§ Mr. GINNELL
I rise to a point of Order with reference to the first Order on the Paper. I submit that it is not in order to anticipate, for the purpose of frustrating, a non-existent Act, and that the attempt is not helped by misdescribing as an Act an instrument which is only a Bill at the present time. The supposed Act not being in existence, we are necessarily thrown back upon the Bill. I submit that it is not in order to introduce a Bill to amend or suspend a Bill. It is out of order because a Bill, so long as it remains a Bill, is alterable, suspendable, and destructible by operating directly upon itself, and therefore is not, and cannot be, so dealt with by the instrumentality of another Bill. So long as it is only a Bill, it is an unfixed and undetermined thing, subject to self-alteration, self-suspension, and self-destruction; and therefore cannot be a subject for another Bill to operate upon until it has become fixed by ceasing to be a Bill and becoming an Act. Therefore the present Motion on the Paper is out of order. This reasoning is flawless and of itself conclusive, but it is also fortified by the fact that no Speaker of the House of Commons has ever allowed a Bill to be reintroduced proposing to amend or suspend a Bill. Whoever attempted such a thing would be told that he could accomplish his purpose only by dealing directly with the Bill he desired to alter. On these grounds, I, with great respect, ask you to rule that the Motion on the Paper is out of order.
I am afraid I am not able to accept the hon. Member's contention. If he looks at his Order Paper he will find that Order No. 10 (Government of Ireland (Amendment) Bill) is a Bill which has already been read a first time by the House, proposing the very thing which he conteads is out of order. Further, it is not an infrequent thing to have Consolidation Bills in the same 882 Session to repeal a Bill almost immediately after it has become an Act. A Consolidation Bill can follow another Bill dealing with the same subject and receive the Royal Assent only a moment or two after the preceding Act which it repeals.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
Before I explain briefly to the House what are the provisions of the Bill which I ask leave to introduce, I must take note of the fact that the action of the Government in introducing this Bill is represented, and I have no doubt honestly believed in many quarters, to be a violation of assurances given by me on their behalf, if not of the letter, at any rate of the spirit of those assurances, and, what is perhaps equally, if not more, serious, an attempt on the part of the Government of the day—at a time of supreme national emergency—to take advantage of the spirit of patriotism which has been so universally and so splendidly manifested for the base purpose of party advantage. I am going to speak, I hope, in language and in temper which will not arouse or, at any rate, embitter controversy, but I could not possibly pass by allegations of that kind, and I shall endeavour as temperately as I can to show to the House and to the country that they are devoid of foundation. At the end of the month of July, before the War had broken out, and when the negotiations which preceded it had reached a critical stage, the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland (Amendment) Bill had been put down as the First Order of the day. When the Order was called on the 30th July I used language that perhaps I need not apologise for now quoting to the House. I said:—I do not Propose to make the Motion which stands in my name..… The issues of peace and war are hanging in the balance..… In these circumstances it is of vital importance in the interests of the whole world that this country, which has no interests of its own directly at stake, should present a united front, and be able to speak and act with the authority of an undivided nation. If we were to proceed to-day with the first Order on the Paper, we should inevitably, unless the Debate was conducted in an artificial tone, be involved in acute controversy in regard to domestic differences.I leave out again some words which are immaterial—I need not say more than that such a use of our time at such a moment"—883 It was a time when negotiations were still pending, and when the authority of this country which was being steadily exerted in the attainment of peace might be seriously hampered and jeopardised—I need not say that such a use of our time at such a moment might have injurious, and lastingly injurious, effects on the international situation. I have had the advantage of consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, who, I know, shares to the full the view which I have expressed. We therefore propose to put off for the present the consideration of the Second Reading of the Amending Bill—of course without prejudice to it." future—in the hope that by a postponement of the discussion the patriotism of all parties will contribute what lies in our power, if not to avert, at least to circumscribe, the calamities which threaten the world. In the meantime, the business which we shall take will be confined to necessary matters and will not be of a controversial character."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1914, col. 1594, Vol. LXV.]The Leader of the Opposition concurred in what I said, and the House generally and, indeed, universally consented to postpone the consideration of the Amending Bill. That language was used, as I have said, at a time when negotiations were pending, when, as far as Europe as a whole was concerned, and, still more, as far as this country was concerned, we still had hope, and good hope, that war might be avoided. Those hopes, unfortunately, as everyone knows, were not realised, and the House devoted itself, without distinction of party, to the consideration and passing of Bills which were necessary for the protection of the best interests of this country in the contest on which, with good conscience, and with the general, I may say universal, concurrence of all sections of opinion in the country, we had been compelled to embark.
On the 10th August, when these Bills had been passed, I moved the Adjournment, and again I may, perhaps, be allowed to quote my words. I said:—When ten days ago the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland (Amendment) Amending Bill was postponed, both the Leader of the Opposition and myself pointed out that postponement must be without prejudice to the domestic and political position of any party. To what was then said and assented to I adhere both in the letter and in the spirit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th August, 1914, col. 2276, Vol. LXV.]I do not think I need quote what I said further. Finally, when that short sitting had come to an end, on the 31st August, I again moved the Adjournment of the House, until the 9th September, and, in doing so, I used the language:— 884I renew what I said three weeks ago, that it is our desire that no party in any quarter of the House should gain advantage or should suffer prejudice from the suspension for the moment of our domestic controversies. But, Sir, perhaps it is right that I should recall to House what was the Parliamentary situation at the time when, with general consent, those controversies were suspended. On the one hand, it was the avowed intention of the Government to put on the Statute Book before the close of the Session two Bills which had complied, or were about to comply, with the conditions and requirements of the Parliament Act. That intention, it is hardly necessary to say, remains unchanged. On the other hand, the House was on the eve of embarking at the instance of the Government, for reasons on which I need not now dwell, because they are fresh in everybody's memory, on the consideration of an Irish Amending Bill, and I hope it is not necessary for me to say again here that we should regard it as most unfair to resort to what has been described as a 'snap Prorogation,' as it no such Bill had ever been introduced. When we resume, after this very short interval, it is still our hope that it may be found possible.… by means of negotiations and agreement, to arrive at something in the nature of a settlement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st August. 1914, cols. 436–7.]The right hon. Gentleman opposite, following me, used these words:—I am quite sure that it is his (the right hon. Gentleman's) desire, and it is certainly our desire, that as a result of the War nothing should be done in regard to any controversial matter to place any of the parties in the controversy in a worse position than they were in before the War broke out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st August, 1914, col. 437.]I think these views, if not literally, at least substantially in accordance as they were, represented the general, I might almost say the universal opinion of the House. I need hardly assure the House that my colleagues and myself have not, in intention at any rate, in the least departed from the position which we then assumed. It is obvious to everybody that no party in this House, no party in this great controversy, can be put at the conclusion of the War, with all the unforeseen and unforeseeable events which may intervene, in precisely the same position as it was when the War began. I see that words of mine are quoted—words used, I think, in the spring, long before there was any War in prospect or even dreamt of—to the effect that until the Amending Bill should have been disposed of it was not our intention that the Irish Government Bill should be put on the Statute Book. That was our intention, and it would certainly have been carried out. Everybody now admits that the Amending Bill, from circumstances which could not have been and certainly were not 885 foreseen, cannot in this Session be satisfactorily or adequately or even reasonably discussed. The question, therefore, with which the Government were confronted, and with regard to which it is their duty to give the best advice they can to the House of Commons, is this: How, in the altered circumstances, the spirit and the substance, as distinguished from the mere letter of our intentions, could be best fulfilled? To answer that question it is necessary, which I will do very briefly, the situation so far as these domestic controversies were concerned which existed at the outbreak of the War. In the first place, the two Bills—the Bill that deals with the Government of Ireland and that which deals with the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Welsh Church—had passed, during three Sessions extending over two years, all their stages in this House. They had gone beyond the control of the House of Commons. They were about to comply and must have complied, at the time the Session came to its normal close, with all the conditions prescribed by the Parliament Act and would have passed on to the Statute Book. Therefore, unless the outbreak of war was to be used or taken advantage of to prejudice those two Bills, they must, before this Session came to an end, become part of the law of the land.
The next point is this: Taking still the state of things at the time of the outbreak of war—this, of course, does not apply to the Welsh Bill, but only to the Irish Bill-as regards the Irish Bill the Government, without admitting—it was made clear over and over again—that in our judgment it was in any way unjust or inadequate in the safeguards which it provided against possible injustice, in order to secure, if possible, at the outset of the new system of Irish Government, an atmosphere of peace and good will and, at any rate, to prevent the possibility of anything in the nature of civil commotion, we had introduced—a most unusual procedure—not in this House, but in another place, an Amending Bill—a Bill which, as the House is aware, although it has never discussed it, proceeded upon the principle of granting a provisional exclusion from the operation of the new system of Irish Government of areas which expressed their willingness and their desire to be so ex-eluded. That Bill—again I am speaking 886 of matters which are common knowledge—in the House of Lords—I will not say whether for better or worse, or whether for good or evil; I do not want to embark on any such controversy—that Bill, in its whole scope and character, was completely, transformed, and it came here in its new shape. We put it down for Second Reading, although in the new form which it had then assumed I suppose there were not more than, at the outside, two or three Clauses which we could have asked the House to accept. We put it down for Second Reading, in the hope and with the object of working out upon the floor of this House some possible scheme of provisional arrangement which might, at any rate for the time being, meet with general assent.
I am sure, again, that no hon. Member in any quarter of the House who is listening to me will deny that at the time when the Bill was actually put down for Second Reading, and when, owing to the intervention of the Leader of the Opposition and myself, in the circumstances I have already described, it was postponed, its prospect of passing into law was, to say the least, extremely remote. We had had, I think only the week before, on the invitation of His Majesty the King, a Conference of representative men of all parties concerned at Buckingham Palace, and although all those who were parties to it know that that Conference was conducted in the spirit of a real desire for accommodation, it revealed differences not trivial, but differences of substance which were, for the time being at any rate, unbridgeable and irreconcilable. I do not think anybody will dispute that that is an accurate statement of the case at the time of the outbreak of war so far as the Amending Bill was concerned. Then there is the third fact, which is both material and important, to be considered, if the narrative of this transaction is to be honest and complete. That fact is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir Edward Carson) had organised again—I do not say whether for good or for evil; I am dealing simply with the facts—in the Province of Ulster, and particularly in certain areas in that province, a large and disciplined body who were pledged, supposing no satisfactory agreement could be arrived at by means of an Amending Bill or in other ways, forcibly to resist the 887 application of any system of what is called Home Rule in the areas to which they belonged, and indeed, if the contingency should arise, they were, so we understood, to organise for themselves and on their own account, although, of course, they would say as trustees for the interests of the United Kingdom, a provisional government. Whether that was right or wrong, and we all have our own opinions, I do not want to go into it. I am dealing with the actual facts of the situation. Those are the facts. I have tried to point out to the House what were the three outstanding features in the situation with which, when the War broke out, the Government had to deal. In the legal and constitutional circumstances, when the Session came to an end, two Bills—I may leave out for the moment the Welsh Bill; the Irish Bill will take its place, under the provisions of the Parliament Act, as it stands on the Statute Book—secondly, the Amending Bill, whose prospects of passing into law were certainly not of the best; and thirdly, the existence and the activity of the organisation in Ireland of which the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) had taken the responsibility of initiation. What then? I want particularly, in view of the strong and very unjust things which have been and are being said, to put it to everybody in every quarter of the House, What was the course that a responsible Government ought to have taken and ought to take, or to recommend the House to take, if it wished, so far as possible, not to give, in consequence of the War, either prejudice or advantage to any party?
One thing I think is obvious—because it forms what I may call the underlying foundation both of the proposals which we are submitting to the House here and of those which we understand were submitted to and discussed by another House last night—namely that, in the opinion of the responsible men on both sides, in the absence of agreement—if agreement could have been obtained, of course that was the most excellent way—but in the absence of agreement for at any rate a provisional settlement—the only way of dealing with the situation was by some form of moratorium. So far we are agreed, because the responsible leaders of the party 888 opposite put forward a moratorium of their own, and we are going to submit to the House to-day the form of moratorium which seems to us the best and most reasonable. The proposal which I understand to be put forward by those who are responsible for the leadership and conduct of the party opposite—I am not dealing for the moment with the Welsh Bill, but entirely with the Irish Bill—is to hang up that Bill at the stage in which it at present finds itself—I do not say whether or not their actual proposal carries out their intention, but I believe this to be their intention—to hang up that Bill in the stage which it has at present reached until the termination of the War. Applying the testing principle to which I think both parties assented when the suspension of our domestic controversies took place—that no one should be in a better or in a worse position in consequence of the outbreak of the War—would that be a fair and an equitable proceeding. It would mean, translated into plain English—from this point of view I am entitled to bring in the Welsh Bill—that practically the whole of the controversial legislation of the present Parliament to which Session after Session we have devoted time and labour, effort and zeal, and which as we believe—we may be wrong, but at any rate we are for the time being a majority—represents the wishes and considered judgment of the electorate of the country—it would mean that the whole of that would be put at the mercy of a chapter of accidents.
No one knows, no human foresight can tell or even at this moment approximately conjecture at what date or under what conditions the War will come to an end. We all hope that it will be soon, but it may be indefinitely postponed and delayed. Is it, I ask, a practicable, is it a reasonable, is it an equitable proposition, when two great measures—you may like them or dislike them—of legislative change had reached a stage at which before the present Session came to an end they must, through the operation of the Parliament Act, be placed upon the Statue Book, that they should be put off without any security of any kind? I do not want to go into detail. I need not point out the kind of danger to which they must inevitably be exposed. One and one very obvious one 889 is that, under our constitutional arrangements as they are at present fixed, a General Election cannot be postponed beyond the autumn or early winter of next year. It is, to say the least, extremely improbable—I will not say that, because I do not want to assume the rôle of a prophet; but, at any rate, it is by no means certain that when the General Election takes place the issues which are raised by these two great Bills will be the issues predominantly in the mind of the majority of the electorate. Anyone with any imagination can forecast a dozen or a score or even a hundred contingencies which by that time may have come about. I know it has been suggested that that particular difficulty might be got rid of by extending the lifetime of the present Parliament for another year. No one can tell when that vague, indeterminate, and perhaps disputable date, the conclusion of the War, will really be reached.
In the meantime, and this was a point which the Government had especially to consider, looking at the matter, I can honestly say, for the moment at any rate, not as a partisan, but in the interests of the Empire, what would have been and what must be the effect of such an indefinite postponement not only upon the people of Ireland in Ireland itself, but upon the Irish race in our Dominions and in the great kindred country, the United States. They would have been told they must exchange for that which was certain and assured all the anxieties of indefinite prolongation over a time of doubt, suspicion and of, indeed, unendurable suspense. To those of us who believe the great patriotic uprising, of which we have had so many evidences in Ireland during the past few weeks, and which, as we believe, will bring, and perhaps for the first time for a hundred years, not merely those gallant Irish regiments who have always been in the forefront of the British Army, but Irish opinion, Irish sentiment, Irish loyalty, flowing with a strong and a continuous and ever-increasing stream into the great reservoir of Imperial resources and Imperial unity, that would have been in itself, to my mind, an unspeakable calamity. We considered the possibility of that alternative and rejected it, for reasons which, I think, are apparent to the House. Admitting, as I do, to the 890 full, that the new state of things created by the War not only warrants but demands a period of suspension, we came to the conclusion that it was our duty to ask the House to sanction a plan under which, as would have taken place without any legislation, these Bills should pass on to the Statute Book, but at the same time no effective steps should be taken to bring them into practical operation before, as a minimum, a term of twelve months, and if at the expiration of that term the War still continues, before a date to be fixed by Order in Council, not later than the duration of the War.
So much for that factor. Now I come to the other factor to which I have referred. It is quite true, as I have said, that this Bill was going on, to the Statute Book under the operation of the Parliament Act. There was also pending in Parliament an Amending Bill, and that Amending Bill, as everyone now admits, cannot be proceeded with in this Session under existing conditions. There was, further, the fact to which I have already alluded, of the organisation planned and to a large extent promoted by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) in Ulster. I do not think any policy would be fair or would comply with the conditions which both sides of the House accepted when we came to our truce in the matter of domestic controversies—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Which would not have taken full account of both of these circumstances. As an integral part of the proposals we are now laying before the House, the Government will introduce in the next Session of Parliament, during the suspensory period and before the Irish Government Bill can possibly come into operation, an Amending Bill.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is a matter of Parliamentary drafting. I present it as in integral part of the policy I am recommending and now bringing forward, and I have the best hope—and I hope and trust 891 that it is a hope which is shared and not scouted by others who hold different opinions—as to the settlement of this measure. Such an Amending Bill, introduced under the new conditions created by the War, may have a better chance than the Bill which has been before us during the present Session of being moulded into something like general consent and a satisfactory and permanent settlement. At any rate, in view of the altered circumstances which have taken place, the assurance which I give will, in these circumstances, be in spirit and substance, as I have said, completely fulfilled. Things have taken place which no one anticipated, but I give the assurance that in spirit and substance the Home Rule Bill will not and cannot come into operation until Parliament has had the fullest opportunity by an Amending Bill of altering, modifying, or qualifying its provisions in such a way as to secure, at any rate, the general consent both of Ireland and of the United Kingdom. I go a step further. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Sir E. Carson) has during the past few weeks, as I understand, although my knowledge is only derived from the ordinary sources of information, taken steps to encourage and to stimulate a number of the men who form part of his organisation to respond to the call of the King to enlist with the Colours, and to take part in the common defence of the Empire.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not going to say anything controversial. I believe we have all read—I certainly read with pride—of the patriotic and public spirit which has been shown by those Ulster Volunteers, and no doubt they will be found not only among the most loyal, but the most efficient defenders of the honour of the Empire. It might be said—going back once more to the principle that in this matter it is not fair that any party should be advantaged or prejudiced by the outbreak of the War—that those whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman represents—again I say nothing in the way of criticism or even comment 892 upon their organisation—had been put at a disadvantage by the loyal and patriotic action which they have undertaken. I say, speaking again on behalf of the Government, that in our view, under the conditions which now exist—we must all recognise the atmosphere which this great patriotic spirit of union has created in the country—the employment of force, any kind of force, for what you call the coercion of Ulster, is an absolutely unthinkable thing So far as I am concerned, and so far as my colleagues are concerned—I speak for them, for I know their unanimous feeling—that is a thing which we would never countenance or consent to. I have necessarily gone out-side the actual limits of the Bill, because I want to speak in as absolutely an uncontroversial spirit as circumstances will allow as to the real policy which the Government propose.
Let me interpose one word at this stage in regard to the Welsh Bill. The various considerations to which I have been adverting do not apply, or hardly any of them apply, to that Bill. There is no question there of an Amending Bill, or any questions arising in connection with it or out of it. But we do feel in regard to the Welsh Bill also that the outbreak of the War has created a state of things which would make it unjust and inequitable to proceed with the immediate operation of the measure. I refer particularly to the fact that the Disendowment, or partial Disendowment, of the Welsh Church would necessarily impose upon its supporters and friends during the early years of the existence of the Disestablished body pecuniary sacrifices for the purpose of getting together and making good a voluntary commutation fund. The burden under which we all of us lie in consequence of the War to restrict our expenditure, and to devote as much as we can to public purposes, together with the certainty that new taxation must be imposed which will still further curtail the resources of the ordinary citizen, makes it appear to us just and equitable that the operation of the Disendowment provisions of that Bill should be postponed. But when you come to examine the matter, you cannot disentangle the provisions in regard to Disendowment from those in regard to Disestablishment. We, there- 893 fore, propose that, subject to such comparatively formal matters as the institution of enquiries which prejudice nobody, with that exception in the case of the Welsh Bill as in the case of the Irish Bill, no steps should be taken to put it into actual operation until twelve months from the date of passing, or, if the War then continues, during the same term as is prescribed in the Irish Bill. These are the proposals which seem to the Government, in the exceptional and, indeed, unique conditions of the day, to meet the requirements both of reason and of justice. I am not much troubled myself by those accusations—I know they are ill-founded—of breach of promise and breach of faith. If that is a matter of any importance, so far as my personal honour is concerned, I am quite content to leave it in the keeping of my countrymen. But it is a matter which goes far beyond the reputation and the character of an individual. In the plan which we are proposing to the House I beg them to believe, and I think the country outside will believe, that we are honestly desirous, in a time of grave and unprecedented national emergency, of acting fairly, reasonably, and equitably with all the great interests concerned.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The right hon. Gentleman began what I think, if not a historical speech, is a speech on a historical occasion, by giving his version of what our feelings are in regard to the action he is now taking. He described them with perfect accuracy, and I shall say only this, that those feelings have been strengthened by the speech to which we have just listened. The right hon. Gentleman promised, and he has kept the promise so far as language is concerned, to be moderate and temperate. I shall endeavour to imitate him, and it ought to be easier for me, for we all know that it is far easier for those who have suffered than for those who have inflicted a wrong to forgive. We are engaged once again in discussing questions which for something like three years have been the subject of bitterest controversy between political parties. I think it a great misfortune that this discussion has again become inevitable. Before the War broke out the right hon. Gentleman used words some of which he has himself quoted, but which I shall read again to the House:— 894We should inevitably, unless the Debate was conducted in an artificial tone, be involved in acute controversy in regard to domestic differences. Such a use of our time at such a moment might have injurious, and lastingly injurious, effects on the international situation.I agreed with him when he used those words. I differ from him now in thinking that because they were true only when negotiations were taking place they have ceased to be true when the lives of men are at stake, and when we are as a nation engaged in a struggle perhaps the greatest in which this country has ever been involved. I can say perfectly truthfully that since this crisis arose I have put out of my mind altogether all considerations of party interest. I do not claim any merit for doing that, for if I had acted otherwise I should not have represented the spirit of the party to which I belong. I claim no merit. I believe also that in a democratic country the party system is inevitable, and I have been a party man. But I sometimes, as we all do, get tired of the bitterness of party strife, and I can say this, that at no time since I have been engaged in politics have I felt so much satisfaction in political life as during the last few weeks when parties had ceased to exist in this House. I hope that that might long continue. I hoped that during this cessation of party bitterness something might be done for the lasting good of the country which would not be possible at any other time. I hoped, for instance—a hope which I have long cherished, which perhaps most Members of the House may think Utopian, but I do not—that as a result of the War, in which men from all parts of the Empire are engaged for a common object and sharing common danger, it might be possible to evolve a federal system for the whole Empire, in settling which the Irish difficulty would sink to its proper proportions, and would be easily solved. Having such views I am sure that my hon. Friends behind me, at least, will understand, and perhaps some hon. Gentlemen opposite may understand, how strong was the feeling, not so much of anger or of resentment as of sorrow when I learned that the Government, as I think—I do not expect hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree with me—took advantage of our patriotism to betray us.
The Government propose to put the two Bills, the Welsh Bill and the Irish Bill, on 895 the Statute Book as they stand. Admittedly these two Bills, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, are not in the same position. The Welsh Bill has passed through all its stages in this House, and I do not suggest that there is any breach of faith on the part of the Government in putting it on the Statute Book now. But the time limit, which the right hon. Gentleman gives, must I think be admitted by everyone to be entirely inadequate. Everyone knows that when the War is over, and for a long time afterwards, the channels of private benevolence will be dried up, and it will be extremely difficult, even if we admit that the Bill ought to pass, to obtain in that time from private sources anything equal to the funds of which this Bill will deprive the Church in Wales. I may point out, also, that with the assent of the Government a Committee has been appointed in another place on which they have representatives, and I should have thought that it was only proper to wait for the Report of the Committee in which they took part before taking a final decision in regard to this Bill. But my objection to their action in regard to the Welsh Bill is on higher grounds. If it could fairly have been postponed, without any loss of position to those who are in favour of it, except the loss of time—and that is inevitable if it is to bear fruit—then I say, when you realise that this Bill appears to at least half the people of this country as unfair and unjust, and if you realise also that to a large section of the people of this country, whether they are right or wrong, it seems sacrilegious, it is surely wrong, if it could be avoided, to shock the consciences of those people at such a time as this by unnecessarily forcing it upon the Statute Book now.
The Irish Bill is in an entirely different position. In a Debate the other day, a regrettable Debate as I thought, the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir Henry Dalziel), said that the difficulty was that we could not understand each other's points of view. I wish that hon. Gentleman opposite would strive to understand our point of view on this question. The view of the party opposite is that the Home Rule Bill is already settled, that it is through the House, and that it is quite independent of the Amend- 896 ing Bill. That is the view of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, and also of some hon. Members on the other side of the House. But that never was the view of the Government. They have over and over again said that the two hung together. And more than that, a Member of the Government said in this House that the Amending Bill was in substitution for the Suggestion stage of the Home Rule Bill, and was therefore an essential part of the Home Rule Bill itself. In taking up this Bill, and dealing with it as they propose to do, the Government are taking a course which I think in the circumstances utterly unfair. But they are doing something more. They are deliberately breaking pledges as solemn as were ever given to any Parliament by any Government. I am not going to make that assertion without proof. I ask the House to go back to the circumstances in which the Amending Bill was postponed. On the morning of that day I happened to meet my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson). We knew that peace or war must be trembling in the balance. It occurred to me that it was just possible that one of the influences which might decide in which direction the scale would fall was the belief in Germany that we were so divided—I do not think that it is very relevant to consider whose fault that is—that we could not present a united front in any war. Feeling that, we asked the Prime Minister to see us. We suggested to him that it was all-important that an acrimonious Debate should not take place, and he agreed, and it was postponed. In agreeing to it he made two definite statements. One was that in the meantime, until we again resumed the discussion of the Amending Bill, no controversial legislation should be taken. And, more than that, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University felt that it was necessary for him to make some statement to his friends in Ulster, and the Ulster Unionists drew up this resolution, which I shall read to the House:—That in view of the grave situation in European politics, we approve of the policy of Sir Edward Carson, that, on behalf of the Irish Unionist party, he should agree to the adjournment of the Debate on the Amending Bill until such date as the Government and the Leaders of the Opposition may in the interests of the United Kingdom and the Empire determine.897 The House will see that that resolution refers not merely to the Opposition but to the Government. Before it was published, therefore, I took it, at the request of my right hon. Friend, to the Prime Minister, and received his assent to its publication. That was a definite promise of a truce, and that truce has been broken by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman also said—or I think it was I who said it, but he agreed to it—that by the Adjournment no party to the controversy would be placed in a worse position. Does any hon. Member opposite say that we are not placed in a worse position when we have no opportunity of discussing the Amending Bill? Both of these pledges have been broken. But there is another. The Prime Minister told this House, in language as plain and unambiguous as our language permits, that he would not present the Home Rule Bill to His Majesty for Royal Assent until the Amending Bill had been finally disposed of in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
He gave that pledge. He does not deny it. What does he say? Circumstances have changed; circumstances have so altered that it is inconvenient to fulfil the pledge, and therefore he is justified in breaking the pledge; and now the right hon. Gentleman has told us, with great solemnity, that before this Bill comes into operation next Session he will introduce another Amending Bill. Is that pledge stronger than the one he gave us before? Let me read the words:—Our object is that if, as we hope and believe, that Amending Bill—I am leaving out some unnecessary words—can be brought into shape so as to pass this House, the two Bills shall become law practically at the same time.He now gives another pledge, not any stronger in words, not a bit stronger, and he asks, or the House asks, what our feelings about that pledge are, I will refer him to the words which he himself used in another connection the other day:— 898Yes, and what are we to get in return for the betrayal of our friends and the dishonour of our obligations? What are we to get in return?[Interruption]—A promise, nothing more, as to what Germany would do in certain eventualities—[Interruption.] We listened very patiently to the Prime Minister, and I think we have a right to appeal for a patient hearing.
I hope hon. Members—[HON. MEMBERS: "Right honourable!"] Hon. Members know well enough that if hon. Members begin an interjection the whole House is apt to take it up. I ask, hon. Members to restrain themselves. The circumstances in which we are met are such as place a special obligation on Members in all parts of the House.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I will finish the reading of the quotation:—A promise, nothing more, a promise as to what Gel-many would do in certain eventualities, a promise be it observed—I am sorry to have to say it, but it must be put on record—given by a Power which was, at that very moment, announcing its intention to violate its own treaty.Let me say, if hon. Members think it any pleasure to me to say this, they are mistaken. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why do you say it? It is not a duty!"] It is true, and that is why I say it. In these circumstances, the Government, in dealing with this Bill, had, as I believe, only two courses which were honourably open to them. One was to arrange a settlement, if possible, which could command general assent, and, if that failed, the only other possible course was to postpone the controversy. As regards the agreement, the Government, I think, tried to secure it, and we were anxious to secure it. We went great lengths in that direction. I, at all events, went greater lengths than I am sure some of our supporters would have approved of. So recently as the beginning of last week the Government gave us, the Opposition, two alternative suggestions. One was the course which the Government are now taking. This we refused to consider. They put before us 899 another suggestion. The Prime Minister carefully guarded himself and us from considering it as an offer and put it only as a suggestion for our consideration. We considered it, and we accepted it, and the fact that the Government thought it worth consideration at all shows that it could not have been an utterly unreasonable suggestion.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am rather sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has entered into this. As he has, may I be allowed to answer? It is perfectly true that I communicated to him two alternative suggestions, not as proceeding from the Government. I said that there was a suggestion which commended itself to the Government, the one embodied in this Bill. For that I asked the assent of the Leaders of the Opposition. I put it forward, not as a suggestion made by the Government, but as one which I expressly stated—the right hon. Gentleman has got my words there—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is in my own handwriting, dated the 7th September, exactly a week ago:—The first of the two alternatives—the one contained in this Bill and in the policy which I have outlined to-day—is recommended by the Government. They doubt whether the second can be made acceptable to the bulk of their supporters, but, in the existing circumstances, they invite the frankest criticism, and, if it is possible, counter suggestions from the Leaders of the Opposition.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
This is a matter involving the privileges of this House, and I wish to ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether the Government, having read a portion of the document, the House is not entitled to the whole of it?
I have never heard that suggested as applying to letters from the Leader of the House to the Leader of the Opposition. In the case of an official document, that is so.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
All I said was, and I repeat it, that the Government did not give it to us as an offer. They put it as a suggestion, and the fact that we have considered it as a suggestion seems to me a proof that, in our accepting it, we could not have been extremely unreasonable. I do not blame the Government for not agreeing to a settlement—not at all. I quite believe that the right hon. Gentleman found that impossible; but I do say that, having failed to obtain an agreement, their only proper course was to have a real moratorium and postpone, until the crisis was over, the whole controversy. That could have been don", as I contend, and as I think I shall show to any fair-minded man in the House, without any loss of position, either on the part of the Government or of the Nationalist party. We were prepared, and the Prime Minister knew it, to agree to a Bill which would have extended to next Session all the powers and privileges under the Parliament Act which they enjoy now. If, therefore, the War were over in time to deal with it next Session, the Government and the Nationalist party would not then have been in a worse position. They would have been in a better position than they were before the War broke out. Let the House remember what the position then was. It was certain that if they proceeded with a Bill which applied to Ulster, Ulster would rise against the operation or the putting on the Statute Book of such a Bill. They may be right or wrong; we will not argue that, but they would have done it, and the result would have been that there would have been nothing automatic about the process, and that nobody could foresee what the result of that action would have been.
In the second place, let me remind the House that the Government, as a result of the breaking out of war, are in a far stronger position in the country than they were then, and next Session, having the same majority, having the same powers under the Parliament Act, on account of their greater strength they would have been more able than they were then to carry their proposals into operation. It is we who would have suffered. But there is something more. I quite admit that if there were the risk of n, General Election that would put hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway in an unfair position—in a 901 worse position, at all events. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not unfair!"] We hardly think it unfair, for this reason, that, unless the country approves of the policy, we do not think it should be carried out. But I leave that aside altogether. They would have been, so far as Parliament is concerned, in a worse position. We were prepared to meet that fairly. I told the right hon. Gentleman that in that case, if he desired it, we would agree to a Bill postponing the Election until the matter was settled, so that the result would have been that the Government and the Nationalist party would have been in no worse position, but would have been in a better position than they were before by that arrangement. It is true that there would have been delay, but how can you have a truce without delay? The words the Prime Minister used at the time the Amending Bill was postponed did not mean that there was to be no delay in carrying party measures into effect: they meant that they were to be placed in a fair position after the War was over in regard to the Parliamentary situation. They meant that and nothing else. If there is any Member of the House on the opposite side who can look at this thing fairly—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]— it is difficult for us all where party issues are involved—if they can look at it fairly they will see that that arrangement would not have left either the Government or the Nationalists in a worse Parliamentary position than they were before war broke out. Why do the Government not adopt that proposal?
If the Prime Minister had had the courage of his convictions and had come to this House and said, "In a crisis like this we cannot have controversy; we shall postpone it," the whole nation would have been behind him, and it is in itself so fair that even the Gentlemen below the Gangway could not reasonably have objected to it, because if they had done so it would have meant only that they refused to be parties to the truce, and by so doing they would have lost the sympathy of the whole of the people of this country. Why have the Government not done that? There is only one explanation: They counted upon the public spirit and patriotism of the Unionist party here and of the people of Ulster. They said to 902 themselves, "Whatever we may do, they are bound in a crisis like this to help their country. Whatever injustice we inflict upon them, we can count upon them." It is not a pretty calculation—[HON. MEM-BEES: "It was never made!" and other HON. MEMBERS: "It is true!"]—but I would like to say, with the whole authority of our party, that it is a correct calculation—they can count on us.
There are two parties to this great injustice, as I think it: One is the Government and the other is represented by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway. I have not at all the same feeling of indignation against the hon Gentleman below the Gangway—not at all. The hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) is not the head of a Government. He is not responsible for the welfare of this country. He is only doing what he has done always, putting pressure on the Government to get his own way, that is all. But I do say this with all sincerity, and I believe it is true, that the hon. Member for Waterford has never in his life, from his own point of view, made so great a mistake as the one he is making now. If he had allowed the Government to act decently in this great crisis he would have done more to help his cause than he will do by a hundred victories such as he is going to gain in the House of Commons to-day. The speech which he made the other day in this House undermined, I believe, the strength of the unionism of a great number of Unionist Members of this House. I was moved by it myself because I accepted it literally. I did not understand then that it was only a promise of conditional loyalty. I have no doubt the hon. Member this afternoon will make a speech promising great things, now that he has got his way. We shall see. I hope he will be successful, for however badly we have been treated by the Government, and however unfairly, for I think it is unfair, by the Nationalists, heaven knows I should be glad to see an end put, on any terms, to the secular quarrel between the Nationalists and the people of this country. I hope, therefore, he will not be unsuccessful; but I am glad of one thing, I am glad that all the Nationalists have not made a promise only of conditional loyalty. I read with great pleasure the speech of the hon. Member for Cork the other day. [A Laugh.] I do 903 not think it is anything to laugh at. I hope it will not do him harm with any of his supporters in Ireland, my reference to him. If it does, I am sure he will forgive me, but I think it does him honour that he did urge his countrymen to go out and help in this War without making any conditions beforehand.
The hon. Member for Waterford has made a great mistake. Ulster never can be coerced; she can only be won. If I may, I would like to read words in this connection which were used in this House a few months ago by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and by my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson). The First Lord of the Admiralty said:—The right hon. Gentleman will take risks in strife, why will he not run some risks for peace? I am going to run some little risk on my own account. Why cannot he say, 'Give me the Amendments to this Home Rule Bill which I ask, and I, in turn, will use all my influence to make Ireland an integral unit in a federal system'?My right hon. Friend replied:—If Home Rule is to pass, much as I detest it, and little as I will take any responsibility for the passing of it, my earnest hope, and indeed I can say my most earnest prayer, would be that the Government of Ireland for the south and west would prove such a success notwithstanding our anticipation that it might be for the interests of Ulster to move towards that Government.It is the only way possible in which you will ever get peace in Ireland, and in my belief by what you are doing to-day, by making the people of Ulster believe, as they do, that you are using them treacherously, you are throwing an obstacle in the way of a good understanding between the different sections in Ireland which it will take years and perhaps generations to overcome. That is my belief. I am only going to say one more word about Ulster. It was my desire, and it was the desire of our party, as I found yesterday, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) should speak in this Debate. He does not wish to do so. He says, and it is true, that neither now nor at any time has there been any difference of opinion between him and myself, and that in stating my case I shall also state his. It is not necessary either to repeat what he said yesterday, and nothing could be stronger, namely, that if Ulster were treated forty times worse than they are being treated, he would still go to them 904 and say, "at such a time it is your duty to go forth and help your country." Now the Prime Minister says, "that we are to coerce Ulster is unthinkable!" Lord Crewe said something of the same kind yesterday, but immediately withdrew it. I have heard the same pledge before. The Chief Secretary said it in this House and the Prime Minister endorsed it, and in a few months they were engaged in engineering a plot. But I am sure that the Government will keep that pledge, because they know it will never be in their power to break it, and because they know that no power on earth will ever compel the people of Ulster to submit to a Nationalist Parliament against their will. I am going to say this only further in regard to Ulster: They have, as I say, gone forth and given of their best to serve their country, although an injury is at that very moment being inflicted upon them which only a few weeks ago they would have given their lives rather than submit to. They are doing that. They do not trust the Government—why should they?—but they trust their fellow countrymen, and at the meeting of our party yesterday my right hon. Friend was authorised to say to the people of Ulster, and I intend myself to address a recruiting meeting in Belfast, and I shall give the same message, and it is this, that we undertake, we, the Unionist party, without conditions—I made conditions before, but after this betrayal I make none now—without conditions we shall support them to the utmost in any steps they think it necessary to take to maintain their rights.
I have only this more to say: The Government have treated us, I think, abominably, but we are in the middle of a great struggle—[An HON. MEMBER: "For small nationalities!"] I said the other day at the Guildhall that until that struggle was over, so far as we were concerned, in everything connected with it there would be no party, there would only be a nation. What the Government have done will make no difference whatever in our action in connection with everything regarding the War. We think there ought to have been a moratorium. The Government were willing to have it in everything except party politics. We think there ought to be a truce. The Government will not have 905 it. But we shall have it in spite of them, for it takes two to make a quarrel. Till the War is over we shall, by every means in our power, help this Government because they are the Government, and because in no other way can we serve our country. I give that pledge, and I give it with the full approval of all the members of our party. Now, Sir, in regard to this Debate, I have made a protest as well as I could, and in doing that we have done with it. When I have finished we shall take no further part in the discussion. The words used by the Prime Minister, which I quoted, still apply. You cannot debate this subject without inflicting injury. We shall not do it. I think there is nobody in the House who would consider that it was possible to allow this to be done without some protest in the House. When I have finished we shall leave the House, and we shall not return to it till this subject is ended. We throw upon the Government the whole responsibility. We leave them to do whatever they like. But when the War is over they will find, or I am mistaken, that they have gained a Pyrrhic victory—that they have not in reality gained more than a scrap of paper by the way in which they have treated us to-day. We leave the House, not as a protest, still less as a demonstration. We leave it because in my belief to have forced us to debate this subject at all under present circumstances is indecent, and we shall take no part in that indecency.
§ [At the conclusion of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, the Unionist Members-left the Chamber in a body.]
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and who has since left the Chamber, has said many bitter things and many violent things. He said many unjust things and many ungenerous things. But I do not propose to waste my time and the time of the House by replying to statements of that sort. The only controversial thing I will say about that speech is that, having told the world that the Government of this Empire is made up of men devoid of honour, devoid of truth, devoid of decency, he wound up his speech by saying that his one desire in life was to support the Government in this crisis. Let me say with reference to one, and, indeed, the main 906 theme of the right hon. Gentleman, that for my part—and in this I am sure I speak for all my Friends—we entirely dispute the statement that out of what has occurred, and out of the proposals of the Government, we gain any advantage whatever in consequence of the War. I have said more than once in the House that we had no desire to gain any advantage from what has taken place in connection with the War. All that we asked was that we should not be damnified. When the War broke out, as the Prime Minister has so powerfully explained, we had what was the practical certainty of the enactment of the Home Rule Bill. We had won a long and hard Parliamentary battle, a battle which had been carried on for a generation and more outside the walls of Parliament, and which for the last few years had been carried on laboriously within the walls of Parliament, and we had won that Parliamentary battle.
It is true, as the Leader of the Opposition said, that an Amending Bill was upon the stocks. We hoped, and no one hoped more sincerely than I did, that in that Amending Bill might be found the means of placating those fellow countrymen of ours in Ulster who were in violent opposition to the policy of Home Rule. But we knew that, Amending Bill or no Amending Bill, at the end of this Session the Home Rule Bill must, under the Parliament Act, receive the Royal Assent, not only that it would receive the Royal Assent, but that it would immediately pass into operation. Under the plan of the Government, the Bill is immediately to pass into law, but it is not to become operative for a year or more. The idea of anyone pretending that out of a proposal of that kind we are snatching an advantage from the state of things caused by the War seems to me absolutely absurd. I certainly do not regard this settlement of the difficulty as a party triumph for my Friends or myself, and I shall certainly not represent it as a party triumph either in this House or in Ireland. It is nothing of the kind. It inflicts a severe disadvantage upon us. But at the same time I must declare my opinion that, under all the circumstances of the case, this moratorium which the Government propose is a reasonable one. Of course, when everybody is preoccupied 907 by the War, and when everyone is endeavouring—and the endeavour will be made as enthusiastically in Ireland as anywhere else in the United Kingdom—to bring about the creation of an Army, the idea is absurd, and cannot be entertained by any intelligent man, that under these circumstances a new Government and a new Parliament could be erected in Ireland.
Let me say further, and I am not at all sure that this moratorium may not in the end be found, as was indicated in one part of the speech of the Prime Minister, to be of great good to Ireland. The Amending Bill is still on the stocks—that is to say, an Amending Bill. The Government have pledged themselves, within the period of suspension now provided, to introduce next Session an Amending Bill. That is a pledge which for my part I entirely accept. I believe this delay, this moratorium may lead—and I pray and hope that it will—to an Amending Bill very different from that about which we have been quarrelling in the past. There are two things that I care most about in this world of politics. The first is that the system of autonomy which is to be extended to Ireland shall be extended to the whole country, and that not a single sod of Irish soil and not a single citizen of the Irish nation shall be excluded from its operation. Let me say—and this may perhaps surprise some hon. Members, but it has honestly been my view all through—that the second thing that I most earnestly desire is that no coercion shall be applied to any single county in Ireland to force them against their will to come into the Irish Government. At this moment, as everybody knows, these two things are unfortunately incompatible. Will they be incompatible after an interval of some months, as those months will be occupied by the Irish people at home? No, Sir, I do not believe they will. During that interval, Catholic Nationalist Irishmen and Protestant Unionist Irishmen from the North of Ireland will be fighting side by side on the battlefields on the Continent, and shedding their blood side by side; and at home in Ireland, Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Ulstermen will, I hope and believe, be 908 found drilling shoulder to shoulder for the defence of the shores of their own country.
The result of all that must inevitably be to assuage bitterness, and to mollify the hatred and misunderstanding which have kept them apart, and I do not think I am too sanguine when I express my belief that, when the time has arrived for the Government to introduce their Amending Bill, we may have been able by this process in Ireland to come to an agreement amongst ourselves whereby we can suggest to the Government an Amending Bill which they can easily accept and ratify, a Bill which will be a real Amending Bill, not a Bill for emasculation or exclusion, but a Bill based upon very different and more hopeful lines. In my opinion it will be the highest duty of every Irish Nationalist—and I shall say so to my fellow-countrymen when I go home—during that interval to cultivate sedulously the spirit of conciliation, to suppress the voice of faction, sectarian strife and hatred, and to unite, as I hope we will be able to unite, all the sons of Ireland in the great task which this War imposes upon our Nation.
An allusion has been made to recruiting in Ireland. A rather ungenerous and unjust allusion was made by the Leader of the Opposition to a speech which I made about a month ago. He said that that speech was an offer of conditional loyalty. It was nothing of the kind! That speech was an apeal. I venture to recall—not in any spirit of controversy at all, but really in the spirit of self-defence—the attention of the House to the fact that that speech of mine was a double appeal. It was an appeal to the Ulster Volunteers to allow us—I used the phrase "to allow us"—to have the honour, shoulder to shoulder with them, of engaging in the defence of our country, and it was an appeal, at the same time, to the Government and the War Office to enable the National Volunteers to fulfil that duty. I made no condition of any sort or kind, and—if hon. Members will only think of it—it would have been an absurdity for me to have made it a condition that the Bill should go on the Statute Book, because all through we had the certainty that it was going on the 909 Statute Book. I would like to say this—if the Prime Minister will allow me—that all through these negotiations, conversations, and so on, that I have had with him, all through on every occasion that I had any dealings with him about this matter, he has assured me that it was the intention of the Government to put this Bill on the Statute Book this Session. From that he never wavered, and it would have been an utter absurdity for me, under these circumstances, to have made the putting of the Bill on the Statute Book a condition with reference to my offer of the Irish Volunteers.
As the matter has been mentioned, may; I be allowed to say this further: That? double appeal I made has met with no response. I deeply regret it. I appealed to the Volunteers of Ulster to allow us, shoulder to shoulder with them, to enter on the defence of our country. I have, got no response. The appeal still stands—indeed, I repeat it now. The appeal I made to the Government has met with no response. I must say on this question of recruiting that if the advice I gave, and if the appeal I made to them had been met, and if they had done something to arm, drill, and equip a certain number, at any rate, of the National Volunteers, the recruiting probably would have been faster than it has been. As the question of recruiting has been mentioned, and as some very offensive cries reached my ears from those benches on the subject, will you allow me to say this: That the proportion of the population of Ireland who are at the present day in the Army, and who have been in it for a very long time past, is larger than the proportion of the people of Great Britain. I have the figures here. From the days of the Peninsular War and Waterloo, right up to last year, the Irish people have furnished a larger quota by far, in proportion to their population, than the people of England or Scotland. According to the figures the number per thousand of the male population from twenty to forty-five years of age who joined the Regular Army and the Special Reserve was, in the year 1885: Irish born, 76; British born, 42; 1893: Irish born, 75; British born, 47; 1903: Irish born, 69; British born, 44. In the latest figures for 1913 the Irish born per thousand number 42, and the British born 32.
910 It is impossible, at any rate impossible for Irishmen, in speaking on this point of recruiting, not to look back with sorrow and with indignation at that long course of history which had the effect in seventy years of reducing the population of Ireland from 8,000,000 to 4,000,000. That is the record of Ireland in relation to the Army in the past when the Nationalist sentiment of the country was undoubtedly out of touch with this country. What, I ask you, will be the record now that the sentiment of the whole Irish people undoubtedly is with you in this War? And what material it is! I have been moved, and I dare say every man in this House has been moved, by some of the war stories that have come back from the seat of war. There is the story of the Munster Fusiliers, who stood by their guns all day, and in the end dragged them back to their lines themselves. There was, too, the story in yesterday's papers from the lips of the wounded French soldiers, who described how the Irish Guards charged with the bayonet three regiments of German Cavalry. As the wounded French soldier said, they charged singing "a strange song that I have never heard before." The newspaper man asked the wounded soldier what were the words, and the answer was, "I cannot tell you what the words were, but it was something about God saving Ireland." I saw these men marching through London on their way to the station. They marched here past this building singing "God save Ireland." It is unnecessary for me to tell this House of the magnificent material that the country has at its disposal in the Irish soldier, and the sneers that we have heard are a little too hard on us. The "Times," in an article to-day, says:—Nationalist Ireland still disowns her gallant soldiers, flaunts placards against enlistment, and preaches sedition in her newspapers.That is a cruel libel on Ireland. The men who are circulating hand-bills against enlistment—the men who are publishing little wretched rags once a week or once a month—which none of us ever see—who are sending them by some mysterious agency through the post in this country, and day by day to Members—these are the little group of men who never belonged to the National Constitutional party at all, but who have been all through, and are to-day, our bitterest enemies. If you 911 take up these wretched rags you will find praises of the Emperor of Germany in the same sentence as are denunciations of my colleagues and myself. For the first time—certainly for over one hundred years—Ireland in this War feels her interests are precisely the same as yours. She feels, she will feel, that the British democracy has kept faith with her. She knows that this is a just War. She knows, she is moved in a very special way by the fact that this War is undertaken in the defence of small nations and oppressed peoples. Belgium! gallant Belgium! there is not a heart in Ireland that is not stirred with admiration for her defence, and with it a desire to give her succour. Alsace! which has the whole sympathy of the Irish people in desiring to come back to its ancient nationality. And Poland! which the other day received the magnificent gift of Home Rule from the Czar, and on whose side the whole sympathy of the Irish people has been, not to-day or yesterday, but for many a long generation.
I say nothing about France, the old friend of Ireland! France, the champion of democratic freedom, which has done so much for the freedom of America, as well as of Europe! I say that the manhood of Ireland will spring to your aid in this War. Speaking personally for myself, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that on hundreds of platforms in this country during the last few years I have publicly promised, not only for myself, but in the name of my country, that when the rights of Ireland were admitted by the democracy of England, that Ireland would become the strongest arm in the defence of the Empire. The test has come sooner than I, or anyone, expected. I tell the Prime Minister that that test will be honourably met. I say for myself, that I would fed myself personally dishonoured if I did not say to my fellow countrymen, as I say today to them here, and as I will say from the public platform when I go back to Ireland, that it is their duty, and should be their honour, to take their place in the firing line in this contest. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has announced that he is going to address a meeting in Dublin.
Let me beg of him to come soon. I hope to have the honour of standing upon the 912 platform beside him. I can promise him here to-night that he will get an enthusiastic reception, and that there will be an enthusiastic response to his appeal. The whole world has been struck by the spectacle of unity in the Empire—in India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and last, but not least, in South Africa and Ireland. No one could have read unmoved the magnificent speeches of General Botha and General Smuts, and no one could have read unmoved the declaration of that old veteran General De Wet, who, old as he is, is organising a regiment to be led by himself to the front on the Continent of Europe. Just as Botha and Smuts have been able to say in the speeches which were published three days ago that the concession of free institutions to South Africa has changed the men who but ten or a little more years ago were your bitter enemy in the field into your loyal comrades and fellow citizens in the Empire, just as truthfully can I say to you that by what of recent years has happened in this country with the democracy of England, Ireland has been transformed from what George Meredith described a short time ago as "the broken arm of England" into one of the strongest bulwarks of the Empire.
§ Sir DAVID BRYNMOR JONES
I do not propose to intervene for more than a moment or two. I desire, first of all, to express the satisfaction which I feel at the thought that the Established Church (Wales) Bill will be on the Statute Book in the course of a day or two, and that a long-drawn controversy, which has been a source of great bitterness to the Welsh people, will now come to an end. I wish to say in a word or two that on the whole we assent to the proposals for delay which are made in the Bill about to be introduced. My reasons for assenting, and I believe also for the assent of all, or nearly all, of the Welsh Liberal Members may be put in a sentence or two. I think for us to demur upon merely technical grounds, or upon the mere distrust of what may possibly happen a year hence, to the suggestion that there should be a postponement of the date of Disestablishment for a short and reasonable time would be contrary to the attitude taken up by us in the whole discussion upon this Bill. We have in these discussions—I will put the matter quite shortly 913 —laid down three main propositions. The first proposition is that we demanded the Disestablishment and the Disendowment of the Church in Wales, not out of hostility to the Church as a religious body, but as a step in the development of national policy. In the second place, we have always said that we regard the provisions of the Bill as a compromise in regard to Disendowment, and as a fair settlement of the conflicting claims of the Welsh people as a whole and the adherents of the Church to the ancient funds which are to be re-appropriated under the provisions of the Bill. And lastly, we have said and showed always throughout the whole of the Debate that we were quite ready to agree to any suggestion which might minimise or diminish the difficulties and inconveniences involved in the reorganisation of the Disestablished Church on its new basis of complete independence and freedom from State control.
If we were to endeavour to induce the Government to stick to the literal terms of the Act, under which there could be no postponement beyond one year from the time at which the Bill comes into operation, I think we should be acting contrary to this proposal. It is, however, quite right to say that no representations to the effect that delay is required in the interests of the Church have reached me or any of my hon. Friends from any quarter, but I gather from the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he has had such representations, and that he thinks in the general interests the proposals in this Bill are required which will enable the Government a year hence, if necessary, to enlarge the time to such reasonable period as may be required in the interests of Disestablishment without prejudice to the interests of the Welsh people. Under these circumstances I cordially assent to the proposals of the Bill, and I feel certain, if any discontent should be possible on the part of Nonconformists in Wales, that the moment they consider the whole circumstances they will see that the attitude of the Welsh Members has been best in the interests of the whole Principality.
§ Mr. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
In the few remarks that I have to make I shall not 914 certainly make any contribution to the heated controversy between the Front Benches. I will not, if I can help it, say a word which would add to the anxieties of the Government so long as the present emergency continues. I can certainly say for the portion of the Irish people who my Friends and I represent that they have no desire to gain any unfair party advantage from the situation, and that they are quite content to have the future of our cause judged by the spirit in which they are prepared to share in the fortunes of England for good or for evil so long as there is any fighting to be done during the present War. Although the Prime Minister's Bill must virtually hang up Home Rule for the duration of the War, which may possibly be a long war, and may mean the hanging up of Home Rule for the entire country for ever, nevertheless they are prepared to accept without demur the expedient of delay as possibly the best expedient that was practical in the very difficult circumstances. Personally, I should have preferred that a somewhat different course should have been followed. What I respectfully suggested was that the Government of Ireland Bill should be, as the Prime Minister proposed, passed into law as some compensation, not very great compensation, to the Irish people for their long and patient sacrifices, and that also by a one-Clause Bill the irritation in Ulster should be allayed by a provision that the Act should not come into operation until the whole subject of the Government of Ireland had been reconsidered by some great representative conference, beginning with a purely Irish conference. That is not a thing materially in conflict with the proposal of the Prime Minister, and I am not without hope that something in the direction I have suggested will inevitably have to be done during the period—and it will now be a long period—before any practical steps in the direction of Home Rule can be taken.
Avowedly now, even when this Bill has reached the Statute Book, things cannot be allowed possibly to remain as they are. Apart altogether from the consideration of the Ulster difficulty, the new war taxation will render the finances of the present Bill ludicrously out of touch with the 915 actual situation; and there is, besides, the great question of land purchase, which is left in a quite impossible condition of uncertainty and unsettlement. Above all, there is still lurking in the background, and I regret to say more darkly than ever after certain words of the Prime Minister to-night, which, no doubt, were meant to be reassuring, the danger of that partition of Ireland upon which we must assume that both the Amending Bills now before the House are based. Upon that point I do feel it a duty to repeat our warning; that while we are prepared to pay almost any other price for a general national settlement, there is one price which some of us, at all events, will never in any possible circumstances consent to pay, and that is the dismemberment of our ancient Irish nation.
Reference has been made to Poland. I cannot help remembering that the Czar of Russia himself has set an example by guaranteeing to the Poles, not merely Home Rule and complete autonomy, but also the territorial integrity of Poland as the real secret and the real essence of their national aspirations. It is impossible for me to conceive, after an example of this kind from the Czar of Russia, that when this War is over this Parliament will proceed to destroy the territorial integrity of Ireland, under the tragic delusion that you will satisfy the national aspirations of Ireland, while you inflict the deepest wound that can be inflicted upon the cause of Irish Nationality by asking Irish National representatives to join in severing the the country asunder into two irreconcilable sectarian camps. For the moment that danger is averted. I wish I could think it was more than averted. I will therefore not pursue this subject further. We accept the temporary expedient embodied in this Bill loyally and as part of our heavy contribution towards the sacrifice, which no doubt this War must involve for everyone; and it certainly will be no fault of ours if Ireland, like every other part of the Empire, does not present a united front during the present emergency. We have again and again, at every stage of this controversy, held out a friendly hand to our brother Nationalists of every section, and as for the masses of our countrymen in Ulster, it they will permit 916 me to address to them one word of exhortation, which I think at all events they will admit is spoken from friendliness, which has perhaps undergone some severe tests, it would be this: that if they and we could only manage for a moment to forget everything except that we are fellow-countrymen in the presence of a common danger, they will find by and by that we, at all events, are bound to them by every link of mutual interest as well as patriotism, to secure for them a position of impregnable strength in the government of their own country, and to secure for them as well a position of undiminished citizenship in this Empire under some such scheme of federalism as the Leader of the Opposition himself projected here to-night.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
I will not delay the introduction of the Bill by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister for more than a few minutes; but I think, having regard to the very strange proceedings that we have witnessed to-day, and the very serious and most remarkable charge that has been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, it is only right that some of us on these benches should say a very few words as to what is our position. Now, so far as we are concerned, we associate ourselves with the position that has been outlined by the Prime Minister, notwithstanding the very serious statement made that if it involve a betrayal of the minority in this House. The statement was most deliberately made that the Government had taken advantage of the patriotism of the Opposition in order to betray them. That is a very serious charge, and in that charge, if it be true, every section of the majority in this House must be concerned. So far as we on these benches are concerned, we only have the public declarations of the Prime Minister to guide us. We know nothing of the private negotiations that have gone on from time to time. We know nothing of the conferences or the business of the conferences that have been held; but I venture to say, and I think I will carry all sections of the House with me, that so far as statements made on the floor of this House are concerned, there is not a tittle of evidence that can be produced to substantiate the very serious charge that has 917 been preferred. But to me there is something more important than trying to refute the charge that has been preferred. I want to make this statement, and I want to make it very deliberately. I want to say that if the Government had adopted any other policy than that which they have adopted of bringing this dispute between the Opposition minority and the majority to an end by placing the Home Rule Bill upon the Statute Book, they then would have been guilty of a great betrayal of the majority of this House, and I believe of the majority of the electors in this country.
What is the position? As we have been very properly reminded, for three years the majority of this House has waited patiently in order that we might reap the fruits of the Parliament Act, an Act that we went through at least two elections for. The policy and principle involved in that Act was supported by the majority of the electors of the country. It seems to me that instead of the minority complaining, they ought to have had some gratitude for the Government for the toleration with which they have been treated. I want to say here that never during the eleven years that I have been a Member of this House has a minority been treated with so much consideration as have the present Opposition, who in my judgment to-day disgrace their position by leaving the House after hurling their charges across the floor. What right have they to expect that if by constitutional methods we are brought within the shortest possible limits of reaping the fruits of our labours during a period of three years, and having fought the Bill stage by stage, Clause by Clause, not through one Session or two Sessions, but through three Sessions—what right have they to expect to be treated with toleration and allowed further opportunities to amend the Bill? Notwithstanding anything that they have said to-day I have for a long time been convinced that it was not further opportunity to amend this Bill that they were after, but they wanted a clear and definite opportunity for destroying it, and nothing less than its destruction would ever have been satisfactory to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. 918 Carson) and those who have been associated with him. Because they have not been granted by the majority of this House the opportunity to destroy that which we want to see made the law of the country, they come down here to-day and hurl these charges.
May I say here that the charge made in the words used by the Leader of the Opposition that the Government were taking advantage of their patriotism in order to betray them was not the worst thing brought before the House to-day? In my opinion—and I think most hon. Members will agree with me in this—the worst thing that was brought before the House to-day was the inference and the innuendo contained in the quotation read from the Prime Minister's speech. A more disgraceful use was never made of a quotation from a speech than the use which was made of that quotation by the Leader of the Opposition. In repeating that I believe that I am not only expressing the views of the majority of this House, but I believe I am expressing the view of the majority of the Liberal party, the Nationalist party, and the Labour and Socialist party, outside this House, when I say that the majority would have been betrayed had the Government taken any other course. I rejoice that the Prime Minister has been bold enough and confident enough to come forward to-day in this way at the risk of the abuse to which he has been subjected. We all believe that there is not a tittle of support which can be produced for the charge that in adopting the policy which the Government have adopted they have done anything else but act straightforwardly, and have given the utmost toleration and consideration to the minority in this House. I venture to say that when the time comes for the country to give its verdict upon the policy announced to-day I believe that the whole of the country, every part of it, not only Ireland, but the other parts, will say that there was no other course open, consistent with the honour of the Government, than the policy laid down in the Bill which the Prime Minister has introduced.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
Before the House gives its assent to this Bill I should like to say a word or two with reference to the remark of the Leader of the Opposition 919 that he hoped no harm would come to the cause of my hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. William O'Brien) for the course we have adopted and which was put forward at a meeting in my hon. Friend's constituency, when it was decided to support the Government and the cause of the Empire in this War. I wish to say that the course my hon. Friend took in calling that meeting had the heartiest support of every one of his colleagues, and if it should end, as it is not likely to end, in the condemnation of us by our constituents, I would prefer to be wiped out as a Member of this House than separate myself from the action of the Government, because I believe the quarrel of England is just. I also rose for the purpose of saying that I think the Prime Minister has to-day taken a course which, although I regret the delay, I believe was almost inevitable for him in the terrible difficulty in which he finds himself. Instead of taking any advantage of the action of the Government which we might be tempted to do by reason of our differences with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond), I wish to say that we shall heartily second his endeavours in regard to the War, and I believe the Irish people, and certainly their representatives, will be behind this Government to a man during the course of this War.
I should like to say one word to my countrymen upon this subject. I sat in the Strangers' Gallery of this House forty years ago, when Mr. Butt made his first Home Rule Motion, on the 30th April, 1874, and my mind goes back over those forty years of struggle to the many advantages which we have won for the farmers and the labourers of Ireland during that long time. But let me tell the Irish people here to-day that all the reductions we won for them under the Land Acts, and the material prosperity in £ s. d. which we gained for them, have been more than swallowed up by that taxation to which the armaments of Germany provoked this country. We gained some millions of money in rent reductions, after struggling for forty years, for the Irish people. Some of us were put into prison and many of us were 920 abused, but whatever agrarian gain we made the march of German despotism swallowed it up and destroyed it in the increased taxation of Ireland. I believe that if the Irish people calmly consider the cause in which this country is engaged, they will find that it is engaged in a" great a struggle for human liberty and for human democracy as that which the most ardent patriot ever advocated. Therefore I accept the proposal of the Government for delay as to this Bill; not that I love delay, but because I prefer delay to partition. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Cork in the appeal which he has made to the people of Ulster. We have gone considerable lengths which have led to misunderstandings as to the action which we have pursued. We went to these lengths because we saw the necessity for peace, and knew that the English people and the English Government would never agree to the coercion of the people of Ulster. That avowal has now been made on behalf of the Government, and it will be for those who have a common love for their native land—whether they be Catholics or Protestants—to avail themselves of this instrument, so that when this Bill is again introduced not the principle of division which we have resisted, but the principle of conciliation which we have adopted will find its crowning approbation in the Amending Bill.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by the Prime Minister, Mr. Birrell, Mr. McKenna, and the Attorney-General.
§ Presented accordingly; read the first time, and to be printed. [Bill 406.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ Resolved, "That this House doth immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill."—[The Prime Minister.]
§ Bill accordingly considered in Committee, and reported, without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.