HC Deb 19 February 1906 vol 152 cc175-204

Order read, for resuming Adjourned.Debate on Question [19th February], "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 offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech Which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."——(Mr. Dickinson.)

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


continuing his speech, said: I was speaking about Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman asked me what various things meant—particularly "means for associating the people with the conduct of Irish affairs." Well, Sir, I cannot better explain that than in the words that were used by the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland shortly after his arrival in Ireland, who said— There were those who seemed to believe that the only way in which a great Empire could be sucessfully maintained was by suppressing the various distinguishing elements in it; in fact, by running it as a huge regiment in winch each nation was to lose its own individuality and to be brought under a common system of discipline." "That," said the noble' Lord, "was not his view. That was more likely to break up the Empire. The opinion of the Government—of the late Government, mark you—was that the only way to govern Ireland properly was to govern it according to Irish ideas instead of according to British ideas. That is my view and the view of the present Government. The right hon. Gentleman has further asked about the removal of certain conditions of the Crimes Act, and asked that the reports of the police and Judges should be laid upon the Table. I believe that has never been done. It is easy to see why. We on this side of the House have again and again protested against the Crimes Act altogether. I can understand exceptional laws, but I do not like them. This is an exceptional law of perpetual character— If I may use the expression—rather in accordance with the general policy of the late Government, who wished to have a pistol in their hands in order to terrify foreign nations, whose tariffs were objectionable to them, and it was their policy to have this pistol in their hands to discharge at the Irish people directly they made themselves obnoxious to that Government. We have always regarded this pistol held in perpetuity at the head of the Irish people as objectionable. We have voted again and again for the repeal of that Act. I am prepared to do so again, not necessarily this session, but when the proper occasion arises that certainly will be our policy. Then the right hon. Gentleman asked me questions as to certain grants to evicted tenants. They were given under existing Acts and in accordance with legal decisions. "What is to be done for the British farmer?" further asks the right hon. Gentleman. If he waits he will see we are going to do as much as we can. We cannot do everything at once. When the right hon. Gentleman asks what is the meaning of the mysterious inquiry now going on, I reply that the Departmental Committee was appointed by the late Government under the Chairmanship of the Earl of Onslow, than whom there are few men better qualified to be Chairman, and with the present President of the Board of Agriculture as a member, to inquire into the best means of extending and developing the Small Holdings Act. That Act has been unprolific hitherto. The Committee is expected to report in the summer, and on that account, putting aside the pressure of other matters, we cannot attempt legislation now, although that is a matter which certainly presses for attention. As to the farmer and the agricultural labourer, I trust we shall be able, if the House supports us, to do much when we lave had time to consider what steps are most necessary, and when we have a reasonable opportunity of passing legislation. The right hon. Gentleman need be under no apprehension that we shall neglect the British farmer and agricultural labourer. Education, to which the right hon. Gentleman also referred, will, of course, be the principal subject which we shall at once undertake. I cannot pledge myself that it will be the first Bill to be brought before the House, because circumstances may necessitate that a Bill of less complexity and importance should be brought in before it. I was glad to hear, however, the general tone of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks on the subject. We are anxious to get rid of the religious difficulty, but do not let it be imagined that the only culprits are those who complain of the existing system; the patrons of that system are just as much promoters of the religious difficulty, and more so, than those who protest against it. I now return to the subject of free trade, upon which I have a word or two to say. It has taken a new phase in the last week, thanks to the energy and opportunity of the right hon. Gentleman. What we have been trying vainly for the last two or three I years to get at has at last apparently been disclosed. We have now a new "half-sheet of paper." The correspondence which has been published is very instructive. It was between the right hon. Gentleman and Mr. Balfour, of whom we can speak by his name now that he is suspended between heaven and earth. Mr. Balfour says, and the right hon. Gentleman agrees, that fiscal reform is and must remain the first constructive work of the future Parliament in which the Unionist Party is to have a majority—if the mustard and cress grows. Well, there is the Unionist Party, and I want to know what are they going to construct? Mr. Balfour says— The establishment of a moderate general tariff on manufactured goods and the imposition of a small duty on foreign corn are not in principle objectionable, and should be adopted if necessary for the attainment of the general object in view. That is entirely new. One of the most recent authoritative statements of the late Government was made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Akers-Douglas) in the absence of Mr. Balfour, in the debate on the Address on February 15, 1904, upon an Amendment moved by my right hon. friend the Member for Montrose. Many Members now in the House will remember the scene. After all the speeches were over, Sir John Stirling-Maxwell—whom, politics apart, I am very sorry to miss from here—rose and asked a question— Is the Government opposed to the taxation of food as proposed by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham? I understand that that proposal is not part of the Government policy, but I beg to ask whether the Government is or is not opposed to that proposal. This was the anxious inquirer thinking he would get a ready answer, and so he did. But a question was further put by Sir Lees Knowles, who also, unfortunately, has not been returned. He asked— Are the Government opposed to a duty on food or raw material. to which the representative of the Government replied— I have said that the Government are opposed to any duty on raw material or food. That was the answer given then, on which votes depended. And now it appears that— There is nothing in principle objectionable in a small duty on foreign corn, and it should be adopted if shown to be necessary. I do not complain of a change of opinion; a reasonable change of opinion is perhaps rather a good sign. But I do object to a change of opinion suddenly disclosed as this has been. Last session there was no disclosure. We tried; we knocked at every door that we could find. On the eve of the election there was no disclosure. During the election there was no disclosure. But the disclosure came, the vital, and fatal announcement was made the day before a meeting which was to determine the future policy and the Leadership of the Opposition. In the absence of Mr. Balfour there is only one person who can thoroughly enlighten us on this subject. I have often said publicly that he is never backward in giving us the fullest information according to his own knowledge. It is true he is not the Leader of the Opposition, but it is he who leads the Leader of the Opposition. He knows what is in Mr. Balfour's mind; he has given it his imprimatur. In the course of the debate which I have promised him shall occur pretty early, he can say how the grand constructive work of destroying free trade, to which the energies of his Party are now to be devoted, is to be commenced at this auspicious moment when free trade has been endorsed and approved by the vast majority of the people of the country. That is the present position, as I understand it, of this fiscal question. I do not argue about it or enter into the merits of it in the least; I merely make a recital of facts which are known to us all, and which even the ingenuity of the right hon. Gentleman cannot explain away—which I do not believe he wishes to explain away. However, I trust there will be such an opportunity offered to us within the next day or two; and, so far from the right hon. Gentleman's being entitled to express surprise that there are some words in the King's Speech which appear to have some reference more or less remote to the question of imports and exports, and therefore to this subject, the only marvel to me is that His Majesty has been advised to refrain altogether from making a much more direct reference to this great controversy and to the extraordinary decision which has been come to upon it by the people of the country.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

No one who is at all acquainted with the character or history of the Irish question will be surprised if I seize the earliest opportunity afforded to me of bringing that question before the attention of the present House of Commons. This is a new Parliament. As I understand there are close upon 300 new Members of this House who have never heard the Irish question stated on the floor of the House of Commons. The Party whose raison d'être was opposition to the Irish question on the basis of self-government has been, swept out of existence, and the Party which has been publicly pledged for twenty years to a settlement of the question on the basis of self-government has been returned to power by an overwhelming majority. Furthermore, this question of Ireland in the recent elections was in the very forefront of the issues which were submitted to the electors. It was placed before the electors in the speeches of the Prime Minister at Stirling and in the Albert Hall, but I do not dwell on that, although I would be correct in my statement even if I had nothing more to say. Surely the question of Ireland was placed before the electors of this country in the most dramatic and sensational way any issue was ever placed before the electors of England, by the action of Lord Rosebery, because he declared that the Home Rule flag had been raised and that he refused to serve under that flag. Lord Rosebery forthwith disappeared altogether from the controversy and the discussion connected with the General Election. But it does not rest even there, because the late Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and everyone of the late Ministers of the Crown, and I am bound to say every Unionist candidate in Great Britain, put this question in the very forefront of the issues before the country. What did the late Prime Minister say? On the very eve of the East Manchester election he said— I assert that Home Rule is the great dividing line between the two Parties in the State in spite of any assertion to the contrary. I fail to see who is going to limit the power of the new Parliament in this matter, or how the Government is going to exclude Home Rule, even in its largest form, from the consideration of the House. Was that not placing the issue of Ireland before the electors? When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was speaking on the 2nd of January last, he said— I cannot understand how any of my friends should ever have supposed that the Prune Minister could have come into power without standing by the programme to which he has given emphatic assent on many previous occasions as to Home Rule. I only say that because I wish you to understand that Home Rule is raised in an effective manner in this election. It will be in the recollection of the House that the right hon. Gentleman went further in one of his speeches, and adopted as his own a phrase used by a newspaper in Ireland, which I may say was a paraphrase of a statement which the right hon. Gentleman made during the 1900 election, that every vote given for the Liberals was a vote for the Boers. The statement was that every vote given for Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was a vote for Home Rule. Mr. Gerald Balfour in his address used these words— The two main questions overshadowing all other are Home Rule and fiscal reform. And the London Times the day, I think, before the Manchester election said— There can be no shadow of question that Home Rule is an issue at the general election of 1906. I start therefore from this fact, that not only is the Party which has been openly pledged to Home Rule for twenty years, now in power, but from the fact that that issue was placed—no matter whether any individual desired it not to be so placed—by the Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery, the late Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and the whole of the Unionist Party, before the electors. The result is that the Party which has been twenty years pledged to Home Rule has come back into power with an unprecedented majority. Therefore I respectfully say to the House of Commons that it is right and proper that at the earliest possible moment this question should be raised. What is the Irish question of which I have been speaking? I respectfully say, to the House that it is the greatest of all Imperial questions which can concern or which can command the attention of English statesmanship. It is the most urgent of all Imperial questions. The present condition of Ireland is the greatest disgrace to this Empire. It is the greatest danger to this Empire. It is the greatest obstacle to the efficiency of this Parliament, and let me say to the new English Members on the other side of the House who have come here full of enthusiasm for reforms for this country, reforms which are needed by the people, that it means the existence at your doors here, at the very heart of the Empire, of an Ireland poverty stricken and disaffected. Does any one doubt that? And does any one who recognises the fact doubt its meaning or minimise its consequences? Judged by every test that the wit of man can devise, the government of Ireland by this country under the Act of Union has been a failure.

Now I desire to place this case before the House of Commons anew. Let me take some of those great tests. What greater test of good government and progress in a country is there to be found than its population? All over the Empire you are proud of the fact that population has increased. In Ireland the population has declined. Since 1841 the population of Ireland has diminished by 50 per cent. In 1845 Ireland had three times as many people as Scotland; Ireland had half as many people as England; Ireland had a third of the population of the whole United Kingdom. But in sixty years the population of Ireland has gone down by 4,000,000. Is there in the whole history of the world a parallel to that awful tragedy? We in Ireland have emerged within the last few weeks, I hope for ever, from what the late Lord Salisbury called twenty years of resolute government. In those twenty years of resolute government the population of Ireland went down by almost 1,000,000. And what is the character of the emigration? That is a greater tragedy still. Ninety per cent. of those who emigrated from Ireland were between the ages of ten and forty-five. That means that all those in the prime of life are leaving the country, and accounts for the fact, which English tourists often notice, that there are more little children and old men and women to be seen in Ireland than in any country in Europe. Of the 90 per cent., how many remain in the Empire at all? Why, nearly every man who emigrates from Ireland is a loss to the Empire; 87 per cent. of the whole emigration from Ireland goes to the United States—that is to say, that the young men and young women, physically and mentally vigorous, not only are lost to Ireland, but are lost to the Empire, and constitute a power in America, as everyone who is acquainted with the circumstances knows, which is a danger to this country and which undoubtedly is the chief bar in the way of a thorough amicable understanding between America and England. Those who have followed closely the progress of the Irish movement in recent years have, no doubt, read with interest the remarkable pamphlet and speeches of Lord Dunraven. He is a great Irish landlord, and has been all his life a Unionist, and is so to-day. He openly declares himself a Unionist, and I commend his statements on this point of the decay of Ireland as statements wrung from a Unionist by the hard facts of the case. Take another test besides population. In one of his pamphlets Lord Dunraven deals with this test, and it is an awful condemnation of your rule of Ireland. Lunacy in Ireland has steadily increased. To-day out of every 10,000 of the population 52.6 are lunatics or imbeciles. In England and Wales the proportion is only 34.7. Lunacy in Ireland since 1851 has doubled. It is true that under your rule it has been the survival of the un-fittest in Ireland. All the young people mentally and physically strong go away, while the mentally and physically weak and decrepit remain behind, and you have the awful result in the tale of the unparalleled increase of lunacy which has gone on. Take the birth rate, which in Ireland is the lowest in Europe, namely, 23.5 per 1,000 at the present moment. In England it is 34.7, and in Scotland 31.7; and Lord Dunraven in one of his pamphlets publishes a most remarkable table showing that in Hungary, Roumania, Russia, Prussia, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, and Switzerland the birth-rate is far higher than it is in Ireland. There is another test of an equally tragic character. The serious forms of disease, such as consumption and cancer, are spread in Ireland with alarming rapidity such as cannot be found in any other country. They are diminishing in other countries; in Ireland they are spreading. I attribute these awful facts largely to the unsatisfactory condition in which the mass of the Irish people live, and to the poor and unwholesome food which alone they are able to obtain. Take pauperism. One person out of every 100 in Ireland is at the present moment the inmate of a workhouse. One person out of every forty-four in Ireland is in receipt of poor relief. During the years from 1863 to 1903 the number of paupers per 1,000 of the population in Ireland has doubled. During the same period the proportion of paupers in England has been diminished by one half. Do English Members, especially those of them who represent great centres of industry, ever reflect for a moment how this Irish poverty reacts upon their country and their constituents? Why, you passed with a great flourish of trumpets last year an Aliens Bill for the purpose of saving British workmen from the competition of alien labour. But I would like to ask English Members for the great centres of industry in this country how much of the want of employment of English workmen is due to the competition of Irish labour? The only way that you can save yourself from that competition is by making Ireland a country where men can live and thrive and find work, and in that way alone and not by your Alien Immigration laws, will you be able to deal effectively in places like London, and other great centres, with the problem of the unemployed. Taking Ireland as a whole, it is, compared with almost any nation in Europe, blessed with a mild climate and fertile soil. Here you have a race of men proved by the history of the world to be brave and able. You talk of Irish thriftlessness and laziness. Go, as I have done, through the world and see the labours that have been performed, the industry expended, and the ability shown by the Irish race. It is incontrovertible that in every country but their own the Irish have been industrially successful, have risen to the highest positions, and have shown themselves well fitted for the arts of government and industry. Why is it that in their own country alone they are inflicted with these physical and moral plagues which make Ireland almost a desert? Here is a fertile country inhabited by such a race, and yet the population is flying from it as if it were a plague-stricken land. I have shown but one half of the picture. Ireland is cursed with the costliest government of any country in the world. The cost of the civil government per head of the population is just double what it is in England. The total civil charges for Scotland last year amounted to £2,477,000; for Ireland they were £4,547,000. Ireland's judicial system cost £200,000 more than the Scottish system: and the Irish police cost exactly three times as much as the police of Scotland, although the populations are practically the same and the crime of Ireland is less to-day than the crime of Scotland.

On this question of finance allow me to recall to the memory of the House that ten years ago a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the financial relations between Great Britain and Ireland. That was not an Irish Commission. It had a British majority upon it. It contained some of the greatest financial experts of the country, and it examined as witnesses all the greatest authorities on finance. That Commission reported ten years ago that Ireland, according to her comparative taxable capacity, was taxed close upon three millions a year too much. In seeking redress for that grievance we were supported by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh and most of the Ulster Members, including the late Mr. Lecky, and most of the Irish Unionists. We had also the support of the hon. and learned Member for the City of London, whom I heartily welcome back to the House because, among other reasons, I heartily respect the motives which drove him out of it some years ago. We had his support and that of a certain number of independent English Members of this House. Ireland has waited ten years for redress, but none has come; and, not only that, but since the Report was issued £3,000,000 a year additional taxation has been placed upon the country. During fifty years, while the population has declined, while poverty, lunacy and disease have increased, the taxation of Ireland has doubled, and in the administration of £10,000,000 of taxation annually the Irish people have no voice whatever. It is idle to tell us that they have representatives in this House. Any old Member of the House knows what happens about Supply. One of the blessings of Tory rule to the House of Commons has been that what has always been regarded as the first and essential duty of this House, namely, the discussion of Supply, has almost disappeared. We are supposed to get, under the new rule, three days in the session for the discussion of Irish Supply—three days for the discussion of forty or fifty boards and £10,000,000 of money, The result has been for many years past that nine-tenths of this enormous sum has been passed by the closure without a single word of discussion by Irish Members. For this enormous taxation we have the worst, and—to use Lord Rosebery's word—the most inefficient government in the whole world. Lord Dunraven, in one of his speeches, said— We are governed as no other people in the world are governed. It is difficult to understand what that which is commonly called Castle Government in Ireland really means. It is not democratic, or a despotism, or an oligarchy. No body on earth has any control over its members. They are fed from the Consolidated Fund, many of them, and no one can say that such a form of government is suitable to the needs of the country or the age in which we live. Lord Lansdowne, in the House of Lords not many months ago, used this remarkable phrase— There is room for considerable improvement in the old-fashioned and complicated organisation of the Irish Government. Sir West Ridgeway, Under - Secretary in Dublin Castle when the late Prime Minister was Chief Secretary, has told us, in a remarkable declaration, that at the very time when he was engaged in carrying out a coercion regimen in Ireland he was at the same time engaged in preparing a great scheme of local government—not of county councils, but of local government in the sense even of devolution, or national council, or something of that kind; and he has told us that from his experience Dublin Castle government is a chaotic anachronism. The same views have been expressed by Sir Robert Hamilton, Sir Redvers Buller, Lord Dudley, and Lord Carnarvon, not to speak of Liberal statesmen. I confess I wish I had by me at the moment the Radical programme—it has gone out of print, and I think the Irish Party will have to reprint it. I have it at home and I am very familiar with it, and I directly controvert the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham to-night that his scheme for reform in Ireland was such as has been satisfied by the concession of local government. Nothing of the kind; this scheme was a scheme for the abolition of the rule of Dublin Castle, and the putting into the hands of a great representative body all the great Irish questions including, if I am not mistaken, the questions both of the land and of education. The result of all this was inevitable—the neglect of every interest in Ireland and the dissatisfaction and discontent of every class of the community in Ireland. Our fisheries are neglected, our great waterways are neglected, and our system of transit and railway facilities is the most expensive in Europe. Our harbours are neglected. Our system of education is fifty years behind the least progressive country in Europe. Our working-classes are worse housed and less effort is made to improve their lot than in the case of the working-classes of any country in the world, and it follows that every class in Ireland is dissatisfied with the present system of government. The latest proof of this is to be found in the votes of the Orange democracy of West Belfast which returned my hon. friend. Not long ago Lord Rosebery said he would be prepared to give a colonial constitution to Ireland if only Ireland were loyal. I ask the House of Commons what race of men who are not fools or slaves would be loyal to such a system of government as Ireland has? The remark which I have quoted was a thoughtless, heartless remark, showing a strange forgetfulness of history, which has ever shown that loyalty is the result, not the forerunner, of the concession of self-government. Where you give self-government there you have loyalty. Where you withhold self-government there you have dissatisfaction, disloyalty and disaster. Are Irishmen less loyal than the Canadians, to whom Home Rule was given when they were ready for armed resistance? Are they less loyal than the Boers, to whom responsible government is to be given after a sanguinary war? Would the Australian colonies have been loyal for twenty-four years if government were attempted from Downing-street? If you have any doubt of it ask the Colonial Premiers. There is nothing more remarkable than the fact that every self-governing colony in the Empire has declared openly through its Parliament in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. The last is the declaration to be found in the petition to the King, adopted by the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia. They say— The sad history of Ireland, since the Act of Union, shows that no British Parliament can understand or effectually deal with the economic and social condition of that country. Enjoying and appreciating as we do the blessings of Home Rule here we would humbly express the hope that a just measure of Home Rule may be granted to the people of Ireland. They ask for it through their representatives. Never has been request more clear, consistent, and continuous by any nation. As subjects of Your Majesty we are interested in the peace and contentment of all parts of the Empire, and we desire to see this long-standing grievance at the very heart of the Empire removed. That petition was supported by the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, and, although the Leader of the Opposition spoke and voted against it, he said he did so, not because he was against the concession of Home Rule for Ireland, but because he thought it wiser for Australia not to interfere with this matter at all. When the Colonial Conference meets, if you want to put a subject before them that is certain to meet with unanimity and enthusiasm, put before them this question of self-government to Ireland, and you will get an unanimous, and an enthusiastic declaration in its favour. This problem of Ireland will not brook delay. Ireland is now peaceful. There is no political disorder, and no crime of any sort in the country. One of the most fatal characteristics of English concessions to Ireland in the past has been that they have nearly always been given—I will not say in consequence of—but. at any rate following periods of unrest, and of violence, and I respectfully urge that the English politician who would, say that because Ireland is peaceful, because there is no political turmoil and no crime, therefore this problem can wait, would be incurring a risk and responsibility from which I think any man of knowledge and experience should shrink. The King's Speech alludes to Ireland. I deeply regret that there is no statement in the Speech with regard to the land question. I freely acknowledge, however, that the Government by their administrative acts have done a great deal on this question since they came into office. They have undoubtedly freed the hands of the Commissioners and put it into their power to go a long way in settling some of the worst features of the Irish land question. I look forward with great hope to the speedy settlement of a greater portion, at any rate, of the evicted tenants. But no one who understands Ireland can doubt that serious amendments in other respects—amendments which can only be carried out by legislation—are necessary. This Act was not passed merely to allow one person to transfer property in land to another person. The object of the Land Act of 1903 was to settle the Irish land question, and to remove from Ireland that perennial source of misery and that squalid struggle between the classes in that country; and that object can never be achieved by this Act unless it is amended, and unless, in certain directions, the element of compulsion is applied. I regret that no announcement is made of an intention to amend this Act. It will, of course, be our duty to press that consideration upon the Government, and experience and pressure of events I believe will bring home to them the conviction that they must soon introduce legislation for this purpose. In regard to the Coercion Act I notice that the Speech from the Throne says that Ireland is to be governed by the ordinary law, and I freely admit that the Government have withdrawn all the proclamations which kept in force the Coercion Act. I gather from the Prime Minister that it is the intention and policy of the Government to introduce a measure to remove that law from the Statute-book. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman could take up any other attitude, because, when the Bill was passing through the House, the Liberal Party fought it tooth and nail, clause by clause, every session, and the whole of the Liberal Party have voted in favour of its immediate repeal. Last session, when the hon. Member for North Kildare moved a motion declaring that the Coercion Act was unconstitutional and should be immediately repealed, the whole of the Liberal Party—all the so-called sections of it—were led into the lobby in support of that Amendment by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who made on that occasion one of the most eloquent and vehement speeches I have ever heard him make, protesting that this Act was a disgrace to the country and should be removed from the Statute-book. I regret that the Government have not mentioned a Bill to repeal this Act in the King's Speech. I urge upon the Prime Minister that he ought to introduce such a Bill this session. Whilst such a measure might be vigorously debated on the Second Reading it would not occupy much time during the Committee stage; and as to the fate that might meet it in the other House that ought not to deter the Government from introducing a measure to which they are so completely pledged. I admit the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham as to the vagueness of the references to Ireland in the King's Speech. The words are vague, and if the honour had been done me of asking me to draft those words I should have drafted them very differently. They may mean little, they may mean a great deal. The fact that they are there puts upon me the duty of reiterating the unchanged position of the Irish Party on the question of national self-government. Our attitude has not changed one hair's breadth for twenty-five years. While we take all that comes our way in amelioration of the lot of the Irish people, the Irish question can never be finally or satisfactorily settled except by the concession to Ireland of a Parliament and an executive responsible to it. I feel bound to make that declaration, and to say we shall give every encouragement to the Government in any effort of theirs to deal with that question. In coming to deal with it they will find the Nationalists reasonable and practical men—men who have spent twenty-five years of their lives in endeavouring to win this right for their country, men who do not want to die until they see some great advance made along the road; and, therefore, men who will not wantonly or perversely alienate the sympathy or support of any man or body of men who believe in the principle of settling the Irish question on the basis of self-government. My colleagues and I have been complained of because we made no bargain with the Prime Minister before the election, and the right hon. Gentleman has vehemently denied any bargain. That is strictly accurate, as there could have been no bargain except on the basis of an immediate concession of a full measure of Home Rule as the first Bill of the Session, and on the basis of an alliance implying the merging of our Parliamentary forces with the forces of the Prime Minister. I hold the view that the independence of the Irish Party is better both for us and the Liberal Party, and hence no bargain was entered into, or thought of, between the right hon. Gentleman and us. Our critics say, "If you had no secret understanding with the Government, why did you assist them in rejecting the last Government? My mind goes back to a famous meeting in August, 1901, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the late Prime Minister went down to Blenheim and declared open war upon the Irish Party.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

I hope they enjoy the result now.


With their then majority of 150 they were spoken of as the strongest Government of modern times, and those two right hon. Gentlemen declared that this enormous power was to be used to diminish the influence of the Irish Members and to muzzle us on the floor of the House. What has become of their effort to muzzle the Irish Members? Where is their scheme to rob Ireland of thirty seats? Where is their majority? Where is their Party? Where is their leader? They have all disappeared, and the Irish Members are here as numerous as ever. That Government broke its pledge to introduce a satisfactory Labourers Bill, they reimposed coercion upon Ireland, and, having passed the Land Act of 1903, with the unanimity of all Parties, they immediately began, by secret instructions and otherwise, to block its fair and useful operation; and even if they had believed that Ireland could gain nothing from a Liberal Government and that the Prime Minister, after his honourable and consistent record of the past twenty years, was going to prove false to Ireland, the Irish Members would have felt it their duty to do all they could to drive the last Government from office. The present Government has an unparalleled opportunity. One result stands out above all else. Home Rule is no longer a bogey to frighten the English people. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham waxed indignant upon the circulation of some cartoons ort Chinese labour, which he thought were unfair and untrue. What about the cartoons that he and his friends issued depicting the Irishman as an inhuman, brute, stabbing innocent women and children? In one constituency the hon. Gentleman who won the seat issued an autograph letter, in which he said— If Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman is returned to office, Mr. Redmond will bring pressure to bear on him and his Government by the murder of innocent citizens and the mutilation of cattle. [Cries of "Oh."] The indignation of the right hon. Gentleman when there was a picture circulated of two Chinamen with their hands tied behind them is ludicrous, when the very men who express this, indignation are guilty of such conduct against political opponents. Home Rule is no longer a bogey to the English electors. We have been taught that the predominant partner must be converted. The predominant partner has now returned a Government which for twenty years has been pledged to the principle of Home Rule, and I am convinced that public opinion in this country is to-day perfectly prepared for some great reconstructive policy with regard to the government of Ireland. The Liberal Government of to-day has an enormous majority and enormous power. Its enemies have disappeared, the difficulties in their path on the Irish question, have melted away, many of them have been removed by the action of the Unionist Party, and therefore I beg the Government to recognise the urgency of this question and not delay in their intention to deal with it. I notice with satisfaction that the King's Speech says that final plans are under consideration for the purpose of dealing with this question. I beg that the final consideration of these plans be not postponed, and I beg of the Government in preparing those plans not to be half-hearted or timid. In the last session of the old Parliament I moved an Amendment to the Address in the following terms— We humbly represent to Your Majesty that the present system of Government in Ireland is in opposition to the will of the Irish people and gives them no voice in the management of their own affair; that the system is consequently inefficient and extravagantly costly; that it does not enjoy the confidence of any section of the population; that it is productive of universal discontent and unrest, and is incapable of satisfactorily promoting the material and intellectual progress of the people. Sir, that Amendment was supported by the entire Liberal Party. If I speak of sections of the Party I am sure no hon. Gentleman opposite will think I use the phrase in an invidious or offensive sense. I do so because the public talk of sections; and I say that this declaration was supported by all so-called sections of the Liberal Party, by all the men who sit on those Benches without exception, save those who are new to Parliament on this occasion. Therefore that statement is no longer a statement of mine or a statement of the Irish Party. It is the declaration of the Liberal Party. That is your own declaration, and that declaration proves at one and the same time the grave and urgent character of this problem. I beg of you, when you come to deal with it, to have the courage of your convictions and to deal with it boldly. Sir, in conclusion, one word more and one only. Once again Ireland has lifted her head, that head which so long has been bowed in sorrow and almost in despair. Once again the hope of a better day, of a coming day of justice, of liberty, and at least of comparative prosperity, is pulsing through her veins. God grant for her sake, but equally for yours, that that hope be not disappointed.

MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)

congratulated the Postmaster-General on the attitude which he had taken up on the question of trade unionism, and said he hoped the example set by the right hon. Gentleman would be followed by other great departments, especially the War Office and the Admiralty. There were rumours that it was the intention to revert to the old custom by which the House met at three in the afternoon. He trusted no countenance would be lent to a proposal of that kind. If there was to be a change it should be in the other direction. The business of the nation was too important a matter to be left to the fag end of a day, the best part of which had been spent at business. If the legislation of the country was conducted in the honest light of day instead of in the glare of the gas light, it would be a distinct advantage to the community at large. He regretted the omission in the King's Speech of any reference to temper ance reform. They should remember however, that it was impossible to attempt everything in one session. There was one reform which the Government might undertake. New Members must have been painfully struck with the fact that they could not introduce a friend into the public smoking-room without passing a bar at which intoxicating liquor was sold. A Government strongly imbued with temperance principles might inaugurate a reform here without waiting for legislation, and he ventured to say that this would be a reform which would meet with approval from all parts of the House. With regard to Army reform, at the present time, the ex-Commander-in-chief was stumping the country in support of what was really a very thinly-veiled form of conscription, and the churches and the schools were being used as recruiting agencies for popularising the Army and familiarising the youth of the country with military ideas and drill. There was no lack of genuine patriotism on the part of the working classed, but they had a strong objection to anything that savoured of conscription, whether veiled or open. He had fully expected that the Government would give some indication of a determination to lead the nation away from the war-spirit and declare its intention of co-operating with other nations on the Continent in the establishment of a league of peace for the suppression of war as a means of settling international disputes. He hoped such was the intention of the Government. He hoped he was right in assuming from the King's Speech in regard to this matter that such was the intention of the Government. He sincerely hoped also that we had got away from that spirit of filibustering Imperialism which had cost the nation so dear, not only in money, but in prestige.

There were one or two questions on which he desired fuller information in regard to Chinese labour. He had listened to what the Prime Minister had to say on this point. The anticipations raised in the country by the denunciations of Chinese labour during the election were strong, and would not, he felt certain, be satisfied by the position now taken up with regard to this question by the Government. It was not enough to say that inasmuch as the colony would shortly have Home Rule or responsible government, the question should be held in abeyance until they could decide for themselves whether Chinese labour was to be permitted or not. The point for the moment was that Chinese labour was associated in the public mind with Chinese slavery, and the colony ought to be freed from the difficulty which the mother country had imposed upon it before responsible government was established. The same authority which made Chinese labour possible should withdraw Chinese labour before the advent of responsible government. He desired more specific information on these points. He understood from the Prime Minister that Chinamen desiring to be repatriated would be able to have their passage paid home, if no other means were available. He asked whether, in the event of the Imperial Government having to pay the cost of the voyage home of Chinamen, the sum so expended was to be recoverable from the mine-owners, and, if so, what security was there that the mine owners would meet this liability any better than they had met former liabilities. He was not quite sure that he understood the Prime Minister when he spoke about punishments. Was it understood now that no punishment could be inflicted on these Chinamen until they had been brought before a court of justice and tried for the offence with which they were charged? If that were so it would mark a very great improvement indeed in the conditions under which these people worked, but if lashing was still to be permitted within the compounds or within the mines, then the old conditions would practically remain under the new Government. In the Address there was a reference to merchant shipping and the promise of an amending Bill. He trusted that the measure to be introduced would totally prohibit the employment on British ships of foreign seamen, unable to speak the English language. The stipendiary of Cardiff, in a case of inquiry the other day into the loss of a ship, made the alarming and astounding statement that this was the third investigation of the kind he had had within a month, and that in each of the three cases the vessels had been manned by seamen unable to speak the English language. That pointed to a very serious state of affairs. There was no scarcity of British seamen, and the only reason for giving the foreigner a preference was that he could be had at a lower rate of wages than British Jack Tars would accept. The bill of fare in the King's Speech was in the promise at least fairly satisfactory. What it would be in the performance remained to be seen, and the Labour Members would not prejudge the Government in regard to their Labour legislation. They would reserve their judgment until the measures had been produced, but they hoped that in dealing with the topics enumerated in the King's Speech the Government would deal with them in a whole - hearted fashion, so as to secure a final settlement of each. If they were only dealt with in a half-hearted manner there would be further demands made on the time of the House. Take, for instance, the Taff Vale question. He understood that there was substantial agreement in regard to the main lines of the measure, with the exception of what was known as Clause 3 of last year's Bill. The Labour Party in the country —both the trade union side and the political side—had stated with no uncertain voice what they desired in this matter. They claimed absolute immunity for trade union funds from any claims for damages arising out of trade disputes. It was said that this was an illogical position to assume. It was said that where the responsible officers of a trade union were responsible for an offence the funds of the union should be held liable for the loss sustained. Their reply was, "If an officer offends against the law, punish the officer, but do not punish the whole of the members for his indiscretion or want of judgment." Those of them who had had some experience of labour movements were aware that if the slightest opening were left whereby an entrance might be made on trade union funds, the law would find that entrance, and they therefore asked that the Trade Union Bill should be a practical Bill, and that in particular the funds of the unions should be placed beyond the touch of employers seeking damages.

In regard to the Education Bill he desired to mention briefly two aspects of the question which were bound to receive a good deal of attention before the measure became law. They had heard this afternoon in the excellent speech of the seconder of the Address an expression of the hope that some method might be found for composing the religious differences which now existed, and which constituted the chief bar to the building up of a proper educational system. He had endeavoured to find out in what way these differences could be composed without leaving heartburning or a sense of hardship behind, and so far as his investigations had gone there appeared to him to be but one method by which the miserable irreligious controversy over religious instruction could be disposed of once for all and that was by taking religious instruction out of the hands of the teachers altogether. A great deal was heard about religious tests, but to make it compulsory on a teacher to give religious instruction, no matter how undenominational it might be, was to impose a religious test which many of our best teachers could not conscientiously adopt. Religion should not be taught by public school teachers. Clergymen of all denominations were never tired of bewailing the irreligious spirit of the age; but how much of this spirit might not lie attributed to the fact that children were taught religion in a perfunctory manner by overworked school teachers? In the best interests of religion, therefore, it was desirable that those who gave religious instruction should be the parents and the spiritual guides of the people and not those who were engaged, or ought to be engaged, in purely and exclusively secular teaching. But perhaps a more important question was the physical condition of the children to receive such instruction. It was useless to go on trying to instil education into the brains of half-starved children. There was the question of seeing that the body of the child was in a condition to receive instruction from its teacher. He would not go into this subject at length. In the last House of Commons his friend and colleague the Member for the Barnard Castle Division introduced a Bill on the subject. That Bill would be again introduced and it would give the House a lead along the road which he hoped they would be willing to take towards conferring on public authorities full and complete powers to make provision for those school children whose conditions were such at present as totally to unfit them for a si[...]lating the instruction which the teachers were engaged in giving. He was delighted that the King's Speech gave promise of an amended Unemployed Bill. The Act of last session had proved, as it was predicted it would prove, a failure in so far as dealing with the unemployed difficulty was concerned, but it had laid the foundation for a more comprehensive and effective measure. They expected the measure—especially remembering who was President of the Local Government Board—would be comprehensive and wide in its scope, and that it would not tie local authorities down to one particular method of dealing with unemployment. The local authorities in this country should be free to try experiments in order to find out what was the best way to deal with a national problem. It was also to be hoped that the financial limitations which now hindered the new authorities would be removed in the new Bill. Where the penny rate proved insufficient some form of national grant should supplement the local rates, so as to spread the cost over the community and not leave it as a local burden on the poorer localities. He hoped that the State, apart from what the local authorities would do, would also provide permanent employment for the unemployed by means of afforestation and great public undertakings.

Neither would it suffice for the Government to stand by a mere negative on the policy of fiscal reform. The Government must have an attractive policy of reform to counteract the influence of those who put tariff reform forward as a means of helping the working classes. When the Government were dealing with the question of plural voting he hoped that they would also reform the absurd and antiquated registration laws and include the payment of official election expenses. It might be that before this session closed the House would find itself in conflict with another place, involving an appeal to the country. The nation was not at present equipped for that struggle as it ought to be, and as it would be after a thorough reform of the registration laws. Not only was one-third of the male population outside the franchise, but the whole of the women of the country. He hoped the Liberal Government would remove the scandal and disgrace of treating women, because they were women, no better than if they were criminals, paupers, or peers. He trusted, therefore, that women suffrage would form one of the items to be dealt with when the franchise was being tackled.

There were several references in the King's Speech to South Africa, and he was delighted to learn that responsible government was to be given to the Transvaal and also to the Orange River Colony. The trust and confidence to be reposed in the people of these lands would, he was certain, be productive of the very best results. But there was one fact connected with South Africa at present on which he thought they were entitled to ask for some information. He hoped that the Government would give information as to the sinister rumours which were in circulation about native unrest in Natal. Some sinister statements were being made in the public Press. They learned already that the Press censor was at work in South Africa. Those who took an intelligent interest in the war with the Boer Republic would remember how at that time the reports we got from South Africa were those which suited the interests of the mineowners only, how the truth was suppressed, how every lie that could inflame and prejudice the passions of the people here against the Boers of the Transvaal was put freely into circulation, and the country knew the price it had to pay for allowing that line of action. It looked us if at the present time the country was being prepared for another war in South Africa. It was stated that the natives were showing unrest and refusing to pay their taxes, and that they had been guilty of murder. It was possible that these romours were the outcome of a policy of irritation to the natives with the purpose of forcing them into a war as the Boers were forced into war six or seven years ago. He hoped the Colonial Secretary would keep a close eve on these developments in Natal and South Africa, so as to prevent a second war being waged in that far off country.

With respect to Ireland it seemed a strange anomaly that Ireland was the only part of the world where the Irish people were not allowed to exercise their undoubted faculties for government. Anyone who visited Ireland and saw the poverty and depression of spirit must realise what a curse British rule had been to the Irish people. It must be a source of gladness to these who had fought so long that at length there was a hope of securing justice to the people of Ireland, and that they would be able to share in the administration of the affairs of their own country. He and his friends on those benches would take no part in the ordinary strife and warfare of Party politics. They were here to force to the front the question of the condition of the people of England and to safeguard the rights of the poor. Why was it that wealth accumulated while men decayed? One cause was that the law makers of Great Britain had hitherto been drawn almost exclusively from the wealth owners of Great Britain. The working classes had been represented only at second hand by men whose interests were diametrically opposed to theirs. [LIBERAL cries of "No, no!"] He contended that the workers could not trust their interests to men whose pocket interest—always a powerful factor in influencing conduct—led them to desire that the workers should remain in their poverty—[MINISTERIAL cries of "No, no !"]—He was glad to hear that protest—and in the condition in which they now were. Property was sacred in England, but life was a thing of no account. Why was it that amongst the children of the poor in our great cities 66 per 1,000 died before they reached one year of age, while only 18 per 1,000 of the children of the class who sat in Parliament died before attaining one year? It was because the life of the poor was of less account than the property from which their income was derived. When they saw that three sides of the House were under the control of, and tenanted by, men whose pocket interests were diametrically opposed to those of the working classes—[MINISTERIAL cries of "No, no !"]—it was essential that there should be one section of the House, at least, representing the workers and the poor. He and his friends asked for this Government a fair trial. They believed that their legislation would be more advanced than that of any Government which had gone before, and the explanation of that would be found in the fact that at length the workers of the country were bestirring themselves, and insisting on legislation being passed for their benefit. They would not attempt to pre-judge the Government, but to give fair consideration to every proposal which they brought forward, and to keep before them at all times and under all circumstances the welfare, not of this Party or of that, but of the poor, who had hitherto been without friends, because they had not taken the trouble to protect themselves.

MR. PAUL (Northampton)

said he agreed with the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil that the re-patriation of Chinamen from South Africa ought to be carried out at the cost of the mine-owners. He was not quite sure that the hon. Gentleman rightly interpreted the Prime Minister when he attributed to the Government the policy of leaving the question entirely in the hands of the people of the Transvaal. There were many Members of the House who believed that forced labour ought not to be allowed under any circumstances or conditions in any part of the dominions of the King. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, whose statements were notoriously inaccurate, and whose figures were sometimes mere illustrations, complained that afternoon of the exaggerated accounts of the condition in which the Chinaman worked in South Africa. If Rip Van Winkle were an Englishman and had waked out of his long sleep last month, he possibly would have been surprised at the supreme importance attached to the question of Chinese labour, and he would not have been astonished to find that the English people were indignant at the revival of slavery and the slave trade under the British flag. He would have known that the people of this country, who were not idiots, did not believe in the distinction between slavery and forced labour. What excited such intense indignation about Chinese labour in this country was the fact that it was the sign and symbol of that gigantic swindle, that colossal fraud, the policy of the late Government in South Africa. Five and a half years ago the people of this country were humbugged and deceived. In Lord Milner's happy phrase they were drenched with lies; but their eyes were open now to the fact that the policy of the late Government was engineered in South Africa by bloodthirsty money grubbers—[OPPOSITION cries of "Oh, oh.!"]—mostly of foreign extraction, without honour, without conscience, without country, without God. The people of this country did not forget, and they never could forget, the splendid heroism of their soldiers, some of whom earned for themselves everlasting renown and none of whom were responsible for the cause for which they fought. They saw now, but they did not see then, that the war was a sweaters' war, a war for cheap labour, a war against the working classes, against liberty, against independence and against everything which Englishmen most revered. This was not always the unanimous opinion of the Liberal Party. In the face of the great, united, cohesive organism which he saw before him, he did not hesitate to admit that the Liberals had had their differences, their dissensions, their gaping wounds. Who had healed them? In the hour of their recovery let them not forget the services of their physician. They ought to erect a statue, not of gold, for it was beyond their means, but of brass to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. It was he who hadre-united them. It was he who had brought Imperialists into line with mere patriots. He was sure that it would rejoice the heart of the right hon. Gentleman to know that it was he who had removed the jealousies between employers and employed and sent them to the poll together in defence of their common interest, their bread and butter. It was he who had submitted to the working classes for the first time in all its length and breadth the issue between protection and free trade. He had dressed up the carcass of protection, the rotten, stinking carcass, in the tinsel finery of tariff reform, and from one end of the country to the other, from John O' Groat's to Lands End, there came back the shout: "Take it away. Give it decent, or indecent, burial, but let us never see or hear of the foul thing again." The result of the general election reminded him of the epigram written of the lady who had the misfortune to be the wife of George IV.,.and who imitated his vices so far as the infirmities of her sex would permit. It began— Most gracious Joe. He begged pardon. Most gracious Queen, we thee implore, To go away and sin no more; Or, if that burden be too great, To go away, at any rate. The right hon Gentleman, fortunately for himself and for them, had been enabled to entrench himself within the impregnable fortress of our English Tammany. He admired the authority which the right hon. Gentleman exercised, and the confidence which he enjoyed among the people who knew him best. It was said of a great Roman that in the opinion of all men, he would have been capable of Empire if he had never been an Emperor. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham might have been thought a great Imperialist statesman if he had not taken rather late in life to Imperialism. He wished that Mr. Balfour were present. If his absence were more than temporary, he would be the greatest intellectual loss the House could suffer—except Lord Hugh Cecil. He would rather pay the right hon. Gentleman compliments to his face than behind his back. The right hon. Gentleman was the nearest approach in these degenerate days to the Greek sophist. The Greak sophists were men of extreme mental subtlety, and of intense personal respectability. They were men of wealth and station; they went everywhere, and knew everybody. They proved all things; they held fast to that which was bad. They undertook to prove that there was no difference between right and wrong, and anything was just which anybody who could afford to pay them wanted to do. They lived lives of unin terrupted felicity until a tiresome person called Socrates appeared and began to ask them questions. Socrates wanted to know what they meant by justice, and why, if there was no difference between right and wrong, they had two names for the same thing. They voted Socrates a public nuisance, and they put him to death. But he left a numerous intellectual progeny, and some of them had settled in Manchester. These asked Mr. Balfour what he meant by free trade, and why, if it was the same thing as protection, he did not call it by the same name. If he had answered with truth that free trade was a tariff for public revenue, and that protection was a tariff for private interest, he would have lost his bearings. He made no intelligible answer, and he lost his seat. What was the right hon. Gentleman's policy of retaliation? "If other countries tax our goods, why should we not tax theirs? That sounded clever, did it not? The wonder was that nobody had ever thought of it before. Could it possibly be that the real meaning of it was somewhat different?" Because foreign Governments tax their subjects let us make our Government tax theirs." That sounded silly, did it not? It sounded silly because it was silly; and because it was silly it would not be done. They free traders had been on velvet. It did not require much ability or learning to show that a nation which depended on foreign food, which imported immense quantities of raw material, and manufactured for mankind, depended for its prosperity—even for its very existence—upon free access to the world's supply. He himself could defend a platitude against a paradox. Chief Justice Jervis said that the world was divided into fools and damned fools, and he thanked God that he was born a fool. He had never felt so thankful for that privilege as when he read Mr. Balfour's academic prolusion, entitled "Some Unsettled Convictions on Political Economy." He thought to himself, "How marvellously acute, and, after all, perhaps it is true." He dared say protection would not do much harm to an uninhabited island in an undiscoverable sea; but what consolation would that be to the 5,000,000 of Lancashire folk who depended upon the cotton trade, when the margin of their profit had been destroyed? They had little more to do than to expound the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments in the vulgar tongue. "Thou shalt not murder." A tax upon corn was murder. "Thou shalt not steal." A corner in wheat was stealing. "Give us this day our daily bread." That was what John Bright meant when he said that he and Richard Cobden had converted a great minister, and had put the Lord's Prayer into an Act of Parliament. Once there, not all the efforts of all the strong men of Birmingham, the seven against sense, taking into their counsels all the wise men of Gotham, the Members of the Tariff Reform League, would ever avail to take it out.

Motion made, and Question, "That the debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Burdett-Coutts)—put, and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed to-morrrow.

Adjourned at twenty eight minutes after Eleven o'clock"