HC Deb 12 December 1912 vol 45 cc791-4

After the passing of this Act, no Irish peer shall be entitled to sit or vote in the House of Lords.

Motion made and question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."

4.0 P.M.


The Clause which I move is so simple and plain that until this morning it had never been my intention to do more than, if it were in order, formally to move it, and let it stand or fall on its own merits. Since I arrived here, however, it has come to my knowledge that one Member at least thinks this Clause a malicious one. I can best dispose of that eroneous notion by explaining what my object is. This Clause is only a fragment of my conception of what Home Rule should be. One of the commonest vices of subordinate nations is the sort of slavish snobbery which apes the thing of the dominant nation. The things aped are usually not the best characteristics of the dominant nation; but even if they were, slavish imitation proves the absence of self-respect, and a nation which does not respect itself will not be respected. A people devoid of specific individuality are not a nation, but a set of liveried lackeys. I deeply regret that many provisions in this Bill, as now passed, are calculated to glorify and develop this vice, and that, unless checked by a strong public opinion in Ireland, it may come to be regarded as the correct thing to get educated in England, to speak with an English accent, to wear English clothes and to practice English manners in all things. I have nothing to say against those English things in English people; they are all right in their own place; but our practical experience agrees with the theory that the man in Ireland who wants to impress people by passing himself off as an Englishman is neither a credit nor an advantage to either country, and that the fewer of that class we have the better for you and for us on both sides of the Channel. With intimate knowledge. I assert that Ireland has to-day two marked characteristics. She is, of all countries in Europe, the most in need of practical domestic legislation of a kind about which there is really no controversy among Irishmen. In the earlier part of the Session I heard Mr. Speaker suggest, on a dubious question, that there was no subject on which all Irish Members were agreed. I assert that there are many such subjects covering the whole ground of domestic politics. When it was a question of obtaining money from the Treasury for the purpose of arterial drainage there was as strong an effort on behalf of the Bann as on behalf of the Barrow or the Shannon. The present cattle disease, with the restrictions arising from it, has brought about such a state of things among Irish Members that the senior Member for the University of Dublin (Sir E. Carson) said quite correctly that all Irish Members spoke with one voice. The second characteristic of Ireland to-day is that in no other country in Europe is there such a wide and varied range of subjects raising little or no controversy among Irishmen themselves. In my conception of Home Rule, the Irish Parliament would devote itself for a good many years exclusively to Irish domestic affairs, and for that reason if I could have my way, and a good many other people in the country, we would allow no distraction for Irishmen from the affairs of their own country by coming here to either House at Westminster. As surely as they come they w ill assume the airs of superior beings and be no use, but an injury, to us, and a positive nuisance to the British Parliament. It has not been possible to express these views at the proper part of the Bill without becoming or seeming to become identified with certain wrecking Amendments, which, of course, should not be tolerated in connection with any procedure. This Clause proposes to diminish the attraction exercised upon the aristocracy bearing Irish titles, and to restrict their usefulness to the country whence they derive those titles, and to give a new and worthier aim to their ambitions. It would transform the resident aristocracy from the idle, ineffective nonentities they are to-day into what, in spite of my knowledge of their origin and history, I believe them capable of becoming, a real useful asset to Ireland. It would annihilate the power and prestige of the absentee aristocracy, who, by the fact of being absentees, deserve no better fate. My nationalism is sufficiently confident and vigorous to allow me to give due credit to all Irishmen resident in Ireland, irrespective of class or party, and to resent, so far as I may, wanton taunts levelled at Irish Unionists, either in this House or elsewhere. I absolutely refuse to regard their present attitude as permanent. On the contrary, I look forward with a confident belief to a time in Ireland when they will become a powerful element for good. Defective though I consider this Bill in many respects, its one great merit, to my mind, is the prospect it opens up of wiping into oblivion the sordid sectional strife of the past. The purpose of this Clause is to accelerate the completion of that process in a small but potentially important section of the Irish community. For those reasons I beg to move.


If we were not hard pressed for time, I confess I might reply to the interesting disquisition of the hon. Member, which contained many sentences worth considering, although I confess the conclusion of his speech did not seem to me to be very closely connected with his preliminary observations. The Government is not disposed to agree to this new Clause. We intend to take things as they are as much as possible. The elected Irish Peers in the House of Lords are twenty-eight in number, and from the point of view of population they would be, I will not say entitled, but might perhaps have had a larger representation than that they now have. There they are in the House of Lords corresponding to the forty-two members who will come over to this House to represent Ireland from its Imperial aspects. You will have forty-two Members in this House, and there will be twenty-eight Irish Peers in the-other place. I therefore think it is undesirable to remove the Irish Peers from the position secured to them by the Act of Union, and where they have been for a very long time. They vary no doubt as we all vary, and as any twenty-eight men vary, in degrees of ability and of intelligence, but I do not know that we can enter into any personal disquisition or analysis of their character. The whole House of Lords is a subject which is subject to revision as we all know, and when that question conies to be considered, as soon come it must, the whole question then of the hereditary Peers, English and Scottish, and Irish will undoubtedly come under review. I therefore think it would be an improper thing and outside the scope of this measure were we to interfere with the rights of the Irish Peers secured to them by Act of Parliament and which they at present enjoy. They are not there in excess of their numbers. Therefore I think they ought to remain until such time as the whole subject may come under review. However. I am much indebted to the hon. Member for many of his observations. I hope his countrymen will take a good many of them to heart. I really do not think that this is a new Clause which the Government would be well advised to accept.

Question put, "That the Clause be now read a second time."


(speaking seated, and covered): May I ask if I may be allowed to withdraw the Clause?


The hon. Member would have had the right, but as I have already put the Question, it is too late.

Question, "That the Clause be now read a second time," put, and negatived.