§ 2. "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 5,000.000, all ranks, be main- 1832 tained for the Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Home and Abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1918."
§ 3."That a sum, not exceeding £l,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Pay, etc., of His Majesty's Army (including Army Reserve) at Home and Abroad (exclusive of India), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1918."
§ First Resolution read a second time.
§ Mr. DILLON
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I wish to protest against the practice of putting down a Vote on Account at this hour of the evening. The invariable practice of this House has been to give two nights to a Vote on Account, and that practice has been affirmed ever since the change came about ten years ago of taking a very large Vote on Account, large enough to carry on to a late period in the year, whereas before that time two or three Votes on Account were taken during the Session. Since we have adopted these large Votes on Account, it has been the invariable rule to give one night to the Committee stage and another night to the Report stage. The Committee stage of this Vote was taken last Thursday week, and was got through in about half-an-hour at the end of a day's business, and to-night, at nine o'clock, we are asked to commence a discussion on the Report stage. I hope the Government will abandon that practice which is entirely unfair to the House.
I put down this Amendment for the purpose of raising two very important question which are concerned with the executive action of the War Cabinet, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House. The first of these questions is the definite refusal to publish the proceedings of the courts-martial in Dublin. In my opinion that is in two respects open to the very gravest possible objection, and I intend, as far as I can, to endeavour to induce the House to approve of the position I take up on these two questions. My first charge is one of breach of faith. It is a breach of a definite pledge given by the members of the present Ministry. Apart altogether from the question of a pledge, I think it is perfectly monstrous and absolutely inde- 1833 fensible that these proceedings should now, after a whole year, still remain secret. I think that was an outrage, and it was never dreamt of when we entrusted the Government without discussion in the early days of the War with the unlimited powers conferred under the Defence of the Realm Act The whole course of the history of this country, at all events for two hundred or three hundred years, has no case on record where men have been tried for the crime of rebellion, after the rebellion was over and order had been restored and the fighting had ceased, by secret tribunal. It is unknown as far as I can inquire in the history of this country. You have had rebellions in this country and we have had many in Ireland, but here, it is an absolute fact, that in this twentieth century we have retrograded so far, that in the suppression of this Irish rebellion a method of savagery was adopted wholly unknown to the history of this country, that is, to try men by secret courts-martial and deny to the public the satisfaction of seeing upon what evidence these men were convicted. First of all, I want to have a clear statement from the Government under what authority in law were these trials held at all? That question has never been fully debated and we have never been able to get a really clear answer to it. In the first place, martial law was proclaimed in Ireland and it is still in force there in spite of all the twistings and turnings of the Chief Secretary. Martial law was proclaimed in Ireland when the rebellion broke out. I have here one of the greatest authorities on martial law, and what does he say about it? He says:Martial law in the proper sense of the term in which he moans the suspension of ordinary law and the temporary government of a country or part of a country by military tribunals is unknown to the law of England. Declaration of martial law is utterly unknown to the Constitution. Soldiers may suppress a riot as they may resist an invasion; they "may fight rebels just as they may fight foreign foes, but they have no right under the law to inflict punishment for riot or rebellion. During the effort to restore order rebels maybe lawfully killed just as enemies may be lawfully shot, but any execution independent of military law inflicted by a court-martial is illegal and technically is murder.That is the law of England apart from the Defence of the Realm Act, and therefore all these executions were murder. The same writer quotes the famous case of Wolfe Tone, who landed with the French Expedition in Ireland and was taken prisoner and who was tried, not by a secret Court but by a public Court. Curran, the great Irish lawyer, went to the Court of King's Bench and 1834 applied for a Writ of Habeas Corpus and the Court immediately granted the writ to take this man out of military custody. That case has become the governing case in the law of England, and it is a most remarkable case, because at that time the condition of Ireland was much more dangerous than it is at the present time, because they were constantly threatened with two invasions and the condition of the country was far more dangerous. Now, however, in these trials we have retrograded from the eighteenth century, and things which the Court would not tolerate in the eighteenth century were done in Dublin on this occasion. What makes the whole matter infinitely worse is the fact of the secrecy of the trials. In my opinion nothing can possibly be more odious, particularly in a country professing to be free like England, than secret trials, more particularly political trials followed by executions which were supposed to be peculiar to Russia, but Russia has set us an example which I hope England will follow. I can tell this House when it comes to propose any congratulatory address to the Russian Duma which I approve of, you will hear something from these benches as to the duty that lies upon you or following the Russian example. One of the first things Russia did was to throw open the prison doors and release all political prisoners.
I now turn to the Defence of the Realm Act, because I think I have proved conclusively that these executions were, so far as the common law of England is concerned, without a shadow of justification. I hold in my hand a copy of the Defence of the Realm Act, and I would ask if any hon. Member thought when we were passing that Act that we were going to set up secret military court-martials with the power of life and death. Here is what the Defence of the Realm Act says. It says that for any offence tinder the Defence of the Realm Act, one of the most sweeping Acts ever passed, they can be tried by court-martial. There was some anxiety about the power given under that Act, and Section (4) says:
"For the purpose of the trial of a person for an offence under the Regulations by court-martial and the punishment thereof, the person may be proceeded against and dealt with as if he were a person subject to military law and had on active service committed an offence under Section (5) of the Army Act.
1835Provided that where it is proved that the offence is committed with the intention of assisting the enemy a person convicted of such an offence by a court-martial shall be liable to suffer death.That is the Defence of the Realm Act governing the present prosecutions, as I understand it, and the Chief Secretary when he comes to speak will correct me if I am wrong. That is the third Act, which repeals all the previous Acts and consolidates them. How can we know what proof there is of compliance with that proviso in the Defence of the Realm Act, which is the only justification for convicting these men? Am I not entitled to suspect that the reason the Government refuse to publish the evidence is that they have looked it over and are afraid if it were published that it might be made manifest to the whole world that they had exceeded the law and had not complied with the provisions of the Act? There are strong grounds for that contention. I say that to add to the horror of the unparalleled proceedings of executing men in this country as the result of secret military trials by keeping secret for a whole year proceedings which have sent seventy men, now in Lewes Gaol, to penal servitude and not allowing the public to form their own judgment of the evidence is, in my opinion, in the highest degree suspicious. Again, I challenge the Leader of the House if he has any precedent in the history of England to produce it. This is the kind of thing which is responsible largely for the present condition of Ireland and the tremendous problem which you have to face in that country. That is the first ground on which I claim the immediate publication of the proceedings at these trials, and I say again that if the Government persist in their refusal to publish the evidence, there will be a broad, deep-seated, and widespread suspicion that they dare not publish the evidence because it would be made manifest to the whole world that they had acted illegally in taking these men's lives. I now come to the second charge, and I think it is a very serious one. On several occasions last year I raised this question, and, after getting uncertain answers from the late Prime Minister, on the 24th October, 1916, I put the following question:Mr. Dillon asked the Prime Minister whether he will now direct that the proceedings of the Irish courts martial shall be published?1836The Prime Minister: Yes, Sir: I will arrange for this to be done"—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 24th October, 1916 col.919, Vol. LXXXVI.]Shortly afterwards a Ministerial crisis arose, and it was not done. Immediately the new Government came into office I raised the question again, and to my amazement I was met by the reply that the matter was under consideration. I directed the attention of the Government to this specific, unqualified pledge, and I was told that a new Government had come into office. I may say that the Under-Secretary of State for War, when I first raised the question, said that there were certain legal proceedings pending in London at which the trials had been challenged, and until they were over he could not give me a definite answer. The legal proceedings concluded a fortnight ago, and I raised the question again. The Leader of the House said that the Government had now carefully considered the matter, and had decided that they would not publish the proceedings. What is the idea of this Government as regards the pledge and undertaking of the late Government? Do they repudiate all the pledges of the late Government? It is perfectly plain that the late Prime Minister, when he gave me that promise to publish these proceedings, had had the matter before his mind, and, I assume, it had been before the minds of his colleagues for a considerable time. It was not a surprise. It had been a matter of previous questions, and he had considered it and adjourned the matter. Therefore. I take it I dare say I am really quite mistaken in my whole ideas of Parliamentary procedure and the obligations of honour on the part of Ministers—that when the Leader of the Government pledges himself on a matter of importance of this kind in this House he pledges his colleagues. In that Government the present Leader of the House was one of his most prominent colleagues. The present Prime Minister was his colleague, and the Chief Secretary was his colleague. The man responsible for the government of Ireland and the leading members of the late Government are leading members of the present Government. Are they now prepared to repudiate this pledge given in this House by the late Prime Minister with their assent and approval? That, in my opinon, is a breach of faith. Really now when we go to Ireland and talk about the pledges or promises of British Ministers we are hailed with jeers and shrieks of laughter, and that is one of our difficulties.
1837 I appeal to the House of Commons and I appeal to the Ministers who are sitting on that bench: Are they prepared to stand up and repudiate that pledge? If they are, are they not bound to state some grave and weighty reasons why they do it?
I come now to the second point which I propose to raise to-night, and which is also, though in a minor degree, a very serious and important matter. On Friday last the Leader of the House, at the end of our proceedings, burst out suddenly and made a most amazing announcement. He said that if we persisted in the course which we have now adopted of opposition to the Government he viewed with considerable anxiety the possibility of an election and of that election taking the form of a campaign against the Irish party. All the Press of England has accepted that as a threat. I must confess that, with my long experience of Parliamentary life, I could put no other meaning to it. I have sat in this House now for thirty-five years and I have very rarely heard any Leader of the House use such a threat. When the Leader of the House tells any opposition that there may be a General Election as the consequence of their actions, what other interpretation can you put upon it except that of a threat? I do not, however, want to quarrel over words. The right hon. Gentleman yesterday said that he did not mean it as a threat. Let us call it a warning. He must have had some reason for alluding to such a matter. In the first place, I want to say that in all my experience I have never known a Leader of the House adopt so feeble an attitude.
What is the opposition of which he complains? We have been in Opposition for ten days. It is rather soon for him to have hoisted the white flag. The Irish party in the old days were once described by the present First Lord of the Admiralty as the finest fighting machine ever constructed. The Irish party to-day is a very mild-mannered body compared with the Irish party of the old days. The truth is that, owing to long disuse, its weapons have been allowed to rust. I hope they will be sharpened up. I would tell the right hon. Gentleman, whose Leadership of the House is of a very brief period, that if the amount of opposition he has received from the Irish party during the last ten days so intimidates him and breaks him down that he thinks it necessary to have an election to deal with it, he had better go for a rest cure and come 1838 back strengthened in order to meet it. It is a very slight foretaste of what is before him. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to cast his mind back to last year, and compare the opposition of the Irish party during the last ten days with the opposition that was raised from the Front Opposition Bench by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson), who left the Government, started a campaign—one of the most ruthless and savage campaigns I have ever seen in this House—in order to put down the Government he left, and, backed by an unscrupulous Press, poured hot-shot and poison gas into the ranks of the Government until he smashed it. To talk of the opposition of the Irish party as being unfair opposition is one of the most grotesque statements ever uttered in this House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College now sits beside the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House never threatened an election against him.
Let me draw one small contrast between the character of the opposition over which the right hon. Gentleman is now so lachrymose and the opposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College. Some six months ago there was a raid by German destroyers in the Channel. Immediately the whole of the Yellow Press in this country opened fire on the right hon. Gentleman who was then the head of the Admiralty and who is now at the Foreign Office. They declared that he was asleep, that he was incapable, that he was suffering from senile decay, that he was unfitted for the post, and that the War was lost. From the Front Opposition Bench and the benches behind him, night after night, the most insolent attacks were made upon the Government for allowing the sacred British Channel to be outraged by the presence of German destroyers. Within the last fortnight two much worse and far more audacious raids have been made. There has been a slight difference in that, whereas the previous raid was made in a thick fog and the British destroyers were out and they thought they sank—they certainly hit—one of the enemy's vessels, in the recent raids nobody was hit; no British destroyers turned out at all. Then the coast of Kent was bombarded last week. There was not a single whisper of complaint. The ginger group is dissolved. That group was specially formed in order to save this country from bombardment, 1839 and to poke up the Government. Now that the leader of the ginger group is sitting beside the right hon. Gentleman, the Germans may bombard the coast as often as they like and there is not a whisper of complaint. While the Irish party are opposed to the Government, and will be opposed to the Government—we shall oppose it by every means in our power—I hope we shall adopt more honest methods and abstain from the unscrupulous methods which were adopted in this House to smash the last Government, and which succeeded. We will not, at all events, injure the country and interfere with the War in order to pursue our aims. We shall be able to deal with the right hon. Gentleman without having to do that.
Doubtless this threat or warning was levelled at us because the right hon. Gentleman is informed by some of his Friends that the Irish party dare not face an election. I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he never made a greater mistake in his life. I say that, not because I do not realise the gravity of the situation in Ireland. I say it because I do realise the gravity of the situation in Ireland. I know perfectly well that in an election we should lose some seats; how many I cannot say—nobody can say. Ireland is in a very uncertain condition. I know that we should lose some seats; some people say many and others that we should totally disappear. I have the reputation of being a pessimist in these matters, and of always taking very serious views. I got into very hot water in this House for warning hon. Members last June or July that the situation in Ireland was more serious than they realised. Events have borne out that warning. I do not think we should lose very many seats. The reason why I am anxious for a General Election is that it lies in the mouth of anyone to say to us of the Irish party, now for the first time in thirty years, that we do not speak for Ireland, that after the North Roscommon election we can no longer speak for Ireland until we get a new mandate. We want as soon as possible to put to the Irish people the question whether they have confidence in us and whether we are to continue to be responsible for their representation? Therefore, I tell the right hon. Gentleman that, so far as we are concerned, his threat carries no weight whatever, because we are, or at least I am anxious, for an election. The sooner it comes, the better.
1840 The right hon. Gentleman made another extraordinary statement. He said that since the speech of the Prime Minister in the Irish Debate the Government had received no communication from either of the Irish parties. He seemed to think that that was somewhat of a grievance. Did he expect to receive any communication from the Irish party? No, Sir, he received no communication from us. He and his Government had put it out of our power to make any communication. Last July, at the earnest solicitation of the Government, not at our request, but because the Government told us that it was in the highest interests of the Empire and that it was a most critical matter, we went into the negotiations. We lost enormously in political prestige and power in Ireland by those negotiations. We lost the confidence of large sections of our own countrymen. We knew it perfectly well. We went into those negotiations and after a terrible struggle, in which we strained our influence in Ireland to the very utmost, we succeeded in carrying our people with us, and we came back and we were turned down and betrayed, and you may be certain we are not going to be caught in that trap again. That is one reason why the right hon. Gentleman has received no communication. Another reason is this. By the executions and by your conduct in July you have created such a situation in Ireland that it is out of our power to negotiate. You have let loose hell in Ireland, and you have to settle the situation on your own responsibility. I urge the Government to take the thing in hand as soon as possible, because the longer they delay the worse the situation will become.
Now I want to remove absolutely from the mind of the right hon. Gentleman that this threat of an election has any terrors for us. We shall oppose the Bill for the prolongation of the life of Parliament. We challenge them to have an election. We desire an election. The right hon. Gentleman, I suppose, imagines and believes that by an election his party under present circumstances will come back with a majority. I think that is quite likely and that is probably the reason why he let out the other day what was in his mind. I think it is quite likely that he will come back with a substantial Tory majority. But does he imagine that that would settle the Irish question, or that if you have a General Election you will get any nearer a settlement or make the settlement of the Irish question 1841 easier? Even supposing we lost half our strength or the whole of our strength, would that ease the situation 1 In the midst of a great war he has threatened us with a General Election, and has indicated that it would take the form of an anti-Irish crusade. Is that the way to win the War? Is that the way to unite the nation? I am perfectly well aware that there is in England a great deal of bitterness growing up against our people, largely arising from ignorance, from misrepresentation and from the destruction of recruiting in Ireland by the British War Office. It is a terrible misfortune. If you let that bitterness loose in the flood of an election you will not be able to curb it. There will be bitterness on the one side and bitterness on the other. If we are struck at we can fight too, and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that many things will come out which neither he nor his Friends will like. We shall want to know, for instance, what brought Baron Kohlmann over to Ulster on the eve of the War. We shall want to know what were the relations between the leaders of the Ulster party and the chief spy of the Kaiser in Ireland. We shall want to know what about the dispatch which Baron Kohlmann sent from Ulster to Berlin, and which was seen by a friend of mine in Vienna, where it was sent, and on the receipt of which dispatch the Emperor determined to go on with the War. All these matters will be flogged out and debated on all the platforms in this country and Ireland, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will find that he has promoted harmony or good will. I think if he does declare war on the Irish people, and have an anti-Irish election, although we are few, and although he and his Government have succeeded in placing us before our own people between the devil and the deep sea, although some of his followers are triumphing now because they think our party has lost ground in Ireland, and that the forces of revolution have been let loose against us by the action of the Government, hard set as we are at present, and weak as are our forces, we have friends throughout the world, and I warn the right hon. Gentleman that an anti-Irish election in England will mean a disturbance and a division which will not be limited by the boundaries of these Islands, but will spread right through the whole of your Dominions and through the 1842 United States of America. I cannot conceive a greater crime committed against the unity of this nation and the imperial race, and against the prospect that most of you value of a better understanding with America, and bringing her on to your side, that this moment should be selected to declare unmitigated war upon the Irish race.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Duke)
I cannot help thinking that the material question with which I have to deal, which the hon. Member very courteously brought to the notice of my right hon. Friend and myself, is the question whether the recent decision of the Government that the proceedings of the courts-martial could not at present be published was a defensible decision, and one at which in all the circumstances of the case and of the time the Government might properly arrive. I do not at all underrate the importance of the other topics to which he has referred. I do not think it is essential that I should go at great length into the question whether the trials by court-martial require to be justified under martial law, as it is popularly called, or whether they were justifiable under the Defence of the Realm Act. That is a matter on which I have addressed the House on the invitation of hon. Members several times, and I have seen no reason to waver at all in the conclusion that the Defence of the Realm Acts and the Regulations were a sufficient answer to the attacks which have been made upon the Government. One or two hon. Members challenged what I said with regard to the position under martial law. I am sure that any man who will he at the pains to consult the leading authorities on the subject, and will not be content with a text-book, which is written for lawyers and not for laymen, and endeavour to get at the gist of the matter and to understand the foundations in legal principle upon which the decisions in these cases rest, will find, at any rate, that there is very good argumentative ground for the position which I have taken up—first of all, that the proceedings of the Government in Ireland, during and after the rebellion, did not need a defence on the ground of what is called martial law, and, secondly, that what is called martial law has not during my tenure of office been in use in Ireland.
§ Mr. DUKE
I told the hon. Member quite candidly some time since why it was continued. It was continued and has been continued because a Proclamation on the subject of martial law declaring martial law not to be in force might be misunderstood by people who are not capable of dealing with the legal question and misunderstood to their very great detriment. If by a Proclamation that there is no martial law people are to be led into acts of violence or insurrection in Ireland on the supposition that there is not power in the hands of the Government under the existing law, apart from what is called martial law, to deal with matters of that kind, I think they might have cause of complaint that they were told there was no martial law in existence.
§ Mr. DUKE
I am so accustomed to complimentary remarks from my hon. and learned Friend that I will not even complain of his carrying his compliments to that excess. I have never spoken with levity about this matter of martial law. During the early weeks of my tenure of office I took the view, as was pointed out, that it would be quite practicable to proclaim the withdrawal of the previous Proclamation of martial law without depriving the Government of any necessary resources for the defence of the country, and I believe any lawyer, inside the House or outside it, would say that that is a true statement.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Has not the right hon. Gentleman all the powers he needs under the Defence of the Realm Acts Regulations?
§ Mr. DUKE
Yes. I believe the Government has, under the Defence of the Realm Acts and Regulations all the necessary powers in regard to the maintenance of order in Ireland? It is the maintenance of order which I have in view, without any regard to the political effect upon the interests of parties. It would be, to my mind, in the highest degree disgraceful for a man in my position if he used the powers which are vested in the Executive in Ireland, with a view to any party interest, whether it be the party interests to which he may himself have been a declared 1844 adherent, the party interests of an opponent, the party interests of hon. Gentlemen opposite, or any party interest whatsoever. My business is to see that, if it is possible, administration in Ireland shall be conducted so that there is peace and order in Ireland. Those are the elementary blsssings to which every country that has government at all is entitled. So far as I am concerned, I have directed my acts in this matter with that object, not to any provocative object, as is sometimes suspected, but with the simple object of seeing that the people who owe obedience to the law in Ireland should pay that obedience. That is necessary not merely in the interest of the general body of the population in Ireland and in the United Kingdom, but really in the interest, in many cases, of ignorant, easily-misguided people who can be led into doing acts the effect of which they do not appreciate at the time, and which may bring upon them disastrous, if not fatal, consequences. I have not concealed from the House or from hon. Members opposite my own belief that if steps had been taken in the early part of April of last year, such as have been sometimes found necessary since, the country might have been spared the misery and, as I regard it, the shame of the events of the latter part of April of last year. It is in that spirit that I have dealt with the problem of martial law, the problem of a new Proclamation, and all the technical matters which do not really touch the spirit of the administration of law in Irelend, but which, of course, are very useful for raising Parliamentary Debate.
If we were in an ideal state of things, where nobody would be misled, and where there were not from day to day threats of violence, threats of organised action, threats of appeal for the help of a public enemy: if we were not in that state of things, and these circumstances did not exist, of course, one would not be justified in refraining from the issue of a Proclamation revoking the earlier Proclamation of martial law, if that was asked for by representatives of the large body of people in Ireland. The reasons are prudential reasons, and the main reason is that a Proclamation of that kind is easily misunderstood. In the inevitable state of Ireland for a long time after the events of April of last year, it is not desirable to provoke on to court misunderstanding, or even to render it 1845 possible by taking steps which are needless to be taken for any practical purpose. There is no honest, loyal man in Ireland to whom the Proclamation of martial law last April makes the difference of the dust in the scale.
§ Mr. DUKE
If the hon. Member will refer to any act of the administration during the time in which I have been responsible for it, and will challenge it on the ground that it can be only justified by what is called martial law, there will be substance in the taunt he addresses to me, but if, in fact, nothing has been done during the past eight or nine months which needs justification outside the statute law or the common law of the land, then the taunt which the hon. Member addresses to me has no force. To speak of it as coercion or anything of that kind does not move me. Coercion there is under some circumstances. The whole country is under the possibility of coercion by Defence of the Realm Acts. The whole object of the law of the land may be coercive, but I say not merely that martial law does not touch any man in Ireland, but that there is not a man who desires to obey the law, who desires the peace of the country, who is willing to abstain from acts of seditious conspiracy, and from an appeal to a foreign enemy for assistance—there is no man who comes within those categories who need have any apprehension either in regard to martial law or in regard to the Defence of the Realm Acts Regulations. I confess that does seem to me, if it is true, a fairly strong reply to the kind of criticism which one has from time to time to answer upon this subject. The hon Member must not think I am complaining of his challenge of the correctness of my view; of course he was entitled to do that. After impugning the correctness of my view, the hon. Member went on to deal with the trials by courts-martial, and with the question of whether they were justified by the Defence of the Realm Acts and Regulations; above all, whether secrecy was justified; and, finally, upon that branch of the matter, whether His Majesty's Government was in honour bound to publish the proceedings of the courts-martial so that there could be no change of mind in the changing circumstances in regard to that question? With regard to the Defence of the Realm Acts and the Regulations, the 1846 hon. Member, as I recall his speech, said that whatver was in the Defence of the Realm Acts the House never contemplated the use of them which was made after the rebellion in Dublin. The Legislature, as it happened, provided an instrument of law which was effective to deal with the state of things that arose in Dublin. If the hon. Member asks me whether the House contemplated in 1914 and 1915 that the Statutes which were being passed and amended would require to be used for the terrible purpose for which they were required in Dublin in the April and early part of May of last year, I would say, thank God nobody dreamt that there could be men so criminally insane in any part of the United Kingdom that this country would have to face an outbreak of rebellion in the city of Dublin. Nobody did contemplate that we should have an armed rebellion in Ireland to deal with; but we had to deal with it, and it happened that there was a law which had been framed in contemplation of a different set of facts which was effective for the purpose of punishment of persons who were concerned in that rebellion.
§ Mr. DILLON
The right hon. Gentleman man has not answered my point. Under the Clause which gives the right to try by court-martial under that Act the death penalty may be inflicted only if the prisoner is proved to have sought the aid of the enemy. What security have we that evidence was tendered that the Dublin prisoners had sought the aid of the enemy? If it was not proved, then they had no right to be executed.
§ Mr. DUKE
May I remind the hon. Member of the facts which were notorious at the time. Everybody knows that at the end of the week before Easter Day in April of last year, as the result of an arrangement concerted in Germany with men in Dublin and men in the West of Ireland, a cargo of arms was brought down the West Coast of Ireland and kept off that coast for a day or two. Emissaries of the German Government were landed on the coast of Ireland and the cargo of arms ultimately found its way to the bottom of the sea. During that time, from Dublin on the east to Kerry and Galway on the west, the members of a particular body of volunteers in Ireland were assembled and under arms waiting for the arrival of those arms, and at the beginning of the week following, Easter Day, on Monday, a rebellion 1847 broke out in Dublin, the circumstances of which were notorious, and in the case of that rebellion in Dublin, which broke out in those circumstances, the men who were executed and the men who were sentenced to penal servitude were taken with arms in their hands.
§ Mr. DILLON
My point is this—they were bound under the Statute, which ought to be interpreted very strictly, as it is a most terrible Statute, to prove by evidence against each individual man that he had sought the assistance of the enemy.
§ Mr. DUKE
I neither assent to nor dissent from my hon. Friend that there was an obligation to prove that against each person. I need only remind the House of what were the notorious facts. A proclamation was printed and posted in Dublin which made the object of that conspiracy perfectly clear, which made the concert of the conspiracy with Germany absolutely clear, and which showed that the design of the conspiracy, of which the rebellion was the outcome, was the design of assisting the Germans in overthrowing the armed power of this country. To suggest in those circumstances that there is any doubt that the men who were taken in arms in that rebellion were engaged in that common purpose is really, I think, as bold a suggestion as can be found.
§ Mr. DUKE
I am coming to deal with the evidence. The hon. Gentleman always treats me with courtesy, and I am obliged to him for it, but I cannot deal with more than one point at once with any advantage. There is no disputing the proposition that the men who were sentenced to death and the men who were sentenced to penal servitude were men who were guilty, at all events, of combining to assist the public enemy and had taken up arms for that purpose. There was not a man who was not actually taken as a member of an armed force.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman. He says that there was not a man who was not found with arms in his hands. Is that true of Mr. John McNeill, who was not taken with arms in his hands, but had 1848 done everything in his power to stop the rebellion and yet was sentenced to penal servitude?
§ Mr. DUKE
The hon. Member for West Belfast corrects me. I agree that probably there are some persons to whom I should not apply the phrase "arms in his hands," but upon the facts of the part which Mr. John McNeill played in the combination which resulted in the armed rebellion at the beginning of Easter week, in view of what is notorious to all of us, remembering that Mr. John McNeill was defended by counsel, and that the circumstances of his trial and all the matters relating to it are very well known indeed to numbers of persons, I suppose there can be no doubt that Mr. John McNeill was one of the body the leaders of which published that proclamation.
§ Mr. DUKE
That may be a matter of the accuracy of the findings of the court-martial, but on the facts as regards Mr. John McNeill there is no reason to doubt them. The facts are very well known. When I said with regard to this whole body of people that they were taken with arms it was a little wide of literal fact as to the actual position. But it is the fact that every person who is concerned was notoriously involved in that general design, which was prosecuted with armed force, and it is true to say that all except the minutest minority of them were taken under arms. Their complicity in the armed rebellion was notorious. There is no doubt about the fact, and nobody, so far as I know, has ever doubted the fact. What is said by those who vindicate the rebellion is not that these men were convicted of a crime which they did not commit, but that they did these acts, and that they and those who sided with them are entitled to glory; not that they did not take up arms against the State, but that they were justified in doing it. That is the real ground of the attack which is widely made by the persons to whom the hon. Member refers. As a matter of fact, in all the discussions which I have had on this subject in Ireland, and in all the conversations in which I have taken part, I never heard any man question the fact of the guilt of every one of these persons charged with 1849 being concerned in the armed rebellion. I am coming to the question of secrecy and of non-publication. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is the point!"] The hon. Member says that is the point, but the Member for East Mayo raised a great number of other points, and if I did not deal with them successively he would be entitled to complain that I had evaded something which he had brought to the attention of the House. I pass from the question of the guilt of these persons, in fact, to the evidence on which they were committed.
The hon. Member for Hexham reaffirmed much of what was said, and asked why we should not publish these documents, so that the world should know precisely what was the guilt of these persons. Last month, as the hon. Member said, an inquiry was held upon the question whether the sitting of these courts-martial in camera was lawful, and that subject was discussed in this country by a tribunal which devoted two or three days to its consideration, and came to the conclusion that the proceedings were, in respect of secrecy, and in all particulars in which their validity had been challenged, absolutely well founded and properly conducted. There is nothing in point of law in the question of secrecy, or the courts-martial sitting in camera. On the question of the discretion of the Government to publish the trials, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House dealt with the matter on the Motion for the Adjournment earlier in the Session, and he said that the Government had to consider that matter de noco, by reason of the condition of things in Ireland, and he said that the Government had come to the decision that it would not perform its duty if it published the proceedings of these courts-martial. I would point out, that every one of these trials has in it the element of passion. I know as well as anybody what took place at these courts-martial; it was my duty to find out, and, with regard to every one of the trials, the tragedy of the story is very great; its publication would direct public feeling and attention in Ireland to the springs out of which the rebellion arose, and the whole story of the lamentable events would be given, while feeling in Ireland is subject to fluctuation, and while there are men in that country who never fail to seize occasion to appeal to those who sympathise with the rebels, who are still at large, many of them active in the country. In that state of things there is 1850 unquestionably an enormous element of danger in providing in every county where there was rebellion, this tragic story of what occurred in Ireland last Easter. The Government considered last year whether they should risk publication, and in the then state of the facts as they then existed, they came to the conclusion that it was a serious risk, but it might betaken.
But things did not improve during the first two months of this year. The hon. Member for Mayo stated that in the speech which he addressed to the House about a fortnight ago. I said that feeling fluctuated in Ireland; at any rate, that was the state of things to which the hon. Member for Mayo referred, and which necessarily caused disquiet and some alarm. In these circumstances we had to consider the problem of publishing this literature of rebellion with the assistance of various dispassionate advisors, and we came to the conclusion that the risk was such that the Government was not warranted in taking it, in the conditions which actually existed in Ireland. It is said that the Government were guilty of a breach of faith. The Government had a discretion, and if on a given day in a given state of facts, on inquiry made, the Government announced through the then Prime Minister that it had decided to exercise that discretion in a particular way, it incurred no obligation.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
If the Government, through its Prime Minister, says it has come to the conclusion to exercise its discretion in a particular manner, is not that a pledge, and can the Government in decency resile from that pledge?
§ Mr. DILLON
In this case it was not a declaration; it was given to me across the floor of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. DUKE
I cannot concur in that view. A bargain creates an obligation. A declaration of intention may, of course, 1851 bind a man and make it a point of honour, but it depends on the circumstances. Can it be that a Government which has answered a question as to its intention to do a certain thing is bound at whatever cost to the State to perform a promise which it knows or is satisfied cannot be performed except at the sacrifice of the public interest? I am convinced there is no principle under which the Government of any country which has made a promise which cannot be performed without prejudice to the public interest may not properly consider whether it is a fitting opportunity to perform it. The difference is between an obligation dependent upon a bargain and a declaration or a promise, and I say that the announcement which was made was, at the most, no more than a promise which the Government was bound to reconsider.
§ Mr. BILLING rose—
§ Mr. BILLING remained standing.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has no right to stand up and interrupt the speaker who is in possession.
§ Mr. BILLING
On a point of Order. I think some Member should have risen in this House and protested against the statements from the Government Bench that a promise by the Government was not an obligation.
§ Mr. DUKE
Now I come to the question whether in a state of facts which had arisen in this case it was the duty of the Government to act upon the declaration. It is a question of what was in the public interest with respect to the publication of the proceedings of these courts-martial. What is put forward on the other side is that, however improvident the declaration may be, notwithstanding its improvidence and notwithstanding the fatal consequences which might result from it, the Government is bound by that declaration. But the first duty of the Government of this country, in the public interest of this country, is to maintain security, peace, and order.
§ Mr. DUKE
Yes, and honour. If the Government, by giving effect to a declaration or promise of that kind, had precipitated disorder in Ireland and had possibly provoked bloodshed in that country as a consequence of the fulfilment of the promise at a specific time, I submit to the House it would have been held to blame, and deservedly so, by the great majority of the people of this country. On this matter opinions may differ, but the opinion of the Government on the subject was that it was the business of the Government to ascertain whether the promise made last year could be safely and securely performed at the time the question arose, and the Government came to the firm conclusion that that promise could not be performed with due regard to the safety of the public at that time.
§ Mr. DUKE
I can only say that this is a matter on which the Government is in the judgment of the House. If the Government is right in the view it has taken that the paramount consideration is the well-being of Ireland and of the United Kingdom, this promise must be judged in the light of those matters, and then the Government was justified in the decision I have stated. I have spoken with regard to the alleged breach of faith as well as the allegation that the proceedings of the courts-martial were irregular, if not wrong. I come now to the matter to which the hon. Member referred in the latter part of his speech. He charged my right hon. Friend with having more or less threatened the Irish party that, by their action, they were invoking a general election.
§ Mr. DUKE
I am not assured of the infallibility even of all the Press. There have been occasions when even the hon. Member has not been content to be judged by the verdict of all the Press. But, be that as it may, I think I may say what my right hon. Friend's intention was. My right hon. Friend has assured hon. Members that there was no intention on his part to threaten, and I should have thought that any man at all familiar with the Irish party in this House would have known that the last possible way to deal with them is by threats. On the other hand, the Irish Members, or at any rate many 1853 of them, are very astute Parliamentarians, and in fact it is presumptuous on my part, although I have spent a good many years in this House, even to pass judgment on them. There are many among them who are my seniors in experience in Parliamentary procedure. But is it an improper thing to remind a Parliamentary party or to remind the House of Commons that if, in time of war, the unity of the House is substantially broken, and if we become a divided House of Commons and if common support for a common end is not given to His Majesty's Government, then that Government must give place to some successor that can be found here who will command the general confidence of the House and avoid a breach of unity, or it must appeal to the country at large as to whether in its general proceedings, whatever incidental errors may attach to them—whether in its general proceedings it has the countenance and support of the people of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. DUKE
I appeal against nobody. I have never appealed against hon. Members. I see no reason to do it. But I feel the dangers to which my right hon. Friend referred, and to which the hon. Member for East Mayo has referred—that people who do not grasp the bearings of the difficult situation between England and Ireland may be misled in their judgment by the events of these times, and that would be detrimental to this country, and even more detrimental to the hopes of many Irishmen. My right hon. Friend intended to point that out. It is suggested that he pointed it out with too great emphasis. But it is a matter patent to many men in this House and out of it that if there is an impossibility of co-operation upon the general objects which the Government has in view with the members of the Irish party, their numbers, their ability, and their diligent attendance in this House make them so appreciable a force, that no Government can disregard the possibility of combinations which may from day to day result from the existence in the House of a large, watchful body of Members whose first object is to defeat the Administration. Such a possibility may render it necessary, before a public disaster of that kind happens in the face of the enemy, that the Government should ascertain whether its proceedings are not wholly satisfactory to the 1854 general body of people of the three Kingdoms. If that is a true view of the matter, then, with great respect to my right hon. Friend and the House, I say there is nothing improper in the reminder he gave.
§ Mr. DUKE
Hon. Members tell us that an election now or later on is not of great consequence to them. I think they are right. I believe I know accurately enough the condition of affairs in Ireland to be reasonably satisfied that that view of theirs is correct. The dominant consideration at the present time in this matter, as in all the other matters to which I have referred, which the Government has to consider is not what is good for a party or for a particular interest, however serious or important that interest may be, but to consider what is essential for the effective prosecution of the War. On these various matters on the grounds which I have stated, however imperfectly, the view of the Government has been that the steps which it has taken are the steps which it ought to take in view of the vigorous and effective prosecution of the War. In that view of the matter I have nothing to apologise for in any of those things.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I have listened, I will not say altogether, but largely, with considerable patience to the speech which has been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, and I confess that never in all my life, and I have listened to many speeches in my time, have I heard so disastrous an attempt as that the right hon. Gentleman has made to cloud the issues with words. He has been challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) upon two clear and specific points. One of them was on the non-performance of a promise or the non-fulfilment of a pledge given by the Government to publish the evidence at those secret courts-martial, and the other was in regard to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. It would have been an extremely easy thing for the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary in half a dozen sentences to have laid down a new moral doctrine that a promise is not a promise, although we know on these benches that a promise is a promise unless it is made to Ireland by a British Minister. [An HON. MEMBER: "Scraps of paper!"] He has in his speech talked 1855 about the promise, and has occupied a large part of the time in distinguishing between a promise and a pledge, and having satisfied himself as to the distinction between a promise and a pledge, he then told us what an obligation was, and then entered into a metaphysical discussion as to what a declaration was. None of us on these benches, least of all myself, desire to enter into metaphysical or legal arguments or subtle arguments with the right hon. Gentleman. I have stated before, not in this connection, but in others, that those of us who are plain, blunt men—and we claim to be nothing else—know how to put a question and know when we receive a clear answer. What was the question that was put to the late Prime Minister? My hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo asked the Prime MinisterWhether he will now direct that the proceedings of Irish courts-martial shall be published?The Prime Minister's reply was:Yes. Sir, I will arrange for this to be done.That may not be a promise, it may not be an obligation, it may not be a direction, it may not be a pledge, but to me it contains them all, and to any ordinary, simple citizen it contains them all. And when that pledge and promise was made, when that declaration was given from that Table by the Prime Minister that this evidence would be published, we accepted that pledge given across the floor of the House as a solemn pledge that would be kept and that its obligation would be fulfilled. What excuse does the, right hon. Gentleman offer for not fulfilling that pledge? He states that in the public interest it is not desirable that the pledge should be kept. What do you mean by the public interest? You mean your interest. Whenever you break a pledge towards Ireland you always tell us it is in the public interest, but the public interest is never Irish interest, but English interest, and British interest, and Cabinet interest, and dishonesty. The right hon. Gentleman stated that it was undesirable, owing to the conditions that existed in Ireland, that this promise should be kept. Did these conditions not operate when this promise was made? Did not the then Prime Minister come back from Ireland and say that Dublin Castle rule and all that it stood for had broken down and that you had nothing but a bankrupt and a discredited system in that country? And even when he made that statement he still 1856 declared that he would publish the evidence upon which these men were convicted. The Chief Secretary has said that he has taken advice, and that that is why this evidence has not been published. Who is the adviser? Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give me his attention for a moment? He has stated that he has taken advice as to whether he should perform the promise of his own Prime Minister in the Government of which he was the governor of Ireland. Whose advice has he taken? Was it the advice of Major Price? Who are those dispassionate persons whom the right hon. Gentleman, with a most solemn unctiousness, always flings across at these benches when we ask that Irish opinion should be consulted? Who are these mysterious Solomons in Ireland with whom the right hon. Gentleman gets into communion when he goes over there?' Who are these wise men who are only to be found in the secret chambers of Dublin Castle?
With all this windy oratory that we have heard in the House of Commons, one thing I must complain of. In any criticism I offer to the right hon. Gentleman I wish to make it clear that no one admits more intensely and sincerely than I do how deep and profound and sincere are his desires to do good for Ireland, and in criticising the right hon. Gentleman I always keep that in mind; but it is not Ireland that is suffering from a reign of terror. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary is suffering from the terrorists in Ireland, the Russian reactionaries who are governing that country. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House smile, but if they lived in Ireland they would perfectly understand, as we do, that the worst form of reaction that existed in Russia before the nation liberated itself from thraldom was not anything comparable to the form of reaction in Ireland, because there you do it under the cover of democratic institutions. We want to know who are these dispassionate persons, who. in the secret chambers of Dublin Castle, advised the right hon. Gentleman not mark you, to satisfy us. but to carry out the promises to fulfil the pledges of the Prime-Minister of England solemnly given at that bench! When next he quotes advisers I trust he will give their names to the House of Commons, that the House of Commons, and the representatives of Ireland may be able to appraise the value 1857 of the gentlemen he has constituted his private advisers in matters affecting the interests of Ireland.
I will tell you why the evidence is not published! You are afraid to publish it! These secret trials were the substance out of which you evolved the tragedy of Ireland in the last six months. You say that if the evidence is published it will evoke fresh manifestations of public passion and draw forth fresh manifestations of public indignation. Why? Are you afraid that it will be proof against you? That is why I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman a moment or two ago. One of the men who was sentenced to death before one of the secret tribunals, and the evidence against whom we desire to bring to the public eye, was Mr. John MacNeill. The right hon. Gentleman was making a sweeping assertion, but with the true skill of the subtle lawyer he tried to ride off on a side issue when I put the question to him after he had stated that all these men were caught with arms in their hands. I put the question to him: Was Mr. John MacNeill caught with arms in his hands? Would the House believe that not only was Mr. John MacNeill not found with arms in his hands, but that a day or two before the rebellion he sent messages all over Ireland to try to prevent the rising?
Mr. John MacNeill was sentenced to death. That sentence was subsequently commuted to penal servitude for life, and many people believe that penal servitude is a greater horror than if the death sentence is carried out. We want to know, and the Government have a right to tell us, on what evidence the case was based, and what reasons can be given, or were given before this secret tribunal, why a brilliant Irish scholar, with whom I have frequently differed for the last five or six years on politics, and with whom I have engaged in many political contests, is kept in prison, not for carrying arms—because you know he did not do it! not for inspiring rebellion—because you know he tried to prevent it, and prevented many people from taking part in it! We want this information and we want it now. The idea of a great English lawyer and defender of constitutional principle standing at that box opposite and declaring that because bad blood would be created or passions aroused that justice should not be dope, is, in my 1858 judgment, a degradation of everything that man holds dear in the administration of justice in these islands.
I come to the next question, that of martial law in Ireland. Why is martial law continued in Ireland? The right hon. Gentleman did not answer that question, although he had the assistance of the Under-Secretary for War. He replies, "Oh, there may be martial law in Ireland, but it is not put into operation. "Is it simply there as a picturesque monument to the glory of your rule? Are, you keeping it there as a public tribute to the tragedy you have created? Is it there as an English joke? Martial law is not in operation. We ask you to withdraw it, and you will not tell us you will. You say it is simply a Proclamation. Is a written document posted round the country to frighten potential rebels to be a sacrosanct piece of paper like a scrap of paper we are told about that was seered and scarred by German treachery. I never heard from anyone, much less from a great lawyer, that you are to keep a Proclamation in existence—a Proclamation that insults the country, and affronts the general good order of the nation—as a picture to remind us day after day of the tragic story and record of the last six months, a blot on your administration, a disgrace to the spirit of mercy that should have permeated your administration after the rebellion, and a record of one of those dark things that men want to clear away, to obscure and destroy if possible, if ever good relationship is again to commence between these two isles.
The right hon. Gentleman not only engaged in a most unlawyerlike defence of legal principles and a most unconstitutional dialectical argument upon constitutional questions, but he gave us a little lecture upon peace and order. There was one word he did not use, and the other two words are only an insult without the third. There are three things which constitute the trinity of noble and inspiring things that make men proud—peace, order, and liberty. But peace and order are degradation without liberty. You want peace while you have martial law, and you want order in a country in which you are the chief architects of the disorder that exists. It is perfectly true—none feel it more deeply and profoundly than we do—how needful peace is to Ireland, that has So long with bleeding feet walked the thorny path of 1859 sacrifice and of agitation. We want order, because without order we cannot have that foundation of industrial and commercial greatness which we trust to build up on the new-laid foundations of a future free Ireland. But you will never have peace and order until you establish liberty, and I hope—I do not care whether it is in Ireland or in Russia, or what country in the world it is—I hope there will be neither peace nor order until the country has liberty. I am not a student of Russian affairs, but I have not the slightest doubt that there was not a miscreant in a high place in Russia who did not preach peace and order to the wretched, starving peasants, who, in the indignation and passion of their souls, tore down the foul system of government in Russia and breathed liberty and hope to that great land again. I am quite sure if the rhetorical reactionaries ascended the forum in Russia they preached to them peace and order, but if they preached peace and order the people replied, "Yes, peace with liberty and order with liberty." And that is what I say to the right hon. Gentleman in whose hands to-day is the custody not only of the peace of Ireland, the order of the nation, but the liberty of a country about which he knows enough to know that, whatever your material reforms may be, the soul of Ireland is insuppressible and the spirit of our race will remain for ever, and the Irish question can only be ended when you solve it upon those principles of freedom which have inspired the people of Russia to secure their own.
I want to say one or two words with reference to the speech of the Leader of the House. I accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that he did not intend to make a threat, but the right hon. Gentleman rarely says anything in the House that he does not mean. If he has one admirable quality it is frankness, and the one fault I have to find with British statesmen is that they do not know how to be frank. The Leader of the House is always perfectly frank, but whether it was meant as a threat or not it had no terrors for us. We do not fear a General Election. For months I, for one, have longed for it. There is nothing that would give better satisfaction to those on the Nationalist Benches than to have an opportunity before our own people, grossly misrepresented as we have been, of testing all the issues involved in a conflict of that character in Ireland. I 1860 do not mind that part of it, but what I did mind was the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that this issue was to be fought out upon an anti-Irish cry. If you choose to have a General Election on that I wish you luck of the result, but you cannot assail Irishmen at home without assailing the gallant men who are fighting your battles. They are bone of our bone and blood of our blood. They went to fight because we asked them to go, and it would in my judgment be an extraordinary evolution in the political existence of this House of Commons and of the conflicts of British politics if while the magnificent gallantry of our sons who made their names glorious on the fields of battle in Europe you are stumping from county to county and village to village arousing the passions of the British people against those men who have been the glorious standard-bearers in the moment of your greatest Imperial necessity. And then when you have done it, if you did it, remember that the British people are not altogether blind and deaf, and they would be able to adjust matters at this election, and do you think you would find us in Ireland fighting for our existence because we fought for you in your time of trial, and that you could hold us up to the scorn of this country. There are still brave and generous hearts and brave men who would know how false was the assumption upon which you based your case when you assailed us before the British people, and then when it was all over, where would you be? You would not have a number of Irish members endeavouring to make wrong right, as we have only tried to do in those questions which have come up for discussion in the House. At the end of a tired Parliament of ten years you would have my colleagues and myself, and perhaps others, you would have Irishmen coming here unless you robbed us of the franchise altogether, and you could do that, and you could do it to show how generous England could be when Russia has broken the fetters that bound her to the chariot wheels of reaction. But while we have the franchise and Members are sent here will you find it easier when the Irish representatives come back to Parliament than you find it now? Will the course of British politics run more smoothly? Will the hand of the right hon. Gentleman be less heavy upon the Parliamentary machine than it is to-day? No, Sir; you may bring back angry Englishmen, but you will bring back angry Irish- 1861 men as well, and then what a happy hope for this Empire when the War is over, that your one success in Imperial statesmanship, even if you win on the field of battle, is that you have set two races we have tried to bring together at each other's throats! All the work of those of us who have preached the policy of conciliation and good will and who have learned to hear the names of British working men cheered upon Irish Nationalist platforms as we have heard the names of Irishmen cheered upon English platforms, is ended in further tragedy, and this is the civil triumph that you hand down to posterity with your great military triumphs in the field of battle! As far as we are concerned, we do not desire it. We will neither foster ill-feeling nor provoke it; but we will perform our Parliamentary duties and exercise our rightful functions in this House whether it suits your convenience or whether it does not.
I want to know why I am here, and why my colleagues are here in this House? I put this question not only to myself and to every member of my party, but to members of all parties in every section of this House. Have we lost our manhood? Have we given up our freedom? Are we to trample upon the constitutional right which the constituencies have given to us to speak of the things we will in a Parliament which ought to be, and is, the vocal expression of the will of the people? I am not here to cross the "t's" and dot the "i's" of the right hon. Gentleman. I would not remain in any Parliament for twenty-four hours unless I were to be permitted, within the bounds of decency and moderation, to express what I felt to be my conviction and the conviction of my colleagues. The moment that Ireland is robbed of that right in this Parliament by the threat, or what is meant as a threat, or what is taken as a threat if it is not intended as a threat, of a General Election, the greatest blow is struck that can be struck at the constitutional freedom of this country and at the very root of democratic government, and in my judgment it is an insult to any democratic Assembly. Therefore, whether you have a General Election or not, we are perfectly indifferent. We do not want to be here to obstruct your business if you regard our criticism as obstruction. If you feel that you are sacrosanct statesmen, and you do not want anyone to criticise you or to question anything that you do, we do not want to be here to do it. 1862 Let us go back to our own country and to work in our own way and for our own nation, and you will have very little trouble with us, but while we are here you will not muzzle us. You will not muzzle the representatives of Ireland either by threats or by cajolery or by any other process. We have done nothing that I am aware of to make your task in the pursuit of the War difficult. Why we are angels, we are archangels, in criticism compared with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson). I watched him in his criticism of the last Government. I watched him stand at the Table. He was infinitely more ferocious than I am. I am afraid that, although he was infinitely more ferocious, he was infinitely more effective than I am, because he drove himself into the Ministry, and I am to be driven to face my Constituents. You see the intellectual and balancing powers of the wiseacres who now guide the destinies of this Empire.
If, instead of being a humble private Member, with nothing behind me but the strength of my cause, I happened to be an aggressive and powerful politician, finding that rebellion as an overt act does not pay, but that rebellion as an intellectual posture frightens a Ministry, then I think the House will admit that the crime which my colleagues and I have committed is not a crime beyond repair. The proper thing is not to give moderate criticism to the Government but to make it violent, to form a ginger group, then to take them into the Cabinet and the ginger disappears. My hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo gave two specific instances, one where there was a shriek in the pro-war Press of this country for the dismissal of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty when something happened that the "Daily Mail" did not like. The ginger group was moved to manifestations of the most hostile and violent opposition to the Government because of this. The other instance was when a worse thing occurred a few weeks afterwards under the direction of the chief of the ginger group, who had found his place and lost his ginger. Then what was high treason in the old Government was an act of the most profound strategic naval skill. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we do not want to get into the Cabinet. We want simply to discharge our duty to our Constituents. We are here to speak for our country. I am sorry for the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. 1863 I wish he were more frank in this House with Members of the House. No one questions his honesty, but I wish he were more frank. If he were to give us straighter answers, cloud his opinions less in words, give us not scientific and subtle dissertations upon constitutional law and legal principles, but simply hard facts and human feeling, he would find it would be better for himself and better for the country of which he is for the moment the Governmental custodian.
§ Mr. HOLT
I wish to protest against the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman as to the validity of Ministerial promises. He told the House just now that when a Minister makes a definite promise he is entitled to repudiate it if on subsequent reflection he finds it is not, in his opinion, in accordance with his convenience to make it good. I believe the business of the House will never be conducted fairly if Ministers adopt the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman has thought fit to maintain. It is absolutely inconsistent with the fair conduct of business as between Ministers and Members of the House if we are to be told that a Ministerial promise can be repudiated at any moment the Minister thinks it suitable to do so. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a very interesting disquisition on the difference between the Defence of the Realm Acts and martial law. I defy anyone who heard it to find in it any reason which would not have been equally applicable to the proclamation of martial law in England, because he told us the proclamation of martial law in Ireland had no effect upon any respectable person. If that is true, why not have martial law over the whole country? It is as good an argument in one case as in the other.
Then the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the question of the non-publication of the evidence and gave two reasons for not publishing it. The first was that it was notorious that all these people were guilty. I object altogether to persons being kept in prison on the statement of a Minister that it is notorious that they are guilty. That is one of the very worst reasons that could be produced for keeping people in prison. The other reason was that attached to every one of these stories is a very terrible tragedy. That may be quite correct, but is it a reason for not publishing the evidence? If it is true surely it is a fact that the public ought to know. How is the 1864 ordinary elector in England, to whom it is a vital business to settle this dispute between England and Ireland, to know in what way to shape his conduct if he is not told such a vital fact as that the foundation of this rebellion in Ireland is that there is a terrible tragedy in connection with the lives of a great many persons. Surely it is fundamental that if we, are to settle by democratic government great matters of statesmanship, the people of this country should know the whole truth. The two reasons given for the non-publication of the evidence are really very strong reasons why that evidence should be published. We in England at any rate ought to know for what reason a large number of Irishmen Have been sent to very long terms of imprisonment. There are a great many people, not only in Ireland, who do not trust the sentences of courts-martial, and, least of all, sentences on civilians who, it is alleged, were engaged in the rebellion. A court-martial is not a legal tribunal. It does not consist of trained lawyers; it has no civil element upon it, and it is necessarily biassed in favour of the military. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, for every reason, will reconsider his decision, and that he will make good the pledge made by the Prime Minister under whom he was serving twelve months ago, and publish the evidence which was promised in this House.
§ Mr. BILLING
I rise to support the action which I took while the Chief Secretary for Ireland was speaking. I have heard during my very brief presence in this House some extraordinary statements from the Front Bench, but I did not think that I should ever live to hear a member of the Government say from that bench that a promise and an honourable undertaking given by the Prime Minister of the British Government is a thing that can be lightly broken. That is why I rose when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking. I think that no sufficient explanation was given by the right hon. Gentleman why this promise was not fulfilled. I do not propose now to go into the details of the case because they have been so admirably handled by the Irish Members, but I do say that on all these important matters, when a Member of the Front Bench rises, he tries to hide the issue in a wilderness of words. If you put down a question on an important matter and they cannot give an 1865 answer they try to confuse you. I considered that it was my duty to rise and to register at least my protest against the statement which the right hon. Gentleman made. If there is one thing that we have, or had, a right to be proud of in this country it was that the Government stood by its Prime Minister. What is the use of the cry that is made throughout the land on the question of other Governments breaking their obligations if we lightly break ours? I hold no brief for the Irish party or for any party in this House. I came here quite alone, and I do hold a brief for liberty, for freedom, and for freedom of speech in this House, and if this War has brought this country to such a pass that freedom in this House must be suppressed then I think the best thing the Government can do is to take the temper of the country. I have raised this point again and again that political tinkering in this House is as bad and as rotten to-day as ever it was before the War. The Conservative party to-day are using the present Prime Minister just like children have used Guy Fawkes for many years past. They are trundling him through the streets of the city, and if they go to the country they will trundle him through the streets of every town and city, and will say, "Vote for Lloyd George and National Government." What will be the result if they go to the country? Half the people are disfranchised because this Govern-
§ ment will not give the franchise to the people, and because they will not give us a register. They will go to the country with the best blood of the country out of it, and with all the bad feeling of an Irish problem which they have absolutely failed to solve, because there is not a statesman among them. I think that the members of the Front Bench, both now and in the past, are living examples of the depths to which party politics can bring a country. They will go to the country, and they will—
§ It being Eleven of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15, to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the Report of the Vote.
§ Question put, "That '£38,023,000' stand part of the said Resolution"
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I noticed it, but I also noticed the Standing Orders of the House, which tell me to put the Question at Eleven o'clock.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 136; Noes, 45.1867
|Division No. 16.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Howard, John Geoffrey|
|Astor, Hon. Waldorf||Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh)|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Johnston, Christopher, N.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Denniss, E. R. B.||i Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Dixon, C. H.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Barnett, Captain R. W.||Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Fell, Arthur||Jones, W. Kennedy (Hornsey)|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson||Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Finney, Samuel||Kellaway, Frederick George|
|Bentham, George Jackson||Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes||Kerry, Earl of|
|Bird, Alfred||Fletcher, John Samuel||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Black, Sir Arthur W.||Gelder, Sir W. A.||Larmor, Sir J.|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)|
|Boles, Lieut-Colonel Dennis Fortescue||Grant, J. A.||Layland-Barrett, Sir F.|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough)||Levy, Sir Maurice|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Gretton, John||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Griffith, Rt. Hon. Ellis Jones||Lonsdale, Sir John Brownlee|
|Buxton, Noel||Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.)||M'Callum, Sir John M.|
|Cawley, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick||Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William||Macleod, John Mackintosh|
|Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||Hanson, Charles Augustin||Macmaster, Donald|
|Clyde, James Avon||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence||M'Micking, Major Gilbert|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds.)||Macpherson, James Ian|
|Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth)||Helme, Sir Norval Watson||Maden, Sir John Henry|
|Collins, Sir W. (Derby)||Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, S.)||Mallalieu, Frederick William|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Hewart, Sir Gordon||Middlebrook, Sir William|
|Cory, James Herbert (Cardiff)||Higham, John Sharp||Millar, James Duncan|
|Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||Hills, John Waller||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred|
|Craig, Col. James (Down, E.)||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Hohler, G. F.||Newman, John R. P.|
|Currie, George W.||Hope, John Deans (Haddington)||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)|
|Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)'||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Ormsby-Gore, Hon William||Robinson, Sidney||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Paget, Almeric Hugh||Rowlands, James||Watt, Henry A.|
|Parker, James (Halifax)||Salter, Arthur Clavell||Weston, J. W.|
|Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)||Whiteley, Herbert James|
|Perkins, Walter F.||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Peto, Basil Edward||Seely, Lt.-Col. Sir C. H. (Mansfield)||Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)|
|Pollock, Ernest Murray||Smith, Sir Swire (Keighley, Yorks)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)|
|Pratt, J. W.||Stewart, Gershom.||Wilson, Captain Leslie O. (Reading)|
|Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.||Stirling, Lieut.-Col. Archibald||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)||Sykes, Sir Mark (Hull, Central)||Yate, Colonel C. E.|
|Rees, G. C. (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)||Thomas-Starford, Charles|
|Richardson, Arthur (Rotherham)||Tickler, T. G.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)||Touche, Sir George Alexander||Lord Edmund Talbot and Mr. Primrose|
|Roberts, George H. (Norwich)||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)||Tryon, Captain George Clement|
|Billing, Pemberton||Flavin, Michael Joseph||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Hackett, John||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)||Hazieton, Richard||O'Dowd, John|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Holt, Richard Durning||O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)|
|Byrne, Alfred||Jowett, Frederick William||Roddy, Michael|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Joyce, Michael||Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)|
|Cosgrave. James||Keating, Matthew||Scanlan, Thomas|
|Crumley, Patrick||King, Joseph||Sheehy, David|
|Devlin, Joseph||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Dillon, John||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||Tootill, Robert|
|Doris, William||McGhee, Richard||Whitty, Patrick Joseph|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||MacNeill. J. G. Swift (Donegal, South)||Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|Duffy, William J.||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Field, William||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)|
|Fitzgibbon, John||Molloy. Michael||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Patrick O'Brien and Mr.Boland|
|Fitzpatrick. John Lalor||Nolan, Joseph|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Remaining Resolutions to be considered To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.