§ Mr. LANSBURY
(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he has any statement to make regarding the reported breakdown in the negotiations with the Irish Free State Government on the question of the Land Annuities?
Mr. J. H. THOMAS
As stated in the communiqué, issued on Saturday night, it was unfortunately found impossible to reach an agreement and the negotiations came to an end. I will not take up the time of the House with details, since by agreement the documents exchanged during the negotiations will be published shortly as a White Paper: these will indicate the points raised by the Irish Free State representatives and our replies thereto. But the House will expect a brief account of the circumstances which led to the negotiations and of the issues discussed.
Prior to the meetings of last week the position was that we had offered either arbitration on the validity of the Irish Free State obligations to the United Kingdom Exchequer, or direct negotiations, provided that there was a prospect of finality. Mr. de Valera agreed to negotiations on this basis.
Negotiations were directed to the financial matters outstanding. The case of the Irish Free State delegation was presented from the historical, technical and legal point of view and was directed to three main issues.
First, they denied the validity of the Agreements from which result the payments claimed by us to be due.
16 Secondly, they asserted that no ultimate financial settlement between the two countries was ever made.
Thirdly, on this basis, they claimed that a new settlement should now be made covering all outstanding financial matters between the two Governments. In this connection they put forward claims not only in respect of pre-Treaty matters such as the alleged overtaxation of Ireland, since the Act of Union in 1801, to the extent of some hundreds of millions of pounds, but also in respect of matters arising since the Treaty, including an unspecified loss said to have been sustained by them in consequence of our departure from the Gold Standard last year.
There was a free and frank exchange of views, but we were unable to find that any new point was brought forward affecting the validity of the Agreements of 1923 and 1926. These Agreements were, in our opinion, made in complete good faith and have in fact been acted upon, up to this year, on both sides. We again expressed our readiness for arbitration on the legal issue; but this Mr. de Valera was unable to accept since he maintained his previous attitude towards an Empire Tribunal.
Basing ourselves on the view that the Agreements of 1923 and 1926 were, as I have said, made in complete good faith, and that the 1926 Agreement was intended, and stated in terms, to be the ultimate financial settlement, we obviously could not accept the claim of the Irish Free State that they were entitled to reopen that settlement unless some manifest injustice was disclosed in its terms. So far from that being the case the discussions confirmed our view that the settlement was advantageous to the Irish Free State.
We expressed the view that there was neither a legal nor a moral basis for the Irish Free State claim in respect of over-taxation in the past, and we supported this view by illustration and argument. Further, we made it clear that we could not accept for a moment the Irish Free State claims in respect of any matters arising subsequently to the Treaty and the Agreements.
It became plain, in these circumstances, that the continuance of the discussions could serve no useful purpose.
17 I ought in fairness to add, on behalf of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, that in agreeing to these negotiations we were actuated by a sincere desire to bring to an end this unhappy dispute. But it was obvious from the two days' discussions on Friday and Saturday last that the Irish Free State representatives had no intention of admitting either the validity or the justice of the previous Agreements.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
May I ask, for the purpose of clarity, if the division between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Irish Free State is still one as to the body which should arbitrate between them?
Not alone that. The importance of the question is such that the House will excuse nut for explaining, rather lengthily, the situation. The first difference with the Irish Free State was their intimation that they intended to ignore without consultation with us the Treaty with regard to the question of the Oath. The second issue was the withholding of the Land Annuities and other payments. On the second issue, which was financial, we intimated to them that we intended to be paid and that, if they did not pay what we believed was due to us, it would be necessary to take action. That action was taken by the imposition of the duties of which the House is now well aware. That is the financial difference, but the House must keep clearly in mind that behind the financial difficulties, and indeed equally important, if not more important than the financial difficulties, is the position of the Government, which is, that, unless people honour obligations entered into as these were, we cannot make agreements with people who expect to treat them in this way with impunity.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am very sorry, but the right hon. Gentleman has not dealt with my question. I understood from his statement that the conference took place on the question of the Annuities, and I want to ask whether His Majesty's Government are still willing that the matter of the Annuities shall be the subject of arbitration; and is it a fact that on the question—I am not asking now about the Oath or anything else—of the Annuities the difference between the Free State Government and our own Government is simply the form of the authority that is to arbitrate?
My right hon. Friend must understand that in addition to withholding the money due to us under the Land Annuities, the Irish Free State Government, since the Lana Annuities difficulty, has also withheld a number of other payments, the total amount being £5,750,000. All those moneys have not been paid, and the negotiations, at Mr. de Valera's request and not ours, were in order to discuss the whole financial situation. The difference at the moment on arbitration is that we offer arbitration with an Empire tribunal on the validity or otherwise of those agreements.
§ Mr. HANNON
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what is the amount of the pre-Treaty claim made by the representatives of the Irish Free State arising out of the taxation of Ireland under the Act of Union?
Their claim is within the region of £400,000,000, but it is only fair to say that we not only do not accept that figure, but that, if we were going into a discussion on that basis, there would he a lot to be said on the other side.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Does the right hon. Gentleman, on the basis of the statement which he has just read, think that the result of the most recent negotiations is to be a definite widening of the breach between this country and Ireland?
I do not know; I hope not. I should say that the Irish Free State representatives, while sticking very tenaciously to their point of view, would be in very much the same position as my hon. Friend who, holding strong views, urged those views, but, after having heard the other side, though he might not admit it, knew in his heart that there was something in it.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, since this claim has been received with such hilarity in the House, whether it is not based upon the statement of a. Royal Commission appointed by this country and largely constituted of British statesmen arid British, financiers that Ireland had been robbed for 120 years? Is that a historically recorded Parliamentary fact or is it not? Since the right hon. Gentleman has so largely generalised in this statement, I want him to tell me, and to tell the House, whether his declaration in regard 19 to bonds of honour and to treaty obligations is to be applied equally to Northern Ireland as well as to the Free State?
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, may I ask whether it is not the case that the Childers Commission which reported in 1893 based its report on totally fallacious statistical issues?
§ Mr. DEVLIN
You can ask Mr. Childers when you meet him. I put two precise questions to the right hon. Gentleman and I should like to have an answer to both.
My hon. Friend will, I hope, before the end of the week be able to see—they are to be published in the form of a White Paper—the exact claim and the grounds of the claim made by the Irish Free State and ourselves. By agreement on both sides, those documents will he published at the end of the week and will appear in the form of a White Paper.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
On a point of Order. The right hon. Gentleman dilated at length upon a bond of honour and upon the observance of obligations in a Treaty. If he is dealing with Ireland, I take it that the same moral principles apply to one part of the country as well as to the other, and I put the question to him whether those obligations must be borne by both parts—
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Mr. Speaker, with all respect., may I say that, when a Minister makes a declaration that the Free State must observe its obligations and fulfil its Treaty arrangements, I want to know whether this House is to demand that, equally, the other part of Ireland should 20 observe its obligations, because you are responsible to the same extent in dealing with it?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Have the Government discussed any other steps, or are they contemplating taking any other steps, than the imposition of the duties against the Free State? Further, was anything raised during the discussions by either side regarding the establishment of a Republic in Free State Ireland?
With regard to the first part of the question, the feeling and determination of His Majesty's Government is that we will take any step we feel necessary to give to the British people what we believe the British people are entitled to. With regard to the other part of the question, during the two days' discussion, obviously, there were issues raised apart from financial issues. All I would say upon that is that Mr. de Valera was quite consistent in maintaining, honestly and sincerely, what he believes to be the only real and permanent solution of Irish difficulties, namely, a united Irish Republic, with some sort of connection—I have never been able to define the sort—with the British Commonwealth.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
On a point of Order. This is a rather serious matter. Am I to understand your Ruling to be that we cannot discuss Northern Ireland in its relationship to the British Empire? It will be within the knowledge of a small section of this House, perhaps the only section that knows anything about Ireland, that this Parliament controls two-thirds of the revenue of Northern Ireland, that Northern Ireland has representation in this House; and, if Treaty obligations and honourable arrangements are not to be observed in Northern Ireland, am I to understand that it will not be within the power of a Member of this House to discuss it? It is your Ruling that I want on that point.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I gave no such Ruling. All I said was that the hon. Member must raise the point on the proper occasion, not on an occasion which specifically raises the question of Southern Ireland.