§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I want to associate myself whole-heartedly with what has been said by the hon. and learned Member in regard to the case that he has made out. I thoroughly agree with him in what he has said regarding what may be termed the speculative lawyer. Of course, there are exceptions, but from my knowledge of what occurs in the City of Glasgow I think that these particular lawyers render the poor people magnificent service at comparatively little cost. Nothing should be done to keep evidence from being given on behalf of people who are comparatively poor. I should like to apologise to the Government because I have not given notice earlier of a subject which I desire to raise. I am acting in this matter with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. 1261 Maxton). Our reason for not giving earlier notice was that, perhaps, we took a wrong view in regard to the situation. I refer to the Irish question, in which Cabinet Ministers are concerned. We read in the "Times" this morning that a special Cabinet Committee has been appointed to deal with the matter. We thought that the matter was so serious and urgent that the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs would not have left London. Perhaps we ought to have given notice much earlier. I suppose the fact that we did not give the earlier notice is the reason why no representative of the Dominions Office is present.
I am not going to discuss the rights or wrongs of the annuity question or the question of the Oath, but in regard to both those questions I would say to the Chief Whip that when the House reassembles I should like, if we can get time, to have an opportunity of discussing them with the Dominions Secretary. I want to enter a protest on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton and myself against the policy of hush, hush, which it seems the Government proposes to pursue. We do not agree, and cannot agree, that this is a question which can be fobbed off in any way. The House of Commons has a right to discuss this matter, and if we had been continuing in session we should have taken the earliest opportunity of asking for time to discuss it. Every newspaper this morning refers to the seriousness of this question, but nobody has done this more than the Secretary of State for the Dominions. When it was raised in the House yesterday every hon. Member, with the exception of the hon. Member for Bridgeton and myself, possibly agreed with the policy pursued, but hon. Members will not disagree with me when I say that when the matter was first raised in the House the Secretary of State for the Dominions gave it an air of importance. He said that he had been given a document of great seriousness, and he assumed an air which only he can assume; he screwed up his brows and looked wise, as he did in the days of Labour party meetings when he was going to lecture someone for doing wrong. He said that the matter was so serious that he must ask hon. Members to say nothing about it. The next day he made 1262 a statement and said that it was so serious a matter that he must plead with the House not to discuss it, it was a matter of such grave importance. Since then, according to the "Times," the Cabinet has met and has set up a committee to consider this question. The Government apparently have taken it seriously, too. I do not wish to say anything with regard to our statement that this is war, but that is our considered view.
I want at the moment to put this question to the Patronage Secretary. In the next eight or 10 days anything may happen if the situation is as serious as we are told it is, and I want to ask the Patronage Secretary whether the Government, before taking any serious step which may embroil the relations between the Irish Free State and this country will consult the House of Commons. The Government have stated their position. The Irish Free State Government have stated their position. The two views conflict. I am not now discussing the relative merits of the case, although when the time comes I shall state my view. It will be probably a minority view, perhaps the view of only three Members, but I shall state it with as much freedom as you, Mr. Speaker, will allow and as the courtesy of the House will permit, and I shall do so as a Member of Parliament responsible to my constituents. All I ask now is that during the next eight days, during which anything may happen, that the Patronage Secretary will at least be able to assure us that the Government will now take no step which will imperil the relations between the two countries and result in serious friction until the House of Commons meets again and can be consulted.
§ Dr. MORRIS-JONES
I hope that the House will not take too seriously the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). Hon. Members on this side of the House take the view that far too much importance has already been attached to a matter which, if left to the Irish people themselves, will probably settle itself. Some of us take the view that the Dominions Secretary was rather too histrionic, rather too grave, a little too self important when he made his statement the other day. The House of Commons knows that the leader of the Irish Free State Parlia- 1263 3.0 p.m.
meat only retains his leadership by a small and doubtful majority of the Irish people. There are forces in Ireland which, working against the greatest odds and difficulties, have observed with loyalty to the Irish people the Oath and constitution to which they agreed 10 years ago. The hon. Member for Gorbals seems to have read the leading article in the "Times" to-day, but, obviously, it has not had very much effect upon him, because the suggestion is made—and all right thinking people will agree with it—that this is a relatively unimportant matter. There has been too much hysteria.
§ Dr. MORRIS-JONES
Hysteria is rather catching. It was started on one side and has been taken up by another, and no good service is rendered to this country or to this House. I suggest that this House has dealt with far more important issues, besides which the present issue is infinitesimal, and to show an attitude of hysteria and of actual alarm about a situation which may never develop is not in keeping with the traditions of this great assembly. I trust that the hon. Member will not pursue a matter which has received far more importance than it deserves.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am sorry to have to disagree with the hon. Member for Denbighshire (Dr. Morris-Jones). It is not possible to exaggerate the importance of this matter and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and myself take the view on this issue, as we do on other issues, that the attitude of the Government of not allowing serious matters to be discussed on the Floor of the House until policies have been decided is one which we cannot accept. The Foreign Secretary comes one day and the Dominions Secretary another day, the India Secretary comes another day and the Home Secretary on another day, and they all say "This is a serious matter and I ask the House of Commons not to discuss it." The suggestion is that the House of Commons is only to discuss trivial matters on which no great decision hangs.
Everyone who has a memory knows that the problem of the Irish relations to this 1264 country is a serious one indeed. For 10 years we have been relatively free from a complication in our national life which for years and years before excited political turmoil and led us into a situation in Ireland which was nothing short of deplorable. If that problem of centuries was settled in Ireland in the post-War years, when there was a general feeling of good will, more than had at any other time prevailed, it was solved by the recognition of Ireland's national and democratic rights. Ireland, in pursuance of its national and democratic rights, has elected a certain government in Ireland. Mr. De Valera is the head of that Government, and he was elected to carry out certain policies by the free vote of the Irish people. He proceeds, perhaps that is the fault the has committed, immediately he comes into office to carry out the mandate he has received from the Irish elector, and the Government of this country on the first intimation that he proposes to carry out the policy which he was elected to carry out, makes what the hon. Member for Gorbals and myself regard as a declaration of war. That is an attitude that cannot be maintained unless you are prepared to back it up by force. I am not placing any stress on the histrionic attitude of the Dominions Secretary, or anything of that sort. Behind that there was a cold blooded decision of the Cabinet: behind his statement of yesterday there was a cold-blooded decision of the Cabinet, exactly the same attitude as was involved in the Indian policy of the Government.
§ Dr. MORRIS-JONES
The hon. Gentleman made a statement that this was a declaration of war. Does he seriously expect the House to believe him when he says that there is no alternative, in dealing with this matter, but a declaration of war?
§ Mr. MAXTON
There are a whole lot of alternatives, but if the Government attitude as stated yesterday is maintained without modification, there is no alternative, and it is because we dread the wiping away in a day or two of the reasonably good relations that it took centuries to establish, that we want here, before we go away for a Recess, to issue our warning for what it is worth that during these 10 days crucial decisions will not be taken and create a situation that it will be impossible for this House or this nation to rectify when we return after 1265 our short holiday. That is our attitude. We regret very much that we had not given the necessary intimation which, I presume, would have retained a representative of the Dominions Office here. We hope and trust that the spokesmen of the Dominions Office have not departed so far away on holiday that they will not be in close touch with the situation, and that during these 10 days any representations that may come from the Irish Government will be met, not by the strong-man attitude, not by the powerful nation attitude that is going to impose its will on the others, but as between the representatives of two equal partners inside the British Empire, about which hon. Members opposite are so fond of talking.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I do not catch the relevance of that remark. I am afraid that that question does not arise just at the moment.
As far as I understood the hon. Member, he was rather suggesting that the policy of the Government was the policy of those who put down an Amendment to the Statute of Westminster.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am afraid that I could not accept that interpretation of our attitude at all. As a matter of fact we regard the Statute of Westminster as completely irrelevant to this situation. I conclude by suggesting that it should be recognised that Ireland is a free nation. True it is inside the British Empire, but it is a free nation. It has its right to make treaties and to break treaties, and it is a mistake for the British Government to say, "We shall not be prepared to discuss with you the terms of the Treaty, we shall not be prepared to discuss with you the financial relations which have hitherto existed." A new Government has been elected in Ireland and the Government of this country has no right to say to the Irish people, "You had no right to elect that Government." Since the Irish people have the right to elect their own Government this nation has a right to recognise the policy which that Government has been elected in Ireland to pursue. It is in that spirit that we want, whatever is done in this matter 1266 during the Easter Recess, to be carried through, and that is why we have taken this opportunity of raising the question.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Captain Margesson)
With the permission of the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) I propose before answering his question to say a few words in reply to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I wish, first, to say that if notice had been given that they intended to raise this question a spokesman from the Department concerned would certainly have been here to reply. I would not have the hon. Members think, for one moment, that any discourtesy on the part of the Government is indicated by the fact that I am standing at this Box instead of a representative of the Department concerned. Equally, I think they will understand that, in the circumstances, it is completely impossible for me to say anything more than, or to add to what the Dominions Secretary said yesterday. It would not be fit or proper for me to give a pledge such us the hon. Member for Gorbals has requested this afternoon, and indeed I am not in a position to do so. Rather would I say to him that he and the House as a whole, and I am certain the country, must give their fullest confidence and trust to this Government, and that the Government will take care of the position and act in what they consider to be the best possible way. Actually, if it should be the case, after the expiration of the eight days' Recess which we are now starting, that some urgent point, some grave issue, arises, the official Opposition would ask for time from His Majesty's Government in order to discuss the new situation which would then come into being, and the Government, naturally, would accede to that request and grant an immediate day for the discussion of Irish affairs. Further than that it would be quite impossbile for me to go this afternoon.
In reply to the hon. and learned Member for Argyll, the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary for the Home Department much regret that they were unable to be in their places, but I understand that the Home Secretary explained to the hon. and learned Member the reasons for his 1267 absence and that, after a consultation with him, there was an understanding that the hon. and learned Member would not expect a definite reply to-day, or until there had been an opportunity for further consideration of the matter. In any case, had the Minister been present, he could say no more than that it would be necessary for him to confer with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and with the other police forces and with the Secretary of State for Scotland before he could contemplate making any change in a practice which has been so long established. The Home Secretary has asked, however, that a promise should be given on his behalf that he will take an early opportunity of entering into 1268 consultation with the police authorities concerned, and with the Secretary of State for Scotland, and that he will consider the matter in the light of the representations mentioned by the hon. and learned Member. I am afraid this afternoon it is impossible for me to add anything to that statement, but I trust that the explanation from the Home Secretary which I have conveyed to the hon. and learned Member and the House will be sufficient.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at a Quarter after Three o'Clock, until Tuesday, 5th April, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.