I beg to propose—
"That it is desirable that a Standing Committee consisting of five members of each House of the Oireachtas be appointed to consider the position of the Saorstát in relation to foreign affairs, and to report thereon to the Oireachtas from time to time accordingly, and that a message be sent to Dáil Eireann requesting its concurrence in the appointment of such a Committee."
My reasons for putting down this motion are two-fold—first of all, I wish to call attention to the general importance, particularly in view of our position as a member of the British Commonwealth, of Foreign Affairs, and also to suggest that both Houses, and particularly the Seanad, would be greatly strengthened in the consideration of matters which must inevitably come before them in the near future, if such a Committee were appointed. There is an impression among a number of people in this country that foreign affairs are relatively unimportant, because they do not immediately feel the effect. Because our standing, the extent to which we are respected, the extent to which we co-operate with other countries, and the extent to which we trade with them, are not immediately felt by farmers in some country districts, it is thought that they are not thereby affected. Because Irish industry does not immediately see the effect, for instance, of the ratification or non-ratification of a Treaty with Turkey, the United States, or some other country, it is thought that, therefore, it is not affected. There is a very considerable want of interest—due, perhaps, to our history of the last century in which we have been concerned largely with internal matters—in foreign affairs. I suggest that it is desirable that there ought to be in each House, preferably working together, a small number of persons whose duty it would be to keep in touch with events which might affect our Government, so that it may be able to put information before us when we are obliged to discuss matters affecting foreign relationship such as we discussed to-day, or such as came before the Seanad recently or as will come before it in a short time. The state in which Europe was left after the Great War has created a large number of problems which we hope are in the way of being solved, but which will involve many agreements, settlements, pacts and treaties in the near future. We are placed in the position that we will be either asked to take part in these negotiations, or if we are not asked to take part, we may be asked to approve or disapprove. I suggest respectfully that it is a matter of the utmost importance that we should be informed when we come to deal with these important matters. We may reach decisions— this is my important point—which may make a big difference to the future of this country. I suggest that it is international trade we need almost more than anything else if we are to improve our financial position. Senator Linehan considers that the resolution to-day was the only thing that emerged from our membership of the League of Nations. If you want an argument for my motion as to the need for information, I cannot suggest a better one than the Senator's remark. Apart from the merits or demerits of our membership of the League, the very existence of the League and the existence of the Conferences to which we would be invited means that international agreements, sometimes minor agreements and sometimes major agreements, will come before the Seanad, and it is of the greatest importance that we should be in a position to deal with them with intelligence and knowledge.
There is a further reason why I think foreign affairs must, and will, loom as matters of considerable importance in the near future in this country, and that refers particularly to our membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It has been asserted and admitted that the self-governing portions of that Commonwealth have a coequal status. Their independence and sovereignty are admitted. It has been asserted and admitted that the Parliament at Westminster has not power to pass laws affecting these self-governing countries, and so far as we are concerned, that is stated in our Constitution. It has been further asserted, and I think, equally admitted, that the King, before signing Treaties, affecting the whole Commonwealth, must be advised by the Ministers of each and every one of the self-governing nations. It is perfectly obvious, I think, that the assertion of independence which was so vigorously asserted by all States in the Commonwealth, together with the need for co-operation, particularly in foreign affairs, will lead to situations which from time to time may be difficult, and which should be handled with the greatest amount of goodwill and commonsense. We and other countries will not give up our independence, our right to express our point of view, to ratify or not ratify. Various points will come before the Oireachtas in the near future of the greatest importance in foreign affairs, and I suggest that such a Committee should keep in touch closely with developments, and in a sympathetic way, assist any development of our independence in International affairs. I shall deal later with the position which has arisen in regard to one particular Treaty which may come before us before long. I have said enough to show, I think, that our position as a member of the Commonwealth will not lessen, but will rather add to the delicacy and difficulty of the consideration of foreign affairs, and will add to the importance of their consideration here.
Development inside the British Commonwealth has been gradual in relation to foreign affairs. Prior to the Great War Great Britain negotiated. There was consultation to a greater or lesser extent. The self-governing nations had very limited powers. If they asserted themselves they might succeed in getting their point of view recognised, but substantially the position was that Great Britain negotiated or carried out treaties with other countries, and the self-governing colonies had to put up with the result. After the war a new publicly recognised international status was achieved by their independent membership of the League of Nations, and with that it was recognised that England could not alone complete a Treaty on behalf of the Commonwealth including these nations, which were not only self-governing as far as internal affairs were concerned, but also had a recognised international status, and, consequently, there came what I call the second stage of their development. You had the right to ratify and give independent advice to his Majesty in the matter of foreign relationships recognised. Following that, we had recognised the right to decline to ratify treaties, and I find that even as early as 1919 the proposal was made of an offer of a pact with France, and if my information is correct that pact, which, owing to the unwillingness of the United States to agree was not ratified, also failed to obtain the assent of Canada and South Africa. You have there the assertion of the right not to ratify. We have the further assertion made by Canada, but now regularly admitted of the right of each self-governing colony to negotiate and ratify directly a treaty, subject to due consideration of the rights of the other parts of the Commonwealth as a whole, but, as has been definitely asserted in Canada, that due consideration is a moral rather than a legal obligation. Now we have the definite assertion by Canada that if she is not represented in treaty negotiations she is not concerned, and therefore not bound by them.
I mention these things to try and draw attention to the fact that our foreign relationships are matters of urgent importance, that they are bound to arise from time to time and that they will need commonsense and goodwill to achieve a solution of the various problems that will arise therewith, at the same time maintaining our independent status. Also, I want to suggest that the need for a number of independent persons representing different points of view and different groups to keep in close touch with these and kindred affairs is more important when we are a member of the Commonwealth than if we were merely an isolated State, the reason being that we have not only to watch our interests as far as we are concerned, but we have to see that Great Britain, Canada and South Africa do not negotiate a treaty which, by implication or fact, we might be affected by. As to the particular reasons for proposing a committee, Democratic control in the matter of foreign relationships has been advocated very much of late. At the same time those who have most advocated it have recognised that democratic control, however desirable, is a matter of very great difficulty to achieve. When it was desired in our Constitution to assert a measure of democratic control the difficulties were such that eventually we got narrowed down to Article 49, which asserts that this country cannot be committed to active participation in war without the consent of the Oireachtas. I find in Bryce's book that two countries have a somewhat similar constitutional provision. One is the United States of America and the other is France, and I further find that both these countries found it advisable and necessary to have a committee representing different parties which can consider foreign relationships and which can, of necessity, be consulted by the Minister and the Government.
It is an interesting analogy. I want to make clear that this Committee should have no specific rights or powers to demand information from the Minister. I suggest, if it is a competent committee, the Minister will find it important to have its opinion and lay information before it, particular information which cannot be laid before the House in the open, not because you want necessarily to hide it from the members, but because it may concern the affairs of other governments which you have no right to publish, and which I conceive, may be laid before such a committee. A committee of the kind would not be a meddling committee, but would be a committee which would meet from time to time to consider our relationships. There would be a special duty laid on it to do so, and it would be availed of for consultation with the Ministry if they found it desirable to consult with it. I suggest that our Government may not have to negotiate a treaty, but nevertheless may find themselves in a position to declare that they are not concerned.
They may find it convenient to have ready a representative committee which would give them some measure of the opinion in both Houses of the Oireachtas. I do not for one moment suggest that this committee should take the place of the discussions which should take place from time to time on foreign affairs, but I do suggest that the committee might prevent discussions at an inopportune occasion, and at the same time they would add very much to the general standard of debates. I do not think I would be accused of saying anything derogatory to the Oireachtas in saying that our debates on matters of foreign affairs have not been of the standard that every one of us would desire or wish for. I have, perhaps, taken rather long, but I would like to refer to one or two matters which are practically certain in some form or other to require consideration in the near future. There is, for instance, a Conference in London between the British Government and Russia. If that leads to anything, it will lead to certain conventions which, in all possibility, may require a certain amount of ratification, and it will be of the greatest possible importance that some person should keep in touch with it, and be able to advise, if necessary. You will have from time to time League resolutions, such as we have had to-day, many of which will be of a much more important character, and you will have questions of pacts and agreements, which will, I think, be of particular interest to this country in view of Article 49.
For instance, there is the question of the Lausanne Treaty. I do not wish to go into the matter of whether or not we ought in any measure to ratify that Treaty. I do not want to go into the question of whether we ought not to make a declaration similar to that of Canada—that having taken no part in the negotiations we are not bound thereby. I do suggest, however, that that Treaty, and particularly the Straits Convention in that Treaty, raises an issue which will have to be carefully considered by the Government and the Oireachtas. That particular section of the Treaty—and I take it Mr. McKenzie King takes a similar view as far as Canada is concerned—might conceivably mean that this country at some future date would be bound to go to war in support of Turkey in certain circumstances. It seems to me we cannot sign or ratify such a convention consistent with Article 49, which indicates that we could not enter into such a war except with the assent of the Oireachtas. I want to suggest that while, in this matter of the Lausanne Treaty, Canada's position, in so far as her declaration is concerned, may appeal to us and may be an easy way out, it is not at the same time desirable for us simply to follow Canada, because we are a European nation and Canada is not, and our position and relationships may conceivably be very different. Then, again, the question of our representation in foreign countries is being raised. We understand we are to have an ambassador at Washington at an early date. It is pretty obvious we cannot afford to have ambassadors in every country, and a considerable amount of thought and consideration will be necessary to decide what countries we will gain the most from in return for the expense incurred by sending an ambassador. That is largely a matter for the Government, but they will have to consult both Houses, and I suggest that is a matter in which the Committee I propose might be extremely useful. At the last meeting of the League, Canada proposed an alteration in Article 10.
She failed to get that alteration, but she got a declaration which practically amounts to this, that she is not bound to go to war in support of Article 10 without the definite assent of her Parliament. I am not certain whether that applies to Canada only, or also to us. We would require to make it clear that our position in the League is of a somewhat similar character. My main point is this: The existence of a Joint Committee, or, failing it, a Committee of the Seanad, which would have the definite duty of considering these matters, which it is not always wise to bring out in debate, or to express definite dogmatic opinions about hastily in public, might be of very great assistance to the Seanad, particularly if, as I anticipate and propose, that the Committee should be representative of different sections. In conclusion, I want to point out that our foreign affairs mean our relationships with the different countries of the world, whether outside or inside the Commonwealth. Our standing, our trade and our own development to a very large extent will depend on how we are regarded by them. The extent to which we can, both as traders and as a nation keep our pacts and agreements, and our general standing abroad will go to make a big difference to us here. It is not a matter of Party politics. Mr. MacDonald found himself recently considering the ratification of a Treaty negotiated by Lord Curzon, and it is quite possible that Mr. Johnson may yet find himself in a similar position in regard to a Treaty or agreement negotiated by President Cosgrave. There is not a single one of these complications and difficulties that have arisen in connection with our position in the Commonwealth which would not have arisen under Document No. 2, and it may be when we get real peace in this country that some other Party may find themselves in the same position. Therefore, as I say, it is not a matter of Party politics because it is a matter that is of equal interest to each Party, and it is one that a useful non-Party Committee should be appointed to deal with.