§ Mr. W. F. ROCH (who wore Court Dress)
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 offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
I hope that on this occasion I may draw an even more generous draft on the indulgence of the House than that which is accorded to him to whom this duty falls every Session. I feel that I shall need it all the more on this occasion, because I feel that we are approaching a Session when it is more difficult than usual for one who is fulfilling this duty to observe those time-honoured conventions of leaving the controversial note, so far as possible, to be struck by others in the course of the Debate. Indeed, I am afraid we are living at a time when if a speech is marked as non-political or non-sectarian it would fail to fill even a moderately-sized hall, and a society which was based on the same principle would languish sadly both in members and in funds. There is, however, one thing that the Mover on this occasion cannot complain of, and that is that the Gracious speech is empty of matter, for I think all will agree that it covers a wide range both at home and abroad. First of all, we can perhaps rejoice at the announcement that peaceful relations exist between ourselves and foreign Powers. An echo of that same good feeling came only a few days ago from the German Reichstag, and we can all welcome, in our Sovereign's visit to France, the further cementing of those 54 good relations between ourselves and that country which have stood the test of years and of troublous times, and which have maw passed into a commonplace of our national life.
I congratulate the Foreign Office on the measure of success which has attended their activities, so far afield as the Persian Gulf, and which even seem to extend to that blessed region which rejoices in the fortunate name of Mesopotamia. I will not dwell upon what those interests of commerce and trade are, for I feel sure every Member of the House is as well acquainted with them as I am. Above all, I should like to congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the happy part which our country played, through him, in establishing peace, for the time being at all events, in South Eastern Europe, and I may hope that out of the clash of these small nationalities a peaceful and permanent settlement may be reached. Perhaps I may be permitted to press upon him that his talents may be used in another direction. There are some of us, perhaps, like myself, whose goodwill is greater than their courage, who attribute to him greater power than, perhaps, he really possesses. Still, I hope these same talents may be devoted to making Europe less of an armed camp, and remove what is a grim commentary on civilisation and the statesmanship of the western world. I welcome the announcement that a Bill dealing with British nationality, and Imperial naturalisation will be introduced. I hope that it will mark a real step forward in establishing the doctrine that a British subject anywhere shall be a British subject everywhere, and that we may see even in our lifetime established a common citizenship which will define political privileges which will run from one end of the King's dominions to the other. A moment or two ago I referred to the clash of small nationalities abroad. If we turn our eyes for a moment at home we are met with the struggles and aspirations of small nationalities at home. I might perhaps express the hope that the same calm and philosophic judgment which we can most of us bring to bear upon events and peoples hundreds of miles away may be brought equally to bear upon those in our midst at home.
I think I should be wanting in loyalty to those who seat me here if I did not welcome the announcement which deals with the religious difficulties in Wales. I may 55 be allowed to express the hope that a final settlement will be reached which will remove the barriers which now exist between the Established and the sister Churches, and which will in time lead to the co-operation of all religious denominations. I should be wanting in loyalty also—though this is a delicate topic to touch upon—both to their convictions and the racial affinities if I did not welcome the reintroduction of the measure dealing with Ireland. Lord Beaconsfield, in one of his novels, makes one of his heroes say that all sensible men are of the same religion, but what that religion is sensible men will never tell. I have often thought that was truer of politics even than of religion. I have come to the conclusion that there are more sensible men in the House than people outside very often think, and I often think, too, that if they could only forget their speeches, and their very best perorations, if they could forget the impromptu which had taken the longest time to prepare, and if they would only tell us what they really think, they would not be so far apart as many of us think they are at the present moment. One thing I believe I can say without offence, I believe no one here can look unmoved on the tragic history of Ireland—a country which we have ruled but never won. I do not believe there is a single Member who will play any part willingly to add a yet more tragic chapter to the history of that country. I am, unfortunately, well aware that small nations have memories which are large, but if I am not too sanguine I look forward to the time when the Irish of all creeds will look a little less at the past, and turn their thoughts to the future, which all of them would wish. I have touched upon somewhat delicate ground during the past few moments, and I cannot help thinking that 1 shall be well advised now to bring my few remarks to a close. One word only I should like to say, and I hope I may say it without offence and also without being unduly unctuous. I would remind hon. Members of their responsibilities for what they are going to do. Whether this may be a critical Session rests, not with the Cabinet on the one hand, or the Opposition on the other, but with every individual here who constitutes this great Court of Common Council. In discharging that duty I may hope that everyone will act according to our sovereign rights, remembering that our sole duty is to secure good government and to further the hap- 56 piness of those who, I am sure, we are honestly striving to represent.
§ Mr. GORDON HEWART (who also wore Court Dress)
I beg to second the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne. There is no need to say how highly I esteem the honour of being entrusted with this task—an honour conferred less upon me than upon the Constituency which it is my proud duty to represent. The task, indeed, as many others have felt and said, is always very difficult, nor are its difficulties less apparent than usual when in a critical, and perhaps, momentous Session, it is essayed by a Member who has not hitherto appealed to the indulgence of this House. I can but hope, as others have done, that just as those who are the strongest are often the most merciful, so the House may prove, not for the first, nor for the hundredth time, that it is the most generous while it is also the most critical of all assemblies. It is not easy to make a non-controversial speech upon controversial topics. But those, at any rate, who have gone before me have succeeded in showing that an impartial tongue is not necessarily evidence of a feeble understanding or of a loose grasp of principle. And, indeed, is it not true to say that in the Gracious Speech from the Throne there is much that does not involve and is not likely to excite a spirit of controversy? That part of the Gracious Speech which has to do especially with Foreign and Colonial affairs is largely a review—expressed, if I may with deference say so, in terms of well grounded optimism—of what has been called the most fascinating of all movements—the course of events. There is in it, one may suppose, hardly a passage, or a phrase, which does not, in all quarters of the House, excite sincere satisfaction. In particular, perhaps, I may mention the reference to the approaching Royal visit to the French Republic, and the cordial relations that exist between two countries which nature and temperament seem at once to mark out and to bring together as the vigilant parents of freedom and of justice. When one considers the record contained and the hopes held out in the first half of the Gracious Speech from the Throne it is natural to call to mind a famous passage in a great biography:—Diplomacy in the hands of its worthiest masters is the great, the difficult, the beneficent art of so 57 reconciling interests, soothing jealous susceptibilities, allaying apprehensions, organising influences, inventing solutions, that the world may move with something like steadiness along the grooves of deep pacific policy, instead of tossing on a viewless sea of violence and passion.And if observations of that kind are well warranted, as I respectfully submit they are at the present time, are we not entitled to bear them in mind and to infer that due effect has been given to them with reference to the Estimates for the Service of the coming year? Armaments, it is said, depend upon policy. Yes, and that maxim or truism applies both ways, and in all countries, and it seems reasonable to anticipate in the measure of expenditure some deliberate reflection of those improved political relations at which everybody rejoices.
In the field of domestic legislation the most strictly impartial critic will hardly suggest that the programme which is explained, or indicated, is unduly slight. In the concluding words of the Gracious Speech no limits less generous than our own imaginations are assigned to the number or the importance of the schemes of social reform that may be enacted during the present Session if time, which is one thing, and opportunity, which is so often another thing, should permit. In terms less general, though perhaps not less satisfying, the House is invited to expect a Housing Bill, which may prove also to be Temperance legislation of an admirable kind; an Education Bill that shall be in a true sense national, like the needs which it has to meet; and a measure to improve the administration of justice with special reference to the class of young offenders. In the same connection may be mentioned a measure which is to give effect to some, at least, of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the law's delay. There may be observed, Sir, and observed with awe, in this House so many eminent Members of a noble and contentious profession, that upon this matter it seems prudent to refrain from words even of good omen. I venture only to express with suitable diffidence the hope that no inconsiderate hands may be laid upon the circuit system, and especially upon that Northern circuit to which hon. Members in all parts of the House are bound by the ties of filial duty and affection. Reference is also made in the Gracious Speech to proposals—a tentative word—for the reconstitution of the Second Chamber. Upon that question opinions 58 undoubtedly differ, and differ profoundly, both as to the method to be adopted, and perhaps as to the end to be attained.
Hon. Members in all parts of the House may probably agree as to the intrinsic importance and interest of a scheme which we on these Benches, at any rate, hope and expect will not supplant, but will usefully supplement, the provisions of the Parliament Act. Finally, I come to the manifestly weighty, significant, and conspicuous passage in the Gracious Speech referring to those great measures upon which there were last Session differences between the two Houses. For my own part, I am exceedingly glad to approach this matter in a wholly non-controversial spirit, and I fervently hope that in a non-controversial spirit the most vital part of it may even yet be adjusted. Here, also, a wise diplomacy may do its beneficent work. The Gracious Speech contains the express and authoritative declaration that efforts to arrive at a solution by agreement have, so far, not succeeded. "So far." They are blessed words, and they are no doubt most deliberately employed. May we not, without distinction of party, hope and strive that even at this eleventh hour those efforts may be successfully renewed, and that in no temper of contest or of victory, but in a serene and unselfish mood of reconciliation and peace, this secular strife may at length, in the interests of the-United Kingdom, the British Empire, and the civilised world be brought to a worthy and a stable conclusion? I thank the House sincerely for the indulgence which it has kindly extended to me.
§ Mr. WALTER LONG
I rise for the purpose of moving the following Amendment to the Address which has just been moved: To add thereto the words,
"But humbly represents that it would be disastrous to proceed further with the Government of Ireland Bill until it has been submitted to the judgment of the people."
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the right hon. Gentleman and of the House if I raise a point of Order at this stage. It has been the practice of the House for at least thirty years to have a general Debate-on the Address before any Amendment is moved. There are various subjects dealt with, and some not dealt with. There are 59 some which, like the South African question, we can raise by Amendment, while there are others which we cannot. As I understand, the right hon. Gentleman has risen to move an Amendment. I am perfectly willing to admit the special circumstances of the day, but I should like to get a ruling first of all that, if we desire at a later stage of this Debate to raise general questions, we should be in order, and, further, that it is not the intention of the House to depart from the precedent of the last thirty years.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
After the right hon. Gentleman has moved his Amendment, and the Debate thereon has concluded, it will be open to the House to take up the general discussion if it thinks fit. There is nothing in the Amendment which is now proposed which would preclude a discussion later on the Gracious Speech. Whether that will take place or not I cannot say, because that must depend very much upon the wishes of the House at the time that the Amendment is concluded, but there is nothing in the rules which would prevent a general discussion. That answers the first point raised by the hon. Member. With regard to the second point, I think it would be undesirable to alter the old practice—though I remember myself an exception to it—which was that for one day, or may be even more, the discussion upon the Address should be general, and I understand that it is not intended that the course followed upon this occasion should be generally followed, but that this is of an exceptional nature, and that in future years we shall revert to the ordinary practice.
§ Mr. LONG
I am indebted to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in intimating to me that it was his intention to raise the point of Order, and I may say that I and those whom I represent entirely share the view which he has expressed in regard to the general practice. And, indeed, it is because we recognise that for this occasion there is no precedent that we are taking the line which we are adopting today. I hope that the two hon. Gentlemen, the Mover and Seconder of the Address to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, will not think that I am guilty of any want of courtesy to them, and still less I hope will they think that I am not fully appreciative of the difficulties of the situation, or that I do not share very fully the 60 admiration which I am assured is felt in all quarters of the House at the way in which they have acquitted themselves of their delicate task, if I do not refer to their speeches in more than these one or two sentences. I feel that, as they both have indicated, this has been for them a most difficult occasion, and I venture to say, that well indeed have they discharged the task which was more difficult, probably, than has fallen to any of their predecessors in. those responsible and difficult positions as Mover and Seconder of the Address.
We regard this as an extraordinary occasion, as one for which there is no precedent, in all or indeed in most of its conditions, to be found in the history of our Parliament and His Majesty's Opposition, and we thought it our duty, not a very pleasant or light duty, for us to seize the very first moment left to us to put before this House and the country our view as to the position in which this House and this country stand at the present moment, a position extraordinary, and exceptional and without precedent. I do not doubt—indeed we know from the terms of this speech which has just been read to us—that it is the Government's intention to deal in no limited degree with legislation for various purposes. We are asked by them to undertake the consideration of these questions, and we ask ourselves—and it is my duty to ask the House of Commons—how it is possible for us to accede to this request and proceed in the ordinary way, according to ordinary practices and customs of Parliament, with our business, when over everything, as was shown by the two speeches to which we have just listened, there is predominating and overwhelming all classes the knowledge that for the first time for centuries in the history in this country we are threatened with the worst form of internal disturbance, civil war within the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken expressed the hope that some other solution may be found, and that this terrible calamity may not overtake us. There is nobody in or out of this House who does not share that view. It is not according to our hopes, it cannot be according even to what we may think may possibly happen, but it is according to facts with which we are confronted that we are bound to ask the House of Commons to face the situation, and, if they adopt the Amendment which I have the honour to 61 move, put upon record their view that in these exceptional circumstances the action of the Government in asking us to proceed with legislation is impossible. What has led up to this condition of affairs? So far as the party which I have the honour to represent is concerned, our attitude to-day in regard to Home Rule is the same as it has ever been since Home Rule was first introduced. We hold it to be wrong, and not to be in the best interests of Ireland, and to be fatally injurious to this country. Therefore, it is sufficient for me to say that our opposition to it is as determined as it has ever been, and that the views that we always have held we hold to-day, unshaken and undisturbed. But there are two questions before the House and the country at this moment. There is the question of Home Rule, upon which we stand where we stood in 1886 and 1893. There is for the moment the graver question which follows in the special circumstances in which we now find ourselves in regard to this matter to which I have already referred, civil war.
Civil war we believe will be the result of your policy, if you persist in it, as you are now offering it to the House and to the country. Our attitude in regard to these two questions is a difficult one. We would gladly and thankfully, if we can consistently with our honour and with our duty to our fellow citizens in other parts of the United Kingdom, join in the avoidance of civil war. But when we are told, as we sometimes have been, that while doing our best as citizens to avoid this awful calamity, we are at the same time to accept Home Rule, then I say that in no circumstances that I can conceive would the party to which I have the honour to belong stultify itself, go back on all it has said and declared, and abandon all its dearest principles by accepting a measure to which it is root and branch resolutely opposed. The Bill to which my Amendment specially refers we believe is the worst form of Home Rule which this House has ever been asked to consider. We believe that the Bill is full of blunders, that it is in itself an entirely bad Bill, and therefore our opposition to the principle of Home Rule is doubled and intensified by the fact that the form which Home Rule takes to-day is one which we believe to be thoroughly bad, and the worst that has ever been put forward in the history, of this question. The circum stances being as I have tried to describe we have to ask whether it is possible to come to this 62 House and ask the country to accept such a Bill.
It is not our fault that the situation in which we now find ourselves has arisen. We have repeatedly warned His Majesty's Government what would happen. Speaking from this side of the House, many of my right hon. and hon. Friends declared during the debates of last year and 1912 that your Bill would never succeed, that you would never be able to carry it into effect in the sister island, that you would be faced with an opposition so determined and so fierce that it would thwart you, however strenuous your efforts would be What became of our prophecy? You chose deliberately to turn blind eyes to the facts and to tarn deaf ears to the arguments. What has been the result? Is that opposition as real to-day as we warned you it would be What form, as the result of all this, has that opposition taken? In Ulster every man knows to-day that there is a force training, arming, equipping and preparing itself for action, numbering something like one hundred thousand men and they are determined if necessary at the cost of their lives to resist this Bill. And what of the other three provinces? There, it is true, that the Unionists and Royalists are scattered far and wide. In some cases they are even isolated. None the less their opposition is as determined and as real as that which is felt in any other part of the country. They may not be able, owing to their circum stances, to offer the same opposition as is offered by Ulster. None the less, they are as determined to-day, as they have ever been, that Home Rule means disaster, and, if they can prevent it, they will have none of it. What does this mean? It means that one-quarter, or, more likely, one-third, of the population of Ireland are opposed to your proposals in the Bill, are resolutely opposed to them, and, owing largely to the way in which this policy has been pursued, to the form which your policy has taken, that opposition finds to-day in one part of Ireland that great armed force in existence to which I have already referred. It follows from that, if what I am saying is true, that you will have, and indeed you are beginning to realise it yourselves, to meet force by force. There you have the first fruits of your Parliament Act, which was to do so much for the liberty and privileges of the people. You are going to carry your first great measure in Ireland by using British 63 bayonets and British bullets. I will say something about that in a moment. I say it is absolutely wrong. And why is it that this force has so resulted1? It is because the people of Ulster hold that under the Union they have greatly prospered. Villages have grown into cities, industries are thriving, the people are prosperous and contented. They hold—and surely they ought to be the best judges of their own position—that those good things have come to them as the direct result of their legislative union with Great Britain.
They declare that they will never submit themselves to a Parliament in Dublin. They say they will never submit to a change which you are trying to force upon them, which they believe will risk for themselves, and those who come after them, all that they hold most dear. The Government and their supporters have told these people in Ireland that their fears are unreasonable; that there is no foundation for them. They have told them that as a minority they must bow to the majority. They have threatened them, they have ridiculed them. Some of their more peace-loving supporters have told them that devolution is necessary because of the block of business in this House, and others, the most credulous of all, have told them that this policy is necessary in order that a federal system may be established. A federal system! I wonder what student of the constitution of our great oversea Dominions could possibly find in this scheme that which in any way resembles federalism. All your arguments, all that you have said, have fallen upon deaf ears. The people to whom I refer are to-day as they were—their determination is unshaken, and is it to be wondered at? Apart from those who take their stand on ridicule, to which I have referred, can any man on that side of the House contend that there has been a real effort to understand the difficulties of these people, to appreciate their position, to conciliate them, and make them friends with those who are anxious to pass this Bill. It is true that at the last moment, within the last few hours, as it were, of this controversy, here and there a stray word has been said, but, in the first place, the phrases have been scanty and far between, and, in the second place, they have come very late in the day. We, who have been all through these Debates know what was the tone of Gentlemen opposite two years ago. We remember what that 64 tone was on the platforms of this country. We know that it was not until they were once more confronted with the impossibility of their own position that they thought it worth while to try and conciliate those whose opposition was so great.
In addition to all this, there are some still found to declare that the movement in Ulster is bluff. I honestly confess that I cannot understand how any honest and truthful man who knows the facts of the case as they now exist in Ulster dare to tell his fellow countrymen that there is any bluff connected with the movement of the Ulster people. If there is any bluff at all it is on the part of those who, blind to these facts, refusing to realise what is going on, still contend that this Bill can be passed, if not without difficulty, at least without bloodshed and serious trouble in a great part of Ireland. If any man who knows the facts tells his countrymen to-day that these men do not mean business, that they are not in earnest, that they do not mean what they say, that is bluff; but to accuse the Ulster people of being now guilty of bluff is to make a monstrous charge which no man who knows the facts ought to venture to make. To what sort of people is it that you apply these statements? Who are, what are, the men and women of Ulster? They are a strong, sturdy, rugged, God-fearing race, the very flower of our land and of our people, who-have served their country in every field, and are ready to serve it again if duty calls. My right hon. Friend the senior Member for the City (Mr. Balfour), in one of his great speeches on this question, described them in a sentence:—You are dealing with human beings with a history behind them, and an ideal before them.What is that history? It is indissolubly bound up with the history of the British Empire, which they have done so much to create and maintain. What is their ideal? It is that they may remain within the British Empire an integral part of the United Kingdom, that they continue to-enjoy those privileges of free and just government which they have hitherto enjoyed under the Union and under this Parliament, which they claim that they have the right to continue to enjoy and to hand on to their children. It is in support of that claim that we are here to-day to advocate their cause, and to do our best to put their case before this House and the country. I have said this of the people of Ulster. May not the same also 65 be said with equal truth of the Loyalists and other Unionists in the other three provinces of Ireland? Scattered they may be, isolated many of them are, but this makes their sturdy independence and their unbroken loyalty, if possible, even more creditable to them. In circumstances of the greatest difficulty they have never faltered in their allegiance to our Sovereign and to our Flag. These are the people with whom your are dealing, and you tell them that you will use force of arms in order to compel them to accept a measure which they detest. Already you have driven by your policy, by your action, by your words, many of these people almost to desperation. I wonder whether anybody opposite read the letter which appeared the other day from a lady who signed her name and gave her address! She said:—On the passing of the Second Reading of the Bill I met a working woman in the street and she asked me, 'How long are we to keep quiet; how long are we to wait? They spent the night on my doorstep singing, "A Nation once again," and they burnt the Union Jack before our very eyes. How long?'It is possible that some people may think it a matter of little importance that the Union Jack—our glorious national emblem—should be burnt by people in the streets of their city, but this, I venture to say, that the great mass of our fellow countrymen, wherever they may be found in all parts of the British Empire, will look on that act as a detestable one, and they will say that the people who refuse to accept this Bill are justified so long as they only have your promises on the one hand, and these actual deeds on the other. I say that you have driven these people almost to desperation. Many years ago, during the Crimean War, the late Mr. Bright, one of our greatest orators, made a wonderful speech in this House, and he used a phrase which will ever live:The Angel of Death has been abroad in the land, and you can almost hear the beating of his wings.The Angel of Death has, thank God, not been yet abroad in this dear land of ours. But, if that is so, to whom and to what is this great fact due? It is not due to His Majesty's Government or their policy; it is not due to their supporters; it is not due to the Nationalist Members from Ireland. That this is so is due to the calm, strong, fearless action, to the resolute, brave leadership and continual self-sacrifice of my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Carson). Yes, Sir, and it is due to the wonderful confidence which he has inspired among his people, and it will be to his 66 everlasting credit that in a situation of great difficulty and grave peril he has succeeded in retaining the confidence of these people, in keeping them under control, with the result that so far bloodshed and death have been avoided. And it is due to his lieutenants who have worked under him, to the people, that great industrial people, of Ulster, who have followed him so faithfully, who have trusted him so completely, and whose self-control and discipline must be the marvel of every thoughtful person who has watched what is going on. It is to him, and to those who have worked with him and those who have followed him, that our release from a great tragedy up to the present is due, and I venture to implore this House not to drive these people to strike a blow in their own self-defence, a blow which, once struck, cannot be taken back, and which will mean the commencement, probably, of the most terrible incident and time in the whole history of our country. The Government tell us that they must face this situation. They ask, "What is the use of your demand, what good is it if we grant your demand that there should be an election." They say. "Ulster is determined to resist, whatever happens, and, therefore, why consult the people." Is that an answer to the demand? Is it to be said that there is not all the difference in the world between trouble of the kind to which I have referred confined to one part of the Kingdom, left with one small part of the Kingdom to carry on, unaided, and a trouble carried ion by a resolute people in that small part of the United Kingdom, but backed with all the force and energy of the whole Unionist party throughout the country.
Surely, if this trouble you must have, it is your bounden duty at once to take every step to limit the area and to lessen the number of people who will be affected. It is not for me to talk of the responsibility of His Majesty's Government, but I should have thought that before they took a step, fraught with such terrible consequences as this must be, they would have desired to have behind them the expressed opinion of the people authorising them to do that for which we believe they will one day be most bitterly condemned. You propose to use the forces of the Crown, if necessary, to put down the resistance to Home Rule, and for what? For a Bill which I have already described as wholly unsatisfactory, a Bill which has been condemned in many 67 quarters, a Bill the finance of which is hopelessly unsound, and in support of which you have never been able to produce the authority of any representative body of opinion in Ireland—a Bill the Land Clauses of which are going to throw the last and most hopeful reform in Ireland into hopeless confusion, a Bill the safeguards of which have been described even by friends of the measure as worthless, a Bill which contains, as we are told by the Prime Minister, the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament, and by which the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament is maintained. It has been suggested in some quarters—I do not know whether it finds favour with the Government—that that supremacy should be strengthened by giving a veto to Ulster and an appeal to this House.
What is the use of an appeal of this kind and what would be the effect on this House if we were asked, with forty-two Irish Members sitting here, to reverse a decision of the Irish Parliament? In my belief in nine cases out of ten the answer would be in the negative. The appeal would fall on deaf ears. But suppose, on the other have, it was accepted by this House, what would be the result? The result would be the resignation of your Irish Government, and what would be the effect of that in Ireland? We all know the moment that the cry went out in Ireland that the Irish Parliament and Government were up against the English Parliament and Government you would have a union of all the Irish forces at once determined that Ireland should prevail. I wonder that this Government, with their own experience, are so ready to talk about the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. Remember the first case that occurred in their time of office in 1906, when they sought to establish the supremacy of this Parliament in Natal, with what consequence—that they had to bow to the storm and withdraw the entire suggestion. They have another instance now, and you will probably hear something of it in the course of our Debate. I do not know, and I do not pretend to say, what may be the view of His Majesty's Government and hon. Gentlemen opposite in regard to the recent instance in South Africa but I would venture to say this of your boasted and vaunted supremacy, that you will not dare to take action here which will bring you into conflict with the Government of South Africa, or with any 68 other Government. If I wanted authority for that I would find it in your own newspapers, which have been indicating lately how idle a remedy this veto is. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer that, yet they are the same men who are asking Ireland to accept this Home Rule measure, and everlastingly tell us that there is supremacy of the Imperial Parliaments. Surely it is not to be wondered at that the Irish Unionists, who know these facts for themselves, and who are relying upon their own experiences, and not upon you or your allies' promises, that they find in these safeguards and in this supremacy no security whatever!
The Bill is bad, as we believe unworkable. Civil war, we believe, if you go on, is imminent. What must be the inevitable effect of this policy if you pursue it? Are you quite certain that this terrible trouble will be confined to Ireland I What do you think will be the result even if you succeed beyond your expectation, and are able to put down this rising with comparative ease? What do you think will be the effect in the days that will follow? What do you think will be the aftermath of your policy in Ireland? You will have done all this of your own motion without the authority of the people of this country behind you, and will not the people of Ireland, whom you will have overcome, if you do overcome them, will they not hold that they have not been conquered in fair fight by a stronger nation, but that they have been bullied and coerced by the Government without the will of the people as their authority. And this you are doing in the name of peace and good government in Ireland. Are you quite sure that this trouble will be confined to Ireland itself? Are you quite sure it will not extend to the United Kingdom, and even beyond the confines of the United Kingdom to distant parts of the Empire—are you quite sure of this? The Prime Minister and others cheered that remark with the obvious object of indicating that because we hold these views we are therefore responsible for this future possibility. You might as well say that a doctor who diagnoses a disease and advocates a particular remedy is responsible for the disease itself. But supposing that we are wrong and you are right, suppose this policy is inevitable, suppose that it will not have these bad results and these evil consequences, what will the people of this country or of Ireland think of you who will have enforced it? What will the people of this country think who 69 have to bear the cost in blood and money of the policy which you are pursuing?
Our request, our demand is that you consult the people of this country. You believe that you have a majority, we believe that we have a majority, but of this I am as certain as I can be of anything, that an enormous majority in these islands at the present moment are resolutely opposed to your enforcing your policy by arms, by compulsion, upon the people of Ireland. There are, no doubt, many who desire to see the Irish question settled by some form of Home Rule. Many would be glad to see it done if it could be done without bloodshed and suffering but I believe the moment the people of this country realise that if you go on with your policy as it is, that that result is impossible and that you will be brought face to face with this more terrible calamity, the majority against your policy and against your method of enforcing it will be absolutely overwhelming. It was suggested just now that we, by our acts and words, are giving authority to a policy which may be dangerously followed in the future. We are prepared to take the full responsibility for what we say and do in that respect. We are not afraid of your threats. There is no one on this side of the House or in our party in the country who does not detest civil war or war of any kind as much as anybody opposite. It is not because we view that with equanimity, it is not because it does not fill our hearts with sadness we are here to-day opposing you, but because we are prepared to face the facts, and because we realise what we believe to be inevitable, and because we say that your policy, pursued as it is by your methods, is one which has driven the people of Ireland into the position which they occupy to-day.
You have not been content to limit your attack upon us to our advocacy of civil war, you have not thought it beneath your dignity to charge us with going about trying to sow disloyalty and dissension in the Navy and Army. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is easy to cheer but impossible to justify. I can speak from my own experience, not a small one in this respect, and I believe it has been the same as that of other people, and I doubt whether there is any difference amongst men in whatever quarter of the House they may sit. It is perfectly true, it is inevitable, that in the defensive forces of this country there has been, and there is now, 70 grave anxiety at the prospect before them. It is inevitable that these men should talk of these coming difficulties, but I believe the same advice has been given whenever it has been asked by every member of my party, and that is to tell those men that they must do that which is consistent with their duty. What course they will take it is not for me to say, but a great soldier who knew the British Army well, one of the greatest soldiers we ever had, was not afraid or ashamed in 1893 to speak what he thought the British soldier would do. He then said that many a, soldier would send in his commission rather than fight against the people of Ulster. He went further, and in a letter to the Duke of Cambridge, used words which are as true to-day as when they were written:—If ever our troops are brought into collision with the loyalists of Ulster and blood is shed it will shake the whole foundations upon which our Army rests to such an extent that I fear our Army will never be the same again.Is our Army, are our defensive forces so strong or in so wholly a satisfactory condition that you are prepared to run this great risk? I would only say that, in my humble opinion, it will be a crime of the first magnitude to use the forces of the Crown to shoot down the people of Ulster, who will be fighting in defence of the same flag and of their own religion. You have said also that we Unionists are not sincere in our views or in the line which we are advocating. You have dared to say that we have taken up this question and are now making use of it as a mere party question, because it will help us in our party warfare. A fouler calumny was never uttered. I should have thought that the ordinary intelligence of men would have told them differently. We have fought this question for thirty years. Our views are to-day what they have been. We have resisted this Home Rule by all the means in our power. Now you accuse us of re-sorting to improper methods; you say that we are not sincere, and that we are taking the matter up as a party question. I believe that it will help us as a party; I believe that the policy of the Government will bring not only their party to ruin, but irretrievable disaster upon the country. For that I believe they will have to pay, and we shall no doubt derive advantage. But I am certain that I speak for every Member of my party, in this House or out of it, when I say that we would rather remain in Opposition for the rest of our lives than obtain political power and place at so terrible a cost to 71 our country. I believe that the case of those whom for the moment I represent is an overwhelmingly just and righteous one. I have tried to the best of my ability to put their case plainly and straightforwardly. I do not believe that I have been guilty of exaggeration. I do not believe that one fact that I have quoted, or one allegation that I have made, can be denied.
I understand that the Prime Minister is going to take part in this Debate. If that be so, I hope with all my heart, if he believes that he has proposals which he can make for the solution of this terrible problem, that he will make them without delay, and in clear and definite terms. What reason is there for delay? What justification is there for prolonging still further the terrible agony among the people of Ireland? Brave and resolute they are, but their sufferings are acute; and I say that in common sympathy for the women, apart from the men, it is just that, if there is a solution, it should be produced, and produced in the light of day before this House and the country. There is, in my humble judgment, no more justification for secrecy than there is for delay. The responsibility of the Prime Minister and his Government is immense. What course they will take, whether they will listen to our petitions, our arguments, or our prayers, I know not. For my part, I can only say that I pray with all my heart that wisdom and statesmanship may guide their policy; I pray that they may abandon a policy which I believe to be fraught with the gravest disaster to this country and Empire; and I pray that even at the eleventh hour they may adopt counsels which are more likely to lead us in the paths of peace and prosperity than are those for which they are responsible, and for which, if they adhere to them, they and the country which they represent will one day have to pay the heaviest price that any country has ever been called upon to pay.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
I am very glad, and more than glad, to associate myself with the well-deserved compliment which the right hon. Gentleman paid to my two hon. Friends behind me, who, in circumstances of exceptional difficulty, have discharged with the utmost felicity and success what is always an onerous and a responsible task. I can only say that I have heard many such speeches 72 in the course of a somewhat extended Parliamentary life, but I have never witnessed that duty discharged more becomingly, or with better auspices for a Parliamentary future, than it has been by my two hon. Friends. The right hon. Gentleman has taken, as he himself acknowledges, a very unusual course in practically depriving the House of the opportunity which the Debate upon the Address affords for a general review of the political situation—practically, I say, though formally not—and of remitting us from the beginning of this annual Debate to the circumscribed limits of a comparatively narrow Amendment. It is quite true that by far the greater part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech had no relevance whatsoever to the Amendment which he has moved. It was a speech which might appropriately have been delivered in Opposition two years ago to the Second Heading of the Irish Government Bill.
I am restrained by the terms of the Amendment, and I think properly restrained, to considering the specific issue which the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of his colleague and himself has submitted to the House, namely—and this is the point he has raised by his Amendment—that we ought not to proceed further with this matter until we have referred it to the judgment of the electors of the country. I shall, therefore, say little or nothing—[OPPOSITION laughter]—if hon. Gentlemen wish me to do so, I am quite ready—but I was going to say that I shall say little or nothing upon some of the topics enlarged upon by the right hon. Gentleman, which appeared to me to have no relevancy whatever to his own Amendment. I will give an illustration. He said that it was only at the eleventh hour that those of us who sit on this side of the House had shown anything in the nature of sympathy or desire for accommodation with the repugnance of the Protestants of Ulster to the establishment of Home Rule. That is not the case. I will refer to a speech which I made myself as far back as the 11th of June, 1912, on the first day when the Bill was in Committee. I said then:—We are as anxious as anybody can be to secure in this Bill the most adequate and complete safeguards possible against religious or any other persecution. Any practical suggestion proceeding from the Members from Ulster, or from any other quarter of the House, which will supplement or render more effective the safeguards that we believe we have adequately provided, will be received by us with the utmost sympathy and 73 consideration. There is no step in that direction that we are not perfectly ready to take."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th June, 1912, col. 787, Vol. XXXIX.]Of course, you may say, if you like, that I was speaking insincerely and dishonestly; but it is not fair to say, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that it was not until the eleventh hour that we had shown any indication of a desire to meet, and to meet fully and sympathetically, any representations that were made to us on behalf of Ulster.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Am I expected to answer that question? I will tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman. There was an Amendment for the exclusion of Ulster. The right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Sir E. Carson), whose authority in this matter will not be questioned —
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said, in the Debate on the 13th June, referring to the Chief Secretary:—I think he did say that without Ulster Home Rule would be incomplete and ineffective.My right hon. Friend said "Truncated." The right hon. and learned Gentleman continued:—I agree with him. I believe it would be almost impossible, for many reasons, if you have to go into finance and other matters; but the right hon. Gentleman draws the conclusion that therefore you mast force Home Rule upon Ulster. I draw the conclusion, therefore, that you ought not to have Home Rule at all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th June, 1912, col. 1074, Vol. XXXIX.]Speaking the very next day, at a great demonstration held in London, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was perfectly consistent. He said:—The Government say that if Ulster were left out Home Rule would be impossible. I agree. Therefore I will vote for leaving it out.That is my answer to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Now I come to what is really germane in the matter, namely, the Amendment with which the right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech, but to which so small a part of his remarks was directed. The Amendment is that before we proceed further in this matter we should consult the people—which, translated into common English, means that we should have a Dissolution and a General Election. [HON. MEMBERS: "Or a Referendum."] That is agreed. [HON. MEMBERS: 74 "No."] This is a Bill in regard to which I it is suggested that it is our duty to make an appeal to the country. This is a Bill which has been in two successive Sessions before the House of Commons, which has been passed in both those Sessions by majorities substantially undiminished, and which, under the Parliament Act, if passed again in the third Session, will become automatically the law of the land. Is it suggested that that is making an unfair use of the Parliament Act? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, certainly."] It is! Well, I am glad to know what the point is. Let me refer—because hon. Gentlemen's memories are rather short—to 1910. I suppose the year 1910 counts almost as ancient history. Let me refer to what took place in this House before the Parliament Bill was introduced, when I was moving the Resolutions upon which that Bill was ultimately founded, and of which it is the statutory expression. One of the Members for Ulster—I think Belfast—moved an Amendment to my Resolution to exclude from the scope of it, and therefore to exclude the Bill which was going to be founded upon it, all Bills for the delegation of administrative or legislative powers to subordinate Parliaments in the United Kingdom—in other words, it was sought to prevent the operation of the Parliament Act to this very class of Bill, that is, the Irish Government Bill which is now under consideration. There was considerable discussion upon that Amendment. My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, who was then Home Secretary, said expressly—in April, 1910–long before the General Election of 1910:—We consider if the Home Rule Bill passes through the House of Commons in three successive sessions, and over a period of two years—if all this process has been carried out—ample safeguards will have existed for the measure which finally receives the assent of the Crown embodying the settled will and convictions of the majority of the people of the United Kingdom.[HON. MEMBEBS: "No."] It does not matter whether you agree with me or not; that is not the point. That is the issue which was raised here in the House. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin University used these most remarkable words:—In my opinion this question which we are now discussing"—That is to say, whether the Home Rule Bill should be brought within the ambit of the Parliament Act—This question which we are now discussing, and the resistance to this Amendment, is really the origin, if you come to investigate it, of the whole of these resolutions.75 That shows that in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman we actually brought in the Resolution upon which the Parliament Act was subsequently founded with the ulterior intention of passing the Home Rule Bill. The House of Commons by a majority of 351 to 245 rejected the Amendment. So that it is perfectly plain that long before the General Election of December, 1910, in the earlier stages of the Parliament Bill, it was contemplated that if that Bill became law it would certainly be applied to the Home Rule Bill for Ireland. I pass on. I am not going—it is a tale which has been so often told—into the history of the election of 1910. There is a story which is current in circles to which hon. Gentlemen opposite belong, that we in the course of that election indulged in a gigantic system of mystification. I do not think that in all the annals of anthropology there has ever been a case in which a myth has so quickly crystallised into a creed. I am perfectly content myself, so far as that election is concerned, to go to the local classicus the speech of Lord Lansdowne. [HON. MEMBEBS: "Quote Birrell."] Allow me, I am not citing one of my colleagues; I am citing one of your leaders.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is inconvenient to be reminded of these things. I myself made it perfectly clear that the first use of the Parliament Act would be to carry the Home Rule Bill. That really is the history of the election. I have asked, and asked, in vain, for someone to produce a British elector who voted, whether it be for Liberal or Labour candidates—they were both Home Rule candidates—who voted in the Election of 1910, and now alleges that he has been deluded. Is there any evidence? [AN HON. MEMBER: "Reading."] Is there any evidence in what has since taken place, particularly in what has taken place since the House rose last August, to show that the country has really changed its mind?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
He meant two. There have been seven by-elections since the House rose, and in five of those there were three-cornered contests. In all those three-cornered contests, when the Liberal candidate was opposed by a Labour candidate, the Labour candidate was at least as strong a supporter of Home Rule as the Liberal candidate. [HON. MEMBEBS: "Oh!"] I quite agree that for many purposes the Labour candidate may subtract votes from the Tory as well as from the Radical party. But it is perfectly incredible, and indeed inconceivable to me, that an elector who regarded Home Rule as the dominating question, and the treatment of Ulster as overshadowing everything else, when there was only one Unionist candidate before the constituency, should have given his vote—whether it be to the Liberal or Labour candidate does not matter—to the man, at any rate, who was in favour of Home Rule!
If the total votes polled at these elections are added up, and compared with the General Election of 1910, the Home Rule vote is increased from 42,000 to nearly 47,000–46,890–whereas the Unionist vote is increased from 27,700 to 30,500. Whilst Home Rule was the issue—I am far from saying that it was a dominating issue at all these elections—candidates honestly tried to make it so, but could not do so—in so far as those elections were governed by Home Rule at all they showed not a decreased but an increased approval. Let me give a little experience of my own which, at any rate, has the merit of being very fresh. As lately as last Saturday I was driving in the country. I passed through a constituency, a market constituency, in which a by-election is now in course of progress. I had just been reading in the "Times" newspaper that the Liberal candidate, with much temerity and want of perspective, was unfolding and advocating the whole Liberal programme, whilst the Unionist candidate was concentrating attention upon the Irish crisis. I looked up and found I was passing the committee rooms of this Unionist candidate in that agricultural town. What did I see upon the wall?—"Home Rule means Separation." I have seen that in many towns before. That inspiring if somewhat out-worn war cry was flanked and outflanked by other messages. "We must have command of the sea." "British work for British hands." "Under the Radical Government your food has cost 77 you more." All those old hares with which we are so familiar. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are all true."] Very likely. Perhaps they are! But is that what you call concentrating attention upon the Irish question? The electors of this country, the average elector, I mean—I am not speaking of the strong partisan—is not seriously excited. You may think he ought to be, but he is not. Let me ask—and I want to ask it in all seriousness—what would a Dissolution such as is demanded by the right hon. Gentleman really mean? In the first place, it would be an admission on the part of this House, as far as Home Rule is concerned, that the Parliament Act was an absolute nullity. That stands to demonstration. Quite apart from that—I do not want to labour it—consider what the possible results might be. There are only three conceivable results that you might have and what I see some of our prophets and instructors in the Press think probable, and even desirable—
You may have a condition of what is called stale-mate, that is to say, an even division of parties. I do not think anybody will say that if that were the result of a General Election, the possibilities of a settlement would be better or more favourable than now. I think not, and for this reason I think you would then be met with all the hot blood of a fierce contest still fresh and still effervescent. Take the other two possibilities. Supposing the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite acquired a majority. You have not got to the end of the Irish difficulty. You would find yourself face to face with the problem of governing three-fourths, it may be four-fifths, of Ireland, a people bitterly disappointed, because on the eve of fruition their long cherished hopes were disappointed; you would find a problem of governing three-fourths or four-fifths of Ireland against their will, and in spite of the resentment of the vast majority of the inhabitants.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes, not with very good results You would find at least as serious and at least as intractable a problem as recalcitrant North-East Ulster. Suppose the other contingency, which is possible—suppose that we obtained the majority. What is going to be the situation then? Is Ulster going to lay down 78 her arms and acquiesce? I would be very much surprised to hear an affirmative answer from those who represent her.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
And I will say this: in logic, why should they? For once, I think they would be logical, because, of course, they would say, believing as they say they do—and I am quite prepared to credit them for being perfectly sincere—that the grant of Home Rule to Ireland means oppression, the sacrifice of religious and political freedom to them. Why should they abandon that belief because a certain number of British electors, imperfectly informed and interested in a number of subjects like the Insurance Act, the Land Problem, and Tariff Reform, resolved to put a Liberal Government into power? Therefore you do not get that. And then, what about the British Unionists? The right hon. Gentleman opposite has just spoken for them. What would be their attitude if this prayer for a Dissolution were granted, and we came back again? Would they acquiesce in the passing of the Government of Ireland Bill?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
As I have pointed out, the difference in our two positions is this: You have got control at the other end of this corridor of another Chamber. We have not. Therefore, I am perfectly entitled to put this question to them, which I do put: Supposing a Dissolution were to result in a majority for the present Government and its policy, have we any guarantee—can you give us any guarantee—that the measure approved by the electors would pass into law? Observe that when I say "pass into law" I mean pass into law not so disfigured and mutilated and emasculated that it was a totally different thing from that which the electors approved. I do not believe any such guarantee can be given. I should be the last person to blame right hon. Gentlemen who sit upon the Bench opposite if they refused to give it.
I have discussed exhaustively the possible results of a General Election, and I have discussed them for the purpose of reaching this conclusion, to which I invite the assent of the House—and if I may say 79 so, even of hon. Gentlemen opposite—that if this matter is to be settled—and nobody is more desirous that I am that it should be settled by something in the nature of a general agreement—it would be much better settled here and now than by a Dissolution. Allusions are made in the Gracious Speech from the Throne to conversations which have taken place during the autumn and winter between political leaders. These conversations were, and must remain, -in the strictest sense, under the seal of confidence, because except under such a seal, conversations of that kind are obviously impossible; and in anything I say now, or hereafter, as to the settlement of this matter, I must not be taken, as referring, and I shall not refer in any way to what may or may not have passed between myself and the right hon. Gentleman. There is one satisfactory feature—I am not sure that the leader of the Opposition will not agree with me—there was one satisfactory feature, at any rate, of these conversations, and it was this that the Press of the country was, without a single exception, absolutely and entirely at sea from beginning to end as to what was or was not going on. The right hon. Gentleman will agree with me in saying that it is something, even if there were no other results, in these days when one cannot write a letter to one's wife without the most sinister construction being put upon it, that we should have been able, as we were for a number of weeks, and even months, to carry on in complete privacy under the argus eyes of the whole Press of Great Britain these confidential communications. But I regret to say, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman shares my regret—because he and the right hon. Gentleman who sits beside him were, I am certain, as sincerely anxious, as I was, that we might obtain some definite results—that these conversations did not result in any definite agreement.
What I wish to say now to the House is this: While I deeply regret that an agreement was not obtained, I do not despair—I never have despaired—I do not despair at this moment of the possibilities of agreement. I think that the language used in the Speech from the Throne is, if I may say so with respect, language that ought to find an echo in every quarter of this House, and as far as I am concerned—speaking for myself and my colleagues, and I believe for my Friends behind me, 80 but certainly speaking for myself and my colleagues—I will use no last word in regard to this matter of settlement. Schemes and suggestions of settlement are in the air. The exclusion of Ulster is often referred to; the exclusion of Ulster, meaning, of course, for this purpose—it can have no other meaning—the inclusion of the rest of Ireland in a system of self-government. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the attitude of his party is the same as it has been for the last thirty years. I quite agree, and I am not holding that anybody who proposes the exclusion of Ulster is departing in any way from what in the bottom of his mind he believes to be his sincere conviction that Home Rule is not a good thing for Ireland, or for any part of it. The exclusion of Ulster is put forward, as I understand, by those who are prepared to support it, not because they think it a desirable thing in itself, but because in a choice of what they regard as evils, for the purpose of obtaining something like peace, they are prepared to concede what otherwise they would not concede. I do not regard that as any abandonment in any extent, or to any degree, of the root principle that they are opposed to Home Rule. Well, now, I am not going—it would be very wrong if I did—at this moment to pronounce, or attempt to pronounce, any final judgment upon this, or upon any other suggested solution, but I will point out this—and here I am sure I shall carry with me the opinion of the vast majority of Members in every quarter of the House—that the exclusion of Ulster, by whomsoever it is advocated, is regarded by those who advocate it, as a pis aller, that is to say, not as a thing desirable in itself, but only, as they would say, as a means of escape from more serious and more formidable evils. Lord Lansdowne has pointed out in weighty language the objections to it.
In a remarkable letter, which deserves a good deal of study, and which appears in the "Times" to-day, from Sir Horace Plunkett—whose authority in these matters we all of us, on both sides of the House, ought to recognise and respect—has pointed out in what seems to me not only picturesque, but very cogent language, the difficulty which any plan for the exclusion of Ulster would bring in its train with regard to any permanent settlement in Ireland. And without enlarging—because I do not want to deal with the matter in a controversial spirit at this moment— 81 without enlarging upon these very obvious considerations, I confess that what weighs very much with me in this matter is a fear that under any of the possible suggested schemes for the exclusion of Ulster, Ulster might be made in the years which lie immediately before us, or perhaps would inevitably become the cockpit of contending factions. The right hon. Gentleman opposite does not think so.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I quite understand that that may be an objection to inclusion—I am pointing out that exclusion which, of course, always involves the possibility of future inclusion would make Ulster a battleground for contending factions, to the distraction of the community and the diversion of their interests from matters of common concern. I point out those considerations to the House as coldly and as impartially as I can, as I think they ought to weigh with us all in considering a way of escape from these difficulties. We have another plan put forward to-day by Sir Horace Plunkett himself—a plan which if it could be accepted, I say without a moment's hesitation as far as its first and principal item, I should be perfectly prepared to welcome it—I mean the inclusion of Ulster with the option of its exclusion after a time. I do not say, and I was far from suggesting, that it was a plan that was likely to find favour with those who represent the Protestant majority in certain Ulster counties, but still, there it is. It is a plan which is put forward on high authority, and I am certain it deserves to be respectfully entertained.
There are many other plans. The point I have been leading up to, and with which I will deal, is, that I want to say on behalf of the Government that we recognise to the full as the situation has developed that we cannot divest ourselves of responsibility in this matter, and by responsibility I mean the responsibility of initiative in the way of suggestion. But I must make it perfectly clear that, in the first place, whatever steps we take in the way of suggestion must not be construed, and cannot fairly be construed—there is not a man on this Bench who would not repudiate that construction—as an admission on our part that the Bill which has twice received the assent of this House is a defective Bill: that it is not 82 what we believe it to be—capable of improvement, no doubt, like all works of human hands—but a Bill which is a sound, statesmanlike and workable measure, and which provides, and was honestly intended to provide, and as we believe has adequately provided against the dangers either of religious or political oppression. I repudiate in advance in most emphatic and explicit terms the construction which might, if it were not repudiated, be put upon our action when we come to make such suggestions as I have referred to, that we are admitting that there is anything unjust or unstatesmanlike in the plan which this House has accepted.
The other observation I have to make is equally relevant and perhaps even more important. It is this: This applies, as I admitted most frankly a few moments ago, to suggestions made from the other side, such as the exclusion ol Ulster itself. All suggestions of that kind are, made for the sake of peace, whether they proceed from that side or this side, and it is for the sake of attaining peace, and as the price of peace, that any suggestion we make will be put forward. What, Sir, do I mean by peace in this connection? I do not mean merely—important as that is—the avoidance of civil strife, but I mean if it be possible that the new system of Irish Government, whatever it is; which is set up, shall start under conditions, or under such conditions and in such an atmosphere as will give it from the first a fair chance of working successfully. Every one of us must desire to avoid civil war and bloodshed, and there is nothing we will not do, consistently with the maintenance of our fundamental principles in regard to the solution of this question, to avoid that terrible calamity. But I read the term peace and the expression "pacific settlement" in a larger and wider sense, and I cannot but think that it must be within the resources of British statesmanship which has already solved so many problems as intractable and as formidable in dimensions as this is in all parts of the world, and under the most diverse conditions, I cannot believe that we are reduced to such an insolvency of statesmanship that we cannot with an honest mind and with good will, and with a determination to avoid, if it be possible, the evils and dangers which lie before us, solve this problem; and I cannot believe that this problem also will not yield to the same treatment.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I will only add what I acknowledged a few moments ago, that I thought the responsibility, and it is a serious responsibility, of initiative lay in this matter upon the shoulders of the Government. I acknowledge it to the full, and I think it is a responsibility which is shared, not perhaps in the same degree or to the same extent, by the men of all parties in all quarters of the House. I agree with one thing the right hon. Gentleman said towards the close of his speech. He said this is a matter upon which there ought not to be undue delay. Any impression that either we or anybody else is trifling with this matter or seeking to gain time, or seeking to put off to some more convenient season, in reliance on the chapter of accidents, a duty which lies upon us now—any impression of that kind, if it were justified, would be most discreditable to the Government and to all concerned. We are not doing it. On the contrary, we believe it to be our duty, and it is a duty which we shall endeavour to perform, to submit to the House without any avoidable delay—[An HON. MEMBER: "When?"]—there are certain financial exigencies which we are obliged to dispose of in order to keep within the law before we can make any real progress. We believe this to be our duty, and I tell the House on the part of the Government and in their name that we intend to discharge it without any avoidable delay, and to submit to them in that spirit and with the two reservations I have made, suggestions which will certainly be honestly put forward, and which we believe will be regarded by all fair-minded men as, at any rate, an attempt, and a serious attempt, to arrive at an agreement in this matter, which will consult, not only the interests, but the susceptibilities of all concerned. I have seldom said anything with more sincere conviction in this House when I say, that so far as I and my colleagues are concerned we will not close an avenue, however unpromising for the moment entrance upon it may appear to close it, which directly or indirectly holds out the hope of leading to concord and to settlement.
§ Mr. SALTER
I do not know what effect has been produced in this House by the speech of the Prime Minister to which we have just listened, but one thing I am certain of, and it is that it will be re- 84 ceived in the country with the profoundest surprise. The first part of the Prime Minister's speech—if I may be permitted to use such an expression in regard to a man in his position—was characterised by a levity which, in the circumstances, was appalling. As to the latter part of his speech, what better opportunity could the right hon. Gentleman have had, if he has any proposal to put forward, than the great opportunity which occurred a moment ago, not to hint at this or that, but to place before the House and the country something definite. The right hon. Gentleman does nothing of the kind. He simply does what he has done from the beginning in regard to this unhappy business—that is, he drifts on and presses for time. I have derived only small satisfaction in listening to that unhappy speech. I think I detected in the whole speech of the Prime Minister a deep uneasiness and apprehension of the position in which he is placed. Since nothing definite has been proposed to the House, we have nothing to discuss in the way of suggestion or proposal, and, we are left with the Amendment which my right hon. Friend so admirably moved, and we are left to press our Amendment upon the House, asking that the people shall be consulted in the light of the facts as they are known to us all.
I should like to make this point very clear. It may be clear to the House, but at any rate it is not clear to the country, that what we are asking for in this Amendment is not any judgment of the people against Home Rule; what we are asking for is not a verdict—we are simply asking for a trial, so that the people shall have an opportunity of pronouncing some judgment one way or the other. I will not waste time upon the matter, which occupied so large a part of the powerful speech of my right hon. Friend as to the present position in Ulster. When I heard my right hon. Friend suggest that the possibility included not merely bloodshed and misery in Ireland, but the extension of those conditions outside Ireland, and when I find that suggestion eagerly endorsed, by the Prime Minister himself and his colleagues on the Front Opposition Bench, why, Sir, we need not take up any further time in dwelling any longer upon the stern realities of the position which we have to face. Let us take the matter as it stands. I invite the House of Commons to say, if this Amendment of ours to consult the people now is to be regarded in 85 this House with an open mind and by argument, that there is no answer forthcoming, and there will be in this Debate no reasoned answer forthcoming to the demand which my right hon. Friend has put forward. I take the words of the Prime Minister, and I hold him to those words:—There is nothing which we will not do"—I take it, of course, that he excepts from that anything dishonourable, degrading, or inconsistent with the Constitution—to avoid the appalling possibility which confronts usI will suggest to the Prime Minister, and I will demonstrate to him what there is that he can do, honourable, constitutional, and immediate, which will remove from him and his colleagues and from his party and the country the guilt and danger which overhang them at the present time. The matter which we are immediately discussing is one in which almost the whole responsibility must fall upon the Government, for they alone have access to the constitutional machinery by which the verdict of the people can be taken. They have declined to take it, and on them, and on them alone, the responsibility rests. The fundamental danger of the present position is that we are fighting in the dark. You say, "Home Rule is good." We say, "Home Rule is bad." We say, "The people are with us," and you say the people are with you. We do not know that the people are with us, and you do not know that the people are with you. There is sufficient equality to enable partisans on both sides to claim with a show of confidence that the people are with them, but the great body of electors are always inscrutable, and at this moment you are going forth to these appalling possibilities without any real reason to know whether the great body of electors are behind you or not. I am not talking of the thunders of the platform or of the Press; I am speaking of constitutional evidence, and no honest man can say at this moment that there is any constitutional evidence, that there is any majority among the electors of this country either in support of the principle of Irish Home Rule, or in support of the terms of the Home Rule Bill—a very different thing—or in support of the policy of the coercion of Ulster—a very different thing again. There is no constitutional evidence, nothing but wild claims on the one side and on the other.
The Prime Minister has trotted out once more, as I have often heard him trot out 86 before, the Election of 1910. He went further to-day, and gave us little snippets of quotations from eminent persons in this House, and he set one against the other as lawyers do with their pleadings, and he made his issue, and he made his point, as if the mass of the electors of this country ever cared twopence about half a sentence from some great man in a debate. That is not the way to face a great question of this kind, and the Prime Minister need not have troubled to have read to us that quotation from Lord Lansdowne. He was perfectly right when he said that every single Member on the Front Opposition Bench did his utmost in 1910 to make Home Rule an issue. They did, and so we all did—small fry, in our way, did. I complain not that that observation of the Prime Minister is not true, but it is not the whole truth. He should have said "You tried to make Home Rule an issue, and you failed. You failed immediately; you failed palpably; you failed utterly. The effort fell dead when it was made." Why did we fail? For two obvious reasons. The elector of this country considers present issues. He considers what he calls the issues about which the people are fighting, before him., and when we went to the people of this country and said, "If you are not careful you will have Home Rule in three years," why, to the average elector, who is hard put to it to look forward three weeks in his daily struggle for existence, it was just about the same as if we told him of a danger 300 years hence. The other reason was there was no answering voice when we said, "You will have Home Rule." There was nobody on the other side who took up our challenge, and the elector, finding us, an empty voice, threatening him with a far distant danger, and hearing nothing on Radical platforms of any possibility of Home Rule, dismissed the whole thing from his mind as not practicable. The Prime Minister, when he told us half of what happened, should have told us the whole.
Nor is there any constitutional evidence of any support of Home Rule in anything which has taken place since 1910. We have nothing in this country to guide us but the by-elections. I would be the last to attach too great importance to them. When we have official Liberals going to-a by-election and telling the electors that the Liberal candidate will pull the strings more powerfully to get public money for local needs, none of us will attach too great importance to the results of particular elections as indications of Imperial 87 feeling. I think I am approximately right in saying, that since Home Rule was introduced in this country we have had thirty by-elections, and seats which in 1910 were held, twenty by Liberals and ten by Conservatives, are now held—sixteen by Liberals and fourteen by Conservatives. The change is from two to one or something approximating to quality. What does the Prime Minister say upon that? Where is his constitutional evidence of popular support since that time? The Prime Minister points triumphantly to the fact that in this House the same set of men are of the same mind for the whole period of two Sessions. That is his proof of popular support! I claim to have established that there is no constitutional evidence that the people are behind the Prime Minister. Next I submit that a General Election would be decisive. We have heard once more to-day the wild plea that you might have an indecisive result. What astonishing pleas we hear in the mouths of Liberals when it comes to appealing to the electors!
There are three possible results, a clear majority for the Government, a clear majority for the Opposition, and an equal balance of electors, and a Liberal stands up and says, because one of those three results would be indecisive and less satisfactory than the other two, that is his plea as a Liberal for not seeking the judgment of the people at all. Even that, for present purposes, is a fallacious plea. If we were to go before the people now a result clearly in favour of the Government would put an end to all difficulty; a result in favour of the Opposition would put an end to all difficulty, and a result showing an equal balance of electors, though inconclusive for other purposes, would be absolutely conclusive as regards any coercion of Ulster, for you could not put down a province by bloodshed with half the people of this country recording their detestation at the polls of taking that course. Therefore, I urge this upon the House of Commons. You have conceived that bloodshed lies before us; I have shown you that it is preventable. It is preventable only by the Government, and preventable by the Government only by the method which we are trying to indicate. If you ascertain the wishes of the electors all possibility of the necessity of coercion in Ulster has gone. Either you win without coercion or you fail without coercion. Once you ascertain the desire 88 of the electors, the possibility of any need of coercion in Ulster has passed away.
There is one point on which I would ask leave to say a few words, because it is a matter very poignant to me personally. The Army is an essential factor in this matter. It is quite certain that if this matter goes on and no way of escape is found, the Army must play a prominent part. I have the honour to represent in this House a much larger number of His Majesty's regular soldiers than any other Member, and I feel; personally, very deeply about this matter and about the prospect which confronts the soldiers. Although he does not talk about it to civilians, it deeply exercises his mind. I am speaking of men of all ranks in the Army. Liberalism and Nationalism between them have found a job at last for the British soldier to do. They have found suitable work for him at last. Liberalism has found a job for him, that Liberalism which taunted him when he was in South Africa with barbarism, and which refused him supplies, has found a job for him at last. He is to be used to put Ulster down and keep Ulster down at the instigation of Nationalism, which for thirty or forty years has pursued the King's soldier with every insult and calumny. They have called him a hired assassin and a hired murderer; they have called him a bully and a coward; they have called him mercenary and diseased; they have never ceased to insult and abuse him. Now they want his services. In what position do they place the soldier of any rank? They give him three alternatives. They say: "You may resign and wreck your career, you young, keen, active man, may resign and ruin your life; or you may mutiny by refusing lawful orders; or you may commit what millions will think is murder. Self-ruin, mutiny, murder! We, Liberalism and Nationalism, give you those three alternatives. I would not say one word if it were not preventable—the soldier lives to do unpleasant things—but it is preventable. Go to the people and get their verdict, and whether that verdict is for you or for us you will never have to call upon the soldier for this job.
What is going to be the end of this? There used to be an optimism on the other side which said that Ulster would never resist. That has disappeared. The optimism has been shifted back a bit, and it is said that Ulster, when thoroughly coerced, will rapidly become peaceful and 89 happy. I do not think this result of Liberalism will have quite that history. Let us suppose that you have gone full steam ahead. Let us suppose there has been no appeal to the people. Let us suppose that Ulster has risen and been put down. Let us suppose the union of hearts consummated by Liberalism and Nationalism amid the tears of the widow and fatherless, and the new Parliament, happily established, propped up with the bayonets of murderers. Let us suppose this new era well started. We ought not to forget there must, in any event, be a General Election next year. What is going to happen then? Either there will be a verdict for you or there will be a verdict for us. What will be your position—what will be the position of Liberals in either event? Suppose there is a verdict for the Liberal party. I do not think it likely, but if there were it would amount to this: The people would say, "We were with you all along. You have been right to coerce Ulster, and we now indemnify you; but what a pity it is you did not consult us sooner, for then no coercion of Ulster would have been necessary." In that event blood guiltiness will rest on the Government for the unnecessary coercion of Ulster. But if the result of any election, which must take place next year, is a verdict on the part of the people against the Government, what then will be their position? The people will not have been behind them, and they will have shot down and killed people who, it will then be shown, have been in the right all through, and who will have been carrying out, and not resisting, the desires of the people of this country. They will have been fighting against tyranny, usurpation, and the unconstitutional exercise of power, and the Government will then stand as usurpers and tricksters—bloodstained tricksters, with innocent blood upon their hands, as people who have made homes desolute, and have made children fatherless, not to enforce the law, for the law could have been enforced by constitutional means without that, but that will have done it merely to avoid any chance of a bare contingency that an appeal to the people might result in some small curtailment of their long period of office.
§ Mr. HUDSON
The important part of the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman is to be found in the plea that we shall again resort to a General Election, and the hon. and learned Member, 90 who has just sat down, has pleaded with the Government to accede to that request in order to avoid bloodshed in Ulster. Does the hon. and learned Member speak for himself only, or does he speak for his party when he says, "If you take a General Election and the result is against us, there will be no bloodshed in Ireland"? If that is the ease, why should there be any bloodshed in Ireland at any time? So far as a General Election settling this matter is concerned, I think even the most rabid opponent of the Government of Ireland Bill must admit that, during the two General Elections which occurred in 1910, this matter was fully before the constituencies. It certainly was so far as the Labour party is concerned, as in every case their election addresses dealt with the subject. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the by-elections?"] Yes, even at the by-elections which have taken place since December, 1910, including the recent one in North-West Durham. I was deeply interested in the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment. I know he was connected with the Administration of Ireland at the Chief Secretary's Office some years ago, and I know that he has also been in touch, as representative of South Dublin, with a number of Irish people; he therefore has had an opportunity of knowing something of Irish administration. On that account it appeared to me somewhat amazing that he should have delivered the speech he has done to-day. If we are to consider Ireland and the government of her domestic affairs, we ought at least to consider the claims of the industrial parties, as well as those of the rich and those on the business side. I remember that during the Debates upon the Government of Ireland Bill, an Amendment was moved to leave the question of industrial administration out of the Bill altogether. I am sure no one who has been at the Irish Office will say for a single moment that the industrial side of the administration in Ireland has been at all satisfactory.
When the right hon. Gentleman was Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, he received many deputations from the organised workers of Ireland who represented to him, through the Irish Trades Union Congress, various matters, and I never knew him express satisfaction in those days with the method of administration. It fell to my lot on many occasions to attend with these deputations at Dublin 91 Castle and present resolutions on important industrial matters formulated at the Trade Union Congress, matters affecting, not only Dublin, but Derry, Sligo, Cork, Athlone, and other industrial centres in Ireland. By whom were these resolutions formulated? Not by one section of the population, not by men coming from one province only in Ireland. Indeed, no men took a more active part in the formulation and passing of these resolutions than the men of Ulster, and no men are more desirous of a better system of government, than the existing one through Dublin Castle, than are the men of Ulster. The most surprising thing is that we should be told that these men are going to lay down their lives if need be when they are offered a better method of government than now exists! It amuses me when I hear people talk about the "insurrection" that is going to take place in Ulster, after my experience of about nine years in that country, during which period I have mixed with the industrial workers, taking part with them in Trades Union Congresses, and dealing with matters which have had to filter through Dublin Castle before reaching Government Departments in this country. The right hon. Gentleman, in moving the Amendment, said they were determined, even at the cost of their lives, to oppose this Bill that will give them local self-government in their own domestic affairs. But I want to say there is a growing feeling in Ireland on the part of many Protestants in favour of Home Rule for that country—a growing feeling on the part even of people who do not claim to be Nationalists in a political sense, but who are Protestants, who had a business experience in Ireland, and who are convinced that there is no other solution for the present difficulty than the setting up of a Parliament in Ireland to deal with the domestic affairs of that country.
Since the putting forward of Lord Dunraven's scheme, some even of the largest landowners in Ireland have expressed themselves strongly in favour of a system of devolution which would give them the right to deal with their own affairs. And that feeling is not confined to the landowning class. There is Mr. Robert Gibson, of Limerick, a great authority in connection with creameries and the manufacture of butter. He is looked up to by the farming class and by business people as well, and he, too, is convinced that 92 for the difficulties now affecting Ireland, Home Rule is the one and only solution that can meet the requirements of the people. What we on these benches require is this, that in any Home Rule measure for Ireland, the working classes of Ireland shall have a fitting representation. Whatever may be the bargain come to, we have no objection to it, provided it gives an equality of opportunity to our own fellow-subjects and our own class of industrial workers in that country to be represented, so far as they desire to be, in that House when it is set up. That is one necessary solution of the difficulties of Ireland, and one that requires careful attention. If they have an opportunity of representation in the Parliament which is to be set up in Dublin, a very great deal of satisfaction will accrue even to the men of Ulster who belong to the industrial workers. We do not think that they will take up arms to fight against a measure of this character. Even if this Amendment were carried, and no further progress is made with the Bill, but there was a dissolution of Parliament, and the Opposition were returned to power, what progress would be made towards a solution of the difficulty? Two years of Parliamentary time would have been wasted. The party coming into power would be faced with the difficulty. How are they going to deal with it? They cannot shelve it; they must face the matter. Their own chief spokesmen have said so again and again. They know very well that a General Election would merely put off the question to a future time. I am empowered to say, on behalf of the party who sit with me, that we shall not support the Amendment, but shall support the Bill, as we have done during the last two Sessions.
§ Mr. CASSEL
The hon. Member who last addressed the House attached great importance to the fact that in the General Elections of 1910 the Labour party had mentioned Home Rule in their election addresses. I understood him to put that forward as a ground for saying that this question had been brought to the attention of the electors. Assuming that were so, and that he regards that as an important fact, does he regard it as unimportant that the Prime Minister left it out of his election address, and does he regard it as unimportant that the Chief Secretary left it out of his address? I know that the Labour party is a party of influence and importance, but I cannot imagine that the 93 people of this country, when the Liberal Government is in office, are apt to take what the measures of the Government are going to be from the statements of the Labour party, rather than from the statements of the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Whether this matter was before the electors in 1910 goes to the whole root of the question. We say that a grave constitutional change of this character ought not to be carried into law unless it has been expressly submitted to the electors. Our case is that it has not. The Prime Minister, in his speech, said that in the whole history of anthropology no myth had ever grown into a creed so rapidly as the one that they did not satisfactorily put forward Home Rule at the election of 1910. In the history of anthropology the Prime Minister will find that this myth has grown into a creed, not only among those who sit on this side of the House, but among his own followers and supporters, and even among his own strongest advocates. Let me refer only to one consistent Liberal supporter, Mr. Massingham, of the "Daily News." What did he say about this myth which has grown into a creed? He said:I think we all feel there is one weak point in our armoury—that is to say, the insufficient examination of Home Rule at the last electionI give that as one instance only. I could find many, some even among hon. Members who sit opposite. I want to impress upon the House that the whole root of this matter is whether this question was put to the country at the last General Election. It is a grave constitutional change. I have a very high authority, an authority which the Prime Minister himself will not question, for saying that no constitutional change ought to be carried into law unless it has been fairly submitted to the country. Here is what the high authority said:—But that does not preclude me or anybody from asking the House, if it is to preserve its authority and is to retain the confidence of the country, to think twice, to think thrice, before it takes a step, unprecedented in its extent, without a full and assured conviction that it has behind it, in taking that step, the deliberate and considered sanction of the community. These are general considerations which are applicable, in a greater or less degree, to any constitutional change.I am glad to see the Prime Minister has come back, as I was quoting an authority which he will not dispute, because the authority I was quoting was himself. The words were used on the occasion when he was speaking with regard to Women Suffrage, and when he was arguing that no constitutional change should be made until it was ascertained that the people 94 had been fairly informed as to what was to be done. This is a constitutional change—a change not only in the law, but in the method and machinery by which laws are to be made. If ever there was a country on which such a change ought to be fairly submitted to the people, it is this one, because here constitutional changes are made by the same method as any other changes. The same machinery may be employed to abolish the House of Lords and House of Commons as would be employed to increase the powers of a parish council, and the same machinery as would be necessary to pass any Private Bill. Therefore, in this country, above all others, it is vital, before a constitutional change is carried out, that it should be fairly submitted to the people.
What the Liberals did with regard to Home Rule at the last election was what a great many people do when issuing the prospectus of a company who wish not to give the public warning of certain facts, but who, at the same time, want to be in the position, if afterwards they are challenged, of being able to say that they have not concealed them. People in that position construct ambiguous sentences which may have any or every meaning, according to the person who reads them and places an interpretation upon them. In the election addresses, so far as there was any mention of Home Rule at all, there were some marvels of ingenuity in using language not to impart but to conceal the meaning. Among other devices of those who issue such prospectuses is that of saying that you may ascertain the facts if you go to the solicitor's office and inspect the contract, well knowing that not one person in a million will do so. In the same way the right hon. Gentleman himself, in the speech upon which he relies as the speech in which he informed the country upon the matter, referred to another speech of his own, well knowing that not one person in a million would refer to it. The vital point is whether fair notice was given to the people of this country. We feel that we have been tricked in this matter. We feel that by omitting all reference to this measure in their election addresses, or by only referring to it in concealed and intentionally mystifying language, the people of this country did not know, whatever warnings they received from our side—from our side we tried to warn them—that the result of the 95 General Election would be that a measure of this kind would be forced upon the country. Upon that main point I take my stand that we are entitled to claim an election.
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that if an election took place other issues would be brought forward. I have no doubt they would be. There would be the question of the Welsh Church, and the question of insurance, and I have no doubt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take very good care to try and prevent anyone giving his vote on the question of Home Rule. I have no doubt he would go from one end of the country to the other with his travelling pantomime and all his properties in connection with it, to which we are becoming so used—the wicked duke and the voracious pheasant—followed by the great transformation scene in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would appear, and by one wave of his magician's wand dispel the awful evils of poverty. No doubt those matters would be brought up, but we have a right to demand that those responsible for constitutional policies should fairly put them to the electors. I will ask the right hon. Gentleman this question—I say this is the criterion—would it be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to keep Home Rule out of his election address at the next election? If an election were to take place now, would it be possible for the Chief Secretary to keep Home Rule out of his election address, or would it be possible for the Chief Secretary, if a deputation again approached him, to say that Home Rule was one of those matters which could not be smuggled through the House of Commons? Would it be possible for any Members, when asked if it was intended to use force to coerce Ulster, to give evasive and shifty answers. That is a fair test.
If an election were to take place now, those who are responsible for the policy could not fail in clear and unmistakable terms to tell the people what their policy was. I say, and I believe any fair-minded man on the other side will agree with me, that it was not done at the last General Election. The right hon. Gentleman has said that a General Election can make no difference, and that if the Unionist party were returned it would make no difference, but surely it would prove that the people of this country did not want this Bill. If the people of this country do not 96 want this Bill, I say that with regard to the grave constitutional change which has never been fairly explained to them, they ought to have an opportunity of saying they do not want it. On the other hand, if the Government were returned to power, the right hon. Gentleman asks, "Will you agree not to oppose the Bill?" I think it is unfair to ask that from an Opposition, but it does not relieve the Government from fairly explaining their policy to the country or justify them in trying to carry through a policy which has never been fairly submitted. The Prime Minister made some reference to suggestions of settlement, but, he himself, through the Parliament Act, has placed the question of settlement in a position of great difficulty. The position under the Parliament Act is that you cannot alter the Bill by one comma or one iota without our consent. The only alternatives are a Dissolution or the Bill literatim and verbatim as it stands. He cannot alter it without our consent, and he cannot get our consent without our being asked to sacrifice our fundamental principles. That is the absolute deadlock which has arisen in consequence of the Parliament Act. So far as even the exclusion of Ulster is concerned, that would not get rid of my opposition to this Bill. I am opposed to it because I am a Unionist, because I believe the Union is the best method of governing the United Kingdom. I believe it is a more efficient method of government, a safer, a stronger, and a cheaper method of government, and that the maintenance of the Union to-day is as essential to the welfare of the United Kingdom as the formation of the Union was at the end of the eighteenth century.
Then the right hon. Gentleman places us in this position. He says if you want this Bill not to be forced through verbatim and literatim as it stands, you must sacrifice your principles, and I think the Leader of the Irish party says that is his price. How can we pay the price of sacrificing our fundamental principles? How can we sacrifice that upon which the Unionist party rests and depends—the very name by which the Unionist party is known? For those who still believe in the Union it is impossible to make that sacrifice. It is impossible to make the sacrifice, whether they are asked to make it by one side of the House or by both. Let me put this further point: Our case is that this has never been fairly put to the country. 97 If the country has a right to have a voice in it they have a right to have a voice in it whether one party wants to carry it or the other, and the force of the argument that an election is necessary would not be weakened even by the consent of both parties. I believe this is the result of the particular attempt to apply the Parliament Act to this measure. I do not think the failure to apply it in this particular case necessarily proves the whole failure of the Parliament Act. There may be machinery which in itself is good. I think the machinery of the Parliament Act is very bad, but the fact that it is inapplicable to a particular case does not of itself prove the badness of the machinery. But you ought not to apply the procedure of the Parliament Act to a constitutional change which has never been put to the country, and you are driven now to this position, that the only alternatives are the Bill as it stands or a General Election. I can see no third alternative—absolutely none—and in that deadlock which has arisen and with which we are confronted in the embroglio in which we are involved there is only one safe solution, and that is the reference back of our difficulties to those from whom this House itself derives such authority and power as it possesses—to the nation itself.
§ Mr. LEES SMITH
The hon. and learned Gentleman's speech narrowed itself down, as in fact all the speeches which have now been delivered from the Opposition Benches have been narrowed down, to one point. He regards it as a constitutional outrage to pass this Bill without another General Election. I, like most Members of the House, have been renewing my acquaintance with my Constituency, and I have come away with one very strong impression. I do not believe the view of hon. Members as to the necessity for a General Election is shared by the country at large. We had two General Elections in one year. People grew sick and tired of General Elections, and they will not now want another. When they returned us to power a second time in one year, those who supported us expected us to remain in office for the normal period. The argument to which all the Opposition speeches have now narrowed themselves, that when we were returned to power our supporters voted for us in the expectation that we should resign office in less than three years cannot be supported by any speech or by any sentence from any speech. It appears to me 98 to be absolutely contrary to the whole experience of every Liberal candidate. I have heard these demands for a General Election from the first week in which this new Parliament met. We are being told at this moment that we have no right without another election to pass the Home Rule Bill, but when the Welsh Church Bill was going through this House we were told that we had no right without another election to pass that Bill, and when the Parliament Bill was going through this House we were told we had no right to pass that, and indeed on that occasion hon. Members opposite organised, on the floor of this House, to support their view, a scene of unparalleled disorder
Their argument amounts to this—that we had two General Elections in one year, that we won both of them, and that neither of them would justify us in passing any of our legislation at all. Because the Government will not accept that extraordinary doctrine, the country is filled with threats of civil war. Never in any country has the justification for civil war been based upon so paltry an excuse. I believe the ordinary calm elector puts all these demands for a General Election at their true valuation. These demands for a General Election are a well-known Parliamentary debating point. They have been used for generations as one of the stock arguments by every Opposition, but I am bound to say that no Opposition has ever used them with so little justification as the present one. I do not believe that any Opposition has ever asked for three General Elections in four years, and I do not believe that any Opposition has asked for these elections in order to decide a question upon which everyone knows the election would not be fought. Hon. Members opposite seem to be confusing a Parliamentary debating point with a solemn justification for civil war. I can quite understand that a General Election may be very sincerely desired by hon. Gentlemen opposite. They appear to be getting into the greatest difficulties from which only a General Election will extricaté them. They are becoming more and more closely identified with civil war on behalf of a question which they might realise, as we realise, that the nation is daily growing more and more weary and indifferent. It seems to me that even an election in which the Government was victorious would leave the Opposition in a better situation than they are in at present. It would, at any rate, give them a 99 justification for withdrawing from connivance at armed rebellion.
I am glad to believe that very handsome and far-reaching proposal for conciliation will be made. [HON. MEMBERS: "When"?] At the time which was indicated by the Prime Minister in his speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "When was that?"] I understood as soon as the necessary financial business of the House has been transacted, and as soon as we shall have proper time to discuss the proposal. I expressed this hope during the last Session, but whenever any suggestion was made that there might be concession on this subject it was met by the Press and in this House by statements that supporters of the Government were becoming afraid of these threats of civil war. They were becoming afraid not because of their effects on Ireland, but because of their effects upon their fortunes in their constituencies. The Leader of the Opposition habitually spoke as if an armed rebellion in the four counties would lead to a great flame of indignation in their support throughout the nation. I believe the effect would be exactly the opposite. I can quite imagine the people of this country sympathising with armed rebellion about a question which touched their imagination, but I believe that armed rebellion about a subject of which they are really sick and tired will do nothing but arouse their irritation and disgust. We hear of a "Provisional Government." If a Provisional Government is formed in the four counties, it will find itself confronted by an enormous Nationalist minority at its very heart. The difficulties which that Nationalist minority would put face to face with the Provisional Government are far greater than any of those which the Provisional Government can present throughout. If there is a danger of citizens suffering from violence, experience has shown that it is not the Unionists but the Nationalist minority which is most in danger of brutal ill-treatment, and if there is a flame of indignation in this country, that flame will be aroused on behalf of those who are most likely to be the victims of wanton brutality, and not on behalf of those against whose oppression it might be necessary to protect them.
§ Mr. MOORE
I do not intend to follow the previous speaker into what he has said as to violence and dissolution and outrage, but I would say, "What a message of peace this Bill must be to Ireland if he 100 thinks it is going to culminate in that fashion." I wish to get closer to the matter at once. We have got to the stage at which both the Proposer and Seconder of the Address, in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and I must say also the Prime Minister and other Members on the benches opposite, tell us that we are on the verge of a national crisis and civil war. I am very glad of it, and that the subject is no longer treated as a jest and a by-word, and with laughter and scorn by hon. Members. It is also said that a General Election—in one aspect, at any rate—would stop that calamity. Then appeals are made to us by the Prime Minister to recognise his sincerity. He always pleads for his own sincerity. He asks us to treat the appeal he has made to us in the spirit in which he makes it, and then he refuses a General Election. We know what the English of the whole thing is. He refuses a General Election on the verge of a national calamity by his own admission, because he cannot get his Plural Voting Bill, which will gerrymander thirty seats for the party opposite next year. Everyone knows that is the fact. The Labour Members come to heel, and speak with a common voice. Everyone knows that we could have a General Election to-morrow if the party had the Plural Voting Bill in their pockets. It is the Plural Voting Bill, with the thirty seats, that is barring the way to the solving of the Irish crisis. Everyone knows that, and there is no repudiation of that by any hon. Member. I think Irish Unionists have some experience in this matter; we have had seven years' experience of the Chief Secretary, and if we are not to question any professions of sincerity coming from the benches opposite, they should let us see how far, from a hostile critic's point of view, we can treat the Minister's appeal as sincere.
I should not be surprised, in spite of the Prime Minister's appeal, that this was part of the Radical plan to gain time. In the first place, although we are face to face with a crisis, we are not to have the new suggestions until the financial business of the House has been disposed of. That will take to the end of this month and the whole of March. I understand that it will be consistent with the Prime Minister's undertaking if we are not to hear a word of the new suggestions until the first week in May. In the meantime, if my surmise is right, the Prime Minister has gained his point by carrying the period over a 101 dangerous time by making promises never meant to be carried out. I shall come to that in a moment. A question was put by one hon. Member opposite as to how far the people of Ulster would be bound by a General Election. I see our beloved Ulster leader (Sir E. Carson) has come in, and he will answer for the people of Ulster. I can give my personal opinion. Their faith in the justice and merits of their cause is so strong—the Prime Minister himself said their position is logical—that, although it may be double odds against them, it will not alter their action They are determined to fight for their rights when threatened, no matter what happens. But English and Scottish Unionists have a right to a voice in deciding this matter. England is still the predominant partner. It is rather amusing to see the position which is taken up now. It has dawned on the Government that they can never force this Bill upon loyal Ulster. It has dawned upon them that they cannot transfer the allegiance of a million people, man, woman, and child, by force. They might do it by consent, but, when driven by force, the Government and their supporters know that they cannot do it, especially at the heart of the United Kingdom.
Now, a General Election is perfectly possible; but the Prime Minister told us last year, only thirteen months ago, that the exclusion of Ulster was perfectly impossible. He said it could not be denned. He said it was impracticable to carry it out; but to-day the position is reversed. The Prime Minister gets up and tells the House that a General Election is impossible, but that the exclusion of Ulster is perfectly possible if only time is given until after the financial business is disposed of. Far be it for me to say, or in any way to imply, that it was now impossible, or that the impossible has become possible. Now the reason for the whole thing is this. The last two years in relation to this question have proved a boon to us. You have allowed the men of Ulster to organise and drill and arm themselves, and that has brought the Prime Minister to realise the actualities of the situation—that and nothing else. I doubt the Prime Minister's sincerity, and I doubt his sense of fairness and justice. We do not ask generosity in the treatment of Ulster Unionists. The appeal made by the Prime Minister is due to his desire to get out of the impasse which has been created. 102 It has been created by his own management on the one hand, and by the Ulster Volunteers on the other. I do not believe in the exclusion of Ulster as proposed by the Prime Minister; I believe that the men of Ulster are perfectly able to secure their own exclusion. I know they are determined to do it, and the Prime Minister knows that too. The Chief Secretary knows that, and he cannot deny it. He has known it for some time. At any rate, we do not want exclusion, but it is better for us to be excluded than to be for a moment, or for five minutes, under the tyrannous and incompetent domination of the majority you propose to set up to rule us. That is what our people feel. Therefore, as the Prime Minister said, it is a pis aller. After all, the exclusion of Ulster will not settle Ireland, but it will keep the Ulster Volunteers and the loyal population from being brought into collision with the King's troops. That is the only good it will do.
When the Prime Minister gets up and rolls as a sweet morsel under his tongue this suggestion as to the exclusion of Ulster, I would be very much more satisfied if I had heard a word on the subject from the Nationalist Benches, because we know perfectly well that on this matter, until the Ulster Volunteers came into being, the Prime Minister always took his directions from hon. Gentlemen there. They have professed again and again that they would agree to anything except something which will impair the integrity of Ireland. They have gone to America, and all over the world, and collected dollars on the cry, "Ireland a Nation." Well, you cannot have Ireland a nation if you pick several counties out of it. The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Devlin), head of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, addressed a meeting not long ago at which he used a quotation from the Hibernian's oath. He said, "Sooner than allow the smallest part of Ireland to be severed and taken out of the jurisdiction of Home Rule, I would take off my hand." I hope the hon. Member will not be amputated after the Prime Minister has taken, into favourable consideration the exclusion of Ulster. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. T. M. Healy) almost wept when addressing a public meeting. He said that the Irish Members were arranging for the sale of Ulster, part of the soil of the holy, and that Cardinal Logue would be a, stranger in his own land. Only the other day the 103 Nationalists at the National Liberal Club, when the Irish orders were issued by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) that the matter must be settled now, there was again a provision put in for the integrity of Ireland. When I find the dominant forces below the Gangway so bitterly opposed to the exclusion of Ulster, I begin to doubt the Prime Minister's sincerity when he says, "If you will wait until the financial business is over, we will bring in proposals which will not exclude exclusion."
If we are in the face of the tragedy which has been referred to, if proposals of this sort have to be brought forward, I say that in common fair play they cannot be settled on a few hours' notice. We have not a cast-iron majority behind us. These matters have to be considered, and considered now. There ought not to be an interval of two months' time. The Nationalist Members will have to be consulted too in the open, and they will have to consult their own constituents in the open. If the proposals come to be for the exclusion of Ulster, the Nationalists will have to call a convention even if the delegates are priests and cattle drivers. The proposals will have to be submitted to it. The sooner these proposals are before us the better if the Prime Minister is sincere. Speaking with deference in the presence of my leader (Sir E. Carson), and as an ordinary Ulster man, I say that there is no use in the Prime Minister thinking that he can gain a little more time by making immature or imperfect proposals. Later on we may hear hon. Members talking of a couple of counties or four counties of Ulster. When the Prime Minister says the exclusion of Ulster, if he is sincere in what he says, then I take it that he must mean the exclusion of the whole of Ulster. There was no limitation in what the Prime Minister said. That will be another test of his sincerity. In common fairness, if you deny us an appeal to the people, if you are going now to hold out this bait—for it seems to me to be nothing else—to us, just to clear the way while you carry on your other business, we must have a full, frank binding statement from the Prime Minister at the earliest possible moment, so that the people who are most affected will consider it. And let the Prime Minister not forget this, that the longer he leaves such a statement in arrears, the greater the danger to the public peace and to the welfare of the whole country that will be incurred.
§ Mr. PIRIE
I desire to say that I agree thoroughly with the last sentence, and only with the last sentence, of the speech of the hon. and learned Member. He has said that the longer time the Prime Minister allows to elapse before submitting his proposition to the consideration of the country the greater the danger; but I do not agree with the remainder of his speech, in which he seemed to cast doubts upon the sincerity of the Prime Minister. We have never experienced greater anxiety throughout the country than of late, but I feel certain that to-morrow morning there will be a great feeling of relief that the Prime Minister has dealt with this question in the way in which he has dealt with it, because it must be patent to anyone that the words which the Prime Minister used to-day are very different from those which he used two years ago, or even one year ago. To me the speech conveyed that the Government realise the gravity of the situation. I do not agree with the statement of one hon. Member that the country is indifferent to this question. I think that the country does realise the gravity of the situation with which we are face to face. That is why I believe it will welcome the view which the Government take on the matter. The Prime Minister welcomed the fact that during the last few days the papers have been more and more full of different suggested solutions of this question. One of those suggestions has been put forward by a man who is admired by all classes of political opinion in Ireland—Sir Horace Plunkett. We have also had the views, as to a peaceful solution, of an anonymous writer who is well known under the name of "Pacificus," and who has just published a very important pamphlet. I have not had a chance of reading it, but I have read a summarised review, and I gather that its main contention was that the present Bill was not really a federal measure, that a federal solution was the proper way out of the impasse in which the country finds itself, and that if there was a difficulty in applying the federal system to the whole United Kingdom, Ulster should be excluded either in toto, or that the four counties to which allusion has been made should be left out until the general federal system was introduced.
I have read most of the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Ulster Members, and I remember that one of his conditions as to a peaceful solution, a condition with which I can entirely sym- 105 pathise, was that there should be no different treatment meted out to the citizens of Ulster than to those of any other part of the United Kingdom. As a serious man desiring a settlement of this question, anxious for no party advantage, either on that side or on this, I have to tell the Chief Secretary for Ireland that there has been too much party advantage—certainly on this side, and perhaps on the other side too. I look at this question, I humbly hope, from the highest point of view. I do not look at it from the political or Imperial point of view, and still less from the party point of view. I look at it from the human point of view, and I say that if I were an Ulster man I should act in exactly the same way as the Ulster men are acting now. But that does not blind me to the fact that I think it is their duty now, after the speech of the Prime Minister, to try to fall in with the high ideal which he put before the House, to sink all party advantages on both sides, and to think merely, as was expressed in the conclusion of an article in the "Times" the day before yesterday, of the peace of Ireland. That is what we have been seeking after for the last thirty years. With this great prize so near, surely we are not going to allow the mean, insignificant, paltry idea of party to keep the country from getting it!
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has taken a somewhat detached view from his colleagues on these benches.
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH
He has told us several things which have often been contradicted by hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Back Benches behind him. One of these is that there is no interest taken by the electors of this country in this question of Home Rule. If the hon. Gentleman is right, a great and ever-increasing interest is taken by the electors in this question, and I am sure that a great many of those who have waited eagerly for the Prime Minister's utterance will be greatly disappointed when they read the papers to-morrow. I for one listened very attentively to his speech. I certainly thought from all we have heard that he had in his mind some suggestion to make which would perhaps alleviate the situation. But instead of that we have heard nothing whatsoever. All the light which might have been brought to bear on this question is to be put off for two months, and all 106 those who reside in Ulster at the present moment, and are living a life of strained anxiety, are to wait for another two months before there is to be any possible solution of this question. The moving of an Amendment to the Address at this early stage is certainly an unusual procedure; but I think that everyone will agree that we are living in unusual times, and that at this critical stage it is certainly a matter that should be pursued. We have this one question, which obviously dominates the political horizon. That is the great question now as to whether or not this country is to be forced into civil war. The Government obviously realises the importance of the situation, and I think that the difference in the tone of the Prime Minister's speech, as compared with the tone which he adopted when these Debates were first begun in the House, must have been very noticeable. It shows that the Government are fully alive to the situation, but as far as we can see at the present moment they have no solution to offer whatsoever.
With all deference to hon. Members who sit on the Back Benches opposite, I am perfectly convinced that they have never considered this Irish question in its proper aspect. They have looked upon it as a very tiresome question, which alienates some of their constituents from supporting some of those measures which they have at heart, and they have fallen in with these Home Rule Bills in the hope of sweeping it out of the way. One hon. Member, who sits on the Back Benches showed us clearly that he in no way appreciated the situation. I only wish that he and some of his colleagues would travel over to Belfast and would satisfy themselves as to the attitude of the people who reside in Belfast, and I am perfectly convinced that when they came back to this House they would not make such speeches as those which they have been making. The attitude of Ulster is not for me to define. We know it perfectly well. It is a very simple one. It is an unalterable determination to resist to the fullest extent the proposed subordination of Ulster to a Parliament in Dublin. That appears to me to be a simple issue. It is nothing new. There is nothing in the nature of bluff connected with that statement. It is not a conclusion to which the people of Ulster have come hastily. It is not a landlords' movement, as has been often suggested by hon. Members below the Gangway. It is the 107 sentiment of all classes of the community in Ulster. Moreover, it is not an isolated view. It is held not only by those who reside in Belfast and the counties adjoining Belfast, but I believe I am correct in saying that it is a view which at the present moment and for a great many years past has been held by more than half the population of this country.
The Prime Minister has made several speeches in the country, and those speeches have always been couched in conciliatory phraseology, but when it comes to saying something which will hold out some measure of hope to those who are acutely interested in this great question we see nothing of the kind. The hon. Member for Waterford and the hon. Member for West Belfast come forward also with magnanimous suggestions of conciliation, but there is nothing else behind them, and all those conciliatory phrases must be meaningless, and cannot carry any comfort to those who sit on our side of the House, for the simple reason chat it is the principle of the Home Rule Bill to which we are and must be unalterably opposed. To my mind there can be no compromise on the principle of the Bill. You are giving nothing whatsoever. The Prime Minister says "we are anxious to approach this in a conciliatory spirit." The hon. Member for Waterford says that he is prepared to make any concession so long as there is conceded from this side of the House the principle that there shall be a Parliament set up in Dublin with an Executive responsible to it. I naturally only speak for myself, but I know that the view I hold is that of a great many people in this country. I am an Ulster man, and I am naturally and traditionally an adherent of the Union. I go further than that. It is from conviction, it is from a study of the history of the question, that I am perfectly convinced that the Union between England and Ireland is the one policy which is likely to benefit Ireland, and likely also to benefit this country and the Empire. If only we consider the history of the last century, there is every possible sign to prove that the policy of the Union has not been a failure. You are asking us to take this leap in the dark, and to adopt a policy to which every historical analogy is opposed. You are also asking us to hand over to individuals, who have never been forward in showing lovalty to the Crown 108 and to the Empire, the government of Ireland, and the wide population residing in the North of Ireland, who have always been conspicuous for their loyalty to this country, to the Crown, and to the Empire. I believe, perhaps, there might be grounds on which a compromise could be effected.
In other countries where we have seen Constitutions established, very different methods were employed by those who were responsible for fashioning those Constitutions. It has never been looked upon as a party question. It has been looked upon as a matter in which men produced the different ideals belonging to the different parties, and all joined together and came to some definite conclusion. You have tried a totally different method. You are endeavouring to force upon us a purely party measure, and you have not endeavoured to find out what is the solution of this great question. The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Mayo, has spoken strong words against the Castle system. I entirely agree with him. The first thing I should most certainly do with respect to the Government of Ireland would be to remove what is merely an anachronism. The Lord Lieutenant and the Castle system are an emblem of separation which was inaugurated in the days when Ireland was separated by this country by a far greater distance than it is now, owing to the ready methods of transit under which we live at the present moment. I have always looked upon the Lord Lieutenant and the Castle system as an anachronism; but the Government, when they suggest that we should come forward and accept their conciliatory attitude, are giving nothing to us. For their nebulous concessions they are asking us to accept a scheme to which we are bitterly opposed, and they are asking us to cease hostility to a policy which we are convinced is detrimental, not only to this country, but also to this Empire.
I might say also that you are asking us to join with you in paying your debts to the Nationalist party. If you trace the history of this Home Rule Bill, you find that nothing was heard of it from 1906 to 1910, and the only inference which we must draw is that you did not embark on a Home Rule scheme to establish a separate Parliament with an Executive in Ireland, because you were not then dependent on the Irish vote. But ever since 1910 your attitude has been entirely changed. You are dependent on the Irish vote, and so your convictions on the Home Rule ques- 109 tion have been altered from what they were in 1910. If we cease our hostility to the Home Rule Bill and to the Nationalist party, you are asking us, I think, to join you in satisfying the aspirations of the hon. Member for Waterford, and the hon. Member for North Belfast. For myself, I have never believed that there is this great power which is claimed of public opinion behind them in Ireland; but, in carrying out this measure, they are anxious to satisfy their own petty ambitions and to succeed where others have tried and failed. After all, why is it that you are endeavouring to alter the Constitution of this country? Is it not advisable that we should be absolutely certain that you are carrying out the wishes of the people, and that you have the people of this country behind you. You cannot make certain that you know whether there is more than half of the population of this country who support you in passing the Home Rule Bill. Ireland is prosperous, contented, and peaceful at the present moment. There is no scheme that you can devise that will make her more prosperous or contented than she is at the present moment. So I repeat the question, why cannot you delay this scheme of Home Rule until you have been able to ascertain clearly what the feeling of the people of this country really is?
The Prime Minister told us that a General Election would on all grounds be very unsatisfactory. It might result, he told us, in a condition of stale mate; or, on the other hand, it might result in returning the party on this side to power. To those two conditions he was distinctly adverse; and he further said that if the result of an election was the return of his own party to power, it would leave things exactly as they are now, and therefore there was no need of a General Election. These seem to me to be very flimsy reasons against ascertaining what the feeling of the people of the country is on the question of the Home Rule Bill. The merits and demerits of that measure have been so often discussed in this House lately that. I should hesitate to say anything about them beyond this: At the present moment in Ireland it elicits no enthusiasm whatever. There is no cry in Ireland for granting Home Rule. The reason of it is plain. All through the last century we considered the speeches and the attitude taken up by all those who supported Home Rule. Home Rule was the panacea which was to remove all those difficulties with 110 which Ireland was oppressed at different times during the last century.
One by one we have seen all those difficulties swept away. We have seen the land question settled in a mariner which has satisfied the inhabitants of all parts of Ireland. Home Rule now stands before the people of Ireland shorn of all those material advantages which it was asserted it would undoubtedly produce. Now all that the Nationalists can say for Home Rule is that it will give expression to nationality in Ireland, and that it will relieve the congestion of business in the House of Commons. I do not admit that those two reasons are adequate for changing the whole Constitution of the country as it has existed for the last-hundred years. I ask the Government is it statesmanlike, is it wise, to endeavour to satisfy the Nationalist party who are in this House at the risk of civil war, and at the risk of shedding the blood of our fellow citizens in Ireland? There is no doubt about it that we are possibly within a few weeks of civil war—a dreadful catastrophe at any time—and I would venture to urge upon the Government to come forward with some possible solution, instead of drifting nearer and nearer to a point from which it might be impossible for them to recede. I have no desire to prolong the Debate on which we are entering to-day, and I shall only say that I shall have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend from the Front Bench.
I do not propose to follow the Noble Lord, if he will excuse me, into the general aspect of the Irish question, but I should like to say this: When he says that the Government are offering nothing for the peaceful solution of this question in return for any concession they make, I should like to point out that if the Government, with a large majority in this House, offer any concession or concessions on a question of this land they are giving way to a very considerable extent. The Amendment before the House, I conceive, means that the Opposition demands a General Election before this Bill is passed into law, and that demand is backed by threats of armed resistance if it is not acceded to. The question of an election is a very complicated one. We are told by hon. Gentlemen opposite that when the election takes place the paramount question to be discussed is the question of Home Rule. I should like to put this 111 before the House. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives, exhibiting a courage with which I do not agree, but which I must confess I admire, has voted consistently on every occasion against a measure of Home Rule for Ireland. Almost immediately after he voted against the Home Rule Bill a Unionist candidate was started against him, and, as far as I know, unless he has retired within the last month, that Unionist candidate is still in the field. How can we agree with hon. Members opposite, therefore, that the question of the Union is in the front of politics. As regards General Elections, I am beginning to wonder if they mean anything. Most of us who are in this House went through the unpleasant necessity of fighting two elections in one year, and ever since I have been in the House for the last three years, when a great controversial measure has been brought forward, the opposing minority have always said that the Government had no mandate to bring it forward. It has been said of Home Rule, it has been said of Welsh Disestablishment, and, presumably, of Plural Voting, because the other Chamber, the arbiter of the people's will, threw the Bill out.
I should be very much interested to hear what, in the minds of hon. Gentlemen, those last elections meant at all. I cannot help feeling that this suggested election is a means of helping the Conservative party out of their difficulties. I can understand—though I cannot agree with it—the hostility of the Protestants of Ulster to a measure of Home Rule. But I cannot see what justification or excuse the Conservative party, which has always called, itself the Constitutional party, should have for pledging itself to support Ulster in armed resistance to established law, and I feel that an election would offer, or certainly pave the way, for retiring from a very unconstitutional position. I wonder if hon. Gentlemen opposite realise to what an extremity their policy will take them. They taunt us, and it has been a hallowed jest for some years, that this party has been led and controlled by the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond). If that were true, and it is not, I think we could fling back the same taunt in their face, because the Leader of the Opposition himself has said that on this question the right hon. Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) leads the party. Do hon. Gentlemen 112 opposite realise to what length their policy will lead them? In the ordinary course of events they will one day come into power, and the position of their Home Secretary, who will, no doubt, be one of the most ardent spirits among them, will indeed be a difficult one when he is confronted with those great labour crises which have disturbed our social conditions for the last few years. It will bean axiom, it is an axiom with them, that a minority which is dissatisfied with an existing state of things is justified in resisting that state of things by force of arms. What will be their reply to any labour convulsion when the agitators of that convulsion feel that they are not only fighting for what they think right, but for the very necessities of their existence? That will be the time when just retribution will come on those who have taken this step, which is, to my mind, not only unjustified, but almost wicked in the face of the social condition of England.
I believe there is not a single Member of this House who does not hope that this question will be settled peaceably, and, at any rate, I am certain there is no Member on this side who does not feel that, but if it is settled peaceably, and if the Government gives way on any point, and offer any hope of compromise, or suggest any way of compromise, it will be to allay the fears of the Protestants of Ulster, however unfounded those fears may be, but I do not think there is one of us who would support a course of that kind as any sign of yielding to the threats of armed resistance from the Conservative party. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment referred to that beautiful passage in Mr. Bright's speech on the Crimea, when he spoke of "The Angel of Death being abroad throughout the land," and the right hon. Gentleman said, "Suppose that Angel of Death were one day to appear owing to the acute state of the Ulster question, on whom and at whose door would the responsibility lie?" I think that we on this side of the House feel that that grave responsibility will lie at the door of the right hon. Member for Dublin University, and I believe that when a General Election comes, as in course of time it must, and if any blood has been shed, the British electorate will not blame the Government—which, to my mind, at any rate, has maintained a firm and dignified course throughout this controversy—but it will lay the blame at the door of the right 113 hon. Gentleman whose speeches and actions have filled the Press for the last few months. I believe that if any blood is shed, the great part of the responsibility will lie on the conscience of the right hon. Member, and if any death should result his responsibility will be even more acute still. I cannot conclude without reminding the House that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University used these words in a speech at Birmingham:—We, at any rate, have never asked for any compromise and never will.I put it to the House, are those the words of a powerful politician who wishes to lead his followers into the paths of peace?
§ Mr. BIGLAND
Before I make the remarks that I intend to make to the House with regard to the Amendment, I wish to throw back with indignation the charge which the hon. Member for Wisbech (Mr. Primrose) has made, or attempted—namely, to throw the responsibility on the right hon. Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson). To me it is a perfectly horrible charge. The right hon Gentleman the Member for Dublin University has acted as the mouthpiece of 200,000 men; he has not called 200,000 men to voice his sentiments. The 200,000 men have begged him to voice their views, and the responsibility will be taken by the right men, the men who signed that Covenant. If it comes to this, and it is coming to this in the House at the present moment, as to where the responsibility lies, let us try and realise how and where the people, who must be the judge finally, are going to put it. I was amazed when our Prime Minister read the statement with regard to this Parliament Act, and how it was going to be used for this Home Rule Bill. I want to know whether the Government, and there are still two Members present—[An HON. MEMBER: "Three."]—claim that that Parliament Act was practically brought in in order to get a division of this House passed three times in three Sessions, without a court of appeal. A court of appeal, the Second Chamber, has for generations been here. Was it a wilful trick that while the court of appeal, which is the Second Chamber, was in suspense, that this Home Rule Bill should be passed? Englishmen through all generations have felt they have a court of appeal.
§ Mr. BIGLAND
We had a court of appeal in the Second Chamber, and that court of appeal always had the power to throw it back on to Cæsar, Cæsar being the people of the country to whom the final appeal was always made. I say this positively as my opinion, that when this Home Rule Bill was introduced, and the power of the Second Chamber was removed, that the men of Ulster knew, there being no appeal in the House, and that there was to be no appeal to the people, took upon themselves that in their own right hand should be the court of appeal. Now let us follow the Prime Minister's action this evening. On 28th November, only a little over two months ago, the Prime Minister at Leeds took a very different line of argument from that which he has taken to-night. If this Amendment ment has done nothing else, it has, at any rate, forced the Prime Minister to realise the position of responsibility of the Government of which he is the head. He bore his responsibility very lightly at Leeds on the 28th November last. He was replying to the right hon. Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain), who had used these words:—It is not for the Opposition to solve difficulties created by the Government or to help them out of the dangers which they have provoked.The Prime Minister resented that statement, and used these words:—These difficulties and dangers are the biggest blot on the escutcheon of the British Empire, a reproach to our political genius, the unsolved riddle of British statesmanship.Those sentiments are excellent, and phrased in language which is the envy of every Member of the House; but the Prime Minister has realised to-night that it is at the initiation of the Government that this matter must be taken up, the difficulties solved, and the dangers faced. I think that every man, when he opens his paper to-morrow, will be grieved, and more than grieved, that the Prime Minister was not ready, after all these weeks, to make his propositions and to lay them before this House. So far as I can see, we are to be left another ten weeks before that is done. The Prime Minister wishes us to feel that these difficulties and dangers in Ireland are the biggest blot on the escutcheon of the British Empire. To me the passing of the Home Rule Bill would be the biggest blot on that escutcheon. It would commit an act of injustice upon a million people which would never be wiped off our escutcheon. As to the "unsolved riddle of British statesmanship," I admit that it 115 is a difficulty. The Prime Minister practically asks that all amendments and suggestions should be put forward; he will consider them, and the last words shall not be said by him. He has spoken of some possible solution of this difficulty. Personally I cannot see any solution. I am not in favour of a General Election if the difficulty can be got over by any other means. But this is the position in which this House finds itself: we passed the Parliament Act, under which a measure must be passed in three successive Sessions. If the Prime Minister had his own way tonight, I believe that he would be anxious to take back this Bill and propose another for the better government of Ireland. But that cannot be done under the Parliament Act, because another three years would have to pass before the Bill became law. Thus he, the Prime Minister of England, is in this dire difficulty, that, although admitting a change must be made, he cannot make it—he dare not make it without the consent of the Opposition. We stand in this parlous state, and therefore we say, "Because you cannot propose a change, because you cannot bring a definite issue, let us hang the matter up, at all events for another Parliament to bring in a better Bill than this." The Prime Minister has admitted that if this Bill, passed by the House of Commons, rejected by the House of Lords, signed by the King, is put into operation, civil war will result. He knows it.
§ Mr. BIGLAND
He admitted it in his speech to-night, [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] He practically admitted that if this Bill without alteration was forced through this House a third time, rejected by the Lords, and signed by the King, civil war would result. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] He admitted it, and he is prepared to offer and initiate a solution of the difficulty which is presented. Seeing that he is prepared to do it, it seems to me perfectly clear that he ought to do it now, and not allow two months to elapse before he makes his propositions. What is now at burning heat in Ulster may result in a matter which neither he nor any of us can control. I represent a constituency in which there are numbers of Ulstermen, and I assure hon. Members that the moment the time of trouble comes, there will be a rushing of able men 116 out of many of the constituencies of England into Ulster to help and befriend the people there. Knowing this, I wish to warn the House that to put this matter off and to throw it back for another two months is not right. Because the Prime Minister's statement means this: "If you do not agree two months hence to the solution that I offer, you can start to make propositions or to vote against us; but it is no use voting against us to-night, because we are going to delay the matter for two months and then bring forward our solution."
That is not treating the House with due dignity after the country has been led, by the wording of statements by Members of the Government, to expect that some offer would be made to help us through the difficulty. The House finds itself in an impasse. We might as well go home and leave this discussion, because the Prime Minister has put it in such a way—that two months hence he will offer the House a definite and reasonable solution of the worst crisis through which any of us have lived. I appeal to the Government to force this matter on. Why not bring it forward before the financial measures have been passed? Why not lay the proposal clearly before the nation and defer its discussion, so that all of us through the constituencies might get to know the minds of our Irish friends on both sides? It is impossible to bring forward a cut and dried solution here, upon which the people will not wish to express an opinion through their representatives. The Irish party themselves must submit any resolution of the kind to a national conference in Ireland. Let us have the points now, so that we can talk them over in our constituencies, and be ready to vote upon them two months hence, when the Prime Minister really puts them before us. In the meantime, if he is not prepared to do that, I shall press for a General Election at once.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I think that the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Bigland), in his summary of the Prime Minister's speech, has deviated somewhat from the line of strict accuracy. I listened to the Prime Minister with all the care of which I am capable, but I certainly did not understand him to say that in his view the passage of this Bill in its present form must necessarily be followed by civil war. I think that when the hon. Gentleman reads the speech to-morrow he will see that he has put an inaccurate gloss upon the Prime 117 Minister's words. I think that perhaps he was in the same mind when he gave us that gloss on what the Prime Minister said as he was when he formed his remarkable opinion of the House of Lords as a court of appeal. I should like to know during what period in our history the House of Lords has been a court of appeal? If it has been a court of appeal, it has been one where justice has been blind in one eye. This much is certain: as a court of appeal it has only acted in a sense regarded by some as fairly when one party was in power; the other party had no chance of fair-handed dealing at the hands of that Chamber. The remarkable fact about this Debate, and one that has impressed me very much, is that we have had speaker after speaker on the other side declare, I believe with intense earnestness and sincerity, that we are within a few weeks of civil war. The first speaker on the opposite side—and no one who has even for so short a time as I have had the opportunity of listening to him in this House can doubt it—with absolute sincerity declared that we were within measurable distance of civil war. An hon. Member below the Gangway even ventured to put a time within which that civil war was to break out. He told us that perhaps within three weeks we would have this shedding of one another's blood. I take it that hon. Members opposite when they make this rash and desperate statement honestly believe that they describe the condition of things which actually exists. Is it not remarkable, if this is so, that this House presents the appearance that it now does, and that it has presented during this afternoon? We have only had one speaker from Ulster, and anyone who heard that hon. Member's speech can best judge whether that was the tone a man would adopt who intended within a few weeks' time to be shedding his brother's blood. The speech was made up of feeble jests and stale tu quoques—the sort of thing that has done duty at almost every street corner. This came from a man who we are told is going to be one of the leaders of the army which is going to deluge Ireland with blood. Do hon. Members honestly think that if we in this country were in the danger that they state that their attitude would be the attitude and tone that so far they have adopted?
More remarkable in my opinion than the tone of the House is the tone of the country. You say we are within measurable distance of civil war—the most 118 horrible calamity that can befall any country; and of all countries the more intolerable in one like ourselves, which for so long has learnt to solve these difficulties on the principle of the minority giving way to the majority. What is the feeling of the country outside? Have the recent by-elections—and they have been numerous enough—shown any feeling in the minds of our people that this intolerable calamity was almost within reach of us? I would take the last by-election, North-West Durham. Here was a great industrial constituency of some 18,000 to 20,000 voters. In that constituency Protestantism is one of the most powerful sentiments—a dominant sentiment. Speakers holding the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite did all they could to convince the Protestants of North-West Durham that their fellow Protestants in the North-East of Ireland were very soon to have their throats cut by the bloodthirsty Papists. If ever an appeal is likely to touch English Nonconformists it is an appeal such as that. These men love liberty as well as do hon. Gentlemen opposite. They have a far longer tradition of religious liberties and sacrifices made for them than have hon. Members opposite and the party to which they belong. If they had believed that the things said were true, that the Protestants of North-East Ulster were so soon to be put under the yoke of a Papist Parliament which was going to infringe their civil and religious liberties, you would not have seen a vote showing a 6,000 majority in favour of Home Rule.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
You told them often enough. Evidently they do not attach a great deal of importance to what you tell them. It is only when they do not vote as you want them to do that they do not know. I do not think much of that faith in democracy which only believes in democracy when it acts your way. As a matter of fact the recent by-elections have proved that the country does not believe in the case on which Ulster is basing its resistance. The party opposite is forging a weapon which in the future will break into pieces many causes for which it stands. You have put a weapon in the hands of discontented men which they will know how to use. With what authority, logic, or justice, will you be able to prosecute men who are only carrying out the principles that you are 119 now saying would be justified if used by North-East Ulster? Suppose by some means or other, not yet within the range of ordinary men, you succeed in defeating this Home Rule Bill: You have forged a weapon for Nationalist Ireland which Nationalist Ireland will know how to use! That point has not yet been met. I hope in the course of this Debate that some speaker from Ulster will endeavour to meet it. If Ulster is justified in making an armed resistance to the King's forces because it cannot get its way, will not Nationalist Ireland be justified in using the same means when it finds it cannot get that way it thinks is the way of justice? I believe hon. Members opposite in their attitude to this Bill have thoroughly misunderstood the temper of their fellow countrymen. I have found running all through my reading of English history the fact that while the English people may be persuaded, they cannot be bullied. They never have been bullied. To-day you are trying to bully the English people by this threat of making war in Ireland.
The idea that by some strange change of temper of our people they are going to bow down before this threat, is one that can only come to a party that has lost all its old moorings. What are you going to say when disorder breaks out in Ireland as the result of the passage of this Bill? Are you going to tell your volunteer army that they are to be justified in shooting down the King's soldiers, who are only carrying out their duty to the Crown? Is that your case? Against whom are your men arming? You are not surely going to have another St. Bartholomew's Massacre in Belfast, with the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University as another Charles IX.? You are not arming to shoot down unarmed and unoffending citizens! You can only be arming these men to fight against the King's soldiers. If you suppose that that is a policy that the English people are likely to support I think you are under one of the gravest delusions which has ever yet overtaken even the Tory party. The right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment thought that he had found in what is now happening in South Africa an argument against the grant of self-government to Ireland. I am one of those who certainly—if the opportunity comes I hope I shall say so—find it very difficult Indeed to admire much of what 120 has recently happened in South Africa. But has anything happened in South Africa recently which provides you with an argument against the granting of self-government to a community under the British Crown? On the contrary, you have seen in South Africa a community recently set up an armed force greater, that what was called into being during the time of the recent war, and there is no man in this country, who had the slightest fear that, although the South African Dominions were provided with that great fighting machine, there was any fear that it would be used in order to sever the connection with this country. So far from that being an argument against self-government, I do think that the experience in. South Africa recently has shown that although the people may differ very much in creed and nationality, once you apply to them the magic of self-government you have a bond which no power can break however great may be the temptation. I hope, as indeed every man must hope, that this country is going to be spared the horrible fear which you tell us is in store for us. Civil war is one of the greatest evils that can befal any land, but there is a greater evil, and that is, that men under fear of such a threat should be false to themselves, and to the great principles in which they believe.
§ Mr. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I shall try in a few minutes to reply to one or two of the challenges which the hon. Member who has just sat down has seen fit to make to those Members who represent Ulster. He referred in the first place to the recent by-elections. The result of the recent by-elections since this Bill became an active factor in politics, has been to give seven seats to the Opposition, counting fourteen on a division, and if by any stretch of the imagination the hon. Gentleman opposite can construe that into support of his party he deserves great credit for his ingenuity. He alluded to the speech of the Prime Minister earlier in the afternoon, and he has given us his criticism upon that speech. I have only two observations to make about the speech of the Prime Minister. In the first place, the Prime Minister is a master, above all things, of the use of terse and lucid language. I have heard him make many speeches, and every speech until this one has made that conviction deeper in my mind, but on this occasion the Prime Minister took nearly three quarters of an hour to say what he previously said in three quarters of a 121 minute—namely, "Wait and See"; for that was all his speech was. The second observation I wish to make upon that speech is that it has come exactly two years too late. It is a great pity the right hon. Gentleman and those who occupy responsible offices in the Government did not make that kind of speech two years ago instead of leaving it until now. And even now I join with my right hon. Friend in thinking and regretting very bitterly that the right hon. Gentleman when he was making his speech to the House, after an absence from these walls of nearly six months, could only vaguely hint the sort of proposals he is going to make, and is only able to make some sort of suggestion. I think that is very regrettable, and I think further delay is even more regrettable.
It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to read into the Gracious Speech from the Throne words about having a settlement of this question. The delay of two years has made a settlement very difficult, and every day you delay now makes it more difficult still. The right hon. Gentleman talks of making a settlement. A settlement is better than civil war, but not any settlement, and it is no use talking about a settlement of this question unless the hon. Gentlemen opposite—and I say this with the most absolute sincerity—can bring themselves to realise the position in Ulster, and the feelings of Ulster to-day. It is no use talking about a paper veto. Men have not been deserting their ordinary avocations, giving up their ordinary business, drilling every night for two years, in order to exchange their present position of citizenship for a paper veto. It is no use talking about a settlement unless you realise that what the people in Ulster are out for is that they shall have the same right as is given to every other community in the world to say under what form of government they prefer to live. Unless you recognise that it is perfectly idle to talk about settlement. That is my first answer to what the hon. Gentleman had to say a moment ago. I am glad of one thing. It seems, at all events from what the Prime Minister said, that the Government had at least made up their mind as to what the exact state of things was in Ulster. Really I wish, after hearing the last speech, that the Liberal party would make up their mind as to whether I and my Friends who speak for Ulster are—I used common Anglo-Saxon words—a pack of 122 liars when we say, as we have said for two years, that the position is gravely serious there.
The hon. Gentleman who spoke last, and some minor lights of the Ministry, some of the peripatetic agents of the party in Buckinghamshire, have gone about saying the whole thing is gigantic bluff. You have to make up your minds whether what we have been telling you is bluff or whether it is grave reality. The hon. Gentleman apparently still thinks it is bluff. If it is all bluff or nonsense, why the Arms Proclamation? If they are only wooden guns, why was His Majesty in Counsel moved to prohibit the importation, of wooden guns into Ireland? Why this reference in the Most Gracious Speech from the Throne? And while I am on the subject of arms, may I say this with regard to the Proclamation, and I say it quite openly, we all knew what was going on and that it was two years too late. We warned you two years ago what was going on in Ulster. You would not believe us. You ridiculed our warning, and you wanted to gammon the country with all this talk of wooden guns, and all the time arms have been steadily coming into Ulster. I do not see any of the major lights in the Government constellation, at the moment, on the Treasury Bench, but I say this: either the Government knew it or they did not know it. There are only two possible hypotheses. If they knew that arms were coming in, what is to be said of Ministers who allowed their speakers in the country and their supporters in this House, and even Members of the Ministry, to go about the country saying that the whole thing was a gigantic sham and fraud? If, on the contrary, the Government did not know, as those in Ireland did, that arms were coming in, then all I can say is that the Chief Secretary ought to be impeached for culpable negligence. That is my answer to the hon. Gentleman when he talks about bluff. Of course it is not bluff, and the Government know perfectly well, and the Prime Minister admitted it to-night, that it is not bluff. It is a fact, and you know it, and you have got to face it. It is all very well to talk of tactics and finesse and procrastination, but you cannot go on with that kind of thins; for ever; you cannot go on finessing against facts, and sooner or later, and I am inclined to think it may be sooner, you will have to face the facts. What are yon going to do? The hon. and learned 123 Gentleman the Member for Waterford says "go on," but it is not his responsibility, it is the responsibility of the Liberal party. If you are "going on," at least you ought to stop and count the cost first.
What are you being asked to do? You are being asked to force a united community, and an organised community into a form of government which they abhor and that is rather a strange position to the Liberal party to place itself into. In the past it has always been the great boast of the Liberal party that they are the friends of poor and oppressed nationalities all over the world, such as the Armenians, the Poles, the Bulgarians, and all the rest of the struggling races in history. That is not a record to be ashamed of, but it is a record which I am bound to confess I find it a little difficult to reconcile with the aspiration for a very small navy. That has been the record and the ideal of the Liberal party in the past, and is that party going to turn oppressors now? You gave Home Rule and a constitution to South Africa. The hon. Member opposite referred to South Africa I will not presume to comment on recent events there, but they are a very interesting commentary on the practical value of Imperial supremacy which lies behind the grant of powers to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of a country. I notice that the Scotch Whip the other day spoke upon the question of the South African position, and I will ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to listen to his observations on that point, and try and fit them to the case of Ulster. Speaking at Dumfries on the 2nd February, he was asked, or he is reported to have been asked, if he would support Lord Gladstone's Report if it were found that there had been no justification for the proclamation of martial law in South Africa. In his answer, he is reported to have said:—No, because we cannot interfere. The whole idea of Home Rule is to allow them to manage their own affairs whether we consider they are right or wrong.9.0 P.M.
I quite agree with that, but what becomes of our safeguards in Ulster? What becomes of our safeguard of Imperial supremacy, if on the admission of a Member of the Ministry in a case where Imperial supremacy is invoked it is declared by the Government to be impossible of exercise? Let me put another point to the hon. Member opposite in that connection. When you passed the South African 124 Act the South African Government asked power to control the whole of South Africa, but there were certain territories, Bechuanaland and Basutoland, which were inhabited by natives who thought they would be better off under the Imperial Parliament than under the South African Parliament, and what did you do? Did the Government say, "No, under the South African Parliament you shall go; we cannot have divisions in South Africa, and if you do not go we will shoot you down"? I remember that very eloquent speeches were made here by Sir Charles Dilke and others pleading the case of those natives, and those speeches so moved the Government that they put special provisions into the South African Bill, providing that the inhabitants of Basutoland and Bechuanaland should stay where they were, and not go under the South African Parliament. They were heathens, and their skins were black; they lived 6,000 miles away, but men of your own faith and creed, who live within twelve hours of this place, when men of that kind make the same appeal, you say to them you are going full steam ahead. You say to them, "You must submit, and we will make you submit, and you must go under an Irish Parliament, and, if you do not, we will send troops to shoot you down." That is the meaning of going on. I wonder if any hon. Gentleman on the opposite side of the House really supposes that if the Government were to take action of that kind the people of Great Britain, the people of England—and, mark you, on your own admission, the majority of the people of England are against you in this matter—are going to sit quietly by and say nothing!
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the Army. I wonder whether he thinks that the men who enlisted to fight the King's enemies are going to rush with eagerness to support the men who to this very hour revile, mock, and jeer them, and fight against men whose only crime is that they are loyal, whose flag is the Union Jack, and whose anthem is "God Save the King," which is anathema to the Nationalists in Ireland! I give hon. Gentlemen opposite credit for the fullest sincerity, but they seem quite incapable apparently of putting themselves into the position of seeing this question from an Irish point of view. They are not going to live under the Irish Parliament, and Home Rule will make no difference to them. 125 Hon. Gentlemen speak of the responsibility which lies on our shoulders. I hope that no one in the House will think that we do not realise that we have a great responsibility in this matter. It is a grave responsibility. It is a grave responsibility to resist any Government, but it is a graver responsibility for a Government under such circumstances to drive such men to resistance, and it is a responsibility of which the Government cannot divest themselves. I heard an hon. Gentleman this afternoon talking of India. I wonder what would have happened if you had proposed to put the Hindus under the denomination of a Moslem Parliament. Before speaking of India, I think hon. Gentlemen should bear considerations like that in mind.
I do not know, of course, and I cannot pretend to pre-judge in advance, what the right hon. Gentleman is going to say, but if you take the advice of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) and shut your ears and your eyes and go straight on, you are going straight on to disaster, disaster not only to the country, but also to yourselves. And if ever you were allowed to succeed in imposing this Bill as it stands upon Ulster, if ever you were allowed to succeed in imposing the domination of a Dublin Parliament upon Ulster, do you really think that in the long run you would bring that peace to Ireland which you profess to desire? I tell you, and I tell you quite honestly, that if you give Ireland that Government and impose that yolk upon Ulster under these conditions, then for more than a generation you will have to govern Ulster as a conquered province, as they governed Poland, Schleswig-Holstein, Finland, and Alsace-Lorraine. The condition of Alsace-Lorraine is unhappy enough now; even after a generation or more she is still irreconcilable and unreconciled. I wonder if hon. Gentlemen can look at the matter from this point of view for a moment. What do they think would have been the feeling if, instead of proposing that Alsace-Lorraine should be divorced from its association with France, and by the force of German arms taken out of the French body politic and put into the German body politic, a French statesman had proposed that French troops should be used to drive them out of their allegiance to France into an allegiance to Germany. I wonder what they think would have happened to any French statesman proposing such a thing. 126 Yet that is the proposal which they dare to make for Ulster, and they make it behind their backs, and confessedly behind the backs of the electors. Hon. Gentlemen speak about the last election. I have heard many speeches and many election addresses quoted in this House on the subject of Home Rule at the last election, but I do not think that the position can be put better than it was put by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who, after all, is supposed to be the man who speaks with some authority with regard to Ireland. After saying in a well-known speech that the Home Rule Bill could not be smuggled through this House, and that anybody who thought it could was a fool, he went on to say:—Home Rule is, in my judgment, one of these questions which ought to be left, and should be left, to the judgment of the whole people.That is our case; that is the case for this Amendment. That is what we are insisting on now, and what we shall continue to insist on. You may call us any names you like—I am getting rather case-hardened—but the plain fact of the case is that what we are fighting for is the control of the democracy of this country over the House of Commons. Our forefathers were not afraid to fight in the last resort—and they had to fight—in order to preserve this country from the doctrine that Kings had the divine right to govern without reference to Parliament, and we are not in the slightest afraid of what history will say of us if we have to fight in order to contest the equally pernicious doctrine that because of the suspension of the constitution, which is admittedly only temporary and transitory, this House of Commons, these hon. Gentlemen opposite, and this Government, have been endowed with a divine right to legislate and to govern the country without reference to the people of the country. That is our case, that is the case we make to-day, and to that case we stand.
§ Mr. AINSWORTH
We do not call anybody names, but I must say, that although of course we know that a Radical is a bad lot we did not really think that we were quite so bad as the hon. Gentleman has painted us. It is not for me to defend the Prime Minister. He is thoroughly well able to do that for himself, but I think, if the hon. Gentleman opposite, will take the trouble to-morrow to read the Prime Minister's speech, he will find that his version of it was not altogether accurate. I would like to remind him that that speech 127 will probably be read by every intelligent man in Scotland, and the electors there are very intelligent. I had the honour before I came to London of meeting my constituents on several occasions. We always talked about the Home Rule question. Ever since I have been a Member of this House, and I have been through several elections, I have never failed, nor would my constituents ever allow me to fail, to talk about Home Rule. I wish the hon. Gentleman would look at the full statement the Prime Minister made on the subject of Home Rule for Ireland at the Albert Hall in 1909. We had the suggestion made by him or by some other hon. Gentleman: "Why did not you bring in Home Rule when yon had a big majority under Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman." We had brought it in twice before, and it had been twice thrown out by another place. Mr. Gladstone, on retiring, said he had done his best to solve the Home Rule question, but he had failed to do so owing to the action of the Conservative majority in another place, and until the irresponsible veto of that majority was dealt with, it was no use bringing in any Home Rule Bill.
On the first opportunity he had the Prime Minister, in 1909, specially stated what the position of the Liberal party was. He gave his views on the Irish question. The party endorsed those views, and since then Home Rule has been an actual part of the Liberal programme and it will so remain until we get it settled. I should like the hon. Member further to bear in mind, when speaking of the results of by-elections, that in several cases where the Unionist candidate has been returned there has been a three-cornered tight. The hon. Member has been too apt to forget that fact. The conclusion I have come to, and it is, I believe, the conclusion arrived at by every Member for a Scottish constituency, is that the Scottish electors feel that the Home Rule question is practically finished with. Parliament has dealt with it by means of a Bill, and it is now the duty of Parliament to apply itself to the solution of the problem. I want to draw the attention of this House to two or three facts which are acknowledged. The hon. Member stated just now that we never believed in the Ulster case until Ulster was preparing to arm. The Ulster case is a strong case, not because Ulster is arming, but because it is a good case affecting their civil and religious liberties. But 128 everyone knows that when civil and religious liberties are endangered the first thing the people most concerned are likely to do is to come to this House, and, whatever party may be in power, whatever Ministry may be in office, they can rely upon it that there they will find their readiest friends. That fact, at any rate, is well known in England and Scotland. It is not so well understood in Ireland, and I believe if it were we should soon be able to settle this question on broad lines. There is, however, far too much inclination in Ireland to resort to physical force.
Is there any Member in this House who considers that a man is unfitted for the duties of citizenship because he is a member of the Roman Catholic Church? Yet, logically speaking, that is the only man who can venture to stand up and say that this Home Rule Bill must not proceed. What I want to do is to get at the facts which are acknowledged on all sides. There are not many here who doubt that the people of Ulster fear interference with their civil and religious liberties. There are not many here who will suggest that that fear is not a genuine fear, and that the people of Ulster are, therefore, justified in coming to this House for help and assistance. But the Prime Minister has told us again and again that in any negotiations for the settlement of this problem he will carefully bear that feeling in mind. Surely the first authority to which the Ulster people should appeal in that matter is this House! We on this side admit it is a feeling which should be dealt with. But what about the feeling on your side? Your leading papers—the "Times," the "Daily Telegraph," and other organs—for the last two months have acknowledged that there is an Irish question. Does any hon. Member opposite deny it? Is it denied that that question can only be dealt with by removing to a large extent the administration from Dublin Castle? The Conservative papers I say have acknowledged this fact, yet one hon. Member after another on the benches opposite is getting up and saying that the Home Rule Bill must be dropped. Even your own papers have admitted that the solution of the Irish question is to be found in devolution.
There are three facts we have to acknowledge as necessary to any settlement of this problem. First, there is the fact that Ulster feels that her civil and religious liberties are endangered. There is the fact admitted that an Irish question exists, 129 and that that question can only be settled by an entire change in the machinery of government. It is for statesmen to bring about a settlement of this question. Where are your statesmen? You used to have statesmen in your ranks; you had Sir Robert Peel, who settled the Corn Laws, and you had Lord Salisbury. Would they have said, "Drop the Bill." The Conservative party used to be a great party. It expects to be the ruling party again some time or other. Surely it can produce statesmen who can deal with problems of this kind. I am going to quote what was once said by a real Conservative statesman—what was said by Mr. Disraeli in this House many years ago, during one of the Debates on the Irish difficulty which continually absorbed the attention of the House and of the Government. Mr. Disraeli said: "I wish some statesman would rise up and tell us what the Irish question really is. At one time it is a religious question; at another it is an agricultural. It is the Pope one day, and potatoes the next. The remedy is Revolution, but in Ireland Revolution is impossible. It remains for a wise statesman to accomplish by far-seeing legislation what a Revolution would accomplish by force." In these few sentences you have the Irish question. I am thankful to say that since those days we have made some progress. We have got rid of the alien church; we have done a great deal for the land, and, in regard to the latter, I am perfectly willing to agree that it was very largely by the help of Mr. George Wyndham. We have improved the position, but what about the absentee aristocracy—I use the word "aristocracy" in its widest sense. I would particularly refer to what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) the other day:—We do not want to lose a single Irishman who can be of use to his own country.What we want is that the aristocracy of Ireland, the best men of Ireland, should unite in joining the new form of government in Ireland, and do everything they can for the advancement, prosperity, peace and happiness of their own country. I suppose we are on the verge of that change. If so, the sort of speeches we have heard from here, there and everywhere are not of any use. We have done a great many things for Ireland. Cannot we go one step further, and find a solution by allowing the Irish 130 to manage their own affairs? Everyone will admit they are able to do it much better than we can do it for them, and certainly much cheaper. I should like to remind the House of the story of the American who had been all over the British Empire except here. He was travelling in a steamer to this country, and insisted on landing at Queenstown. His friends said, "Why do you want to go to Ireland first? Why not see London and Edinburgh." He said he wanted to see Ireland first because he wanted to see the only English-speaking country that was not ruled by Irishmen. We have two very leading Irishmen in this House, men whom we respect. One of them is the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Sir E. Carson) and the other is the hon. and learned Member for Waterford. Those two men are endowed with great qualities; they are both lawyers and both highly - educated men. Why should not the Irish question be settled by Irishmen? Can you imagine a Scottish or a Welsh question being settled by other than Scotsmen or Welshmen? The only further suggestion I would make for a solution of this question, which has to be settled in a way that meets with the approval of Irishmen, is that we should have the assistance in that matter of the services of those two most eminent men. I can only trust that with their help and advice we may arrive at a solution which will be satisfactory, not only to Ireland, but to the United Kingdom and the Colonies and America also.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
The hon. Member who has just sat down quoted a saying of Lord Beaconsfield seventy or eighty years ago. I am not sure that he quoted Lord Beaconsfield correctly, but may I point out a saying made at a later date, indeed, only six or seven years ago. A great statesman, whose name will appeal to the hon. Member—Lord Bryce—stated that Ireland was in a more prosperous state in January, 1906, than it had been for 600 years. I venture to say that greater weight should be attached to the statement made by Lord Bryce at the time he was living and knew what was going on, than to a statement made by Lord Beaconsfield seventy or eighty years ago. The hon. Member has told us that Scottish electors are very intelligent, and that he has taken every opportunity to inform them as to what has taken place with regard to Home Rule.
§ Mr. AINSWORTH
It was hardly necessary, because the Scottish electors knew all about it in the first instance.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for that interruption. He told us that the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman did not introduce a Home Rule Bill in the Parliament commencing in 1906 because the previous two Home Rule Bills had been twice rejected by another place. The hon. Gentleman is wrong, as are his intelligent electors. It is very extraordinary that the intelligent electors who know all about the Home Rule question, and the hon. Gentleman, who is equally intelligent, and is always addressing them upon this subject, should be under the impression that the two Home Rule Bills were twice rejected by another place. May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the first Home Rule Bill was rejected by this House on its Second Reading, and that it was only the second Home Rule Bill which was rejected by the House of Lords, a rejection which was confirmed by the country? I venture to suggest, most humbly, that the electors of Scotland, in the particular Division represented by the hon. Gentleman, are not quite so intelligent as the other electors in other parts of Scotland probably are.
We were enlivened a short time ago by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Kellaway). Having been an attentive listener to this Debate since four o'clock, it struck me as very extraordinary, in view of the important speech made by the Prime Minister—a speech which, perhaps, at the outset, was not quite in so serious a tone as we on this side of the House should have desired, but which at the close was certainly in a most serious tone—that only three Members opposite should have spoken on this most important question. At the commencement of his speech the hon. Member said that it was absurd to suppose there was any question of civil war—that is to say, he perpetuated the argument adumbrated in the country, and to a certain extent in this House, that Ulster was only bluffing. In view of the speech of the Prime Minister, is it conceivable that any hon. Member on that side of the House who heard that speech could get up in his place and say that civil war is nonsense, and merely a bogey put forward by Members on this side of the House? It is that fatal attempt on the part of the hon. Members opposite to gull the electorate which 132 is mainly responsible for the position in which we are placed at the present moment. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that it was a very great feather in the cap of South Africa that when they had collected together a very large armed force they did not sever their connection between South Africa and this country. I see the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes) in the House. I do not know what he would have said about that part of the speech of the hon. Member, but I fail to see the force of the illustration of the hon. Member. He can find no fault in the action of the South African Government, but says it is a great credit to them because they did not break the chain which connects them with this country.
My own opinion is this: I am against Home Rule altogether, and I do not believe in the severance of the United Kingdom. I am a Unionist, and no Unionist who has called himself a Unionist, and has sat in this House for any length of time and has taken part in the proceedings in this country with regard to past Home Rule Bills, can honestly say he is in favour of any Bill which makes for the separation of Ireland and this country, and, that being so, though I listened with very great attention to the latter end of the speech of the Prime Minister, I must say it did not seem to me to hold out any very encouraging hopes for a settlement of this long outstanding question. The Prime Minister, of course, is quite right; he cannot really bring forward definite proposals as to an alteration of the Home Rule Bill until after 31st March. The financial business of the country must be proceeded with; but there is nothing which would have prevented him, when he was standing at that box, giving a clear outline of what he was prepared to suggest. We have discussed this question for more than two years. Does the Prime Minister know, or does he not know, what he thinks he is going to do? Surely a man in his position, with a serious question of this sort which has been before the country for more than two years must now have made up his mind as to what he is going to do. Is he merely going upon the policy of "Wait and see"? Is he merely thinking how long he can remain in office and draw the emoluments and advantages which flow from office? It looks a little as if that were so, because it seems to me to be absolutely incomprehensible that a man who has really made 133 up his mind as to what he is going to do could not say plainly in black and white what his views are. No one, on whichever side of the House he sits, can deny that the Prime Minister has a great gift of saying in five or six sentences what some of us on this side of the House cannot say at all, or can only say after many minutes of?debate. Why could not he say so far and no further? The Benches below the Gangway were omniously silent. I was sitting below the Gangway, and when the Prime Minister sat down I was surprised to hear that the Gentlemen sitting around me did not rise up in their seats and wave their handkerchiefs and cheer, instead of which there was not a single word from, anyone below the Gangway.
I do not quite know what that means, but I suppose it means that they viewed with a little apprehension what the statement of the Prime Minister was. I am not at all sure that they need be very alarmed, because when one comes to read the speech to-morrow one will find very little in it except certain pious observations which might have been made by the hon. Member (Mr. Ainsworth) or even by myself, that we all deplore the possibility of civil war. What we want to do is at once to come to some decision upon this subject. I have made up my mind. I would not consent under any circumstances to any dismemberment of the Empire. My opinion is distinct. Everyone knows what I think. It seems to me that speech is given to you to express your opinions, but in the Prime Minister, who has a greater power of speech than almost anyone, it seems to be given him to hide his opinions. I think we have come to an end of that. We are now approaching a period at which we ought to be told, Aye or No, are we or are we not going to come to an agreement upon this point, and if so, what are the points upon which agreement is possible. I do not believe any agreement is possible upon this question. I quite believe hon. Gentlemen opposite would like to come to an agreement, but I do not believe they can, because if they come to an agreement, which could be accepted on this side of the House, hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway will not have anything to do with it. But, at any rate, let us know the worst. After all, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is leading the House, is a democrat, and the principle of democracy is that the people should govern, and what this Amendment asks is 134 that the people should be asked. The Irish Secretary was not in the House when the hon. Member (Mr. Mitchell-Thomson) quoted a certain speech which he made in Bristol. The right hon. Gentleman was asked by a deputation of his constituents what was really going to happen with regard to Home Rule, and he said, "The question of Home Rule is a question which ought to be and should be submitted to the decision." Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that?
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Birrell)
Certainly. It was not anything about a deputation. I shouted it at the top of my voice to a number of interruptors at a crowded public meeting when I made use of an expression about this House not being occupied in smuggling a Home Rule Bill through.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The right hon. gentleman shouted it at the top of his voice. What more could anyone want than that? Here was something so ingrained in the mind and brain of the right hon. Gentleman that he shouted it at the top of his voice.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Then the right hon. Gentleman again gave away his whole case. He wanted to be heard. He wanted his opinion to be understood, and it was so understood. Under these circumstances let us have no more argument that the country understood what they were doing at the last election. We endeavoured to tell the country what was going to take place, and the right hon. Gentleman who, unfortunately for the country, was believed by them to be a greater authority than we were, shouted out at the top of his voice that we were incorrect and that he was right and that Home Rule was not going to be introduced. From out of his own mouth he has condemned himself.
§ Mr. LOUGH
It is evident from the wording of the Amendment that right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not value very highly the intelligence of those who sit on this side of the House. The Government is invited to dissolve, and they are invited to take that step in connection with only one item of the programme submitted to the House and the country. No arguments have been given regarding anything else at 135 all except the Irish question. Need I remind right hon. Gentlemen opposite that there are other issues at stake? There is the whole working of the Parliament Act, to which we on this side of the House attach the utmost importance. There is not only the measure connected with the government of Ireland, but the measure connected with Disestablishment in Wales, and the Plural Voting Bill. All that has been swept away, and we are to begin at the very beginning of the question. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Certainly that would be the effect of a Dissolution. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, in my opinion it would. I do not wish to use any rough words at so early a stage of my remarks. Hon. Gentlemen are quite at liberty to state their opinions afterwards. When hon. Gentlemen opposite realise that that would be the effect of a General Election, I think they will see that the Prime Minister and everybody on this side of the House would be great fools if they listened for a single moment to the Amendment or the arguments submitted in support of it.
We have had to-night another example of the course the Opposition has taken from the very beginning in connection with Home Rule. We have had traditional rules broken in what I would venture to call the most outrageous way. We all feel extremely uncomfortable to-night. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Then I feel very uncomfortable, because instead of allowing the Debate to commence in the ordinary decent way after the speeches of my hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Motion, instead of hearing the Leader of the Opposition, to whose speech I have been looking forward for weeks, and then the Prime Minister replying, in the way we have been accustomed to, we have had an Amendment moved. It is one of those breaches of the traditions of the House which, I think, work exceedingly badly. The Amendment is connected with the whole procedure on the Home Rule Bill, but I am sure I interpret the feeling of the House aright when I say that only one aspect has been alluded to, namely, the Ulster question. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment said it was a bad Bill—the finance was bad, and other points were bad. I venture to say that no sustained criticism has been advanced against any part of the Bill except in relation to this Ulster 136 question. We did hear in an early stage about finance, but the arguments on that matter have been answered and swept away. The whole course of the Debate proves that no other matter but the ill-treatment of Ulster has been dealt with. In this matter right hon. Gentlemen opposite have broken away from the tradition of the House. What is the tradition of the House with regard to such matters? It is to accept the principle as settled in the Second Reading Debate, and then in the subsequent stages—the Committee stage, for example—to move amendments, correct faults, or make alterations so as to secure any amelioration in regard to points which require alteration—in short, to amend the Bill. They have set at nought this old tradition, and throughout this Debate it is the principle they are raising at every stage, and we have not had a single amendment brought forward to deal with the grievance in Ulster or elsewhere. I think that is most deplorable.
The people of Ulster have good reason to complain of the gentlemen who have taken charge of their interests. [An HON. MEMBER: "They do not complain."] This perpetual raising of the whole principle has prevented their real grievance being debated. Right hon. Gentlemen have gone further. They have not only not endeavoured to analyse or state the case logically or clearly in this House, but they have advocated, I regret to say, not only here but in the country, physical resistance—forcible resistance—to the decisions of Parliament. This has been done not only directly in the House but on platforms in the country, and the men of Ulster have been encouraged to drill and arm themselves. I say that in all this great injury has been done to the people, and perhaps I may say to the great cause which, right hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to champion in a different and more successful way. Do the right hon. Gentlemen imagine that the example they are setting in this matter will not be followed in other matters? If one of the great constitutional parties in this House takes up the position of opposing by force something they object to, will not others who are perhaps less informed in constitutional matters follow their example? It is a great pity that it has been set in this House. If it is to be followed, the doors of Parliament may as well be closed. Society would have to return to those evil days in which no respect was paid to any- 137 thing but physical force. The result of this has been that the case of Ulster has not been presented argumentatively. The House does not understand the precise evil it has got to deal with. The moment you say that Ulster will fight, and that there must be civil war, you leave aside all the moral arguments and make any appeal to reason impossible. I think if right hon. Gentlemen had taken more pains to state the exact case, and to move Amendments to the Bill, they would have done a great deal more for Ulster than they have done by the course they have adopted.
I must say that right hon. Gentlemen in charge of the Bill have had great difficulties to contend with. It has occurred to me throughout the long Debates that there has been an admission that something was to be done. I have called attention to it myself. My right hon. Friends, the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary, and also the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) have constantly said that some suggestion should be brought forward from the opposite side. We are always open to hear any suggestion. Well, no suggestion has been made [An hon. Member indicated dissent.] Well, in my opinion, no suggestion has been seriously made.
The appeal of the Government has not been responded to by the Opposition. It is not hard to understand why it has not been responded to. The reason is that the Front Opposition Bench may very well say, "Why should we make any suggestion?" They might say, "It is not our Bill. The proposal is yours, and you ought to bring a suggestion forward in a perfect shape." I do say that it is rather difficult to answer that argument, and I was very pleased to hear the Prime Minister say to-day that the Government should take the initiative at the earliest possible moment; he would bring forward suggestions in regard to the point. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford, in a most interesting speech the other night at the National Liberal Club, dealt with this very point. He said, "Let some suggestion be made, and we will go as far as possible to arrive at an accommodation." But he laid down this condition, "Whatever we give must be given as the price of an agreement." The Prime Minister, to a certain extent, agreed to that condition this afternoon, though not in such definite terms. May I point out the difficulty which exists with regard to this. The price of agreement is to be paid 138 to one party, and the agreement itself is to be arrived at with another party. The price is to be paid by the people of Ulster, but the agreement is to be made with the Gentlemen on the benches opposite. Why should the Gentlemen opposite arrive at any agreement? If they will forgive me saying so, what do many of them care about Ulster? Their object is to defeat the Government—to defeat the Liberal programme. It is largely a party object.
The agreement has got to be made with right hon. Gentlemen opposite who are not in any way interested in the agreement, but the real party to satisfy are the people of Ulster, who have got just as much claim on the hon. and learned Member for Waterford and the goodwill of my right hon. Friend as any other section of the inhabitants of this country. They may disagree with us in politics. I am an Ulster man myself, but I take a different view on that question from that of most of the people there. But, notwithstanding all that, Ulster is a place worth winning, and I believe it is very wrong to assume that the opinions which Ulster is expressing on the present crisis are her permanent opinions. In many an epoch of Irish history Ulster has been more national than other provinces. I believe that that day may come again. The people of Ulster have been pointed out to us by Gentlemen who know very little about them, as the most successful and prosperous people in Ireland. I admit that as you advance into Ulster the farmsteads, the clipped hedgerows, the good roads on which you travel, and above all, the factories near the country towns all indicate settled industry and a prosperous people. This prosperity is not confined to one class of the population. Ulster contains a very mixed population, and whim you speak of Ulster you speak of a community which is more Nationalist than Unionist, and returns more Nationalists to this House than it does Unionist Members. Therefore, I have got nothing whatever to say against Ulster. I speak of her with profound respect. But I do say that the time has come when this House ought to lay aside the rather too rhetorical arguments which have been submitted to it, and endeavour to understand why this great community shrinks from this change.
I agree that this House is making great gifts to Ulster. It is giving to Ulster the right to manage its own affairs as well as giving it to the rest of Ireland. Why does Ulster shrink from that? The time has 139 come when we ought to try to get to the bottom of the reason for this and to state without prejudice the truth with regard to this matter. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is willing to consider even the question of the exclusion of Ulster. He is quite right. My right hon. Friend should consider every question, but I do hope that this will not bear the meaning which was attached to it by an hon. and learned Member on the opposite side, who appeared to argue that it meant that the Prime Minister was practically willing to assent to something like the exclusion of Ulster. Well, I have just visited Ulster and seen many of the covenanters. I have gone to many of the counties and I have found in every part of Ulster an absolute abhorence of the idea of the exclusion of Ulster, or the exclusion of any part of Ulster from the Bill. It raises up all sorts of difficulties which this House would well avoid by not touching in this respect, at all events, the structure of the Bill. Look at the "Times" of this morning or of the last few days. They absolutely abandon the idea of excluding Ulster. It is enough for me in this connection to state that one of the conditions of the leaders of the Nationalists is that no part of Ireland should be cut off, but that there should be Home Rule for the whole of Ireland, and I believe that that principle would be absolutely destroyed if any part of Ulster was excluded. Another suggestion made was that there should be Home Rule within Home Rule. I do not understand that at all; but this much does appear clearly. It means setting up some council under the Parliament which is to be set up in Dublin—a council which would have power to legislate for a definite area, and might possibly have the right to veto over what the Parliament might do.
That seems very complicated. If there is to be a council of any importance, then it will be better to adopt the federal system, and have four councils—one in Ulster, one in Leinster, one in Munster, and one in Connaught, with a supreme Parliament and an Executive responsible to it over the whole—in short, following the precedent of Federation, which we have got in Australia, or in the Union of South Africa—that is, if you are establishing a subordinate council. But I do not suggest that anything of the kind should be done, only I venture to warn the House 140 against a too ready adoption of these non-effective suggestions which have not been thought out, and the object of which is to draw the Government away from the main principle of the Bill. One of the suggestions is to make, the Bill smaller—to cut out the Post Office, say, and leave the appointment of judges in the hands of the British Parliament. All this seems to me to have one fatal objection. First, I object to any reduction of the powers in the Bill; but there is this one fatal objection above all, that it does not touch the Ulster question. If you make the Parliament as small as you please to please Ulster men, if you do not get them satisfied, the people of Ulster will still object. They do not want to have the petty irritations of a small Parliament, which would be far worse than those of a great Parliament. It does not touch the Ulster difficulty, and I venture boldly to advise the Government not to digress into that path either. These are suggestions that are made to meet the Ulster difficulty. I would advise the Government to lay them all aside and to look the Ulster difficulty straight in the face and ask what it is. Then we should see that these alternatives do not meet it at all, and we should also see the means by which it should be dealt with.
The grievance of Ulster simply is that the Protestant people of Ulster do not want to be put under the heels of a Catholic Parliament. It is not the Dublin Parliament they object to, as they have no objection to visiting the ancient historic city; but they do object, whether rightly or wrongly, to being put into a Parliament where they feel they would be hopelessly outnumbered. When that statement of their case is made, in this rough manner, there is something still left in the Bill to justify the complaint which Ulster makes. The Irish minority has always had a grievance with regard to representation in this House. The Unionists number 80,000, more than one-quarter of its whole population. Unionists would be entitled to three seats more than one-fourth of the Irish representatives. They have never had that in this House; they are ten or eleven short of it; but it does not matter here, for the reason that the minority in Great Britain suffers the same injustice. Of course, a great many British Members in this Parliament agree with the opinion of the Ulster minority, so that the difficulty that they are placed in with regard to shortness of numbers does not matter so long as we have a United Parlia- 141 ment. It does not matter for another reason. It does not matter a straw to this House what the representation of Ireland is. The Government of Ireland is a pure autocracy. The Chief Secretary has only to move his little finger and Ireland does whatever he tells them. Therefore, this point of the shortness of the representation under which the people of Ulster suffer does not affect them adversely here at all.
But when a separate Parliament is set up in Dublin, then the evil will be greater, because the number of Members will be greater than here, and I believe Ulster is justified in the complaint it is making. I think the minority would be entitled to about forty-six Members in the Dublin Parliament of 164. Under the Bill she has only about thirty-three Members. The Amendment of the Bill, I would suggest, would be that the principle of proportional representation, which has been adopted with regard to some cities, should be applied to the rural counties, and that would secure that the whole Irish minority would at least get the representation to which they are entitled. That would be a definite step, and would go some way to meet the difficulty. In my opinion it would not go far enough. I think that for a short period, say twenty years, that should be part of the Bill, and that the minority should receive more representation than that to which it might possibly be numerically entitled. But it is urged that this system would cause divisions between different religions throughout the country, and lead to religious strife. If the matter be carefully examined it will be seen that it would make no difference whatever in the franchise as it exists at present, and so far from causing any religious strife, it would prevent that religious strife which would certainly take place at elections. This is a suggestion which I made on the Committee stage of the Bill, and I put an Amendment upon the Paper, which, if I could have found support for it, I would have been very glad to have moved.
This principle of giving some extra representation to the minority has been constantly adopted by this House when new local Assemblies have been established in different parts of the Empire. It has been adopted in India, Canada, New Zealand, and other places, and wherever it has been adopted it has worked exceedingly well. There is no place in which it has ever been 142 adopted where there is such a need for it as in the case of Ireland. We are in the habit, when we get a great democratic institution like this, of thinking that we should always carry it out on democratic lines. Every Irish Member represents about 30,000 voters less on the average than every English Member represents. If the Irish Members had the number of seats which they are entitled to in this House they would only have sixty-seven; but they and we have a good case for the extra representation of Ireland. We saw that she had not too much power to advocate her opinions, and so we left her in possession of the extra representation she has got.
I think a case is made out in favour of giving some extra representation, however short and temporary, to Irishmen in Ulster. I have made two suggestions—first, that the difficulty of the minority would be greatly lessened by the adoption in the Bill of proportional representation; secondly, that the Government should agree for a period to give a little extra representation, more than she is numerically entitled to, in order to help to smooth over the difficulty. Every Irish institution, outside religious organisations, I might say from Grattan's Parliament to the Zoological Gardens in Dublin, has been governed in accordance with the principle which I have ventured to suggest. The number of the minority has not been too closely scrutinized in connection with those institutions, but something like equal representation, wherever possible, has been given to both parties. The result has been that all have united to push forward that which was to the interests of the particular institution. Sectarian considerations were absent, and all united to do the work for which they were assembled. I believe that the same result would be attained in the new Irish Parliament, just as it has been accomplished in every Irish institution where the principle has been adopted. I submit that the adoption of such a principle would be that all parties in Ireland would feel interested in making the Parliament a success, and that they would unite together in advancing the interests of their country.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
As far as I can see from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, he has contributed three main thoughts to the Debate. His first was the observation that the 143 case of Ulster had not been adequately heard or considered by this House. With that I agree. The second observation was that the Bill was a matter in which we English and Scottish Unionist Members had no real concern, and that it was for Ireland to settle entirely amongst themselves. But we in our constituencies are only one degree less concerned than the Ulster men are concerned in the provisions of the Bill to which the Amendment refers. The third portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was devoted to the expression of his view on the later part of the Prime Minister's speech. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said at once that he trusted that the Prime Minister meant nothing when he said that he did not exclude the consideration of the exclusion of Ulster. He went on to say that when the Prime Minister's colleagues talked of Home Rule within Home Rule he did not understand what they meant, and there I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he will certainly be in the same category as the great majority both of the Members of this House and people outside. Lastly, he explained, rejecting all the suggestions which have come from the Members of the Front Bench opposite, he had a plan of his own, a simple one, whose only defect was that it was so simple that no Member of the House would look at it or give it any support. That is the contribution which the right hon. Gentleman has made to the discussion on the procedure of a Bill which we are told is automatically to pass through Parliament.
My right hon. Friend (Mr. Walter Long) opened the discussion, unusual in the opportunity taken for it, of a very grave situation, in a speech the gravity and the earnestness of which was, I think, recognised in every quarter of the House. I must say of the Prime Minister's reply that the first part of his speech was not worthy of the speech to which he was replying, and was not in harmony with the grave words of the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and was unworthy of the Prime Minister himself in an affair acknowledged to be of such gravity and importance. I am not going to follow the Prime Minister through his account of recent history. We have argued the question often. If the Prime Minister is satisfied to rest the defence of his conduct, and thinks that he proves that he behaved openly and frankly with the electors be- 144 cause he could cite quotations from our speeches in which we attempted to disclose and unveil purposes which he was attempting to conceal, I say if he is content to do that I leave it to his own satisfaction. He took objection to the Amendment of my hon. Friend on the ground that a major portion of the speech in which he supported it was irrelevant to that Amendment. I confess I was unable to follow the Prime Minister's objection. What is the Amendment of my right hon. Friend? It is an Amendment which declares that it would be dangerous to proceed further with the Home Rule Bill without first submitting it to the judgment of the electorate, and the speech, or that part of the speech of my right hon. Friend to which the Prime Minister took exception, was one in which, step by step, my right hon. Friend made his case as to the gravity of the measure, and the ignorance in which the electors were kept at the last election, both of the nature of the Bill to which they were being committed, and of the results which it was likely to cause. What a Bill it is! It is a Bill which destroys our ancient Parliamentary constitution and the authority and power of this House. It is a Bill which, for the first time, sets up an authority higher than this House in matters of finance and taxation. It is a Bill for the financial provisions of which, as they regard Ireland, no Irishman but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington (Mr. Lough) has ever spoken a good word.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
No man of competence in Ireland has ever pretended that the financial solution offered by this Bill was practicable. It is a Bill which not only does these things, but has already brought us to the verge of civil war. That is the Bill which is to pass automatically through the House of Commons and through Parliament as the first fruits of a Parliament Act, which was to restore liberty and authority to the House of Commons. I am not going to waste time now in disputing with the Prime Minister as to the exact mandate which he sought or the exact mandate which was given. But I put one question to him: Did he ask a mandate to wage civil war? Did he receive the authority of the electors to use British troops to shoot down loyalists in Ulster? No, Sir. Mark 145 the admission, mark the change which is registered by the Prime Minister's speech to-night. Ulster has been ridiculed, scoffed at; its resistance has been treated with terms of contempt and despite, not merely at the election, when the Prime Minister said that it was not a contingency that he had to contemplate, not merely two years ago on the first passage of the Home Rule Bill, but even within the last few days. But we have the Prime Minister to-day acknowledging the gravity of the situation, admitting the reality and the intensity of the Ulster objection to the present Bill and confessing that a way must be found, or, at least, that a way must be sought, and sought by the Government, to avert the disaster which they have brought on.
I would ask the House to note how absolutely the claim which is now made differs from the claim which the Government were making a little time ago. A little time ago they said to us and to Ulster, "You are claiming to veto the right of the rest of Ireland to Home Rule." Is that the issue now? No; the issue now is: Will you coerce Ulster into obedience to a Dublin Parliament? It is no longer a question of liberties, however understood in the rest of Ireland; it is a question of the coercion and repression of Ulster. There must be some limit to the power of Parliamentary majorities. There must be some limit to the right of the party opposite, in the name of their constituents, to carry changes of such gravity, and to provoke issues of such consequence, without the sure and certain knowledge that the consent of the great majority of their fellow-countrymen is behind them. The right hon. Gentleman says that he thinks that the country is not interested in this question. He drew a pathetic picture of Government candidates everywhere seeking to interest electors in Home Rule, and finding it impossible to concentrate their attention on this subject. I wonder whether the Solicitor-General for Scotland and the Scottish Whip were in the House, and whether they considered that the picture which the Prime Minister drew was a correct representation of their earnest efforts in the Wick election to prevent the intrusion of any other and minor matters!
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
We have heard something of the new Liberalism: this is 146 the new morality. How did you win the election? That the hon. Gentleman does not care about. They won it by calculated bribery, not of a few constituents, or a certain few individuals, of people of little account over whom they had no control, but by calculated bribery of the whole constituency by a Member of the Government. An election so won is the moral right of the party opposite to shoot down our fellow citizens in Ulster. The right hon. Gentleman definitely asks us to consider what result, what change in the situation, would be made by an appeal to the country. He puts forward three alternatives. It is pretty obvious that if the result of the election were to give a majority to the party now in opposition it would make all the difference in the world. It is true the right hon. Gentleman said that in that case a Unionist Government would be confronted by an Ireland stirred with bitter feelings—I think I give the sense of the words—restless, and full of discontent. What a confession! When this Government came into office their own Chief Secretary said that Ireland was more peaceful and more prosperous than ever before. The best the Prime Minister now can say for himself and his colleagues is that if they were defeated by their constituents to-morrow they would leave Ireland on the verge of civil war. The Prime Minister has two other alternatives; one was that the result of the election might be a balancing power, a small majority one way or the other. I do not know and I do not profess to foretell what might happen in these circumstances beyond this: that whatever did happen, it would not be the passage of the present Bill. And the third alternative, which no doubt interests the Prime Minister more, which he put to us, is that his party might be returned with an overwhelming majority again. Does he really think that in these circumstances the election would have made no change in the situation. He has heard from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that such a result must change, and would change the attitude of the English opposition.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
If the Prime Minister does not remember my right hon. Friend's words, I beg him to look again at his speeches. They were words of sufficient gravity, and their meaning was 147 made sufficiently clear, not to need further exposition from me. At the present time, if the Government attempts to coerce Ulster it is known that Ulster has all our sympathy, and will have every support that we can give her. We have, all of us, to bow to the declared and settled will of the country when that will is made clearly known, and, to say, that the result of a successful appeal by the right hon. Gentleman to his countrymen, with the Bill before them, and the consequences before them, known as they have never been known before, would make no change in the position of parties, or in our attitude, is to say what is manifestly absurd. But more than that, I have no right or title, and I claim none, to speak for Ulster, but I say, as an onlooker and outsider, that such a result of such an appeal must make all the difference in the world to the attitude and state of mind of Ulster. What is their feeling at present? Their feeling at present is that they are being robbed of their rights and privileges by a procedure begun in fraud and consummated by force; that they have been deprived of their right to appeal to their fellow countrymen, which, as free and loyal citizens they are entitled to in a matter so vital to them, and I say that the result of an appeal to the country, even if it went against them, must have, and cannot help having, a profound moral effect upon the situation in Ulster and the attitude of Ulster. What is it these men ask?
I confess I find it difficult to understand the attitude of the Liberal party towards this question. When the Prime Minister talks of conciliation they listen for the most part in silence. If anything is said disrespectful to Ulster, in opposition to her claims, they are ready to cheer, and when we urge these claims or the earnestness with which Ulster is pressing her views, there are always Members on the benches opposite ready to laugh. Can they not put themselves in the position of these Ulstermen even if they think their fears are not justified? Can they not for a moment realise what these fears are, and what men in these conditions must feel and must do? These gentlemen who find it so difficult to sympathise with their countrymen in Ulster are the first to offer sympathy to any other nation. If they cannot take kindly to Ulstermen let them try to imagine for a moment that they are Greeks or Armenians, or Poles or 148 Egyptians. In any of these capacities they would be certain of the sympathy of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who would be loud in declaring that they were rightly struggling to be free. But because they are loyal subjects of the British Crown, hon. Gentlemen opposite turn their backs on them and refuse them not merely sympathy, but the barest justice or constitutional liberty. We are told that their fears are groundless, but that is no answer if those fears are sincerely held, and it does not help us. But are they groundless? The hon. and learned Member for Waterford took me to task the other day because in this connection I said that I could not trust, not as he said the Irish people, but the Nationalist party and its leader. I asked, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots," and the hon. and learned Gentleman said I had been almost as insulting to the Irish people as the late Lord Salisbury when he alluded to the Hottentots. Therefore, I am in good company according to the hon. and learned Gentlemen, but I do not think he traced the source of my allusion, because I had in mind the utterance of a man who was a friend of Ireland, if ever there was a friend of Ireland, in the days when his friendship was not so popular or so lucrative as it is now—I mean John Bright. I hold in my hand the notes of one speech which he made on the Irish Question after the introduction of Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill, and I will read from them:—If the Ethiopian has changed his skin and the leopard his spots then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.It is easy to be secure, in the smooth words of the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, for us who sit in this House and live in this country, but if we had lived in Ulster and seen the long career of the various leagues which, under different aliases, have tyrannised over Ireland, have covered it with crime, have denied the most elementary rights of liberty or freedom to minorities and to poor and humble individuals, should we not think differently about a proposal to have our own persons, our own families, and all that we hold dear, subjected to a Parliament which, whatever proposal the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington was willing to make, those gentlemen would always have a majority, and the representatives of the minority would never have power to protect those whom they were sent to represent? Since I have been allowed by the 149 hon. and learned Member's reference to my speech to allude to Mr. Bright's opinion, I cannot refrain from quoting a little more from the same. I add only small words to make the sentence read, but I alter nothing of the meaning, and I add very little. He said:—We were asked to consent to a revolution in Ireland.That is as true to-day as it was then—At the bidding of one-twelfth of the population of the United Kingdom, we are asked to thrust out from the shelter and the justice of the United Parliament the two millions who would remain with us, who cling to us, and who passionately resent the attempt to drive them from the Parliament of their ancestors. I hope this stupendous injustice and blunder will fail.And he added, in words which I have never forgotten—That history had no example of monarchy or republic submitting to a capitulation at once so unnecessary and so humiliating.Those words are as applicable to the present Bill as to the first Bill, and our claim is that you have no right to pass such a Bill as that without an absolute certainty that you have the majority of your countrymen behind you. I confess that when the right hon. Gentleman came to the latter part of his speech he adopted a different, a graver, and, if I may say so, a more becoming tone. He acknowledged the gravity of the situation. For the first time, in the third Session during which this Bill has been considered, he admitted that the responsibility of making suggestions for the avoidance of civil war lay with the Government. We have said that for two years. Why could not the right hon. Gentleman recognise it earlier? He admits it. He said that he would use no last words on the subject to-night: he would bar no suggestion. He would not even exclude the possibility of the exclusion of Ulster. What does it all mean? Events are grave enough already by his own admission. The strain in Ulster on everybody is something which it is difficult for us to conceive. They are going about their business as well as they can at the same time that they are organising, drilling, and arming. Business is interfered with, and all life is reckoned uncertain for the men themselves, who are risking all for their wives and children. This is a long drawn out agony, of which every day and hour and minute counts in blood and tears. Events are hurrying to a catastrophe. You cannot keep a million of people at that strain and guarantee the maintenance of peace. Events are hurrying to a catastrophe, and the Prime Minister 150 says that some day he will make a suggestion. Three months ago, I think, at Ladybank, he spoke in the same sense. Now he says wait two months more.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman said, "We must wait until all the necessary financial business is finished. If he means that he is going to do it earlier I shall be very glad to hear him say so. He said we had got to finish the customary financial business of this period of the Session, which was as much as to point to a rather ominous date in April as the moment at which he would reveal the mysterious workings of his mind. Three months ago he invited conversations. He has had those conversations. He must have been thinking about this question all the time. Has he not made up his mind yet? What is the difficulty about telling us now what it is that he is prepared to do, and what it is he is not prepared to do, and relieving once for all the agony of Ulster and the uncertainty that prevails? I cannot believe that even at this stage the Prime Minister does not know his own mind, or that he is waiting for somebody else to make up his mind.
There are two plain questions which I put to the Government, and which I hope will be answered by some Minister before this Debate closes. This is not the time for holding things back or manœuvring. This is the time for taking the House of Commons and the people into your confidence, and dealing frankly and fairly with all concerned. I ask two questions, and there need be no difficulty in answering them. Are you prepared to exclude Ulster? Did the Prime Minister mean that he would exclude Ulster or did he not? And the second question is—will you secure to Ulster the same rights, privileges, and duties which are enjoyed by Great Britain? What is it Ulstermen ask? They ask no special privileges. They ask no favour. All they ask is that there shall be no separation of their interests from ours, no differentiation between their position. Those are two perfectly plain and simple questions. If the Government will answer "Yes," danger of civil war is averted; if the Government answers "No," civil war is made certain. There could be no graver question; there can be no excuse for shirking it. I say that these are critical questions.
151 The exclusion of Ulster is the only possible basis of peace. If anything has been made plain by Ulster men it is that leas than that they are not prepared to submit to, and to offer them less than that is not to promote a peaceful solution, but merely to drive them into more extreme courses. I say that that is the least that is worth offering, because it is the least which will secure the object which I hope all have in view—the object of preserving peace and averting civil strife. The right hon. Gentleman said that the exclusion of Ulster was only a pis aller. I think it is more than that. If you are to establish a Parliament in Dublin the exclusion of Ulster is the necessary corollary of your legislation. It is a little more than that. I speak my own long held and often expressed opinion when I say that the exclusion of Ulster, though it is not a settlement of the Irish question, though it does not make this Bill just or fair to the loyalists of the South and West, or safe or prudent for Great Britain—I say the exclusion of Ulster would have one positive advantage: it would be a statutory denial and negation of the claim of Ireland to be regarded as an independent nation. The right hon. Gentleman said that any concessions which were offered, or which might be offered, would be offered only as a basis of peace; not merely as averting civil war, but as a basis of a wider peace. I confess I thought his language on that point was very obscure. I did not exactly understand what he meant. They would be offered on the understanding that the Irish Parliament would start with fair chances, with every chance of successfully coping with Irish difficulties! I do not know what pledge he is asking from the Unionist party in those words, which, unfortunately, I could not take down, but to which I have alluded. Does he mean that supposing the Bill passed with 152 these concessions, and a General Election immediately followed before it came into force, and that in that General Election our countrymen, revolted by the Bill and revolting against those who had passed it, placed the Opposition in power, that the Opposition would be debarred from dealing freely with the Bill? Does he mean that if we came into power we should not have a free hand to make Amendments as we pleased? Does he mean that we should be precluded from making even such use as might be possible of the nominal veto reserved to the Imperial Parliament? If he means anything of the kind, he is asking a great deal too much, and what he knows we can never give and he can never receive. Sir, you cannot make me a party to a Bill which I believe is so fraught with injury to Ireland and with danger to the United Kingdom as is the present Bill, by the mere exclusion of Ulster. I urge the exclusion of Ulster as the right of Ulster; I urge it as removing one great crime which the passage of this Bill would otherwise entail; I urge it as something better than the Bill, but the exclusion of Ulster does not, in my opinion, make this Bill a good Bill, or even a safe Bill, and to the Bill, even so amended, I, for one, will be no party.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned accordingly till To-morrow (Wednesday).
§ ADJOURNMENT.—Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Illingworth.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at Six minutes before Eleven of the clock.