§ Brought from the Commons, read 1a, and to be printed.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion of which Notice has been given.
§ Moved, That Standing Orders Nos. XXI. and XXXIX. be considered in order to their being suspended for this day's sitting so that the Bill may have precedence of the other Notices and Orders of the Day, and that it may be passed through all its stages.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Bill, read.1230
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, in rising to move that this Bill be now read a second time I am conscious of many memories which surge upon my mind and which must, I think, be present in the minds of many of your Lordships. When the Irish Treaty was signed some years ago we signed it in an atmosphere which was singularly ill-designed to attain any measure of permanent appeasement. It had been my duty, sitting upon the seat which is occupied by the Lord Chancellor to-day, to defend many acts which were very difficult of defence, to recommend many policies which were very difficult of acceptance and looking back over those troubled years. I can hardly remember any moment which seemed less likely to develop into an atmosphere which was likely to establish a permanent settlement than that in which those of us who at that moment were responsible discussed the terms of the Irish Treaty.
We had hardly emerged from an atmosphere of assassination. We were hardly able to select from those who, directly or indirectly, had been responsible for the campaign against which we ranged ourselves, men with whom we could reasonably attempt a compromise. Yet I think your Lordships will be willing to do us this justice in the difficulties in which we were placed. The nation was exhausted by the efforts of a great War. At the conclusion of that War we found ourselves engaged in hostilities with large sections of the population of Southern Ireland. The tale of casualties, of murders, of losses and of incendiarisms grew day by day and week by week. We had to ask ourselves this question: Will the fortunes, not of England alone but of the British Empire, be better served by continuing these hostilities in an ascending scale, or will they be better served by attempting in reach an accommodation?
I think that all of us—and I speak, believe me, without dogmatism in a situation so difficult as to exclude, in sensible mouths, the use of dogma—were throughout acutely conscious that even if we had mobilised the whole strength of this ration, exhausted as we were, even if we had made up our minds ruthlessly to war down these elements at a cost, as we were advised by the then Chief of the Imperial General Staff, of 200,000 men 1231 and a contingent expenditure of some £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 (and I think we might even have faced those tasks, incredible as they were in the then condition of the nation) we were confronted even then, had we faced them, by the certain knowledge that after we had warred down, if we had warred down successfully, those who were in arms against us, it would have been necessary to reach some terms of accommodation with them.
It was in an atmosphere, as I have already indicated, little favourable for calm consideration, that those of us who are responsible for the first Irish Treaty approached our task. Whether it was for good or whether it was for bad—and it is no purpose of mine to be controversial to-night—those of us who negotiated that Treaty realised early in the course of its negotiation that we had the advantage of finding opposite to us at the table of No. 10, Downing Street, two men of great courage and of great honesty. I did not examine the antecedents of either of them, just as I would not have invited either of them, in relation to the Irish question, to examine into my antecedents, but what is certain is this: that in Mr. Collins and Mr. Griffith we had the advantage of finding ourselves face to face with two vital and courageous men.
Mr. Collins lost his life in arms, the victim of an ambuscade by extreme forces in Ireland, within a few weeks of the moment when he had signed the Treaty, and I still recall of Mr. Griffith, who died worn out by the burden of exceptional responsibilities, that in the last night of all, and within two hours of the signature of the final Treaty, at the moment when it seemed more likely to me and my colleagues that the Treaty would not be signed than that it would be signed, he said: "I think these terms are fair, and if I sign them alone I will sign them, and I will go back and I will defend my signature before the Dail." He was a man of singular personality and of singular courage, and at the moment when it seems to me—I state the prediction with reserve—that the course we then adopted has been justified by the events, I would pay a tribute to one of the most remarkable men with whom I have ever been engaged in negotiation.
This, at least, is plain. The Bill which went through all its stages without one 1232 hostile criticism in the House of Commons last night would not have been possible if we had not signed that Treaty. Let no one make the mistake of lightly supposing that those of us who set our names to that instrument assumed that responsibility without a deep sense of the uncertainties which beset our path. We had to measure those anxieties and those uncertainties by the known anxieties and uncertainties of the only alternative, and the only alternative was that we should set ourselves to the gradual destruction in Southern Ireland of everything which had set itself resolutely, and by the methods which were known to all of your Lordships, to destroy the British rule in Ireland. I at least, speaking on behalf of this Government, which has accepted and implemented the decisions of three previous Governments, am entitled to make this plain, that it would not have been possible for mo here to-night, representing the Government, to ask your Lordships to accept this Bill had it not been for the foundations that were darkly and doubtfully and anxiously laid down when the earlier Treaty was signed four years ago.
It has been said, and with great truth and justice, that there were Articles in the earlier Treaty which were so obscure as to be dangerous. Undoubtedly there were. Does any one think so lightly of the capacity of those who signed that Treaty as to imagine that they were not alive to the dangers of Article 12? I state plainly to your Lordships that there was no signatory of that Treaty but knew that in Article 12 there lurked the elements of dynamite. We knew it well. It was forced upon us in this sense, that whether it was for good or for bad that that Treaty should be signed, it never could have been signed, it never would have been signed, without Article 12, and I can tell your Lordships, if we are to refer to the historical psychology of this matter, that we, the English signatories, took a clear view. We thought that, just as we had undertaken great anxieties and great responsibilities, so some anxieties and some responsibilties must be bequeathed to those who came after us. We thought that the atmosphere at that moment was one which made it absolutely impossible to attempt a boundary solution. Supposing that we had proposed to those who sat on the 1233 other side of the table at No. 10, Downing Street, to stereotype the existing boundary, what do you think the prospects would have been of a settlement? We were bold enough to think that the years would bring appeasement and education. We took the risk of supposing that it might be possible for our successors to approach the determination of the boundary in a calmer spirit, and in an ampler atmosphere.
I myself, in a stormy atmosphere, had to explain Article 12 sitting where the Lord Chancellor sits to-day, or rather in those days, if my memory serves me rightly, I was generally standing on the left of where the learned Lord Chancellor is to-day. I had to defend these proposals in a stormy atmosphere. I was assailed by a great weight of legal authority upon the duo meaning of Article 12. I had taken the individual responsibility of giving a clear and confident opinion to the Government, of which I was a member, as to the legitimate and only meaning of Article 12, properly construed. Never the less high legal authority in this House ranged itself against the advice which I had given. I may be permitted the human weakness, four years afterwards, of pointing to the fact that whatever else may be known or may not be known of the decision of the Boundary Commission, this at least is certain, that they accepted and acted upon the view which I as Lord Chancellor stated and recommended to your Lordships four years ago.
Here it is proper that I should say a word about the "Boundary Commission. A very distinguished Judge, bearing an honoured legal name in this Empire, has consented now for a period of eighteen months, abandoning his own proper judicial duties, to devote himself to the high Imperial duty of attempting to accommodate the difficulties which have arisen between ourselves and the Irish Free State in relation to the boundaries of Ireland. I did not, until yesterday, see the grounds upon which the Commission have founded their conclusions. Indeed, until the day before yesterday I did not even know what conclusions the Commission had reached, and therefore I think it is very necessary that I should say in this House that we are all of us under an enormous debt of gratitude to the learned and distinguished Judge and 1234 his colleagues for the work which they have done upon that Commission. The extent of our obligation to them is not diminished by the circumstances that, for high public reasons, all the parties concerned have asked the Commission not to publish their award.
Let us reflect for a moment upon the debt which we owe to the distinguished Judge. No man abandons his own special duties and tears up his domestic and his professional life by the roots in order to make a contribution to our Imperial necessities without having the human desire that that which he has done should be valued for its quality. I can only say this, that if we were to publish that to which the learned Judge has devoted his labours for so long a period of time it would immensely increase, high as his reputation is already, the judicial repute, in which he is held. I would say to him, as the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons yesterday and on behalf of the House of Commons—and perhaps in this association I may make myself the mouthpiece of your Lordships—that we all appreciate the efforts he has made, the sacrifices he has undergone and the high quality of public spirit which has led him to acquiesce in the indefinite postponement of any publication of his labours.
The question of the boundaries was, unfortunately, complicated by a most mischievous and unpatriotic publication of what purported to be an advance edition of that which the Boundary Commission was to decide. I should have thought this was at least plain: that upon the highest grounds of Imperial and patriotic interest, it being known that this was a Commission dealing with the most delicate matters, it being also known that when their Report was published action must follow, no newspaper would have thought it proper, for the purposes of what in modern speech is often described as a "newspaper stunt," to attempt to anticipate the decisions of that Commission. I am sorry to say that in this regard there was a gross and lamentable breach of the honourable traditions of British journalism, and it was a breach which I think can only be inadequately defended upon the grounds of a dwindling circulation. Had that temptation not been succumbed to, to re- 1235 ceive by backstair channels a communication which was known by those who accepted it and published it to be deeply confidential, had not that breach of the ordinary good faith of journalism been committed, Ulster would have received, what I think it would have greatly valued, a unanimous award from a tribunal which would have included a representative of the Irish Free State. All that they had stood for, and let me say all that I have stood for was well founded in the terms of the original Treaty.
We find ourselves to-day in a different atmosphere. The representatives of the Irish Free State insisted a year ago upon Article 12 being implemented. I was not at that time a member of the Government; I was not at all in the counsels of the Irish Free State. Had they consulted me as to whether they should insist upon immediate effect being given to Article 12 I should most strongly have advised them not to take that step, but I suspect that they were not their own masters. I suspect that those extremist forces in Southern Ireland which have always existed and which always will exist, though they may be gradually reduced alike in numbers and in influence, were too strong to make it possible for the Free State Ministers to postpone further their demand that Article 12 should be carried out. And so the demand came, and your Lordships have not forgotten, in the days of the Labour Government here, the crisis which immediately followed. The representatives of Northern Ireland refused to take any part in the proceedings and thereupon this country, by special Act of Parliament, nominated a member, not I believe unacceptable to Northern Ireland, to take the place of their representative.
So the matter proceeded until the moment came when the award was ready. It may be said that they asked for the boundary award, and the boundary award was prepared; that it was valid, whether it was signed by two representatives or by three. What complaint has the Free State Government to make?
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
That is a very legitimate question, and let me try to address myself to it. I say plainly that they have no complaint to make, they have no valid complaint to make. 1236 It is not the task of statesmanship to ask whether a man with whom you are in process of negotiation or controversy has any logical and valid complaint to make. The task of statesmanship is to ask whether, when he makes an invalid, an illogical complaint, what is going to be the result when you have pointed out to him how illogical and invalid it is; and that alone is the question we have to ask ourselves. My noble friend behind me cheered when I put the question: What was the grievance in view of the fact that the Irish Free State themselves had insisted upon this award? Let me counter that cheer by asking plainly what would have happened—because we are dealing with practical politics—supposing we had received an award on the whole favourable to Northern Ireland? Your Lordships will not forget that the terms of the original Treaty produced this consequence in law, that the moment the award was published that which the award determined became ipso facto, automatically, and at that moment, the law of the land. In other words, in every transferred district the post offices, the police and the whole machinery of authority pass from one Government to the other, I do not know whether there is any one here who thinks that the process would have been a particularly smooth one. I am in a position to tell your Lordships that neither the authorities in Northern Ireland nor the authorities in Southern Ireland would have contemplated such an automatic change without feelings of the deepest anxiety and without anticipations of violence in many quarters.
We were offered another alternative, and that was to balance Article 12 against Article 5. Here the criticism may be easily made that Article 12 had no relation to Article 5. That criticism is perfectly well-founded. Article 12 dealt with boundaries and Article 5 dealt with finance. I have never in my experience and recollection of politics discovered that there was anything imponderable, if I may use the expression, between finance and any other subject known to human politics. No one will make the mistake of supposing that a young Government, charged with responsibility for the finances of a young State, can place on one side as an unimportant consideration the question of its financial situation. What did Article 5 do? A 1237 clear appreciation of this is very important and, indeed, is essential to an understanding of the whole situation.
Article 5, if I may summarise in popular language its effect, said this: An arbitrator shall make an estimate of what, in relation to the War commitments of the British nation, the Irish Free State ought to pay. But it also used language which I shall not subject to precise technical examination but which made it possible for the Free State to put forward any counter-claim in which they believed; and it contained further a phrase to the effect that they should pay or deduct what was "fair and equitable." I shall not argue here to-night (it is not worth while) as to what was the true meaning of that limitation "fair and equitable" in the construction of Article 5 as a whole. I myself have always held a clear view, and I so advised the Government of the day, that it, did not mean that you could raise as between the two countries every single issue over a period of two or three hundred years which involved the conceptions either of fairness or of equitable-ness. I took the view, and I am sure, as a lawyer, that I was right, that the meaning of the terms "fair and equitable" was closely defined and governed by the words that follow.
But the matter could undoubtedly have been disputed. Your Lordships know that the Childers Commission. I suppose some twenty-five years ago, by an award which has never been assented to by any considerable opinion in this country, and which to me has always seemed frankly absurd, decided that in the whole balance of history we were indebted in as immense sum of millions to the Irish people. I am not suggesting that such a contention could have been sustained before the arbitrator. It is quite certain that such a contention would have been brought forward, and it is also very materiel] to notice that, in this arbitration of, I should think, infinite length and, I should imagine, so costly that it would have absorbed before it was concluded any monies that were involved in it, they would equally have been entitled to demand an examination of the proportion which ought to be paid to Ireland in respect of our Reparation claims from our Allies and the whole of the varied and complicated financial machinery of the War.
1238 How much in the end we should obtain from this arbitration I do not know. I believe that our claim would have been roughly in the region of £150,000,000 They, of course, with the vivid imagination which is one of their most engaging qualities, put their claim at about £200,000,000. I am not suggesting to you that any arbitrator in the possession of his senses would have failed, on the balance, to award a very large sum of money to this country. I have no doubt that such would have been the result, and I myself have always thought, taking, as one must take in these matters, a rough estimate, that probably the result of the award would be a figure of some £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 in favour of this country.
Let us assume that I am not either too sanguine or too pessimistic in this view. Let us assume that the result of the arbitration would be to establish an award of £50,000,000 in favour of this country. May I ask this question: Where was that money to come from? Is it seriously suggested that there is available in Ireland to-day any sum of money which, whether capitalised or distributed over a period of sixty years, would afford £50,000,000 to this country? The expectation is extravagant. Let us for one moment examine the contemporary situation in Ireland. At the present moment the total Revenue of Ireland is about £26,000,000.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
The noble and learned Lord will not misunderstand me. I am dealing only with the question between ourselves and the Irish Free State. The finances of Northern Ireland, of which I will say a word in a moment, are in a wholly different and well-understood class. I am dealing, of course, with the Irish Free State, and the total Revenue of the Irish Free State amounts to about £26,000,000. They have not, if you attempt a true financial analysis of their position, balanced their Budget: in the present year, and it is extremely doubtful, I am advised whether in the next 1239 three years they will be successful in balancing their Budget. What charges are at present imposed on a national Revenue of £26,000,000? If you take that which they pay towards Irish landlords and towards local loan annuities and that which they pay in pensions to police and to civilians, you arrive at the astonishing figure that, out of a Revenue of £26,000,000, they are paying nearly £5,000,000 out of the country to-day, leaving them a sum of some £21,000,000 to deal with all their national necessities.
If anybody says to me: How did you, then, who were one of the signatories to the Treaty, ever come to make yourself a party to Article 5? the answer, I think, is not particularly difficult. At the time we signed Article 5 two considerations were present to our minds and the first may serve as a reminder how fallible is human anticipation. I and my co-signatories were so little able to anticipate the future with accuracy that we thought that unless Article 5 were included in the Treaty there might come a moment in which the immunity of Ireland in relation to and comparison with the taxation in this country might possibly attract British capital and British factories to establish themselves in Ireland to the prejudice of the commerce of this country. We were most greatly deceived in this apprehension. We were so much deceived that it is the fact to-day that taxation in Ireland is even greater than in this country and therefore one of the principal reasons which led us to insist on Article 5 has completely disappeared in the economic development of the history of the two countries.
We ought, I think, also to notice this. We left in Ireland a scale of establishment, possible to them under our tutelage, wholly extravagant to them the moment that tutelage was withdrawn. Let me make a general observation upon this point. I have never varied in my view that those in the South of Ireland would have been well advised if they had adhered to the British connection with all that the British connection meant. I have never varied in my view that all their social services would have been more resourcefully administered had they attuned continuously their fortunes and ours. They took a different decision. They are, I think, even to-day, beginning 1240 to suffer from the consequences of that decision. This, be it observed, does not affect the wisdom or unwisdom of the decision taken when we signed the Treaty, because we had to deal with the psychology of a nation. We had not to deal with a nation necessarily wisely informed, and I have never felt the slightest inconsistency between support of the Treaty and a profound conviction that those who insisted upon the separation of Southern Ireland had reached a decision calamitous for themselves, and a calamity which would one day certainly be realised.
What was, in fact, the financial result? They succeeded to a scale of Pensions, to almost every conceivable form of social service, the financial terms of which were sound in relation to the resources of a mighty Empire but which were wholly unsuited to the resources of a comparatively impoverished agricultural community. Paying, as they must pay, nearly £5,000,000 a year to people who do not reside in Ireland, and who spend no portion of the money in Ireland, reducing, as in the calculation you must reduce, the Revenue from £26,000,000 to £21,000,000, what is the prospect that we could ever have obtained from this country any real contribution to our war indebtedness? Were we to make them bankrupt? Is it really suggested, as a new stage in the economic development of this Empire, that any prospect that we entertain of gradually re-establishing the prosperity of the whole would be advanced by having at our doors a bankrupt Ireland—I am speaking, as my noble and learned friend behind me will understand, of the Free State—an Ireland which would be all the time rightly accounting its bankruptcy to the terms we were exacting from it?
I have heard it said that we were being blackmailed, and that the concession which we were proposing to make by the substitution for Article 5 of a very modest provision, was one which would be induced by illegitimate menaces. I do not recognise the justice of this charge. We have had to deal with France; we have had to deal with Italy; we have had to deal with Czecho-Slovakia, and with Servia and Roumania, in terms of War Loan. Not one of those countries, though some of them are extremely wealthy, and though some of them are taxed less than 1241 our citizens, and none of them is suffering from our burden of unemployment—there is no one case in which we are not contemplating immense modifications of that which, in the letter of the law, they owe to us. Is it really to be suggested that it is so wrong to attempt a comparable on even a greater modification in respect of an island which, however great and however bitter the differences between us and them have been, has nevertheless played a large part in our Island history, and has been, alike with us, not a Dominion but a parent State, and whose economic union with us is vital in the years largely to follow?
I do not believe there is a single one of your Lordships who, had he been placed in the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would not have reached the conclusion which this Chancellor of the Exchequer, of all others, has reached. I say "of all others" because there has never been a Chancellor of the Exchequer more deeply concerned to explore and exploit every conceivable source of revenue. I do not believe there is one of your Lordships who, had he occupied the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer, would have said: Whatever other sources of revenue are open, I am going to a nation with a net revenue of £21,000,000, and ask them to pay us phantom millions, of which they are not the masters and will not be the masters in any ascertain able period.
There was a charge which it seemed to me was very proper to be supported by the Irish Free State, and that was in respect of the damages inflicted upon the properties of Irish loyalists. Very many moving and poignant debates have taken place in this House upon the subject of the wrongs sustained by loyalists in Ireland. I was never happy when I sat in the seat of the Lord Chancellor and it was my duty over those anxious years to reply on Irish subjects. I was never happy when those topics were raised before your Lordships; I do not know that the Duke of Devonshire who answered for them in later years was happier than I was. They were a class who deserved well of your Lordships' House and of the country. Though, amid great difficulties, I did the best with my humble powers that I could for them, they were a class of whom even now it 1242 must be said that they have not in my judgment received their just compensation.
We have, at least, made this arrangement with the authorities of the Irish Free State. The amount which we, the British Government, have already paid in compensation is, in round figures—I am dealing in round figures only—the sum of £5,000,000. The Irish Free State have charged themselves with that responsibility. In addition, for post-truce injuries they have bound themselves to issue bonds, which will place them in the position to give a 10 per cent, increase of the compensation which has hitherto been established. It is proposed that they shall make an initial and immediate payment of £150,000 with that object, and that thereafter, for a period of sixty years, they shall contribute £250,000 a year. It was our obligation to pay a sum of £900,000 in the next year to the Irish Free State, and it is contemplated that that £900,000 shall inure in part payment of these liabilities. To me I confess there is something entirely satisfactory in the fact that these losses and damages should be made good, not by us but by the Irish Free State Government. Not that since the Treaty those who have been responsible for that Government have been responsible for these losses, but, after all they are the legatees of all that went before. They have inherited the political conditions; it seems to me that they are, and ought to be, the heirs of the responsibility.
I have this only to add upon the subject of the financial settlement which I recommend to your Lordships. At the time when we signed that Treaty it seemed to us altogether reasonable that the Irish Free State should pay something to the cost of the War. We did not suspect the burden to which they themselves would be subjected. In the course of the three years which followed the Treaty they found themselves involved in a civil war—in a civil war which meant the maintenance of a great Army, and which in three years cost this impoverished State a sum of no less than £20,000,000. I think there are many now listening to me who, if they had been told at the time the Treaty was signed that within six months the forces of the Irish Free State would have been found besieging the Four Courts, putting down 1243 their opponents by the sword, and executing the leader of that revolutionary movement, Rory O'Connor—I think if your Lordships had been told at the time of the signing of the Treaty that the conception which was taken of the responsibilities of those who had entered into this Treaty was of that character, that many of our responsibilities might have been removed. Let us, at least, remember this. It did not fall upon us, haying regard to the settlement that was achieved, to put down that civil war. They put down that civil war. There is no civil war to-day in Ireland, and they put it down at a cost of £20,000,000.
I should be misleading the House if I affected to claim that now for all time we have attained a settlement of our Irish difficulties. I make no such claim. I never have made such a claim. Vainglorious indeed would one generation be in English politics who made a claim that we had once for all resolved difficulties which have bankrupted statesmanship in this country now for a period of hundreds of years. But I say this, that just as there succeeded to the Treaty made in Paris Conferences at Genoa, at Cologne, in Switzerland, and I know not where else—just as there was a culminating point in those negotiations which has led us to the Treaty of Locarno, so I, not dogmatically but hopefully, discern some real note of progress in the Bill which I recommend to your Lordships to-night.
And how far back this controversy goes! I must be allowed to make this claim, even if only that I may retain some shred of political consistency. I always opposed all the Home Rule Bills which were brought forward when I was in Parliament, because they contained the mad and ignorant determination to coerce the Northern Province of Ireland. That is my defence for all I ever said and all I ever did and every word which I spoke against those Home Rule Bills. You may ransack every speech I made on the platform or in Parliament, you will never find a speech in which I argued against, the right of the South of Ireland, the moment they excluded the North of Ireland, to arrive at a conclusion which would give them self-government. The controversy is, indeed, old. It has assumed formidable dimensions, and at some of the most critical periods in our 1244 history. I remember that just before the War a Conference, took place at Buckingham Palace. I think my noble friend (Lord Carson) was one of the negotiators. It broke down on this very question of the boundary. And now at last, at the price—if I may say so without giving offence to any one now—at the price of waiving a doubtful debt, we are afforded the opportunity of obtaining a settlement which in my judgment would have been gladly accepted at the time of the Buckingham Conference.
It may be that it is true that this is not the last word. I cannot measure what are the difficulties which the present Government of the Free State have to face in the Dail. I believe that they will survive those difficulties. If they were defeated in the Dail I am certain they would appeal to the country. I am sanguine enough to believe that they would not appeal in vain. If they appealed in vain we should be confronted with a new situation, and that situation again, in its turn, it would be our duty to face, and we should not shrink from it. But I do not anticipate so melancholy a conclusion. I found myself upon the fact that, for the first time so far as I know, in the history of Irish affairs there has been promulgated an instrument which has affirmed the conjoint good will of England, of Northern Ireland, and of Southern Ireland. And I know this, that there was established in the course of these discussions a degree of personal confidence between those who spoke for the North and those who spoke for the South which had not hitherto been known in this bitter and age-long controversy.
I have this to add. Ulster has been involved, naturally, reasonably and inevitably, in great charges as long as this boundary question was unsettled, for the maintenance of forces in the neighbourhood of 30,000 men who were prepared for any contingency upon the border. The early and harassed history which followed immediately upon the Treaty did not make it easy for them to abandon the scale of this semi-military establishment. Yet it plainly and entirely exceeded the scale of their own resources and, therefore, this country formed the conception of its own responsibilities in this matter which has led it to make a very great contribution towards the expenses of this constabulary force. Sir 1245 James Craig has informed the Government that in view of a settlement in which he entirely concurs it will be possible for him immediately, or almost immediately, to disband this force. One last contribution, which, I think, will be gladly paid, is due from this country towards the cost of that force and towards the cost of its disbandment. It is a sum, I believe, of £1,200,000 which will be included in the Estimates after Christmas. Apart from that, which was already in honour due and which must have been paid, there has been no financial consideration of any kind paid to Northern Ireland in respect of this settlement.
I observed in Punch to-day a cartoon of great humour which represented John Bull, with a placid and suffering expression upon his paternal face and with a large pocket upon each side of his traditional coat. In the pocket upon one side were placed the hands of Sir James Craig and in the pocket on the other side the hands of President Cosgrave. We are as a nation deeply affected to-day by financial burdens and anxieties; nevertheless we are a great, wealthy and resilient nation. In dealing in terms of finance with those whom, we are so deeply concerned to conciliate now and ultimately to bring together, we must think always in terms of our relative resources. The resources of these countries in relation to our own, even at a moment when we are so deeply pressed, are negligible, and no nation has ever permanently occupied a great place in history who could not subordinate questions of finance, however embarrassed its finances might be to considerations of high policy.
As I stand here to-night recommending the Second Reading of this Bill I am reminded of an occasion a few years ago, when I recommended the Second Reading of that Treaty which was the necessary substratum of this proposal and without which this proposal could not have come into being. I remember with deep emotion that one of my dearest friends felt it his duty with bitterness to attack that which we then proposed. Of all the circumstances which render that an unhappy memory to me it is the circumstance that my old friend both in the law and in politics—Lord Carson—should have taken at that moment a view so unfavourable of that which I was 1246 proposing. The differences between the noble and learned Lord and myself have long since been composed. It is a happiness to me to recall that our friendship has been completely re-established and whether we were right or whether we ware wrong in proposing the original Treaty—and I always admitted it was disputable whether we were right or whether we were wrong—this is the necessary consequence of that Treaty. This, my Lords, believe me, affords a richer promise of hope than that Treaty, fashioned in a moment of hatred, ever afforded or ever could afford. Let us go forward to the future in hope.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Birkenhead.)
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble and learned Earl through the long historical survey or the apologia which formed the major portion of his speech. In the comparatively-brief observations I intend to offer I will address myself rather more directly to the Bill which is before your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Earl claimed that this Bill would not have been possible without the Treaty of the Coalition Government. I may, therefore, I trust, be permitted to claim that the Bill would not have been possible and that this Irish settlement could not have been effected had it not been for the action of the Labour Government last year. What do I mean by that? It was in October, 1924, that the Labour Government, as its last act, passed through your Lordships' House the Bill which set up the Boundary Commission for Ulster. As a result of that, this settlement has indirectly, though in effect, come about. At any rate, it could not have been done without it.
I am not criticising the settlement. I and my colleagues on this Bench support it, and, looking at it as a whole, we think it should be fully approved. I shall have certain points to raise and some, questions to ask; but looking at matters as a whole, we think that this settlement is one which should receive the unchallenged assent of your Lordships' House. May I be allowed to say, though, that the action of the late Government last year was not a very easy one to take. It would have suited the late Government better from the Party point of view to have 1247 taken another course. But we did not do that. We introduced the Bill to which I have referred. It is true that in your Lordships' House we did not receive very much appreciation or support for the course which we then took. In fact, it was only with difficulty that the Bill was passed; but it was passed, and I repeat that that Bill paved the way for the present settlement.
This settlement has four main provisions. I propose to say a word or two about two of them only, because I desire to address my remarks in the main to certain aspects of the financial matters arising out of this Bill and out of the Agreement made last week. The noble and learned Earl has dealt at length with the boundary question. All I will say about that is that this disturbing and discordant factor which has so embarrassed and weakened both Governments in Ireland is now, we hope and believe, removed from the area of controversy, and that in itself is an enormous and incalculable gain. There is a very important provision in this Bill to which the noble and learned Earl did not refer at all. It is in subsection (2) of Clause 1. That is the provision which sets up machinery for meetings between the Government of Northern Ireland and the Government of the Irish Free State. It may well prove as time goes on that this is the most important clause in the Bill. Only the future can show. It is impossible yet to say what will come of it, but I would fain hope that it may pave the way for most beneficial conferences between both the Governments and may lead to unity, which seemed a short time ago scarcely attainable.
Having said that about those two provisions of the settlement—and they are most important—I pass on to consider some of the financial matters upon which the noble and learned Earl spoke at considerable length, I do not think, if I may say so, at too great a length having regard to the importance of the matter. The noble and learned Earl spoke at considerable length about the provision in this Bill which abrogates Article 5 of the original. Treaty and relieves the Irish Free State from liability in respect of a contribution to our National Debt and in respect of a contribution to the cost of War Pensions. My col- 1248 leagues and I agree with the noble and learned Earl that the abrogation of this Article is in all the circumstances a wise proceeding. This matter, when you come to the figures, has been, is and I suppose now always will be, one of controversy and difference of opinion. The noble and learned Earl gave certain figures to your Lordships bearing upon it. He pointed out that, whereas everything was very indefinite, a certain very preliminary and tentative claim had been framed—and the Prime Minister said this yesterday—by the British Government, amounting to £128,000,000 of capital and £27,000,000 of interest, a total of £155,000,000. He observed, and of course very properly, that there were certain deductions to be made from that quite apart from the main counter-claim of the Free State Government. Those deductions would be on account of monies which might be received by us from the Allies in respect of Debt due to us. The noble and learned Earl spoke of Reparations from Allies, but, of course, he meant Debts from the Allies. Such Reparations as are expected will come from some of our late enemies and, of course, certain items with reference to those will have to be taken into account.
Then we come to the question of the counter-claim and the noble and learned Earl spoke about it at some length. He said it had been put at £200,000,000. As a matter of fact the late Colonial Secretary, speaking in another place yesterday, said it had been put as high as £280,000,000 when he was in office. He saw figures which purported to arrive at some such total as that. If any such figure were sustainable it is quite clear that the prospect before this country in respect of contributions under this clause would not be a very encouraging one. But for my part I do not attach very much importance to any of those figures. They will be matters of controversy and, no doubt, great interest for many years to come, but of academic interest. All I will say is that I have always regarded any contribution from the Free State to our National Debt as a doubtful asset.
Still, the Article was there and it has undoubtedly been a certain handicap to the Free State. Its abrogation is a real gain to the financial credit and stability of the Free State because nobody could tell how eventually the matter might have 1249 worked out. It might have been, as the noble and learned Earl has suggested, that some figure would have been arrived at by arbitrators, but here I think, if I may say so with respect, he did not quite sufficiently elaborate the difficulty. I heard him say there wag no such sum of money as £60,000,000 in the Free State. Of course there is not in the sense that money could be transferred here. The point I want to make is this—it is a point which the Prime Minister dealt with yesterday—I think that even if a sum had been arrived at finally that sum would have had to be paid to this country in goods. The noble Earl said that the amount which the Free State at the present time has to transmit abroad is about £5,000,000 a year. That is not what the Prime Minister said yesterday. He said it was between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000.
§ LORD ARNOLD
I have his words here. He said:—The point I wish to impress upon the House is this, that between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 of that amount is being paid annually and will be paid outside the country ….And if you look at it in another way it comes to a smaller figure because if the Revenue is about £26,000,000, one-tenth of that, to which reference was made by the Prime Minister, reduces the amount to £2,600,000. However, this is not very germane to the subject, but it is a little difficult to deal with when members of the Government do not agree. I think the noble and learned Earl will find that I am perfectly correct because I took the trouble to take out the figures before I came here.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I do not think the noble Lord is quite right. I think the Prime Minister ignored, as a Minister reasonably may, some small amounts. The noble Lord will see that on columns 314 and 315 of the OFFICIAL REPORT he says:The Free State Government are collecting the land purchase and local loans annuities, which will continue for many years under past legislation, to an amount in round figures of about £3,000,000 a year and are paying pensions to police and civil servants retired from public service in that State to an amount of over £1,600,000.That is the £4,600,000 which I had in my mind.
§ LORD ARNOLD
The noble and learned Earl does not appreciate the point I was making. The point I was making was that between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 had to be transmitted abroad by the Free State. How is the noble and learned Earl's statement to be reconciled with the further statement of the Prime Minister of what is calculated at not less, and may be rather more, than one-tenth of the Revenue?
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
The noble Lord will forgive me. I think that my right hon. friend the Prime Minister was misstating the proportion. I should have stated a different one. I will only deal with the figures given to us by the Free State representatives. They would add about £250,000 more to the £4,600,000. Of course some of that is spent in the Irish Free State, but the proportion of that is so very small that it is not worth arguing about.
§ LORD ARNOLD
As I was observing it is not really an important matter, and I do not propose to pursue it further. I took the words of the Prime Minister, but of course I dc not know what he may have meant. What I have given to your Lordships are the words that he used. The last point I wish to make about it is this. In all the circumstances we agree that it is a wise thing to have abrogated that Article, and I think that the effect which this may have upon the financial stability and the credit of the Free State should be beneficial.
Then we come to the more detailed financial matters. The noble and learned Earl explained, and it is down in the Bill, that the Free State has undertaken to repay to the British Government the monies already paid by the British Government in respect of damage done for malicious injury since July, 1919, and also they have undertaken to promote legislation to increase by 10 per cent. the compensation awards made under the Act of 1923 for damage done between July, 1921, and May, 1923. There are two or three questions that I should like to ask about these provisions. I presume this 10 per cent. increase is a flat-rate increase, and I gather it applies not only to awards which have been made, but also to ex-gratia payments that have been paid. If that is not so, why should ex-gratia 1251 payments be omitted? I want to ask what is the precise position in respect of this 10 per cent. increase and future awards. Has it any relation at all to future awards? Are they going to be increased by 10 per cent.? A little information on this point would be very valuable. If this is not meant as regards the future, what does it mean?
I now desire to raise a point which I think is very relevant in regard to this ten per cent. increase. The noble and learned Earl has referred to the debates which have taken place in your Lordships' House on many occasions. I have only been a member of your Lordships' House for rather less than two years and I can remember five debates in connection with injuries suffered by Irish loyalists in Southern Ireland and the compensation paid to them in one way and another for the damage done to their properties. As a result of two debates which were held in your Lordships' House last July the Government agreed to set up a Committee to investigate this matter and see whether any further compensation should be paid to the loyalists for damage done to their property. I was very surprised to see in the Press some four months after this Committee had been agreed to, a statement to the effect that no meetings of the Committee had been held. I should like to know I whether this information is correct. I was, however, still more surprised to see in the report of what took place in the House of Commons yesterday that Colonel Gretton said that even yet, in the middle of December, no meeting of this Committee had been held.
It seems to me to be a most singular state of things. In July last we were told that these various matters were urgent, to use no stronger word, and the demand for the appointment of this Committee was so clamant and insistent that the Government had to yield and agree to the appointment. What has happened? What are those members of your Lordships' House who are on this Committee doing in the matter? They told us there were great grievances, a great deal of distress, that the matter was urgent, and yet here we are five months after the Committee was appointed and not one single meeting of it has yet been held. The position calls for some explanation.
§ LORD ARNOLD
That is true, and it is, of course, responsible for a great many things. That may be the explanation. If it is let us have it, because I think your Lordships are entitled to some explanation. The debate of last July was adjourned, the Question is still on the Paper, and I think this House should have some explanation of this extraordinary state of things. In the next place I want to ask—and in view of this Bill it is only right that your Lordships should be informed—how this matter of the Committee stands in relation to the future? So far the Committee has not met, but I suppose it is going to function some day. Very well. Does the Government still contemplate, in addition to this 10 per cent. increase to compensation awards under the Act of 1923, to bring about which the Free State has agreed to promote legislation, giving to the Irish loyalists in certain cases further compensation which will, of course, be given at the expense of the British taxpayer? The noble and learned Earl said that it was a great satisfaction to him to know that all the damage which had been done would be paid for by the Irish Free State.
§ LORD ARNOLD
I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble and learned Earl. But this Committee is in existence and I think we are entitled to some information on this point. The Prime Minister, in another place, yesterday, said this:This agreement makes no change of any sort, or kind in the obligations .… which the British Government have undertaken towards those who have suffered injury to person or property in the Irish Free State.That statement requires a little amplification, otherwise there might be some misunderstanding. If the Prime Minister is referring to what he has just been saying it is all right, but if it is taken to refer to what he goes on to say then I think a certain discrepancy arises. What is the position? A Committee is appointed to go into the question of compensation and see whether in certain cases more compensation should be given. 1253 Later on the Free State Government agree to increase the compensation awards by ten per cent. There is, therefore, a change in the position; and it does make a difference. Is not this to come under the purview of this Committee? Are they still going to proceed as though the ten per cent. had not been given? Taken literally that might be the interpretation put upon it.
I would like to ask, although I am afraid I shall not get any reply—it is an important matter seeing that the Committee has not yet met—whether the Government can give us any estimate of the burden which is likely to be placed upon the British Exchequer in respect of the working of this Committee if, and when, it gets to work? That is an important matter, and I should appreciate some information on it, more particularly because the plan of getting out of their difficulties which has been resorted to more than once by His Majesty's present advisers, by means of a large cash payment, is an expensive plan. It may be comparatively easy for the Government but it is expensive for the taxpayer, and we are entitled to some information as to what liability will ultimately come upon the British Exchequer, particularly having regard to the fact that the compensation has been increased by ten per cent.
I have finished, but I respectfully submit that these questions are quite relevant to this Bill and to this discussion. At the same time I agree with the spirit of the concluding observation of the noble and learned Earl. I am not content that the matters of which I have spoken should interfere or impede the settlement that has been made. I am not content with that. On the contrary, I repeat that so far as we are concerned we think the settlement, looking at it broadly, is a good one. We think it should go through. We wish it well, and we hope it will be of great and lasting benefit to the Irish people.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House and to which you are asked to give a Second Reading is so entirely in harmony with what has been said so often by noble friends of mine from this Bench that it is quite unnecessary for me to detain your Lordships for any length of time this evening. Still less 1254 do I feel it necessary to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken in the somewhat severe and unnecessary criticisms which he has offered on various details in the Bill. This is a time when it is necessary that men of good will should combine together in order to assist this settlement and enable it, at this critical moment, to pass with ease and without any disturbance. It is most unfortunate that criticisms of that kind should be offered in your Lordships' House.
I should like, however, to offer my congratulations to the noble and learned Earl, who has left the House, upon the fact that it has fallen to his lot to move the Second Reading of this Bill. It must have been a matter of no small satisfaction to him, having been so largely responsible for the Irish policy of the Coalition Government, to find himself in the position of moving this Bill this afternoon and so putting the culminating point to a policy for which he was so largely responsible. I will not elaborate that point in his absence.
What I should like to do is to utter a gentle lamentation upon the cost, which will undoubtedly follow from this Bill, to the unfortunate British taxpayer. It does look as if nowadays, whenever anybody disputes about anything, they always expect to be compensated by the British taxpayer—whether it is coal or Ireland, it is always the unfortunate British taxpayer—and everything is made easy by being paid for out of our pockets. One of the best features of this Bill, I think, is that the large sum of money which has been paid for eight years for the Ulster special constables will be no longer payable; this, at any rate, will be something in the pockets of the people of this country. Not unnaturally the noble and learned Earl who introduced this Bill referred to Locarno. It is the "stunt" word of the moment, and I would say, as has been said about Locarno, that I hope that this measure is not the end but that it is only the beginning of fresh measures of conciliation and of good will amongst the people of Ireland. I rejoice especially to think that, as one result of this Bill, there will be re-established the Council of All Ireland.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I understood that it would be re-established, and hoped 1255 that it would be re-established, and that, as a result, people from every part of Ireland would have been able to meet together to discuss matters of common interest and matters upon which they disagreed. For myself, I hope I shall be forgiven if I venture to quote from the speech which I made on this very subject on October 8 last year, and in which I ended by saying:—I believe that in this matter our chief hope lies in bringing public opinion in this country to bear on the controversy in Ireland and impressing upon Irishmen the desire we have that they should, by themselves, settle their own disputes.I am happy to think that this is exactly what has happened with regard to this matter. Irishmen have come together and they have settled this matter in accordance with their own wishes. I hope that this is the beginning of a new era in this connection, that what they have done in relation to this matter will always be the course that will be followed by Irishmen in the future, and that they will be able in the same way to settle any other matters of dispute which may arise between them.
§ LORD CARSON
My Lords, I desire to offer only a very few observations to your Lordships upon the very important Bill that has been brought before you to-day. At parts of the speech of the noble and learned Earl who moved the Second Reading of the Bill I felt from time to time inclined to be controversial, but I am saved from becoming so because I think that when the noble Earl's speech is examined it will be found that one of the great features of it is the bold condemnation that he himself made of the greater part of the Treaty of 1921, which he brought about, and of all that resulted from that Treaty. One is always disarmed on finding a frankness of that kind—on finding, for instance, the statement that what immediately followed the Treaty was a war that cost the Irish Free State £20,000,000 in money, and I cannot say how much in material damage—I have heard it estimated at £50,000,000 or £70,000,000—or how much in the lives of Irishmen, many of them shot, I do not say wrongly under the law, by the Free State Government whose colleagues and friends they had been in the outrages which had led up to the Treaty in 1921. I might follow out the line that the noble Earl felt it necessary to take to-night, 1256 but I think it is such a candid confession of a great deal that might otherwise have to be said that I do not intend to pursue any controversial line whatsoever beyond that which I have already indicated.
I have the disadvantage of being an Irishman and therefore I know something about Ireland. I have lived there for a great part of my life and I have never ceased to take an interest in Ireland. Consequently, when I speak upon Ireland now, I speak with no undue optimism nor, I hope, on an occasion like the present, shall I speak, in the few words that I have to say, with undue pessimism. But I cannot but feel gratified in the part that I, at all events, have played in the politics of my own country, and by the fact that from start to finish one thing that this Bill shows and demonstrates is that Ulster in her claim has been right. I go back, as the noble and learned Earl did, to the Buckingham Palace Conference. Heaven knows, I remember the responsibilities that were upon my own shoulders at that time! The claim of Ulster then was that the six counties should be left out and should not be handed over to the Government of the other twenty-six counties, and it was upon that matter of the boundary that the Buckingham Palace Conference, presided over by His Majesty on the first day, broke off on the very eve of the War.
I cast my mind back to 1916, not very long before the Battle of the Somme, in which the Ulster Division lost 6,000 men in fighting your battles and their own. I then spent several weeks in Ulster trying to get the Ulster people to agree that the six-county boundary should again be accepted, as it was thought that it would help to win the War to set up Home Rule in the middle of the War with a view to obtaining more sympathy from the United States, who had not then come in. I remember the patriotism with which these men, bearing much that was sorrowful for them and being separated from their fellow countrymen and co-religionists of the other counties, passed a resolution saying that they would be willing in the interests of the War to agree to the six counties, but unfortunately all that went for nothing through the greater wisdom of your politicians over here. Then, when the Act of 1920 was brought in the same 1257 contest arose, and there I thought—I am wiser now—the boundary was finally settled by the solemn Act of the two Houses of Parliament, signed by the King, and that the six counties had to be handed over for good or ill to the people of Northern Ireland. The Bill had hardly become an Act, and the King had hardly opened the Parliament of Ulster, when there came into the foreground for your political purposes an entire upsetting of the whole of that arrangement.
The Treaty, which was so fully described by the noble Earl, and which was the product of an outbreak in the Free State and of outrages which have been so eloquently discussed to-day, was made. What did it do? Once more behind the back of Ulster, at midnight in Downing Street, you put in a provision which might lead to the greatest possible disasters — a provision once more challenging what you had settled in 1920—this unfortunate provision about the Boundary Commission, which has kept Ulster, during all these years of difficulty and unemployment, in a state of uncertainty which nobody in this House, unless he happens to understand Ulster, can possibly appreciate. It has led to outbreaks along the border which I thank Heaven are becoming less every day. It has led to disappointment in people on both sides of the border—some who might be put in and some who might be put out. Then, only last year when Ulster, who had no hand or part in any of its terms, refused to take part in having her own boundaries judged after she had accepted the Act of 1920, the Government of the day and the Houses of Parliament passed an Act entirely altering the Treaty and rendering it compulsory for Ulster to have her case judged without any representative of her on the Commission. For a whole year we have had this Commission going round, the result being an Election, which became necessary in the North of Ireland in the early part of last year, in order that the hands of the Prime Minister might be strengthened — an Election upon this question of the boundary, in which he was returned again by a large majority.
All this time you have had, as my noble friend the Earl of Birkenhead said, practically under arms, 38,000 Ulstermen kept upon the borders—what I think are called 1258 "Specials"—at an enormous cost. I rejoice, to-day, that that situation is at an end. But if I am optimistic that that may lead to good between the North and South, I am pessimistic for other reasons. In the first place I trust no British Government in relation to Ulster, and I do not know whether this country will now cease the unfortunate policy, which she has pursued on all these occasions to which I have referred, in her dealings with the Free State, of making Ulster a mere pawn in the political game and the political policy this country has carried on. I hope it may be so. I hope, and I beg that at all ex tints for some years to come this country will see what Ulster has gone through, that she will see how right Ulster has been all through, that she will see that this very day is the vindication of the position which Ulster took up, and that she will take care that never again will Ulster become a pawn in the negotiations between Great Britain and the Free State.
That is probably all I need say upon that point. If the settlement of the boundary leads to better relations between the North and South, I think great advantages may accrue from this Bill. For my own part I have always hoped, and always longed, that the very best relations should subsist between the North and South of Ireland—I am a Southerner myself—but so long as you had a question like this open it was almost impossible for the North and South to come together.
The greater part of the speech of the noble Earl was taken up with the question of finance. Except as an English taxpayer I am not really concerned with it, but I have this additional advantage, that I never was in the least taken in by this question of what is called Article 5, under which you were to get large contributions from the Irish Free State. I knew from the start, when the Treaty was signed and that Article was put in, that it never would be put into force, and I have been made the more certain of that because four years have elapsed, and no attempt has been made even to set up the Committee of Arbitration provided for by the Article. Now the Article is cut out. Why was it put in? It was put in because the then Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, had made one speech after another saying that, in any settlement as 1259 regards Ireland, the one thing he would take care of was that Irishmen should never be allowed to pay less towards the cost of the War than were their fellow-citizens in this country. The provision put in was mere window-dressing. It was to avoid the criticism at the time of the breaking up of the United Kingdom that you were foregoing the whole debt.
What did they forego? At the time of the Union Ireland was in a state of bankruptcy. The joint Exchequer of the two countries took over the whole of the Debts. They have gone on increasing that Debt ever since. The whole of the War Debt was incurred as much for the benefit of Ireland as for the benefit of this country, and the whole thing is wiped out. Of course it is, and I quite agree with the noble and learned Earl that it would have been utterly impossible ever to get paid. How could you? You have run away out of Ireland, not even taking care to preserve the lives and the properties of those who were your loyal fellow-countrymen over there. You had not time even to do that. And then you tell me that you are solemnly going to demand from the Free State—what was it, £220,000,000 or £150,000,000? Well, it is very easy to calculate it. This House passed a Bill in 1920, which said that the proper contribution from the Free State was £10,000,000 a year. Take that at twenty years purchase, that would be £200,000,000. How were you going to get it? Were you going to send a gunboat up the Liffey? Why, you had been beaten out of the country already. Were you going to blow up the Custom House—which had already been blown up by the Free Staters? The whole thing was ridiculous.
Do not bother yourselves about Article 5. Do not worry your hearts out that you are going to pay a single penny the more. There is no money in it. It is what I believe they call in the City "paper"—and bad paper. Of course, in a Treaty like this it sounds well. I am quite willing to take it, if you like, that it was an act of great generosity, but I do not think that was the way the noble and learned Earl put it. I think he said it was a bad debt, and so it was, and it was never meant to be anything else. So I do not stop for a moment to consider the other provisions as regards 1260 finance, though I suppose it is my Irish sense of humour which gives me some sort of pleasure in contemplating the substitution for £200,000,000 of some £4,000,000.
§ LORD CARSON
Yes, I know, but I am taking it as settled by the Act of 1920, and substituting something like £4,000,000, which is to be spread over sixty years. £250,000 a year instead of £10,000,000! It is really almost as good as a play to put that into the Treaty at all. It was not worth while. And the first part of it is to be paid by the Government retaining £900,000 that they have promised to pay—for what? As compensation to men whose property had been damaged when they were manufacturing bombs and other implements of war for the purpose of blowing up British troops.
My Lords, do not trouble about finance. Concentrate on the reality. There is always a great deal in reality in these matters where England and Ireland are entering into arrangements of this kind. Concentrate on the reality. The reality is that the boundary has been settled. That is a greater reality than many people who have not followed events might know. Far better settle the boundary as it is even than have a better boundary under the award of the Commission. To turn men out from under the Government that they are under is a far more difficult and dangerous process than turning men in under another Government, and it is far better that men should stay in as they are than that you should raise new grievances, by including people who do not want to be included and excluding people who do not want to be excluded. Therefore, so far as I am concerned—and it is the main point, after all, of this Bill—this is a great advantage.
I hope that Ulster will be left alone for sometime. I cannot read without some anxiety the news from Ireland to-day, because I see that a majority of the Dail, including those who do not go to the Dail because they refuse to take the Oath, are apparently opposed to this settlement. That is one of those matters which make one who looks for peace rather anxious, and I hope the difficulties 1261 may be overcome in some way or other. It is very little use passing a Bill in the Dail if the majority of the Dail are not really in favour of the Bill. But I hope wiser counsel from day to day may prevail in Ireland. So far as I am concerned I hope that those whose interests I have always attempted during my long public career to champion in the South and West of Ireland, as well as in the North of Ireland, will throw in the whole weight of their endeavour and influence in supporting this Treaty, and in aiding and helping not only the Government of Northern Ireland under Sir James Craig, but also the Government of the South and West of Ireland under Mr. Cosgrave.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lord, I hope that you will allow me, as one who since he first entered Parliament some thirty-three years ago has been deeply concerned with the affairs of Ireland, to offer a few words on this Bill. There are two subjects of great satisfaction in connection with this Agreement. The first is that now at long last the Government of Northern Ireland has been allowed to retain that which it always contended it should retain, that is, the Six Counties.
The noble and learned Lord who has just spoken described the deplorable results which followed from the insertion of Article 12 in the Treaty, and if any stronger condemnation could be given to that clause you would find it in the words of the Prime Minister himself yesterday in the House of Commons, in which he pointed out that it was quite impossible that under that Article there could be any report which would not lead to the gravest danger and unsettlement. His words were these:I am clear that neither that Report (of the Commission) nor any Report would have become effective without leading, at the best, to a prolonged unsettlement along the border, and very possibly to trouble of a kind which we should be most reluctant to contemplate.We wonder why, in view of that fact, this Article ever got inserted into the Treaty at all.
The noble and learned Earl gave us his account of it, and he told us that those who negotiated for Great Britain clearly foresaw the grave dangers of this Article 12. I think he described it as likely to produce results such as a charge 1262 of dynamite would produce. He then went on to tell us that the Free State negotiators insisted upon the Article being inserted; in other words, he threw the whole blame for inserting that Article upon the Free State and, I suppose, by inference, the Free State was really responsible. But I leave the noble and learned Earl to settle with his Free State friends whether he and his colleagues or the Free State were most responsible. My noble and learned friend Lord Carson, who has just spoken, has told us some of the consequences which have followed—perpetual unrest—
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
Does not the noble Lord realise that if Article 12 had not been inserted in the original Treaty this settlement would have been impossible?
§ LORD DANESFORT
Unnecessary if this Article had not been inserted. I know that the noble and learned Earl is anxious to understand any legitimate criticism so may I point out to him that he said that we objected to inserting this Article because we looked upon it as a sort of charge of dynamite, but the Free State insisted upon its being in and we had to give in. Therefore, I repeat that the noble and learned Earl throws all the blame for the insertion of this Article in the Treaty on the Free State negotiators.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
If I am not embarrassing the noble Lord, may I ask him whether he would rather sacrifice the Treaty than have Article 12 in it? That is the question, and he must make his decision.
§ LORD DANESFORT
The noble and learned Earl really does not appear to apprehend what I have been saying.
§ LORD DANESFORT
He said, at any rate, that he looked upon it as a source of the greatest danger, as a charge of dynamite which must lead to disastrous or dangerous results. If he did that, I think it would not have been put into the Treaty unless he was forced to put it in. He tells us, as I understand him, that he was forced to put it in by the Free State negotiators. Therefore I think I am not carrying the argument too far when I say that the noble and learned Earl throws the blame for this Article upon the Free State negotiators, and I say that is a dispute between him and the Free State which I leave him to clear up.
§ LORD DANESFORT
I am glad to think that I have done something to help the noble and learned Earl. I really do not want to go into the question of the disastrous results of this Article. They are patent on the face of them. They led to unsettlement, uneasiness and anxiety in the Northern parts of Ireland. What we are concerned with now is that this disastrous Article is put an end to once and, as I hope, for all.
The other cause for satisfaction which arises out of this Agreement is that the Prime Minister made it plain yesterday that all the obligations undertaken by the British Government for relieving the terrible sufferings of the Southern Irish loyalists would be carried out to the very letter and that this Agreement would in no way affect those obligations. That has given very great satisfaction, I think, to Irish loyalists. May I remind your Lordships of what the Prime Minister said:—… this Agreement makes no change of any sort or kind in the obligations … which the British Government have undertaken towards those who have suffered injury in person or property in the Free State either before or after the truce …. The Irish Grants Committee continues in being, and the Committee which the Government recently promised to set up will operate as though the Agreement had never been made.The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, wanted to know whether this Committee was operating. I can assure him that it is operating and I hope it will operate satisfactorily. I am glad to be able to give 1264 him that assurance and, no doubt, the noble and learned Earl, in his reply upon the debate, will inform him further exactly what has been done.
But while expressing satisfaction that the British Government have not abandoned their obligations to the Southern Irish loyalists, I cannot but feel deep regret that this opportunity, the last perhaps that will be afforded to us, was not taken to get some better terms from the Free State Government to make amends to the Southern Irish loyalists for the terrible sufferings to which they have been subjected. I understand that an additional 10 per cent. has been promised to the paltry compensation given under the Act of 1923, making up, I think, the value of the depreciated Free State bonds which were issued at par. But had more pressure been brought to bear upon the Free State Government in this settlement, I believe they would have done something more to make amends for the terrible losses sustained by the Southern Irish loyalists.
Having said that there are those two elements of satisfaction, may I for one moment touch upon a question which it seems to me has been entirely neglected in this settlement? I refer to the question of justice to the British taxpayer. I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, that it has become too much the custom, when any trouble arises in this country or elsewhere, to call upon the British taxpayer to put his hand in his pocket and pay millions of money. Trouble arises, there is a demand for peace or a hope of peace, and the remedy that is almost invariably tried is to ask the British Government for some millions of money. Under entirely different conditions from those now existing it might sometimes be a just demand. But the British taxpayer is groaning under the burdens he has now to bear, British industry is paralysed in many cases by the taxes, and this is the time chosen totally to neglect, as I think, in this settlement the interests of the taxpayer.
Let us see how the matter stands. Article 5 is abrogated. I will not read it again. We all know that the Free State solemnly promised to pay to the British Government their share of the National Debt and the cost of Pensions. It was a deliberate act on the part of the British Government to ask for, and it was 1265 a deliberate act on the part of the Free State Government to give, this promise, and I think it would be insulting to both Governments to suggest that when the Free State promised to make this contribution they really never meant it at all or that when the British Government inserted Article 5 in the Treaty they never intended to enforce it. I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Carson, who has just spoken, took a rather gloomy view of Article 5 and, possibly, was not particularly complimentary either to the British Government who demanded it or to the Free State Government who acceded to the demand. I assume, therefore, that Article 5 was put in with the intention on the part of the Free State Government to honour their obligation and on the part of the British Government to enforce it. Indeed, I observe that as recently as March last His Majesty's present Government regarded that obligation as enforceable, because they actually formulated a demand upon the Free State for £155,000,000 which they thought a just sum. Therefore when the noble and learned Earl tells us it is absurd to regard it as impossible, perhaps he will explain why. In the early part of this year so far were we from regarding it as impossible that we actually formulated a claim.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I will explain that. At that time it was assumed that an arbitration was going forward. It was known that the Free State claim was in the neighbourhood of £180,000,000. We put forward a fighting claim. The noble Lord, as a Chancery lawyer, will understand why we did so.
§ LORD DANESFORT
I do not as a Chancery lawyer in the least understand it. I do not wish to be acrimonious if I can help it, but the attitude of the noble and learned Earl challenges me. The point that I was endeavouring to make, which I have no doubt the noble Earl will appreciate, is this. He now says that this Article is not and, as I gather from him, never was enforceable. What I say is that if it is his attitude now that the Article is not enforceable, and that the claim cannot be pressed, why did he or the British Government in April or March last put forward a claim of £155,000,000? That is the question.
§ LORD DANESFORT
The noble and learned Earl said something about having gone to arbitration. That is not, if I may venture to say so, my point at all. My point is this: If you have a claim which you say is not enforceable, what is the good of putting it forward, and telling the world there is a claim for £150,000,000? I will leave that to the noble and learned! Earl to explain, and he may be able to do so. It was put forward as a claim of £150,000,000 as late as April last, and I cannot imagine that any respectable Government would go to another Government which owes them money and say: "We claim £150,000,000," knowing all the time in their hearts that they could not get a farthing of it. It certainly is a strange action. Let me for one moment see what we do under this Agreement, and what we get. We give up a claim of £150,000,000 put forward by us. It is true, as the noble and learned Earl says, that that is subject to abatements. Your Lordships will notice that the amount has never been suggested—
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I say this was the basis of the Irish counterclaim put forward in public. The noble Lord either knows of it or ought to know of it.
§ LORD DANESFORT
I am quite aware, possibly as well aware as the noble and learned Earl. I think that his attitude is rather provoking, and is making my manner rather more combative than I intended. I will endeavour to avoid that. Of course I know about the Childers Commission, and of course I know there is a possible, or would be a possible, claim for abatement. What that would have amounted to is a totally different thing. The noble and learned Earl suggests that it would have reduced our claim to £50,000,000. May I remind the noble and learned! Earl that an Irish Nationalist paper in the North of Ireland, the Irish News, said that the claim of 1267 the British Government under Article 5 could not amount to a less sum than £60,000,000, and they are not likely to put the claim at a higher figure than was reasonable, so that according to the Irish Nationalists the claim could not be less than £60,000,000, and our claim was £155,000,000. But whether it be £155,000,000 or £60,000,000 or £50,000,000, to me it matters not if we give it up without adequate reason. Why did we give it up? Because we have got a promise of the Free State to repay us £50,000,000 in the course of sixty years, and that is what we have got in exchange for our claim of £155,000,000. The noble and learned Earl said in substance, and I am not at all sure that the Free State will thank him for it, that the Free State could not pay a penny. I gather from him—he will correct me if I am wrong—that they cannot balance their Budget, and will not for several years to come, and in fact, I understand, he puts forward a claim to bankruptcy.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
Really the noble Lord must observe some contact with facts. He says I have suggested the Irish Free State cannot pay a penny. I never said anything of the kind. I stated in my speech that they were going to pay £150,000 down, and £250,000 for fifty years. Let us have a little contact with facts.
§ LORD DANESFORT
The noble and learned Earl said they could not possibly pay anything like the sum claimed, even the lower sum of £50,000,000. I do not think the Free State Government will thank the noble and learned Earl for putting it forward that they are in such a deplorable financial position.
§ LORD DANESFORT
Certainly not. I put forward my own opinion, that if I were in the position of the Free State I should not thank the noble Earl for putting forward my financial position as 1268 of so deplorable a character as he represents. Therefore I do say, as regards the Agreement, that the interests of the British taxpayer have not been regarded. I greatly regret that this matter has been so hurried through both Houses of Parliament that the public at large, and I think even members of your Lordships' House and the House of Commons, have not had time to consider it in all its aspects. I realise, however, that this Agreement has been signed and comes before your Lordships to recognise it, whether you approve of it or not. It is impossible to vote against it, but I think it is quite reasonable to criticise some of the provisions of the Agreement that we are asked to ratify. My last word is this. The advantages of this Agreement in getting a settlement—as I hope, a final settlement—as regards the boundary question in Ulster are enormous. It is hoped that the settlement of the question will lead to a better feeling between the North and South of Ireland. In that hope I most cordially agree. Therefore I shall vote, if it is necessary to vote, for this Bill in the fervent hope that it may mark and will mark a new era in the long period of unsettlement and disorder and will in Ireland, and will lead to a reconciliation.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, asked one or two questions which I think I may answer. In the first place, I may say that the ten per cent. increase is a flat rate. It applies to reports as well as to awards, and it applies to future reports and awards as well as to past. The noble Lord was well entitled to ask me about the delay in the meeting of the Committee. There has been a delay—I think a regrettable delay—which was largely due to the fact that the noble Lords concerned, including, I may say, Lord Selborne, the mover, were away from London until the end of November and it was impossible to collect the Committee. Lord Selborne, Lord Danesfort and the Duke of Northumberland have now preferred the list of typical cases, which are now being examined with a view to an early meeting. The Committee will now proceed in its deliberations. If the Committee recommend payments over and above the compensation payable under the Act, and if the 1269 Government accepts this recommendation, the cost will, of course, fall on the British Government, but, naturally, the additional ten per cent. payable under the Agreement will be taken into account by the Government if not by the Committee. I think that fairly answers the questions asked by Lord Arnold.
Now I must say a word on the debate, which has been, on the whole, fairly harmonious, except that everybody has differed from everybody else. Lord Beauchamp has expressed his regret for the British taxpayer, but Lord Beauchamp was answered by Lord Carson, because the noble and learned Lord said that in no event would anything have been recoverable. This was a claim, not an established liability, and if the noble and learned Lord is right on this point—on some points I must say, with great respect to him, I think he was wrong—then it was an answer to Lord Beauchamp. If it is the fact that the resources of the Irish Free State are such as I have stated them, then there can be no doubt that the noble and learned Lord is absolutely right and the noble Earl on this point has expressed undue apprehension. We have given nothing away, because there is nothing to give.
Now I address myself to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort. I have listened to many foolish speeches in this House. I have made some myself, but never in all the years during which I have been a member of this House have I listened to a speech so foolish. Let me test his observations and make an examination as to whom the noble Lord stands for. Does he represent Sir James Craig in this House? Sir James Craig has gone home to Northern Ireland expressing thanksgiving for this settlement. He has gone home and is received with acclamation by his Parliament and by every public body in the North of Ireland. I do not know whether the noble Lord has any claim at all to speak for Northern Ireland, but if so let him decide his differences with Sir James Craig. Sir James Craig has spoken to me on this subject and if he had listened to the maddening recriminations of the noble Lord, I know what Sir James Craig would have said about him.
But the noble Lord, realising that he is on rather a slippery foothold in profess- 1270 ing to speak for Northern Ireland, was good enough to say that he was deeply concerned on behalf of the Irish Free State because he considered that what I had said might reflect on their financial solvency. Let the noble Lord wait until the Irish Free State invite him to become their mouthpiece in this House before he comments in this way on a statement which I made on the word of a high financial authority from the Free State itself. I will take the liberty to assure him that it was the Irish Free State Minister of Finance. The criticisms of the noble Lord are not helpful to anybody. They are not helpful to Ulster. They are not helpful to the Irish Free State. They are not helpful to this House, and they are not helpful to the British Empire.
At the end came a peroration which I think was the only considered part of his speech because it was the only sensible part of the speech. In his peroration he said he hoped this settlement would be received as an ultimate settlement, that there were great advantages involved if it was attained and that he entertained the fervent hope that it might be attained. Has he done much to establish his "fervent hope" by the speech he made to-night? If there had been forty people in this House holding this "fervent hope" of the noble Lord there would have been great prospects of this Bill becoming law! The noble Lord asked a question as to why we ever assented to this article. I have already told him why, and if he had done me the honour to listen with ordinary intelligence to what I said he would have known that I said we knew the day would come when in a milder spirit we could address ourselves to this topic. That day has come, and it is by reason of the risks we ran in the earlier Treaty that you are to-day reaching the stage when Ulster is protected and with a safe boundary. We did that. What contribution did the noble Lord make four years ago when the decision was taken which alone has safeguarded the boundaries of Ulster? If it had not been for the decision we took then there would not have been this settlement to-day, and the noble Lord would still have been here maundering the same imbecilities and giving the same advice.
We, at least, have adhered to a consistent policy. We have been conscious 1271 of the risks we ran. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson, though he disapproved of various stages in our journey, has recognised that in the event we have been able, assisted much by the spirit of Ulster herself, to secure for her a boundary which she, considered indispensable to her. It is surely no small matter in asking for the Second Reading of this Bill that I am able to claim that the Irish Free State desires it, in spite of Lord Danesfort; that Ulster desires it, in spite of Lord Danesfort; that the British Government recommends it, in spite of Lord Danesfort; and I cordially invite your Lordships to support the House of Commons and give a unanimous vote in support of the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a.
§ Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX. having been suspended) House resolved itself into Committee: Bill reported without amendment.
§ Bill read 3a, and passed.