kept order and protected her—and their claim came to within a few pounds of the total award. That is the kind of thing which is going on, and which we urge the British Government to take up. Surely, these are things which ought to be settled at this time. There has been great generosity on the part of various British Governments in dealing with the Irish question, and I venture to claim in this House, that generosity should be shown in such oases by those who have received generous treatment from us.
I fear the hopes which have been expressed in the eloquent speeches of this afternoon that this is a final settlement of the Irish question will prove to be unfounded. Those of us who have been in politics for a generation and more have seen many Irish settlements, each one of which was said to be final. I fear we shall find the Government of the Free State again in difficulties. They will come again for assistance to the Government of this country, then we shall have another settlement—we shall have one more "final settlement." This House, I venture to think, will be wrong if it does not face the real state of things in Southern Ireland. Southern Ireland is in the hands of politicians, and the politicians of all parties are united in one respect. The foundation of their polities 339 in the preaching and promotion of hostility to this country. I do not believe this state of things will last for ever, but at present, whether it be the Free State politician or the Republican politician, that is the foundation of their action. I will not detain the House by giving instances, but any hon. Member who cares to read the Irish papers will find confirmation of my statement. I always deplored—I looked upon it as one of the greatest crimes ever committed by a British Government—the abandonment of the unhappy, helpless people in Ireland to the things which they have gone through since the British Government, in a moment of weakness and enthusiasm and sentiment, laid down its responsibilities and handed over millions of people to an unhappy fate. However that may be, this Bill, so far as it goes, will be accepted by the. House, and I for one have no intention of opposing it.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The last speaker seemed to tempt certain Members of this House into the discussion of very deep and controversial affairs, and I think his references to the Free State Government were particularly unfortunate. He said that Government was the product of the bomb, of rebellion and—even worse—of assassination, and that any Government so founded was bound to be bad. Whether it be true or not, I think that remark, coming from a Conservative Member, is particularly unfortunate. If one is to go back to the foundation of the Free. State Government in this connection one must also go back into the history of what caused the Irish people to rebel. Who taught them the business of shooting? One will find that it is not into the Free State. Government, but into the gun-running of Northern Ireland and the seditious speeches of Members of the present Government that we must look, and. if we do so, we shall possibly by much nearer the origin of rebellion in Ireland. I for one resent the hon. and gallant Member's remarks just as I would resent them if they were applied to the North of Ireland.
My object in rising is to express the view that we here cannot settle the affairs of Ireland. We must remember that yesterday the Bail met in the Free State and, whether we like it or not, there was a minority definitely unconvinced of 340 the wisdom of this settlement. The only people who can make it a settlement are the people in the North and the South of Ireland. I have no complaint to make against the Government's financial terms. I do not grumble at the liquidation of a debt of £150,000,000. Indeed, I only wish the Government had gone even further and wiped out this proposed payment of £5,000,000 or £6,000,000, because I am convinced that £150,000,000 or £160,000,000 is a cheap price to pay for peace in Ireland. Peace and prosperity, however, can only come to Ireland if the mass of the common people are prosperous and peaceful and. comfortable. We have to remember that the Free State Government—and I am not criticising them for this—on account of the smallness of their revenue and the demands on their exchequer, have had to economise, and one of their chief economics has been the reduction of payments to old age pensioners. These old age pensioners were citizens of this country when the pension was granted, and I would like the "British Government to liquidate all debts and make it a condition that the old age pension in the Free State should be restored to the amount at which it stood when the British Government was in control. That would have been a gesture to the people of Ireland showing that we were concerned for the welfare in the poorer section of the community there.
The right hon. Gentleman who was Colonial Secretary under the Labour Government referred to the question of Irish prisoners. It may be argued that these men have been convicted of criminal offences, but all of them took action for political reasons, and none of them can be characterised as criminals in the ordinary accepted sense. I want to see this Treaty given a proper, decent chance of success, and it can only be a success if goodwill is engendered on all sides. We cannon secure goodwill if we have in this country, quite apart from. Ireland, a certain number of Irish people who think that these prisoners are being wrongly and even badly treated. One of the big gestures that could be made would be for the Governments of the North and the South of Ireland, and even of this country, to unite in saying, "We are going to make a clean, fresh start, and no person who from political motives has com- 341 mitted a criminal offence shall be retained in prison." I want to ask the Government if, in future negotiations, they cannot impress upon both the North and the South of Ireland the desirability of this taking place. There are in Scotland at present still two or three Irish prisoners separated from their wives and families and kept in prison.
There has been nothing said about the people who are really involved in this settlement, namely, the folk who are residing on the boundary between the North and the South. Are they prepared to accept the settlement arrived at today? I have grave fears that they might not be prepared to accept it. I do not accept even this financial concession as big enough. I would like the Government to wipe the slate clean of every financial debt that the Free State and the Northern Government owe us. Allow them to make a fresh start and to devote their future revenue to making the conditions of the common people better than they have ever been. Politics do not make a common bond. The bond that makes people come together is their usefulness in life and how far they can get good out of their working-class conditions, and I hoped the Government could have gone further than they have gone. Our problem of Ireland, and even of Protestantism in the North and Roman Catholicism in the South, is sometimes not only confined to Ireland. Sometimes it spreads to this country too, and I hope this settlement will mean that people will face their social problems, not as Roman Catholics, nor as Protestants, but as working folk and as people wanting to make their nation a better nation than hitherto.
§ Captain EDEN
I think the House was in closer sympathy with the speech to which we haves just listened, at any rate, the earlier part of it, than with the speech which was delivered by the last hon. Member who spoke from those benches. I can at least agree with my hon. Friend opposite that no good will certainly be done by delving into the past either of political parties in this country or of political parties in Ireland, and though it may be a very delectable pastime to stir the pools of acrimony, it is not a pastime from which we shall derive any profit whatever. We can hardly expect that any agreement will meet with universal approval from 342 all sections of opinion in this House or in the country. There is first that section of critics which sincerely believes that the flaws in this Bill are numerous, so numerous, perhaps, as to outweigh its merits, and we have also the smaller section of the public and of the Press which is determined to be satisfied with nothing, which enjoys dissatisfaction. Listening to the speeches of the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer during the past week, I gathered that the bane of his life were those who indulged in the practice which he picturesquely described a? tariff-mongering. I can tell him of a practice which is worse than that, and that is the practice of gloom-mongering, and for those who indulge in that practice we can offer no cure but to ask that they should visualise what would have happened had the Government failed to bring about this agreement, the bitter recrimination and the suspicion, breeding mischief, which would have inevitably resulted.
I think all sections of the House will be prepared to congratulate the Government on the promptitude with which it dealt with the situation. In a case like this delay is inevitably dangerous, and engenders suspicion, which only too often in the past has been the atmosphere which has hovered over these negotiations, and the promptitude of this settlement is by no means its least merit, leaving no bitterness born of sustained haggling and months of bargaining. I confess to being glad that the boundary remains as it has been for the last four years. I do not pretend to think that it is the best boundary that the mind of man could devise—far from it—but it has one transcendent advantage, and that is that it is the boundary to which those who live alongside of it have become used. Those of us who went last autumn to visit the boundary areas told the House, when we came back, of our firm conviction that it would be dangerous to attempt to transfer any section of the territory under the jurisdiction of one Government to the jurisdiction of the other, not because we did not admit that anomalies existed, but because we felt that habit, custom, and use, which had to some extent brought peace to the boundary areas, should not be disturbed. Men, after all, even Irishmen, are creatures of habit, and this Bill, in that it continues the existing habits of every day, and does 343 not ask the people on the boundary to start all over again, in a wise measure, fostering progress.
There is, I know, criticism on the- financial side, upon which I do not propose to enter, except to say that surely here as in other financial matters a bird in the hand is still preferable, even if it is a small and fluttering bird. I would ask the House to remember that last year, when these discussions were in progress, the present Foreign Secretary, replying to a suggestion made by my noble Friend the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) said that it would be no poor investment for the British people to invest money to bring about peace in Ireland. That is undoubtedly true, and while I do not admit that the balance sheet is ill drawn, I say it is not fair to take it at sight on a hard cash basis, because we have assets on the credit side which cannot be realised in terms of hard cash. We have the asset of the improved trade and employment which must result, and one other important asset which has not been touched upon, and to which I would draw the attention of the House.
For years past, for a century or more, conditions in Ireland have resulted in creating in Europe from time to time a difficult, embarrassing atmosphere for British statesmanship. Everybody knows it. Nobody who has studied public opinion abroad during recent years will deny that the running sore of the Irish difficulty has been a source of anxiety to us in Europe. With those who did not like us, with those who wanted a weapon for anti-British propaganda, the weapon was there. With our own friends, it has sometimes been a cause of tension, and even within our own Empire the effect of Irish disputes has had a direct and frequent repercussion. That is an aspect of the settlement of which we should not lose sight.
It has been stated that this Agreement is the direct outcome of the spirit of the Agreement at Locarno. I do not think that is quite true. I think it goes deeper than that. It is a spirit that is abroad to-day that has made the Locarno Agreement possible, and that has made this Agreement possible, also, Without that spirit both these Agreements could never have been. At Locarno the European horse was ready to drink, and last week 344 the Irish horse was willing to drink. Tentatively, we may dare to hope that the spirit of the after-the-War years, carping, enervating, intolerant, inflaming passions and fostering suspicions, has been laid, and that reason vanquishes prejudice.
We have heard already pious hopes expressed that the result of this Agreement will be to bring Irish unity closer. I hope that endeavours on this side of the Irish Channel will be confined to the expression of such hopes and will not take the forms of direction or advice, however well meant. If the Anglo-Saxon wants to bring about Irish unity, the best service he can render, in the light of history, is to keep silent on this subject. But in the case of the relations between Great Britain and Ireland there is no such embargo upon speculation. We have no rules to guide us as to what the future may hold, except that the unexpected invariably happens. Ireland is a country of surprises. May we, perhaps, hope that this if? the last, the greatest, the eternal, surprise that the Irish people will spring upon their Anglo-Saxon neighbours, that amity will reign within and without, between the North and the South, and between both and this country, and that an understanding will grow all the stronger for the difficulties of the years gone by? At least, we can say that one source of dispute, of trouble, and of suspicion has been removed. Mutual knowledge must do the rest. Bickering is ever a child of ignorance.
§ Mr. HARNEY
As a Southern Irishman, I feel that I ought to say a few words in this Debate. I would like at the outset to congratulate the Prime Minister, not only upon the part he has played in effecting this settlement, but upon the very conciliatory and, I should say, noble expression of what he has done that he has given us to-day. It was in very strong contrast indeed to another speech that we heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton).
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I will not say that is what ails it. Out of a 40 minutes' speech delivered for the purpose of commending the Bill to the House. 36 minutes were 345 devoted to corroding the very spirit that underlay that settlement. I am one of those who believe, and I know a good deal about Ireland, that it is destined sooner or later to become a political unit if for no other reason than that economic considerations are constantly tending in that way. That happy period is being deferred always by one influence or another. In the last two years it has been this boundary. When the Act of 1920 divided Ireland into two, it was only natural that the line should create bitterness, mutual recrimination, which ricochetting one from the other should have brought about a festering sore. That is now four years ago. These recriminations have been dying down. The people on one side of the line are beginning to adjust themselves to the position, and what was rightly felt by all those engaged in the settlement, the Premier of Northern Ireland, the Premier of Southern Ireland, and our own Prime Minister was, I should think, that it is far better to leave such old wounds as were created by the line which was drawn in 1920 to heal themselves than to create a new line which would make new wounds. It would be a new laceration, not merely as the old one was of one Ireland, but of two Irelands. However bad the first line may be, it is better to have the old grey line than to draw a new red one as would undoubtedly have been the result.
There is a good deal more that the settlement has done. The mere fact of the two Prime Ministers' meeting was a recognition by the peoples that they represent, that after all it was better for both parts of Ireland to be on friendly terms. Although both of them repudiated the Council that was created by the Act of 1920, because it was put upon them, both of them now have said, "We will substitute for that Council Cabinet Conferences." They will adhere to that because it is of their own making. I, who know Ireland, can assure the House of this, both North and South are of that temperament which is hot-headed and sensitive. Though they may quarrel among themselves, the House may be assured that at bottom, in their inmost hearts, they like one another better than they like any outside people. If they are 346 let alone, if these irritating influences are removed for a time, then I have not the slightest doubt that in a time measurably nearer this country will have the advantage of discovering what we Irishmen have always known, that Ireland is capable of becoming one country, a prosperous united country, and a country that is loyal to England.
I have not a word to say about the financial part. I think it is quite likely what the late Colonial Secretary said that, while the claim of this country could be measured at £150,000,000, the counterclaim will be very much higher. A settlement now has been made, not to settle differences between two contending Powers, but by the voluntary action of the parties themselves, who come over here to London and say, "We have both discovered that the fight which has been going on for all those years past is foolish of us. We are anxious now to forget all about the boundary, to let it pass into the limbo of buried controversies; to substitute for it free conferences in the well-founded hope that in a few years considerations of business and of mutual assistance will create one undivided and contented Ireland; will end the fend between north and south, and end the feud between this country and Ireland, which is a matter of centuries." The Prime Minister has to-day put his hand to that settlement, and what he has said to-day so touchingly and feelingly honestly represents the spirit of the work which he did.
§ Sir J. MARRIOTT
I am sure it will be agreed in all parts of the House that this Debate has been maintained on a very high level of sentiment. There is, however, one consideration and one class of people who have been strangely ignored throughout the whole of this case, and that is the long-suffering British taxpayer. I yield to no one in the House in my admiration for the temper, and I say this with the deepest sincerity, in which the Prime Minister moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I will strive to emulate that temper. In one-sense that is not at all difficult for me, for ever since I fought my first parliamentary election—I am sorry to say 39 years ago—I have been very deeply concerned with this question. Ever since that day I have tried to make myself 347 more and more intimately acquainted with every phase of this Irish question. I have traversed every part of Ireland, and most ardently and most sincerely do I desire that peace may be finally restored in that island—or rather I should say will be for the first time established in that island.
Let me come to the details of the Bill. The first operative Clause of the schedule deals with the question of the boundary. The Prime Minister told us that the Treaty was an act of faith, but he also intimated that faith could not issue in good works until the boundary question was out of the. way. He said that if we got no settlement of this question one of two things would happen. Either there would be chaos in Ireland, or there would be on one or other side of the boundary a lingering sense of injustice and unfairness. I do not for one moment deny that there is a large measure of truth in that observation, and I hope that we may now regard the boundary question as out of the way though I myself would be very sorry to leave that question without one word of high tribute to the great services which have been rendered by my fellow-Wykehamist, Mr. Justice Feetham.
One word, in the second place, on the Clause in the Bill which deals with the virtual disappearance of the All Ireland Council. I recall the debates which took place in 1920 on this question. Under the present Bill, powers granted under the partially abortive Act of 1920 to the Council of Ireland will be automatically transferred to Northern Ireland—Clauses dealing with railways, fisheries and diseases of animals. The House will remember that that Council was intended to pave the way to the ultimate union of the two Parliaments which were then to be set up in Dublin and Belfast, I can only say in reference to this matter of the Council that I feel unqualified satisfaction that any ambiguity which was still lurking in subsequent agreements and Acts regarding the position of Northern Ireland and especially ambiguities which are still to be found, or were till the production of. this Bill, in the second, seventh and tenth Clauses of the ill-fated Act of 1920, should be cleared up.
348 What I want more particularly to say a word or two about is in regard to the disappearance of the liabilities under Article 5 of the Treaty. I hope it will not be resented by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer if I venture to make a very respectful protest to them, that they did not find it possible to issue before this Debate began a White Paper giving us details of its financial arrangements. I did my utmost to listen. I listened with all the attention I could to the explanation which was given by the Prime Minister. I am sure he gave it with all possible lucidity under the circumstances, but those details given to us in the speech of the Prime Minister ought to have been before the House in a White Paper before the Debate began. It was impossible, however attentive they may have been, for Members, except, possibly, the late Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. W. Graham), who I hoped might have spoken this afternoon, to grasp the details of that statement. That must be my excuse for putting one or two questions in case the Chancellor of the Exchequer should reply on this Debate.
In the first place—it is almost a farcical question, I am afraid—but I suppose we may assume as a fact that not one farthing has been received from Southern Ireland under Article 5 of the Treaty? I should be grateful if that point could be made absolutely clear. The second point to which I would invite the. right hon. Gentleman's attention is as to the arrears of the payments which were to have been made under Article 5 of the Treaty. So far as I followed the Prime Minister, he told us that the nearest estimate which the Treasury could give us of the total capital liability of Southern Ireland under Article 5 was £123,000,000, plus a sum which, with accrued interest, would bring it to £155,000.000. That is what I understood. Obviously, then, there is a sum of something approaching £30,000,000 for accrued interest in the liability, and as I understood the whole liability might have been discharged by an annuity of £6,250,000 for 60 years. I do not think that ever could have been possible for Southern Ireland, but they have entered into a contract, for the carrying out of the Shannon works, with a German firm, and are embarking on enterprises in all direc- 349 tions involving sums very considerably in excess of that amount. On that point, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be able to enlighten us.
The third point on which I should like some little further information is in regard to the amount of compensation for the malicious damage done in what I may call the pre-truce period, that is to say, the period between January, 1919, and the 11th July, 1921, the amount which has been actually paid on account of that malicious damage. I do not think the Prime Minister gave us that figure, but I should very much like to have it if the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in a position give it. That amount, I fancy, is somewhere in the neighbourhood of £4,000,000, but, whatever it is, I understood from the Prime Minister—I should like to have it confirmed—that amount is to be paid to the British Government in cash, and not in bonds or stock. I pass to the financial point which is raised in paragraph 4 of the Schedule. under whichThe Government of the Irish Free State hereby agrees to promote legislation increasing by 10 per cent. the measure of compensation under the Damage to Property (Compensation) Act, 1923"—That, I take it. is an Act of the Dublin Parliament—in respect of malicious damage to property done in the area now under the jurisdiction of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State between the eleventh day of July, nineteen hundred and twenty-one, and the twelfth day of May, nineteen hundred and twenty-three.I am not quite certain as to the significance of that latter date, the 12th May, 1923, and I should like to know exactly what it means. The point on which I want information is this. What will that extra 10 per cent. for post-truce damage amount to? It is to be payable, I understand, in Irish Bonds. So far as I can make out, it will only bring the amount of the Bonds which have already been paid in compensation for that damage up to their par value—they stand at present somewhere about 90 per cent.—but on that point I should like further information. If it be true that the total liability under this section amounts to about £600,000, it follows that for the payment of about £4,000,000 in cash—that is the repayment to the British Government for malicious damage in the pre-truce period —and about £600.000, representing 10 per 350 cent. payable to the Southern Irishmen who have received compensation for injuries in the post-truce period. Adding these two sums together, we get a sum of about £4,600,000 in return for which we are to remit liabilities amounting to £155,000,000.
§ Sir J. MARRIOTT
Very well, we are to give up claims amounting to £155.000,000. This is a point on which, I think, the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself may be particularly sensitive. I want to know what was the value of that £155,000,000 put in the original Treaty for which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Members of the present Government were very largely responsible. Perhaps I may be permitted to recall the exact words of the Article:The Irish Free State shall assume liability for the service of the Public Debt of the United Kingdom as existing at the date hereof"—The date, of course, was the 6th December, 1921—and towards the payment of war pensions as existing at that date in such proportion as may be fair and equitable, having regard to any just claims on the part of Ireland by way of set-off or counterclaim, the amount of such sums being determined in default of agreement by the arbitration of one or more independent persons being citizens of the British Empire.I want to know what was the value of that Article 5 put in the original Treaty. Are we to understand that Article 5, which was the only financial consideration that Great Britain obtained under the Treaty, was from the first a brutum fulmen merely intended to throw dust in the eyes of the British taxpayer? When we were discussing the Treaty of 1921, or when we were discussing the Bill of 1922, was there any suggestion made by the authors of the Treaty or those responsible for the Bill that this was from the first an empty form? I frankly confess I am concerned, on behalf of the British taxpayers, about all these expensive gestures for peace. Are we alone among all the peoples of the world to pay our debt--, and without any reference to the debts due to us? We are unanimous in our determination to. pay, but ought we with such apparent levity—because the financial Clauses of this agreement seem to have been framed with levity—to aban- 351 don all hope of receiving anything from anybody else?
My final point is in regard to the Loyalists of Southern Ireland. I have great concern for the taxpayers of Great Britain, but I am also concerned as to the position of the Loyalists of Southern Ireland, that is to say, persons to whom compensation for post-truce damage was due. I wonder whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in a position to tell us what has actually been received in bonds for that post-truce compensation, and not only what has been received, but what they may expect to receive. I do not for one moment desire to question in regard to the perfect good faith of the Free State Government, but I would point out that if we pass this Bill, to the Second Reading of which we are asked to assent this afternoon, we do, as a fact, part with the last vestige of our financial power to secure compensation for the Southern Irish Loyalists. And what do we, the taxpayers of this country, get for this immense financial surrender? We are relieved of certain financial liabilities in regard to Northern Ireland, and we got the great satisfaction of clearing away a difficulty, I hope for ever, about the boundary between Northern and Southern Ireland. That is all.
I am very sorry that it should have fallen to one who is more concerned than, I think, most people in this House for the future of Ireland, who has had an intimate acquaintance with Ireland in the past, to have to dwell on details in this discussion which, to some people, may seem sordid, after the lofty sentimental atmosphere in which we have been moving in this Debate. But I do not think this Debate ought to close without putting these questions, and I respectfully put them to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVIS0N
I am glad that, even at this late period of the Debate, the position of the terribly overburdened taxpayers of this country should at long last have been put before the House. While we one and all sympathise and agree with the desire, in the lofty and eloquent words with which the Prime Minister commended this Bill to the House, from beginning to end of his 352 speech I could find no reason given why Clause 5 of the original Treaty had been abrogated. Everything that the Prime Minister has said could have taken place —the idea of friendship between the Governments—everything could have taken place had this original agreement still remained. Do let us just look at the facts of the case for one second.
First of all, the Clause in regard to the boundary ought never to have been inserted in the Treaty because the boundary was indelibly fixed by the Act of 1920, which gave Ulster, at the request of the British Parliament, a fixed area. Nevertheless, without consulting Ulster at all, it was provided that if she did not consent to come into an All-Ireland. Parliament a new boundary was to be fixed between her and Southern Ireland and that this boundary was to be fixed by a Commission. I see the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his place. Ho will remember the very long Debates when the Treaty was before this House, and when we again and again appealed to him, at any rate, to define what the meaning of this boundary was, and that there should be limits fixed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then Colonial Secretary, again and again told the House that the Treaty, as it had been entered into, must stand exactly as it was, that not a paragraph, not a word, not even a comma was to be altered in the Treaty; and that the House must take it, to use his own words, with all its advantages and all its defects.
It was provided in the Treaty, as hon. Members will remember, that one Commissioner was to be appointed by the British Government, one by Ulster, and one by the Free State. Ulster, having had this boundary fixed by Act of Parliament, and by this House, naturally declined to have anything to do with fixing a new boundary. The matter was referred to the Privy Council. The Privy Council held that this Clause in the Treaty was bad. What happened then? When we tried to get the Treaty made clear so as to show what the position of Ulster was, and that the rights of Ulster should not be materially damnified by what had been done, we were told that the Treaty was inviolate, and that no paragraph could be altered. When, however, the Free State finds that something 353 in the Treaty is not working as they anticipated it would work, then at once the Treaty is to be amended, and we have a Bill brought and passed in this House, altering a Clause in the Treaty, and providing that the British Parliament shall appoint a Commissioner in place of Ulster. For one and a half years this Commission has been travelling along the boundary of Ulster, taking evidence from the various parties, and at the end of October they had completed their researches. The three Commissioners appointed were prepared to give it unanimous decision. A map was actually initialled by the three Commissioners, showing the boundary as it was to be when the Commission's Report was published. Then the information gets out and is published, not precise but, at any rate, substantially accurate. What happens then? The Free State summon their Commissioner to Dublin and instruct their Commissioner to withdraw. Apparently they hope that by the withdrawal of one Commissioner the whole Commission will be knocked on the head. It appeared in public—
§ Sir W. DAVISON
In the public Press. The Free. State, rightly or wrongly, considered that what the decision of the Commission consisted of was to be a give-and-take line—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us who published this so that the public knew anything about it?
§ Sir W. DAVISON
My hon. Friend knows perfectly well it has been published in the papers of the country.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
That has nothing to do with my argument whatever, as to how it was published or by whom. I had nothing to do with this publication, but whatever the reason it became public that a give-and-take line was to be the judgment of the Commission and not the transfer of large areas, The Free State 354 Government then instructed their Commissioner to withdraw, and he did, apparently with the idea that this would prevent the decision of the Commission operating. That was a wrong idea because it had been held by the Privy Council that two Commissioners could give a majority decision, and that would have the force of law. What happened then? The Free State at once came over to the British Government in London and asked them to use their influence with the Commission not to publish their Report. I have no objection at all to that. I think it was very wise from the Free State point of view. I think it was very wise also for the British Government to consider those representations. They went to the Commission, as we have been told by the Prime Minister to-day, and asked them to wait to see if any arrangement could be arrived at. Eventually an arrangement was arrived at in regard to boundaries between Ulster and Southern Ireland.
What, however, I want to know is this: It is very material. It is all to the good—grateful we all are—that this arrangement as to the boundary has been come to between Northern and Southern Ireland. But why should the Free State be paid for doing something which they themselves asked should be done? I cannot see why the overburdened British taxpayer should be asked to remit what our Treasury—and our Treasury are not people very easily fooled—had put down as the probable amount due to this country--a sum of £155,000,000 of indebtedness. What was applicable in the one case should also be applicable for Ulster, but you have taken already £18,000,000 from Ulster in respect of her contribution to your National Debt and your War Debt, £18,000,000 have been paid.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
The Chancellor of the Exchequer says. "No." Will he tell us then what amount has been paid. I understand it is not very far short of £18,000,000.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
Very nearly £18,000,000 have been paid altogether. I do not know what the Chancellor of the Exchequer means by the balance. But I 355 understand £4,000,000 a year has been paid. However be that as it may, a substantial sum will continue to be paid. What I want to know is why this part of the liability of the Free State has been remitted? The only explanation so far is that it is a gesture of friendship. What I say to that is that if a person has to be paid for being a friend, I do not want his friendship. I think it is all wrong to mix up these two things. Only the other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that unless things improved in many directions he may have to impose a further charge in respect of Income Tax next year. When the taxpayers of this country are bearing this terrible burden and are threatened with even greater burdens. I say that the Government ought not to have waived this payment which the British taxpayer, according to arrangements which they made in the original Treaty, was entitled to have. In a New York paper I read yesterday a rather illuminating sentence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which paper!"] The ''New York Times," which says this:
§ "THE PNTIENT BEAST."
The Irish Boundary crisis has been exercised by a golden wand. In return for a substantial money consideration from that patient beast the British Exchequer, the Free State Government has agreed to postpone its claims on the unredeemed portions of Ulster.
That reminds me of an old tag which we used to sing when I was a boy at school
Somebody tickle the donkey's chin,
And hear the donkey bray,
A similar couplet might with more force be used to-day in regard to the British taxpayer, and the British Exchequer—
Somebody twist the donkey's tail,
And see the donkey pay. Pay, Pay.
§ For the British taxpayer is paying all the time, whatever is done. I am glad the hon. Member for York has raised this point. I think it is a very material one. It ought to have been raised. I think the Government ought not to have given away this amount which the British nation were entitled to under the Treaty. There was no need for it, In coming to the arrangement in regard to the boundary, we are doing what the Free State has asked us to do, and the further gift is gratuitous, unnecessary, and uncalled for.356
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
There is a considerable measure ox agreement among all parties of the House, and the statement of the Prime Minister was so full and comprehensive that only a few words are needed from me to suggest to the House that, probably, it will be for the general convenience that at this stage the Debate should come to an end. I have in the last two speeches been confronted, for the first time in the discussion, with a note of disagreement. The sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) were moderate. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken seemed to indicate a very sincere desire to impart into this Irish Debate some measure of old-time bitterness. I am afraid, however, that is beyond the eloquence of the hon. Member, for these questions are now passing out of the regions where they excited fierce passions in the House of Commons.
I am only going to trouble the House very briefly and to touch once again on the purely financial aspect of the question. Article 5 was inserted in the Treaty of 1921 by the strong authority of the then Prime Minister, who, with forethought and care over the interests of the British taxpayer, made it clear that the Free State should take over part of the liability arising owing to the separation of the Parliaments and Exchequers of Great Britain and Ireland. He was absolutely right. There is no doubt whatever that when you have a separation like this there should also in consequence be a separation of liabilities. I have been asked what value should be assigned to Article 5. A great many qualifications must be entered. In the first place, it is admitted that great reductions must be made from the figures which the Treasury had formulated. What were those figures'? They are not an admitted liability: they are the statement of a claim, and a claim put forward on broad lines. Against that claim the Free State were entitled to urge their counterclaim, which has also been framed on broad lines. No one can say what an arbitrator would have awarded. We should certainly have pleaded and argued that in the Article the words "just and equitable" governed only the counterclaim and did not affect the Article as a whole; but if that contention had held good, I suppose we should have con- 357 sidered an award of £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 very satisfactory from our point of view. Of course, if the words "just and equitable" were held by an arbitrator to cover the question of Ireland's capacity to pay, then it is probable that the arbitrator's award would have been very much less.
Anyhow, whatever the result of the arbitration, however the Article was construed, there can be no doubt that when the results were complete the British Government would have had to review the whole situation in the light of Ireland's capacity to pay. That is only what we do with every other debtor. I read out to the House a fortnight ago a long list of negotiations with different foreign countries which we had conducted to a settlement—with Belgium, with Poland, with Czechoslovakia, with Austria-, with Serbia, with Rumania, and with other countries. In all of these we scaled down the undisputed total of what was owing on grounds of policy and of good sense, and certainly some process of scaling down would have taken place in regard to the Irish Free State, whose economic and financial well-being is, as the Prime Minister has reminded us, a cause of special and continual concern to the sister island. Therefore, I do not at all accept either the suggestion that we had no substantial or valid claim, under Article 5 or the suggestion that there was a, possibility of our obtaining from Ireland £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 a, year for a long period on account of Article 5. Mr. Do Valera, I see, calculated that £19,000,000 a year might be imposed upon Ireland for a long period under Article 5. If we were the cruel sharks he delights to make us out to be, such a demand would no doubt have been damaging to those whose interest he professes to represent; but so far as His Majesty's Government were concerned, it would have been impossible to approach this subject, even if we had the award in our favour, from the point of view of ruthlessly seeking to extract the last farthing we could, irrespective of the consequences which would accrue in Southern Ireland.
What is the capacity of Ireland to pay? Here, again, the point is disputed, but there are certain obvious considerations. First of all, for several years preceding the War, Ireland gained on the balance 358 financially from its connection with this country, that is to say Great Britain made no profit by taxation out of Ireland. More was spent on the administrative services in Ireland than the yield of taxation coming from Ireland to the Exchequer. In 1909 there was a loss of £2,250,000, in 1912 £1,400,000, in 1913 of £1,200,000. Practically every year before the War there was a net loss on the balance between, taxation and administrative expenditure on account of Ireland, and that was the time when Ireland included the most prosperous and wealthy portion of Ulster. War came and taxation was enormously increased, and administration and social services languished, and in consequence there grew up, especially under the inflated values of 1919 and 1920, a very substantial balance in favour of this country. But that was purely temporary. That was a condition which was bound to change as we returned to the normal. Then many other events intervened in Ireland. The Treaty was followed by a bitter struggle. We have been reminded that £20,000,000 of expenditure was casued to the infant government which succeeded to such a grim responsibility.
The indirect consequences of the separation of the Exchequers are also serious. Large pension charges accrued. About .£1,600,000 is being paid every year on account of pension charges, which the Irish Government have accepted as a necessary feature in the change which took place. There has been a serious falling-off in Irish exports. The absence of the Irish representation from this country removed a barrier which had for many years prevented the importation of Canadian cattle; and in other ways the separation which has taken place has imposed a great strain upon the smaller island. The Free State is a comparatively poor agricultural country. Apart from its famous beverage associated with the name of the Minister of Agriculture there are few important lucrative industries in Southern Ireland; and as the price of autonomy the Free State have already accepted a lower standard of public expenditure than rules in this country. They have lowered the salaries of their teachers, they have reduced their old age pensions, they have not followed out our later developments of unemployment insurance, or of pensions for widows, 359 or of pensions at 65 years of age. Their unemployment fund is heavily in debt, much more heavily than ours, and, generally, they have accepted a lower standard of State service. Nevertheless, in spite of hard economies, in spite of the fact that their taxation has been generally at as high a level, if not higher, than ours, they have had great difficulty in balancing their Budget. The process of cutting the painter is a costly process, however earnestly it is desired. The big liner goes on its voyage, the small boat-labours in a rough sea.
If we had embarked upon an examination of the Irish capacity to pay, the Debate might have taken an ironical turn. The representatives of the British Treasury would have dwelt upon the potentialities of Irish wealth, the prospects of large improvements and expansions in their prosperity once Irish affairs were exclusively in Irish hands, and the representatives of the Irish Free State would have been forced, on their part, to argue that nothing like the prosperity of the days of the Union was likely to be realised now that they were doing business on their own. But that Debate will never take place. It exists only in imagination. We can imagine its course, but what I cannot imagine is that this powerful country—with all its burdens a powerful, mighty community—could ever pursue against a small, weak nation claims which had no regard to the real capacity of that nation to pay, and which would have had the effect, if they were pressed to their ultimate conclusion, of not only affecting its prosperity but even its self-respect. What is there to build on in the enforcement of any claim? There is nothing to build on but the word of the Irish nation. Their desire and their self-interest as a new State to fulfil their obligations ought not to be exposed to the world as impossible. I do not undervalue either the natural pride or the self-interest that is involved in the maintenance of their credit. Having been in this Irish business all through I have been struck very strongly with their desire to maintain a strict financial independence and to discharge their obligations. His Majesty's Government, whatever the award, would not have been prepared to pursue that claim to a point 360 where that essential self-respect and desire to meet their undertakings, which is necessary to every country, would have crumbled under a weight far more than it could bear.
When the Irish free State representatives proposed that they should assume for themselves the burden of the compensation charges we have had to pay for pre-truce damage, amounting to approximately £5,000,000, of which £4,000,000 has already been disbursed by us, and that in addition they would issue 10 per cent. more stock to the victims of post-truce damage, we thought it perfectly right on our part to agree to the complete abrogation of Article 5. The method of ' payment has already been explained by the Prime Minister. It takes the form of annuities of £250,000 a, year for 60 years, together with an initial payment of £150,000 in the present year. But under the existing arrangements we were liable to pay to the Irish Free State a sum of approximately £900,000 in the next two years. These payments we shall of course, withhold, and they will form the first instalments of the annuities which they are prepared to pay, and also have the effect, as long as they last, of a. moratorium so far as the Free State is concerned.
Now I will turn to the financial relations with the Northern Government, in respect of which I have been asked some questions. The whole of our financial relations with Northern Ireland have been affected by the delay in settling the Boundary question. It is quite true they are paying their contribution, but we have had to remit against that contribution in every year sums which have been nearly equal to the contribution. The reason has been, as the Prime Minister has pointed out that the whole life of Ulster was overhung by the anxiety and the menace of this boundary question. These parishes of Fermanagh and Tyrone have been the cause of every dispute which has prevented previous Irish settlements. They were the obstacles which broke up the Buckingham Palace Conference on the very eve of the War, and everyone knows that only a year ago this boundary question very nearly became a disastrous and dominating issue in our political life in this country.
361 But before you condemn the solution which we adopted in 1921 of a Boundary Commission, you must consider the position in which the country stood at that time. A truce had been made. A cessation of the so-called warfare had occurred. It was difficult to continue. It was almost impossible to recommence it. The boundary question was insoluble by agreement at that time. What other plan than that set forth in Article 12 was possible? What other plan was possible than this Commission with its careful inquiry, with its suspended judgment and with its breathing space for passions to cool. The only alternative to Article 12 and to the Boundary Commission in 1921 was an immediate renewal of a vile and detestable conflict which increasingly assumed the forms of murder and reprisals. Cast your mind back to those day. Measure the advance that we have achieved, and we all have reason, I think, to be profoundly thankful and to put away from our minds at once the militancy of my hon. Friend, and the extremely sour and malignant reflections of the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. R. Mitchell). All these four years the boundary question has hung over Northern Ireland like a nightmare, but at last we have reached a solution which completely solves and terminates the boundary question. An instrument has been solemnly signed which, as far as Ulster is concerned, concedes her full claim on the authority of the Government of the Free State. While the boundary question was in suspense. Sir James Craig and his Government felt it necessary to maintain between 30,000 and 40,000 armed special constables in various degrees of mobilisation. Every year, to every Government, they were bound to make their request for financial assistance. On the basis of there being no settlement, they were proposing to me, in the discussions which naturally take place with the Treasury, that we should provide for the maintenance of all the special constables in their present state of efficiency up to at least September, 1926, and they were pressing for a sum of £2,250,000 on that account. But so soon as this settlement was reached, Sir James Craig informed me that he would be able to proceed immediately with the winding up of the special constabulary, and in consequence we were able to agree upon 362 a final and terminating payment of no more than £1,200,000, and I shall accordingly present a Supplementary Estimate after Christmas for that amount.
I ought to tell the House, as I have been asked whether there are any other financial arrangements, that I also agreed not to charge the Ulster Government the estimated £700,000 which is the value of the equipment and stores which were issued to them some years ago when the constabulary was first set on foot. Although this figure seems a large one, it really is only a nominal valuation, because these were munitions of a kind which we had sold in other directions at figures very much less than that.
The Government have also been considering some questions connected with the conditions of unemployment in Northern Ireland and, in July last, we reached an agreement with the Irish Government on that subject, in regard to which legislation will be required in the new year. That has nothing whatever to do with this settlement. It was agreed upon between the Governments before anyone had the slightest idea that events would take the course they have, but I only mention that now because I am very anxious that at no future time it should be suggested there was any consideration of any sort or kind in regard to this either with the North or with the South, which had not been fully, frankly and clearly laid before the House of Commons.
A final and complete settlement has been reached, not on the Irish question— I am not so sanguine as to suppose that there is a final settlement of that; the Irish question will only be finally settled when the human question is finally settled —but there is at any rate a final solution of the boundary question and a solution which relieves Ulster from the anxiety under which she has lain so long. What does the Free State gain by the settlement of a boundary question? It seems to me that her gain is the greater. It was always a misdirection of Irish national aspirations to be so far unable to settle their affairs with their own fellow countrymen in the North as to have to invoke the assistance of a Commission, with an Imperial Commissioner, to draw a line of partition across the land. No one who takes a long view of the future of Ireland and her relations with the 363 British Empire can doubt that the scoring of this artificial line, wired in and defended as it would have been, in the troublous days which might have been anticipated, could have been other than a retrograde and false step. Far wiser, as the Prime Minister has reminded us, is it to leave the old country boundaries unchanged, as quarrels pass out of history and as animosities die, until at last that line is as far rid of sinister menace as the frontiers, which as the Prime Minister has explained to us, divide England from Wales and from Scotland.
We must not expect too much. I do not think His Majesty's Government are under any illusion at this time about Ireland. We must not expect too much. Injuries rankle, partisanship thrives, bitter feelings endure, and intolerance, born of centuries, will not be dismissed from the scene in the course of a generation. Those who expect to see too much will be disappointed. But neither, I think, need we expect to see too little. There very probably are Members here in this Chamber now who will live in a new Parliament to see the harvest gathered in and who will find at the side of Britain a free and united Ireland, proud of her undoubted share in founding the British Empire and actively contributing to its strength and progress.
§ Question put, and agreed in.
§ Resolved, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill."—[Mr. Churchill.]
§ Bill accordingly considered in Committee, and reported, without Amendment; road the Third time, and passed.