HC Deb 23 March 1914 vol 60 cc69-72

I understand that it is the intention of the Government that a statement should be made by the Secretary of State for War as to the position in the Army, but in view of the widespread anxiety on that subject, I beg to press upon the Prime Minister a request—of which I gave him notice yesterday—that he will make the Motion necessary to allow a discussion on that statement to take place immediately after it is made. I need not say that, if he does so, we on the Opposition side will offer no objection to obtaining the Votes down for to-night later on, though I hope the right hon. Gentleman later will give us sufficient time for the discussion that may be lost.


Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, will he bear in mind that Scotch Liberals desire to raise to-night the question of this illegal imprisonment of eleven crofters who have been in prison from Thursday night until now? We want them out, and we want the Adjournment at 8.15.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in view of the imperative need of an immediate settlement in Ireland, and having regard to the fact that last Thursday's Amendment in favour of exclusion of Ulster counties, pending all-round devolution, is still on the Order Paper, he will give an early date for the continuance of the Debate?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)

In reply to the question just put to me by my hon. Friend behind me, I think the House will have a further and full opportunity of discussing his proposal when we resume the Debate on the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland Bill. With regard to the question put to me by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, of course it is a very unusual thing to interrupt business in the way he suggested, and it can only be done on the Motion of a Minister, but, in view of his request made upon his responsibility, I will undertake, if, after what my right hon. Friend has said, the desire still exists, to accede to it.


Whilst this is under consideration, may I ask my right hon. Friend if, when he makes that statement, he will also give us some assur- ance that the Debate due to-day shall not be altogether lost? Of course, we must discuss this Vote.


My hon. Friend knows that it is necessary we should get these Votes to-night, and it is proposed to suspend the Eleven o'clock Rule. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will do what he can to aid us and not unduly curtail discussion, because we gave to-night as an extra night for the purpose.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will give the Scottish Liberals an opportunity to discuss this very important question affecting the liberty of the subject?


It can be done on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House, or it can be done on Wednesday on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill.


By Wednesday these men will have been in prison for a week, and they are in prison because of the neglect of the Board of Agriculture to do its work. We are surely entitled to-day to call attention to that. If we are only allowed to do so on the Adjournment we shall only have half an hour to discuss it, and we ought to get the Adjournment at 8.15.


In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply I have received from my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House in order to call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance.


The hon. Member will see that he cannot ask for that Motion for Adjournment until the House has decided whether or not the Prime Minister shall move the Adjournment immediately. If the Prime Minister moves the Adjournment immediately, no further Motion for Adjournment can be made. It would be courteous, at least, to wait and see what happens with regard to that.


May I ask if, whether the Adjournment is moved just now or not, it will not be in order for any hon. Member to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House on a definite matter of urgent public importance at 8.15?


There can only be one Motion for Adjournment made. The Prime Minister has indicated that in certain eventualities he will make that Motion for the Adjournment forthwith, and the House will then be discussing the Adjournment of the House on that question. When that question has been put from the Chair, any subject can be discussed, and therefore the hon. Member will not be cut out. The fact that the Prime Minister's Motion is before the House would not prevent him raising that question.


I am sorry to detain the House, but I do feel strongly on this point, and I should like to know if I should be entitled to raise this question on the Motion for the Adjournment by the Prime Minister?


I have just said so.

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Colonel Seely)

The Prime Minister has asked me to make a brief statement with regards to events as concerning the War Office, apart from other questions, in reply to many questions of private notice which have been addressed to himself and to me. I will state them very briefly with regard both to the question of officers and with regard to the movement of troops. First, with regard to the question of the officers: Information was received at the War Office on Friday evening from General Sir Arthur Paget, Commanding the Forces in Ireland, that some officers in his command had informed him that in certain eventualities they would be unable to carry out instructions which he might hereafter find it necessary to issue to them. The Army Council requested Sir Arthur Paget by telegram to forward a statement of the circumstances of the case and to direct the senior officers concerned to report themselves to the Adjutant-General at the War Office forthwith. As the result of the inquiry which the Army Council have held, it is clear that this incident was due to a misunderstanding of questions put to them by the General Officer Commanding the Forces in Ireland. With the approval of the General Officer Commanding, these officers have now been ordered to rejoin their units. With regard to the movement of troops, the following is the information: In consequence of information received by His Majesty's Government, it was decided to make certain movements of troops, and these were ordered on Thursday night. One company of Infantry was instructed to move to Enniskillen, Omagh, Armagh, and Carrickfergus, respectively; one battalion of Infantry was ordered to proceed, half to Dundalk and half to Newry, respectively; and one battalion from Victoria Barracks at Belfast to Holywood Barracks, which are barracks adjoining Belfast, just outside. The reason for these movements was the necessity for protecting Government arms, ammunition stores, and other property. All these movements have been completed in accordance with instructions issued from the General Officer Commanding the Forces in Ireland, and all orders issued have been punctually and implicitly obeyed.


I think the right hon. Gentleman will see that it is necessary that there should be a discussion on that statement.