§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I should imagine that it would be necessary to go a very long way back in our Parliamentary history to find another occasion on which it has been possible for a Minister in the course of a single week to put forward for the approval of the House two agreements between this country and another country, each of which constitutes the termination of a long and painful difference. That is my lot this afternoon. Although the two agreements differ from one another in themselves and in the conditions in which they were concluded, in almost every other respect I think it may be said that both of them illustrate the fact that disputes, even when they have been carried on to an extreme limit of acrimonious discussion, nevertheless can be settled by peaceful discussion, provided only there is a spirit of accommodation and good will on both sides.
Before I come to any comments or explanations that I may wish to make about the Agreements I would like to say one or two words about the procedure. The Agreements, as is stated in the general Preamble, are subject to Parliamentary confirmation, and this Bill is designed to provide that confirmation and to do anything else that may be necessary to carry them into effect. If the Bill is carried we propose to ask the House to go into Committee on the Financial Resolution which is required for part of Clause 2. The Financial Resolution deals with two things: First of all with the disposal of a sum of £10,000,000 which is to be paid by the Government of Eire, and the method of disposal is dealt with in the Financial Memorandum accompanying the Bill; secondly, there is the transfer to the Consolidated Fund of certain charges in connection with the service of the land purchase scheme, which is dealt with in the Second Schedule to the Bill. There is also a Resolution which will be moved in Committee of Ways 1072 and Means covering Clause 3, Sub-section (4), which provides that Customs Duties may be levied in certain events which are specified therein.
I would like to give the House some idea of the general considerations which were present in the minds of the Government in conducting their discussions with Mr. de Valera and his colleagues and 1 think that the vast majority of the people of this country have regretted very deeply the long differences and disputes which have separated us from the people of what was formerly the Irish Free State. Those of us who can carry back our memories to the discussions on Home Rule in 1886 and 1893 remember the bitterness of the feelings which were aroused at that time and the devastating and disruptive effects which they had on English politics. Later on were the unhappy episodes which preceded and followed the Great War. When the Treaty of 1921 was signed many of us who accepted that treaty with some misgiving and reluctance nevertheless hoped that at any rate it had settled the Irish question. But those hopes were doomed to disappointment, and the withholding of the Land Annuities which were due under that agreement, and the changes in the Irish Constitution seemed to leave the Irish question as unsolved and insoluble as ever.
The conference which was held in 1932 between Mr. de Valera and some of his colleagues and British Ministers led to no result, and indeed it was not until the first Coal-Cattle Agreement was made that there seemed to be any approach towards more amicable relations. But in those circumstances my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions began very cautiously and carefully to prepare the way by establishing personal relations with the Irish High Commissioner, and later on with Mr. de Valera himself, and I have no hesitation in saying that we could never even have begun the conversations which have just terminated so successfully if it had not been for my right hon. Friend's inexhaustible patience and sympathy. At length the time arrived when it seemed possible to establish personal contacts with the Irish Ministers. We determined that we would make the scope of these discussions as wide as possible, because it was quite evident that if we could obtain anything in the nature of a general settlement that would justify concessions far more 1073 generous than we should have been able to submit to this House for approval if a more limited agreement had had to stand entirely upon its own merits.
In order to obtain a complete general settlement four subjects came up for review. The first was the question of partition; the second, of defence; the third, finance; and the fourth, trade. With regard to the first, the question of the ending of partiton, Mr. (le Valera and his colleagues attached to that subject primary importance, and they repeatedly told us that if that question could be settled to their satisfaction, as far as they were concerned the Irish question would be at an end. But on our side we took the view that the question of partition was not one for us; it was one which must be discussed between the Governments of Southern and Northern Ireland. Any question of our putting pressure on Northern Ireland to come into an arrangement did not commend itself to us; we could not even think of such a thing. But when we had made that perfectly plain, the subject of partition was laid aside, and we proceeded to the discussion of the other three subjects that I have mentioned. Those subjects we were able to agree upon, and they form the substance of the three Agreements, which are indeed separate Agreements but are linked together by a general Preamble saying that they are to be treated as one interconnected whole.
If I may take first the trade Agreement, I would say that it is an arrangement which can stand on its own bottom. It is one which may be considered to be equally beneficial to both parties. Broadly speaking, it provides that goods from Eire can be admitted to this country free of Customs Duty other than revenue duty and subject to certain quantitative regulations on agricultural produce. On the other hand the Government of Eire guarantees the continuance of free entry into Eire for United Kingdom goods which already enjoy entry free of duty. The Eire Government undertake to remove or reduce their duties upon certain other United Kingdom imports and to arrange for a review of the existing protective tariffs by the Prices Commission. The existing preferential margins are to be maintained, and a preference is assured for United Kingdom goods in any new duties or any adjustment of the duties which already exist. In case of any 1074 difficulty arising there is a provision for consultation between the two Governments.
I would just say a few words upon Clause 3, Sub-section (4), which requires a Resolution in Committee of Ways and Means. It will be seen that that Subsection has reference to Article 4, Subsection (3), on page 9 of the Agreement. Under that Sub-section in certain circumstances it is contemplated that the Government of the United Kingdom may impose such duties as may be necessary upon eggs and poultry exported from Eire to this country. There is no present power to impose such duties, and that is the reason why we have to include Sub-section (4) of Clause 3. As I have said, this Agreement carries its own justification with it, and it is not necessary, I think, for me at this stage to enter into any description of the details of a somewhat long and complicated arrangement, but I may say that we believe that this Agreement will stimulate the natural tendency of trade between the two countries, and I think that the coal-mining industry in particular will welcome the advantages that they may expect to obtain from it.
The Agreements on defence and finance are of a totally different character. It cannot be said that, on the face of them, either of them constitutes a good agreement for this country, because both of them make very large and impressive concessions to Eire without on the face of it any corresponding advantages. If you are to find those advantages, you must look outside the Agreements, and must seek them in those intangible, imponderable, but nevertheless invaluable fruits which have on various occasions in the past rewarded a liberal and unselfish act of generosity by a great and powerful country towards a State weaker and poorer than itself.
If you exclude the annual sum of £250,000 payable by the Government of Eire in respect of damage to property, the British claims against that Government amount, if they are capitalised, to over £100,000,000. It is quite true that the Government of Eire does not admit those claims; its view is that they are wrong in essence, that they ought never to have been made, and that they are not sustainable in equity. But the fact remains that the special duties which were imposed by this country in order 1075 to recoup us for the sums which were being, in our view, wrongfully withheld, have amounted to over £4,000,000 a year, and that in the absence of this Agreement, there appeared to be no reason why we should not continue to exact those duties. Under this Agreement we have wiped out the special duties, and we have withdrawn all our financial claims in return for a lump sum of £10,000,000. Nobody, I think, can deny that that is generous treatment. Nevertheless, I hope the House will agree that the Government was right to end this dispute even at that price, because, if we were ever to end it at all, some compromise was inevitable. The continued exaction of these duties from Eire was gradually impoverishing that country; it was gradually reducing its potential value as a customer of our own. And, finally, we surely should recollect that in this case we are dealing with no foreign country; we are dealing with a country which is a partner with us in the Empire, and we should deal with it, therefore, on terms of partnership rather than on terms of competitorship.
I pass to the Agreement on Defence. There was no part of our discussions with the Ministers from Eire which gave us occasion for more prolonged and more anxious thought than this subject of Defence. The request was made to us by those Ministers that we should hand back to the Government of Eire the full and unrestricted possession of certain ports, and that we should repeal certain Articles in the Treaty of 1921 which gave us rights in those ports. I think it will perhaps be for the convenience of the House if I read two Articles of the Treaty of 1921 which, if this Bill becomes law, will cease to have effect. They are Article 6 and Article 7. Article 6 reads as follows:Until an arrangement has been made between the British and Irish Governments whereby the Irish Free State undertakes her own coastal defence, the defence by sea of Great Britain and Ireland shall be undertaken by His Majesty's Imperial Forces; but this shall not prevent the construction or maintenance by the Government of the Irish Free State of such vessels as are necessary for the protection of the revenue or the fisheries. The foregoing provisions of this Article shall be reviewed at a conference of representatives of the British and Irish Governments to be held at the expiration of five years from the date 1076 hereof, with a view to the undertaking by Ireland of a share in her own coastal defence.
Article 7 says:
The Government of the Irish Free State shall afford to His Majesty's Imperial Forces (a) in time of peace, such harbour and other facilities as are indicated in the Annex hereto, or such other facilities as may from time to time be agreed between the British Government and the Government of the Irish Free State; and (b) in time of war or of strained relations with a foreign Power, such harbour and other facilities as the British Government may require for the purposes of such defence as aforesaid.
In the Annex the ports in question are specified as Berehaven, Queenstown and Lough Swilly, and in those ports the defences are to remain in charge of British care and maintenance parties. I think hon. Members will have appreciated that the really important part of those passages which I have read out refers to the right which is given to the British Government to have the use of those ports in time of war or of strained relations with a foreign Power. I believe that, at the time when the treaty was signed, great importance was attached to that particular provision. I do not by any means underrate its importance now, but I must point out to the House that when the treaty was signed that provision was based on the assumption of a friendly Ireland, and that, if you had an unfriendly Ireland, the situation would be completely changed, because you would have to send troops to Ireland then to protect your rights in the ports. We had to recognise in the discussions that we had a far better chance of having a friendly Ireland if we handed back those ports to them than if we were to insist upon treaty rights the effect of which would be to perpetuate a grievance in Ireland which constituted in their eyes an affront to their independence and self-respect. Nobody who knows anything of Ireland would underrate the genuineness and the seriousness of any feeling of that kind in the minds of the Irish people. I observe that Mr. de Valera, speaking in the Dail in support of this Agreement on 27th April, said:
The Articles of the 1921 Treaty that gave most offence, were these "—
that is to say, the two Articles I have just read—
because they meant that part of our territory was still in British occupation.
§ After most careful consideration of all the circumstances, and after due consultation with the Chiefs of Staff, we came to the conclusion that a friendly Ireland was worth far more to us both in peace and in war than these paper rights which could only be exercised at the risk of maintaining and perhaps increasing their sense of grievance; and so we have agreed that, subject to Parliamentary confirmation, these Articles shall be repealed, and that the ports shall be handed over unconditionally to the Government of Eire. We do that as an act of faith, firmly believing that that act will be appreciated by the people of Eire, and that it will conduce to good relations. I would remind hon. Members that again in the course of the speech to which I have referred Mr. de Valera repeated what he had said on more than one occasion before, namely, that the Eire Government would not permit Irish territory to be used as a base by any foreign Power for an attack upon this country. He further announced his intention to put those ports into a proper state of defence so that he could implement that assurance.
I think I need say no more upon the Agreements, but I would like to say one or two words about the position of Northern Ireland. I have already told the House that we declined altogether to discuss the question of partition, and the Government of Northern Ireland were of opinion that the other matters which were the subject of agreement were not within their competence. At the same time, they did make representations to us that it was possible that some provisions in our Agreement with Eire might materially and injuriously affect their economic interests in Northern Ireland, and they pressed us repeatedly to do all that we possibly could to safeguard those interests for them. We listened to what they had to say on that subject with very great sympathy. We were extremely anxious that Northern Ireland should not suffer In any way by an agreement which was made primarily to restore good relations between this country and Southern Ireland. We were able to meet in a very considerable degree the suggestions which they made to us, and the various concessions to which we agreed were recapitulated by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in a speech which he made in their Parliament. I would just like to read to hon. Members a short
passage from that speech which shows how the matter presents itself to Lord Craigavon at this juncture. He said:
I desire to avail myself of this, the earliest opportunity, to express my gratitude to the Government of the United Kingdom for their appreciation of the difficulties with which we were confronted and the readiness they evinced to meet our wishes in reaching a solution. I am happy in paying this tribute to their understanding and sympathy. Taking the long view, Ulster will greatly benefit, and her prospects in regard to rearmament work be very materially brightened.
§ That, I think, will commend itself to hon. Members as being a very satisfactory statement on the point from the point of view of Northern Ireland.
§ The Prime Minister
I would refer my hon. Friend to the statement made by Lord Craigavon, in which he detailed them, but I need hardly take up time in going through them now. They are fairly numerous.
§ Sir W. Davison
What will they cost the Exchequer of this country—the concessions which are made, and of which I entirely approve, to Northern Ireland?
§ The Prime Minister
I will ask my right hon. Friend to try and give to my hon. Friend the figures which he desires. Now I think I have concluded what I wished to say. I wish to commend this Bill to the House as opening a new chapter in the relations between Eire and ourselves. The members of my family have more than once in the past made an effort to improve those relations, and if I feel some confidence that the prospects of a settlement this time are more hopeful than they were before, it is because the conditions which accompanied our negotiations were themselves far more favourable than we have ever had the good fortune to meet on previous occasions. These discussions have been carried through in a spirit of accommodation and good will. I would like to pay my tribute to Mr. de Valera and his colleagues for the way in which they played their part in these discussions. We could not always agree with them, but we always felt that we had' before us men of sincerity who were genuinely anxious to meet us and to come to terms with us if they could. 1079 In spite of all the controversies of the past and all the heat that has been generated, this country and Eire cannot do without one another. Our natural interests and our geographical position inevitably tend to bring us together, and what has kept us apart has been, not a divergence of interests, but something which ought to be far less important, and that is a difference of opinion. Somebody sent me the other day a passage from John Selden's "Table Talk," written some 300 years ago, which perhaps the House will allow me to read, because, although it is quaintly expressed, it seems to have a bearing upon this subject. He writes:That was a good fancy of an old Platonic; that the gods, which are above men, had something whereof men did partake (an intellect knowledge), and the gods kept on their course quietly. The beasts, which are below men, had something whereof man did partake (sense and growth) and the beasts lived quietly in their way. But man had something in him whereof neither gods nor beasts did partake, which gave him all the trouble and made all the confusion we see in the world; and that is opinion.I hope that that difference of opinion with Eire is now at an end. I trust the House will give us this afternoon their unanimous support, and I would ask hon. Members to bear in mind that what we have done has obtained the warm approval, not only of many people in this country, but of others outside our shores, in the Dominions, in the United States of America, and indeed everywhere where men desire to see the establishment of peace and good will.
§ 4.35 P.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
The Prime Minister appeared to me to be making a very difficult speech on the Second Reading of this Bill, and, looking across the House, I came to the conclusion that his supporters were finding it equally difficult to listen to him. It must have been a most unpleasant speech for the Prime Minister, because he is Prime Minister of a party which has been compelled by circumstances to change its view and to reverse altogether its policy in regard to the relations between us and our neighbour country. I was surprised to hear some of the remarks of the Prime Minister, and I envied his courage. A leader must be bold, but when he stood there to claim credit for the spirit of accommodation 1080 with Ireland, my mind went back to what I had read and heard and witnessed in this House of the attitude of the party which he now leads. If there had been in this House 60, 50, 40, 30, or 20 years ago a desire to find accommodation with our neighbours across the Channel, much bitter history would have remained unwritten and much joy and satisfaction would have been found on both sides of the Channel. The Prime Minister added to my surprise when he came to describe the conditions under which the negotiations were carried on, and he rather, in my opinion, minimised the importance of one or two of those conditions.
I am not competent to speak with authority on some of these matters, because it really is a very difficult and dangerous thing to express views too dogmatically on some of the subjects of this Agreement, so I shall ask to be excused, as the Prime Minister asked to be excused, from dealing in close detail with some of the provisions of the Agreement, but the bill and the consequences of the Agreement will have to be met by this House and the people of this country in very close and stern detail indeed in the time that is ahead of us. The Prime Minister, dealing with finance, said that there were conditions in the relations between ourselves and Ireland which he described, I thought, very euphemistically, using three words—" intangible," "imponderable," and "invaluable." The attributes which he so described are vitally important, and if I were to criticise the Prime Minister and hon. Members on that side of the House, I would say that all along in their history in the political life of this country they have neglected those very attributes. They have given all consideration, undue consideration, to mere material things, and neglected entirely the things of the spirit, the things of character, individual and national, which weigh far more than all the other matters concerned.
I think it is true to say that this Agreement is welcomed in this country, but it is not the Government who ought to take credit for it. The Government and their supporters ought to have come down to the House to-day in sackcloth and ashes. They have spared themselves the indignity of an appearance in that guise, but we shall not forget what is their due 1081 in dealing with the subject of this recent Agreement. I think the Agreement is regarded by the people outside the House as an opportunity to make good, as far as we can, a series of errors on the part of His Majesty's Government. It deals with the results of the dispute in 1932 regarding the payment of the land purchase annuities, which are now dealt with in the Financial Agreement and the Trade Agreement which are before us.
I come very briefly to the first part of the Agreement, with which, I think, the Prime Minister dealt last, and that is the part which deals with the question of Defence. In this very short paragraph which refers to Articles in the Treaty of 1921, as the Prime Minister correctly informed us, vital questions of defence are involved which are not made the subject of examination or of statement in this first Agreement. Certain properties, it is said, and rights are to be transferred immediately to Eire.Thereafter the Government of the United Kingdom will transfer to the Government of Eire the Admiralty property and rights at Th-rehaven, and the harbour defences at Berehaven, Cobh (Queenstown) and Lough Swilly now occupied by care and maintenance parties, furnished by the United Kingdom, together with buildings, magazines, emplacements, instruments and fixed armaments with ammunition therefor at present at the said ports.The third paragraph says:The transfer will take place not later than the 31st December, 1938. In the meantime "—and this is where I would like to ask a q uestion—the detailed arrangements for the transfer will be the subject of discussion between the two Governments.I think we shall have to get much information on this part of the Agreement. Hon. Members in all parts of the House must be very anxious indeed. Nothing is said about the future use and maintenance of these harbours, and the House must realise that questions of strategy and the disposition of Naval and Air forces must arise. We would like to know—and I speak here as a man of no technical knowledge—something about the prospects of independent or joint action to secure safe and exclusive access to the narrow seas which surround these islands. I do not propose to examine in detail the points of this Agreement, but I am seriously concerned with the question of defence, and I am quite sure that everybody in the House wants to know far 1082 more than is contained in the terms of this Agreement about what is to happen after the terms, the very simple terms, of this Agreement have been fulfilled. The Agreement refers only to limited rights in these harbours, and the House desires further information; but leaving aside all technical considerations, I should like to believe that this part of the Agreement will help to establish such good will and confidence as will lead to a strengthening of the bonds between the Governments and the people of these two islands. It is far more important than are any minor constitutional details in these terms. In the long and unequal partnership between Britain and Ireland we have not always taken note of the rights and the proper susceptibilities of the Irish people, and we should now try to make accommodation as smoothly as possible.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), speaking of Ireland, I think, from this side of the House, once referred, in his own particular style of speech, to what he described as the geographical propinquity of the two countries. Mechanical progress has brought the two peoples more closely together. It is true, as the Prime Minister said, that the interests of the two peoples are identical. The natural products of the two countries and the industries of the two countries are complementary and supplementary, and there is no safety for either, no real prosperity for either, except in the development of mutual trust and good-will between them. Britain is the largest, indeed practically the only market for the food exports of Ireland, and we have everything to gain by the further development of close relations and co-operation between the two countries.
I come to the next part of the Agreement which deals mainly with practical measures for restoring trade and commerce facilities. Before I deal with those proposals I wish to refer to the financial agreement on page 4. The information given there is very scant, and much more needs to be said about this matter before the people of this country realise the fulness of the concession which we have made, in order to obtain this Agreement. The statement begins with a promise by the Government of Eire which looks very good—a promise to pay us —10,000,000 in final settlement of all financial claims 1083 of either of the two Governments against the other. There are various minor matters in paragraph 3 which do not amount to very much, and then it is provided that the two Governments are to abolish, from the date of the new trade Agreement, the duties imposed since 1932 in consequence of the dispute of that year.
I would like to compare the present position with the position in 1932. First of all, I would congratulate the Government of Eire on their successful bargaining with the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. I would also like to congratulate the right hon. Gentlemen who signed the Agreement on our behalf, on their graceful descent from the exalted and scornful attitude which they adopted six years ago. I am glad that this Agreement has come, even now. It is a good bargain for Eire, but what of us? I remember the right hon. Gentleman who was then Secretary of State for the Dominions speaking on the Second Reading of the Irish Free State Special Duties Bill and saying:The object of the Bill is to provide the amount of default; that is to say, whatever be the figure due to us for the Land Annuities or any subsequent figure which only a few days ago for the first time we heard was challenged, whatever may be the amount due under this legally and morally binding agreement, we intend by this Bill to recoup it if we can."— OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 5932; col. 528, Vol. 268.]The right hon. Gentleman was never more loudly cheered in this House than when he made that statement. Then, the Dominions Secretary was adamant, and he was urged on by hon. Members opposite, but there is no such vehemence in their demeanour to-day. Then they were loudly urging and prompting the Dominions Secretary and telling him not to weaken, not to give way, not to have any compromise or accommodation with the Government of the Irish Free State. A suggestion of arbitration by a tribunal was made. The then Dominions Secretary insisted upon a tribunal drawn from within the Empire. The Prime Minister of the Irish Free State submitted an alternative proposal which would not have restricted the tribunal to citizens of the States of the Commonwealth. That was the point of difference in those days. The then Dominions Secretary would not 1084 give any consideration to the Irish Free State proposals. He had no regard for the intangibles and the imponderables, for the invaluable qualities of friendship and loyalty which the Irish people possess, as has been proved, to a very large extent in the history of our own country time and time again. If we had won their friendship, as we might have won it, all that splendid devotion of Ireland would have been ours. His Majesty's Opposition in this House pressed for a settlement by arbitration of the dispute in 1932 but, as I say, the Government were not disposed to make any accommodation. Many truculent notes were heard in this House when the subject was discussed, and it was almost impossible on some occasions to hear the Dominions Secretary speak, owing to the loud applause which his more unconciliatory statements evoked.
§ Sir W. Davison
The objection then was to foreign arbitration. We were prepared to agree to arbitration within the Empire.
§ Mr. Grenfell
The objection was to any accommodation, and we are now asked to endorse the surrender of an enormous sum of money. The estimated value of the annuities in 1932 was £105,000,000 to which has to be added, according to the statement published then, excess stock to the amount of £21,000,000 and the Land Purchase Aid Fund of £15,250,000, representing a total of over £141,000,000. We are now to approve of a settlement of that for £10,000,000. What is the exact amount of our concession—of our loss in this transaction?
§ Sir Patrick Hannon
The hon. Member heard the Prime Minister say that account had to be taken of the amounts which were collected under the Special Duties.
§ Mr. Grenfell
The balance sheet is not yet completed, and I shall have something to say upon that question before I finish, but those of us who were in the House in 1932 recall the light-hearted way in which we entered into a trade war with Ireland. I remember viewing with dismay the spectacle of two neighbours sharpening weapons with which to commit economic suicide. That was what we did in 1932. We, on this side, said so as strongly and as clearly as we could and our words are on record. But the Opposition were unable to prevent the mad folly of 1932. The legislation which is now to be re- 1085 pealed was passed then by the docile majority which always fills the Government Lobbies at the crack of the whip. Complaints followed almost immediately. There were deputations representing the coal trade; there were protests in this House and requests for information. I pointed out how people had been thrown out of employment in South Wales, and how the coal exports to Ireland had fallen to 1,000,000 tons a year. At an f.o.b. price of 20s. a ton we were losing £1,000,000 a year, and it meant the unemployment of 5,000 workpeople, mainly in South Wales. The then Dominions Secretary became alarmed, when from Holyhead, Liverpool, Fishguard and South Wales reports came of the results of the ruinous policy of His Majesty's Government.
We were glad to learn early in 1935 that the coal-cattle agreement had been successfully negotiated. When the Prime Minister was referring to that agreement it occurred to me that our national life is largely a business of coal and cattle. That rough-and-ready description of the agreement made in 1935 indicates a large principle, and the relations between Ireland and Great Britain have been hanging since by that improvised agreement which is not even a treaty. The coal-cattle agreement illustrates how indispensable to South Wales is the demand for coal in Ireland and in countries which do not possess coal, and how dependent we are upon the food supplies which can be grown outside our own shores. The Dominions Secretary in 1935 said that the agreement would restore a demand for about 1,250,000 tons of coal from the Irish Free State. His estimate has been confirmed.
I have taken out the figures, and I am glad to note that the exports of coal to Ireland have been restored in quantity and are now 2i times greater than in 1934. In 1934 they fell below 1,000,000 tons from a normal figure of 2,500,000 tons. They have been restored to the latter figure by the coal-cattle agreement. But it has been a sad story. We lost more than £4,000,000 worth of coal orders during the four years from 1932 to 1935. We have been paying from the Treasury, to maintain the Land Purchase Fund, an average of £2,750,000 a year. We have been throttling industry and trade with Ireland in the interests of national prejudice and a mistaken national pride on 1086 the part of Members of this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "It sounds like sanctions."] It was a case of sanctions —against friends.
I wish to give some figures to show what the effect has been. Imports from the Irish Free State in the ten years 1923 to 1932 averaged £42,500,000 worth a year. In the five years 1933 to 1937, inclusive, that figure dropped to £19,000,000 or less than half. Exports from the United Kingdom to the Irish Free State, in the ten years 1923 to 1932, averaged £35,000,000, and in the five years 1933 to 1937 they averaged £20,000,000. There has been an average loss in trade, both ways, of no less than £38,500,000 a year —due to the perversity and folly of those who were in authority in this House in 1932. Ireland is now to give us £10,000,000 in settlement. We have forfeited £180,000,000 worth of trade with Ireland and we are now forfeiting another £100,000,000 in cash. I would like the House to realise that this gift is a gift from the British people. It is our people who will have to pay this £100,000,000. It is a generous act, but the burden has been transferred to our own people in this country. I am willing to make that concession, and I hope that Ireland will not scorn the gift. We would like to make them a present as well of this Government which has been responsible for all this trouble, but perhaps that would not be regarded as an act of good will.
This is not the occasion for merely party criticism of His Majesty's Government, but the delay in reaching agreement over the original cause of the dispute is inexcusable. There is no justification at all. The Prime Minister felt it all along when he was speaking. He knows it, and the House knows it. But we are not going to carry condemnation of the Government into the Lobby against this Agreement. We are glad they have reached an Agreement which, in the long run, will be in the interests of both countries. In these days of immense difficulties, when national pride has been stimulated unduly on the one hand, and on the other hand has been contemptuously trodden in the fire, we hope, by agreement and co-operation, to soften the asperities of national feeling, and so to improve relations between the peoples of the world, and especially those of the British Isles.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Sir David Reid
A great deal could be said in answer to the speech of the hon. Member who has just spoken, but it would only stir up feeling, and there is no need for it, so I will leave the hon. Member's speech alone. I would thank the Prime Minister for what he said about partition. I know that it is true, if I may say so with respect, that my right hon. Friend took up a definite stand on that question, and, on behalf of the people I represent, I thank him very much for it.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite when they talk about these matters seem to assume that we in Northern Ireland have a thorough dislike of the Free State. That is absolutely untrue. We have no desire to do them any harm; we would like to see them get on and prosper; but we have our own definite point of view. We are citizens of the British Empire; we are part of the United Kingdom. The inhabitants of Eire, to use the new name, take quite a different view. The Prime Minister, when he talked about Mr. de Valera's point of view, remarked that what they wanted was independence. What we want is to remain where we are in the United Kingdom. Mr. de Valera is not ready to accept that situation. Since the conclusion of this Agreement, Mr. de Valera has made a speech in Dublin in which he said that the Agreement had brought partition nearer to an end. That is what they call a satisfactory Agreement. I do not see that it does bring partition nearer to an end, but that speech of Mr. de Valera's has given rise to a great many rumours, not only in Ireland but in England. I was shown a letter on Monday which was written to a prominent person in Northern Ireland from a man holding a representative position in Dublin, who wanted to know whether there were any collateral arrangements or understandings which enabled Mr. de Valera to make that speech. I think my right hon. Friend who is to reply for the Government should give a categorical denial to the allegation that there are any understandings outside the Agreement.
§ The Prime Minister
I will give a categorical denial now. I notice that Mr. de Valera also denied it in his speech to the Dail to which I have already referred.
§ Sir D. Reid
I am sorry, but I cannot withdraw the statement that Mr. de Valera did make the observation to which I have referred.
§ The Prime Minister
I do not deny that. I simply say that there is nothing of the sort to which my hon. Friend has referred. Mr. de Valera said there was no secret understanding.
§ Sir D. Reid
I am obliged to the Prime Minister. This Agreement does mean a good deal of sacrifice to this country. The right hon. Gentleman to-day puts it at over £100,000,000. As to the forts, I have no technical knowledge, but I think the country should have some account of how the situation has changed since the Treaty was made. We know that in the last War those ports and harbours were used as bases for English warships, to protect our shipping off the coast of Ireland. Mr. de Valera intends to make Eire an independent State. If the position had remained as it was and the forts had not been surrendered, the use of them by the British Navy in time of war would not have compromised his neutrality. On the other hand, as they are in his possession, if he allows them to be used by the British Navy that surely makes him an ally at once. I think we are entitled to some explanation.
There are one or two details I would like to enter into, which will probably be elaborated by one or other of my colleagues who have more technical knowledge. The Prime Minister said that some of these matters were outside the purview of the Government of Northern Ireland. I do not want what I am going to say to be taken as criticism of my right hon. Friend's statement. Customs duties are a reserved service and can only be dealt with in this House; they cannot be dealt with at all by the Government of Northern Ireland. I do not think that the bargaining powers were used in a way quite fair to our people.
Schedule V of the Agreement contains a great many articles which are manufactured in Northern Ireland. One might have asked fairly that when the alterations of the duties were being made, we might have at least got back to the position we were in before the duties 1089 were put on. That we have not done. In a great many cases the duties are brought back to even less than what they were before, but, with regard to articles made in Northern Ireland, very few of them are reduced to the level of the pre-conflict period, and in many cases those duties remain prohibitive. I think that there we have good reason to make some complaint. Another point which the Prime Minister touched upon was the matter of orders for rearmament. I hope that in considering the placing of these orders the Government will take into account what Northern Ireland has lost, and will consider giving rearmament work in substitution for the work that has been lost.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham White
The Prime Minister poke truly when he opened his speech by saying that this Agreement would be received with relief and satisfaction by the great majority of the British people. It was no less true when he said that it would give satisfaction to the people in the Dominions and the United States of America. It may do something to make us stronger in certain quarters where the feeling between our country and Ireland has been a weakness in the past. I think the Prime Minister could make one other claim on behalf of this Agreement. In a world in which all relations between countries seem to be based upon force, it is an object lesson of great value to find that the processes of reason and common sense can still achieve satisfactory results. This treaty is not perfect. It is open to criticism. It is, however, a matter for satisfaction.
I would like—and I do not think that anybody has done it so far—to pay a tribute to the Prime Minister for the all-important part he has played, with Mr. de Valera, in carrying these transactions to a successful conclusion. I also wish to associate myself with the observations which fell from the lips of the Prime Minister with regard to the part played by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions. I do not know—I have no means of knowing —whether this Agreement was an easy one to achieve, but from my knowledge of some of the circumstances, I should say that it may not have been too easy. We have been reminded this afternoon of the circumstances and the state of feel- 1090 ing in 1932 with regard to the relations between England and Eire. I wonder whether there is an adjective governing the word "Eire." We have been listening to the Prime Minister and the hon. Member above the Gangway and the hon. Member for Down (Sir D. Reid) and I hoped that I should hear an adjective corresponding to the word "Eire." I do not know whether I should be in order if I said "Eirish." I will leave it at that.
We must remember, when we think of the situation in 1932, that bitterness was engendered by that dispute. [Interruption.] I was in the House at that time and I know the circumstances as well as anybody, and I do not need to be reminded of them. Since then we have had instances of the whittling away of the conditions of the Treaty of 1921, which have not improved matters. We know the feelings of the representatives of Eire with regard to Northern Ireland on the subject of partition, and their feeling with regard to the land annuities. For these reasons I should imagine that the Agreement was not one which was easy to conduct at all stages, and I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions by his perseverence, courtesy, tact and ability has played a considerable part in bringing the matter to a successful conclusion.
As to the observations which fell from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Down, whom we listen to with respect in this House, I do not, and cannot, express any opinion as to whether this Treaty is likely to bring the union of Ireland nearer or not. [An HON. MEMBER: No."] As far as I can see, it does nothing to hinder it. I think I can tell the hon. Gentleman when the union will take place. There can be no question of coercion. The Prime Minister has stated the position of that country in that matter, and I do not think anybody would raise his voice in opposition to what he said upon that point this afternoon. I would express the hope that that attitude will not arouse criticism in either quarter in Ireland. The union of Eire can be brought about in the passage of years, if ever, only when it is obvious to everyone concerned in both divisions of that country that it is to their common interests that it should take place. If any- 1091 body could give a more accurate forecast when Ireland is likely to be a united Ireland than that, I should be very glad to hear it.
I have said that the Treaty is open to criticism. If it were not it would be the only document of its kind which is not. It is very difficult not to be critical of the bargain. If the strict pound of flesh were adhered to, we might have expected to receive £100,000,000 and not have made a compromise by accepting a sum of £10,000,000 in cash, or cash in six months. We on these benches shall not quarrel with that decision. Transactions of that kind repay themselves. While the Prime Minister was speaking there came into my mind the decision of the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman with regard to South Africa. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the part which members of his family had taken in the past relationships of England with Ireland. There was one member of his family who was unable to agree with the decision of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, but, with that chivalry which distinguished him in all his pubic actions, later on he admitted that he was wrong. What we ought to consider this afternoon is that we are, as the Prime Minister said, opening a new chapter. This Treaty is not the final act. It is not an end in itself. Let us hope that, as the years go by, we shall be able to build upon it. We have done many strange things and there are many strange and anomalous circumstances in the British Dominions and in the British Constitution.
It is impossible to define the position of Eire within the British Empire with regard to its relations to the Dominions or to this country. It seems to be a policy of separation, plus partnership. If there are developments, built upon this Treaty with good will and determination, I think that the partnership may become much more important than separation. A partnership is a curious transaction in life. It cannot be carried on successfully by meticulous examination of the balance of losses and gains or by examination, either intermittent or constant, of the advantages to the parties of the transactions which arise within it. It can only be successful if the parties to it are determined to promote their common interests, and it is in that spirit that I hope we shall proceed.
1092 The main item of criticism which can be directed to this arrangement is the rendition of the three ports and the waiving of any limitations, as I understand it, on the rights of Eire to control and conduct her own coastal defences. That is a very important matter. The Prime Minister rightly drew attention to the possibilities of those ports in an Ireland which may be hostile. In another connection we have had our attention concentrated in this House upon the possibilities of Gibraltar, a vital strategic position on the mainland, the population of which might conceivably be hostile. There could be nothing worse or more fatal to treaty considerations and nothing more damaging to our strategic strength than that we should have in Ireland the possibility of three Gibraltars with a hostile population behind. The good will of Ireland is infinitely more important than any paper considerations to which we can possibly put our name or invite others to put their names. It is only a matter of common sense to suppose that the defences of Eire and our own defences will not be conducted in vacuo. We can only suppose that those who will henceforth be responsible for the conduct of these vital matters will take the opportunity of consultation with those who have had the responsibility in the past, and who in the natural order of things may have better knowledge, resources and information as to how they should be conducted.
One would hope that the consequences of this Treaty will clear the way for a comprehensive view to be taken of the defences of the two countries. It is obvious that in this matter the interests of the two countries are one. A threat to the liberty and freedom of this country is no less a threat to the liberty and freedom of Eire. In the nature of the case, that must be true. The history of Ireland proves that the Irish are quite willing to suffer, and they have in the past suffered as much, if not more than, any other people for what they believe to be their freedom and their liberty. Nor do I think that in the future they will be any the less jealous, keen or determined to defend their freedom because they have the sole responsibility for doing it. Therefore, I hope that the arrangement which has been made in this matter is one which will lead to strength in the future and not to weakness.
1093 The hon. Member for Down referred to the Schedules and made reference to some of the duties which he seemed to think were somewhat to the disadvantage of Northern Ireland. Looking at these Schedules and some of the items in them, notably linen, confectionery, cordage, woollen blankets, and things of that kind, I believe that he was right when he said that they had not been reduced to the position before the tariff war of 1932. Very few of them are free from tariffs now and some have very much higher duties than they had in those days. Although my knowledge is quite superficial, some of these items seem to be rather to the disadvantage of Northern Ireland, but, as I have said this Treaty is not the last word, and I hope that it will offer scope for revision and greater generosity as time goes on.
Members of the House may expect me, sitting where I do and with my record and that of my friends, to say something about the Ottawa Agreements. I do not regard this as an occasion upon which to revive the embers of those discussions. I will say no more about the Ottawa Agreements on this occasion than I shall say about the no doubt very important reservation with regard to dead guinea fowl in Article II. Given the fiscal system of the two countries—one takes that for granted—I believe that this is a commonsense Agreement. It might easily have been much worse and easily much better, but still it leaves the oportunity for revision and improvement as time goes on. I do not propose to follow altogether the line of my hon. Friend above the Gangway with regard to this Agreement. I think that from now on we can look to the future and think only of the past to learn what advantage, advice and guidance we may get from it. I think it was Leckie who said that it we made ourselves acquainted with the history of the past we should be less likely to make mistakes in the future. A study of the mistakes and misfortunes in our relations with the Irish in the last century would be an invaluable passport to successful relations in these days.
I have purposely avoided making any party point, but if I may speak, without being considered censorious or presumptuous, from the historical point of view, I would say that one of the greatest mistakes ever made by the Unionist party was their attitude towards Home Rule 1094 in the early days. I remember reading in one of Mr. Asquith's speeches a complaint, not that there was opposition, but as to the character of it. He said that it was always destructive in its objects and chaotic in its methods. Fortunately, those times have gone. We can turn to the future in the hope and belief that we can build upon the better feeling which now prevails under this Treaty and that if it is developed in the proper spirit it will open a new and a brighter chapter in the relations between this country and Eire.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
I could not reconcile it with my duty to the House, as a signatory to the Treaty, the broken Treaty, if I kept silent upon this Bill. However thankless the task may be, I feel bound to record the view which I have formed as the result of long and intimate contacts with Irish affairs. When I read this Agreement in the newspapers a week ago I was filled with surprise. On the face of it, it seemed to have given everything away and received nothing in return, except the payment of £10,000,000. Then I supposed there was another side to the Agreement, and that we were to be granted some facilities and rights in Southern Ireland in time of war. That, I notice, was the view taken by a part of the Press, but soon Mr. de Valera in the Dail made it clear that he was under no obligations of any kind and, as the Prime Minister confirmed this afternoon, there were no reservations on either side attached to this Agreement. On the contrary, Mr. de Valera has not even abandoned his claim for the incorporation of Ulster in the independent Republic that he has established. Indeed he said—I am not quoting his actual words—in his speech in the Dail that the ending of Partition will remain the main purpose of his life, and he believed that it would ultimately be found to be brought nearer by this Agreement.
It is very necessary to make some review of the past in order to see the setting in which these particular proposals lie. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we must look to the intangible and imponderable as the counterpoise of the great concessions which we have made under this Agreement. Let us look at that for a moment. We are told that we have ended the age- 1095 long quarrel between England and Ireland, but that is clearly not true, because Mr. de Valera has said that he will never rest until Partition is swept away. Therefore, the real conflict has yet to come, and nothing in the nature of a final settlement has been reached upon the most difficult point of all. We have been told, and I would not underrate it, that we are to have the precious atmosphere of good will and that the people of Southern Ireland will henceforward be friendly to us and will side with us in any trouble that arises. There is nothing new in that. At the beginning of the Great War the people of Ireland showed themselves very friendly to us and threw themselves most heartily into the defence of the common cause. Ireland was represented in the fullest manner in this House. Members were in the closest touch with their constituents and were united, I think unanimously, and the Irish Members, north and south, voted for the War, and not only for the War but for all the measures, severe as they were, that were necessary for sustaining it in its opening stages.
I remember well that Ireland was described at that time as the one bright spot in the world. Undoubtedly, we enjoyed the friendship and comradeship of the Irish nation at that time, and undoubtedly it was signified in the most formal manner by all their representatives, but that did not prevent the dark forces of the Irish underworld from trying to strike us in the back in the most critical and dangerous period of the struggle. [Interruption.] We must discuss these matters. After the War a painful conflict followed, in which we made a Treaty with those same forces, and of that Treaty I am one of the few remaining signatories. An Irish Parliament, freely assembled, accepted the Treaty by a majority. That Treaty has been kept in the letter and the spirit by Great Britain, but the Treaty has been violated and repudiated in every detail by Mr. de Valera, quite consistently, because he had already rebelled against his colleagues who had made the Treaty in his despite. He has repudiated, practically for all purposes, the Crown. He has repudiated appeal to the Privy Council. He has repudiated the financial arrangement. He claims to have set up an independent sovereign Republic for Ireland, and he avows his determination 1096 to have all Ireland subject to that independent Republic.
§ Mr. Churchill
His Majesty's Government, supported by the Conservative party and the Opposition party have now accepted Mr. de Valera's claim practically without challenge, except for the fact that they are not prepared to put pressure upon Ulster to make her leave the United Kingdom. No doubt they would defend Ulster with all their strength if she were violently attacked. All the rest of the contentions of Mr. de Valera are by this Agreement, it seems to me—I hope I may be corrected on the legal view—tacitly or directly accepted. I think that is a fair statement of the position.
I have for a great many years walked in step and in agreement with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the Irish question. I remember when I was conducting the Irish Free State Bill through this House the resolute support which he gave to that Government as a Private Member, speaking from below the Gangway, at the most painful and the most difficult part of that process, immediately after Sir Henry Wilson had been murdered close by this House, in Eaton Square. In 1925 we were both Members of the same Government, when Mr. Justice Feetham's Boundary Commission gave an award which deeply disappointed the Irish Ministers. On that occasion I made, as the hon. Member for County Down (Sir D. Reid) has mentioned, a substantial modification of the financial provisions, but I was not aware that it amounted to such a high figure as that he quoted, in order to make the position easier for the men with whom we had signed the Treaty, and who were so faithfully endeavouring to give effect to the Treaty.
Respect for treaties is a very important factor, and it cannot be treated as if it were a matter of no consequence. I remember very well that the Irish Government of those days described the arrangement which resulted from that concession not only as just but generous. When Mr. de Valera came to power against these men, in 1931, the National Government, of which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the mainspring—he did much the hardest part of the work —he did not hesitate, when Mr. de Valera 1097 repudiated the financial provisions, to impose retaliatory duties, which were so well conceived from this particular point of view that they had the effect of recovering for us practically the whole of what was our due, forcing Mr. de Valera to pay a large proportion of his obligations to this country by the roundabout but costly method of bounties upon exports. I was in agreement with my right hon. Friend on that matter.
The British Government, in the fairest manner, offered to submit the whole question of land purchase annuities and the general financial question to arbitration. Mr. de Valera was willing to agree to arbitration, but he insisted that there should be a foreigner upon the tribunal. But the British Government, to all intents and purposes the same Government as to-day, would not agree to anyone being on the tribunal who was not a subject of the King Emperor. I thought, and I still think, that the position taken up by my right hon. Friend and the Government was right, and it was steadfastly approved by this House. Now, all the difficulty about the tribunal has been removed, and removed by the simple process of complete surrender on our part of the whole case. We have given away our whole case in regard to the financial position, which was just and sound, and on which we relied; and we have given away our whole position on land annuities without arbitration of any kind, on account of a payment of £100,000,000, a derisory payment if it is to be regarded as a settlement of the sum in question. Practically, we have given away £,000,000, to which we had a valid claim. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer reminded us in his Budget speech, that action has imposed upon this country in this year of hard, onerous taxation, with great needs and burdens, over £4,000,000, which we shall have to meet this year and in the future.
What were these land annuities? They were not a tribute wrung by England from Ireland. They were the purchase price by which a peasant proprietor—a luxury which we have never been able to achieve in England—was established on Irish soil. Moreover, a large part of this £4,000,000 or £5,000, 000 which we received on this account went back to Ireland, and will go back for many years to come, in the shape of pensions which are paid by the British Exchequer, and are 1098 spent in Ireland. Therefore, I must say that I am puzzled, and I regret that the Government have abandoned our rights wholesale in this matter, and have departed entirely, without warning to Parliament, from the position which they had deliberately taken up with full assent both before the General Election and afterwards.
I confess that I was wholly unprepared to read in the newspapers that we have abandoned all our contentions about the repudiation of the Treaty, about the annuities, and, above all—and this is the subject which makes me feel compelled to speak—our contentions about the strategic ports. It is this issue of the strategic ports which makes me undertake the thankless task of bringing some of these matters very respectfully to the attention of the House. The ports in question, Queenstown, Berehaven and Lough Swilly, are to be handed over unconditionally, with no guarantees of any kind, as a gesture of our trust and good will, as the Prime Minister said, to the Government of the Irish Republic. When the Irish Treaty was being shaped in 1922 I was instructed by the Cabinet to prepare that part of the Agreement which dealt with strategic reservations. I negotiated' with Mr. Michael Collins, and I was advised by Admiral Beatty, who had behind him the whole staff of the Admiralty, which had just come out of the successful conduct of the Great War. Therefore, we had high authority in prescribing the indispensable minimum of reservations for strategic security.
The Admiralty of those days assured me that without the use of these ports it would be very difficult, perhaps almost impossible, to feed this Island in time of war. Queenstown and Berehaven shelter the flotillas which keep clear the approaches to the Bristol and English Channels, and Lough Swilly is the base from which the access to the Mersey and the Clyde is covered. In a war against an enemy possessing a numerous and powerful fleet of submarines these are the essential bases from which the whole operation of hunting submarines and protecting incoming convoys is conducted. I am very sorry to have to strike a jarring note this afternoon, but all opinions should be heard and put on record. If we are denied the use of Lough Swilly and have to work from Lamlash, we 1099 should strike 200 miles from the effective radius of our flotillas, out and home; and if we are denied Berehaven and Queenstown, and have to work from Pembroke Dock, we should strike 400 miles from their effective radius out and home. These ports are, in fact, the sentinel towers of the western approaches, by which the 45,000,000 people in this Island so enormously depend on foreign food for their daily bread, and by which they can carry on their trade, which is equally important to their existence.
In 1922 the Irish delegates made no difficulty about this. They saw that it was vital to our safety that we should be able to use these ports and, therefore, the matter passed into the structure of the Treaty without any serious controversy‥Now we are to give them up, unconditionally, to an Irish Government led by men—I do not want to use hard words—whose rise to power has been proportionate to the animosity with which they have acted against this country, no doubt in pursuance of their own patriotic impulses, and whose present position in power is based upon the violation of solemn Treaty engagements. I read in the "Times" that:.The Agreement on defence…releases the Government of the United Kingdom from the articles of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 by which they assumed the onerous and delicate task of defending the fortified harbours of Cork, Berehaven and Lough Swilly in the event of war.That is the way it is put—we are released from these burdens. I dare say you could make arrangements with many countries to release us from a great many burdens of a similar kind. I am not going to trespass on controversial grounds by reciting some of the countries who would be willing to release you from some of your difficult and delicate obligations of defending ports of the British Empire in time of war. We are to sacrifice £4,000,000 revenue because this tiresome business of defence is taken out of our hands; we are released from the necessity of defending these ports. It is quite true that the Prime Minister has read out the clauses which are to be repealed in the Irish Free State Act. It is quite true that we spoke in those clauses of the coastal defence of Ireland. That was polite. It was felt by both sides that it was better to put it that way. But 1100 these are not ports which are part of the coastal defences of Ireland; they are the life defences of the crowded population of England. Incidentally, the possession of these ports by a superior British Navy enables us to give protection to Ireland against invasion from overseas, protection to their shipping and trade, and general protection except from the air. But the primary purpose of holding these ports is the defence of Britain.
In all my experience nothing has surprised more than that I should have to stand here to-day and plead this argument against a National Government and the Conservative party. Well was it said that "the vicissitudes of politics are inexhaustible." We have been told that this was settled after consultation with the Chiefs of Staff. If it is true that they have recommended this course as being free from danger, that they have raised no serious objection, then I must say that they are advising contrary to the whole weight of the expert opinion placed before the Government which made the Irish Free State Treaty. We do not know, of course, how the questions were put to these experts, and it is evident that in these matters politics and Defence are inextricably mingled together. Of course, if we accept the basis that we are to have a friendly Ireland and that the ports will be in trustworthy and competent hands, then the argument falls to the ground, but to say that is to beg the whole question in dispute. What grounds have we of experience for assuming that all will be well in the future? We are conceding rights, and we have no guarantees at all except the hope and assertion that they will be replaced by good-will. Obviously, if these ports, or any part of Ireland, fell into the hands of an enemy Power, or if Southern Ireland became herself an enemy Power, then the matter would pass into the region of force, and if we possessed superior forces we should be able to rectify the situation.
I am not going to argue, although it should not be excluded, that these ports will fall into the hands of an enemy Power. There is a great deal of substance in Mr. de Valera's declaration that the Irish would resent the landing of any foreign Power upon their shores, and that their main desire would be to rid their country from such an intrusion. But it seems to me that the danger which has to be considered, and which ought not 1101 to be excluded, is that Ireland might be neutral. I have not been able to form a clear opinion of the exact juridical position of the Government of that portion of Ireland called Southern Ireland, which is now called Eire. That is a word which really has no application at the present time, and I must say, even from the point of view of the ordinary uses of English, that it is not customary to quote a term in a foreign language, a capital town, a geographical place, when there exists a perfectly well-known English equivalent. It is usual to say "Paris" —not "Paree."
But what guarantee have you that Southern Ireland, or the Irish Republic as they claim to be—and you do not contradict them—will not declare neutrality if we are engaged in war with some powerful nation? The first step certainly which such an enemy might take would be to offer complete immunity of every kind to Southern Ireland if she would remain neutral. What answer will Mr. de Valera or his successors—the world does not end with the life of any man—what answer will Mr. de Valera give? He may say, of course, "I will stand by your side." That is what we all hope. But he may also say, "I will be neutral." There is a third course, and this is one to which I want to draw the attention of the House. He might say, "Restore the integrity of our country, give me the whole of Ireland, and then I will throw in my lot with you, and make common cause with you." That is a serious contingency ahead in the future. We can see it, because there it is, and it may be that is what he meant when he said that this Agreement would ultimately further the ending of Partition.
The Ministers of the Crown have established pleasant relations with Mr. de Valera. I understand that his view—a characteristically Irish view—stripped of its substratum of truth, is that the only way to unite the two islands is to dissolve every possible connection between them. Ministers have certainly formed the impression, and, after all, they have had the advantage of close contact with him, that if they trust him he will see them through. But he has made no promise of this kind; he has given no guarantees, and every act of his life points in the contrary direction. Under this Agreement, it seems to me more than 1102 probable—at any rate it is a contingency which we cannot exclude—that Mr. de Valera's Government will at some supreme moment of emergency demand the surrender of Ulster as an alternative to declaring neutrality. He has made no promises, and even if he had I do not think we should have conceded our rights without some protection.
You may say that he is a man of his word. You could certainly say that of Mr. Michael Collins, who died for it. You could say it of Mr. Kevin O'Higgins, who died for his word, and of Mr. Arthur Griffiths. I do not know whether he died in consequence of the Treaty, but he died because of his exertions to carry out what he had promised. And then there is Mr. Cosgrave and his colleagues. They have lost all their power in their own country in an effort to make good their undertakings to Great Britain, and they are now utterly stultified by the fact that we have abandoned every point which they regarded as in honour bound to maintain unless we released them from them. That was the time, if you were going to make these concessions. If they were possible and agreeable to our safety, then we had the men who had actually signed the Treaty, and who were out vehemently to sustain the Treaty. This would have made their part easy. As it is, it has only set a premium on all those who come forward in Ireland to break engagements with the British Government and to overturn the men who are faithfully adhering to solemnly-contracted pledges.
§ Mr. Churchill
Naturally, he did. I am sure he would. I admire very much the immediate manner in which he welcomed the great concessions which have been made to his country; but, as I say, I only wish that if they were to be made, they had been made to those who kept faith with us. None the less, the fact remains that in Irish history Mr. Cosgrave, his party and his friends will always be considered to have taken a poorer view of Ireland's chances than Mr. de Valera, and Mr. de Valera to have been the one who gained them the great advantages they got. That is a hard burden to impose in history upon men who faithfully adhere to solemnly-contracted treaties. Mr. de Valera has given no undertaking, except to fight against partition as the 1103 main object of his life. But behind and beneath him there are other forces in Ireland. The dark forces in Ireland renew themselves from year to year. When some are conciliated, other present themselves. They are very powerful in Ireland now. No one has ever been brought to justice in Ireland since the Treaty for murdering an Englishman. There is a whole organisation of secret men bound together on the old principle that England's danger is Ireland's opportunity. Even Mr. de Valera, while gaining these astonishing triumphs over what these persons regard as their hereditary foe, is only with difficulty holding these forces in check and in suspense. Let him proclaim a friendly policy towards England—
§ Mr. Churchill
—and you will find that they will immediately grow in force and become the party in the ascendant. Let him ask these people to expose Ireland to the great tribulations of war for the sake of England, and see what they will do. It seems to me that you cannot exclude this possibility of neutrality as being one which may well come within the immediate sphere of our experience. Therefore, I say that the ports may be denied to us in the hour of need and we may be hampered in the gravest manner in protecting the British population from privation, and even starvation. Who would wish to put his head in such a noose? Is there any other country in the modern world where such a step would even have been contemplated? Let me say this—and I hope it will not give offence—can anyone remember any other House of Commons where such proposals would have gone through in this easy manner? No doubt hon. Members will speak about the Dominions. No doubt I shall be told about South Africa, Canada and Australia. The case of Ireland is not comparable with the Dominions. Southern Ireland is not a Dominion; it has never accepted that position. It is a State based upon a Treaty, which Treaty has been completely demolished. Southern Ireland, therefore, becomes a State which is an undefined and unclassified anomaly. No one knows what its juridical and international rights and status are. The Dominions are far away. We could guarantee their immunity from attack 1104 with our Fleet. The Dominions are loyal. Great as would be their loss, still I cannot feel that it would necessarily be fatal to us if, during the course of a war, there was a declaration of neutrality by one or other of the Dominions. But here the danger is at our very door. Without the use of these Treaty ports, even if their use were also withheld from an enemy, we should find the greatest difficulty in conducting our supply.
I wish it were possible, even at this stage to postpone the passage of the Bill —I put it to the Prime Minister, if I may, even at this stage—until some further arrangement could be made about the Treaty ports, or some more general arrangement could be made about common action and Defence. Would it not be far better to give up the £10,000,000. and acquire the legal right, be it only on a lease granted by treaty, to use these harbours when necessary? Surely, there should be some right retained. The garrisons, of course, are at present only small ones, little more than care and maintenance parties. It would be a serious step for a Dublin Government to attack these forts while they are in our possession and while we have the right to occupy them. It would be an easy step for a Dublin Government to deny their use to us. The cannon are there, the mines will be there. But more important for this purpose, the juridical right will be there. We are going away, we are giving up these ports, and giving to this other Government the right as well as the power to forbid our re-entry. You had the rights. You have ceded them. You hope in their place to have good will, strong enough to endure tribulation for your sake. Suppose you have it not. It will be no use saying, "Then we will retake the ports." You will have no right to do so. To violate Irish neutrality should it be declared at the moment of a great war may put you out of court in the opinion of the world, and may vitiate the cause by which you may be involved in war. If ever we have to fight again, we shall be fighting in the name of law, of respect for the rights of small countries—Belgium, for instance—
§ Mr. Churchill
We shall be fighting, if we ever should have that great calamity 1105 thrust upon us, upon the basis and within the ambit of the Covenant of the League of Nations.
§ Mr. Churchill
I never said anything against the Covenant of the League of Nations. I have no doubt hon. Members opposite would like very much to make that an issue between the two parties, but I hope and trust they will not succeed in that respect. When we are proceeding, as we should be in such unhappy circumstances, upon the basis of law and equity, how could we justify ourselves if we began by violating the neutrality of what the world will regard, and what we are teaching the world to regard, as the Independent Irish Republic? At the moment when the good will of the United States in matters of blockade and supply might be of the highest possible consequence, you might be forced to take violent action against all law and accepted usage, or alternatively you might be forced to sacrifice Ulster, or, in the third place, do without the use of these almost vitally important strategic ports. What is it all being done for? What are the new facts which have led to this sudden departure? To me, it is incomprehensible. To the world, to all the hungry aggressive nations, it will be taken as another sign that Britain has only to be pressed and worried long enough, and hard enough, for her to give way. If that is so, by that very fact you will bring the possibility of war nearer and you will lessen your resources for dealing with that danger. You are inviting demands from every quarter. You are casting away real and important means of security and survival for vain shadows and for ease. I have felt it my bounden duty to place these warnings and counsels, which I offer in all sincerity, before the House this afternoon.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Amery
We have just listened to a speech of great power and of unanswerable logic. Whether my right hon. Friend, if he had been in a position of greater responsibility, would have regarded that same speech as an act of statesmanship, I am not so sure. His speech, in its earlier part, certainly disposed very effectively of the somewhat ungracious speech in which the representative of the Opposition answered the Prime Minister. But it disposed of a good 1106 deal more. I have never in this House heard a speech which was a more effective reply to those eloquent speeches with which my right hon. Friend, 15 years ago, persuaded this House to accept the Irish Treaty. It was in tone and substance a speech which even earlier many of us, then opposed to him, delivered with complete conviction, and I think then with unanswerable logic, against the first step of any scheme of Home Rule. Speaking for myself, I was a convinced, an out-and-out Unionist before the War. I was one of those who believed, and still believe, with Carlyle, that these two Islands are essentially "one on God's ground plan of the universe." I believed up to the last that a more consistent, more courageous, and also more generous policy might yet have made good the Union and made the peoples of these islands essentially one State and one nation.
That policy met its end when the Irish Treaty was signed, and a State independent in substance, whatever you may say about the details, was set up for the greater part of Ireland. Once that was done, there were two alternative courses for us to pursue. The one was to believe that, at an unfortunate moment, we had set up a State inevitably, by its whole character and temper, destined to be an enemy. In that case, it was essential for us to stick to every power that the Treaty had given us and to the letter of every right, to sacrifice no foothold, however small, within that enemy country that we might cling on to, and at the same time, through the use of the great economic power of this country, to see what we could do to keep that small country crippled and weak. There was the other policy, and for my part, however much I was opposed to the negotiations which led up to the Treaty, it was the policy which I, at any rate, was convinced was the right one from that moment. It was to accept what we had done wholeheartedly, to accept it not only in the letter but in the spirit, and to treat accordingly the new Irish State—and not only the first Government when it came into power, but whatever Government might come into power afterwards. After all, they were all at one time or other "dark and subterranean forces." In my belief the only policy was to treat them exactly like any other Dominion, with the same complete con- 1107 fidence and readiness to recognise that their status was not merely dependent upon the letter of the Treaty, but must accompany the growing status of the Dominions whatever form it may have. I welcomed the application of the Statute of Westminster to Ireland and every subsequent development of the constitutional position.
With regard to annuities, my right hon. Friend is perfectly right. They were an act of great generosity by which the people of this country lent their credit in order to put the peasants of Ireland on their own land. Now we are asked to find not only the credit but practically the whole of the actual cost. Of course we were in the right, and I think the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) was ungracious when he took the view that everything we had done with regard to that dispute was a mistake. I believe we were perfectly right in that dispute. I believe also that we are right to-day in putting an end to it. As to the ports, of course they have their strategic importance. Only I believe it is a small thing compared with the strategic value of a friendly Ireland. If the question whether Eire is going to live up to the spirit of this settlement is begging the whole question, then we begged the question far more irrevocably when we endorsed the Irish Treaty. That was the time when we begged the question. I believe that to-day, in spite of much that has been discouraging, we are still right in acting as a great nation towards a small one, whom we at any rate regard as a partner in the British Commonwealth of Nations, and whom we still hope to see in the fullest sense some day a partner, acting with the very maximum of forbearance and generosity.
We may be proved wrong in the end. If we are, the circumstances of the time may decide what policy we should then adopt. Meanwhile I do believe that, having put our signature 15 years or more ago to that Treaty, the only thing is to follow that policy with some consistency of spirit with regard to it, and to go on in faith endeavouring to heal the wound which has festered through the ages. It will not heal lightly. No one can expect that the result of this Agreement will be to make Mr. de Valera drape himself in a large Union Jack or will prevent many 1108 things still being done for a good many years ahead from which we on this side may differ and which we may not welcome. All the same, I believe that this act of faith, as the Prime Minister described it, may be justified by the result. If so, it was well worth doing. After all, this is not the first act of faith in the history of a great nation. The British Empire has been built up on successive acts of faith, and we are, I believe, strong enough and great enough to run some risks for the sake of a larger and more generous object.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Logan
On this auspicious occasion I shall say nothing which will inflame the minds of those who have strong feelings with regard to the Irish position. I listened to the words that dropped from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), and, knowing how anxious he was to find a solution of the Irish question and remembering that he was one of the signatories to the Treaty, I realise the great work of faith he did on that day in the history of the Irish people. I do not regard as too great any sacrifice that may be made by the British House of Commons, with all its prestige, to bring unity to a nation or to strengthen the bonds of good will which are now so essential in a world which is mad. If the British Government are able to achieve by conciliation the strengthening of the bonds of friendship and good will with a nation, it can never be held against the nation that has been the benefactor if the other nation should be an apostate in regard to such an agreement. Therefore, the act of Judas, if it ever should come, will never be that of the British nation. Let us face facts as we find them. One would think, moving about in the world, that there is enmity everywhere. We find strategy and intrigue on every hand. The peace of Europe to-day is in danger and we find manipulation wherever we look.
Can there be anything more essential to the welfare of the British nation than the promotion of sincere friendship and the giving of the hand of fellowship to the Irish people? The right hon. Member for Epping pointed out the dangers, from a strategic point of view, in regard to the three ports. I agree that there is danger, but if I understand the situation of Europe aright there is greater danger 1109 in not grasping the opportunity that presents itself to make friends with and to seek the good will of one who admittedly was an enemy of the British people—because of what? Because he proclaimed day by day and year by year that the only objective of the Irish people was an Irish nation. Is it foreign to the aspirations of Irishmen that that aim should be deep down in his heart, the centre of his life, and that it should be the ambition of a race of people which is rich in culture and which has given a civilisation to Europe? We are living in an age when good will and friendship are better than national quarrelsomeness. I am one of those who are willing to forget the history of the past, for I believe that the welfare of this land and this Empire depends upon friendly relations with a united Ireland. I am convinced that when our Ministers went to this conference they did not go with any desire to give anything away. They went with a desire—and I give them full marks for it—to end the difficulties of the past. I am as convinced now as I have been ever since 1885, when I first began to light for the Irish movement, that in the system of a national Ireland will be found the solution for the British Empire. That, however, is not the problem with which we are dealing to-day.
We are dealing with a gracious act of His Majesty's Government, with a question of conciliation, with all its problems and intricacies, which depends on the good faith—of whom? We are told of the patriotism of Arthur Griffiths and the marvellous patriotism of Collins. We have had to dispense with the Cosgrave Government and have brought into the field of practical politics a new leader of the Irish people who, from the point of view of bargaining and of representing the view of the Irish people, stands to-day as the spokesman of Eire. We find to-day British statesmen meeting in a conciliatory mood and talking over the difficulties. If it were good enough in the ratification of the Treaty to accept the word of Cosgrave after the patriotism and bloodshed of the past in that great and gallant struggle, then to-day it is equally good for the British Parliament to accept the word of de Valera as the representative of the Irish people.
I am fully aware of the Irish and English difficulties that we have had in the past. I have lived through them. I 1110 have fought in all the fights that have gone on since 1885, believing that some day the British Government would have the common sense to recognise how valuable it is to us throughout the world to have the good will of the Irish race. I say with all due respect to Northern Irishmen that I live in hope that some day the people of Ireland will have a common name and that they will rise en masse to the words of de Valera that Ireland will be no base for a foreign Power and that he will allow no one to strike through the Irish nation at the heart of Britain. When de Valera speaks responsible words he has the backing of the Irish people. Cosgrave is in agreement with this arrangement. If this conference had taken place six or seven years ago we might have had a better position, but let the past bury the past. Let us deal with the actual position and let the House of Commons rise to the occasion that presents itself.
Let us forget the parts that both nations have played in the battle that has gone on in the past. Let us give the Irish people a knowledge of the good will that we bear to them and tell them that on the bond of an honourable man we are willing to accept their word. If by any chance he should not carry out his purpose, is the British Army and Navy so weak? If we have to make terms with Mussolini and Hitler, surely over the sea there is not a danger that the British House of Commons need be afraid of. I am more concerned with the good will of my fellow countrymen, and I want them to recognise that if we lose our liberty then all will be lost. I believe that if this generous gift be given with good will, honesty and sincerity, Irishmen, who are men of good sense, will respond to the occasion, and I am living in hope that in their amalgam with the English, Scottish and Welsh races the Irish people will be found standing in the forefront in defence of liberty. Let us give to the Irish people, without any ambiguity and without raking up the past, what they have deserved, and that is that this Agreement shall be carried out in all sincerity, leaving it to the Irish race, north, south, east and west, to work out their freedom, for I believe it can be found only in "Ireland a nation again."
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerset
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) will 1111 agree that even in Ulster we have people who are as fond of Ireland and as proud of being Irish as they are in the South. We are discussing this evening this new Agreement with the British Government. I am one of those who consider that the Government have gone much too far. They have given all this money and what have they got in return? They have got one sure thing, and that is, they have sent Mr. de Valera back to Dublin with an opportunity to make the statement that he would never be satisfied until they had done with partition. We in the North of Ireland are equally proud of our Irish birthplace, but we contend that what we have we hold. Our difficulty is that various Members on the other side have said at different times that the time for "Ireland a nation" would come when England was again in difficulties. We in Northern Ireland do not want to see England in difficulties, and we are prepared to the last man to support her if the need should ever arise; but we hate to be in the perpetual state of wondering what is going to happen next. It seems that Mr. de Valera can come here and get anything he wants, and before this House and the country know where they are there will be the demand that we in Ulster should be given over to a united Ireland.
The Free State—I still call it that—has promised that there will be some concession in regard to tariffs, but on looking at Article 8 I see that the statement is:The Government of Eire undertake that a review shall be made as soon as practicable by the Prices Commission of existing protective duties and other import restrictions.I would point out that this Commission sit in Dublin, and that when going into the question of tariffs they will not be thinking of what will affect the whole of the people. We are letting their goods come into Northern Ireland free, while they are in a position to put a tariff upon anything which we send to them. I would mention in this connection one or two facts concerning the textile trade, in which I happen to be interested. In 1929 we exported to the Free State £51,000 worth of linen handkerchiefs. In 1936 that had dropped to £12,000. A 60 per cent. duty was put upon those goods. The position is to be reviewed, but there are certain provisos attaching 1112 to the matter, and under the terms of this Article nothing in the nature of a final settlement is certain.
One of the things which we in Northern Ireland do not like is the reference to "the British Government" in this Bill. If we look at the other Agreements we find the definite reference to "the Government of His Majesty the King." I wonder whether there is any reason for the change, whether the Government of this country intend to lay into the hands of the Free State in regard to that matter. Are they to be regarded as no longer members of the Commonwealth of Nations and under the British flag? We in the North of Ireland are very loyal to this country, loyal to our party and loyal to the Government, and we support them in every possible way, and we feel that in this matter our interests are being weakened. We fear that some effort may be made to dislodge us from our position, but I would tell the House, and everyone in it, that under no circumstances will we in the North of Ireland be forced to join with the State of Eire.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Colonel Gretton
We have been associated for many years past, unfortunately, with these Irish troubles, and I am only too sorry to find that on this occasion the course of events has led to developments which I and my friends foresaw as possibilities in the years gone by. We are making here another great concession to an Irish statesman and an Irish Government established in Dublin, to the accompaniment of the usual statements that it is to be a final settlement, and that we are going to get the good-will, the cooperation, the friendship and the love of the Irish people. As the time of the last Treaty we were assured by the then Government, presided over by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), that that was a final solution of all our troubles, and when I ventured to ask in the Debate how conditions could change so utterly from those which had been described in recent speeches he was not able to say. We are told by the Prime Minister that we have got nothing except what is set down on the paper before us—no understanding, no undertaking as to good will and cooperation, merely the bare words, and as the bare words stand it is a very poor business arrangement.
1113 I do not want to complain, but I think it is necessary to explain what is really intended in this financial arrangement. It has already been stated that the land annuities were provided for by the issue of stock in the London money market tinder the guarantee of the British Government. The proceeds of that issue were used to enable the Irish peasantry to purchase their holdings by paying rent, generally a rent less than that which had been fixed by the land courts, in that way enabling them, in sixty years in some cases and a lesser period in other cases, to become proprietors of their holdings. From the day when they took over those holdings they became, in effect, proprietors. They had a right of sale subject to the annual charges. It was not a loan advanced by the British taxpayers, it was money raised upon the open market and advanced under the,guarantee of the British Government. When Mr. de Valera came into power in 1932 he repudiated all these payments to the British Government, but it has not been stated in the House to-night, though it is a fact, that he did not by a stroke of the pen cancel all the payments due from the peasant occupiers. He and his Government did their best to collect those annuities to the last penny, but withheld handing over the money due to the British Government. That imposed a heavy burden upon the British taxpayers.
It has been stated that the obligation under this heading amounted to £3,000,000 a year. Duties were then imposed by this House, during the time when the late Member for Derby, Mr. J. H. Thomas, was at the Dominions Office, by which a considerable amount of that loss was, in fact, recovered. The Additional Import Duties were first charged in 1932, and in that year they yielded £2,500,000; in the next year, £4,500,000; in the year following £4,600,000, in 1935–36, £5,400,000, and this year, it is estimated, they might yield £4,107,000, owing, of course, to what has been called the coal and cattle agreement. What is now happening is that the British taxpayer is being burdened with a payment of that amount for a series of years until the obligations have been extinguished according to the terms on which the stock was issued.
That is not the only amount which is involved under this Treaty. In addition 1114 to the land purchase annuities there is the item of interest and sinking fund on the Excess Stock loan, £134,500. Then there is an obligation for the repayment of local loans under an agreement made by the Irish Government in 1926 when the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was Chancellor of the Exchequer, amounting to £906,000. Then there are the pensions to the Royal Irish Constabulary, nearly £1,250,000; and the repayments in respect of civil pensions, £133,000. The total amount for which the British taxpayer is to be made responsible for a period of something like 30 years is upwards of £5,000,000. I suggest that we ought to get a very considerable consideration for those enormous concessions. As it is, it is a bad business bargain which cannot be defended on any financial ground.
There is also the Trade Agreement. On that I will express no opinion, and for this reason, that there are many other hon. Members who are more competent to speak about it than I am. It is the general impression outside and among many Members in the House that the Trade Agreement is a coal and food agreement. The coal agreement was unnecessary. The Irish people and the Irish Government made every possible effort to use coal obtained from other sources than South Wales or Cumberland or any other part of this country. They tried Polish coal, German coal and other coal, but they found they were burning coal which was unsatisfactory and which, from the point of view of its heating qualities, was much dearer than British coal. They were buying British coal before there was any Agreement. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) admitted, in the course of the speech which he made, that that was the case.
As to the food agreement, we must face that and give it its full value. It is undoubtedly essential that in this country we should have the advantage of the largest reserve of food supply. Southern Ireland is an agricultural country, and always has been, and it is well that Eire and her population, as well as the people of this country, should have the resources of Southern Ireland to draw upon in case of emergency, or in any other situation in which there is likely to be a shortage of food. No doubt there will be a considerable development of the supply of 1115 agricultural produce from Southern Ireland. The marketing arrangements between this country and that agricultural population will naturally hasten a development of production, and we ought to be in a position to take full advantage of it.
Perhaps I might now refer very briefly to the naval side. The Prime Minister has told us this afternoon that there is no undertaking or secret agreement; everything is on paper and there is nothing more to be said. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping has so forcibly stated, we are giving up strategic naval bases of the greatest possible value. It is admitted that that is so, and, in the case of emergency or national danger, if, after this agreement, we should have to go back to those ports for our own safety—the first consideration of every nation is to save itself—we should find those ports in the hands of others and fortified by the Government of Southern Ireland. I do not use the word "Eire." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was quite right in saying that that word applies to the whole of Ireland and not only to the Irish Free State. The Government of Southern Ireland would be in occupation of those ports and could deny us admission. That would be a very great stranglehold over this country in a moment of great danger, that we should be denied admission to those ports except on terms.
I will suggest other considerations, if I may do so. In matters of war and emergency, time is a very great consideration. We now have a legal right and a jurisdiction in those ports. They are waiting for our vessels and are full of ammunition and ships' stores, and no doubt certain stores of food. If we wanted to use those ports again in case of emergency we should have to bargain and strike an arrangement, and time would be lost. Fatal things might happen while those conversations were going on, even though they could be satisfactorily concluded. Moreover, there is the danger of neutrality. The Irish Government might consider themselves neutral in some war in which we might be engaged in the future, and they might feel persuaded that the safety of the people of Southern Ireland was better secured by neutrality. In that case, would the Irish Government be fully able to defend that neutrality? 1116 Would they be able to prevent any active or powerful navy from operating against the free communications of the Navy of this country, and from making use of Irish ports, harbours and shelters? The Government of Southern Ireland have not a navy, admittedly; such a question has not been raised and is not likely to be raised. It is one of those questions which are not for the immediate future. How on earth could they defend their neutrality if some presumptuous country with a powerful navy were to send submarines, destroy our commerce and make use of the harbours of that neutral country? How would they be able to assert their neutrality?
I do not want to press these matters too far, but, on the face of it, this is an indefensible bargain and arrangement. Commercially there is nothing to be said for it, and financially the arrangement is ludicrous and indefensible. As regards Defence, we are admittedly giving up everything, and there is nothing to be set on paper or even an assurance given to this House that we are getting anything in exchange. Unfortunately, we have had a whole series of these final arrangements with Governments which have been set up in Southern Ireland. The Treaty, and the Constitution set up in the Irish Constitution Act, were to be a final settlement. They have gone. Step by step and stage by stage every vestige of the Constitution has been destroyed. The Senate has been destroyed. Appeal to the Privy Council has been destroyed. The rights of civil servants, such as the Crown handed over to the Irish Government, have lasped. The Irish Citizenship Act has been passed, although its operation has been suspended by decree. The Governor-General has gone and has been replaced by a President, who supersedes the representative of the King. The Crown is no longer recognised as having in any shape or form any weight, authority or influence whatsoever in the Irish Free State. The only use made of the Crown is in connection with certain diplomatic arrangements, certain visas and passports, in respect of which the Irish Government in Dublin have no other method in practice.
One must take notice of the fact that all these acts and deeds have been carried forward, and that we have not had one word of assurance as to a permanent arrangement by those who have negotiated 1117 these Agreements with the Government of this country. We are taking everything on faith and we hope for the best. We have hoped for the best on previous occasions. I am not hopeful that this final Agreement will be more final than any other; in fact, we are told by Mr. de Valera that it is not. Although Mr. de Valera has negotiated with the British Government, his position is not that of a dictator in Ireland, in the sense that he has an uncontrolled power or even a sweeping majority. I am informed that his majority in the Dail at the present moment is a majority of one. I think I am not very far wrong in saying that if Mr. de Valera should fail to keep step and to push forward in the direction of separation of the Irish people from all connection with this country, and even if he should pause unduly or show signs of going back on the completion of the work which he has done so much to carry forward, others are ready to step into his shoes.
Be that as it may, we are surely giving away too much in this Agreement, without guarantees and undertakings to counterbalance the great concessions that we are making. It is not a good way to secure the respect and regard of our neighbours to be always giving way. No one respects the retreating legions, they are treated with contempt and mud is thrown at them. I am no enemy of the people of Ireland. I have many friends in Ireland and I have a great affection for many Irishmen. Though they may be politically misled I always look upon them in the light of friends and neighbours, but one must consider one's own country. This afternoon I have occupied a few minutes of the time of the House in putting considerations before this great assembly, as an Englishman whose first duty is to his own country.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I am grateful for the opportunity of intervening in this Debate. I do so, having been from my earliest days deeply interested in this Irish question; indeed, I might say that my early political creed was cradled in Irish agitation. I would be failing in my duty upon an occasion like this if I did not say, viewing this Irish problem as the Prime Minister must have viewed it from his own political background, that he deserves to-day a word of special thanks 1118 and gratitude for the courage he has shown. Standing here and thinking back upon the early days, I remember the Irish representatives sitting here, and the sometimes hilarious and sometimes rebellious nights, passion ruling and very often rising to white heat. I am wondering what they would think if they were back now at hearing a member of the household of Chamberlain make the pronouncement made by the Prime Minister to-day.
Perhaps it is almost heretical for me to say it, but I think he is a very poor warrior who does not recognise good qualities in his opponent. Of late I have been rather impressed by the courage—the singular courage—possessed by the Prime Minister in facing consequences which might come—I hope they do not. In facing them, he is willing, as he has said to-day, to go beyond the written agreement and the documents, and to depend upon something outside them, that is to say, upon the good wishes and the good disposition of those with whom he has made the agreements. As I listened to-day to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) I could not help thinking that at last he has completed the circle. I remember the days when he first blossomed forth into politics, and some of his most brilliant attempts to make himself famous in politics. I remember some of the speeches he has delivered in this House, and his brilliant defence of the Northern parts of Ireland and his denunciations of the Nationalist party of the time. Then he had his changes into other political parties. He has gone right round, and to-day he had made the most dangerous as well as the most able speech that the House has listened to. The main purport of it was, "You cannot trust these Irishmen. We have made treaties with them before but they have been made only to be broken by some succeeding Irish statesman." It is true that there was a time when this country was in danger and Irishmen actually fought and died for it but, when the War was over, there were, to use his own language, those dark forces of the underworld ready to stab us in the back.
That is not language that should be used here of any group of men with whom you may not agree but who believed that they were fighting for the liberty of their own country. That was the language that the right hon. Gentleman used, that these 1119 dark forces were ready to stab us in the back, and whatever treaties they made with us were made only as a sort of subterfuge to gain better advantage when some trying circumstances should arise between this country and others. The charge was that the Irish were an undependable lot who violated pledges and made changes to suit their own ends. I should have thought that an impeachment of that kind would not lie in the right hon. Gentleman's mouth, because it could truly be said of him that he is a virtuoso in the art of political change. In my early days, in 1910, I read his speeches and had a considerable amount of faith in them. When I look at them now and listen to his pronouncement to-day, he could be equally charged with having made many changes in his time. However, he charges Irishmen with being untrustworthy so far as their pledges are concerned. I agree that the pledges that are made now are not what one might call written law, and to that extent we can gauge the courage of the Prime Minister in accepting the promises made by Irishmen in the Agreement, but surely the right hon. Gentleman must agree that, if these Irish ports are overshadowing your ships and your trading, it is much better to have a friendly people in control of them than a disgruntled people. To think that you are going to coerce the Irish to maintain their ports as defence works against attack does not seem to tally with human experience. I am sure that, if this Agreement passes and the Irish people are, as I am sure they will be, friendly towards this country, these will be better circumstances for this country than if you had still a nation ready—to use the right hon. Gentleman's language—to stab you in the back and use your difficulty for their advantage. The danger of taking advantage of a war breaking out and becoming a neutral State are more probable with a discontented country than with the country that I think you will have through the success of these proposals.
I could say much of the past, but I am not going to say a word that would arouse any bad feeling. If there is one desire that every civilised human being must have to-day, it is that those old passions, aided and abetted by ignorance very often, passions which have grown up from a past when men were more ready to take 1120 a short and narrow view of human existence, should be lulled to sleep, that there should be a more enlightened understanding developed between men, and that religious and racial difficulties should subside before the advancement of human intelligence and of the reception of social relationship between country and country. These feelings between the North and South of Ireland are the heritage of a bad past, and it will be my endeavour to appeal to men to forget these things which too often fan passions and make men enemies who otherwise should have been friends. Let us forget these childish things of the past and look forward to a future when Ireland may be a united nation. Surely it would be a testimony to the intellectual advancement of the Irish people if they could agree to differ as to the past and to become a united nation. I do not believe that you could, with all the force of the British Empire, compel Northern Ireland to come under the rule of the South, nor would I lend my aid or voice to any such endeavour. Rather would I hope that such an act as has been carried out by the Prime Minister will have its final effect in bringing men in Ireland closer together. It is my sincerest wish that the Irishmen who have put their names to these pledges, appreciating the difficulties and the great courage that Ministers have shown in bringing this agreement forward, will fulfil the faith that has been imposed on them, and let us hope that in the future the Prime Minister will have nothing to regret, and that this step forward will remove much of the historic impediment to Ireland, now a great nation, becoming greater in the eyes of the world than she is to-day.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Annesley Somerville
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) has described the Agreement as an act of faith. If that faith is not justified it will be impossible to resist the powerful criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). But I hope and believe that that faith will be justified. The Treaty came not very long after those terrible events of 1916, when feeling was still extremely bitter. Since then we have had the Statute of Westminster and a period of years. There was in Ireland a suspicion that Whitehall would never cease to inter- 1121 fere in their affairs. That suspicion is at an end. The Irish people have been perfectly able to govern themselves as they choose and, moreover, there has grown up in the South of Ireland a knowledge that the real defence of their independence and their power to govern themselves is the British Navy, and the defensive power of this country. That makes a great advance in the whole position. My right hon. Friend spoke of the danger of the neutrality of Southern Ireland in case of war. There comes to my mind one strong argument against the neutrality of Southern Ireland, and that is the very real danger that, if they were neutral, they would become a second Austria, and they are ready to realise that.
There was a very great contrast between the speeches of the two Members of the Opposition who spoke from the back benches and that of the official spokesman for the Opposition, who seemed to be afflicted with forgetfulness or else with the inability to forgo any opportunity of trying to obtain a party advantage. Here is a great act of faith on the part of this country. It may fail but, if it succeeds, it will be one of the finest things that have happened to both countries for many a long year. He was most inconsistent. He reproached the Prime Minister for doing the thing begrudgingly because he had to. The Prime Minister has done it because he liked to do it, and many of us are supporting him not because we have got to, but because we like to, because we believe that this generous offer will be received in the spirit in which it is made. No doubt there are strong critics and there are irreconcilables. As time passes I hope the critics will not be justified, and the irreconcilables will grow fewer and that friendship will grow greater. The Prime Minister has done great things for this country, and I believe this will not be one of the least. It is a good omen that his chief lieutenant, the Secretary of State for the Dominions, to whom great credit is due, a Scotsman, should have been employed in trying to cure a long standing feud between English and Irish men. There are critics and there are risks. One of the greatest risks is the handing over of the ports to the disposition of the Irish Free State. There is Queenstown, that magnificent harbour whose borders and 1122 shores I know well, in which hostile navies before now have hidden in corners, in days when we were at war with the French. I can imagine the gratified pride with which Southern Irishmen will regard the possession of that magnificent harbour, and I believe that that in itself will go a long way to justify our belief that the act of faith will succeed.
Then there is criticism with regard to the £10,000,000. It is a very small amount in comparison with what the annuities would have brought in. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) criticised the Government on this point. He spoke of wanton generosity on the part of this country towards Ireland. Does he not remember that those very annuities were a proof of the generosity of this country to Ireland, that they were raised here in order to enable the Irish small farmer to purchase his holding on the most favourable terms—a most generous gesture on the part of this country? That is why we resented so much the repudiation of any obligation to repay those annuities. But, if there is friendship and confidence between the two countries, there are possibilities, indeed, probabilities, of very greatly increased trade and the acquisition of increased man-power, because, where there is friendship, there will be the men in Ireland available—they are not available at present on account of the ban upon them—to help to man our ships and to recruit our regiments; and, in addition to this increased man-power, there will be the potential reserve of food which is of such great value in time of war. These are some of the benefits that we may get from a successful fulfilment of the Agreement, and they are well worth trying for.
I rose chiefly to say a word for a minority. This country has been very much interested in the treatment of minarities for whom it has no responsibility. I would ask consideration for a minority for whom we have a responsibility. I refer to the many thousands of loyal men and women in Ireland who have stood by this country in the most difficult and dangerous times. I do not refer to the landed people. Many of them suffered greatly, to some extent through the Grants Committee, but they were compensated, though in a good many cases not nearly as adequately as they ought to have been. I refer to the 1123 thousands of ex-service men and their families; I refer to the Royal Irish Constabulary—one of the finest forces that ever served the Empire—and their families; I refer to the small loyalist shopkeepers and the small farmers. They are forgotten. It would be very difficult to put anything into the Agreement about them, but I wonder whether anything was said about them in the conversations between our representatives and the Irish representatives.
Naturally they have suffered in the economic distress that has prevailed in the South of Ireland. I know the facts only too well. The small farmers' farms have been unstocked; the shopkeepers have lost custom; the working people ex-service men—have been denied work, and very often their children have been at a disadvantage as compared with others. I am not speaking of physical violence, although in past years there has been danger of that; I am speaking now of the disadvantage which these people —who have fought for us—and their families have suffered, and of the fact that they have been forgotten. One of them said bitterly, "Do you forget your friends and reward your enemies?" I hope that, as time goes on, the bitterness will pass and friendship will increase, and that these people will be treated as they ought to be treated; but I do think that at this time of appeasement, as I hope it will be, some effort should be made by the Government of this country to obtain a better state of things for these people. I put that to the Government, and ask them whether in their negotiations they have considered these people, because we owe them a deep debt, and that debt ought to be paid. I want to quote something that I saw in the "Times" this morning, written by that brilliant author and critic, Mr. St. John Ervine, a good Irishman. In a brilliant letter he writes:I am a Unionist. I believe in the Union of Ulster with Leinster, Munster and Connaught in that league with Great Britain which the inexorable logic of daily life has shown to be essential to the lesser island as much as it is to the larger.I agree that it may take years—it may be a shorter time—but I believe that, if the Agreement is kept in the spirit in which this country is offering it to Southern Ireland, we shall at no distant 1124 period have a united Ireland, a Dominion—a very willing Dominion—in the British Commonwealth of Nations.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Sir Joseph McConnell
I agree with and support from the bottom of my heart the plea which has been made by the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville). One of the greatest blots on the history of the United Kingdom is the way in which the ex-service men in the South of Ireland were thrown to the wolves. They have been treated lamentably. I have taken an interest in these men, and have had them come up to me in Belfast with hardly any clothes on their backs, and certainly no food inside them. They and their families have been treated scandalously. If what has been said by the hon. Member for Windsor, and what I am now saying, goes out to the public, I hope that the English, Scottish and Welsh people will at last appreciate the responsibility that we have had for these people since the Treaty was signed.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister. He has stated an axiom which a section of the Press do not seem to know, but which I hope they will now take to heart. I know, too, that all the speakers in this Debate recognise that the title deeds of Northern Ireland belong to the people of Northern Ireland. That has been recognised by every speaker in this House, and the people of Northern Ireland are thankful for that, because we look upon those title deeds as the greatest heritage that we have, for by those deeds we retain our membership of the United Kingdom. I agree with the hon. Member for North Belfast (Mr. Somerset) that we have got an unfair deal. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. R. Grenfell) in his place. I listened to his speech with very great attention, and I would put it in two categories, ethical and material, and he gave threequarters of his time to the material. It made me think of the old Scotch story of the minister who was being removed to a better parish. A lady came in and said to his daughter, who was downstairs, "My dear, is it true that your father is going to be removed to this grand parish?" "Well," the young lady replied, "Father is downstairs praying for guidance, but mother is upstairs packing the boxes." I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower on the material gains 1125 that have been acquired by the coal trade. Coal has gained, and I would like to say to the hon. Member that coal has gained a free entry into the Free State to the disadvantage of a good many other trades in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member felt very sore, and complained very bitterly, against the late Dominions Secretary because he had cost Wales £4,000,000—
§ Mr. Grenfell
But I also admitted that the Coal and Cattle Agreement was brought about by the efforts of the same right hon. Gentleman, and that, after three or four years of great loss, the coal trade had been thus restored to its previous proportions.
§ Sir J. McConnell
There was £4,000,000 lost to Wales during the struggle, but is it realised that the amount lost in Northern Ireland since the struggle has been taking place has been £55,000,000?
§ Sir J. McConnell
Wales, from now onwards, will get all her trade back, but we shall lose £3,000,000 a year of the trade that we had 10 years ago; and, although the same thing applies to a good many other trades in the United Kingdom, they can stand it in a way that we can not. Personally I think, and I am speaking for the people of my constituency, that we have not got a good deal on this occasion. This whole agreement seems to me to be very much like what once happened to a Scottish judge. He was greatly troubled because his wife was having difficulties with her domestic staff. He said, "My dear, you go for a holiday, and I will get things in order." She went away for a holiday and was away for about a fortnight or three weeks, and then she got a telegram reading, "Everything amicably settled." When she came home, she found that the settlement gave the staff all that they wanted.
That is my feeling about every transaction that has taken place since 1931 between this Parliament and the Irish Free State. You had those people over here in 1926, shortly after Mr. de Valera decided to join the Dail. Before that he would not go in there. When he got in there he baited the Government and said 1126 to them, "You are a nice lot of boys. Go back to London and get rid of some of these local loans and other things." He sent Mr. Blythe over to London in 1926, and Mr. Blythe was a great success in Whitehall. The right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) said, and I believe he was right, that on that occasion they got £157,000,000 of taxes cancelled. I do not want to quote figures indirectly, and perhaps the Secretary of State for the Dominions will tell us what the figures are when he speaks. The most interesting thing about that settlement was that the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, and he told this House that it was the ultimate financial settlement between the two countries.
You had a respite until the Statute of Westminster, and then you had one of the most wonderful spectacles I ever saw. I actually saw tears dropping from the eyes of the Secretary of State for the Dominions when he read a letter from Mr. Cosgrave. The Secretary of State said, "If you alter the Statute of Westminster one iota, you will never have Mr. Cosgrave back to power "; and Mr. Cosgrave was afterwards defeated, so that concession was useless. Then Mr. de Valera got into power and put a pistol at the head of the British Government. He said, "I am not going to pay your annuities." I do not see how the British Government could have failed to accept that challenge, for if they are going to be pistolled by everyone who owes them money, the sooner they shut up shop the better, because there will soon be no money left. Mr. de Valera said that he could do a world trade and do without United Kingdom trade, but that did not come to anything, and what he did was to kill 500,000 calves in his own country and bury the carcases. Things went on, and then his financial advisers in the Free State began to say, "The times are going hard with you, and you will have to put round the hat," and the next thing he did was to change his coat and come over to London. He reminds me of a little barometer in the house of a friend of mine that I used to see when I was a very small boy. It came from Switzerland, and in fine weather a beautiful and enticing young lady came out, but in stormy boisterous weather a man with a gun came out. Mr. de Valera is like that.
1127 Well, he has made a very fine arrangement, and I think I can say with confidence that every Member of our party hopes it will be a success. I am not standing up in any truculent mood, but I am not laying odds on its success. The Trade Treaty will hurt and has hurt, and it is responsible for much unemployment in Northern Ireland. It is customary, when thinking of Northern Ireland, to think of her shipyards and her great linen industry. I know the British Government are very well disposed towards us, because we have had many interviews with them, and I am very grateful to them for the length they went in what they said to us, about new orders, but I would like them to realise that we have a number of very good secondary industries in the large towns in my constituency and in Belfast and throughout the Province which at this time, if proper organisation were brought about, could deal with great orders which would help this country in rearmament and Northern Ireland immensely.
In regard to the aeroplane business, if you take the Hawker Hurricane, which flew from Scotland to London in under an hour, it had linen wings. A lot of aeroplane work is held up because you are waiting for the metal wings. The air defence programme could be greatly accelerated by using linen much more.
§ Sir J. McConnell
If the Government used linen more, they could manufacture three aeroplanes for one with Liverpool wings. Your production is too slow. I am very glad that, as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, we have only the friendliest feelings towards Southern Ireland, and although they outnumber us in the ratio of something like three to one, it may interest the House to know that two Northern Ireland men go south for every one Southern Irishman who comes north. I want to end on this note. Northern Ireland has her charter, and she will have no one intefere with that charter; and as long as the majority of our people are prepared to hold it and maintain it, it is no use the Press of this or any other country writing fairy tales and stunts and sometimes very wicked canards about Ulster.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
The Prime Minister has spoken of the inexhaustible patience of the Secretary of State for the Dominions in securing this Agreement, and when he made that statement it occurred to me that while that might be quite true, it is also true that it was the inexhaustible stupidity of his predecessor and the Government that allowed the circumstances of 1932 to eventuate as they did. My hon. Friends the Members for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) warned the Government on that occasion of the folly of the line that they were taking, and I think the statement of the Prime Minister to-day fully bore out the wisdom of the warnings given to the Government then. The hon. Members who have spoken from Northern Ireland this evening have all borne out what was said on the previous occasion by pointing out how Northern Ireland has suffered from the policy pursued in 1932. One of their grievances with regard to the present Agreement is that while it will make things much better for South Wales, much of the loss that Northern Ireland suffered from the Government's bad policy in 1932 is not being fully remedied by this Agreement. Very few voices have been raised in the House to-day in criticism of the Agreement, and I think the Government are certainly to be congratulated on the fact that they have shown greater wisdom now than they did in 1932, and that this Agreement will make for the welfare and happiness of our people in both countries.
There have been only two dissentient voices so far in this Debate, those of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton). They agreed in taking exception to the financial arrangements that have been made, and they worked themselves up into a state of excitement about the way in which Ireland was being relieved of so much of her debt. One thing that struck me when I heard Members talking about the debt in that way was the extraordinary position which some Members of this House take up in this connection. There is a matter of a few millions involved, but I remember how British Governments in the past have forgiven Italy and France great burdens of debt and how the British Government themselves have acted in regard to the American debt. Yet the very same 1129 people who can justify the disregarding of the debt to America get into a state of excitement about this debt in connection with Eire. I do not think it is sound politics or statesmanship to adopt such an attitude.
I am convinced that if a real balance-sheet were made out of the financial position between the two countries and if all that Ireland has suffered in the past from the domination of this country were taken into account, it would be found that the Government of Mr. de Valera have not come out of this bargaining as well as some hon. Members seem to suppose. My sympathies in this matter are with Eire. I speak as a Scotsman, and I think that English Members do not appreciate this situation as well as Scotsmen. Scotland is only in the position of a poor relation to England and gets similar treatment to that which Ireland has got in the past. It is a case of being patted on the back occasionally when we can render service, but treated with contempt when we ask something in return for that service. There are three parties to this Agreement. There are the people of Northern Ireland, the people of Eire and the people of this country.
§ Mr. Stephen
The hon. Member at the close of his speech made it perfectly plain that there were three parties, because he told us about Northern Ireland's charter, and said in effect, "If anybody interferes with it, the Lord help them." Evidently in the hon. Member's opinion—
§ Mr. Stephen
I thought the hon. Member was stating the facts. If he has misstated them, I am not responsible.
§ Sir Ronald Ross
The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) must be fair. What my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim (Sir J. McConnell) said was that there were only two parties to the Agreement, namely, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Eire. The Government of 1130 Northern Ireland was not represented and my hon. Friend never said that they were represented.
§ Mr. Stephen
I have no desire to misrepresent either of the hon. Members from Northern Ireland, but surely they will agree that there are three parties involved in this problem.
§ Mr. Stephen
Evidently to the people on this side of the Channel one of the main considerations involved is the strategical consideration which arises in connection with these ports. I wonder how many hon. Members really followed the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping on this point? I ask the House to consider this. With a hostile Ireland, what use would those ports be to this country? I ask hon. Members to be realists. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was washed out by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery) who explained that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was just the sort of speech that he and others had made on previous occasions, when they had been answered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. I think the Government have obviously been driven by events into making this Agreement. They are not making these concessions to Mr. de Valera out of good-heartedness and philanthropy. It is not a case of kindly English gentlemen doing a good action to these poor benighted people in Eire. No, the Government have been driven to make this Agreement because of developments in the international situation, and the necessity of having a friendly, instead of a hostile Eire.
There is one thing to their credit. They have had the wisdom to realise the position. Mr. de Valera has been criticised for saying that his work is not yet completed and that as long as he lives, he will work for the realisation of his ideal which is putting an end to Partition. Why should he not? It appears to me that he has been honest throughout in his dealings with this country, I believe that, inevitably, in the future, these two parts of Ireland will be brought together under one Government in Ireland. I, myself, 1131 foresee that happy event being brought about by a union of the working people and peasants of the South with the workers of the North. Their interests are identical. In the past they have been divided and have been used one against the other, in the interests of Capitalism and British Imperialism. I believe that in the future they will come together in friendly relations and that a Socialist Government in Ireland and a Socialist Government in this country will join in a great Socialist world federation which will banish all these problems.
§ 7.54 P.m.
§ Sir W. Davison
I ask the House to give consideration for a moment to a person who has been little mentioned in the course of this Debate, namely, the British taxpayer, who has to find hard cash to the amount of no less than £100,000,000 under this Agreement. For the last few days we have been discussing the great injury which two recently-imposed additions to taxation will inflict upon many citizens. I refer to the Petrol Duty, imposed to provide a revenue of £5,000,000 and the Tea Duty imposed to produce a revenue of £3,250,000. Do hon. Members realise that, apart from this Agreement, one or other of those duties could have been dispensed with. The hon. Member for Camlachlie (Mr. Stephen) said that in past times this country had excused the debts of other countries. I am sure there is no hon. Member who would not willingly vote £100,000,000 or £500,000,000 or even more, if they were certain that the age-long feud between this country and Southern Ireland could be exorcised by the payment of money.
§ Sir W. Davison
To-day every speaker has said "We hope that relations will be better and that the feeling between the two countries will be improved," but no evidence has been given to us to show that during these conversations any assurances were given that relations between this country and Southern Ireland would be improved in the future. I know that the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) quoted a speech made by Mr. de Valera in which he said it was unthinkable that Ireland should be used as a base for a foreign force, but we have had no evidence that 1132 during the negotiations any definite pledges were given as to improved relations.
§ Sir W. Davison
I am aware that the Prime Minister is advising the House to accept the Agreement and that he and other speakers who have supported him, have expressed the hope that relations will be improved. But I am saying—and I hope I shall be allowed to express this view—that there has been no evidence of any assurance having been given during these negotiations by Mr. de Valera that on definite points relations would be improved. The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville) drew attention to the hard case of loyalists in Southern Ireland—of ex-service men, ex-members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and others. We have not heard that Mr. de Valera has given assurances that the cases of those people will be met, as a result of this Agreement. I have previously drawn attention to the fact that there is a definite enactment in Southern Ireland which prohibits employment on any Government work being given to any British citizen, as long as there are Southern Irish citizens available for the work.
I have, again and again asked that any Agreement entered into between this country and Southern Ireland, should provide for British citizens in Southern Ireland being placed on the same footing and made eligible for the same privileges, as Southern Irish citizens who come over here in their thousands and get employment in this country. I only ask for reciprocity. No one on behalf of the Government, has yet said that the case of the Irish loyalists was even referred to in the negotiations and I hope that when the Dominions Secretary replies he will give a definite answer as to ex-service men, ex-members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and loyalists generally in Southern Ireland. Has Mr. de Valera's attention been drawn to their case; has he given an assurance that they will receive better treatment in the future than they have been receiving in the past, if this Agreement is carried out?
§ Sir W. Davison
The hon. Member for Windsor also referred to a letter which appeared in to-day's "Times." Immediately above that letter was another from an old Member of this House, Sir John Marriott. He comments that it is an amazing thing that these vast sums should be parted with by the taxpayers of this country with so little discussion, either inside or outside the House. He says that even if it were for the benefit of the Irish farmer there might be something in it, butIn this matter the Irish farmer is not concerned. He will still have to pay for the specified period his annuities. But he will pay them to the Irish, not to the British, Exhequer "—although the British Exchequer found the money which enabled him to get his rent reduced, and to be the owner of his farm, instead of being only a tenant, in about 5o years. What would the British farmer not give for capital sums to be voted by this House which would enable his rent to be reduced by 50 per cent. and for him to be the owner of his farm in 50 years? Mr. de Valera is collecting these sums from them, which they might well be expected to pay, considering what they have got for them; but he is not giving the farmers the benefit, while we are finding the money. Sir John Marriott says "The only sufferer will be that patient camel—the British taxpayer. It is he who must pay for the solution of the Irish land problem. And his burden will continue to be heavy. He must find the interest (at varying rates) on, roughly, £100,000,000 of capital advanced to Irish landlords for the purchase, by the tenants, of their estates.That confirms what I have said. The case has been so fully analysed by one of the signatories of the original Treaty, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) that there really is not much more to be said than he has said. I would only emphasise one or two points. The Prime Minister said that this agreement, like another—referring to the Italian Agreement, of which I entirely approve—shows that disputes can be settled by peaceful discussion as long as there is accommodation on both sides. But have we any evidence that this dispute has been settled? I am in entire agreement with my right hon. 1134 Friend both in regard to Italy and Southern Ireland; but is there any such evidence in regard to Southern Ireland? He went on to say that in order that they might obtain a complete general settlement, four subjects were considered by the British Government and Mr. de Valera and his Ministers. These were Partition, Land Annuities, Naval Defence and a Trade Agreement. With regard to Partition, I agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down, that Mr. de Valera has always said that that is a sine qua non, that while he welcomes improved trade relations he looks upon Partition as the beginning and end of all his desires. So, as to Partition, it is agreed that no settlement has been arrived at. With regard to the Trade Agreement: I am not expert enough to go through all the figures, but they are fairly equal, though I think the Irish Government have got the better of them. Then we come to the land annuities. Is it likely that Mr. de Valera is going to change the whole course of Southern Irish thought, even though he is going to get £100,000,000 for £10,000,000? Is anyone going to change his opinions for a money payment? I think, on the contrary, that that suggestion would rather irritate most people. Why should the British taxpayer find this enormous sum of £100,000,000 in exchange for £10,000,000? We have had no indication that the heart of the people of Southern Ireland has been in any way changed.
Then the Prime Minister urged that we must not take these payments merely at their face value. He said we must remember that we are dealing with "a partner in the Empire." But what evidence is there of a change of mind on the part of Southern Ireland with regard to partnership in the Empire? This is a very remarkable Bill. As far as I can see His Majesty's name is not mentioned anywhere, except in Clause 3., which says:His Majesty may, by Order in Council, make such adaptations of any enactments as appear to him necessary or proper for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of paragraphs (b) and (e) of Sub-section (3) of the last foregoing section.The Bill, on page 1, is stated toconfirm and give effect to certain agreements as to the relations between the United Kingdom and Eire.1135 Why has this change in the form of our Statutes been made? The ordinary Statute is declared to give effect to agreements between "His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and His Majesty's Government in whatever Dominion it may be." This does not look like a change of heart on the part of Mr. de Valera. The same applies to the First Schedule:Agreements between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of Eire "—instead of "His Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom." The Prime Minister says we are dealing with a partner in the Empire, and that, therefore, we must be generous. I am all in favour of being generous if we are sure we are dealing with a partner in the Empire who recognise their responsibility. The hon. Member opposite has referred to Mr. de Valera's speeches. I am not blaming Mr. de Valera at all—he has been very consistent in this matter —except for not standing by his predecessors in upholding a Treaty which was made, in the same way as I should blame a Conservative Government here for not upholding a Treaty which had been made by a Socialist Government, or vice versa. On the day Mr. de Valera arrived back in Ireland he said:Britain's final claim under the agreements made by our predecessors amounted in capital value to £78,000,000 under the heading land annuities and a further £20,000,000 for other items. By the Agreement this dispute is now settled by the payment of half the latter sum.That is what he said. He does not say that it has settled all the differences between the two countries. Then as to the question of the ports of Queenstown, Berehaven and Lough Swilly, Mr. de Valera says:The unconditional restoration of the coast defences and the abrogation of the rights claimed by Britain, under Articles 6 and 7 of the 1921 Agreement, for facilities in time of war and strained relations with a foreign Power, completes the recognition of Irish sovereignty over the territory of the 26 counties.But there is not a word said, that we can rely on the Southern Irish Government giving us the use of those ports in the event of our being attacked by a foreign Power. There is no statement made that 1136 Southern Ireland would not take up an attitude of neutrality.
§ Sir W. Davison
That is the whole quotation from the "Times." Do you want me to read another paragraph?
§ Sir W. Davison
I cannot have all Mr. de Valera's speeches in my hand. I am talking of the speech he delivered on his arrival at Kingstown immediately after his negotiations in London.
§ Sir W. Davison
The rest of the quotation for which I am asked is as follows:Under the Trade Agreement there was, as was to be expected, give and take, but the right to develop and give adequate protection to our industry has been carefully preserved. I believe that the Agreement will prove to be of advantage to both countries, and I can confidently recommend its acceptance to our people.That is the end of the quotation, so far as I am aware. I am not aware of any other speech made by Mr. de Valera. When the hon. Member interrupted me, I had read the quotation relating to the handing over of those ports, and there was nothing said there that we could rely on having the use of those ports, with the help of Irish Free State forces, in time of emergency.
1137 The hon. Member opposite said that the British people have never trusted the Southern Irish people sufficiently. Surely we trusted them when the Treaty was made. We can remember the famous speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who remarked that the old saying that "England's danger was Ireland's opportunity" would have an entirely different acceptation in future—instead of being Ireland's opportunity of stabbing England in the back, it would be Ireland's opportunity of holding out the hand of friendship to her and standing by her side when she was in danger. We know now that every fragment of that Treaty has been thrown to the winds. I am all in favour of trusting people, but we should have something stronger than mere hope when we are giving up these sums, and giving up these safeguards for our safety and national preservation in time of war. I ask for an answer to these four questions. Is the Free State really grateful? Is there really a change of heart in Southern Ireland by reason of this Agreement? Are loyalists and ex-service men to be treated in the Free State as Free State citizens are treated here? Has any assurance been given that our navy shall be allowed to use the Treaty ports in time of war? Finally, has not Mr. de Valera stated that, while he is grateful for these trade facilities and for the payment of this large capital sum, he still considers that there can be no really strong friendly relations between Great Britain and Southern Ireland as long as Ulster and Northern Ireland are not included in the Free State?
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore
There is an occasional but, I think rather amiable convention in this House that an hon. Member has the right to preface his remarks by explaining exactly why he is taking part in the Debate. I hesitate to give any justifiable reason, except to quote the reference by which a colleague of mine in the House introduced me to an American friend. He said, "He is the only Irishman representing a Scottish constituency sitting in the English Parliament." Of course, that is not wholly true, because I am not wholly Irish, and this Parliament is not wholly English. We should be very grateful 1138 that it is not, otherwise there would be many hon. Members absent from it and we should not also have had the privilege of debating this Anglo-Irish Treaty today. We recognise what one distinguished Scot, our Dominions Secretary, has done, and the assistance he has given to the Prime Minister to bring this Treaty about.
Frankly, I welcome the Treaty. I believe that it is going to be a milestone, perhaps it would be better to call it a stepping-stone, towards the winding-up of a long-standing situation in which passion, ignorance, fear, and suspicion have been allowed to have far too much say in the political relationships between our two countries. I find it somewhat difficult at times to divorce myself from my nationality and my adopted country, but we in England realise that Ireland, though small, has much to give, and has given much to England. At the same time, we want to give all credit to England for what she has done in this pact for Southern Ireland. We must admit that it is a one-sided Agreement. All British agreements are. I suppose that that shows their strength and consciousness of power, and their generosity. Britain always gives. The only occasion —and I took the trouble to look it up the other day—on which she failed in vision and generosity was in her treatment of the North American Colonies in 1775. Even then there were men with vision, imagination and courage who foresaw the dangers that were inherent in that policy of Lord North. On looking up the matter in the Library—I would not dare to quote it at length because it is longer than Mr. de Valera's speeches—I saw what Burke said. If one altered the phraseology a little we would find that it is rather appropriate to the pact which is under discussion to-night and what led up to it:The temper and character, which prevail in our colonies, are, I am afraid, unalterable by any human art. We cannot, I fear, falsify the pedigree of this fierce people, and persuade them that they are not sprung from a nation, in whose veins the blood of freedom circulates….I think it is nearly as little in our power to change their republican religion, as their free descent.My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs as well as the Prime Minister must have been studying these words before they entered into the discussions which have resulted in this 1139 Pact. I should also think that the Secretary for the Dominions, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has stated, must have had in his mind the various other Pacts of a similar character which have borne such full fruit. He possibly remembered South Africa, with which, incidentally, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping played such an honourable part. We must be honest and admit that, financially, economically and strategically, especially strategically, we are in this Agreement giving very generously, and I think that we take some considerable risks in doing so. Financially, as has been said repeatedly, we are losing something like £90,000,000. In fact we are losing more, because of the£10,000,000 which we are to receive by November, something like£4,000,000 will be due immediately to be paid out as pensions to the Royal Irish Constabulary and civil servants. So we shall actually receive£6,000,000 instead of iio£10,000,000. When my hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison)--not in his usual thoughtful, considerate manner—said that we in England were giving up £100,000,000 for the sake of £10,000,000, I wondered how many American citizens are saying that with regard to our debt to them.
§ Sir W. Davison
That is just the opposite of what I said. I said that not only would we give up£100,000,000, but£500,000,000 and more, if we were certain that there really were going to be friendly relations between South Ireland and this country, and that no evidence had been submitted to the House to show that there was really a change of heart in the relations between the two countries.
§ Sir T. Moore
My hon. Friend mentioned it in a moment of somewhat passionate enthusiasm and possibly he had forgotten it and eliminated it from his mind. He said why should we give up this£100,000,000 and only receive£10,000,000 in return? On the question of economics, we do undoubtedly get a certain gain. We get a free market for our coal. That will be of incalculable benefit to South Wales and to Scotland. We must remember when we consider 1140 this problem, that the Free State is giving more than has been mentioned actually to-day. Since 1932 she has undoubtedly started a great number of new factories which have hitherto lived only because they were protected by a high tariff. This high tariff wall is to be lowered entirely in some cases and partially lowered in others, and that will make it rather a difficult problem not only for those new industries, but for Mr. de Valera to explain to his people why they should be closed down.
With regard to the strategic position, I think that the provision in the Agreement is the only way in which we can secure the advantages that we seek. If we were to dig our toes in and say that we will for our own security retain the treaty ports, that would leave the heritage of dislike, suspicion and hatred which we are trying to remove. Suppose a crisis did arise and an emergency developed, we should have to send our troops, our ships, our ammunition and guns to these treaty ports, and we should also have to be prepared to reconquer Ireland again. That would be an intolerable proposition. Therefore, I believe that in trusting our safety to the good faith and honour of Southern Ireland the Prime Minister, while he has undoubtedly taken a great risk, has taken a risk which will, I am confident—and I know the Southern Irish pretty well—be justified, and will give us a friendship, a trust and above all a medium for discussing future problems. Even to-day there is a difference of atmosphere and outlook between Southern Ireland and ourselves. By the creation of this pact we have created a bridge, a channel by which we can approach the Southern Irish Government on any problem with which we are both confronted and by which we are both effected.
What do Great Britain and Eire get out of the Agreement? Britain gets a friendly Eire—a word I dislike—instead of a hostile Free State. That in itself justifies great concessions. Britain,gets her export coal trade to a great extent re-established. Britain has now at her door one of the biggest granaries in Western Europe and one which we so fully used in the last War. There is also the assurance of better treatment to those loyalists still remaining in Southern Ireland, who so badly need good treatment, and there will also be much better 1141 recruiting for those regiments of the British Army in which Irish soldiers have served with such honour and distinction.
As regards the United States of America, I believe that the friendship which we are developing so delicately and so determinedly with the United States, the great democracy of the West, will be promoted more than we can believe even now by this removal of disabilities in regard to the Irish question. There is a tremendously powerful and very vocal Southern Ireland population in the United States. I visited there some time ago and was satisfied that anything that we could do to ease the situation between Southern Ireland and ourselves would have a marked and immediate effect on our happy, and I hope on our still more happy, relations with the United States.
What does Southern Ireland get? I will not take up time by stressing it, because it has been so clearly stated to-night, but I would point out that she is getting back what France had to stand by and see Germany get back some time ago, when Germany reoccupied her own Rhineland. France stood by, very wisely, and did not make any provocative move. We are taking similar action and standing by and watching Southern Ireland retake, or rather regret, her own treaty ports, which have been for so long in foreigners' hands, because that is how they have looked at it. The people of this country and Southern Ireland have intermarried and on the whole there are good relations between them, and it is the creation of 'a good atmosphere on the part of the Governments of the two countries that enables the peoples to work with common good will towards each other.
As the Prime Minister has said, we all appreciate the position of Ulster. Naturally, Ulster is nervous, looking at the position from her own point of view. She hears these marchings and countermarchings across the border. She listens to provocative speeches within and outside her own territory, speeches which are published in the newspapers and read, and she fears that there is some secret and hidden negotiation being carried out, some secret terms being made, to which she has not been a party. She feels uncertain, but after the declaration of the Prime Minister to-day that Britain is behind her—and when Britain gives her word she can be depended upon—she 1142 knows that whenever Ulster is in trouble she will have a loyal and devoted friend in this country. I believe also that we shall have in any of our troubles a loyal and devoted Ulster and I believe also that we shall have the support of a united and loyal Southern Ireland as a result of this Agreement.
In a speech which I made two years ago when discussing this problem, I said that there are many matters of common interest to be discussed between Northern and Southern Ireland, in which Britain is vitally interested. There are matters of mutual importance such as banks, canals, finance, trade, industry, Customs, which can be much more easily solved by a common attack by people of good will. That was provided for in the original Treaty of 1921. If such a council were set up and it sat in some border town, if not in Belfast or Dublin, and if these problems were attacked in a spirit of accommodation, mutual understanding and good will, they would bring together the people of the North and South so that they might attack even bigger problems. We as a nation would be happy to see these conversations develop until one day, subject to the desires of the people on both sides of the border, we might see what we all in our heart of hearts would look upon as the ideal, and that is, once more a united Ireland.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Simpson
I rise to add a further word of welcome to this Agreement, in spite of any detailed deficiencies it may contain. The hon. Member opposite expressed himself in favour of friendship, co-operation and solution of this age-long Irish problem, but in his subsequent observations he hardly indicated the kind of faith and confidence which would appear to be a necessary factor. It is sometimes necessary to have faith in faith, until it becomes works, and it is rather hopeless to envisage any settlement of this ancient problem if we continue to look at the past rather than looking forward to the future. Criticism was made of the opening statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) on the ground that his speech did not provide the proper balance between ethics and materialism. I noticed that the subsequent speech was a balance of varying materialisms and seemed to omit any recognition of the ethical factor at all.
1143 This realm of human relationships associated with all the bitterness and passion of Irish history is just one of those cases, it seems to me, where any agreement is almost better than none. On other matters where finance or economics is predominant, it may be necessary to be more critical, but where there is an opportunity of healing a breach of this character and establishing permanent peace and understanding, it seems to me that any agreement is nearly better than none, and that we should welcome the proposals which are before us this evening. It is very necessary to face facts, however unpleasant they may be, but that does not justify any unnecessary revival of old controversies. It has been a tragedy for many years that there should be this rift between the great little country across the Channel and ourselves, a people so warm-heated and generous in their hospitality, a people so courageous as allies in a conflict, but a people with whom, unfortunately, we have not only had differences of opinion but differences which have been carried to the point of physical antagonism. When one has thought of these bad old traditions, one has sometimes been tempted to say not "while there is life there is hope," but, while there is death there is hope. I firmly believe that we can look forward with confidence to Mr. de Valera and his colleagues giving full effect to any promises they have made, and implementing our highest hopes in regard to this Agreement.
It is true that the party opposite have changed their outlook in a most violent way, but if that represents improvement and progress we can afford to dispense with the sackcloth and ashes for what appears to be more tangible results, a better settlement, in these proposals. We had better forgive and forget so far as the past is concerned, and seek a permanent understanding which is embodied in these proposals. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), in his brilliantly logical speech, undoubtedly was convincing so far as history is concerned, but here again it is necessary to get away from the deplorable past. After all, if the Treaty for which he was responsible had any merit it seems to me that we are bettering that Treaty by the proposals we are considering to-night. In the world of human affairs we are often 1144 tempted to have recourse to history and to recriminations rather than indulge in hope and constructive efforts. It has been said that well-governed countries and good women have short histories, and in that case we can hope that the history in connection with our respective countries will be shortened as a result of this Agreement.
On the economic and industrial side there is certainly a prospect of considerable improvement. The freeing of intercourse and the loosening of the embargoes on trade, will undoubtedly do something for employment on both sides of the Channel, and we look forward with confidence to the re-establishment of those trade relationships which have been broken and hindered, to the advantage of Eire and ourselves. I know that in the realm of transport we have been gravely prejudiced, and I look forward with confidence to the prospect of a revival in which the transport undertakings on both sides of the Channel, as well as the cross-Channel services, will participate. It has been said thatthe trappings and the suits of patriotism are as little to be depended upon as the trappings of woe. The springs from which the purest love of country flow must be sought for in the nobler sources.We hope that the foundations of these proposals, in this Agreement, may have their base in this wider and deeper fount. We think that the fears and speculations outlined by the right hon. Member for Epping will be totally unfounded, because some of the most important trusts and most important facts in human life represent the kind of paradox which he derided. It may be true that by dissolving our formal relationships we may thereby be getting still closer together; it may be that it is precisely one of those saving paradoxes which may be most helpful to the relations between Eire and our own country. It was said many years ago of the Athenians:that fearless of consequences they conferred their benefits not from calculations of expediency but in the confidence of liberality.We may hope that such sentiment is the basis of these proposals and an augury of their success.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft
Everyone will agree that the Debate has taken place in a spirit of friendship, and 1145 the speech which has just been delivered is one to which no one on these benches can take any exception. It was a generous recognition of a big effort which is being made towards peace with Ireland. I am reluctant to appear to be in any way critical of this Agreement, because I am so largely in favour of the wide scope of the peace promotion of the Government in Europe at the present time. But I think it is our duty, if we believe in Parliament, to try and draw any lessons we can from the past, not, of course, with a view of making any recriminations, but to make such recapitulations as are necessary to guide us in the future. As one who took a considerable part in the old Home Rule debates before many present hon. Members were in the House, I feel strongly that it is important to remember, in any criticism which may be offered against the super-generosity of these proposals, that in fact some arrangement became almost necessary owing to the fact that the position was completely undermined, from the point of view of the old Unionist party of which I was one, in the year 1921.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) told us eloquently on Monday night that the Government should decide to make a stand somewhere. I would remind the House that in August, 1921, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs declared to the House, which received the words with ringing cheers, that he, for one, would never surrender to those who were at that time described as the "murder gang." A month afterwards, he engaged in discussions about which the Members of the House knew nothing, and thereby prepared the ground for the new chapter in Irish history which followed. Although the history of that time is burnt into our memories, I cannot help reminding the House that the whole spirit of the proposals lay in the belief of the Government of that time that, by the Treaty, the Irish Free State, as it was then called, would henceforward become a loyal self-governing Dominion, just as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the other Dominions are. I will quote a few words from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who was then Prime Minister. He said:We win to our side a nation of deep, a biding and even passionate loyalties… Our peril will be her danger, our fears will be 1146 her anxieties, our victories will be her joy." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1921; col. 49, Vol. 149.]When the right hon. Gentleman scales the heights of poetry, I always feel that he becomes more dangerous, and one cannot help feeling that; although those words have not been reproduced quite so poetically to-day, nevertheless very much the same ideas have been expressed with regard to the proposals that are now before the House. I think it is necessary that some of us should remind our colleagues that at that time it was imagined that all the difficulties which have since occurred would never arise, owing to the Bill which was then carried by the House of Commons. At that time, I ventured to suggest that there were dangers, that although undoubtedly Michael Collins and Arthur Griffiths were acting in good faith, they might be repudiated by those who came after. I ventured to prophesy that the Irish Free State might become, if riot in name, in fact, something very near a republic, and I even said that, in my belief, before many years had passed, one would find that there would be a President in the Irish Free State. To-day, the President was announced.
Those are all difficult facts which we have to face. There is the fact that so soon after the Treaty the Lord-Lieutenant was abolished in all except name, that the King's signature was no longer required —a rubber stamp merely being used, and I believe since then that has been disposed of—and that even under Mr. Cos-grave decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council were swept on one side by retrospective legislation. I remember that in one case the British Government had to yield£150,000 because they were not prepared to challenge the issue. We found that after the Statute of Westminster was passed, the rulers of the Irish Free State at that time—and they do change—claimed the constitutional right to reject each and every article in the Treaty without reference to the other contracting party, namely, Great Britain. We were told that through the instrumentality of the Treaty, they had in Ireland reached the stage of being a completely independent State. All that occurred after the pledges of Mr. Cos-grave and indeed, after this country had absolved Ireland from her total share of the united debt of the United Kingdom, the colossal sum of£150,000,000. From 1147 that time onwards, after Mr. de Valera came into power in 1932, the abolition of the Treaty was speeded up. The taking of the Oath by Members of Parliament in Dublin was got rid of, and they next repealed Section 2 of the Constitution, which gave form of law to the Treaty. From then onwards we found difficulty after difficulty, until the annuities were repudiated. I hope that I have not shown any asperity in going through these incidents of the past.
I thought that the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), to whom one always listens with so much interest, was a little ungenerous in opening the attack on the Government, but I think amends have been made for that by those on the benches opposite who followed. Surely, it was not this country which started the trouble over the annuities. Let it not be forgotten that the predecessor of Mr. de Valera had accepted the annuities, and that the Treaty was signed on that understanding. Therefore, I think it is unfair to suggest that it was the British Government which started the quarrel. As Mr. Cosgrave said only two days ago, the Irish Free State could probably have got what they have got to-day six years ago, if there had been a readiness to do so. Moreover, I think it should be noted, when it is said that His Majesty's Government were not ready to make a deal, that they were prepared to lay the whole matter before a tribunal for arbitration, and that it was the Irish Free State which deprived itself of that tribunal, on which it could have had eminent judicial authorities from the Dominions at any moment it had chosen.
§ Mr. Lunn
Is it not a fact that Mr. de Valera agreed to arbitration? The only point of difference was on the question of the arbitrator. Mr. de Valera said that he wanted an arbitrator chosen from Geneva, where the Irish Treaty had been ratified, and that he would honour any agreement concluded in that way.
§ Sir H. Croft
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his courteous interruption. It does not alter the fact that Mr. de Valera refused to have arbitration from within the British Empire. He was ready to go to Geneva, but it was not Geneva which made the Treaty with Ireland—it was the Imperial Parliament at Westminster. 1148 These incidents from history which I have endeavoured to give demonstrate the fact that the Treaty was, as everybody thought at that time, perhaps the most generous act in the history of any democratic Government. The consequence of it is that we have to ask ourselves whether we are quite sure that super-generosity will receive its reward. I hope it will. The Prime Minister said to-day that this was an act of faith. Had my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping been here, I should have reminded him of a speech which he made at the time when the previous proposals were before the House. He said that in the spirit of faith and hope the Government of Great Britain had put their hand to the plough, and they would not turn back. Those were very similar words to the ones which have been used to-day; but it so happened that after those eloquent words of my right hon. Friend, faith was shattered and hope was destroyed.
Then we come to the more recent quarrels which emanated from the repudiation of the annuities. There is not an Englishman who has not detested this quarrel. Very few Irishmen have really approved of it. Everyone on both sides would have liked to see the matter settled. It was so sad to see an arrangement come to a very few years previously torn up. There is no doubt also that this country lost a great deal of trade, and it was almost disastrous to Ireland. As a young man I used to feel that Ireland was the next place to heaven that one could get on this mortal plane, and I used frequently to go over there. I then noticed the extraordinary good will there was underlying the people of the two countries, how gay the Irish people were, and how their wit delighted us. I am doubtful whether the people of Ireland were assisted by this quarrel, which is now happily at an end.
Is this Agreement definitely going to lead to better days? I say frankly that peace between those who pledge themselves to permanent friendship may be worth while at almost any price. I am not going to haggle at what I would call the shocking financial bargain which is embraced in this Agreement. It will be well worth while if it means a change of atmosphere between this country and Ireland in the days to come, and if it 1149 brings the Irish Free State—or Eire if it is preferred—permanently back into the comity of British nations. If it will do that, what does money matter? But I must record the fact to my regret that, reading both the White Paper and the Bill most carefully, I can find nothing which gives any kind of promise of that achievement. It is rather once more a question of faith and hope on the signature of those who, we are bound to record, have not endeavoured very generously to interpret the terms of the Treaty which came before.
It seems to me that we have given to Eire everything which it is in our power to give. For heaven's sake do not let any one on the Front Bench—it has been avoided up to now—take any pride in the fact that Northern Ireland has not been coerced to join with the South. I doubt whether there are many people in the House who would ever dream of permitting coercion. Ulster, of all the countries in the world, happens to be the most valuable friend of this country. Her trade with us last year, if I may talk of such material things, was greater than that of any other country in the world, and the trade was balanced; it was mutual. The tonnage of shipping carrying cargoes cleared in Ulster last year was almost one-tenth of our total shipping, and greater than the whole of our carrying trade to Africa. When we think of such facts we realise how interwoven Ulster is with the fate of this country. I think I am right in saying—and it would be much wiser if we recognised this fact—that although some happy day may come when the people of Northern Ireland will desire to come into a happy and loyal dominion of united Ireland, never, I believe, will any Parliament in any circumstances or under any threat of danger be party to the coercion of Ulster. We are not going to see another Czechoslovakia, or turn a part of Ireland into a kind of Sudeten Deutschland. Even in that case there is a difference because the Germans who dwell in Czechoslovakia have not been under Germanic power for many years, whereas the people of Ulster are within our system and nothing will ever drive them out.
We have once again to realise that the Government are attempting a really generous impulse. We are sacrificing in these proposals great treasure; we are 1150 sacrificing great Parliamentary principles, allowing the law to be flouted and, nevertheless, going on stretching out our hand; we have sacrificed one supremely important part of our Defence in giving up the naval ports. All this has been done in the belief that this great and final—as think it must be, because there is nothing more to give—act of generosity may have its reward in the days to come. I pray that that may be so, and that the result of our decisions to-day may lead to a better state of affairs. That being the case, may I make an appeal, if it could possibly go over the waters, as one who has consistently believed, as some one very unlike myself, a great man—President Lincoln—believed, that it is imperative we should try to keep the whole of the peoples together and that branches should not break away. I have consistently opposed the breaking up of the United Kingdom, and I still believe that the people of Ireland would be far better off if they were in the United Kingdom to-day. I believe the Irishman appreciates those who have opposed Home Rule on principle perhaps a little more than those who have merely used the question as a political matter for swinging votes one way or the other in the House of Commons.
Having given all that mortal man can give, as far as I can see, under this Agreement, may we not make an appeal to the people of Ireland that they will come hack into the Empire as partners just as any other Dominion of the Crown? May we not ask for their re-entry into our councils, into our common collective ideals? Ireland alone is a small Power. Isolated she can never take a big place in world affairs. As such she will never count as much in world politics, but as an equal partner of Great Britain, of Canada and Australia—what influence she will be able to exercise ! Is not this perhaps the one chance when we can get the new spirit which has been asked for upon all the benches to-day, may we not hope for an early movement in this direction of fraternity in answer to this really staggering gift which His Majesty's Government with immense courage have decided to make to Ireland?
I cannot help believing that this is perhaps one of those psychological opportunities, in the history of nations, when great things may arise. I do not believe it 1151 is possible for any period of time that there could be an Ireland hostile to this country in the event of war. I do not believe she could remain neutral. What a happy result it would be of our deliberations to-day if the proud people of Ireland were to realise the nature of the gift which her comrade across the Irish Channel is offering to her to-day. If she can work in that spirit then, in my belief, she will be able through the genius of her race, the valour of her people, all those great qualities which we who know Irishmen know they possess, to win a great place for the Irish nation. Her destiny will then be fulfilled, if only this chance be seized with both hands, and I believe that we from this side can say to her, "Come as brothers into the comity of the British Empire, and we will hail you as friends." Then, indeed, we shall be able to stand beside each other for the common good of all in the days to come.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Macquisten
I am sure that we all echo the eloquent appeal which has been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft). Like myself he has been a convinced opponent of the Home Rule movement for over half a century, I am sure. I can go away back to 1885; I remember the contest then over Mr. Gladstone's first proposals the "In and Out" clauses and all the complications that arose out of them. I remember also speaking very strongly against the Irish Treaty when it was signed. I felt it to be a very humiliating thing for Great Britain, because to some extent it was a yielding to force on the part of what was then called the Motherland. There is nothing of that kind about this Treaty. This is a free act of the British Government. It is not forced at the point of the pistol. There were not three Irish gunmen in the garden at 10, Downing Street as there were at Chequers shortly before the Irish Treaty. Therefore, we can say that it is after the mature consideration which the Prime Minister gives to every subject that he has tackled this arrangement, which has been negotiated, as someone said, by a Scottish Highlander who knows his Scottish history, and realises that we in the Highlands were far worse treated by the British Government than ever were the people in Ireland.
§ Mr. Macquisten
It is a wonderful performance to get an agreement with Mr. de Valera at all. No British person has ever been able to do it before. I remember the hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) saying in a speech in this House that to enter into a discussion with Mr. de Valera was like sitting on a merry-go-round horse and following another man seated upon the horse in front of you, that you both went round and round but never got any nearer to one another. So it is a wonderful thing to have come to a settlement at all. I hope that Mr. de Valera does not suffer for it in Ireland. We must all recollect the tragic end, to which allusion was made by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), of those who signed the Irish Treaty. That showed what a difficult job it is to govern Ireland. The Prime Minister knows the difficulties of endeavouring to govern Ireland, where it has always been a tradition to be "agin the Government," no matter what Government it was, and perhaps we should all feel grateful that a man like Mr. de Valera has emerged even though he has only a majority of one. We may have to do a good deal, perhaps, to help him to get along.
We do not want to see Ireland getting back into the state of chaos in which it was when Pope Gregory, in the eleventh century, urged the British to take over the Government of Ireland. It was a time of chaos and of assassinations, and there has been trouble in Ireland more or less ever since. I am hopeful that this Agreement will bring a final settlement, but we must realise that we are dealing with a difficulty which is 700 years old and that it is not so easy to get rid of all those things. We are dealing also with an Irish tradition. Those who have read of the Fitzgeralds will remember how one Fitzgerald said to the other, "Never make peace with England, always be a rebel. The rebels are the only people who can get anything out of the English. Would your grandfather have been made the Queen's deputy and have acquired all his vast estates and money if he had attempted to assist the English? No; he rebelled, and that is how he won his success." That has been the tradition in Ireland for centuries, and it is one of the difficulties of the situation.
1153 The right hon. Member for Epping made a speech which cast a great deal of gloom over us all. It was a very powerful speech and he anticipated the worst. Well, time will show, but I do riot think it lay in his mouth to make that speech, seeing that he was one of those who made the Treaty in 1921, because this Agreement is the logical out-some of that Treaty. There is no doubt about that. I think I pointed out at the time that that Treaty was only a halfway house, and that all sorts of further events would come out of it. If you are going to treat a country well you must go the whole way, and we would have gone the whole way if Ulster had agreed, but we cannot do it because Ulster will not have it, and the very thought of coercion is impossible. I do not think that Ulster is in danger as a result of this arrangement, and I sincerely trust that it will never again be in such danger as it was in March, 1914, when the right hon. Member for Epping was First Lord of the Admiralty and it was reported that the British Fleet and the British Army were to be used to coerce Ulster. Fortunately, the British Army realised that it could not be used in civil war, and it refused to deal with the situation, and Belfast was not bombarded, although the rumour was that that had been contemplated in an effort to coerce Ulster.
All those dangers have disappeared, but now we have the right hon. Member for Epping, who was a member of the Cabinet which negotiated the Irish Treaty, holding up to us all the dreadful arguments, presented with the tremendous power which he alone can use, which should have appealed to him in 1921 and prevented him then from going on with the Treaty, which was a very grave surrender to the forces of violence and disorder. The Ulster problem is a very old problem. That north-east corner of Ireland has always been at war with the other parts of Ireland, at least for more than 2,000 years, since the days when Maimi, Queen of Connaught fought with King Cuchullin or Fynn McCool, I forget which. They are a different race, they are really Scottish. I always cherish a regard for the North of Ireland, because when the people of Skye were being massacred by the butcher Cumberland all my people fled to Belfast—you will find there Macquisten churches and halls to this day—and Ulster sheltered us from 1154 our deadly enemies. I have a strong and kindly feeling for the great heart of Ulster. I should be horrified if anything were done to injure her.
One of the other things that strike me relates to the ports. Hon. Members will have noticed that the farthest Mr. de Valera could go was to promise us that he would not allow Ireland to be used on behalf of any enemy. He dare not promise that he would allow us to use Ireland, because his own people would not have backed him. He has a far worse team to drive than even the Leader of the Opposition. I noticed that one of them broke out the other day and said he would like poison gas to be let loose on the border and Mr. de Valera, who has a lot of extremists to deal with, rebuked him. Mr. de Valera himself was one of the extremists in the time of Michael Collins, and he must always be wondering when it is to be his turn, and some other extremist is going to take his place. The leader of an enthusiastic and imaginative people like the Irish is the one who can always play a higher stake and be more extreme than the others. We have given Ireland great concessions, and if it is true that Ireland realises that this Government and the British Navy are her real defenders, can we not confidently hope, whatever Irish opinion may be just now, that when the time comes of real stress, Ireland will realise that her interests are our interests? That is all we can hope for.
We have made big concessions and done a lot for Ireland financially, but you cannot buy patriotism or the affection of a people any more than you can of an individual. In fact, the worst thing you can do for some people is to advance them money. The old saying is, lend a friend money and you will lose your money and your friend, and there is a great deal of truth in it. I have often in real life noticed that if you do a man a good turn he will never forgive you. We gave the Irish people vast sums in connection with the land purchase. That may to some extent come out of Irish history when English law was enforced, with English rights of proprietorship. The old days of the clan system in Ireland were much better for the carrying on of the agriculture of the country than the system of land-owning tenants. You had a chief whose business it was to stand by his clan. They were all friends, and 1155 there was no social distinction whatever. The English, with their ideals of the rights of property, broke all that up, and we lost the peasantry, in the old Irish sense. Giving back all the money to buy them out was to some extent an act of restitution.
Of course, it was very shocking that it should be repudiated and that we poor English taxpayers should have to pay for it, but the real problem presented to Mr. de Valera was that the economic system in Ireland was breaking down. If we had gone on with those annuities there might have been a bankruptcy, or a bust-up. Every sensible creditor knows that it is far better to take a composition and keep your debtor alive than to make him bankrupt. This is a composition of 2s. in the£ I have often seen a debtor get a discharge from his creditor privately for less, without any public scandal. One of the best lessons of this sort I ever had was when I attended a meeting in the Cannon Street Hotel of creditors of a Scottish company. The chief creditors were offered a composition, but they would not take it. They insisted upon accepting some 25 per cent. of the composition the company offered. They would not take the big composition, and I was puzzled about it, and so was the Scottish accountant. It was a long time before I could get the reason, but one of the creditors eventually told me that the business had been a very honest firm and a good payer for 50 years, being perfectly straight, and that the creditors had wanted the business to be kept alive for fear some other person came to Glasgow who might be much more difficult to deal with. That astonished me, because if the creditors had all been Scotsmen they would have divided the assets as quickly as possible, and divided up the debtor, too. I need not say to what race the creditors belonged. They were long-headed men of vision and view, and the whole lot of them were of the Chosen Race.
We are making an enormous concession,: but we must not count that£100,000,000 as though it were in our bank. We have not collected it, and if we had insisted upon going on with the methods that we did we might never have got it. It is much better to make a virtue out of a necessity. I do not want to say 1156 we are unjust but it was the unjust steward who said:Take thy bill quickly, and write ' fifty.I would point out that the Lord commended the unjust steward. If we have been unjust stewards in this matter in regard to the English taxpayers possibly we have done something that will redound to our credit down the corridors of time. I hope that we have at last appeased Ireland and that we shall be able to get rid of the age-old hatred. I hope that the Irish will realise, however, that we are at the back of Ulster, and that until they have really wooed and won her they must leave Ulster alone. For our part, we wish to be friends with Ireland. We shall look to her to supply us with agricultural products and to take our trade and our products. In engineering this settlement, if it be a settlement, the Prime Minister has done more than has been achieved by all the settlements that have been made for Ireland in the past.
§ 9.24 p.m.
Mr. Creech Jones
There has been a feeling of inevitability in the discussion to-day in regard to the Agreement which has been come to with Ireland. Some of us may be a little critical of the terms and the cost involved, but there is a general consensus of opinion that it is right that this tragic dispute should be brought to an end, whatever the cost. That is the justification of the Agreements and it is, in my judgment, an act of faith. I am glad, as far as those on the other side of the House are concerned, that their opposition is broken and that there is more of a reconciliatory spirit there than was evidenced four or five years ago. The bitter and short-sighted things that were said are now forgotten but only after unfortunately, considerable cost in feeling and in material things. That bitterness, we hope, will be eradicated by the Agreement.
But this new policy illustrates another phase of Imperial politics because before the rising tide of nationalism, and a determined nationalism, Imperialism has to beat a retreat. This is another liquida 1157 tion of liabilities similar to the liquidation that has been going on in recent years in respect of India and Egypt. It is obvious to us all that neither safety nor material satisfaction can be got by coercion. Imperialism is a source of trouble and anxiety. We cannot live in peace with those whom we have brought into subjection. I suspected, when the Prime Minister was making his statement, that it was possibly the menace of an unfriendly Ireland in the event of a European struggle that had stimulated the Government into action, and certainly he conveyed the feeling that an impoverished Ireland could not well sustain the amount that we were receiving in respect of Import Duties.
Nevertheless, I should like to join in the congratulations to the Secretary of State for the Dominions on the friendly spirit that he brought into these negotiations, and I believe the Agreement will end, after these five and a-half years, the poisoned relations between the two countries. It is obvious that our reprisals have failed to coerce Ireland; we have been unable to force her to repay the annuities which she repudiated; we have been unable to restrain her from changing her constitution to her own liking, and we have been unable to dominate her by our economic power or our Imperial authority. After this long experience we have paid heavily for our folly.
As far as the terms of the Agreement are concerned, it seems to me that all the material advantages are with Northern and Southern Ireland, and it is the British taxpayer who will be called upon to foot the Bill. But in any case the economic war between the countries is brought to an end and the annuities quarrel is ended, and it is because I think this is a stage to better understanding between England and Ireland, and also between Northern and Southern Ireland, that I think the friendship is worth the cost involved.
§ Sir R. Ross
The hon. Member says there is an advantage to Northern Ireland. If he would address himself to the advantages that Northern Ireland gets out of it I should be very grateful, because I do not see what they are.
Mr. Creech Jones
The Prime Minister has already stated that certain con 1158 cessions will be made to Northern Ireland, and I gather that the Secretary of State is shortly to give an estimate of the cost that the concessions involve.
Mr. Creech Jones
It must be obvious that, with a view to easing the good feeling of Northern Ireland, financial and other concessions have been made. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) expressed concern about the position of the naval ports, and it seemed to me that his logic was irresistible, but as against that it would be a greater source of anxiety in the event of European difficulty if agreement were not secured. In recognising the nationality of Ireland we must, it seems to me, find our new security in a sound and solid friendship. That friendship must be solidly based, and faith must justify itself by its works in days to come.
I am glad that the penal clauses in the fiscal relations of the two countries have now been removed. In the past few years British producers have suffered badly from the policy that we have been pursuing. Under the new conditions British manufacturers and producers stand to gain, as also do the Irish farmers. Here we have a further illustration of the folly of economic nationalism. It is demonstrated again very clearly that this policy of extreme economic nationalism is suicidal in the long run, and it is obvious that freer trade will remove much of the bitterness that had previously existed.
For the moment Partition is put on one side. We have been reminded that this question is deep in the hearts of all Irishmen, and there can be no permanent settlement of the relations of Great Britain and Ireland until this matter of Partition has been finally settled. The present position is not permanent but the present position is costly, stupid in many respects and incomprehensible. One expects by this Agreement that the two sides will be brought closer together and this rift will be removed. Of course, in all agreements of this kind there are risks which have to be taken, but we all agree that the whole story of Irish history is tragic in the extreme and, if a friendly and generous relationship is to be estab 1159 lished, we must act as previous speakers have said both in hope and in faith. I believe the agreement is a stage on the way to a wholesome, rational and respectful relationship.
§ 9.34 P.m.
§ Mr. Maxwell
I am something rather unique at the moment, a Southern Irish Loyalist, born and brought up in the very strict traditions of Irish Unionists in the days shortly before the War. I want to say a word because one might expect from that start that I should be wholeheartedly supporting the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). That is not so, and it is because of the traditions in which I was brought up, love of Ireland and extreme loyalty to the Crown and the Empire, that I feel that I should support the Government in their effort to make an improvement—I will not put it higher than that—in the position between the peoples of the two countries. It is because I want to see a closer unity between these two peoples that I support this Agreement. It is not in the least because I think that we are making any final settlement of the age-long Irish question. I do not believe that that will ever be done solely by any act of the British Government; it is something which, when it comes about, will come about purely by the will of the people of Ireland, who one day, we hope, will realise their common interest with us, and the fact that their real interest lies in coming into closer co-operation with this country.
When I listened to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping and the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton, I was reminded of the speeches that were made on the Treaty in 1921; and it is curious that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping to-day was exactly similar to those which were made in opposition to him in that Debate, and to which he replied. In those circumstances. with my background, I certainly should have supported those speeches, but the position is entirely different to-day, for two reasons. One is that we no longer have any control whatever over the internal affairs of Ireland, and we have no forceful control in Ireland at all. The other reason is that we no longer have 1160 the same problem of the Irish loyalists to deal with. In those days we should have been thinking how we were to look after them, but now it is quite clear that their interests are best served, not by any stern measures that this country might take, but by the better feeling which we hope to engender in the people of Ireland for this country. The situation to-day is different, because now there is only one thing that we can do, and that is to leave Ireland to herself, in the hope that she will, as I said before, wish of her own free will to come closer to this country. In those days we had a different alternative. We could have tried to use force, and by forceful persuasion to rule her sternly, in the hope that, seeing the benefits we gave her, she would eventually, after some generations, perhaps, desire the co-operation which we also desired.
Obviously there are defects in this Agreement; they have been very forcibly put this afternoon by several hon. Members; but when we are told that we are giving away the whole position, I cannot help asking, if we are to retain the position, what is the position that we are retaining? It is an extremely unsatisfactory position, one of bitterness and hostility, one which will never afford us the security that we should like to feel with our neighbouring country, and one which would always be something of which the British Empire would feel slightly ashamed. I regard this country and Ireland as two parent countries, and, if children see their parents squabbling, they very quickly lose the respect they should have for them. I cannot help feeling that from the point of view of the British Empire taken as a whole, the sooner we can put an end to the bitterness and ill feeling that exists between the two countries, the better for the welfare of the Empire. The only course seems now to be to aim at a friendship wanted by both peoples and not dictated by either.
The details of the Agreement are obviously too technical to be entered into by me this evening, but I have no doubt that considerable benefit will derive from it to traders in both countries. I would, however, like to say a word about the agricultural question, and, as representing an agricultural constituency in this House, I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agri 1161 culture on having done something which is very remarkable. He has managed to negotiate an agreement which, so far as I can understand, satisfies the National Farmers' Union in this country.
§ Mr. Maxwell
I am corrected by my hon. Friend, but, according to the reports I have from my part of the country, the farmers feel satisfied that the Minister has made a good bargain, in that he has succeeded in negotiating an agreement and retaining for himself the power, if necessary, to regulate imports in order to regulate the markets of this country. That was no easy thing to do.
The general terms of the Agreement, as we have heard this afternoon, must in some circumstances be regarded as unsatisfactory; they have unsatisfactory features about them. Nobody could have listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping this afternoon without feeling that he put a logical and strong case with regard to the ports. But I think it would be wrong to look at the particular points in this Agreement without at the same time regarding the general background of the gain that we are going to get through acceptance of the Agreement; and we must not forget that the Agreement would not have been obtained at all but for the fact that the ports were included in it. I am not sure that to have rights in ports in the country of an unfriendly neighbour would put us in any better position than having a friendly neighbour co-operating with us in protecting those ports, and I feel that something much better may emerge from this particular point in the Agreement. It is quite possible, as I see it, that, instead of this country being obliged to protect Ireland, we may get collaboration between this country and the Free State to protect the British Isles, and that, to my mind, would be a factor conducive to renewed friendship and common interest between the two peoples which would be invaluable.
Many of my hon. Friends have spoken this afternoon about the question of partition. I hasten to say that I regard this question as one which is certainly not soluble at the present moment, and this Agreement is not going to do anything material to increase the chances of a settlement of the partition question. At the same time, I would say that, if any 1162 settlement of that question ever comes, it will not be because of the British Government taking any part in coercing Ulster or handing over Ulster, but because of a change of heart on the part of the people of Southern Ireland, who one day may feel that they wish to live in such friendly co-operation and unity with Great Britain that then the North will feel inclined to alter the situation as it is to-day. As far as that goes, I think this Agreement may bring the day nearer, because I am convinced that it can almost be guaranteed at any rate to improve relations.
I said at the beginning that I was born and brought up an Irish Loyalist, and that my main object in commending this Agreement was that I thought it would improve the relative positions of the two peoples. I look forward to a day when a good Irishman can also be a good British subject and a day when he will be equally cheered in both countries. As I said before, Ireland is a parent country, and I look forward to a day—and I think this Agreement brings that day nearer—when Irish people will look upon the British Empire as a great factor for peace and freedom in the world and when they will take pride in the part that they have played in building it up.
§ 9.47 p.m.
Mr. Vyvyan Adams
My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Maxwell), a loyalist from Southern Ireland, most generously accepts this Agreement but deplores the history that contains its origin. So do I. But I think this accumulation of regrets which we have heard to-night makes us face as the grim and bitter fact that, as I ventured to say in a Debate in July, 1933, the formal union between this country and Ireland has gone, and no mere argument of ours in this country can ever avail to restore it. What I believe we can do now is to create a union of good will. The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), who also made a generous speech in support of the Agreement, stated that "his earliest creed was cradled in Irish agitation." I felt that he was as generous as His Majesty's Government; I am afraid the Agreement which we are now ratifying means that the hon. Member for Burslem has finally lost all chance of getting a job as an Trish agitator for which he was peculiarly fitted by his early training.
1163 I am sorry to-night to be unable to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who has made, over the last few weeks and months, a series of great speeches. If I may say so without presumption, I think that recently he has very rarely been wrong. But I am comforted by the knowledge that every incident in his incredibly and incomparably distinguished career has not shown him invariably to have been right. For reasons which I hope to give in a few moments, I do not think either that the past is analogous to the present or that the present justifies the kind of apprehensions which he unfolded about the future.
I, for my part, am very pleased indeed with this Agreement, and I would like if I may to offer to the Prime Minister and to the Dominions Secretary my sincere and unqualified congratulations. Indeed, I would like to illustrate the measure of my delight. This Agreement with Eire and the successful conversations with France prevented me last Monday from voting against what I dare to describe as the fragile and vulnerable Anglo-Italian Agreement. While I could not support the Government on that occasion, I would not oppose a British Government which was simultaneously capable of such clear-sighted and enlightened generosity. No doubt that was because I belong, if I may use the charitable language of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who is no longer, I regret to see, in his place, to "that docile majority which always responds to the crack of the Government Whip." Never was there any majority so painfully stereotyped as the present personnel of His Majesty's Opposition.
In the history of this dispute I do not now wish to attribute any blame to either side in our domestic politics in this country or to the English or the Irish nations. But there has been a very long and bitter history between these two peoples. The Agreement with Eire goes a long way towards erasing one of the darkest blots on the standard of Great Britain. The hon. Member for Gower provokes me to add that I do not believe that this Agreement would have been achieved by a British Government of the Left without every circumstance of panic, of uproar, and of crisis. Yet the most 1164 generous measure of independence ever conceded to the sister island has come about paradoxically when there is in England a Government of the Right Centre relying on the support of an immense Unionist majority.
The hon. Member for Ashton-underLyme (Mr. Simpson) recommended us in our party to assume sackcloth and ashes. That seems to me a charming but quite superfluous taunt, because I believe that there was in the past a very strong case that the interests of England and Ireland would have been best served by a continuous and consistent Unionist policy. The word "continuous" in this connection is vital. That was a point which the late Sir Austen Chamberlain made when he was commending to his party and to the House the Treaty of 1921. That was a date long before I or any of my contemporaries enjoyed a scintilla of political responsibility. As we know, that continuous policy was not followed, and we have in our history over and over again paid the penalty for allowing Ireland to become, as it were, the shuttlecock of English party politics.
I believe that, at this date in history, this Agreement is cheap at the price. The interest on the capital sum involved is not more than £4,000,000 or£5,000,000 a year, and I believe that what we are going to gain from this Agreement in good will and eventual understanding is well worth it. May I venture to say that there is only one way now to win the confidence of our neighbours, those charming, those handsome, those fearless people, and that is by the utmost generosity? I remember when Mr. Thomas was perhaps not too happily using the kind of technique appropriate to negotions with the Germans. At that time I was in favour, and in this House I declared myself in favour, of allowing to Southern Ireland an independent extra-Imperial tribunal on the matter of the Oath and the annuities. Anybody who is interested and doubts that statement of mine can see what I said in the OFFICIAL REPORT of, I think, some date in July, 1933. I still venture to think that a subsequent mass of trouble and uncertainty would have been avoided by this means.
I am just old enough to remember that 30 years ago the whole of this country was reverberating with the word 1165 " Ulster," and I think my party owes it to our colleagues who represent various constituencies in Northern Ireland to say that if we felt that the political integrity of that industrious and that trustworthy Dominion were endangered by this Agreement with Eire, we should not consider ourselves free to support it; but there is, as I read this Agreement, no evidence at all of any such infringement. I hope there never will be, because Ulster is a Dominion on whose population we in this country can always rely. But, if I may, I will make this special plea, with all the emphasis at my command, Never let that Dominion down. Any views about partition must be governed, I think, by that principle. As the Prime Minister most rightly said earlier in to-day Debate, there must be no hint of pressure upon Ulster coming from Great Britain.
I shall sit down in a moment lest I should seem to neutralise the value of that recent gift from the First Commissioner of Works. Many speakers have laid special stress upon the matter of Defence. The Prime Minister said it was a matter which caused the Government great anxiety. Naturally—but I think that in the solution which they have reached they have taken the right course. We know the trouble that began in 1916 and the difficulties in and around Ireland in subsequent years both on land and at sea. The only course which would be likely to produce a recurrence of that trouble would be a resumption by ourselves of a policy which at least contributed to the Easter Rebellion of 1916. As to warfare I, enjoying, as I do, the glad irresponsibility of the back benches, can say something which no Member of the Government could say —something which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping perhaps forgot to say, though he is usually very emphatic upon this matter. Our most probable enemy in any future war is Germany. But can anyone in this House see the Eire of Mr. de Valera betraying us in this country, a fellow-democracy with Ireland, to the baiters of the Jews and the persecutors of the Roman Catholics?
§ 9.57 P.m.
§ Mr. Lunn
I have heard the whole of this Debate, which has run very smoothly. There has been scarcely a ripple on the surface. My hon. Friend 1166 the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) was a little critical of the Government, but he welcomed the Bill and also generously welcomed the economic conditions which, as he explained, will arise out of the Bill, especially in regard to the coal industry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was the most critical of those who spoke, but I think his speech was, to a certain extent, cancelled out by that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). That, to me, was one of the most striking features in the Debate. The hon. Member who has just spoken is one of the Members who occasionally vote against the Government and I believe he is one who justifies some of my hon. Friends in talking about the Popular Front, but he never fails to have a dig at the Labour party as he has done this evening.
The most remarkable speech of to-day, however, has been that of the Prime Minister. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said a few years ago that the House was becoming like a sort of pleasant Sunday afternoon, with the dear vicar in charge. The present Prime Minister was not Prime Minister then, but no Prime Minister ever donned that mantle more effectively than the right hon. Gentleman did to-day. He was not the Prime Minister to whom we are accustomed. He was reminiscent of the Home Rule days of 1886 and 1893, but he carefully glided over the events of 1932. What happened then is hardly a pleasant remembrance for the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman was largely responsible for it. It was he who imposed the penal duties on Ireland, and I wondered where I was to-day, as I listened to him, having so often heard him in a different role. Really one can expect anything from some politicians. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said recently, the vicissitudes of politics, and politicians, are inexhaustible, and we have had an example to-day in the Prime Minister.
I was rather surprised by the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but I must say that I welcomed the repentance which it indicated. I wish the right hon. Gentleman could be as reasonable in dealing with foreign affairs. To-day he was beautifully conciliatory; on other occasions we feel that he is seeking a war between this country and other countries. He 1167 said that by this Agreement we were opening a new chapter in our relations with Eire. I wish the right hon. Gentleman were as sound on a wider system of collective security. I agree with this Bill and shall support it, but I wish to reply to some points which have been made by certain members who do not appear to remember 1932. The settlement of differences between this country and the Irish Free State and the removal of the bitterness and ignorance which have existed in recent years, are welcome to all of us on this side, and I believe to the House generally. I have often said since the beginning of these differences in 1932 that efforts should be made to establish peace. I always opposed the Special Duties and I sought for their abolition at every opportunity. Now we understand that Ireland is to be in the same position as any other Dominion and is to enjoy the same Imperial preferences as those guaranteed to other Dominions. I understand that the Irish export subsidies will also be withdrawn, and I think it is safe to say that the economic war will be ended, as a result of this Agreement. We hope that the Agreement will secure for us the friendship of Ireland—of her Government, and of her people.
The Agreement regarding Defence has been criticised rather severely by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, but it ought to mean that we have removed the hostility of the Irish Free State. That hostility ought never to have existed, as it has existed since 1932. But, to me, it is not so much the material advantages of the Agreement that are welcomed as the good relations and the removal of bitterness which we may expect as a result of it. It may well be that the whole world will benefit from this Agreement. I have been concerned in these matters ever since the War and particularly since 1932, and I have made my view very clear. It is necessary that we should understand what the position is now and what it has been in the last five or six years. The Irish Free State, I say, never actually refused to pay what we regarded as their debt. The moneys which we said were due were held in a suspense account, in anticipation of arbitration. On 5th April, 1932, Mr. de Valera in a dispatch to the Dominions Secretary said:The British Government can rest assured that any just and lawful claims of Great 1168 Britain or of any creditors of the Irish Free State will be scrupulously honoured by this Government.They disputed our claim to the land annuities; and, in the despatch dated 4th July, 1932, they also disputed the claim in regard to all other annual or periodic payments, except those made in pursuance of agreements formally ratified by the Parliaments of both States. These totalled something like £4,000,000. All these, as the Prime Minister said to-day, amount when capitalised to more than £100,000,000. They are to be settled by a lump sum payment of £10,000,000 if this Bill becomes law. I compliment Mr. de Valera on his achievement. It is a remarkable one, and I think he ought to have our compliments more than anybody else who has been concerned with the negotiations. Yet he has been perfectly honest and fair from the beginning of this dispute.
In the despatch I quoted a moment ago, Mr. de Valera offered to go to arbitration on all these disputed payments, and said that both parties must agree in advance to be bound by the arbitral award. The only dispute was as to who should be the arbitrator and how he should be selected. It was not that Mr. de Valera insisted, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said, that the arbitrator should be a foreigner. Mr. de Valera, while accepting the principle of arbitration, said that he wanted a tribunal not limited to the British Commonwealth, which meant that the arbitrator might be either a foreigner or somebody from the British Commonwealth. In these discussions, I have always said that I believed in the justice of our claims to the annuities, but I felt that we should accept Mr. de Valera's offer to agree to an arbitrator appointed by Geneva. If that had been done years ago there might have been a different story to tell. I have no right to assume that the Irish Free State would have been assured of a decision in their favour. It might have gone against them, but Mr. de Valera always said that they would honour the decision if it went to arbitration.
On 8th July, 1932, I, as the spokesman for the Labour party, said, and I have repeated it several times, that the Treaty between this country and Ireland was ratified at Geneva, and that we should 1169 accept Mr. de Valera's offer and not limit the choice of an arbitrator to a person from the British Empire, as desired by our Government, but that he should be chosen internationally by the League of Nations from anywhere in the world. Both parties were to agree on the person who was to arbitrate. Our Government up to a few weeks ago would never agree, so we had penal duties imposed, which have punished us at least as much as they have hurt the Irish Free State, and we have had bitterness and enmity ever since. We have not sought peace until now. And think what the cost has been if our case was a good one. Anyone ought to be able to settle the dispute on these terms. We are not going to get one-tenth of what the Government said was due to them. There is not much in settling on those lines if the case was as good as the Government said it was. If they were so sure, they ought to have accepted Mr. de Valera's terms.
I believe that, in many respects, we are paying dearly for the stupidity of the Government. They are the most wasteful and extravagant Government we have had since the War. Hardly any people have paid their debts to us; but let it be our own unemployed, and there is a different position arising. In 1931 the Labour Government were hounded from office because they desired to buy bread and butter for our own people. [Interruption.] I know the facts, and that is the reason, and the only reason, why the Labour Government were hounded from office. We desire peace and amity between the two countries. We shall support the Bill and the Money Resolution, because it will end the economic war which this Government instituted in 1932. I hope that henceforth we and Ireland will be able to enjoy a real friendship. But I think I am entitled to call attention to the fact that the stupidity of this Government has been the cause of all this bitterness, and, in my opinion, that is another indication that they are not fit to govern either this country or Ireland.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Malcolm MacDonald)
The Government are naturally gratified at the friendly way the Bill has been received in almost all parts of the House. It is true that some Members of the Opposition, in order to find something about which to 1170 disagree with the Government, have made excursions into history, but I think the story which they have conjured up has not always been quite fairly told. You would imagine, for instance, that the origin of this dispute in 1932 had been some action on the part of this Government, whereas, of course, the dispute was due to the withholding of certain payments by the Government of the Irish Free State. It is true, also, that some hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House, who have spoken with deep sincerity and conviction, and who are moved by considerations of high public importance, have expressed grave concern about some features of the Agreements which have been reached with the Government of Eire. I shall say something about the arguments they have put forward in the course of my speech. But, generally speaking, this Measure has been welcomed in every quarter of the House.
§ Mr. MacDonald
I think this general welcome is of significance and hope. On most questions which come before this House we are deeply divided by parties. To-day the party divisions have almost completely disappeared. The Debate has shown that there is an unusual measure of national support in this country for the Agreements. When we look across the Irish Channel we see exactly the same thing happening there. On most issues which come before the Irish Dail a fierce party warfare is maintained, but during the last few days all parties in the Dail have joined in approving these Agreements. If some opposition had appeared which disapproved of the Agreements and which threatened, as they did in 1921, to repudiate these Agreements when they came into power, then the good results which we expect to flow from these Agreements would be less secure. But when there is an agreement between two countries which receives the support not only of the two Governments concerned but also of the Oppositions in these countries, and which is manifestly approved by the great majority of both peoples, then indeed are the foundations of better relations between these countries being well and truly laid.
1171 This Bill deals with a number of questions which have been matters of sore dispute between the Government in London and the Government in Dublin for many years past, but the quarrel between the two peoples has a much more ancient history than that. Its roots go far back into the past. It has been maintained through successive generations with almost unflagging zeal and spirit on both sides, and often it has seemed to be a feud which would never be amicably settled. One of the most wonderful qualities of the British Commonwealth of Nations is its capacity for reconciling within itself previously warring races. It is not so very long ago that the French and the British in Canada were engaged in a deadly rivalry for predominance in that vast territory. To-day they live contentedly side by side as equal citizens of the Commonwealth.
§ Mr. MacDonald
Within our own lifetime the Dutch and the British were at each other's throats in South Africa, but to-day the very same men who were opposed to each other then are sitting side by side in the Government of that great Dominion. It is the faith of this Government that by the exercise of the same qualities, and by the encouragement of the same mutual respect and trust, another great miracle of reconciliation may take place, between the Irish people and the British. I must, of course, be very cautious in my language. It is impossible to speak with absolute confidence. It would be foolish categorically to say that this or that will happen. I can only tell the House that the Government after long, thorough and friendly discussion with Mr. de Valera and his colleagues, came to the conclusion that they would be justified in signing these Agreements, and that these Agreements hold out a reasonable prospect of a real, substantial and permanent betterment in the relations between the two countries.
I must now pass to some of the particular questions regarding Anglo-Irish relations which have been discussed this afternoon, all of which have been matters of dispute between the two countries, and some of which are dealt with in this Bill and thereby are removed from the category of subjects of dispute. First, 1172 I will refer to one or two questions which are not in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) and one or two other hon. Members asked me whether such questions as the treatment in Eire of citizens of this country seeking employment had been discussed during these negotiations. That question was not discussed. We took the view that if we were able to settle some of the major matters in dispute we could leave some of the other matters, because we should find that they were easier of settlement as a result of the major questions being disposed of.
Then I come to the question of Partition. Hon. Members have spoken a great deal about Partition. The Prime Minister has said that that matter was discussed fully and frankly in the course of our meetings with the Irish Ministers. Mr. de Valera, for his part, expressed the view that there could be no complete and permanent friendship such as he desired to see between the peoples of the two countries as long as the partition of Ireland continued. We, on our part, replied that we could agree to no modification of the present position which did not have not only the consent of the people and Government of Eire, but also the consent of the people and Government of Northern Ireland. I need not repeat the arguments and counter-arguments that were exchanged on that matter. I am only concerned with the facts of the situation as it is left by these Agreements.
In these Agreements, or outside these Agreements in the form of any secret understanding, there is nothing which alters in any way the constitutional position of Northern Ireland as it was before the conversations started. There is no change whatever. Nevertheless, some of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland have expressed—although their speeches have been couched in friendly tones, which the Government appreciate—certain criticisms of the treatment of Northern Ireland producers under the Trade Agreement particularly. They have asserted that manufacturers in Northern Ireland have not got such a good bargain as manufacturers in the rest of the United Kingdom. I should like to say that we sympathise deeply with the hardships which many people engaged in manufactures in Northern Ireland have had to suffer during the period of the economic 1173 war. Hon. Members for Northern Ireland constituencies have complained that we have not succeeded in restoring the position of their manufacturers to what it was before the tariff war started. That is true also of manufacturers in the rest of the United Kingdom. The two sets of manufacturers are in exactly the same position under this Agreement: one of them has not a better bargain than the other. It is quite true that in neither case have we been able to restore the position to what it was before Eire started its policy of developing secondary industries, but under this Agreement we have much better terms for Northern Ireland manufacturers than would have been the case if we had not concluded any trade agreement at all.
I should like to detail two or three points in the Trade Agreement which we believe will be helpful in particular to Northern Ireland manufacturers. In the first place, Northern Ireland industries have been extremely badly hit by the protective tariffs imposed along the borders of Eire. In many cases these tariffs are prohibitive to-day. Under this Agreement these tariffs are to come down because the Government of Eire have undertaken that a Prices Commission shall review these tariffs, and have undertaken that as a result of this review they will reduce their protective tariffs to a level which permits United Kingdom producers and manufacturers a full opportunity of reasonable competition while affording Eire industries adequate protection having regard to economic and efficient production.
§ Captain A. C. Browne
Will there be any representative of Britain on the Prices Commission, or anyone representing Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. MacDonald
I know it is suggested that because this Prices Commission is a purely Eire body manufacturers in the United Kingdom will not get justice. All I can say is that the Eire Government have undertaken to reduce tariffs to a reasonably competitive level. In the coal and cattle agreements we have had to rely in regard to many points on promises given by the Government of Eire, and it is our experience that whenever the Government of Eire have given such promises they have been carried out in the spirit and in the letter. The second point I 1174 would make is this. Under this Agreement the Government of this country has the right to suggest to the Government of Eire what items of the tariff should be considered first by the Prices Commission. As was announced in Belfast the other day, we have undertaken, indeed we ourselves volunteered the suggestion, that we should give priority to those goods in which Northern Ireland is particularly interested.
§ Sir R. Ross
As regards the fairness of treatment between Northern Ireland and this country, my right hon. Friend will realise that a much larger proportion of our commerce goes to the Irish Free State, and that therefore it is so much more important to us. The situation with regard to boots and shoes, products which Great Britain exports to Ireland, shows an improvement compared with what it was before the economic war, whereas in the case of linen goods and shirts, products of Northern Ireland, the situation is worse than it was before the economic war. If the right hon. Gentleman will compare those two positions, he will see what we mean. As regards the committee to be set up in Dublin, of course the position of people in Northern Ireland vis-a-vis that committee is much worse than that of the people in Great Britain.
§ Mr. MacDonald
As far as possible we have secured the principle of equal treatment for manufacturers in Northern Ireland with that which is being meted out to manufacturers in the rest of the United Kingdom, and wherever possible we have tried to get them some advantage. For instance, there is one clause in the Trade Agreement, with a schedule attached to it, which provides that in the cases of certain goods, there should be an immediate tariff reduction. In those cases, we should not have to wait, in the first place, for a review by the Prices Commission. The reductions on those items should take place immediately the Trade Agreement comes into effect. If hon. Members will study that schedule, they will see that the items contained in it are particularly those items which are of chief concern to manufacturers in Northern Ireland.
I do not want to labour the point at too great length. I could refer to a number of other provisions in the Trade Agreement which should be of benefit to 1175 various kinds of producers in Northern Ireland, but all I want to say is that in these negotiations we tried at every point to do what was possible to help the producers in Northern Ireland in particular. Because we were not ourselves completely satisfied with what we had been able to do in the Agreement itself, we got into touch with Lord Craigavon and made certain additional concessions regarding finance, our agricultural policy and the placing of armaments orders, which would be of great benefit to producers in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I would contest the view that the Government of this country struck a particularly bad bargain as far as producers in Northern Ireland are concerned.
I come now to the next part of the Agreements which has met with criticism in the course of the Debate—that part which deals with the financial dispute. It has been urged that, again, it is a very bad bargain for us, that we have given away a great deal too much, that we have erred seriously on the side of generosity. What is the position? In our view, the Government of Eire owed us money the capital equivalent of which amounted to something like£100,000,000. Under this Agreement we are accepting, in final settlement of the dispute a sum of£10,000,000. Of course, that is an extremely generous settlement. It is particularly generous in view of the fact that where there are obligations to third parties, it will be the taxpayer of this country who continues to fulfil those obligations. I would make this point, however. This sum of£10,000,000 is not the only financial burden which the Government of Eire will assume as a result of this Agreement. First, there is this£10,000,000. Second, there is a payment of £250,000 a year on account of another item which has never been in dispute, the annual payment of which is confirmed afresh under this Agreement. In addition, another financial burden is assumed by the taxpayers of Eire as the result of the Agreement. At the present moment we are in occupation of three Irish ports and we are responsible for maintaining the defences of those ports. The cost of those defences comes on to our Budget, but under this Agreement we are being relieved of that expenditure. I am dealing at the moment simply with the financial aspect of that 1176 matter. I will come to the military aspect in a few moments. That responsibility is now to be assumed by the Government of Eire.
§ Mr. MacDonald
If my hon. and gallant Friend will allow me to develop my argument, I will deal with that matter in due course. It is true that if the Government of Eire choose to neglect these defences, if they choose to let the grass grow over them, there is no obligation upon them to add a single penny to their budget with regard to this new responsibility which they are assuming. We have already had an announcement from Mr. de Valera on this question. He has said publicly that he and his colleagues fully appreciate the strategic importance of these ports and their defences. He has already stated publicly that his Government are not only going to maintain those defences, but are going to re-equip and modernise them wherever necessary. We should recognise that, although it is one of the onerous privileges of a free people to pay the bill for the defence of their own territory, as is the case of every other Dominion, nevertheless, in this case, it is a privilege which will be exercised for the first time by the taxpayers of Eire. For a comparatively small country this is going to be, both in capital cost and in maintenance costs, a fairly considerable additional burden to their annual budget.
§ Mr. MacDonald
Obviously I cannot announce what the amount is. This is a policy which is in the hands of the authorities of Eire and it would be improper for me to make a guess at what they may be likely to spend in carrying out the policy which they have announced.
§ Mr. Tinker
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what it is costing us at the present time to keep these defences?
§ Mr. MacDonald
It is costing us in this country, if I remember correctly, some hundreds of thousands of pounds. It is an obligation to which there is no limit. It continues year after year. It is an obligation which the people of Eire are 1177 taking on permanently. I would like to make another point about this sum of£10,000,000. It is not a figure which has been arrived at arbitrarily. It is just conceivable that it might have been possible for us to get a larger sum which would have been paid off over a number of years. We could, of course, have insisted on signing no Agreement at all unless there was a continuation of the system of substantial annual payments. But we considered that certain disadvantages would attach to a system of continuous annual payments. Those moneys would be paid on account of items the justice of which has been disputed by the majority in the Irish Dail. Whenever the annual Vote came before the Dail old controversies would be aroused, the old hostilities towards this country would be kept alive, and they might at any time become once more a matter of damaging dispute between the two countries.
In our view it was a wise thing, as far as we reasonably could, to settle once and for all the matters in dispute between the two countries, and we regarded £10,000,000 as a reasonable sum which we might ask the Government of Eire to pay as one lump-sum final settlement of this financial dispute. We all admit on this bench that, when all is said and done, this represents a very generous settlement. It represents a considerable financial sacrifice so far as we are concerned. But it is not unfair to remind the House that the balance-sheet in this transaction, we hope and confidently expect, will not be simply a financial balance-sheet. It is true that we shall receive from the Government of Eire £10,000,000 in place of£100,000,000, but if we can receive from the Government of Eire their friendship in place of their hostility, their confidence in place of their distrust, their co-operation in place of their opposition, then indeed the giver is going to be thrice blest.
Finally, I come to the other main proposal in this Bill, that by which the occupation by our Defence forces of Berehaven, Queenstown and Lough Swilly will come to an end, and by which we shall give up certain other rights under Articles 6 and 7 of the Treaty. This is a matter which has caused my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and other hon. Members in this House the gravest concern. They 1178 have assailed this proposal with very strong criticism. I do not deny for one moment the very- great power of the argument which has been developed. Let me restate that argument in order that I may endeavour to meet it. It is asserted, and high authority has been quoted in support of the assertion, that the use of these ports by the Imperial Navy is essential not only for the proper Defence of Ireland but also for the proper Defence of Great Britain if she is engaged in war. The House has therefore been reminded that it was for that reason that our representatives, during the negotiations in 1921, were very careful to preserve our control over those important strategic posts.
In the first place, they secured that in time of peace our Defence forces should continue to occupy those ports. In the secchid place, they secured an undertaking from the Government of the Irish Free State that in time of war they would give our forces any facilities in those ports, or elsewhere on the coast of Ireland, that they required. Now, the critics say, under these Agreements we are voluntarily coming out of the ports; we are voluntarily giving up our other rights under Articles 6 and 7 of the Treaty, including the rights regarding a time of emergency or war. My right hon. Friend and other hon. Members have asked whether there has been any change in the strategic importance of those ports since 1921, and if not, why we are so lightly abandoning the security and the assurances which my right hon. Friend and his colleagues gained for us during the 1921 negotiations? Let me endeavour to meet that argument.
I do not minimise in the least the great importance of those ports from the point of view of defence. I say without hesitation that if it had been possible to continue the provisions of Articles 6 and 7 with the good will of the people and of the Government of Eire, we should not have sought much modification, at any rate, of those provisions, and in those circumstances we should gladly have confirmed the existing arrangements. But that was not the situation that we faced. That was not one of the courses open to us during these months of negotiation. It is true that at the time of the signing of the Treaty it was hoped that we should continue to keep the ports and to enjoy the other rights under those 1179 two Articles, without forfeiting in any way the good will of the Irish Government and people. My right hon. Friend has reminded us that the representatives of the Irish Free State at that time immediately saw our difficulties and immediately granted those important concessions to us.
Our hope that we might maintain those rights with the good will of the Irish people has been falsified since 1921, and in our negotiations this year we had to face these facts: Our occupation of those ports touched the Irish people on their most sensitive spot. They regarded it as an infringement of their sovereignty. They regard it as an offence against their national freedom and against their right and power, as a free people, to govern all their affairs. They regarded it as a mark, a continuing mark, of the subjection of the Irish people to the British people. In the presence of that kind of strong feeling it was a fact that our occupation of those ports was causing resentment and hostility to continue among our neighbours across the Irish Channel.
Therefore, one of the choices before us in these negotiations was not that we should stay in the ports with the continuing good will of the Irish people. The alternatives were, in the first place that we should continue to occupy them with the resentment and hostility of the Irish people, or that we should come out of them and create conditions where friendship between the Irish people and the people of this country would grow. [Interruption.] Again, if the hon. Baronet would not interrupt, I am coming to that. [Interruption.] It is impossible to develop any logical argument if I am to be constantly interrupted by hon. Members who very often only anticipate points that I propose to deal with later on in the course of my argument.
If Mr. de Valera is proposing to continue the upkeep of these ports, and if the cause of dispute was that they were under our control and the Irish resented it, and that all would be well if they were only under their own control, what is incomprehensible to me is why Mr. de Valera did not, on his own initiative, suggest putting into the Treaty clauses which would have assured to this country, as in the past, the complete and free use of the ports in the event of war.
§ Mr. MacDonald
It was not simply our occupation of the ports in time of peace, but the whole content of Articles 6 and 7 which caused resentment among the Irish people, for the very reason of it giving offence to their national freedom, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman's solution is not one of the solutions that were practicable at this time in the negotiations. We had the choice between staying in with the Irish people's resentment, or coming out and creating a prospect of getting the Irish people's more abundant friendship. That was the choice that was before us, and it is the choice that is before the House. I do not say that the House ought to choose the latter alternative. There are some Members who clearly, even in those circumstances, choose the former. But if we are going to choose that alternative, let us face the consequences of it. We have to recognise that, when one people have strongly aroused in them sentiments of hostility towards another people because they believe that those people are interfering with their freedom, that sentiment is not a thing that remains static or grows less with the passage of time. It is a very dynamic sentiment which grows with the passage of time, and there is no doubt at all—there was no doubt in the view of the Government at all with all the facts before them—that the resentment which this situation has caused would increase if it were allowed to continue. Mr. de Valera said in the Dail the other day:I know of nothing that menaces the possibility of permanent good relations with Britain so much as these Articles.The confirmation of these Articles would be a permanent obstacle to the establishment of good relations between Eire and this country. They would have been a constant source of friction between the two peoples, and a particularly strong source of friction in time of emergency or war when we wanted to exert our treaty rights under Article 7. My hon. Friends who disagree with the Government on this point disagree with great sincerity and conviction on grounds of high strategy, but I wonder whether from that point of view the value of an occupation against the wishes of the local population would be so extremely great in the emergency of war. At any rate, I would suggest that the question whether we are to have a hostile or a friendly 1181 Ireland is also an important consideration when we are considering high strategy. My right hon. Friend said that, when he and his colleagues were considering this important issue in 1921, they had the advice of their naval experts and advisers—
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman must be allowed to make his speech without further interruptions.
§ Mr. MacDonald
We also on this occasion, in rather different circumstances from those of 1921, took the advice of our naval advisers and our chiefs of staff, and I can only tell the House that, when we and our advisers together examined these two alternatives, we deliberately reached the conclusion that the security of this country would be greater if we chose the second course instead of the first course which would be proposed by some hon. Members. No doubt, as the Prime Minister has said, this is an act of faith. It is an action which is consistent with Great Britain's noblest traditions in dealing with her fellow members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. In the Commonwealth the relations between one member and another are based on the national freedom of each. The people of Eire have sometimes doubted whether they have gained that freedom. This agreement puts their possession of that freedom beyond any shadow of doubt. The old subjection of the Irish to the British has come to an end. The two peoples can live side by side, without fear of each other, as equals. I cannot but believe that, with the removal of these causes of dispute, friendship and cooperation will grow naturally and inevitably between the peoples of these two countries. Politics have changed a great deal. The political relationship between the two peoples has been completely transformed.
But there are certain things which have not changed. Geography has not changed. These two islands are still anchored closely together just off the coast of a troubled Continent. Inevitably they have many vital interests in common. It is not man, but Providence that has decreed that. Above all, both peoples cherish highly their freedom. Both peoples have shown on many occasions that they 1182 are ready to fight in defence of their freedom, and I believe that there is a growing consciousness on both sides of the Channel that a threat to the freedom of either of them is a threat to the freedom of the other. Speeches made by speakers in Eire during the last few days have indicated the movement of thought in that direction. Mr. de Valera, for instance, said in one of the debates that Eireis interested in seeing a strong Britain as a shield and barrier between her and the dangers of the Continent.I believe that speeches like that on the occasion of the passage through both Parliaments of these Agreements do mark the beginning of a new and happier chapter in the relations between the two countries.
§ 11.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
As one whose forbears were driven out of Ireland by oppression and poverty, I have listened with the utmost amazement to all this talk about the generosity of Britain. The Prime Minister himself gave his whole case away. Britain is giving nothing to Ireland. What is all this talk about giving Ireland£100,000,000? The absentee landlords robbed Ireland until she was starving, and now we are faced with a situation in which Ireland was refusing to pay the annuities and it was utterly impossible for Britain to get them from her. The Prime Minister says we were getting the interest on the Customs, but he went on to say that we were killing one of our own customers, and as the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) said, you had reached a stage where you had to compound your losses. You are not giving something to Ireland, but you are getting something out of Ireland which you never could have got otherwise.
In regard to the ports, the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) consulted with the Naval authorities on this question during 1921, but whom did he consult? Earl Beatty, a Naval officer of the old school, who had not the prevision to see the development that was going to take place in military strategy. What have the Government been faced with ever since the Treaty of 1921? They have been faced with the fact that those who signed that Treaty made the terrific blunder of not arranging for aeroplane 1183 bases in Ireland. That was the great military strategic mistake of 1921, and I ask the right hon. Member for Epping, who knows something about military strategy, What is the value of ports if enemy aeroplanes are just within striking distance? That is the problem that has been before military experts all the time, and behind all this talk about giving over Treaty ports to Ireland is the attempt to win de Valera and the Government he represents to support the pro-Fascist policy of the Government in Europe. That is what is behind it, and you will find, shortly after the passing of this Treaty, the attempt being made—probably arrangements are already being made—to get air connections in Ireland, because that is the important strategical question so far as Ireland is concerned.
The speech of the Prime Minister on Monday made it clear that the Government are pro-Fascist. He delivered a fulsome eulogy of the Fascist regime in Italy. He sent the present Foreign Secretary to Berlin to talk with Hitler and refused to tell the House what passed at that conversation. Despite the disclaimers in the "Times" and the "Herald," nobody can deny that there is a "Cliveden set" and that it is pro-Fascist. The Prime Minister said there were great hopes, when the Treaty of 1921 was signed, that the Irish question would be settled for good and all, but that the land annuities had made it impossible. The question of the land annuities is a trifling matter in the opinion of every Irishman in comparison with the question of partition and while partition exists any settlement of the Irish question is impossible. Let any hon. Member go across to Ireland and try to persuade the Irish people that you are giving them a gift of£100.000,000 because you have agreed to forgo the annuities —which they will not pay. I never heard such nonsense. Let hon. Members try to convince Irishmen that you are generous because you are allowing them to keep their own ports. Do you think you can persuade the ordinary Irish people of that? Never. All this talk about the great generosity of Britain and the effect 1184 which it will have, is illusion. Partition is the question.
One of Ireland's greatest sons—Parnell —once spoke here in this House. No Irishman before or since has spoken as he spoke. What Parnell stood for here and what he proclaimed was an Ireland united and indivisible. Hon. Members are concerned about the minority in the North, but what about the minority within the minority. Has Southern Ireland not a right to be concerned about its minority in the North? Here is a significant thing. I am not sure whether this recognition isde facto orde jure and perhaps somebody will explain that to us, but whether it isde facto or de jure, how it is possible to talk about maintaining Partition when the Government have given away the principle of Partition. Does this Bill refer to the Irish Free State or to the Southern Counties? No, it refers to "Eire" and "Eire" is Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was the only speaker who seemed to understand that Eire means the whole territory of Ireland—North, South, East and West. Here you have made a Treaty and presented a Bill, recognising Ireland as one indivisible unit.
How long are you going to maintain this so-called loyalist colony in the North, when if there were proper understanding and proper dealing with the Irish question the whole of Ireland might be loyal to a sensible Britain; not a Britain with a National Government, not a Fascist Britain. Mr. de Valera and every other Irishman knows that that colony is maintained by the British Government. The Prime Minister told us we are going to do this, that, and the next thing to keep the Northern Government in existence. Stop maintaining this fictitious Government. Let Ireland get what Parnell demanded in this House in the name of the whole of Ireland—the unity it desires: Ireland one and indivisible. Only then will the Irish question be settled.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.—[Captain Margesson.]