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Debate On The Address

Volume 149: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1921

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(in the uniform of Deputy-Lieutenant of the County of Norfolk): I beg to move

"That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:

Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the Most Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

Having taken into consideration the Articles of Agreement presented to us by Your Majesty's Command, we are ready to confirm and ratify these Articles in order that the same may be established for ever by the mutual consent of the peoples of Great Britain and Ireland, and we offer to Your Majesty our humble congratulations on the near accomplishment of that work of reconciliation to which Your Majesty has so largely contributed."

It has been the custom of this House for many years past to entrust the duty of moving the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne to some Member who has seldom, if ever, addressed it. It is a very good custom, for, with most of us, the less we speak, the more likely the House is to give us a kind hearing and extend to us its indulgence when chiefly we need it. I am afraid that I cannot urge this merit of past silence upon my colleagues. I cannot claim from them the indulgence that is always given to a first offender. I am afraid that I am a hardened criminal, and, as a hardened criminal, I must simply appeal to the mercy of the judge and the jury. They must forget and forgive my past speeches, and grant me a kind hearing for this sole reason: The Session that is opening to-day is unique in the annals of Parliament, and the Address that I am moving differs both in the intensity of feeling it excites, and in the general body of support it commands, from any previous reply that has ever been moved on the Floor of this House.

Let me, at any rate, begin my speech upon a field of universal agreement. Since the House adjourned, two events of outstanding importance have taken place, not only in the annals of the Royal family, but in the history of the British Empire—the landing of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in India, and the betrothal of Princess Mary to Lord Lascelles. As we mark the continued successes of the Imperial tours of the Prince of Wales—successes in no way impaired by the efforts of despairing agitators—and as we note the general outburst of affection that has greeted the news of Princess Mary's engagement, we ought to offer our dutiful congratulations to their Majesties, and to assure the King that, if any further proof were needed to justify a hereditary monarchy, the hereditary charm and talent of his son and daughter would make converts of even the most bigoted Republicans.

The Gracious Speech from the Throne concentrates the attention of the House upon one question, and one question alone—"the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland." "The Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland"—that is the title of the Paper we have in our hands to-day. What a chequered and tragic history, what hopes and fears, what trials, what a long array of great names have gone to make the Treaty that we are to ratify to-day! Strongbow, Strafford, Cromwell, Gladstone, Pitt, Grattan, O'Connell, Parnell, generation after generation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Redmond!" and "Butt!"]—and Redmond—generation after generation, the great figures of our political history have all had their hand in the work that we are asked to approve to-day. There were some of them who believed, in the sincerity of their hearts, that they could settle Ireland by the sword. It has been left to the British Monarchy, in the person of his Majesty the King, to point a better and surer way to settlement. His Majesty's Gracious Speech at Belfast was the turning point in the crisis. His Majesty's Speech to-day asks us to gather the fruits that were sown there. Let the Irish people mark the part that the King has played in this settlement. Let them know the value of the British Monarchy. I remember the year 1916, when I was in charge of our military intelligence in Russia, that I met a Finnish agent who came to give me news of Casement's doings in Germany. He described to me the efforts Casement had made to induce the Irish prisoners in their internment camp near Berlin to join the Irish Brigade of the German Army. How did those Irish Nationalists respond to Casement's invitation? They drowned his voice by singing "God Save the King." A race nurtured in these ancient traditions will not be slow to respond to the invitation of His Majesty the King. May we not hope that, with Irish peace established, the Royal influence in Ireland will be still further strengthened by a Royal residence beyond St. George's Channel?

Let the House throw its mind back to the moment, six months ago, when His Majesty intervened with such telling effect upon the side of peace. Six months ago there was in Ireland a peace that was not a peace and a war that was not a war. Day after day there were events of grim tragedy. Brave men who had withstood the dangers of the Great War were being daily killed and wounded. [An HON. MEMBER: "Murdered!"] A terrible guerilla struggle was proceeding, and the tragedy was all the greater from the fact that although its blood was being shed, and although terror was gripping the land by the throat, the great body of British people in their inner hearts wished to live at peace with their Irish neighbours. There was the Irish tragedy! A terrible war in progress; a great body of British people here wishing to live in peace with their Irish neighbours, yet caught in a vice that seemed to make it almost impossible to escape from the orgy of battle, murder and sudden death. The real tragedies of history are not the battles between right and wrong, where the issue is clear and the merits of the question undisputed; it is when there is right on both sides that the real tragedies of history are enacted. Such a tragedy was the Irish tragedy. On the one hand the passionate desire of the Irish Nationalists to rebuild the Irish nation; on the other hand the stubborn determination of the forces of the Crown to restore law and order; and behind those two ideals a background set in 800 years of mutual misunderstanding. We might have allowed the tragedy to proceed to its inevitable end. We might have attempted a military solution. No one can deny that had we attempted a military solution the armed forces of the Crown would have carried out the task. The Army and Navy that beat the German Empire would certainly have been victorious. What then? The Irish problem is not a military problem. A military solution could not touch it. If we had killed every Sinn Feiner in Ireland, if we had burned every city in the South and West, if we had laid waste the land, should we have been a day nearer to Irish peace?

We know something of war in this country. There are 5,000,000 of men who went through it three years ago. Does any one of those 5,000,000 men, who weighs the consequences, wish to embark upon a terrible war with his Irish fellow-citizens? In spite of this repugnance, in spite of the general desire for peace, there might have been war. With a quarrel whose roots have sunk so deep and whose poison is spread so wide that it seemed almost impossible to wrench up by the roots the deadly plant. The Prime Minister and his colleagues made the attempt, and we are here to-day to ratify their work. Is it a British surrender this Treaty of Peace that we are discussing to-day? Certainly Mr. de Valera and his "die-hards" in Dublin do not regard it as a British surrender. The British Empire does not surrender to anyone. Our power is so strong, our might so unquestioned, that no one can say that we surrender to anybody. We are so strong that we can make big and generous concessions such as no small and weak country would dare to make. We are making a peace with Ireland, not because we have to make a peace, but because we wish to make a peace. We wish to be the friends, not the enemies, of Ireland. We wish to make our friendship permanent and secure. When the British people make up their minds they do not higgle about details. The British people are a very generous people, and because we are a generous people we say to our former enemies: "Come in and take your part in the British Commonwealth as full partners." We ask Ireland to take her place as a peer at the Round Table of the Empire's governors. Not only do we make the invitation. It is an invitation from every one of the great self-governing Dominions of the British Empire.

Not so many years ago we made a similar offer to our former enemies in South Africa. Do we regret the offer we made to our former enemies? Do they regret the agreement they made with their new friends? Ireland, however, is not as the other Dominions. Ireland is a mother country. When Europe was plunged in darkness Irish learning flooded every corner of the Continent. Ireland has her citizens beyond the seas, a company of colonists greater than any possessed by practically every great country except our own. Ireland can bring to the service of the Empire a wealth of history and tradition and foreign influence such as is not possessed by any of the Dominions. More than that, she can bring to the service of the Irish Free State a unique wealth of political experience. No Parliament has passed, but there has been in our Debates here some Irish leader of outstanding. For a century, from the Irish Benches on this side of the House and on the other, there has arisen a long and unbroken line of great Parliamentary leaders. Henceforth the scene of the triumph of Irish statesmen will be transferred from the sterile deserts of opposition in this House to the fertile field of reconstruction in Ireland. We are taking to-day a long step forward upon the path of peace. We are thankful that we are on the right road. We must not, however, forget the many boulders that have been placed across our steps by past convulsions. The controversy of eight centuries cannot be ended by a Resolution of this House. A battle that has stirred the blood of generations of Englishmen and Irishmen cannot suddenly be stayed by the signature of any political leader. The Irish Free State has before it a most difficult task—the consolidation of a new, and stable government after centuries of agitation and unrest. Even to-day the first engagement in this struggle is being fought in Dublin. The wreckers of Dublin are attacking the peace. Let us in this House not make more difficult the task of the men of good will. For the first time in modern history Irishmen are to have the full responsibility of governing themselves. Let them show in the service of their own Government the poltical genius and courage they have shown overseas, and particularly let them show their political courage and genius in their dealings with their fellow Irishmen. If the Treaty is to succeed, the Government of the Irish Free State must at the very outset recognise the solid fact of Irish disunion, and if Ireland is to take the place that is due to it in the world this disunion must be closed and a reconciliation reached between the North and the South. Reconciliation cannot be brought about by Act of Parliament. Reconciliation is the work of the spirit, not of the letter of any statute. The Government of the Irish Free State must give its mind to the great work of reconciliation. Its leaders have made a wise beginning by their offer of fair play to the Southern Unionists. Let this be a good omen for the greater peace between North and South.

As for Ulster, Ulster is free to choose the path that she desires to take. I have great confidence in the political wisdom of Sir James Craig, and I am glad to see that, in his own words, he is
"not dissatisfied at the moment with the outlook."
I have confidence in the solid sense of the men of the North. They must make their choice. If now or hereafter they find themselves able to join the Irish Free State, how great will be our satisfaction! They will take to the service of a united Ireland their stubborn character, their business talent, their political courage and their burning patriotism. How eagerly we hope that these priceless qualities will not be lost to the new Irish State.

The Conservative party has not always found itself behind the Prime Minister. He would be the first to admit it and the last to resent it. But to-day I venture to say to him from this bench what I believe is in the minds of many other Conservatives. By his resourcefulness, by his energy, by his intuition, he has succeeded where the greatest names in our political history have failed. We offer him our thanks and congratulations for the part that he has played at a critical moment of the Empire's history. As a Conservative I welcome from the bottom of my heart the hope for reconciliation between English Conservatives and a people that reverences history, tradition and religion.

As a Unionist I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the brave and honest part that he and the Lord Chancellor have played in these difficult negotiations. The union that we have honestly tried to maintain is being transmuted into a union of purer essence. As a party we have played no dishonourable part in Irish affairs. We may have made mistakes, but who in Irish politics has not made mistakes? If we have fought for a lost cause, that cause has not been lost through any fault of our own. We have had our policy, and who shall say that it was not honourably and successfully carried out by men like the Lord President of the Council, like George Wyndham, and like Lord Long? Having done our best I ask my Conservative colleagues to throw their weight into the scale of peace. Is it too much to hope that the Address will be voted without controversy, and that the treaty between England and Ireland will mark, not only the end of a long feud between two great peoples, but the beginning of that new world for which we fought through the long years of the great and terrible War?

(in morning dress): I rise to second the Motion which has been so well and ably put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), and in so doing I need scarcely say that I esteem it a great honour to be called upon to play a small part in the proceedings of this day which I venture to predict will become memorable in our annals. We are called upon to-day to do our part towards ending an age-long controversy which has embittered and poisoned the political life and relations of two countries. We are called upon to-day to offer appeasement both to Ireland and to Great Britain. My hon. and gallant Friend has just said that the efforts to settle the Irish problem have been the undoing of some of our greatest statesmen. Irishmen have been misunderstood by us and we have been continually misunderstood by Irishmen. Ireland has remained an enigma, a weakness and a menace. But to His Majesty the King there came the great good fortune of beginning a new move for peace. His Majesty appealed to the better nature of both sides for forgiveness and forgetfulness of an evil past. He appealed to both sides to get together, to reason together in a spirit of good will, and I venture to say that that appeal has already brought us further on the road to peace and reconciliation than any of the efforts of great statesmen in the past; for the simple reason that it touched the heart. Therefore, in thanking His Majesty the King for the Gracious Speech which has been read to us to-day, we thank him none the less heartily, but rather all the more heartily, for the speech which he made at Belfast, because that speech liberated the kindly feeling on both sides which has brought us together to-day to back up His Majesty's new effort.

It seems to me the first thing we have to do is to banish rancour from our minds and to approach the question before us in the same spirit as it was approached in that Belfast Speech; to make up our minds as far as we can that Irishmen and Britishers will in future live on terms of amity in the same way as we are living in amity with the peoples of Canada and Australia and of other overseas Dominions. We are here, I fervently hope, on the eve of a settlement of what has ceased to be a mere Irish question, but has become a world-wide problem, because there is not only one Ireland but there are many Irelands. Irishmen, like Scotchmen, have spread themselves over the whole habitable globe; indeed they may be the meek who are destined, according to Holy Writ, to inherit the earth. Whether that be so or not we know that Irishmen have found a home in every land. There is now, therefore, not only an Irish question so far as it used to be regarded, but we have an American Ireland, we have an Australian Ireland, and we have other Irelands, one of which is included within the confines of our own shores. In the City of Glasgow, a part of which I have the honour to represent in this House, it is said that one-fifth of the population is Irish either by origin, by birth or by descent. We have no quarrel with them. We have no quarrel with the Irishmen who are to be found in all the great cities throughout the length and breadth of this country. On the contrary, they join with us in all our activities; they are not only with us but they are of us, because their blood is commingled with our blood, and in these days they are part of the British stock and we to a large extent are part of them. Therefore for us—in this House or elsewhere—to pass any law or do anything which would make them aliens, which would alienate them, would be to cut away from us that which may became vital both to them and to us. We cannot longer deny, consistently with our professions of democratic Government, consistently with our representative institutions, the right of Irishmen to live in their own country in their own way, and under their own form of Government. We cannot withhold from them the right to manage their own affairs, a right for which they have so long fought. I venture, to say that that is the principle which lies at the bottom of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It is the principle which has been progressively applied to the Dominions overseas until now without conflict or ill-will, they have come to have, and in fact have, absolutely free hands so far as their own internal affairs are concerned. As to the method by which the principle is to be applied in the document now under review, that is a matter which I am not called upon to go into at present, except on general terms. But I may say here that for my part I honestly confess I do not like the creation of new armies and navies. Their multiplication has been one of the tragedies of the past War. Just as honestly I confess I do not like the bare possibility of tariffs being imposed on trade between this country and Ireland. But these things have been thrashed out by those whose business it was to thrash them out. Certain conclusions have been reached, and those conclusions satisfy the requirements of the Admiralty. They leave Ulster free to remain out if she wishes to remain out, but free also to come in, when time has healed old sores and brought forgetfulness of old feuds.

Those, to my mind, are the main principles of the agreement that has been reached. Ireland becomes a free State within the Empire entitled to make her own laws and to enforce them. Ireland becomes entitled to the protection of the British Commonwealth and at the same time is expected to be ready to yield her quota to the protection of other parts of the British Empire. The position of the British Dominions overseas and their relation to the Mother Country is, I suppose, one of the paradoxes of Government. They are free, each and every one of them, to go their own way, and yet they are tied by ties of sentiment and common interests and common protection, and it has been found that those common ties of sentiment, of interest, and of protection are stronger than any mechanical ties ever were or probably ever will be. Yet those Dominions have evolved quite naturally as the result of the progressive application of the principle of democratic freedom, the principle upon which, as I have said, the Empire is based. They have reached the stage which others will reach in due fulfilment of destiny. Ireland, with the exception of Ulster, has now become one of the free Dominions, and Ulster, as I think, is entirely a matter for Irishmen themselves, and not for us.

I hope and believe that this agreement will be ratified by Southern Ireland, and I say so for several reasons. In the first place, and in spite of what has been said within this last day or two in regard to an assumed analogy between this settlement and the, Peace Treaty so far as America was concerned, I have no hesitation in saying that this settlement ought to be ratified, because it bears the signatures of those whom we have been led to believe were the accredited representatives of their country. The agreement was drawn up on that basis, we were told by Mr. de Valera only some two months ago that the men who were here in London were the trusted representatives of a united nation. Therefore, the agreement has been drawn up on that basis, and, that being so, it seems to me that the honour of Ireland is really at stake. In the second place, I think this agreement should be ratified because it does meet and more than meet the aspirations of those Irishmen who have pleaded in this House eloquently and long for the removal of the barriers to the self-expression of their fellow-countrymen. I have heard the late Mr. Redmond and I have read others before him, and I have no hesitation in saying that this agreement goes far beyond anything that has been asked for by any representative Irishman in this House before. Thirdly, I would commend it, because it has the approval of all the political parties in this House. It is not a Party settlement except that the Prime Minister's good fortune has been to have been in the right place at the right time and to have gathered up and mobilised forces from all political parties. Apart from that, it might be said to be the offer of the nation, tired of fighting and perhaps a little ashamed of its last century's record.

This agreement is endorsed by all the political parties. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), who is the lineal descendant of Mr. Gladstone in this House and the honoured custodian of the Gladstonian tradition, has given it his blessing. The Labour party, which has always stood for Home Rule for Ireland, has claimed it as its own, and, as my hon. Friend who last spoke has reminded us, the Conservatives in the Government have courageously and loyally faced new needs based upon new facts and have accepted the situation. Therefore, it seems to me that there is every probability that there will be no acrimony or discussions of a violent character after this agreement goes through, but, on the other hand, that there is every prospect of good will in its going through. There has been danger sometimes of the Mover or Seconder of the Address to the Throne getting over the border line and saying something which offends the susceptibilities of political parties. To-day there is no such danger, because all political parties are in favour of a settlement.

Lastly, I commend this agreement to all concerned because it corresponds with the pledges given in the Manifesto three years ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, let me put my point. In the Manifesto issued three years ago by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House of that time, and upon which the much-talked-of coupon was based, certain statements were made, and amongst them was that if returned again to office the Government was pledged to explore every possible avenue of peace with Ireland on the basis of self-government, with two reservations only, those being the non-separation of Ireland and the non-coercion of Ulster. That statement will be found in the Manifesto. I have it here, but it is not necessary for me to read it. The settlement to which the King's Speech has led us, and which today we are called upon to endorse, in my humble judgment, fulfils those conditions.

It is true, as my hon. Friend said a little while ago, that it has been reached only after long guerilla warfare, and that it has been reached only after loss of life under distressing and aggravating circumstances. Let me say further that in my judgment, at all events, it is true that its endorsement means some degree of self-mortification on our part and forgetfulness of recent history, but the mortification and forgetfulness are not expected of one side alone. They are expected of both sides. To my mind, the cardinal virtue of the King's Speech at Belfast was that it appealed to both sides to forgive and forget the past, and, having regard to that speech and the great spirit underlying it, it is inconceivable to me that either side should now refuse the hand of friendship and again revert to barbarism. There is one aspect of it that might he mentioned, and from which, I think, a lesson might be learned. There is in several respects a similarity between our position to-day and that of the United States of America in 1860. The year before Lincoln had been elected upon the principle of non-separation of the Southern States, just as our Prime Minister was elected three years ago on the principle, among other matters, of non-separation of Ireland. Lincoln, in 1860, made an eloquent appeal for peace, but he failed. Addressing the American people, in his first inaugural address, he said:
"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not be allowed to break our bonds of affection."
Yet passion did break the bonds and brought, four years of dreadful devastating war, and then there was no separation, because separation, as Lincoln truly said, was impossible. Neither can there be separation between this country and Ireland. Let all of us banish it from our minds. Separation is even less practicable now than it was then, because since 1860 science has bridged the seas and brought nations more into inter-dependent life. Therefore, Ireland to-day is nearer to us in a physical as well as a spiritual sense. She is part of our life and we of hers. Let us, bearing those great facts in mind, accept this great opportunity of peace and appeasement between the two countries. Let us see that, so far as we can make it so, Ireland and Britain shall march forward together as friends and neighbours in the future, separate as regards their internal Government, but indivisible in spirit as separate parts only of a great family of free nations.

On a point of Order. May I ask whether now, as the Address has been moved and seconded, it would be in order to move that the Debate be adjourned until we know whether these articles of agreement are accepted or rejected in Dublin?

I am afraid that the hon. Member did not catch my eye when he rose, and therefore he is not entitled to intervene; but in any case the action of this Parliament is free and independent, and I could not accept a Motion for Adjournment on the grounds given.

4.0 p.m.

It is customary for anyone following the Mover and Seconder of the Address of Thanks to the Throne to indulge in the language of compliment. Both the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Address, and the right hon. Gentleman who seconded it, are Members of such standing and experience in this House that it would be inappropriate on my part to say more than that they have discharged a task of the greatest difficulty, as it always is, with a skill and resource which the House expected from them. One thing I would like to say with reference to their position, and their speeches, and it is that I am sure that never on any previous occasion have hon. Members of this House undertaken such onerous duties with feelings of greater thanks-giving for the occasion which has called upon them to perform this service. This is not a moment when any hon. Member of the House need attempt any long review of the almost endless and embittered conflicts which have raged throughout many centuries between this country and Ireland.

My object will be to centre my few observations upon the meaning of the Articles of Agreement as I understand them. Those Articles in themselves I regard as a triumph of national patriotism which, pursued as it has been and supported as it has been by statesmen and martyrs for a generation, was bound to win in the end. Let it he said frankly that the Articles of Agreement are a victory for an enduring national spirit over every obstacle and every form of force which that spirit has had to encounter for centuries. The truth is that nationhood once acquired will endure in spite of any acts of repression directed against it, and a union of nations such as the statesmen of this country proposed more than 100 years ago can be found only in the consent and the mutual goodwill of the people, of any two countries who may seek to be united. What do these Articles of Agreement symbolise? They symbolic the atonement of parties and of public men who for long in this country resisted the natural demands of a country having all the attributes of an ancient nation and possessing in a high degree all the natural desires to manifest their qualities in their own way and govern themselves according to the collective opinion of the people.

Reference has been made to the attitude of the Labour party in relation to these Articles. These Articles travel on the lines long advocated by Labour. For some such terms as these we organised missions to Ireland in the recent days of turmoil and peril, and we organised special campaigns in this country to secure British opinion for such a settlement as is now proposed. I will only add that on the whole history of this Irish problem, and especially in relation to the stage which has now been reached, the conscience of the Labour party is easy. I am, however, less concerned to try to apportion any degree of praise or blame for the stage which has been reached than to make a contribution towards the continuance of that party unity which alone finally secures a settlement, and will put the seal to a finish of these unhappy quarrels between Ireland and this country. Whatever else may be questioned, this is true, that the Irish difficulty had reached a stage when it could be settled only by a unity of parties, by each agreeing to act with the other and to support those who are engaged in seeking to meet the national desires of the Irish people. I look upon these Articles of Agreement as the instrument of a lasting and beneficent settlement between Ireland and this country.

I think that settlement will have an influence in the form of a world advancement, for this question has long ceased to be a mere Irish-English topic. It has been in a large degree a world problem for many years, and it must have its effect in conducing to peace in many parts of the world as well as in Ireland itself. The Agreement will do what statesmen for many years have said never should be attempted, for it will in effect destroy what was termed the Act of Union, a thing which in substance never existed, because in reality there never has been between Ireland and this country a real union. The Agreement will destroy a mere technical union which has existed upon paper and will substitute the realities of union between Parliaments and peoples pursuing their tasks for the common prosperity of both countries. The Agreement affords the fullest scope for every manifestation of Irish nationhood with provision for such relations in the modern world as underly the idea of national co-operation and international action. I do not like to speak of the Articles of Agreement as a free gift from this country to Ireland. We must not view what we are doing as an act of patronage, we must not look upon the Agreement as embodying a generous gift or as embodying most generous offers or favours. The Agreement is an act of justice and a manifestation to us of the futility of any attempt to govern peoples against their will.

Labour has nothing to regret in relation to the claims of Ireland, but there would be cause for deep regret indeed if, through divided counsels or misguided conduct, the blessings offered by this agreement were in any way destroyed and ruinous conflict and were continued. No settlement can last which does not rest upon the goodwill of the people of Ireland, I will even say upon the goodwill of a united Ireland, and it must rest upon an abounding sense of justice on the part of the people of Great Britain. There has long been conflict between Ireland and this country, and if conflict between Ireland and Britain is to be deplored the fear of conflict between one part of Ireland and another must be recognised. For the purposes of a settlement parties have appealed for unity. It was essential to have unity also among political parties for this purpose. It is essential to have unity between the South and the North of Ireland for the future prosperity of the whole of Ireland. I believe that, until the North and the South come together, they can never realise how much they have in common and how little fundamental cause there is for conflict.

I suggest to both these parts of Ireland to live less in the terms of the past and to act in the terms and in the needs of the future. Some time or other the quarrel had to end, not only as between this country and Ireland, but as between the Northern part of Ireland and the South. It is better to end it now than to go on facing the certainty that at some future date, after greater losses and greater em- bitterment, statesmen will have to try again to serve the cause of peace and produce a settlement. A very great responsibility indeed rests upon the leaders who speak for both sections of the Irish people. There are times when leaders cannot do all they would wish to do, but this is, I think, a moment when if the leaders will exert themselves and exhibit the courage which we know inwardly they possess, they can go far to reconcile their followers to the necessities of a settlement and help to bury the feuds and the hatred which has done so much harm to both sections of the Irish people. The representatives of the North of Ireland have now a golden opportunity, not only to secure all substantial safeguards for their interests, but they have the power to make a priceless contribution to the creation of a reconciled Ireland which will be a lasting friend and partner with Great Britain, and a welcome force for the future progress of mankind. This agreement also offers opportunities to Sinn Fein representatives not only to win the enduring goodwill and co-operation of this country, but what is also essential, the co-operation of Irishmen in the North of Ireland whose friendship is indispensable to a united country.

I cannot close the little I have to say without a brief reference to what might be termed the personal aspect of this question. We do not know what took place during the long days and even nights of debate between the men who, although on opposite sides, I am sure were seeking to reach some common agreement. I believe that the leaders of Sinn Fein acted with their native genius, and without in any sense forfeiting in the slightest degree the loyalty which they owed to their followers. I can imagine the difficulties. Our congratulations are earnest, and we offer them both to the representatives of the Government and to the representatives of the Irish people on having overcome those difficulties, and on having produced Articles of Agreement which, if sanctioned earnestly and warmly by this House and by the representatives of the Irish people, will immediately produce a feeling the like of which has never been imagined by the masses of the people of this country or of Ireland itself. The Prime Minister is renowned as a negotiator. In this instance his great resources have been put to the test, and evidently they have not failed. For that fact we are especially thankful. Whatever our differences with the Prime Minister may be, he has on this occasion recognised the greatness of the cause and the impossibility of settling such a question by the mere weight of party numbers; and he must have used that great margin of negotiating skill which we know him to possess, in order to convince and persuade those who held different views, of the absolute necessity of seeking only the interests of the people of this country and of Ireland in the terms of agreement which finally were reached. I repeat my plea for party unity to pursue to a triumphant close the work which has been begun, for, unless that unity be maintained, a settlement cannot, I believe, be reached.

It may be proper, in view of the terms of the Address now before the House, just to say that evidently His Majesty the King found his own way to produce an atmosphere for agreement, for good feeling. By felicity and warmth of manner, and by kingly moral leadership, the Monarch has made a very great contribution to the settlement which we are here to affirm and to approve during the course of this discussion. I say, therefore, that the Labour party rejoices with the rest of those who, either in this House or in the country, welcome this Agreement. We are eager to approve, and are convinced that it has the support of the vast majority of the Irish people. We are convinced that, if the people of both the North and the South of Ireland will try it, they will find, in the real test of it, that prosperity, that happiness and contentment for their country, which in days of conflict they have never been able to find.

I rise to express, on behalf of those for whom. I can speak, our complete concurrence in what my right hon. Friend has just said, both with regard to the action of that Committee of the Government which brought a most difficult and complicated matter to a successful conclusion and also with regard to the Mover and the Seconder of the Address and to His Majesty the King. With regard to the action which has been taken by His Majesty's Government, theirs was a most difficult task. They had to meet in an atmosphere which it would not be using exaggerated language to describe as one not only of suspicion, but of actual hostility. That had to be changed, if success was to be achieved, into an atmosphere of confidence and of good will. They succeeded in that. I should also like to bear our testimony of recognition of the fact that the burden upon the head of the Government—the Prime Minister—was one of unexampled weight and responsibility. We sincerely trust that, after the long and arduous years during which he has held office, bearing very grave and serious burdens, the limits of his physical capacity have not been reached, and that he will, as he has on other occasions, survive this last and, perhaps, most trying of all the ordeals he has gone through, and will resume his usual physical vigour and energy amongst us. There are just two questions that I should like to ask my right hon. Friend with regard to the Articles which are now before us. In the first place, can he in the course of his speech, which is now most anxiously awaited by the House, amplify what arrangements are in contemplation for the provisional government which must very speedily be set up in Ireland for the purpose of dealing with the new situation now created? I see that Article 17 states that

"By way of provisional arrangement for the administration of Southern Ireland during the interval which must elapse between the date hereof and the constitution of a Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State in accordance therewith, steps shall be taken forthwith …"
I am certain that the Prime Minister will accede to the request which I have put forward and will further elaborate for the information of the House and the country what action His Majesty's Government propose to take. Then there is another question which, I think, I might ask of him, namely, at what date does he propose that Parliament should meet again for the new Session? This Parliament will be prorogued, as I hope myself, on Friday next, and Parliament must be summoned for a new Session by His Majesty the King. It is quite obvious that the longer the delay—the necessary delay—between the action of the House to-day and its taking up the Bill for serious and legislative consideration, the more danger there is of factors arising which even the very best intentions of the very best Government that ever existed, and of the most patriotic and loyal Opposition, might not be able to over- come. I suggest that a right and proper course would be that there should be no undue delay with regard to that matter. It is not, of course, for me to suggest a date, but I should imagine that, while the House usually meets somewhere about the middle of February, it would really accord with the views of most, and, indeed, of all, Members if the next meeting of Parliament took place rather earlier than that.

What His Majesty's Government have in contemplation is that Parliament should prorogue to Tuesday, 31st January, and meet for the despatch of business on that date.

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. We now know that on the 31st January the new Session will open, and that this Bill, subject, of course, to financial arrangements—the passing of the necessary Votes on Account and so forth—will be the first Order which His Majesty's Government will present to the House for its consideration. There is only one other point which I desire to make. It would, I think, be a great mistake in our Debates if there were any note, so far as those of us who are supporting the proposal of the Government are concerned, which suggested that there was at the back of our minds any idea of recrimination, or of a desire to go back on the past and to say, "Well, I told you so." That is very easy to do, and in other circumstances we might be justified in doing it; but what we have to bear in mind, in this Debate at any rate, is that the very greatest care should be exercised as to the line for which those who take part in it are responsible. There is not the least doubt that our Irish brethren across the Channel are in a situation of very great difficulty between themselves. There are evidences of elements of difficulty and danger. Let us see, so far as our conduct of this Debate is concerned, that we give the, friends of peace in Ireland no occasion for saying that they did not have an absolutely open field and a fair chance so far as the British House of Commons was concerned. If that be done, I am quite certain that it will be fully appreciated by those who took their courage in both hands, amid circumstances of real danger to themselves, and arrived at the conclusion of the Articles which are now presented to the House.

I would remind the House, with great respect, of the fact that this particular controversy is one which has occupied the House of Commons at intervals for no less a period than 120 years. Pitt, when he was proposing his Bill in, I think, June, 1801, wound up, after some of his most eloquent periods, by an appeal to the people of both nations, suggesting to them that the spirit in which the Union was approached should be that of equal partnership. Whatever might have been the policy since that date, nothing but disaster, as we believe, has been associated with that Measure which was then placed upon the Statute Book. An appeal was made by Mr Gladstone from that Box in support of his Bill 35 years ago. I do not know whether there is one Member of this House at the present moment who, as a Member of the House, heard that speech, but everyone who has read his speeches can call to mind the conclusion which he then made, as he begged the House to think well, to think wisely, to think, not for the moment, but for the years to come, before it rejected the Bill. Since then there lies a whole history of tragedy over which we wish to pass an Act of oblivion to-day and to make a fresh start bright with promise for the future not only of this country but of the world, because the question between Ireland and Great Britain is a world problem.

We generally select for the moving and seconding of the Address Members of what I may call budding promise; but we regarded this occasion as being so exceptional that it was thought desirable to select men whose promise had matured into reputation and respect in the House. My hon. and gallant Friend who moved, and my right hon. Friend who seconded, have made speeches worthy of the reputation which they have already won in this House—well-considered, thoughtful, prudent, discreet. There were many difficulties which they avoided. They realised that it was necessary, not merely to carry these Articles in this House, but also to secure the assent of the Irish representatives as well; and all those who take part in this Debate must necessarily be hampered by that knowledge. These Articles of Agreement have received a wider publicity than probably any treaty that has ever been entered into, except the Treaty of Versailles. They have been published in every land.