§ Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Question proposed [9th March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ Mr. WALTER LONG
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
In rising to move the Amendment which stands in my name, I do not think that the most fervent supporters of the Government will differ from me in the first thing I have to say, which is that this House is asked to approach the consideration of this first and most important of the Government measures—what is admitted to be by its friends, and claimed to be by its opponents, a great revolution in the Constitution of the country: this measure which we are asked to read a second time to-day—under exceptional circumstances as affecting the measure itself, and in a state of affairs, politically, for which I do not believe there is any parallel to be found in our history. The Prime Minister is not only the Leader of this House, he is not only the dominant figure on that bench and on that side of the House, and in the House, but he has been through these last two years the Minister in charge of this Home Rule measure. He has made himself responsible 1039 for its conduct from the beginning to the end, and he and he alone has been the mouthpiece of the Government with regard to proposed changes. He made the other day, when the Second Reading was first moved, an announcement of first importance to the House and the country, going at greater length and with greater detail in regard to the proposed alterations. Yet to-day, when we are asked for the last time to debate this question, to discuss not only this Bill but the proposed alterations, we are called upon to do it in the absence of the one Minister whose presence is essential. If additional proof were required of this it would be found in the questions which immediately preceded the Orders of the Day. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition gave notice yesterday of the question he would ask to-day. He asked that question. What has the right hon. Baronet the Foreign Secretary to say in reply? My right hon. Friend asked more than one question—he asked two or three consequential ones, and in almost every reply given by the Minister in charge of the House came the sentence, "I will speak to the Prime Minister and ask him about it." If that is the difficulty in which Ministers find themselves in regard to answering plain questions, of which full notice has been given, what is likely to be the result in reference to questions that we shall put to them in the course of this Debate? It has been with the Leader of the Opposition, whose advice we seek, a question of grave consideration whether we ought in these circumstances to consent to take part in this Debate?
Let me remind the House of all that Ministers said in the old days when they were passing the Parliament Act through Parliament. We urged that the subsequent Debates in the second and third years would be to a large extent sham Debates. We urged that the attention of this House could only be given in a partial degree. We urged that the Government would feel themselves compelled to force the measure through with as little Debate and discussion as might be possible. What was the answer which we received in emphatic terms from the Prime Minister himself? It was—I remember his making it in answer to a speech which I addressed to the House on this very branch of the question—that if, as time goes on, during this period of two years, to which he said he attached so great importance, there was 1040 evidence of a change of opinion, of needs for alterations, the whole value of the Parliament Act was that it will give the Government of the country the chance of giving effect to those needs, and they would be in a position to do it. Yet on this, the greatest Bill of all, the most important of all, for which the Prime Minister is more responsible than any Member of the Government, when the last occasion arises when effect can be given to these changes, and when the last moment arrives at which Parliament can recognise the undoubted feeling of the House and the country, the one man, who alone can get up in his place and defend the measure or answer questions, is absent from our Debates, and he is not even a Member of the House. Do not let me be misunderstood. There have been occasions in my own experience in the country and in this House when great national difficulties have forced the Ministry of the day to make changes which, subsequently, made it impossible for leading Ministers to be in their places. It may be that such a condition of things has arisen now. But I deny altogether that that condition of things is one which can in any way compel the sympathy or forbearance of His Majesty's Opposition. That condition of things has been brought about solely by the action of the Government, and is the result of their policy. But I will go further, and I will say that if our hopes are realised we should be the last to complain of the absence of the Prime Minister upon any other occasion than this. We hope, even against hope, that his acceptance of this great office of Secretary of State for War, in addition to the already heavy burden he bears as Prime Minister, means that he has taken upon himself the charge of the Army in order that he may defend the Army, not only with the full power of his own great abilities but of his great position, against the attacks upon its honour which have been made not only by his followers, but by some of his principal colleagues.
If it be the case that his acceptance as the representative in this House and this country of the Army means that he is determined to stop this attack upon the Army of this country then, great though the price be that we will have to pay, I for one would not complain. But the circumstances of the last few days have been so extraordinary, with the everlasting changes and events and alterations on the 1041 part of Ministers, the hopeless inconsistency between statements made in this House and statements made in the other House, the fact that one Minister resigns, while to the ordinary observer and reader of what is going on others who seem to be no less responsible remain, the fact that distinguished brilliant officers feel themselves compelled to resign their offices, which they have held with great advantage to the country, while some of those, if the statements which have been made in another place, apart from the statements here, are correct, who are at least equally responsible and have not resigned, all this fills us with amazement, and makes us wonder whether it is worth while to hope for any improvement in this position that is full to-day of so much difficulty and, indeed, of so much darkness. As I have said, it was a matter for grave consideration whether, on the consideration of this Bill, so far as we are concerned, we ought not to have shaken the dust off our feet and declined to share any responsibility under the circumstances of the case. It would not be difficult to show the extraordinary nature of the position in which we find ourselves in discussing the Amendment which is now before the House. That Amendment is to move the rejection of the Second Reading of this Bill and it takes place in the absence of the most important Minister of all. I make no reflection on the Foreign Secretary, whose distinction we all recognise. I make no reflection upon any of his colleagues, but I think that I shall here carry all quarters of the House with me when I say that one's experience in this House teaches one many lessons, but, amongst others, there is none has impressed itself so much on me as this, that it is of the utmost importance that the head of the Government in this House, the Minister specially responsible for the measure under consideration, should be present in the House to hear the Debates.
Let anybody who is a Member of the House compare his own experience with the Debate he has listened to and the Debate an account of which he has only read. I venture to say it is of vital importance that if the Prime Minister and his colleagues are in earnest in making the proposal for compromise which they made the other day, it is absolutely vital that he should have been here; and when I recognise, as I do, that it would have been possible by, after all, a very small alteration in the arrangements 1042 to have had his presence here, I am compelled, whether I like it or not, to ask myself whether the Government's proposals for compromise were really intended in order to secure the peace, to avoid catastrophe, or whether they were only intended as a mere political manœuvre to put themselves and their-party in a better position, and, if possible, to manœuvre our party, and especially my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson), in a wrong position. The circumstances of the day point in that direction and lead the most charitable-minded men to that conclusion, but the Government counted their chickens before they were hatched.
Their sinister object was defeated by the action of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University. They made it perfectly clear what the attitude of the Opposition and what the attitude of the people of Ulster is in regard to your compromise, your proposed compromise, and I think it would have been a better tribute to the sincerity and reality of the action of the Government if they had commenced their proceedings to-day by a clear and definite statement of how the matter stands now and what view they take of the answers given to their offers. We know nothing or the attitude of the Government in regard to the suggestion of my right hon. Friend, and, so far as we are informed, we stand exactly where we stood when the Prime Minister made his proposal the other day. I believe everybody, wherever they sit and certainly we on this side of the House, feel the gravity of a crisis so terrible as the one with which we are confronted, where now there has ceased to be any doubt as to the possibility of civil war, where we have the admission of the Prime Minister himself this is now a possible and real factor in the case, where we know that the Prime Minister has gone so far as to make proposals for the amendment of a Bill which he says will, in his judgment, make it a worse Bill, in order that he may be able, if possible, to avert this awful disaster. We feel this, at least, as much as Members do opposite. The proof of that is to be found in the action of my right hon. Friends near me, and hon. Gentlemen opposite must not blame us if we look, especially in the circumstances I have described, with suspicion and doubt upon their proposal, and if to-day we call the absence of 1043 the Prime Minister as evidence of the fact that they were manœuvring, and not seeking really to come to a satisfactory settlement. After all, the proposal which the Prime Minister made, so far as we are able to understand it now, is one which nobody really thinks, having examined the position in Ulster, and in Ireland, and having decided the facts for themselves, would expect them to accept. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, more outside of this House than in it, have declared that we on the Opposition side are not sincere. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Two or three hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer that, but I confess it makes me wonder that anybody of intelligence can cheer a statement of that kind. I am very glad to find that the cheer was so weak; but that is the charge made more outside this House than in it.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WALTER LONG
I do not complain of their saying it. That is the statement made much more outside this House than in it, and so far as I know, and I believe I am familiar with the full views of my hon. Friends, both in this House and of those whom they represent, there is not a shadow of foundation for that charge. As for sincerity, I think it is ludicrous to suggest that we are not sincere in our opposition to Home Rule in any form. It is the great fact which brought together the Unionist party of to-day. It is the great fact which led to immense sacrifices being made by those distinguished statesmen and their followers who were once Members of the Liberal party and who came into alliance with us. It is the great fact which we have kept in the forefront of our party programme ever since we have been a political party, and so far as I know, nothing can be quoted from any one of our leaders to show that there is the smallest weakening on this question of establishing practically an independent Parliament in Dublin. Therefore the charge of insincerity cannot, I submit, be maintained. However, I do not complain of that, but I think it is a wholly unworthy charge for any man who claims to be sincere himself to make against his political opponents. I come now to the second charge, that we want to use Home Rule as a means of attacking and destroying something else. Hon. Gentlemen opposite say, "What the Opposition really want is, 1044 not to destroy Home Rule, but to break down the Parliament Act." Do right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite really believe that? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] They do. I do not object. On the contrary, I think that that is quite a reasonable view to take. I think it is rather a stupid one, if I may say so, but none the less, it may be so. There is a good deal to be said for it.
§ Mr. LONG
I wholly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. My right hon. and learned Friend never said anything of the kind. But that is neither here nor there. It is extraordinary how hon. Gentlemen opposite, when challenged, are unwilling to take up the challenge. They invariably turn to us and say, "You said it." That is their whole justification for this Home Rule Bill. They point to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour) and Lord Lansdowne talked about Home Rule in two or three of their speeches, and that is their whole justification for the Bill. When they are searching for a warrant for their policy, they go to the scrap-heap of speeches made on this side of the House. It is so now. This charge, of which I did not knew they were ashamed, they justify by referring to speeches of my right hon. and learned Friend. I entirely deny the suggestion; but, be that as it may, I am dealing now with their charge. There is a great deal to be said for their desire to reap for themselves the advantages of the Parliament Act. They carried it openly, because they said that their party always had to face obstacles in another place, and that they ought to be given a free chance to pass their legislation. They now say that, owing to the position in which they find themselves, they cannot possibly consult the people on this Bill at this moment without surrendering all their advantages under the Parliament Act. That is perfectly true; but the offer which the Government have made of excluding Ulster under circumstances which in themselves are wholly ridiculous, is no attempt to meet that difficulty. If their desire is really to consult the people, if their conviction is that the people are heartily with them, why, instead of making these fantastic proposals with regard to Ulster, do they not come to us and the country and say, "Our difficulty is the Parliament Act. Will you agree to such an amendment of the Parliament Act as will enable us to 1045 reap its advantages, even though we consult here and now the people of the country?" I say that then the Government would be making a proposal well worthy of consideration. I have no right or title to speak for my party or for this Bench, but, speaking for myself, and believing, as I do, not only that our position in regard to Home Rule is sincere, but that it is our most deep-seated and profound conviction that Home Rule will be bad for Ireland and worse for the United Kingdom; realising, as I do, that the system of party government is one which, though it has many disadvantages, holds the field in the absence of any better proposal, but involves many difficulties; and realising, as I do, that this argument of the party opposite, which is the result of the party system, has a great deal to be said for it; I say that, if that is your objection, if your claim is that you are entitled to enjoy the fruits of the victory which you won at the election, and which enabled you to carry the Parliament Act, we are sincere, and we will do nothing to deprive you of those advantages. But we say that your duty is, without a moment's delay, to consult the people of the country and get their approval of the policy, with its possibly awful consequences, upon which you are embarked, and to which you are committed. We say that if, under the party system, your only difficulty is that under the Parliament Act you are faced with certain difficulties, make proposals for removing those difficulties, and ask us whether we will consent to them if you, on your side, undertake to go to the people, who you say are behind you in this matter.
My Motion is that this Bill be read a second time this day six months. I have referred to the greater and graver difficulties of the situation. I come now to one which, if the position were not so serious, would be almost comic. What is this Bill that we are asked to read a second time? I understand that the Foreign Secretary is to follow me. Nobody in this House is better able to make his meaning clearly understood. Is he prepared to tell us what this Bill is? Is it the printed Bill that we are able to get in the Bill Office? Is it the Bill as altered by the suggestions of the Prime Minister? Further, in the Prime Minister's speech, which we hoped would be followed on this occasion by much fuller information, there was a clear indication that the Amendments in regard to the 1046 exclusion of Ulster were by no means the only amendments that he had in his mind. He was asked various questions, as hon. Members will find by reference to the OFFICIAL REPORT, as to the judiciary and other matters, and his answers indicated that those questions were still under consideration. How do they stand to-day? If the Bill is the one we have in print, what an extraordinary position we are in. The Government are asking us to read a second time a Bill which they by their own action, have already admitted must, if it remains in its present form, inevitably lead to civil disturbance. If the Bill is the one as altered by the suggestions of the Prime Minister, how are those alterations to be effected? The Government boast of their Parliament Act as the great charter of Liberal liberty. But the Parliament Act makes for them the very difficulties which, amongst others, now stand in their way. They cannot amend this Bill. They admit its difficulties; they admit its dangers. No longer can any man on that side of the House charge us with bluffing when we talk about the terrible consequences that will follow if you proceed with your policy. All this is admitted through the mouth of the Prime Minister himself. Yet, conscious though they are of the situation, prepared as they are to alter the Bill on the lines indicated by the Prime Minister, under the hide-bound methods of the Parliament Act, they are unable to do anything to give effect to their own wishes.
Surely at this stage of the Bill we ought to know clearly, not only what is in the mind of the Government, which Bill it is we are discussing, and what is to be its final form when placed on the Statute Book, but also what is the method by which those changes are to be made. On a previous occasion my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) made it perfectly clear that, in our view, there is an immense difference between amending this particular Bill in another place at the suggestion of the Government, and bringing in another Bill to carry out the suggested alterations. The first course involves the acceptance of this Bill in its amended form by those who represent the Unionist party in another place. That is a policy to which I do not believe any Member of the Unionist party will, under any possible conditions, submit. That Bill must be, and will be, opposed by us. If you have made up your mind to improve it, as we 1047 think you would by certain alterations, your only policy under the Parliament Act is to do that by a separate Bill carried at the same time. As to that we know nothing. No statement has been made. I hope the Foreign Secretary is in a position to make here and now an explicit declaration upon this and other questions. This is not a matter which has been suddenly thrust upon the Government. It has been before them for a considerable time. I hope we shall, here and now, have definite information from the Government so that my hon. Friends who take part in this Debate may at least know more than I do as to the answer to the questions which I have asked.
I said that the Prime Minister indicated that there were changes of an even greater character, in one sense, than the exclusion of Ulster—greater, because they carry the change in the Bill further. We have argued all through these Debates that your Bill as it stands creates not a federal or subordinate Parliament, but one that will be practically a sovereign and independent Parliament. We are quite aware that you have contested that view. But when you are contesting it you cannot deny that you will not find in any federal Parliament in the world the powers which, under this Bill, you propose to give to what you call a subordinate Parliament. You are surrendering to your subordinate Parliament, in connection with the judiciary, the Post Office, and the Customs, powers which, in every other case, are reserved to the central Parliament, and have always been regarded as of vital importance in the establishment of a system of central and subordinate Parliaments. Therefore, in your decision as to this change is involved the answer to this greater question, whether you are in reality at the last moment going to start upon a policy of federalism, or whether you are going to adhere to the system which will be established if your Bill passes, namely, the creation of a practically separate Parliament. When you get through all this haze and difficulty, you come to the Bill itself. In our previous discussions my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I myself in an humbler way, and others, have repeatedly challenged the Government. I will not stop to discuss all the fantastic proposals in the Bill for the ordinary administration of Ireland, but I will say a word upon one branch only of the subject, and that is finance. More than a year has 1048 elapsed since we challenged the Government to produce their authorities for the financial proposals of the Bill. We all remember the effect when the present President of the Local Government Board—who was then Postmaster-General—swallowed our challenge, and apparently was only too anxious to answer it. He shortly afterwards made a most long and interesting speech, but he forgot to quote the authorities who approved of the Irish financial proposals. Every other Minister on that Bench spoke in turn—some of them had spoken two or three times. Certainly all of us I am afraid on both Benches are a little bit inclined to speak too long, and are possibly inclined to agree with the view suggested by the hon. Member in the Motion of which he gave notice at the beginning of business as to the length of speeches. Certainly in regard to the speeches; to which I have made reference, of Ministers opposite nobody could have said that in their desire to be clear and explicit that they unduly shortened their observations.
Although they took a full share of the time of the House and discussed at large the various proposals of this Bill, there was not one, I think, from the beginning to the end of our Debate who has been able to justify the extraordinary financial proposals of the Bill. What is more remarkable still; how does this question stand in Ireland itself? I make no apology for dwelling upon that aspect of the case—for this reason: the only justification really for the policy of the Government is that Ireland cannot be rendered peaceful without the policy of Home Rule. The Prime Minister towards the end of his arguments in one speech said the choice was between the Bill which would cause trouble in Ulster, or no Bill which would cause trouble in the South and West. "Our object," hon. Gentlemen opposite say—and they get eloquent and sentimental over it—"our object is to take peace to Ireland, to make Ireland prosperous—as she has never been—to encourage her industries, to develop her resources, and to build her up into a great and growing nation." That is your object! Nobody will deny, for it is as true to-day as ever it was, that money is a great, if not the greatest, factor in the success of a Government scheme of this sort. It is the finance of this Bill, therefore, that compels and receives more consideration in Ireland than any other branch of the subject at present. How does it stand? I admit, so far as this 1049 House is concerned, that the Nationalist party, the hon. Gentleman who follow the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond), are very silent on the question. But other Nationalists outside this House, just as sound in their nationalism as they are, are not so silent. We have read the views of Lord Dun-raven. We have read the views of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. O'Brien). Nobody questions the Nationalist proclivities of the latter. We know what these have said about this Bill. We know that the Prime Minister and his Friends declare this Bill to be three things—to be a good Bill, to be a Bill which will settle the Irish difficulty—that is one of the most frequently made claims of hon. Gentlemen opposite—and we are told that its finance is generous and satisfactory, and that Ireland ought to be able to succeed under it. I have quoted Lord Dunraven and the hon. Member for Cork, not textually, but generally; nobody, I think, can question the statement I have quoted. What says one of the Nationalists whose Nationalism is certainly sound, and who is a great authority upon this question? Speaking on 4th April, 1913, at a lecture on the finance of the Bill by Professor Bastable—the one authority whom the Prime Minister has ever been able to put forward—Professor Kettle said:—The Bill was a transition Bill. If it were the final turn in the devolution of Irish affairs from Westminster to Dublin, it would be a disastrous Bill. It was not the end but the beginning. It was the seed of freedom lodged in Irish soil. Let them deliberately face and accept the sacrifices, and speed on, so far as they might, the transition period and so reach the time when under a scheme of full fiscal autonomy they would be responsible for the raising and for the spending of the public finances of Ireland.What are the three main facts that emerge from this declaration of Professor Kettle? They are undoubtedly that, as the Bill stands, it is disastrous for Ireland—that as the Bill stands it is purely a transitionary measure. It has only to last for a short time and to be regarded as a step towards the acquisition of full national rights. Further, it makes it perfectly clear that this Bill can only cease to be disastrous to Ireland when Ireland acquires full fiscal autonomy. You talk about federalism! You say that this Bill is to be part of a future federal system, and that the only reason it comes alone is because the claims of Ireland are the oldest, the most insistent, and the most pathetic. Hon. Members opposite say that they are laying the foundation of a federal system. Yet out of the mouths of their own supporters—those who are willing to express their 1050 views in public with independence—come the most emphatic condemnation of your scheme as a part of the federal system that ever was uttered by anybody criticising constitutional proposals.
This is your Bill which is going to bring peace to Ireland. What has it done already? You have not gone far along your road. It has unsettled the people in Ireland. Does anybody deny that? Do hon. Members opposite contend that the unsettlement in Ireland is confined only to Ulster? Do they believe that they have not profoundly disturbed the people in the other three provinces—that, so far, this Bill has pleased none and has annoyed many; has settled nothing, but has unsettled a great deal? This Bill, the finances of which I have described, and the provisions of which I have referred to, were to spell your message of peace to Ireland. But this Bill has been condemned by your own supporters! You are asking us to read it a second time and we are wholly in darkness and ignorance as to what are its real provisions and what you have really got in your minds. I do not believe that in any country in the world where constitutional changes of so far-reaching importance has been made has there ever been such a spectacle as we contemplate to-day, or has there ever been such a spectacle as this country presents to the whole world as at the present moment. I am not going to discuss now, as we have already debated it, and no doubt we shall again, the new peril which the policy of hon. Members opposite has brought upon this country. You chose to say that we were bluffing. You would not listen to anything that we told you. You talked about going on full steam ahead; of meeting force by force. Where is that language now? Who talks now of meeting force by force? [An HON. MEMBER: "The Foreign Secretary."] It is true that the Foreign Secretary in his speech the other day made what appeared to be a very portentous announcement. I do not want to place upon his language what it will not bear. The right hon. Gentleman is well able to explain it for himself, but I say that, with the exception of the concluding sentences in his speech, there is not anybody on that side of the House who has not admitted that the possible has been arrived at, and that you will never be able to use the full forces of the Crown to enforce this Bill upon Ireland.
§ Mr. LONG
The hon. Member is one of whom I will say this—and I have said it before—that he has always been perfectly consistent and perfectly courageous in the advancement of his own views. I am bound to say I have always known him in this House and on the platform as a most eloquent exponent of the policy of peace, and a most determined opponent of the policy of force and of the policy of coercion. Changed, indeed, must be the conditions, and curious, indeed, must be the alterations in the minds of those who have made themselves known by their firm opposition to, and hatred of, anything in the nature of coercion, that they are now prepared to say that the policy which they opposed when it was applied to criminals guilty of murder and assassination, and every kind of crime—a policy which they opposed when it was adopted by this country in defence of our national interests and the flag—that that policy is going to find in them for the first time in their lives supporters and adherents when it is to be directed against those who, if they ever fight at all, will fight alone because they claim their right to enjoy the same privileges that hon. Members opposite enjoy, to continue in the same citizenship which hon. Members opposite enjoy. It is, indeed, an extraordinary change. Notwithstanding, however, the views of hon. Gentlemen, and notwithstanding the language of the Foreign Secretary, and what is in the White Paper, it is an extraordinary controversy which is raging around the methods by which you nearly smashed the British Army. All this, I say, shows to the ordinary observer—who is not an enthusiastic party man bound upon cheering his own Government, and seeing that their policies are carried into effect—that these events of the last ten days have made it clear to every intelligent observer of our affairs—who is not absolutely overridden by his party interests and loyalty—that any attempt of yours to force this Bill upon a loyal and peaceful population is foredoomed to failure before you really try to put it into practical effect. That is a view which is, I believe, held universally. I believe that many hon. Gentlemen opposite will themselves admit that. I have not exaggerated or overstated the case in the description I have given. That being so, I come to the last question which I have to ask the Government. I have asked them, What is this Bill? I have asked them their view with regard to federal pro- 1052 posals. I have asked them what is their defence or criticism now at the last moment of matters brought again to their notice, and their own proposals.
I now come to the question which we have asked the Government throughout all these Debates, and to which we have never had an answer. From the time of the Second Reading, when this Bill was first brought in, to the last occasion when we debated it, we told hon. Members that they would never be able to bend the necks of this proud people to the yoke under which it was sought to bring them. We warned you of these difficulties. What was your answer? That we were bluffing! That the people of Ulster had wooden guns! That it was all nonsense! All a storm in a teacup, and that it would be discovered that there was no reality in it! There is not one of you so callous as to dare to say that to-day. You know that all we said was true—you have at all events now some appreciation of the magnitude of the task you have undertaken. You are beginning to have some idea of the terrible consequences that may follow from your policy. This is the last question that I ask of the Government—what are you going to do? What are you asking Parliament and the country to do? Are you going to carry this Bill as it stands, with a full knowledge of the consequences which will follow, and if so, and if you say so, when you have done all that, what is going to be your record? You tell us that if there is going to be opposition to your proposals, you will use the full forces of the Crown to carry them out. That is your message of peace. That is the way in which you propose to create a new Ireland. Ireland, God knows, has suffered enough from party politics. I have taken part in many Irish Debates, official and non-official. I have spoken on many platforms upon the Irish question, and with great happiness. I spent a great part of my life in my younger days in Ireland; and indifferent and ignorant indeed of Irish history would be the man who attempted to deny that Ireland has suffered grievously, and has had to bear many a wrong, too often created by insufficient justice and fair-play.
I believe everyone wishes to-day, whatever their views on this particular question, to see Ireland go along that happier and better path she had been treading now for twenty years, developing the resources of her national position and taking full advantages of those natural privileges 1053 which are her possession. That, I believe, is the general desire. How do you propose to give effect to it? Is this the last trace of your statesmanship? Is this your last great act before you appeal to the country for its approval or disapproval of your action. You are determined that this Bill must be passed for reasons which I will not go into, because they are known to everybody. I do not care for the reasons—I ask this Government here to-day, when they will have their last opportunity in these Debates, to tell us what they are going to do, not in the mere passage of this measure through the House of Commons, not in the mere use of the forces of the Crown to put down disorder if it arises, but I ask them what is their plan for the future of the country, which they will have made ten times more miserable, and in which they will have created ten times more trouble in order to carry their measure of "peace" by the bayonet and by the bullet. Does the Foreign Secretary doubt this for one single instant? Is he anxious to raise the issue raised in fateful debates in other parts of the world in the last few months that a country is better, or likely to be happier or more prosperous, because its soil will be drenched with the blood of its own best citizens? Does he realise that if this Bill was not open to all the imperfections such as I have described, that if the Pin was not a bad Bill, which I am here to say it is, and in proof of which I quoted, not Unionists, but Nationalists, if it was ten times better, and that you were prepared to do much more than you are to remove the objections of your friends, the Bill is still hateful to the minority in Ireland—determined, resolute, and God-fearing people—who say to-day, as all along, that they will not have it, and I say you are bound, in my humble opinion and in honour to this House and the country, to tell us here, not only how you propose to deal with the Bill here and under your own Parliament Act in another place, and not only what the Bill really is, but how you propose to put it in its final form.
If you repeat what you have said already, that if the people of Ulster will not accept it, you will use force to compel them; you will have created in Ireland a new and terrible position; you will have created a position that will result in years of misery and suffering and ruin. You cannot deny that it is true, and that the facts are as I have stated, and that my forecast of the future is well founded. The least 1054 you can do is to tell us, in answer to these questions, why it is you persist in this extraordinary policy, and what is the plan you have got for dealing with that situation which must follow, if you try to compel the people of Ulster to accept this. Bill, which will mean misery for them suffering for them, and which will mean I believe, for the rest of the United Kingdom, interruption in our progress and advancement, such as the world has never experienced for hundreds of years.
These questions have got to be answered; the Government may evade then as they please by equivocal answers, as in recent days, but a time will come and come soon, when they will have to answer them, either within this House or before the more critical and more insistent jury, and my firm belief is, and it is the last word that I have to say, that if you are blind to the facts, deaf to the warning and refuse to recognise the situation which this House and this country finds itself in if you persist in your policy of Home Rule you will be held by the people of this country, and by the historian of the future, to have been guilty of the greatest act of folly ever committed by any Government, and I believe further, that if, as a result of the Government's policy, the forces of the Crown have to be used to coerce Ulster, the historian will say, as we say, that you have been guilty of the greatest crime that men in history ever committed.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Edward Grey)
I will come later on in what I have to say to the House to the arguments with which the right hon. Gentleman opposite concluded. I will take, first of all, the observations with which he began his speech. He expressed concern at the inconvenience caused by the absence of the Prime Minister. Of course, in that regret we all join, and I personally at least, as much as anyone, but when the right hon. Gentleman went on to give an illustration he selected an illustration drawn from the inconvenience of the Prime Minister's absence not in his capacity as Prime Minister, but in his capacity of Secretary of State for War. That arose out of a question put by the right hon. Gentleman opposite to-day. I have no reason to believe that the answer I gave was not accurate or complete. The Prime Minister had only just gone to the War Office. We had a Cabinet meeting the whole of the morning. The right hon. 1055 Gentleman's question was put at very short notice, and I thought it desirable under these exceptional circumstances, as he would not accept my answer as conclusive, to say that I was perfectly prepared to make further inquiries to make sure that there was no further information. I still believe the answer was perfectly adequate, but because of these exceptional circumstances, I promised to make further inquiry, and I think it is rather a far cry to bring that in as an illustration of the inconvenience in these Debates of the absence of the Prime Minister.
In the first place, the Prime Minister has spoken in this Debate already—I think he has spoken a second time, in what was practically a Debate on the Motion moved by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, which was practically a Debate on the same subject. Practically he has made two speeches relevant to this Debate, and one actually in this Debate, and I do not know that to what he has said already very much new could be added to-day. I, too, am afraid that I have not much new to say, and I therefore mean to keep close to the subject introduced by the right hon. Gentleman, and not to introduce, except in so far as he touched upon them once or twice, any of the matters which the House has been engaged in discussing for many days past. I would like to approach the right hon. Gentleman's question, "What is the Bill the House is discussing?" He asked, "Is it the Bill in the Bill Office?" Well, Sir, it is the Bill in the Bill Office. Failing taking anything less, failing any possible agreement, it must remain the Bill in the Bill Office, and we must proceed with it as such, but I regard the time we have still as time that may be used in investigating whether there is not yet a chance that some measure of agreement may be reached which will avoid those terrible necessities—I do not use less emphatic language than the right hon. Gentleman used in expressing my regret at necessities, if they come to be necessities, to try and find a settlement in Ireland by force rather than by consent.
§ Sir E. GREY
Rather than by consent. The right hon. Gentleman interrupted as if I expressed a preference for settlement by force.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am sorry; I only thought the two phrases went very badly together—settlement by force.
§ Sir E. GREY
I will deal with the question of force after. I want to take up this Debate where it was left on a previous day by the rather remarkable speech made by the hon. Member for Herts, Watford (Mr. Arnold Ward), from the opposite side of the House, appealing for settlement by consent. I am afraid one of the great obstacles to a settlement by consent is the way which proposals made from our side have been received. If you are to make any progress, even if our proposals appear to be unacceptable, they must, at any rate, have the credit of being made with good intentions, and not every proposal that is unacceptable is made in bad faith. I would like—not for the purpose of pressing upon the right hon. Gentleman opposite a proposal when they are not prepared to receive it, but merely proposals which have been made undoubtedly in good faith—to take one or two alternatives to the Prime Minister's suggestion the other day. There is Sir Horace Plunkett's suggestion, which is not acceptable to the other side, but made in good faith. Then there is the proposal of federalists—people like Lord Hyde not party politicians. Their proposal, I understand, is that Ireland must be made a unity. They are opposed to a settlement by exclusion of any part of Ireland, but they would like the settlement to be by an amendment of the Home Rule Bill, so as to take out of it the particular things which they think are obstacles to a future federal settlement, while leaving Ireland a unity under one part of the Bill. Those are proposals made in good faith. We have had, further, the proposal which has been dismissed—
§ Sir E. GREY
It has not been made by the Government, but I am taking the different proposals which have been made in the interests of a settlement. Those are proposals coming from a quarter obviously made in entire good faith without any partisan motive, but they have not found acceptance, and some of the proposals we have made have not found acceptance. They have, however, been made with a real desire to find a solution. The proposal of Home Rule within Home Rule was made in that way 1057 with a real desire to meet the apprehensions of Ulster as to what might happen in practice under Home Rule. There is the statutory guarantee, which in practice would give a Grand Committee of Ulster Members, or anything of that kind. There are various ways by which it might be arranged, such as power for education, for control of the police, power over the appointments in Ulster, and over all those things that affect the lives, the liberties of the people, and the things that really matter in the daily life of the people-in fact, a practical, effective, working guarantee. That has not been accepted, but it was made in the belief that it was really starting from the point of view that Ulster's apprehensions were real, that they had real fears of what would happen under this Bill, a real dislike to have their own intimate concerns left in the hands of anybody but themselves, and a very natural inference from that is that if arrangements were made by which those things would remain in their hands it would go a considerable way to meet the apprehensions in practice. All those various suggestions have found no acceptance, but I would still like to say that upon none of them is the door absolutely shut by the Government. I think the Prime Minister has used some phrase of that kind more than once. He has said:—We shut the door upon no suggestions, and until the last moment I will not reject any one of these suggestions as being hopelessly useless.The last suggestions were made by the Government, not because we thought it preferable, indeed, I think some of the others are preferable to the suggestions which have been made by the Government, but they were made because we had tried some of the others, and we have been told that they would not be acceptable. At the time when the Prime Minister made his last proposal about the optional exclusion of Ulster for six years we were anxious to come to right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite with some proposal which at any rate would have shown a new desire on our part to meet them on the lines which alone they had told us would be acceptable. It was new from us. Now I must say we are exceedingly disappointed at the way that proposal was received. We had been told before that, with regard to our whole Bill as it stood, if we fought one election on that Bill the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition would admit that if that election went in favour of our 1058 Bill he would give no support to resistance by force. Six years means two elections at least.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Supposing it is four years or six years before a Parliament is elected, how will the election be upon Ulster?
§ Sir E. GREY
As you come to the end of the six years, or period, or any time within the six years, it will either be apparent that Ulster, having had experience, as we shall all have had, of the working of the Dublin Parliament, is prepared to come in on terms, or it will appear that the resistance of Ulster is as decided and as strong as it is at the present moment. [An HON. MEMBER: "Will they keep their forces?"] It is not a question of keeping their forces, but a question of the expression of opinion. The feeling is known perfectly well without the existence of forces. If that is so, and if it still be the case at the end of six years, that only by force and by coercion can you make a settlement of the Irish question at the end of six years on the lines of our Bill, does anybody believe it possible that the election in this country can take place on anything but that particular issue? [An [HON. MEMBER: "The Army versus the People."] It is because we wish to avoid any chance of a settlement by force of this question that we made an attempt earlier in autumn, when it seemed that a proposal of this kind would not be ill-received. The First Lord of the Admiralty launched a proposal on his own responsibility at Dundee early in the autumn campaign, and he took great risks. He risked some of the favour of his own party by launching that proposal on his personal responsibility for the exclusion of Ulster, but he received a good deal of commendation and support for his courage from the other side for having done so, and for his contribution to a settlement by consent.
The proposal which the Prime Minister has now made is at least an ample fulfilment of what the First Lord suggested for the temporary exclusion of Ulster, and it has been received as an impossible proposal. I do not know that the last word has been absolutely said by the Government. I say plainly that beyond the six years we are not prepared to go. The country must settle it at the end of six 1059 years. I understand that one statement of the great objection to the inclusion of Ulster is that Ulster people object to being deprived of their rights in this Parliament as they consider it, and desire to have their affairs dealt with and settled in this Parliament until the same principle is also applied to other parts of the United Kingdom—that is, in other words, until a federal solution is arrived at. I am not sure that it is a matter still to be explored whether sonic progress might not be made to ensure that in some way before the six years expires some federal solution might be arrived at. Unless we do get a federal solution in time, Parliament, and I believe this country, will go under from the failure of Parliament to transact its business. I think that is absolutely essential, and if that be the case to make sure of the federal solution within the six years, that at any rate is a matter which can be discussed. I admit it is complex and difficult, but it is a matter which may be discussed, and if there be any general feeling that it is possible, and that it will in any way relieve the situation, I do not see in the least why discussion should not be resumed on that point. I think it very undesirable, however, that when we come to details of that kind, we should begin our discussion by launching proposals backwards and forwards across the floor of the House. If there is any idea of a possibility of a settlement on any of these lines, I think it would be much better the moment right hon. Gentlemen opposite feel that, that there should be some resumption of the private conversations which have been discontinued. The moment you come to details the mere launching of a detail before it has received any Parliamentary criticism or discussion is apt to foredoom its failure. I only suggest that about the federal solution to give one instance that I do not think the last word has yet been said. There is yet room for discussion, and possibly for sonic relief of the situation.
I come now to the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman opposite launched across the floor of the House the other day about the Referendum. He made that proposal because he wished to make a proposal to us not for the special object of introducing the Referendum into our Constitution, but in order that some way might be found of obtaining the fair and effective opinion of the people of this country on this particular measure. He said that the Referendum should be without the 1060 plural vote. We do not believe the Referendum is an adequate or effectual way of obtaining the opinion of the people. The Referendum is a pure experiment. It may be that you will find very few people go to the poll, and in that case it would be an inadequate, ineffective, illusory, and untrue indication of the feeling of the country. There is one more point. We cannot agree to any settlement that does not mean placing the Home Rule Bill on the Statute Book. We cannot be left in the position that if an election takes place, whatever our majority may be after the election, we are to find ourselves in the position of having to begin at the beginning, and take two and a half years before we can bring the Bill into operation. I did not entirely follow what the view was. Had the right hon. Gentleman opposite said whether he was willing to substitute an election for the Referendum, with the same condition about plural voting attached to it—[An HON. MEMBER: "Are only Liberals to vote?]—Why, if you use the Referendum to obtain the true opinion of the people of this country, is that to be more truly and fairly obtained by eliminating the plural voter, when, if you come to an election, it is necessary to retain the plural voter in order that the election should be fair?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The right hon. Gentleman cannot possibly have considered the subject at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] He will agree with me. Does he not see that in a Referendum every vote is of the same value.
§ Sir E. GREY
I do not believe that in that method you would get the people to go to the poll. [HON. MEMBER: "Try it."] Complete redistribution you cannot have before the Home Rule Bill conies into force; but, if it be the case of an election on those terms, and so arranged that the Home Rule Bill would come into operation within a year, or whatever its natural time would be after its passing, provided the election goes in favour of it, well, I think there may be something to be made of that proposal. We believe an election, and not the Referendum, would be the best method, and the only method by which you can really get the full opinion of the people of this country. We cannot agree 1061 to anything which would put us back as the result of an election, whatever our majority might be, into the position of having to go back to the beginning of the matter, and having to take two and a half years again to pass the Home Rule Bill. The Bill must be placed on the Statute Book. It might be placed on the Statute Book in a way which I believe would be perfectly fair as between both parties, whichever won the election. That, I believe, might perfectly well be arranged.
Now I come to something that the right hon. Gentleman said with regard to the use of force, and on that I should like to be very explicit. He quoted something I said the other day with regard to the use of force but he did not quote all I said. My memory is that I said that, in the long run, it might be that there could be no settlement except by force. I spoke, also, with the strongest dislike of a settlement by force. I will put my dislike to the use of force even stronger than I put it the other day. For a hundred years after the Union we tried to find a solution of the Irish question by force, and we came to the conclusion that, in the long run, force was no solution. That I am perfectly ready to admit. It makes me look with the greatest reluctance, almost with despair, upon finding any solution of the Ulster question purely by the use of force; and to embark on a policy of actual coercion to make Ulster submit to an authority in Ireland which she is determined to resist by force is a most grave, serious, and ominous thing. But I have never contemplated that question could arise until after an election. Under the Parliament Act Parliament is limited to five years. If our Bill is placed on the Statute Book, it must be the middle of next year before it comes into full operation and before that particular situation can arise. Before that time, I have always assumed that there must be an election, and I do not believe it possible for any Government—should that come to be the only thing in the last resort—to embark on that policy without having consulted the country upon it.
§ Sir E. GREY
But that is a long way off. On the other hand, what are the risks before us within that time? We were told in the autumn continually that it was difficult to hold Ulster in, and that there might be outbreaks at any time. Then, I say, If there are such outbreaks, force must 1062 be used, and we shall not be the first to use it; we shall be meeting force by force. We have had a very frank admission from the Leader of the Opposition that, if it were a case of a Protestant majority anywhere breaking out upon a Catholic minority, the full forces of the Crown must be used, or whatever force is necessary—on that we are agreed. We are told that the moment the Bill is placed on the Statute Book, a year before it can possibly come into operation, a year before there can be any Dublin Parliament or Dublin Executive to resist, a year before there can be any question of using force to compel Ulster to submit to the operation of the Bill, there is to be a provisional Government set up. What is that provisional Government to do? Is it really going to take over the government of Ulster? If so, it is going to defy not the Dublin Parliament but the Imperial Parliament. Is it going to seize the Customs and the revenues, and generally to take over the whole administration and turn out the officers who are now lawfully carrying it on? Then, of course, force must be used. There is no escape from it. If, on the other hand, it is going to be a sort of voluntary association for doing its best to keep the peace between different sections in Ulster, then, if it does very little, very little matters. But, if it be set up really to take the place of the existing Government and of the Imperial Government, then obviously there can be no question that force must be used.
I should like to be perfectly clear, and I think it is very desirable and may save misunderstanding, as to what the Army are likely to be called upon to do. There can be no question until after an election. I think I have made that clear. It is practically admittedly impossible, under the Parliament Act, until after an election, for force to be used to coerce Ulster to submit to the operation of the Bill and to a Dublin Parliament and Dublin Executive; but, if in that interval before that arises, election or not, there is disturbance of the peace and disorder in Ulster, and an attempt to defeat the Government of the country and the Imperial Parliament, then, of course, the Army must be called upon; not to use all its force, but to do what is always a disagreeable necessity for the Army, whether it be in Great Britain or whether it be in any part of the Empire—to use such force as may be necessary to uphold the authority of the Crown and to preserve 1063 order. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Prime Minister having gone to the War Office, and I said that I would not touch more largely than he had touched upon what we have discussed in recent days, and I propose not to do so; but surely there is a feeling that, if an election had been forced last week, we should have been brought to the brink of something where the Irish question and the Ulster question would have disappeared before much larger issues. If ever it really be the case that the Army, or any large section of the Army, takes active sides between the political parties in this country, then the country will be face to face with a question more serious and grave than it has known for three centuries. If ever the question of who is to govern in this country—whether it is to be the civil authority, the recognised Government in Parliament, that is to govern and decide policy alone, or whether it is to be interfered with—is raised, then I take my stand as strongly as anyone who spoke last week, even on the Labour Benches, with regard to what the feeling of the country and what my own feeling would be. I would feign avoid any such catastrophe as that of an election taken on that issue.
I would like to take the new Army Order that has been issued and the fact of the Prime Minister having taken the War Office as a reason for closing on both sides of the House the criticisms and censures which have been made, either upon the fact that questions were put to officers or that officers put questions to representatives of the Government. We have been very frank in admitting that hypothetical questions ought not to be put to officers which put them in a difficult position. We have been equally emphatic in the expression of our opinion about the impropriety of officers putting questions. The new Army Order starts on the assumption that the putting of certain questions may have been the origin of all the trouble. If that is so, then I think hon. Members opposite, who realise the strength of feeling which has been raised, might well be prepared, if hon. Members on this side of the House are also so prepared, to take what has happened—the issue of the new Army Order, and the taking of the War Office, for the time being, at any rate, by the Prime Minister—as passing no censure upon anybody, but as giving everyone who has been concerned in this business and the whole Army the opportunity of 1064 making a fair start. Should it turn out to be so, we may yet escape the issue which seemed to be raised last week. I trust that what I have said may have removed some misunderstanding as to the demands likely to be made on the Army, or as to what our view as to the duty of the Army is. There can be no misunderstanding as to the length things must go, and as to the depth of feeling there will be, if the forecast which I have ventured to put before the House of a fair start in this matter is not realised, and if again we have reopened by any incidents that may occur the grave questions which were opened by the incidents of last week. If we are thus forced, depend upon it the next election must be on something much more grave than the question of Ulster or of Ireland—upon something so grave that, whatever its result may be, it cannot leave things in the Constitution of this country as it found them.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
We all listened, as the House always does, with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman. No one upon either Front Bench has a greater mastery of Parliamentary statement or impresses alike supporters and opponents by the candour of his statement. Everything he says, therefore, is listened to by his opponents not less than by his friends with the utmost possible respect. It is not in any spirit of disrespect, therefore, if I say that his concluding passages, so impressively delivered, seemed to me like some nightmare dream. Whoever dreamed that any responsible or irresponsible person in this country was going to suggest that the Army was to dictate our policy? No one ever dreamed of it on this side, and such a thought certainly has never crossed my mind. No one has ever contended for such a proposition. But I have not the least doubt that everyone must keep their own consciences. Whatever Parliament or King or anyone else may say or do, there must always be an ultimate appeal in every individual to his own conscience. More than that has not been claimed by any person of responsibility. No one on this side has ever contemplated such a suggestion as that advanced by the right hon. Gentleman, and my indignation is as great as that of the right hon. Gentleman at the mere suspicion that the Army should interfere with ordinary Parliamentary government. I put aside what the right hon. Gentleman said at the end of his speech, 1065 because no one on this side of the House ever dreamt in his wildest dreams of such a thing.
The right hon. Gentleman said something about the Referendum, and he indicated his objection to adopting that solution which seems to many of us the most logical and reasonable solution of the problem. He made the objection first that no one will go to the poll. On that I think he is mistaken; at any rate, one cannot tell until it has been tried. Secondly, he said that an election without plural voting would be the same thing as a Referendum. That shows that the right hon. Gentleman has never looked into the question of plural voting, and its working, or the working of the representative system. If there had been true proportional representation in the present Parliament, the Ministerial party—the coalition—would only have had a majority of thirty-eight. They actually had a majority of 126. Supposing plural voting had not operated at the last election the Liberal party would have won twenty seats more, and they would have had a majority of 166 instead of the majority of thirty-eight, to which they would have been entitled according to the true principles of electoral representation. Therefore, we claim that the party opposite are not entitled to carry their Plural Voting Bill without any other electoral reform; for that would make our electoral system under a conceivable eventuality even more corrupt than it now is. It would make this House much less representative of the people than it is now. With a Referendum everybody has one vote, and the effect does really correspond with the balance of opinion. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman has missed the whole point of the suggestion. It is perfectly logical and reasonable. You have no plural voting in the Referendum; but we cannot consent to the abolition of plural voting in the representative system unless you are going to have a proper reform of the whole representative system. If you are going to have one man one vote, you ought to give to every vote an exact value, and the only way in which you can give every vote its true value in the representative system is by proportional representation. You might as well deny a proposition in Euclid as deny that. Therefore, it would appear that the Government have not really given sufficient consideration to my right hon. Friend's proposal when he meets it with such a criticism as this.
§ Sir E. GREY
There is some misconception in the Noble Lord's mind. I have not the least objection to a redistribution of seats.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
A Bill for the Redistribution of Seats is exceedingly difficult to carry, because directly you propose redistribution you have local opposition from all quarters. I am not going to say a word against any proposal which makes for peace, but I think the right hon. Gentleman would find great difficulty in carrying out redistribution with the abolition of plural voting at the present political juncture. The difficulty would be very great indeed. The right hon. Gentleman sketched two or three proposals which he thought were open to consideration in respect of a modification of this Bill. He said, and he said with perfect truth, that it was of no use making proposals unless they were to begin with a belief in the good faith of those making the proposal. That is a very reasonable suggestion. It is quite true you cannot fairly consider any proposal, good, bad, or indifferent, unless you believe in the good faith of those who put it forward. But then those who are desirous of giving an impression of good faith should really take the trouble to make proposals which are not so obviously defective as to lead the uncharitable to suggest that they were really put forward not to be passed but only to argue about. Again, is it desirable, when you are putting peace proposals forward, to make exceedingly combative and aggressive speeches? The first Lord of the Admiralty, at an early point in this stage of negotiations, went to Bradford and made a speech which certainly was not calculated to convey an impression of good faith. I put it to the Foreign Secretary—and we know his perfect good faith in this matter—whether it does not create an impression of bad faith when we see manœuvres which have for their object the subordination of peace to party tactics, and when we have violent speeches made just when the period of negotiation is beginning? The right hon. Gentleman says he was very dissatisfied with the acceptance of his proposal. I think that hon. Members opposite are very unreasonable to come to us in the midst of a heated controversy and to make proposals which appear so illogical and so difficult of working that it is hardly possible for anyone to believe that they are put forward with a view to their 1067 acceptance. You are surprised that at the first jump off, at the first outset, such proposals are not accepted with open arms. I am sure that when the right hon. Gentleman conducted the Balkan negotiations he did not proceed with them in that spirit. He did not, because his proposals were not accepted at once with open arms, take up such an attitude.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
To that I should answer that he never made so unreasonable a proposal; nor did he make his proposals in so excitable atmosphere as the House of Commons. These things require time for reflection.
The right hon. Gentleman hinted at Home Rule within Home Rule. It is, of course, a very ingenious suggestion, but I have never been able to see how it would work. I do not think anyone believes Home Rule would work as between Ireland and Great Britain unless with the utmost desire on both sides to make it work. You rely on the one side on the gratitude of the Nationalist party, and on the other on the traditional good sense of the British people, to make workable all sorts of machinery, very complicated and open to all sorts of friction. You think it would work because there would be good will at both ends. I do not think you are right in that. But does anybody suppose there can be good will between Belfast and Dublin? Does anyone suppose that the big Home Rule Government and the little Home Rule Government would really try to make the thing work as smoothly as possible? Does anyone suppose that on either side there would be that spirit and disposition which alone could make the complicated machinery work? That is one reason for distrusting Home Rule within Home Rule. But if the Government believe in it, let them bring their proposals forward. Do not let us always be trying to dress up a ghost. Let us have a substantial body on which we can put clothes. If the Government believe in Home Rule within Home Rule, let them put their proposals down by way of Amendment, and then we shall see what they are. It is not possible to discuss these things as long as they are in the vague.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Sir Horace Plunkett's arrangement. I do not 1068 think that would work. I do not think anyone can believe in the temporary inclusion of Ulster. Then we have the Government proposal for a six years' exclusion. The whole difficulty of that turns on the time limit. The Government apparently think that their time limit is an adequate proposal because within that time limit there will be two General Elections. Can anyone really suggest that that is a satisfactory arrangement? We are all of us in Great Britain tired of the Irish question. Is it a good thing to fight two more General Elections upon it? I cannot believe that the Government themselves really want to fight two more General Elections on the Irish question, and, therefore, I am somewhat inclined to agree with those uncharitable people who say that such a proposal, although made for tactics, is not really meant to be accepted. That is where the good faith of the Government comes under suspicion. They put forward things which no one in their sane senses believe in. If you are going to settle the Irish question you want to have a stable system which everyone—Ulsterman, Southerner, and Nationalist—can regard as a fixed arrangement for a considerable number of years. Can you conceive anything more likely to irritate all the contending factions in Ireland than this six years' proposal? Can you conceive anything more likely to keep Ulster stewing in sectarian bitterness? Can you conceive anything more inimical to the objects of peace? It is for these reasons that I believe this six years' proposal to be an unreasonable proposal. Nevertheless, I do press upon the Government, if they think their proposal is a good one, that they should put it forward. Let it be put forward by way of a suggestion under the Parliament Act. I prefer the method of suggestion to any other, because, among other things, you can get at it quicker. I believe that in the present state of tension and heat the great thing is to lower the temperature. Let us on both sides of the House get a lower warmth of temperature. If you carry any form of exclusion through this House, I am persuaded that the temperature would be lowered, even if it were in the unsatisfactory form of the Government proposal. The fact that this House formally committed itself to exclusion, whatever the conditions, would relieve the extreme tension that at present exists. Honestly, I believe, that no House of Commons, 1069 when they really consider the six years' limit, will adopt that method of solution. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say, in reply to somebody on these benches who interrupted him and asked whether Ulstermen must keep up their forces for six years, when he replied with some warmth of tone, that forces would be quite unnecessary, because opinion will be quite sufficient. I understood him to mean that the opinion of Ulster will be quite sufficient. If that is really the position of the Government, then nothing divides the two sides of the House. We are quite content with a settlement which will make the exclusion of Ulster dependent upon the opinion of Ulster. If it is the right hon. Gentleman's view that Ulster ought to be kept out so long as it wishes to be kept out, we are only disagreeing about machinery, and we are thoroughly agreed in principle; of course, on this very limited question only.
We thoroughly agree that the exclusion of Ulster ought to be dependent upon the opinion of Ulster. I am persuaded that if this matter were fairly discussed, and discussed with some relaxation of party discipline, the majority of the House would be in favour of carrying exclusion on the basis of consent. It is so entirely in accord with what appears to be the mind of the Government themselves, that I cannot believe a fair discussion of the matter would not end in that way. I am exceedingly anxious that we should adopt, without unnecessary delay, the principle of the exclusion of Ulster. Even in the defective form of the Government's proposal I should welcome it. I am quite sure that we are in great danger of doing two things: First, of allowing the temperature to rise to a point where reason disappears altogether in party passion; and, secondly, in danger of coming to treat this matter, this infinitely grave matter, as if it were a matter of bargain, agreement, and contention between the two parties. You cannot really deal with the art of government in that spirit. Constantly in the late Debates it has been put that if the Ulstermen did strike the first blow, would it not be reasonable for the Army to put them down by force, as if it were a matter of the balance of justice between the one and the other. That is not the way to look at it. Whoever is to blame, wherever the ultimate source of grievance lies, an appeal to force would be a most inconceivable mischief to the whole country, 1070 and especially to Ireland. We ought not to think of it as trying to throw the blame on one side or the other. If we are to arrive at a solution, we ought to have on our minds the immense calamity which both sides of the House ought to be anxious to avoid. Now I enter upon more contentious ground, but I am obliged to say that hon. Members almost shock me by their attitude of mind on this question.
To force Ulster under a Government it renounces would be one of the greatest crimes recorded in history. I cannot conceive a wickeder proceeding on the part of a civilised Government. I have tried to think whether in the whole course of history there is anything like it. Of course, there is such a thing as the consequence of foreign conquest. If you take the case of the Tyrol, which I think is a fair parallel, that was handed over from Austria to Bavaria, and the patriot Hofer was taken by Napoleon and shot. That was always considered an exceedingly harsh and tyrannical proceeding on the part of Napoleon, and a great international crime. But that was done after foreign conquest. The only other parallel I can think of was Warren Hastings abandonment of the Rohillas to the King of Oudh. That was done for the purposes of money, otherwise it was done very much as the present Government are doing this. He wanted to please the King of Oudh and get money, just as the Government want to please the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) and get votes. He agreed to hand over the Rohillas, and when they would not submit he lent the British Army to shoot down the Rohillas. That was an infamous crime. I really think when it is contemplated to shed blood by the bucketful, and to shoot down hundreds and thousands of human beings, in order to carry through a miserable party manœuvre, it is sheer, stark wickedness. [An HON. MEMBER: "Now the temperature rises."] My object is to bring home to hon. Members' consciences the depth of wickedness involved. It is a very grave matter. You are engaging in it as if it were an ordinary manœuvre in party politics. I do not complain of your passing the Parliament Act in that sort of way. That is quite another matter, and is within ordinary party controversy and the use of ordinary party weapons, but you are not entitled to force people, plain yeomen and plain artisans, under a domination 1071 which is literally and truthfully more hateful to them than foreign domination. It is sheer, stark tyranny. Therefore I press upon the Government, as that duty lies upon them as the Government of the country, not, to treat this matter as if it could be set aside because the Opposition did not welcome it on the first night the proposals were made. That is not the way you can conduct the government of the people or solve great problems. You cannot throw from side to side proposals for better government. If the Government, as the right hon. Gentleman with perfect sincerity said, tell us that they were made in good faith, let them put forward their proposal by way of suggestion under the Parliament Act. Let us fairly and fully discuss it, let us move from our side what Amendments we think are desirable—I earnestly appeal to the Government to let their supporters have somewhat more freedom than most Governments give their supporters in the discussion—and let the fair judgment of the House of Commons pass the suggestion if it can. Even if it is a bad suggestion, it will be better than nothing. If it is a serious improvement, and if the Bill places the exclusion of Ulster on a practicable basis, then good work will have been done. I say all this not as diminishing an iota the general opposition we feel to Home Rule. We are just as much convinced as we ever were that, with Ulster excluded or without it, this is a most unwise and most dangerous measure. We are still perfectly convinced that the true Government of the United Kingdom is to treat it as one nation with a single Parliament and a single Executive. But anything is better than dissolving society by civil war. Let us then, not agreeing about Home Rule—for that is impossible—bend our common efforts to introducing into this Bill such safeguards as will not make it a good Bill, but, like some other Government proposals, a bad Bill, but not a Bill which will reduce the whole country to anarchy and create a new Irish question, much more difficult of solution and much more ruinous in the end than is the Irish question now.
I have never, so far, intervened in the Home Rule Debates, but the gravity of the present situation has made me feel that it is one's duty, if one feels strong enough on the question, to come forward and express one's opinion. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Foreign 1072 Secretary for having brought a calmer atmosphere to this House than we have had recently. The Noble Lord who has just sat down did, on the whole, with perhaps a single exception, keep the temperature down. It is my intention, if I possibly can, to lower the temperature still further. I do not call myself a moderate man, and I should be very sorry to be called so by anybody else, but I feel that on an occasion of this sort it rests with those who feel that we have reached a moment when we ought as a House of Commons to rise to our responsibilities, to give their opinion, even although they do not get uproarious cheers from the party point of view. During the past week we have had ammunition enough on both sides of the House to last for several months. I can assure the Noble Lord who has just sat clown that it would not be difficult for me to respond to the heated part of his argument, but it is our duty at this moment to resist accusing one another of hatching plots, and, as far as the question of Home Rule is concerned, to desist from the very strong party accusations that have been passed across the floor of the House during the past week or so. I believe there is a strong body of opinion on both sides of the House desirous of seeing this question settled, and that in the country the people are getting exasperated with us, as a House of Commons, for not settling this question, and that they will become enraged with us if we allow the ship of State to drift again into stormy waters. It is our duty at this moment to attempt to establish some order out of what appears to be chaos.
As one who has Irish blood in his veins, I have always had the deepest sympathy with the aspirations of the Nationalists in Ireland; but while we are quarrelling, as we have been during the past week, both Nationalist and Unionist Ireland are waiting for the settlement of the question which concerns them both. If we allow ourselves to go on we shall keep them waiting and shall not settle this present question. I have attended the whole of the Debates during the last two or three years, although I have not taken any part in them. I have looked to the passage of the Home Rule Bill. About that there has never seemed to me since the passing of the Parliament Act, any great difficulty. But I have looked beyond that. It is not the passage of the Bill, it is the establishment of good government in Ireland that I look to as the great objective. 1073 I feel sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) would infinitely prefer to see Home Rule in Ireland come as a message of peace, rather than as a signal for strife. Since I came into this House I have regarded this question as part of a great whole. We were told by the Prime Minister, when he was introducing this Bill that it was the first step in a scheme for the granting of Home Rule to other parts of the United Kingdom. I have realised the urgency of the Irish demand. I have seen that the moment has come when the Irish question must be settled. I have also seen that Irish Home Rule must be the excuse for granting Home Rule to other parts of the United Kingdom. It is impossible for an architect to build one storey of a house without having the full plan of the whole edifice before him, and it is clear that we should have a plan before us by which the United Kingdom. as a whole, can receive better government in the future. When I, as an Englishman, stood for a Scottish constituency, I began to realise how Scotland was suffering also from the neglect of her affairs by the Imperial Parliament, and after studying the question I became more and more impressed with the fact that Scottish Home Rule must quickly follow, and that, if that follows, the entire scheme must be drawn up. This is not starting a new hare. I am not suggesting something which has never been proposed before. It is the policy of the Government that I am urging should be brought forward now in such a manner as to make us see the future more clearly. I should like to remind the House of what the Prime Minister said on this question. When he spoke at Earlstown some years ago he said:—I have always held the view, and hold it still more strongly than ever with each year of increasing experience at Westminster, that there is no other solution of the congestion of the Parliamentary machine, in which it may be Scotland suffers more than any other part of the United Kingdom, than by some form of delegation of Parliamentary business to local authorities with local knowledge and local responsibility.In introducing the Home Rule Bill in 1912 he said:—What we are doing now—I say this advisedly—we should do with the distinct and direct purpose of these fuller and further applications of the principle.Members of the Opposition have also shown their readiness to consider the question of devolution or Home Rule all round. Lord Lansdowne, in the House of Lords, said only last year:—Whenever the Government's scheme of federation is produced, I for one am ready to treat it with the utmost respect and a desire to find in it a solution of the difficulties with which we have for so long contended.1074 The negotiations which took place in the autumn were at one moment hopeful. We hoped very much that something might come of the various speeches which were made on both sides, although it was a very difficult way of coming to any agreement, and I would remind those who think that there are extremists who are irreconcilable on this point, such as the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson), that at one moment during the autumn he was one of the most reasonable of those who desired to show that they were ready to meet any proposals so long as they did not infringe on the general principles which they held, and it was the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) who said, at Manchester, on 3rd December:—I desire to state, if I can make any contribution towards this settlement. if it is ever approached seriously, that in satisfying the parties interested, first the United Kingdom must be considered and then Ulster. I lay down these preliminaries to any possible settlement, and I do not think that they will be considered unreasonable. I lay down, first, that no settlement most humiliate or degrade us. I lay down, secondly, that we must not get any treatment different and exceptional front the treatment offered to any other part of the United Kingdom. We must have preserved to us what every citizen has, neither more nor less. We must have the same protection of the Imperial Parliament, and, above all, we must have no deal and no Act which establishes the foundation for an ultimate separation of your country from ours,And very shortly after the Prime Minister said:—I have been looking all these weeks, and looking in vain, for some corresponding and, if possible, not irreconcilable statement in equally general terms from those of the Opposition who are ready, or profess to be ready, to attempt a settlement. I find it, or I fancy I find it, for the first time, in a speech delivered by Sir Edward Carson in this city only a couple of nights ago.I only quote this to the House to show that we are not justified in saying that there is any irreconcilable opinion.
I am very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that, and it is only our party warfare, which has become so acute, that has made us drift away again from one another. I think we have drifted so far that during the last week we may have been shaken into our senses, and if we can come back and find the right hon. Gentleman in that frame of mind which he says he still holds, and we can find the Government in the frame of mind which was shown by the Foreign Secretary this afternoon, there is very great hope of a settlement still. I often think, when I come into the House on these great nights when party feeling runs high, we form an admirable audience for the Front Benches. We encourage them 1075 and we cheer them, but they do not always represent what we think. I do not know what method is adopted by hon. Members opposite, but I know on our side of the House there is an extraordinary difficulty of a proper connecting link between the Back Benches and the Front Bench. The Front Benches live in another world from what we do, and I do not think they always take perhaps as much pains as they might to find out what the sentiment of a good many of their followers is. I should like to see the private Members of the House of Commons asserting their right to express an opinion which may differ from the Front Benches, but which is an honest opinion, desiring a settlement of this matter.
I want to say a word on the various proposals which were touched upon by the Foreign Secretary. Let me take, first of all, the Referendum. I object altogether to the Referendum. My reason is that I prefer being a representative and not a delegate. If I am to become a delegate, I should ask my Constituents to find someone else to come here. In the second place, I believe that it is an experiment which is rather risky, and I think it is very likely that we should get a very small percentage going to the poll to register their votes. It is extremely difficult to put a question to the electors. How you are going to put the whole Home Rule Bill to the electors so that the agricultural labourers will understand what they are voting about, I do not know. Then, if it is rejected, is it possible for the Government to survive? It is quite impossible. Therefore, it really is not a method of government which we desire to see introduced into our public institutions, and for us to adopt it for the first time for such a very grave and critical question as this seems to me out of the question altogether.
I want to touch very lightly on the question of six years, because I realise that just about there is the point where we may come to an agreement or fail to come to an agreement. It seems to me that the Government proposals as they stand are important for this reason: That it would be contrary to our principles—the principles of those who believe in Home Rule and a United Ireland—to put into their Bill anything which meant permanent exclusion. I do not see how it would be possible for us to do that consistently with the principles we hold. Also, if we do away with the six years' limit it would 1076 mean two Acts of Parliament in order that Home Rule in Ireland should be established with the whole of Ireland united and that, I think, is very undesirable. But in the interval of six years it seems to me that there is an opportunity for us to take advantage of the proposal which has been shadowed. I think that interval might well be used to set up a statutory commission or convention to consider and draw up a scheme for the federal government of the United Kingdom as a whole. That six years would be well occupied, and I believe it would be for the good of the country if such a scheme were drawn up. I have Irish blood in my veins, but I am an Englishman, and I stand for a Scottish constituency, so I do not look at the thing from a biassed point of view. But I feel that as we all agree on so many points, what we have to do in the next few days is to accentuate those points and do what we can to diminish the points of difference.
§ 6.0 P.M.
My proposal would certainly be that Ireland should be united in the eventual scheme. But for the present, what has impressed me about the Ulster opposition is this: I never tolerated sonic of the arguments which have been brought forward, but there is one argument which has impressed me. They have said, "Why should we be governed by a subordinate Parliament, when we protest against it, while our fellow countrymen in Scotland and England, are under the Imperial Parliament?" If during the six years a Liberal scheme is worked out and Scotland has her Parliament, England has hers, and Wales hers, the Ulstermen will be in precisely the same position as all their fellow citizens of the United Kingdom, and that objection, which I consider perfectly reasonable, will disappear. But it is very important at this moment that as many of us as possible should attempt to come together on one of these points. If we dissipate our energies in discussing a great many proposals, I think we shall arrive on Thursday night again at a state of despondency, feeling that we have got no further forward. I would suggest that this is a proposal which really brings least resistance. and which is likely to get most support. I can assure my Nationalist friends that the 1077 last thing I wish to do is to delay Home Rule, or to delay the prospects of a united Ireland. My desire is to expedite matters. But I see also the enormous difference there is between getting Home Rule by consent and getting it with a protesting and antagonistic minority. The difference is quite gigantic. One means the establishment of better government in Ireland, which will mean peace and prosperity in the future, but the other means antagonism, which will continue to grow, and barriers between religious sects, between races, and between social classes, which will continue to grow higher and become more difficult to surmount. The difference between the two is quite immeasurable, and we have got so near the point when we may get this Bill by consent that it would be madness for the House of Commons not to take full advantage of the opportunity.
I do not mean the Bill by consent, because nobody asks hon. Gentlemen opposite to renounce their dislike of the principle of Home Rule, but I mean the setting up of a scheme of Home Rule by consent. It may be supposed that it is a quixotic idea to suggest this uniting of the two parties after the storms and conferences of the last few days. It may be supposed that I am suggesting something which is idealistic and impossible when I ask the two Front Benches to join hands in this matter, but I believe in the great generosity of human nature, even of political human nature, and I believe also that sometimes after the heaviest and wildest storms you get the finest weather.
§ Mr. CROFT
I desire to say that the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Ponsonby) was one of thoughtful reasoning at a time when passion has been running very high. I believe that our contests on this question from the first to last have been based on the word consent, and I believe, also, that I am not wrong in saying that hitherto the party opposite has held that as the watchword in nearly all its ideals. It is always considered that no government without consent is possible. The Prime Minister used words on 9th March last which, I think, have been forgotten by ninny on both sides. He said:—The best traditions of our past, no less than the undisclosed and fateful issues of the future, appeal to us to-day with imperious accents to pursue, if we can, the way of unity and peace.1078 I simply ask the House to consider the utterances of the leader of the Ulster Unionists at Manchester. He laid down, in the first place, that no settlement must humiliate or degrade to Ulster; secondly, that they must not get any treatment different and exceptional from the treatment offered to any part of the United Kingdom; and, thirdly, that they must have preserved to them what every citizen has, neither more nor less—they must have the same protection of the Imperial Parliament, and, above all, they must have no Bill and no Act which establishes the foundation for the ultimate separation of this country from Ireland. That was followed by a speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who, speaking on 4th December last at Bradford, said:—It has been in the minds of many of us, but a federal solution is a very big thing. It is our objective in the long run—Home Rule all round.I have always had a dream that the day may come, even in our time, when there will be a federal system in the British Empire, and I confess that my view in the past has been that the British Isles should form a federal union in a federal system of the Empire. If you believe that further proceedings on the lines of last week will prove absolutely and utterly disastrous to our country, then I say, if you believe in a system of federalism at all, it is our duty to look at this question all round. I think hon. Gentlemen opposite know—no one will deny—that if one shot had been fired last week by accident, whether for precautionary purposes or for purposes of a different description, there would have been no peace in Ireland in this generation. You would not have settled this question, and you would not have brought to Ireland what every man desires to see in that country. Supposing there was a party victory on this question, won by means of force which the Secretary of State to-day has apparently once more suggested may be employed, are you going to bring peace to the two peoples who, speaking broadly—and I believe I am not exaggerating—will not even intermarry to-day—if you are going to win a victory in a river of blood, I do not believe it is possible to bring peace to them in this manner. I wish to take exception to what the First Lord of the Admiralty said last night. He tried to suggest that the attitude of the Opposition was most unreasonable the last time the question of concessions were discussed. Let us examine this. I think 1079 it must be agreed that the Unionist party leaders went a very long way on that occasion, and tried even at the eleventh hour and fifty-five minutes to see if we could not come together.
What was the proposition? First of all. we had the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson), in which he deliberately asked the Government: Why do not they extend their exclusion of Ulster until Parliament should otherwise order? I think that was, from his point of view, a very great extension. We are the Unionist party. It has been our whole aim to try to maintain the Union. Can anyone say that the right hon. Gentleman did not go an enormous way to meet the party opposite at that time? Can anyone say that it was not a generous proposal that was made in regard to the Referendum, and with regard to the pledge he had received from the Unionist leaders in the House of Lords? I think that must be admitted. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Ponsonby) said that the Government could not possibly survive after a Referendum had been carried against them. I venture to think that a Government which has such rejuvenating force as the present one, and which survived the events of last week, would certainly survive an adverse vote on a Referendum. I would point out that Governments have survived in countries where the Referendum has been used, and where the vote has been adverse to their policy. As to the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty that the attitude of the Unionist party was unreasonable, I venture to think that two specific proposals were put forward by his side on that occasion as to the compulsion at the end of six years which seemed to me absolutely unreasonable, in view of the tension of feeling which exists in Ulster. Whether they are to be compelled to-day, to-morrow, next year, or six years hence, you cannot win Ulster by this compulsion, which is contrary to the whole principle of government in this country in days gone by. After these proposals had been made the First Lord of the Admiralty went to Bradford, and he was not helpful to the general discussion when he spoke of bringing this matter to the test. He went out of his way to say that he was prepared to see bloodshed on a large scale. Considering the spirit which had previously existed, it was not surprising that some passions were raised when that speech was 1080 made. It was hardly conciliatory from his point of view to provide all the various munitions of war, Cavalry brigades. Infantry brigades, and ships. It was not helpful to the situation. It was bad that such a statement should be made at that moment, and I believe moderate opinion on all sides deplores the utterance and those actions.
I believe we are prepared to ask, What is good for the country at this moment? Can we come together and find a way out of this difficulty? Delay in this matter surely is very bad. We must recognise that there might so easily be just a small civil disturbance, which might not be countenanced by leaders on either side in the province of Ulster, which would cause trouble. Obviously it is just that spark that is needed to have a great disturbance on both sides. It might happen in the shipyards. Surely, if the Government has one word more to say, our party, if they said it, should be prepared to receive it in the spirit in which it is made. I would ask the House to consider the effect of the prolongation of this agony in the Army and Navy. I have done my best to make the Territorial Force a success, but it is difficult for us and for every man who is desirous at present of joining that force, and who asks himself the question, "What does the future hold out?" after the speeches which we have had on the discipline of the Army and the Navy. If there is any possible way out of this difficulty, let us come together. Let us know where we are, and we certainly can fight for our main principle without any question whatever.
The whole difficulty seems to me to come from the actual distinction which some people try to draw with regard to what is the difference between civil strife and the possibility of civil war. Directly the Nationalists of Ireland claimed that Ireland was to be a nation. there, I think, we found a distinction which made it so very difficult for people in this country. When they found that the people of one province were being deliberately told that they were to be put in a permanent minority in a different nation, there you created a feeling which nothing could get rid of. But a federal settlement would have a very different effect. It would be giving greater power to people in localities. I have always been amazed that this House has not long ago agreed to prevent witnesses coming over here year after year from Ireland to decide whether 1081 there should be a harbour, or a canal, or something of that kind in a particular place. I think that we have got past that stage. On a federal basis I do believe that you could get union in all national affairs, even though you might delegate the local powers to various parts of the country. I believe that no great advantage can come from a prolongation of this question. Nothing could be more disastrous for this country than that we should go through what we went through last week. I do not think that anyone in this House really believes that it was a good thing for this country that we should have seen permitted here a great discussion as to the attitude of soldiers and sailors, who are absolutely prohibited from going on platforms, and saying which line they would prefer to take. I think that there is a great deal to be said for the view that the attitude of officers, either for or against, should be dismissed out of our discussion.
Personally, much as I hate and loathe the present Government in every direction, I would much sooner see it kept in power for another five or six months than that we should see civil war in Ulster. [Laughter.] I am glad to see that there is general assent to that. But when we are so near together, when the Leader of the Unionist party and the Leader of the Ulster party have made it perfectly plain that they were only standing out for this principle of consent, when it was possible still for this House to make perfectly clear that Ulster can always come in if the rest of Ireland is well governed, as hon. Gentlemen opposite all believe will be the case, and when it is possible then immediately to start forward by calling together a convention and considering the federal devolution of Great Britain and Ireland as a whole, I am perfectly certain that it will be a good thing for this country. I know that it is extremely difficult at the present time to talk on either side absolutely away from what I may call the strict party issue, but I do believe that the majority of this House feel that we have been near so great dangers in the few days that have gone by, that it would be so utterly disastrous for us to tamper in any way with the great institutions of this country which have hitherto always been free from criticism that. I cannot help thinking that if the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is really sincere about this question he, during his leadership of the House, can make clear that he is ready to come a 1082 little way in our direction in order to try and take back his party once more to those great principles of consent upon which it has been built up, and on which alone it can be called Liberal in the days to come.
§ Mr. SUTTON
I have been somewhat surprised at the conciliatory tone of the speeches delivered this evening from the benches opposite. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate put forward the sincerity of the Opposition with reference to this question. The Opposition may be very sincere on this question, but I should like them to believe that those of us who are supporting this Bill are also sincere in our views. It may or may not interest the House to know that many years ago I used to be a anti-Home Ruler. I supported the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Leader of the Opposition in 1892 by giving him my vote for the Constituency that I now represent, and I also voted in 1885 and 1886 for the late Member for North-East Manchester (Sir James Ferguson). I think hon. Members opposite will agree that in 1885, or at least 1886, the Home Rule question was very prominent. It has been said now that we ought to have an appeal to the country. So far as I am personally concerned, I believe that we have already appealed long enough to the country. We have had two elections in 1910, and when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite say that the electors of the country were not aware of what would take place if the supporters of this Government who were in favour of the Parliament Act were returned, I think that, we can all recognise that the electors were aware of what would happen if a majority in favour of the Parliament Act came back to this House.
I have here my address Which was delivered to the electors of East Manchester in December, 1910, and I there stated distinctly that, if elected, I should support a measure of local self-government for Ireland, because I believe that only by that means can justice be meted out to Leland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite say "Hear. hear." I think hon. Members will agree that even at the last election it would have been impossible to put before the. country all the details of a Bill for local self-government for Ireland, and it is very seldom that that is done. I think that the Home Rule Bill as presented at the present time is really a very mild kind of 1083 measure, so far as Ireland is concerned, and when hon. Gentlemen opposite talk of what Ulster will do, I want to suggest to them what the greater portion of Ireland may do, if through any accident it happened that the Home Rule Bill was not carried in this House. We on these Labour benches believe in majority rule. The majority of the Irish nation are in favour of this Bill. We have always contended in the trade union world that those who are in a majority ought at least to have their say when they are demanding things that are only fair and reasonable. I believe that this Bill is only fair and reasonable, so far as the Irish nation is concerned. I do not believe that if we had another election at the present time, it would be the means of settling this matter. The Opposition to my mind would then say that some other question had affected the result, and that Home Rule had not been prominently before the electors, and even then a few months afterwards they would be calling out for another General Election.
The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University said that he did not complain of the Government carrying the Parliament Act. I remember when he stood in his place there, and would not allow the Prune Minister to speak on account of the Parliament Act. If we are to have men who will interrupt, and who will prevent business from being carried on in this House in matters like that, and will from those Front Benches tell us that if this Bill is forced through it is going to be the means of causing a civil war in Ulster, then I say that if civil war does come the blame will rest on hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have been consistently preaching civil war. I believe that the Government have already made enough of concessions on this Bill. I believe that the six years' exclusion is a very great concession that has been offered those who are opposed to the Bill. The Prime Minister has pointed out that there would be two General Elections during those six years. If the electors in the United Kingdom still think that Ulster should not come into an Irish Parliament, then they can decide it. Personally, I am sorry that this matter has to be again before the country for even six years. I was hopeful that this Bill would be the means of settling it during the present Parliament, and I must deprecate the threatening speeches that have been made 1084 as to what is going to take place if the Government persist in this Bill.
We on these benches are most anxious that this matter should be cleared out of the way. It has been before the country for the past thirty or forty years. The working classes of this country are beginning to realise that the sooner it is out of the way the better it will be for their economic interests being at tended to in the British House of Commons. So long as Home Rule is being discussed here year after year, questions of social reform affecting the interests of the workers are constantly being neglected. We are most anxious that this Bill should be carried this Session. I hope that the Government will be firm, and that they will press this matter forward. Of course, if it is possible at all to agree with the Opposition by consent to do something so that the Irish Parliament can start without any opposition, then so much the better. But I am of opinion, or at least it seems to be so now, that whatever concessions are made, the Opposition are constantly crying for more. If the Government attempt to make any further concessions I am of the opinion that they will again be called cowards as they have been called in the past, and it will be said that they are afraid of Ulster. I do hope, however, that this matter will be settled by consent. Great changes have taken place during the last twenty years on this important matter. People who were strongly opposed to Home Rule many years ago are now strongly in favour of Home Rule, because they believe than only by granting Home Rule to Ireland shall we have a contented and loyal nation so far as that country is concerned.
We do not always agree upon these benches with the Members of the Irish party opposite. They have gone into the Lobby many times with the Government when we have gone into the Lobby against it. It is perfectly true that on pure labour questions the Trish Members have even gone into the Lobby with the Government and with Members of the Opposition, while the Labour party have been practically by themselves. I am not going to blame Trish Members, because they have been demanding this measure of local self-government for the past thirty years, and, so far as they are personally concerned, they are not going to allow this opportunity to be lost by jeopardising the Bill in any way through their action I do not blame them. 1085 But in the past they have been so democratic that they have at least voted constantly and consistently in favour of the democracy of this country and at the same time of Ireland. I and my colleagues on these benches believe that by granting this measure of local self-government to Ireland we shall only be doing justice to that nation, and I trust that the Government will press this matter forward.
§ Mr. RONALD M'NEILL
It was, I think, the Member for Stirling, who, in the interesting speech which he made a short time ago, put forward a proposition of his own towards the settlement of this great question, and he treated us to a rather interesting disquisition upon the relations between the Back Benches and the Front Benches. I am not myself in a position to say, one way or another, whether his proposal in the direction of a settlement is likely to lead there at all, and certainly I am not going to follow his example in making any proposal on my own account, because I bear in mind that at the beginning of this Session it was very distinctly laid down by the Prime Minister that the duty of taking the initiative with regard to any proposal for settlement lay with the Government. Under those circumstances, it appears to me that whatever opinions may be held on the Back Benches, on the one side or the other, it is a waste of time for any of us to make proposals until the Government have said what they are willing to do. We all listened with great interest and respect to the speech made this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary. And I noticed that he laid great stress upon the proposition that a number of proposals had been made in the direction of settlement which had been made in good faith. He was anxious that we should all recognise that these proposals, whether they were agreed with or not, were made in good faith. He told us of Sir Horace Plunkett's scheme; he told us of the federalisation scheme, a scheme identified with the name of Lord Hythe among others; and the other was a scheme identified with the right hon. Gentleman himself, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs—a scheme known as Home Rule within Home Rule.
When the right hon. Gentleman enumerates those schemes, and asks us to believe that they have all been put forward in good faith, it is not a little 1086 peculiar that the one scheme which he says nothing whatever about is the only one which has been put forward in the name of Ulster. There has been a scheme put forward in the name of Ulster by representatives from Ulster—I mean the scheme known as the exclusion of Ulster. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that that scheme is equally entitled to be considered as having been put forward in good faith? Is it to be supposed that all those other schemes, which appeal more than this apparently to some hon. Gentlemen opposite, can all claim to have good faith as their motive and that the one scheme put forward to some extent in the name of Ulster is to be excluded from that category, and, if so, why? I know that when it was first suggested a long time ago hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite scouted the idea on the ground that it has been put forward from this side of the House, not as a bonâ-fide attempt to amend the Bill, but with the idea of wrecking the Bill. That was what was said. At all events that cannot be said now, because a proposal which does not differ in principle, so far as that is concerned, has been submitted by the Prime Minister himself, and if it is not necessarily wrecking the Bill to exclude certain areas in Ulster by local option, it is ridiculous to suppose that it must necessarily wreck the Bill to extend and to alter the area of which exclusion is made.
Therefore, I think we may reasonably submit that, I will not say our scheme, because it has never been put forward from this side of the House as an ideal settlement of the question, but at all events the one proposal towards settlement which has recommended itself to the Ulster representatives and to this side of the House, is the one which apparently some hon. Gentlemen opposite still regard as being put forward not only as a wrecking Amendment but without good faith, and is the one which the right hon. Gentleman, in enumerating his various schemes, carefully left out of his calculation altogether. The right hon. Gentleman said, in enumerating these schemes, that he does not shut the door upon any one of them. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman or someone on that Front Bench who will follow at a later stage of the Debate would tell us whether the door is shut or open as regards the scheme to which I am referring—the one which has been put forward 1087 from this side of the House, and which he has not mentioned. The only other scheme to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and into which, very naturally, he went in greater detail, was the one most recently put forward by the Prime Minister. With regard to those suggestions, the right hon. Gentleman repeated, not quite in the same emphatic terms, but he did repeat the argument which the Prime Minister has often advanced, that that proposal is to some extent a more favourable one from the Ulster point of view than the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. We have heard the Prime Minister, with his very great dialectic skill, put the point in this sort of way to my right hon. Friend. He said, "The right hon. Gentleman wants one election for Ulster. We are willing to give him two"; and that has been repeated over and over again, and has been repeated, at all events, by implication this afternoon.
That is not a fair way of putting it. It may be a skilful dialectic way of putting it. but it is not fair, because the proposal which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition put forward is not one election, as opposed to two, but one election now, as opposed to two or three or half-a-dozen elections in the distant future. The point on which we lay stress is that the people should be consulted before the policy is carried through, and it is no answer whatever to say, "We will not give you an election now. We will carry our Bill first, and then give you not merely one, but two elections in the distant future." Several hon. Members on the opposite side of the House have apparently formed the opinion that it is very unreasonable of us to lay stress upon the exclusion, such as it maybe, of Ulster or any part of Ulster, being in any way limited by a time limit. I just want, if I may, as reasonably as I can, to put our side of the question before hon. Gentlemen opposite. Do they, or do they not propose that Ulster—I use the general term—or some parts of Ulster—should be brought into the Home Rule Bill by force and against her will. I can understand the proposition of hon. Members below the Gangway here. They say that if they had their way they would have the whole of Ireland in the Home Rule Bill from the beginning. That is a proposition I can understand. The Prime Minister has made a suggestion in order to meet the 1088 objections of Ulster, and it is an attempt, on his part, to apply to Ulster the principle of consent as distinguished from the principle of compulsion.
If, it, may be asked, that is a reasonable proposition to-day, why should it not be equally reasonable six years hence? And what difference does it make from the Government point of view, or even from the Nationalist point of view, if you once grant that Ulster is only to come in by consent? What difference does it make whether the proposition is brought up at some future election in the form of a proposal to continue the exclusion or in the form of a proposal to put the exclusion at an end? It does make a very great difference from the point of view of Ulster, and I will point out to hon. Gentlemen why it does. What we say is, so far as those of us who know Ulster best can judge, that we feel perfectly certain that the opposition of Ulster to Home Rule will be just as strong, just as unconquerable in six years as it is to-day. I know that view is not shared by hon. Members opposite, but it is our view. Considering that Ulster has remained absolutely immovable, not merely for six years in the past, but for over thirty years, at all events we have got all the facts available in support of our contention.
Supposing it is true that Ulster is opposed at the end of six years to coming into the Home Rule Bill; supposing that the Prime Minister's suggestion has taken effect, and that the only way that Ulster can escape being brought in automatically is by getting the judgment of the electors of this country at a General Election six years hence, what would be the result? Do Hon. Members who are familiar with the ways of electioneering and with the general trend of politics, believe that it would be an easy thing for us to get the decision of the electors in this country? I am not putting it from the point of view as to what the opinion of the electorate will be, if we could get it upon that issue alone. The Prime Minister has told us, in opposition to the proposal for a Referendum, that if there were a Referendum—and this is his reason for objecting to it—even in that ad hoc scheme for getting the opinion of the electors you could not isolate this issue, and that the electors would consider what the effect of their answer would be upon the life of the Government. If it is impossible to isolate the issue and get a clear decision upon it, in answer to a Referendum, how 1089 much more difficult must it be to get a decision on that isolated issue at a General Election at the end of six years, when the whole Irish question, according to the desire of the hon. Member who has just spoken, has been got out of the way?
If the hon. Gentleman gets his desire, he would have got the whole of the Irish question put out of the way long before the six years. How then is it possible for the Ulster people to get this clear decision from the people of this country as to whether they are to be brought in or not under the Home Rule Bill? I go further, and I agree with the hon. Member that it is desirable, so far as we can, to get this matter out of the way. Therefore, I say, even if it were possible at the end of six years to revive this question, it is exceedingly undesirable. I speak in this House as representing an English constituency, and I have interests as representing my Constituents just as every other hon. Member has, apart from this Irish question, and none of us want to have our time and our attention engrossed during the next six years by this eternal Irish and Ulster question. But, under the proposal of the Prime Minister, we should be obliged to do so. We might, on this side of the House long before the six years elapsed, be discussing such matters as Tariff Reform, and hon. Members opposite might be wanting to discuss the question of Land Reform, and we do not want to he hampered in a General Election six years hence, by the necessity of going to the electors specially, and saying: "You must put those matters as far as you can, although they are interesting to you, into the background of your minds, because we have come now to the period when these unfortunate Ulster people, unless you intervene, will automatically be compelled to be brought into this scheme of Home Rule to which they so ardently object." What is the object of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in putting it in that way? Take the other side, and suppose that the alternative of my right hon. Friend were adopted, and that the exclusion of Ulster, or any part of Ulster, were given them until this Parliament otherwise determine. Surely in that way you are putting it in the form which, according to the opinion of all who know Ulster best, is most in accordance with the tendencies of opinion in Ulster.
lf, on the other hand, the prophecies of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway and opposite come true, and if the example of a Government in Dublin is so alluring to 1090 Ulster, and the experience which she undergoes during the six years enables her to change her mind and say that things have turned out quite differently to what we expected, and that we see the prosperity of the other three provinces, and that we now understand the inconvenience of division between North and South; if any such consideration as that came forward, and Ulster, through her representatives, gave the smallest indication that she was anxious to terminate the exclusion and to come into the Parliament of Dublin, would there be the smallest difficulty in getting it done? It would not upset politics in this country in the smallest degree. You would not require to get a decision from the people of this country on that issue alone. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would be only too delighted to see the consummation of their own policy, and there is no one belonging to the party on this side who would for a moment be able to raise an objection to it, if the demand came from Ulster herself. Consequently, it appears to me that of the two schemes the way in which it is proposed from this side of the House is not only fairest to Ulster, but the only one calculated to carry out the principles which the Prime Minister himself has at heart, if he is desiring to give effect to the principle of consent as against the principle of compulsion. But also it would be infinitely the less disturbing to politics in this country, and would do much more to carry out the desire of the hon. Member opposite in getting the question out of the way. Therefore, I say, that that is the right way to do it if there is to be a carrying out of this suggestion of the Prime Minister. So far as I am able to represent the opinions held in Ulster I will say this, that they think it so important that it should be put in that way, and they are so convinced that no matter what the position may be at the end of six years, and no matter how unconquerable their dislike of coming in, with all their experience, which they believe, and I believe, instead of over coming their reluctance, will increase it,—so convinced are they that greater difficulties would be put in their way at the end of six years that I do not believe, so far as the Ulster people are concerned, if it were left to them they would for one moment consent to the proposition put forward by the Prime Minister if it is necessarily coupled with that time limit.
There is only one thing more I want to say, and it is this: I must say that during 1091 these Debates I have often been compelled to wonder why it is that hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite are so hostile to the point of view of Ulster. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has boasted of their independence of the Government. I am not now going to enter into any examination of the statements that he made with regard to their votes in the Lobby on certain occasions. It might be suggested that the reason why they were in opposition to the Government on those occasions was precisely because they knew that hon. Gentlemen on this side below the Gangway would be likely to vote with the Government, and that if it had not been for that knowledge they might have voted in a different way. I am willing for the moment to assume that the party below the Gangway opposite are an absolutely independent party, altogether free from the control of the Government. If that is so, why is it that those hon. Members there are so hostile to the Ulster point of view? The Ulster point of view is a Labour point of view. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Well, is it not? Is it an aristocratic point of view? One would imagine from the speech that was made by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. J. Ward) the other day in another connection, that the 100,000 volunteers, for example, in Ulster were all aristocrats. On other occasions, when it suits the argument of hon. Members opposite, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer downwards, we are constantly told what a small and inconsiderable portion of the population are the aristocrats and wealthy people, and yet, according to the implied argument of the hon. Member for Stoke, the 100,000 men who are, as it is now admitted, seen in arms, or, at all events, in military array in Ulster, are all aristocrats or millionaires, or both. The hon. Member, when speaking in the Army Debates, drew a distinction between asking the Army to go and fire upon Ulstermen and asking them to fire upon men of their own class, and I wondered when he made that speech whether he supposed that a battle squadron had been brought from the Mediterranean, and troops moved to strategic points on the borders of Ulster and ammunition imported, all to kill the Duke of Abercorn and Lord Londonderry.
Why, the fact of the matter is, and the hon. Member knows it perfectly well, that if the soldiers, and please God it will never happen, had to 1092 be sent to shoot down men in Ulster, then, whatever their political opinions may be, at all events they would have to shoot to use the hon. Member's own phrase, "men of their own class." Of the men who are in the Ulster Volunteers—and I am not now professing to give exact statistics—I should say, of the 100,000 men, at least 85 per cent. are working men, and from 60 to 70 per cent. are trade unionists. Besides, everybody who knows a population of the kind knows that a great population of a province like Ulster, headed by a city with a population of 400,000, must be in the main a working-class population. Therefore, the Ulster point of view, whether it is right or wrong, is, at all events, in the main a working-class movement. The supporters of hon. Members below the Gangway on this side are much more agricultural than industrial. It is one of the points of cleavage between the two parties in Ireland that one is in the main, or very largely, agricultural, and the other is very largely industrial. Under those circumstances it is most difficult for me to understand how hon. Members opposite, who are always to the best of their ability putting forward the point of view of the working classes in different parts of the country, the moment they come to the great industrial democracy of Belfast and the neighbourhood, allow their sympathies to go right away, and they will have nothing to say to the Ulster working men, and they even clamour for their blood. We have heard during the last few days, in the discussion of Army questions. hon. Members below the Gangway opposite call attention to the antithesis or distinction which they think they see between the Army being used in Ulster and the Army being used in the case of industrial strikes. They think there is a parallel between the two.
I could understand that if the attitude of hon. Members was this: If they said we have always objected to the use of troops to quell either riot or disturbance, or to interfere in industrial disputes, and consequently we object ten thousand times more to its being done in Ulster. That would be a consistent position, but that is not what they say. On the contrary, they say while we have always objected to working men, whether at Featherstone or Tonypandy, being coerced by the military, the moment we get a movement of the kind in Belfast, because it does not happen to be a movement for the increase 1093 of wages or for the shortening of hours, or, in other words, because it is not a purely materialistic movement, the moment we get a movement supported by very large masses of the working classes, but which, at all events, has an element of idealism in it, however mistaken it may be, then hon. Members opposite say, "Our principles about the military—let them go to the winds! Send your troops, send your Artillery, and tell the right hon. Gentleman to shoot them down!" [HON. MEMBERS: "No, No!"] The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) shakes his head. The hon. Member for Derby, if I recollect aright, made a speech the other day in which he suggested, as a sort of counter move to Ulster, that he might be prepared to form an army of 200,000 railway workers, or something of that sort.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I am sure the hon. Member does not want to misrepresent it. We did protest, and do protest, against the military being sent out in case of trade disputes. You apparently agree with that, and we object to making preferential treatment now in Ulster when in trade disputes you agree that the military should he sent.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. R. M'NEILL
I do not see that I have in any way misrepresented the views of the hon. Member. All I am saying is that they might be consistent by objecting to the use of troops on either occasion. I have not said for a moment—and I do not agree—that there is the close analogy which hon. Members opposite seem to think there is between the two cases. All I am saying is that the hon. Member spoke of the formation of an army of railway workers as a sort of antithesis or complement to the Ulster movement. Does he know that there are large numbers of his own union—the Railway Union—engaged in the Ulster Volunteers? Does he think that the army which he proposes to form for industrial purposes are likely to put in the amount of self-sacrificing work that the Ulster Volunteers have done in order to secure such efficiency as they possess? If the hon. Member can get for any object, 100,000 or 200.000 men to give the greater part of their leisure time during two years, often walking many miles after their hard day's work, to put in an hour's drill in order to secure a certain amount of efficiency, he will have an army with such a spirit for their cause in them as will make them practically unconquerable, as I believe the Ulster 1094 Volunteers are to-day. That is the true question. It is not a mere question whether or not you bring troops to bear down a certain portion of the population. You have to look at the spirit of the population as evidenced by the amount of self-sacrifice and devotion which they give to their cause. All I wish to emphasise is that on the question of principle, and apart from the mere party point of view, the movement of the people of Ulster, being so largely a democratic and industrial movement, ought to receive a little more sympathy than it has ever yet received from hon. Members below the Gangway.
I wish to say one word in conclusion with regard to the very grave passage in the concluding portion of the Secretary of State's speech. We all recognise the extreme gravity of the situation to which the right hon. Gentleman was referring. Certainly I do not intend to say a single word which would inflame feeling or revive discussion upon that matter. There is only this to be said in reference to the charges made against us of incitement, of seducing the Army, and so forth. I can, with a perfectly clear conscience, say that, at all events, I myself have so far kept clear of any such sin. I would, however, say this. It is a little difficult to choose your words so accurately and so precisely that you can blame the Government for using the military in certain eventualities, and at the same time avoid expressing yourself in such a way as to appear to be inducing the Army to disobey orders. I think that we all endeavour conscientiously to steer that course. I certainly do. I would not for the world say a single syllable, either in this House or out of it, and I do not think that any of the Ulster representatives have done so either, which might be construed as an incitement to any soldier not to do his duty. At the same time, I will not shrink, either here of elsewhere, from impressing so far as I can upon any people whom I address in the country that it would be an iniquitous thing if the Government, who are responsible for the use of the Army, chose to use it to coerce the people of Ulster.
We have had very conflicting statements upon this point from responsible Ministers of the Crown. I hope that before this Debate closes we shall have some more definite statement. The right hon. Gentleman has told us to-day, in no uncertain words, that it is the intention of the Government—and I do not deny that it is within their 1095 rights—to use the forces of the Crown to force Home Rule upon Ulster. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am perfectly aware that you can put these things in different ways. But let us get behind dialectics and down to realities. It is perfectly easy to talk about restricting your use of force to the prevention of disorder and violence, and to the protection of life and property. It is quite easy for the right hon. Gentleman to put a case: "Supposing the suggested provisional Government does so-and-so, or so-and-so, in carrying out its intention to take over the Government of the province, only in such an event will we use force, and under those circumstances we shall use force." That is the way the right hon. Gentleman put it. But it is just as true to say—and this is the way I interpret it, and the men of Ulster will interpret it, and the largest political party in England will interpret it—that what the right hon. Gentleman meant was: "We will coerce Ulster into accepting Home Rule." What I want to know is: Which is true, the statement made this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman, following a similar statement made last night by the Attorney-General, or the equally clear and explicit statement to the contrary effect made a short time ago by the Lord Chancellor, who definitely said in so many words, "We will not issue orders for the coercion of Ulster"? I do not deny, nor will any Ulsterman deny, that if the Government choose to adopt that policy, they have the legal right to do so. But at all events let us know where we are; because I am perfectly certain that if the infamy threatened by the Attorney-General and by the right hon. Gentleman is the real intention of the Government, we shall have the people of this country with us in preventing the Government from carrying it out.
Mr. CATHCART WASON
My only regret is that the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. R. M'Neill) did not sit down five minutes earlier. Up to that point, I listened to his speech with rapt admiration, and there was hardly anything in it to which I could take exception. But when he proceeded to throw petroleum upon the flames, one is a little doubtful about any reasonable compromise being arrived at. I am quite sure that the whole country is absolutely unanimous on this question of the Army. It is no use going into that for the purpose of making 1096 bad blood. My one object is to try to reduce the temperature to the lowest possible level, because at its present height it is disastrous, both from the point of view of the country and from the point of view of this House. The contention of the hon. Gentleman with regard to the exclusion of Ulster was, if it is good now, why is it not good six years hence? I will tell him shortly. It is because all during that period, tension will remain just as strong and bitter as it is at the present time. The Liberal party are pledged up to the hilt, so to speak, to two things. The first is to set up a Parliament in Dublin, which is merely a forerunner to setting up Parliaments elsewhere throughout the Kingdom. We in Scotland and Wales have very strong views upon that subject. It is, therefore, only right that we should take all the advantage we can, I think not unfairly, out of the present situation. I hope my hon. Friends in the Nationalist party will thoroughly understand that on this question we are as absolutely loyal to them as we are to our own leaders. We recognise to the fullest extent the pledges they have received. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I did not expect that cheer, and it seems to me that I do not deserve it. The pledges that have been given to the Irish Nationalists with regard to setting up a Parliament in Dublin are absolutely binding on all the followers of the Government.
We simply say—and I am speaking for others who share my views—that forthwith Irishmen are entitled to the Bill practically as it stands, subject to the suggestions of the Prime Minister with reference to the exclusion of certain areas. In the meantime a commission should be set up—as soon as the Government are able to get their men together. Seeing that we have at our disposal on this side such men as Lord Bryce and Sir West Ridgeway, men of great experience and moderation, and on the other side there are men as of the type of Sir Horace Plunkett, it would be very easy indeed to set up such a commission as would command universal respect on both sides of the House. To that commission should be entrusted the immediate duty of endeavouring to ascertain the best method of setting up different Parliaments in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. The First Lord of the Admiralty has already foreshadowed some scheme of that sort, but many of us have 1097 been urging the question for years past, especially those of us who have resided in and understand affairs in the Colonies. There was a speech made the other day with reference to what the Colonies are saying on another question, which I hope has now passed by. I say that on this question of self-government and federation, the Dominions are looking to the House of Commons with very anxious eyes. They have solved the problem for themselves; the system gives them no trouble; it causes no friction, and they cannot see why on earth the problem should not be solved in this country also. It is not simply that the people want this change; it is absolutely necessary. Our object is not to say one single word that might create ill-feeling on the other side. We want, if possible, to lower the temperature. I, for one, have never entered into any hostile criticism in regard to Ulster. I fully recognise the feelings of Ulster in this matter. I have seen a great many Ulstermen, not so much in this country as in other lands. I know it is true of Ulstermen, as it is true of many men who come from that part of Ireland, that many of them would sooner fight than not fight—in a cause which they believed to be just!—and would sooner die than not die, so long as they died fighting. That does not prevent some of us feeling that the Ulstermen have got a very good case. They have lived long under the protection of the British Empire. The scheme that we put forth, namely, that within the next six years a statutory Commission should be established which would bring Ulster within the federal system, along with Scotland, England, and other places, would do away with a very practical grievance which she has got at the present moment. Such a scheme fully endorses the proposition which has been made by several hon. Members to-night. Ulster under such a scheme would be absolutely secure. There would be no fear of any demand to alter her religion. There would be no fear even that any demand would be made to give Ireland anything more than the self-government to which she is entitled. Under such a scheme it would be found that peace and harmony would prevail in that country.
Unfortunately it is only too well known that the trouble of Ireland is not economic. It is not the difference of war, of class and class, but a question of religion against religion. On that subject we get on to extremely ticklish ground. Any person at- 1098 tempting to argue that out would only be a fool for his pains. It was said a good many years ago by an old man giving advice to his pupils that as they went out into the world they would find many men who would try to turn them from their convictions. "Do not argue with them," said the old philosopher, "simply hit them straight over the head." The religious question is the one question which it is absolutely useless to argue. Religious convictions are deep-seated in the minds of people. But what we say is that the religious sentiments of the Ulster people will be thoroughly preserved. I do not believe that any Ulsterman present doubts for a moment the good faith of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford, or of those with whom he is associated. They know perfectly well that under no possible circumstances would any hon. Member who represents the Nationalist party do anything dishonourable or hurtful to the Ulster people? At the same time we do not know what is coining after. Nor do they! Therefore it is that we strongly support the proposal that has been made, namely, for a statutory Commission to be set up forthwith so that within the six years Federal Government should be established in this country. What our Colonies have done within a very short period—in some cases a very hurried period of months—surely this country can do within the next six years! Then the question will have been set duly at rest for now and all time.
There is only one question more to which I wish to direct the attention of the Government and the House—that is the way in which the areas in Ulster are to be selected. A great deal has been said for and against the Referendum. I was very glad to hear a number of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House speak strongly against the Referendum. It is no possible way to find out the true opinions of the people. If we take the proposals which have been made, on high authority I admit, that we shall refer this question practically by Referendum to the people in certain areas of North-East Ulster, I say that, in many ways, it would be a most objectionable method of doing it. It would be infinitely better for the Government to arrange with an hon. Member on behalf of the Opposition with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, and others—
Mr. CATHCART WASON
The principle, so far as I understand it, is this: That by a bare majority vote of the counties those counties may remain out of the operation of the Bill for six years.
§ Mr. DILLON
What I want to know is, when the hon. Member says that the areas should be selected by certain hon. Members in consultation, has he present in his mind any idea of the principle on which they could go?
Mr. CATHCART WASON
The idea in my mind is that it would be an infinitely less dangerous proceeding to try to find out the thing in the way I suggest. Surely you can find out by a scheme of this sort what is the general opinion. It is common talk as to what counties would go under the operation of the Bill, and what would not. Of course if it is contended by hon. Gentlemen opposite that it would be impossible to exclude any part, my argument falls to the ground. But there are certain areas in Ulster which I think by common agreement might be fairly excluded, and I would let those areas be excluded until the six years are over. If you have a Referendum or a popular vote in the matter, you will have riot and bloodshed, and the consequences will be extremely disastrous. I may be wrong on this point, and the hon. Member may be right, that there are no areas in Ulster which will come in. What I say is that the hon. Member for Waterford and the hon. Member who has just sat down, in consultation upon this question might fix such areas as may be readily excluded under the Bill. It would be a very serious matter if you had those areas in the counties going one way or the other by a small majority. Just imagine the confusion that would exist? It would be intolerable. I therefore recommend to all parties in the House the proposals that I make.
§ Mr. DUKE
On this side of the House, and in all parts of the House, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen should hail with satisfaction a conciliatory speech such as that which has just been made by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. C. Wason). Some of us have sat for many years in this House with the hon. Member. I have had that honour myself. In the speech of the hon. Member, and in many of the speeches which we have heard to-night, Mr. Speaker, a strange and new note has been struck. I entertain some doubt as to the 1100 practicability of much of the present proceedings. I rejoice in the benevolence and kindly spirit which has actuated those speeches. I am sure hon. Members will believe that the words they have addressed to the House find a sympathetic echo on this side of the House, and in the hearts of most, if not all of us. But I cannot help observing that between the practical business which is before the House, and the kindly, generous and patriotic observations which have been addressed to the House by irresponsible Members—irresponsible as I myself am in these matters, except for my responsibility to the country, my Constituents, and my conscience—between the great, grave business before the House, and that body of observations which we have heard tonight, there is a great gulf fixed, we have heard nothing from hon. Members below the Gangway, not even a cheer.
§ Mr. DUKE
I sincerely trust that the hon. Member for East Mayo will not think that I am presuming to address a criticism much less a taunt, to hon. Members below the Gangway who sit here to-night in a more responsible and difficult position than any of us. That is the spirit in which I approach this matter, and it is a significant fact that, except one or two careful questions from the hon. Member for East Mayo, the body of Gentlemen who have sat there and listened to the criticisms upon the proposal of His Majesty's Government have been singularly silent. So long as their silence continues, I can only assume that the sailing orders of the present time are full steam ahead. That really is the position in which we stand. We must, if I may respectfully say so to the House—deal with this as a practical matter. We are upon a Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill. In what circumstances does the country arrive at this situation? The country is in a predicament more calculated to rejoice the hearts of its enemies than any predicament in which it has been placed for two and a half centuries. This Debate, which during the past two months has reached a pitch of such deadly rancour, in spite of the speeches which we have heard to-night. is the fruition of a course of policy which has wrecked our Constitution, and which has given us here, on the floor of this House, within the last few days, demonstration of two terrible facts—the new relation of His Majesty's Government to the forces of the 1101 Crown, and the new relation of the forces of the Crown to His Majesty's Government—and a fact still more lamentable—though I hope it has a cheerful answer—the fact that one or two speeches were addressed last week to a topic which by the common consent of Parliament has been, upon the grounds of public safety, excluded for generations, if not for centuries, from our Debates.
That is part of the position in which we stand. What did the Prime Minister tell us only two or three weeks ago in regard to the meaning of this Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill? He said if the Bill passes in its present form, it means civil discord, and it may be civil strife—that is civil war—in Ulster. if the Bill does not pass in its present form, it means as acute a difficulty in the South of Ireland—and the Motion before the House is that the Bill shall pass in its present form. I add one fact more to that rehearsal of facts which I desire to have present, in my own mind while we discuss this question of whether it is possible for us in this extreme hour of the controversy into which we have come to arrive at an honourable and amicable settlement in which we can include hon. Members below the Gangway. The other fact is this, that so grave is the situation in regard to public defence—I think, so far as we know, the foreign horizon is singularly clear—that it has devolved upon one statesman, the Prime Minister of this country, to take upon himself the burden of directing public defence, and to assume, as the right hon. Gentleman said last night, the office of Secretary of State for War. I ask myself, with regard to this assumption of office, which is avowedly a temporary assumption, what war? Why, Mr. Speaker, civil war! That is the position that sums up the situation in which we stand, and, to my mind, although it is a precious thing in the public interests, in my view, that hon. Member should have the courage of their convictions, as I hope we have on this side of the House, and lay before the Government the alternative proposition, which I could have wished for my own part could have been discussed in a free convention before we proposed to reorganise the whole Constitution of the realm—although it is a precious thing in my respectful view to have this declaration made quite clear, we have got to see to what that brings us.
Let us look at realities. Ulster is a reality; I mean Ulster in the political sense. England and Scotland created 1102 Ulster, and settled in Ulster that Protestant population which built up the prosperity of the North-East of Ireland—that Protestant population whose descendants new declare their determination, even by force of arms, if needs be, not to be put out of the Constitution under which they were born. At any rate, Ulster is a visible, potent, practical fact. One cannot disguise from one's mind, and it would be idle and foolish to disguise the fact, that a population so divided by race, by religion, by tradition, by ambition, by the hopes of its daily life, from what one may call the population sprung from the native stock of Ireland—and I am drawing no distinction in favour of the one or the other—is there as a great practical fact, for which this Parliament is responsible, and, to my mind, the answer to the hon. Member for East Manchester, when he said in his airy way, if they will not take Home Rule, we will give it them, is this: that we created the position in which they stand, that they have inherited with us, Under the decree of this Parliament, the constitutional rights under which we live, that these constitutional rights are not others to take away, although they may be the right of the men of Ulster to surrender. And there is another practical fast. A great body of men—mere food for powder in the military sense I often fear that probably they are—if this matter goes to the arbitrament of force, I do not know to what extent earnestness and devotion may make up for equipment and skill—but a great body of men whom my hon. Friend the Member for St. Augustine (Mr. Ronald M'Neill) described by tradition, steadfastness, and confidence in an unselfish leader, have asserted and established their right to have their views heard in this House. Ulster, like the rest of Ireland during these troublesome times, during, at any rate, thirty years, Ulster, in the political sense, has by its steadfast vote declared its determination against what is called Home Rule. [HON. MEMBERS "No, no!"] I know to what hon. Members refer. I know there are Ulster Members who sit below the Gangway.
§ Mr. DUKE
I know that the hon. and learned Member quite accurately claims that there is a large area in the province of Ulster which they represent, but it does not diminish the political difficulty of the case in the rest of Ulster, because the 1103 rights of free citizens in a free country are individual rights, and it is the pride and duty of men who rejoice in liberty to respect the liberty of their fellow countrymen. That is the position in regard to what we call Ulster, perhaps inaccurately. What is the position with regard to the South of Ireland? I am satisfied it has impressed the minds of our countrymen within my own knowledge for thirty years, which I can remember in this House, that a body of men who have not all of them taken a great or conspicuous part in the Debates of this House, who have not, most of them, been active in public affairs, but during all that time, that a body of men has been here, declaring in the presence of the whole United Kingdom the determination of their constituents if they could by force, if not by other means, to have what is called Home Rule. That is the second great potent fact, and we have got to deal with that, and I do not disregard it. There is another potent, hard fact, and that is, that the majority of the people in England, as represented by their Members in this House, are opposed to this Bill. You may discriminate, you may reckon up the polls and get a distinction in some minute degree, but having regard to the constitutional principle of representation, this Bill is persisted in against the wishes of the majority of the people in England.
§ Mr. DUKE
The hon. Member does not mean to disconcert me, and he does not, by suggesting to me that this is a separatist view. I have often had that said to me, but the history of this connection of Ireland with the United Kingdom is over four-fifths a history of English connection. It was an English king who became Lord of Ireland. It was a series of English kings and the English Protectorate that made Ireland what she was down to the end of the eighteenth century. Whether for good or ill, those were the acts of the English people, and England is entitled to-day to be the predominant partner if there is a question of predominance in our Union. I do not desire to set up the question of predominance or of race against race, only I ask hon. Members to remember, and I ask His Majesty's Government to remember now and then the representatives of a considerable majority of the people of 1104 England cast their votes steadily against this Bill. There is one other thing. When this House met at the beginning of 1911, the majority which His Majesty's Government commanded, including all classes of its supporters, all its co-allies, was a majority of one in thirty-one of the people. Is there any orderly social body in which you would say that sixteen men -upon a question of vital consequence, upon a question which moves passion and affects freedom, were entitled ruthlessly to overbear the will of fifteen men? That is not the principle upon which our Government proceeded in the past, and I see in the readiness which we have had to go on and harass and to make the will of a bare majority prevail by every political and constitutional device that which brings us to the deplorable predicament to which we have been brought. I do not say it by way of reproach. I trust I am not thought to be reproaching anybody, because I desire to echo in a practical way the conciliatory view expressed from the other side.
What is the next practical fact? The next practical fact is that the Bill in its present form is not compatible with any scheme of federation. I do not intend to elaborate that. I point out to the House why on the face of it, to any student of constitutional law, this Bill is not compatible with federation. It is a Bill which confers powers inherent in the prerogative of the Crown to a Legislature composed of King, Senate, and People in a separate island, and you cannot take part of the prerogative of the Crown and bestow it somewhere without bestowing sovereignty. What are the parts of the ancient prerogative of the Crown?—a very excellent matter to observe when you come to a question of constitutional law, because our forefathers worked out this question with strife, and even bloodshed. There is the prerogative of the judiciary. If this Government had not included in the powers proposed to be granted to thy Legislature at Dublin, the exercise of justice in Ulster, I believe it would have found its way easy compared with the way it has had to travel, but the judiciary is given to the new sovereignty of King, Senate, and people in Dublin. The Customs and Excise is another branch of the prerogative of the Crown, as I say in the presence of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, and that is being transferred to the new sovereignty; and there is another branch of what, oddly enough, I do not think springs from the ancient constitutional privilege, but it 1105 is also a branch of the prerogative of the Crown—the Post Office. These three things, about which the question of the Royal prerogative has been discussed over and over again, are lightly transferred as part of the bargain—and I am not at the moment criticising the effect of the bargain between His Majesty's Government and the Nationalist majority in Ireland—for securing, as it is thought, the peace of the South of Ireland. That is not compatible with the federal system.
When you have a federal system, you do not split up sovereignty; so you have before you two courses. You may amend your Bill, so as to make it compatible with the federal system to lead the way to those ambitions of hon. Members opposite, in which I confess for many years I have had a sneaking sympathy, and in which I do think at the present time we may find a road of release out of the plight in which we are placed. The road to federalism is blocked if you endow one of the constituent races of the United Kingdom with the attributes of sovereignty, because you cannot take that away; so this Bill, in its present form, is not consistent with the federal idea. What is the next position? It is said His Majesty's Government has made proposals to exclude Ulster. His Majesty's Government has made no proposal to exclude Ulster. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member of Trinity College said quite accurately that in the case of Ulster His Majesty's Government is willing to postpone execution of its decree for six years. That is the true position with regard to Ulster. Ulster is to be brought in automatically at the end of the six years, unless a miracle happens. She is to be brought under the control of a Parliament which for reasons we well know at present she detests; she is to be brought in under the control of the Parliament which can never be a Federal Parliament. That to my mind, shows the impossibility of the position in which we stand, until two things have happened—first of all, until hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway have held out the olive branch to Members from Ireland above the Gangway, and to their fellow countrymen in Ireland—they may reject it, but we would prefer to hear what they say—to hold out the olive branch to their fellow countrymen in Ulster saying this: We are ready to take you at your word. Stand out until you are willing to come in. My right hon. Friend the Member for 1106 Trinity College used an expression quite recently as a challenge to the hon. and learned Member for Waterford to win us. How is it that hon. Members below the Gangway are afraid that they cannot win Ulster? Is it because the gulf between Ulster and the South is so deep and their characteristics so different that years of careful administration and years of devotion will not prevail upon the stubborn mind of Ulster. Is that what hon. Members fear? If hon. Members are confident of the success of this scheme it cannot fail to win Ulster. The men of Ulster are not less practical than the men of the South of Ireland. It is quite true that they do not dream the same dream. They do not see those visions, visions of the almost fabled past and of the glorious independent future which hon. Members below the Gangway see, but they are practical men. How is it, if that is the fact, that hon. Members below the Gangway cannot say to the men of Ulster, "We are fellow countrymen, and we will not see you shot down for the sake of an ideal unity, which is a real disruption. Look on, See how we shall succeed. There will be peace in Ireland for the first time for centuries under our rule, and there will be the absence of the resentment of Saxon tyranny, and see how we will thrive."
But that is not the voice that comes from below the Gangway. Although this is a Bill the passing of which in its present form means civil war in Ulster, or in the South—I say this upon the authority of the Prime Minister—the sailing orders from below the Gangway at the present time are "Full steam ahead." The first thing which the country requires, and which I am sure this House must have, if it is going to arrive at a settlement, is a general declaration on the part of hon. Members representing the Unionist sentiment of Ireland that they are willing to run a risk in this matter, that they are willing to meet their Irish brethren, as I hope they sometimes may be. We English Members have no interest in their perennial quarrels, but we see them here two bitterly hostile factions, and, for my part, I could not consent to put either of those bodies under the government of the other, and I never will consent to do that. I confess that I cannot withhold my assent from the declaration of my Leader, that if the question comes to be the subjecting of North-East Ireland to the South of Ireland against its will, and, as we think, in an unconstitutional 1107 way, without the consent of our countrymen, I should feel bound to extend my sympathy to the people of North-East Ireland. There is no necessity for giving either of these sections of Irish opinion a triumph over the other, and subjecting the other to the humiliation of defeat. I beg hon. Members below the Gangway to consider the situation. They have struggled in this House, and I have enjoyed personally their acquaintance—and I have some little measure of personal esteem for several of them—during more than thirty years, almost during the time some of the senior Members of that party have been Members of this House. I make this appeal to them, that unless they are reasonable and generous in this matter there can be no settlement by consent, and there will be no settlement by consent if what is insisted upon is the close of this transaction which gives a triumph to the Nationalist Members or the Ulstermen, any more than there is a possibility of a settlement by consent upon the close of a transaction which would give a triumph to the Ulstermen over their Nationalist fellow countrymen. That is why I ask hon. Members to look at the realities of this case.
It is no use talking of peace if there is no peace there, and it is no use talking of peace if there is no peace here. This sacrifice, if we of the Unionist party come to it, will be risking in many cases our political existence, and it is a supreme sacrifice for the peace of Ireland. The Prime Minister has assumed the office of the Secretary of State for War, and we have now come to the Second Reading of a Bill which, if it does not put Ulster in flames, will be the signal for an outbreak in the South. We cannot ensure peace in this way. You have, first of all, to have His Majesty's Government released from whatever obligation there is which prevents theta acceding to the wish, so manifestly displayed from the back benches on both sides of the House, to have a fair, generous, and amicable settlement of this matter. That ought to he possible. One has felt almost ashamed of politics when one realises that the conflict of parties in this House was the great barrier to the settlement of a dispute in Ireland which may drench one or another part of Ireland in blood. At this time of crisis, when the country is realising that some of its dearest possessions have gone, and others are at stake, His Majesty's Govern- 1108 ment offers to Ulster an illusory exclusion from this Bill for six years, so that Ulster may automatically come in, when the storm has passed by, and the mind of England is occupied with other matters. Below the Gangway there is a silent insistence upon the strict terms of whatever compact there may be, but the compact, so far as we know it, was represented by the Motion intended to be persevered with unless somebody gives way to an extent which is not anticipated, "That this Bill be read a second time," with a view to taking effect under the Parliament Act.
I wish to say a word or two upon the specific and conciliatory speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In spite of our political differences, there is amongst all of us a degree of liking for the right hon. Gentleman, and almost unwillingly sometimes a feeling of confidence and sentiment which singles him out in this House. He said some remarkable things. He spoke of the Referendum, and he said it will not do. None of us have any very great affection for a Referendum, and I do not believe in it as an instrument of party Government. If you have a Referendum you may have a recall. The Referendum has been proposed as a dangerous way out of a still more dangerous situation, and not because those with whom I act in politics are fond of newfangled proceedings of that kind. It has, however, been dismissed, and the Government say they will not entertain it, because they do not think the people will vote. If that is the view of the Government, I fail to see how they can justify the transaction of the last eight years. The Referendum is out of the way, and what is the next proposition? The right hon. Gentleman declared that if you make the transaction a fair one, he would be disposed to accept the passage of this Bill and its suspension, so that the Bill could not come into operation until the people had passed judgment upon it. That is the answer to an observation which I made, as to the slightness of the majority generally in support of these proposals, and as to the antipathy of English representation. If this Bill can be put to the people of this country, and they insist upon it with Ulster or without Ulster, to my mind, whatever may be the duty of an Ulsterman in that situation, the duty of an Englishman is to submit. Deeply as I should regret such a decision, if the thing were put in that way, just as my right hon. 1109 Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, in my humble way I should submit, and I should not feel myself warranted in taking any step which would encourage the springing up of any kind of civil strife in Ulster.
We are in this position, that in our belief this Bill certainly does not command the confidence or the assent of the people of this country. If the right hon. Gentleman, in the conciliatory part of his speech, intended to convey to the House that the Government was ready to take the Bill as one to come into effect subject to the sanction of the constituencies, then I say, although I have no mandate from anybody to say it, I think that is a wise and statesmanlike course, and I should find great difficulty, no matter what party pressure was brought to bear, in voting against any proposals with that object. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear to the House that if this Bill passed in its present form, with our knowledge of its effects, and if it comes into operation without a General Election, then His Majesty's Government, under the name of the maintenance of law and order, will mass in Ulster such force, and will direct upon Ulster such force, as shall wipe out the opposition of Ulster.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. DUKE
That is what I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say, and other hon. Members so understood him. I do not think what I have said will be denied from the other side of the House. Against such a policy as that we shall stand by every means in our power. We believe that if you are going to the country to demand sanction for wiping out the opposition of Ulster by a tremendous display of Imperial force, the country will rally to the cause of freedom and to the cause of an oppressed people, as it has rallied to the cause of freedom and against oppression in many distant lands. In that event, I do not despair that we may yet save Ireland from that disaster for which it is heading straight. We are going forward toward the passage under the Parliament Act of a Bill which does not command even a grudging assent in its present form from masses of moderate men on that side, does not command any assent from people on this side, does not command the assent of the majority of the constituents in England, but has, it is 1110 said, the assent of a bare majority of the electors of the United Kingdom. If his Majesty's Government is going on upon that course, I do not despair of the success of some constitutional principles, but I trust they will not do that, and I trust that at some early hour we may hear from a representative of the Nationalist party in this Debate, in which there has been frank speaking and dispassionate and respectful speaking, whether they are ready to come into this scheme of conciliation and to offer to Ulster the slender but generous concession upon which as it seems to me the peace of this country and, it may be, its future existence will depend.
I think the House as a whole will probably appreciate the force and the sincerity and the desire for peace which were manifested in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down. I thought, however, that at the close of his remarks he referred to the statement of the Foreign Secretary in a way which hardly did it justice. He represented the Foreign Secretary and in this he was only following the hon. Member for the St. Augustine's Division (Mr. Ronald M'Neill)—as threatening to put down the political resistance of Ulster to the Home Rule Bill by massing great Imperial forces in Ulster.
§ Mr. DUKE
I do not want that there should be any misunderstanding, especially as I see that the Foreign Secretary is now present. I said that I understood from the right hon. Gentleman that if this Bill passes under the Parliament Act, and without any assent of a subsequent General Election when the Bill has become law under the Parliament Act, and if the maintenance of law and order—that is the maintenance of that law—requires the use of force in Ireland, all the forces of the Crown will be available to enforce that law.
§ Sir E. GREY
What I said will be on record to-morrow morning, and I do not know that I can repeat the exact words I used. Therefore, I stand by whatever I did say, but what I intended to say was this: After the Bill was upon the Statute Book there must be, I assumed, about a year before it came into operation. In that interval, if force was used, it could only be because there was disorder in Ulster, or a movement in Ulster directed, not to resist the Dublin Parliament and Executive, which would not yet have come into existence, but to resist the Imperial 1111 Government, and in that case, of course, force must be used to maintain the Government. Then I also said that, as under the Parliament Act there must be an election every five years, force to compel Ulster to submit to the operation of the Bill—that is to say, to compel Ulster to submit to a Dublin Parliament and a Dublin Executive, which could not come into existence until a year after the Bill passed—could not, I thought, be used until after an election had taken place.
§ Sir E. GREY
There is no question of securing the enforcement of the Bill until it comes into operation. There must be an interval of a year. Force used during that interval is force used, not to maintain a Bill on the Statute Book which is not yet in operation, but to maintain the existing authority of the Imperial Government.
I did think that the remark of the hon. Member seriously misrepresented the attitude of the Foreign Secretary, but I do not wish to raise controversial questions in a Debate which has, I think, held out more hopes of the two parties coming together on this matter than any previous Debate we have heard. I myself have been an advocate of a compromise. I have in my own Division, not only during the last twelve months, but before that, advocated a compromise on this question of Home Rule and the extreme advisability of a settlement by consent, but I am sorry to say that my remarks were generally addressed to silent meetings and to disapproving supporters, because I can assure hon. Members opposite that any concessions that are made upon this side are made by the Government and their supporters with great difficulty, and generally in the face of the opposition of our supporters in the constituencies. We have made some sacrifices in order to make an approach towards a settlement.
And in spite of that I think there is no question that up to now the Government, without much response 1112 from the other side, have made serious efforts to effect a settlement. We heard from the Foreign Secretary the three lines on which an attempt towards a settlement have been made. I would just like to say a word about the main line, that suggested by the Prime Minister and brought forward as a concrete proposal. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) suggested that meant two General Elections fought upon the Irish question only. I do not believe that is so. I believe that those elections would probably not be fought upon the Irish question at all; but I am quite certain that if Ulster had any reason to fear oppression, and if there were any ground for their opposition to their inclusion with the rest of Ireland, then that election would be fought on the question of their inclusion, and I am quite certain that Liberals, as well as Conservatives, would oppose bringing Ulster under the Dublin Parliament, if it had been shown that under Home Rule in working they were going to suffer any damage by doing so.
One more word about this coming in at the end of six years. It means that not only must two General Elections have been held, but that in all human probability Ulster will not finally come under a Dublin Parliament without the consent, not only of the electors, but also of a Conservative Government, because, surely it is hardly possible that we shall have five General Elections running returning Liberal Governments to this House. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are sincere about what they tell us of their confidence in a General Election, then they, at any rate. are certain that Ulster cannot be included without the consent of a Conservative Government. It is not a question of coming in automatically at the end of six years. It is a question of coming in with the consent of the electorate in Great Britain which has seen Home Rule working, and which has seen the Protestants in the rest of Ireland under the rule of a Dublin Parliament. It is as I said before, a question of coming in with the consent of a Conservative Government as well as a Liberal Government. Our complaint is that up to this time all these efforts at a settlement have been met with a blank negative. When the Prime Minister brought forward those proposals, not only were they not accepted, and not only was contempt poured upon them, but no counter offer was made. Nothing was offered from the Front Opposition Bench.
§ Mr. DUKE
The hon. Member is wrong about that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson), in the most explicit way, said to the Prime Minister, "Make a proposal to make the inclusion of Ulster conditional upon Ulster's consent, and I will go to Ireland and put it before a Convention." He also said, "Make your proposal with regard to Ireland part of a federal scheme, and I cannot see how anybody could fight against it."
That is quite true as to his asking the Prime Minister to change his offer. It was not only not an acceptance of this offer, but it was not a counter offer. He said to the Prime Minister, "If you change your offer"—not "I accept it"—"I will go down and put it before an Ulster Convention." Not "recommend it" even to an Ulster Convention. He did not accept it himself. He did not promise to accept the other suggestion which the Prime Minister put forward. He did not promise to suggest it to an Ulster Convention as a likely settlement. The Leader of the Opposition offered nothing, but simply suggested to the Prime Minister that he should take a Referendum of the people of the country. We were told by one Ulster Member that the consent of the people of this country would not allay their opposition. We were, therefore, not offered the absence of opposition to the Bill. We were not told that we should do without civil war if the Referendum were in favour of the Government. We were not told that the Leaders of the Opposition would, if the Referendum went in favour of Home Rule, try and make Home Rule work. There was no promise on that side to give anything. They were willing to take everything, but to give nothing. The Referendum itself was to be held not on the question of Horne Rule in the form which the Government approved of it, or of no Home Rule, but it was to be either the Government's utmost concession which they had offered, and which most of us extremely dislike, or the complete loss of the Home Rule Bill. It was a choice of two evils which was offered to us. If we were successful, we were to get nothing. That was the way in which the proposal was met on that bench. Much has been said about the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty at Bradford. I believe that was a speech towards peace. It has been said you must believe in the good faith of those you are dealing with before coming to any agreement. 1114 I agree. But you must also agree as to the sincerity with which they are putting forward their views. The Leader of the Opposition has repeatedly shown that he does not believe the Government dare go on with this Bill. He has continually taunted the Government with not daring to go on with the Bill. As long as that spirit is manifest on the Front Opposition Bench, there is no chance—
It being a Quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.