§ Order read for Second Reading of Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof the words,
"having regard to the state of affairs in Ireland and the supreme importance to the cause of the Allies of a settlement being effected without further delay, it is in the opinion of this House imperative that the Government should take such steps as may be necessary to achieve this end."
I make no apology for asking the House to grant a very few brief moments' consideration to the question of the government of Ireland. Were any explanation necessary I would say that I entertain a profound conviction, and I know it is shared by many Members in all parts of the House, that the highest interests of this nation demand that a renewed effort should be made to settle the Irish controversy. Ireland to-day is a weakness and not a strength in the great task which lies before this country. Need I say I do-not speak to-day from a party point of view. Party labels and party shibboleth have been destroyed in the great infern which we have gazed upon for the last two and a half years, and whatever the result may be with regard to Ireland, I can say, with regard to other domestic matters, that parties in this House can never again be quite the same as they were previous to the War. I therefore, to-day, do not propose to explore the noxious vapours of the past embittered controversy. I propose to ask the House to look at the situation as it is, and consider the possibilities of the future. The Irish 2095 controversy is no longer a party controversy. It is at this moment an Imperial issue of the first importance. Why then do we urge the Government, with the knowledge which we have of past recent failures and with comprehension of the enormous and almost insurmountable difficulties which lie before anyone who tries to settles this question at the present moment, to try once again? In the first place, we urge them for reasons of military efficiency. The House knows that martial law, at any rate in name, exists throughout Ireland, and in order to sustain that law a vast Army of occupation is necessary. Is it unreasonable to suppose that, with a satisfied Ireland, a vast proportion of that Army could be released in order to fight the common foe? Not only so, but the question of recruiting is closely associated with the military position. We know that recruiting in Ireland is practically a closed book, and that there is little hope of it being reopened with success in the present conditions. But it does not stop there. The effect of your system in Ireland, so far as recruiting is concerned, has re-echoed throughout the great Dominions. In Canada, and in Australia, and in New Zealand, unfortunately, there is only too much of substantial indication that the position in Ireland has interfered even with the greater success of recruiting there. I urge that those considerations at the moment, when every man is required to carry a gun for the sake of his country, ought not to be lightly laid aside.
We urge it also for the sake of national unity. In the life and death struggle such as this country is going through at the present moment, unity of the nation is a priceless possession. We have had abundance of it during the last two and a half years, but we have not got it at the present moment, and we are not likely to get it until there is a change in the relations between this country and Ireland. In a letter published this morning from the Prime Minister he declares that national unity is essential to victory. I believe that to be so. Is it, therefore, not worth while to make one more effort in order to restore national unity? It is necessary to take action also in order to put ourselves right with our Allies and with the civilised world. We entered this great War as champions of small nations. The balancing factor in the great decision 2096 was a scrap of paper—a Belgian scrap of paper. We cannot overlook or forget that at the present time there exists also an Irish scrap of paper—a scrap of paper authorised by the people of this country, and endorsed by the signature of His Majesty the King. I say, therefore, so long as the Irish problem is unsettled, so long will we lay ourselves open to the taunt and reproach that in claiming the championship of smaller nations we are guilty of perfidy. It is impossible to regard with satisfaction the present Parliamentary position of Ministers who carry on the work of the great Departments so far as the War is concerned. It is inconsistent with party debates in this House. They cannot give their whole and undivided attention to the work of the War if they are liable at any moment to be called back to this House to assist in preventing the possibility of a Snap Division. It cannot be done. Therefore, I would urge that, even from that point of view, this question deserves consideration, but that is small compared with the greater and more important side of the Parliamentary position. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was taken to task the other day for having made a threat that the present state of things would result in a General Election. I heard his speech made in reply to one of my own, and I never supposed for a moment it was anything in the nature of a threat. He was simply pointing out a possibility which is apparent, I think, to every Member of this House. What is that possibility? The life of this Parliament has been extended on two occasions. Very shortly it will be necessary, if this Parliament is to continue to exist, for another extension of life to be granted. I say it is impossible for any Government to persevere with a motion extending the life of Parliament for a short time if you have a solid body of opinion against it. It cannot be done, and from a constitutional point of view I say that the Government would be wrong to do it. The result would inevitably be that we should have a General Election, which nobody wants. It would settle nothing and unsettle everything, and therefore from that point of view I think there is an additional reason for attempting to bring about a settlement of this long controversy.
See what the position is if something is not done. The position cannot remain 2097 as it is. Relations must inevitably get more strained. You have the action of Irish Members in this House. They understand the position, and I understand it to some extent, but the great mass of the people outside do not understand it, and the result will be that the enormous sympathy which has been garnered for Ireland during the past years may be minimised, if not destroyed. Not only that, but by doing nothing you are placing a weapon in the hands of a reactionary party in Ireland which must inevitably be used to destroy the constitutional movement. I ask the Government are they prepared to strengthen the position of the physical force party in Ireland? That is the inevitable result if nothing is done. The whole story of Ireland is a story of a struggle between constitutional agitation and physical force. Ireland was weaned from physical force and accepted the constitutional path, but what reply will the advocates of constitutional methods to-day make to the extreme physical force party in Ireland if they declare that the constituional method has failed so far as the granting of their rights is concerned? Every day that you delay settling the Irish question you are recruiting a new soldier to the physical force party. I therefore say that time is important, even from the constitutional point of view.
Sir H. DALZIEL
We have many happy omens at this moment. All parties appear to be willing to forget the past and honestly to try and bring about a better condition of affairs. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is, I know, as keen as any man to bring about a solution; my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already demonstrated, I think, his anxiety, if possible, to bring about a settlement; and my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty not very long ago gave ample proof that he was desirous that, if possible, something should be done. Therefore the situation is not altogether without hope. Let me say that Ireland is not a promising field for speculative theorists. It is no good imagining that a solution is certain, even if efforts are now made to bring it about. The man who thinks it is easy to settle the difficulties that exist at the present moment does not understand the rudiments of the Irish question, and although I am urging that steps should 2098 be taken, I confess I am by no means sanguine, if they are taken, that they will be successful. Any action that is taken by the Government can only be successful if great sacrifices are made of cherished ideals and of acknowledged principles by the great parties who are concerned in a settlement. Without great sacrifice in that direction no solution is possible, no matter what machinery you may create—sacrifices not from one party alone, but from all parties concerned.
What, I ask, is the position of the Government in this matter? The latest official utterance in any detail as to their position was that made the other day by the Prime Minister. He suggested many alternatives. He suggested, for example, that the different Irish representatives should meet together and try to settle the matter themselves. With all respect, I think there is little or no help in that direction. What guarantee have the Irish representatives from all parts of Ireland that if they were to settle between themselves, the Government would accept the settlement? We know there was a practical settlement arrived at between the various sections in Ireland some time ago, and that the Government withheld its support to that agreement. It was also suggested by the Prime Minister that the Government would be prepared at this moment to grant self-government in Ireland to those portions of Ireland which desired it. That was a very important declaration. What does it exactly mean? What is the unit that is to determine the result? Can the Government be more explicit? Can it be the individual constituency? There must be a geographical area. What is in the mind of the Government? Then, again, it was favourably suggested, I think by my right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister (Mr. Asquith), that a Commission might be created with a view to finding a solution to this problem. I confess that, although I see difficulties, that is the most attractive and the most hopeful line of action. Presided over by a high authority, containing possibly representatives from our Colonies, possessing the confidence of both sections of the Irish people, I believe, at any rate, it would be worth an honest effort.
But the appointment of a Commission, as, indeed, every step in connection with Irish government, raises many difficulties. Would the Commission be purely 2099 a Commission to negotiate and try to bring about a settlement, or would it be a Commission with plenipotentiary powers, which would be allowed to settle the whole question? I see difficulties, but I see also that these difficulties could be settled without the final authority of this House. Would the Government pledge themselves to carry out any decision at which that Commisison arrived? All these points raise difficulties, but they are not insurmountable. My view is that in that direction the most hope of a settlement seems to centre. There are things that I think ought to be considered at the present time in any decision which any Member of the House, belonging to any-party, may arrive at, when he is coming to a decision. Liberal Members who supported the late Government ought especially, I think, to bear them in mind. We have to remember that the representatives of the Nationalist party from Ireland have supported the Government of the day practically for eleven years. They have supported it in expectation of their constitutional demand being granted, and, so far as they are concerned, they have committed no act, nor have they been guilty of any offence, which would justify a denial of their claims. Remember, too, that the country, by its constitutional expression, has expressed its approval of the Bill which is now upon the Statute Book.
Remember, also, the patriotic part played by the Nationalist party at the beginning of the War and since that time. Does the House really realise what the position would have been if my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Water-ford (Mr. J. Redmond) had taken a different line from that which he did take in regard to the War? Why, he could have dealt a deadly blow at the very heart of the Empire which would have made it impossible to wage the War with any degree of success. That, I think, should be remembered to-day. I say, therefore, that the time seems opportune. It seems peculiarly opportune to-day that we ought to consider a method of granting free institutions to Ireland. I do not believe my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House or any member of the Government requires to be forced to take action in this matter. I am perfectly certain that they are as anxious as we are that something should be done, but they require the 2100 encouragement of this House, the strength of this House, and we also desire to fortify them, in endeavouring to bring, about a solution. I ask the House to declare to-day that the highest Imperial interests, the continuance of national unity, and the triumph of our arms in the field alike demand that a renewed effort should be made to bring about and to establish lasting foundations of peace between this-country and Ireland.
§ Major J. W. HILLS
I rise to support the Amendment that has just been moved by my right hon. Friend. I am impressed, as he was impressed, with the great difficulties of this question, and I can assure the House that nobody would follow me into a thorny quarrel of this sort unless he felt that the urgency of the question was so great that every effort should be made to settle it at once; and the only-excuse that I have to give to the House to-day is that I feel that this is the most urgent question in our national politics, that it ought to be settled at once, and that time is running against us. The longer we delay the settlement the harder it becomes.
§ Major HILLS
I do not propose to go through all the reasons for a settlement. They have been dealt with by the Mover of this Amendment, and they are quite patent to the House. Our unfortunate difference with Ireland weakens us during the War, and will paralyse us after the War unless it is settled. Can we contemplate with any sort of equanimity the position that we shall be in when peace is declared and we have to come back and reconstruct our shattered world and find the Irish question still blocking the way? It has warped and diverted our domestic politics for the last ten years, and unless we settle it now we shall go under it again. My object in speaking to-day is to reinforce the suggestion that was made, first by the late Prime Minister and repeated to-day by the Mover of the Amendment, for the shifting of this question out of our party politics into the atmosphere of some independent body. The late Prime Minister suggested an Imperial Conference. I am not bound to any one form of conference. I can imagine several different sorts of tribunals to whom you might refer this question, but I do think that an Imperial Conference has got many 2101 advantages. In the first place, it stands outside our local politics. It is composed of distinguished Imperial statesmen, nearly all of whom are men who in their own countries have had experience of similar questions, and have found solutions of those questions. There are, of course, many other bodies, but the important thing for the House to realise is that the only way of solving this question is by the appointment of some such body. It is perfectly out of the question to ask the Leader of the Nationalist party to meet again in conference the First Lord of the Admiralty. After what happened last July neither of those Gentlemen will ever go into a conference again. That is absolutely clear.
Then, if it cannot be settled by private negotiation, can the question be settled by this House? This House has tried for a long time to settle it, and it has failed, and it has failed for the very obvious reason that, unfortunately, the Irish question has become a part of our domestic politics, and opinion has become committed on one side or the other, and we look at it too closely, and we are perhaps unable to take a broad view. I do not believe that inside the atmosphere of this House, or of domestic politics, we can settle this question, and so there remains some sort of impartial body, and, so far as my opinion has got any weight, I think an Imperial Conference is the best. It may be said, "Do you suggest that an Imperial Conference should come and dictate to us how we shall settle our domestic affairs?" I have seen that point raised in the Press, and the same point was dealt with by the Mover of the Amendment. I wish, first, to say, and to say quite distinctly, that any settlement, to be a lasting and proper settlement, must be acceptable to the leaders of any substantial body of opinion in Ireland. We cannot enforce a settlement by force; that has long ago gone by the board'; and therefore the Imperial Conference, or the conference that has got to consider this question, would not be a tribunal with autocratic powers. It would be a body that met and considered this question and reported in some way, I suppose, to this House, so that Parliament could take action on what it did report. It may be said, "All this is very much in the air. Here you have a heated question, and the only solution you have got is that some body should con- 2102 sider it and do something. What chance have you got of success?" I do not think anybody will deny the difficulty. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the chances of success are not great; but, small or great, we have to try them. It is the only road I can see. May I add this: in all compromises both sides have to give up something. They have to give up something that they hold dear, perhaps as dear as life. Compromises must involve always bitter sacrifices, and the only thing which justifies the sacrifice is that the object for which the compromise is made is something great. It costs just as much to carry though a patched-up arrangement which nobody likes and which time will soon destroy as it does to construct some great and lasting ideal which will appeal to men's sympathy and imagination. Therefore the more far-reaching the settlement, the more likely it is to be a lasting success.
There is one further thing that ought to-be said, and it should be said because it is a matter of plain fact. The Prime Minister, in his speech the other day, was challenged with the position of Poland and was asked how he could go to a Peace Conference and there defend the position of Ireland. He explained to the House that defence was easy. Nobody has a greater admiration for the intellectual ability and dialectical skill of the Prime Minister than I have, but I think here he has taken a part rather beyond his powers. It is a question of plain fact. He can explain to-the Conference no doubt that the Government in Ireland is a just and equitable Government. But Austria will say the same thing regarding Poland, and the question the right hon. Gentleman will have to answer is, What is the Irish view of your Government? Has your Government the assent of the governed? There cannot be any question on that point. Suppose we go a step further. Suppose that at the Peace Conference we are met by a united and free Poland. I think even, then the Prime Minister will admit that it is not a case for mere words, but that he will have to show something of the. same sort in the case of Ireland.
The reason for bringing this question-forward during the War is that it is essentially a war question. It weakens us all round, and the justification for submitting it to a body of Imperial statesmen is that it is an Imperial question and that the Empire suffers through it. I think we sometimes forget the exact relations of 2103 Ireland to ourselves in this way. We talk as though it was some boon which we are offering and for which Ireland ought to be duly thankful. War has changed a great many things, and old relations and old conditions are not what they were. I am not sure we ought not to regard this as an act of justice not merely to ourselves, but also to Ireland. After all, it will not be pleasant for us to have to go to a Peace -Conference with Ireland standing in the corner as a naughty child. It will want some explaining to the world, and I am not sure that the world will not listen to Ireland as much as to ourselves. Then there is the question of what is to occur after the War. We have to rebuild. But at present Ireland checks and hinders us. Why should she not come forward and help to rebuild the world as one of the best memorials and justification of our enormous sacrifice? She can do it. She has convictions and aspirations as deep-rooted as any we have. She has ideals as grand and as splendid as any for which men have died on the fields of Flanders and Picardy. I do appeal to the House to urge the Government to end this secular quarrel. It has lasted too long already. I believe if the question were lifted into an atmosphere of impartial consideration a fair solution would be found—a solution that would do injustice to no one, but will tend to the lasting prosperity of Ireland and of the Empire.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
Hon. Members of this House who know anything whatever of the views I hold on this question will be aware that my opinions are very strong on the subject and my feelings very deep. Therefore, perhaps, it is with special difficulty that I venture to take part in a Debate such as this this afternoon. I am determined, however, so far as I can help it, that nothing I shall say will make it more difficult to arrive at some such settlement as that which my right hon. Friend the Mover of the Amendment has suggested in the Motion he has proposed. But while I say that I think it is quite obvious that it is no use allowing a discussion of this sort to be carried on in this House, and possibly a vote taken, without some statement from those who feel strongly and who realise the difficulties that must be overcome if we are to approach a settlement, either by a Commission or by any other method. I myself am as strongly desirous as any man in this House that this question 2104 should be in some amicable way settled. At the same time, I cannot altogether endorse every word contained in this Resolution or which fell from my right hon. Friend. I think myself that it is an exaggeration to speak of the "supreme importance" of this matter from the Imperial standpoint. I agree that it is immensely important, but supposing that this matter were settled to-morrow, I do not agree with my right hon. Friend in thinking that that would give us one additional recruit from Ireland or enable us to take one soldier away from Ireland whom we have got there now. Therefore from the point of view of actual manpower in this War I do not believe that this question is of supreme importance at the present stage.
On the other hand, there is no question as to its moral importance or its importance before the world as regards the unity of our own nation. There, I agree, is a matter of immense importance. Both the Mover and Seconder laid down a condition which they accepted as a condition precedent to the end we all have in view, and I entirely agree with them. They said it would involve sacrifices not on one side only, but on the part of all who are concerned. I hope that that is realised and accepted in all parts of the House. I am particularly anxious to say nothing that can be considered in any way offensive to any of my fellow countrymen below the Gangway, but I cannot help saying—and hon. Members know that although I do not represent an Ulster constituency I share the Ulster view with such authority as may be derived from having a seat on the Ulster Council—it is generally agreed—and it was freely acknowledged by the Prime Minister the other day—that the standpoint of Ulster must be taken into account. I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite will agree with that.
I am sorry to have to say it—and I do so without wishing in any way to be personally offensive—but one of the strongest obstacles at the present time to a settlement of this question is the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). I note the hon. Gentleman smiles at that, but I know that the speech which the hon. Member made in this House immediately after the rebellion last year had a profound effect, not only in this House, but throughout the country, and very largely in Ulster. I am perfectly certain, though I have yet had no information upon the subject, that the 2105 speech he made two days ago will have a most disastrous effect in the same direction. I cannot imagine why the hon. Member, who is, I believe, as anxious as anybody else to settle this question, allowed himself to make such a speech. I cannot imagine why the hon. Gentleman, at such a juncture as this, when we are all supposed to be getting into an attitude of conciliation, should have brought on to the floor of this House this trumped-up, silly invention about a German agent having been reported in Ulster on the outbreak of the War, that he should have suggested what he cannot believe to be true and what is contrary to all the principles of Irish politics, with which the hon. Gentleman is perfectly familiar. I am sorry that he should have allowed himself to suggest that there have been any negotiations or any understandings between the conductors of Ulster policy at that time and agents of the Kaiser. The only effect that such a statement can possibly have is to stir up the fires of animosity in Ulster and in all parts of Ireland which disagree with the standpoint of the hon. Member. The only effect it can have is to make much more difficult the task which my hon. Friend opposite has taken upon himself.
The point which I want to lay before the House is in reference to the demand that all parties must make sacrifices. I want the House to understand that we who represent the point of view that I hold have said singularly little since the War began upon this controversial topic. We have had ample provocation. I believe the House will do us the justice of supporting me when I say that we have had opportunity after opportunity to restate our position before the House; but rather than engage in controversy we have let those opportunities go by. Therefore the belief is prevalent in the House from the Debates which have been held in recent times, and from statements such as were made by my hon. Friend beside me on a recent date—from such statements that have been made in this House by hon. Friends of mine—there is a sort of idea, in view of the settlement that we all desire, that Ulster is the obstacle. That is a view which I want the House to get out of their minds. Ulster is not the obstacle. If a settlement is to be arrived at upon this question, if persuasion is to be used, if entreaty is to be used, there on the benches below me is where the en- 2106 treaty and persuasion ought to be directed! I do not want to labour the question. Certainly I do not want at the present time to go into the merits of any point of the controversy on which we were engaged before the War began. I merely want to state the positions from the point of view of the suggested agreement.
The position from which hon. Members below the Gangway started in this great controversy was that they desired Home Rule for Ireland. The position from-which we started was that we objected to Home Rule for Ireland or any part of it. The controversy proceeded. We acknowledged defeat so far as our standpoint was concerned. We acknowledged, under all the circumstances—which I need not now discuss—that we were unable to maintain our full standpoint. When agreement was suggested, or negotiations were suggested last year, the point from which we started was that we objected to Home-Rule for Ireland. Our Friends below the Gangway said they were in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. We receded from: that position. It was suggested to us, as a means of compromise, that we should have what we had proposed, I think by Amendment when the Home Rule Bill was before Parliament, that the province of Ulster should be excluded. I do not want to go into the merits of this matter, or I could make a very strong case for treating the province of Ulser as a unit. I do not want to go into that. That was the suggestion pressed upon us, that the province-of Ulster should be excluded. That was-found impossible of acceptance by the Nationalist party. That was one point where we had shown our willingness to. make a concession. Our Friends below the Gangway had made none. Then we reached the second stage. It was not. possible to get the exclusion of Ulster, and so we said, "Well, much as we dislike it, we all recognise that if you take a perfectly arbitrary division of counties. that there are three of the counties where Nationalist opinion is largely predominant, and there are six counties where Unionist opinion is concentrated; therefore we will give up our claim for the province of Ulster in order to arrive at a settlement. We will do that if you exclude the six counties." We made that second step by way of concession. That proposal was also rejected by the Nationalist party.
2107 Where are we to-day? We are to-day in the position in which the Ulster party have taken first one step and then another step, steps which they considered very much in the direction of concessions, and our Friends below the Gangway are exactly where they started from. They have made no concession whatever. Consequently, I do think I am justified in saying to my right hon. Friend opposite the Member for Durham City, who has a sincere belief that a compromise should be arrived at, that it is not upon my friends in Ulster that that consideration should be pressed. Let me say this more in that connection: If every time negotiations are suggested the point on which Ulster last gave way is to be taken as a starting point for further negotiations, and we are to be told that we are taking an obstinate? standpoint, an obdurate, and non possumus attitude because we are not prepared to take a further step, that attitude can only result in an absolute reluctance on the part of any representatives from Ulster to go into any Conference Chamber at all. I only say that as a short restatement of the position as it appears to me at the present moment. I hope I have said nothing that will cause feeling amongst? our Friends below the Gangway. I certainly repeat that I am anxious to arrive at a settlement.
Let me say one word upon the proposal of my right hon. Friend as to the method of arriving at that settlement. He suggests taking up, I think, the suggestion of the ex-Prime Minister the other day, that there should be a Commission appointed to consist largely of—I do not know to what extent—statesmen from our Overseas Dominions. First, let me say in regard to that, that very recent experience in this House has not tended to increase the prestige or authority of Commissions. We were dealing only the other day with a Report of a Commission presided over by one of our greatest pro-Consuls—to use a common phrase—that Ireland has produced and a man of vast administrative experience. In that Report there was a finding as to our methods of government in this country. The ex-Prime Minister, standing at that box, brushed it aside and said it was a mere obiter dictum which carried no weight. That is not the sort of procedure which is likely to enhance either the dignity or respect of Commissions of this sort. Let me say to my hon. Friend the 2108 Member for Durham this: He spoke very eagerly about a Commission of this kind. I would like to ask him whether he has consulted the statesmen whom he proposes to enlist for this service? Unless he has, I feel very strongly of opinion, in fact I feel convinced, that these statesmen from the Dominions so soon as they are approached will say that nothing is further from their intention than to deal with the subject. I do not think they would touch it with a barge pole. Why should they? Unfortunately, our Irish differences are not confined to Ireland. They extend to the Dominions. It is quite true that my hon. Friends from Ulster, largely perhaps of their own will, of past years have not cultivated opinion in agreement with themselves in the Dominions. It may be, owing to that, they have never brought before the people of this country, a fact, which is nevertheless a fact, that a very large body of opinion in the Dominions is not in favour of Home Rule, but in favour of the Union. I do not know exactly what are the numbers. I note my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast is smiling at my remarks. He is well aware that there are thousands of Orangemen in Canada and many thousands in Australia. I do not think that it is at all—
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I should like to point out this to the hon. Gentleman. It is not the number of Orangemen or the number of Nationalists that are in Australia or Canada that count; it is the freely declared declaration of the Constituent assemblies in all those countries with practical unanimity.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I think my hon. Friend rather misses my point. I will deal with what he says in a moment. What I was pointing out was that these different elements of opinion are to be found in the Dominions, and they already have a bearing upon their own domestic politics. For that reason I do not believe that the Prime Ministers of these Dominions with these political elements in their own constituencies are likely to come and set their hands to an instrument in this country which, whatever it does, will offend some opinion in their own country. I quite agree with the hon. Member for West Belfast in what he points out. I do not deny for a moment that some of the legislative bodies in the Dominions have expressed themselves in favour of Home Rule. That, in itself, I think, is the very strongest possible objection to the pro- 2109 posal of my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member for West Belfast has himself shown that these Dominion statesmen cannot approach this question with an impartial mind. They have behind them Resolutions passed by the Senates or legislative bodies in their own countries, because of the different elements of Irish opinion there, the majority of which, I have never denied, represent the opinions of the hon. Member for West Belfast, and not mine. But that is no reason, when these statesmen come to this country with the weight dragging down one side of the balance of their own Legislatures at home, why we should consider them an acceptable tribunal for considering a question of our own domestic politics, on which, as I say, they are necessarily biassed, and which none of us in this country admit for a moment can be decided by reference? either to experience or analogies with which those statesmen are familiar. Therefore, so far as my own opinion is concerned, while I am anxious for a settlement, while I do not object in the least to the setting up, if it can be of any help, of some more or less illustrious tribunal, if it attracts to itself any authority, at the same time I do not think you are going to carry the thing any further by that means for the reasons I have given. I think the difficulties are not by any means overcome, and I am not at all sanguine that the particular method suggested by the two speakers who introduced this Resolution offers any great hopes of its solution.
§ Colonel Sir HAMAR GREENWOOD
I am sure the whole House will welcome the speech of the hon. Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. McNeill), and especially the tone of it. I always listen to him with the greatest regard and appreciation of his ability to express his well-known and strong views, and we all know there is no more doughty and chivalrous speaker than the hon. Member. That speech, following the speech of my two hon. Friends behind me, brings a tone and an atmosphere to the discussion of this Irish question which I, at any rate, have never before witnessed in this House, and I do urge the Front Benches to keep out of this Debate as long as possible. One of the catastrophes in discussing this or any other question is that, as soon as a Front Bench leader gets up, he whips into line the willing party followers of his particular view, and independence on the Back Benches has disappeared for that day. I 2110 do not include in the Front Benches the. independent and mixed Front Bench opposite, which, I am sure, represents the best opinion not in the Government for the time being. I repeat, the speech of the hon. Member for St. Augustine's is the most hopeful speech I have heard in reference to this Irish controversy, and I for one will say nothing, strong Home Ruler though I am, to offend him or those who, like him, feel so deeply—and rightly feel deeply—on this question of Irish Home Rule. May I say that he is wrong in his diagnosis of the feelings of the Dominions? The predominant feeling in the Dominions, not only amongst Irishmen, but among all overseas men and women is in favour of Home Rule, because they have experienced it in various forms, always with success to themselves, and always with a growing and warmer attachment to this Mother Country and the Imperial ideal The reason why the Irish element—I mean the Roman Catholic element—is so strong in the Dominions, and gives such vigorous, consistent support to the party led by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, is that the emigration from Ireland to the Dominions, commencing in the middle of last century, was largely from the south and west of Ireland. The emigration from Ulster has always been very small, and therefore you have the overwhelming proportion of Irish in the United States and in our Dominions Roman Catholic Irishmen. So far as the Orangemen in Canada-are concerned, I know them well, and I know their leaders. But an Orangeman of Canada is not, because he is an Orangeman, opposed to Home Rule for Ireland. I take issue with the hon. Gentleman there, and I know Orangemen in Canada very well. The Orangeman in Canada is an opponent of the Roman Catholic Church, but he is not an opponent of Home Rule, and the overseas man makes a clear distinction between opposing the Roman Catholic Church and opposing self-government.
Let me go on with the Colonial analogy, and I hope the House will listen to me on this, because I must confess to the House —I hope without any loss of what little reputation I may have—that I am the great-grandson of a rebel in Canada, a fine old citizen, who took twelve sons with him into the rebellion for Home Rule. He took nearly his whole family. They were fine men in those days, and I hope their descendants are not wanting in the fibre that goes to make a race. Do not let me 2111 speak of the whole-hearted, loyal rebellion in Canada as one to be compared with the shabbiest and meanest rebellion that took place in Ireland last year. [An HON. MEMBER; "Shame!"] I say the shabbiest and meanest outbreak that ever took place. The rebellion in Canada was a comparatively small affair. The result was the grant of self-government. I admit there is a great difference between the grant of government to the Colonies of Canada and a grant—as I hope it will be —of government to Ireland. In all cases in the Colonies this House only made its grant of self-government after the Colonials themselves arranged their differences between races and creeds, prepared a draft scheme, came over to this country, and asked the Government of the day to revise, consider, and confirm their scheme, and put it through this House and the House of Lords. And, believe me, if you look up the Debates of the days when there were grants of Home Rule to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand you will find that this Imperial House of Commons rarely debated those great constitutions which were the foundation of this Imperial fabric. There is nothing more annoying to an overseas man than to suggest that the House of Commons of England gave him Home Rule. He submitted his Home Rule scheme to this House. It was more a matter of machinery than a matter of grant, and the first great difference between those grants of Colonial self-government and the suggested grant to Ireland is this: all Colonials agreed in asking for it, but you cannot get the two great parties of Ireland to sit down and agree to a scheme. That is the fundamental misfortune in this question. I wish it could be done. If it could be done I am certain the House of Commons, this country, and the whole Empire would acclaim that achievement, that mutual regard, respect, and confidence, as one of the greatest things in the history of our Empire.
Let me say another thing about the Colonial analogy, and it is this: The Colonies—as they were before they got their grants of government, and I wish hon. Members who have not travelled or read much would remember they are not now Colonies, but Dominions; partners, not subordinates, in this Imperial fabric—these Colonies, when they got their Home Rule, were happy in this, that they did not arouse any party or 2112 partisan feeling in the Mother Country. The Irish question is distinctly different from that. The Irish question has two-great vanguards in Ireland. There is the. Ulster vanguard, with an enormous support in the Mother Country, with a limited support in the Dominions, and with no support in the great English-speaking Republic of the United States. The Irish Nationalist party has a great vanguard in Ireland, with a support in the Mother Country not always as warm as they have a right to expect, but still a support in this country, with a vigorous support in the Dominions, and with an overwhelming support running to some 10,000,000 of people in the United States. Therefore, the Colonial analogy falls down when you compare the development of self-government in the Dominions with the proposed grant of self-government to Ireland. It makes the Irish question more difficult. You have not got to settle the Irish question quâ Irish. You have got to settle-the great differences between the whole parties of this Mother Country, that are the most firmly fixed parties in certain fundamental principles, I suppose, of any parties in the world. That is the second ground on which the Irish question differs; from all our Colonies.
I regret that we have not here in the Debate to-day the hon. and gallant Member for East Clare (Major W. Redmond), the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Captain S. Gwynn), and other hon. and gallant Members who belong to* the Nationalist party. To that party belongs the credit, by the way, of having sent to the trenches from this House the oldest soldier, the hon. and gallant Member for East Clare, and the youngest soldier, the hon. and gallant Member known outside the House as Captain Esmonde, who represents a constituency in Tipperary. He is, I hope, killing Germans, and he has not had an opportunity to make his maiden speech in this House, to which he was quite recently elected. The absence of those hon. and gallant Gentlemen is a great drawback when we are discussing this thorny question of Ireland, because they can speak with authority, and with a patriotic record of service for this Empire, as well as for Ireland, which commands respect, and makes dumb any old opponent who in days gone by differed from them. While-on that point, I think it is deplorable that in these days of national service, when 2113 every man should be doing that which he can do best, hon. and gallant Members of this House in khaki or in blue should be where they are not indispensable, and where they can be replaced, when they ought to be in this House, where their opinion is necessary to hammer out this difficult Irish question, and to meet the economic machinations of our enemy which can only be met from the floor of the House of Commons. I hope I may be excused for my little excursion into this most important and relevant issue of the Irish question. I for one would not like to see the Irish question settled with a considerable number of the really virile Members of the House away doing their duty, and not, to my mind, as important a duty as in another sphere. We are discussing this question because it is a war problem. I remember the Debate of September, 1914, when the Home Rule question was postponed with common accord until after the War. It has been raised for weeks and months past, and it is raised again to-day, and it will continue to be raised until it is settled, because it is a war problem. Being a war problem, the longer it remains unsettled the more difficult it will be to settle, and the more detrimental it will be in so far as it vitally affects the vigorous prosecution of the War.
Let me say to the House, as one who had the honour to serve in the early days of the War in the Department of Recruiting, that I have the utmost sympathy with the Nationalist party in regard to the bad management of recruiting in Nationalist Ireland. I well remember when the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond), the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), and the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Devlin) came to the War Office and offered their services, and they were very coldly received. I can remember when the first seditious appeal on a sheet of notepaper was issued by the Sinn Feiners urging people not to go to the recruiting meetings. I remember how those pamphlets grew week by week, and how recruiting meetings were broken up. I never blame generals or admirals in these matters, but the Governments who appoint them and fail to remove them, I have always held that one of the causes of the growth of Sinn Feinism was the neglect of the Government of 1914–15 to scotch that weed as soon as it started to grow. But it was not done, and, in spite 2114 of the patriotic efforts of the Nationalist party, recruiting in Ireland grew worse and worse, and now, instead of two, you have three parties in Ireland—the Ulster party, the Nationalist party, and the Sinn Fein party, and the latter is growing stronger every day because of our neglect to settle this pressing question, the fundamental cause of which was our neglect to back up the Nationalist party in their patriotic offer to take the lead in recruiting in 1914. In August, 1914, the Government of that day—I say this to show how lamentably weak were all Governments in this Mother Country in their Imperial perspective—never officially counted upon getting recruits out of Nationalist Ireland or recruits from our overseas Dominions. I know that is a fact.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
The War Office is a Department of the Government and an administrative Department, and its Regulations are passed by this House.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
I am not blaming anybody in regard to this matter, and I am simply pointing out that these men from Ireland, so often spoken of in abusive terms, rallied to a man to the support of this country and the Empire when the War broke out, and they were chilled in their warm enthusiasm and discouraged in their patriotic endeavours to serve the country. The Government of the day did not intervene to protect them, and the growth of Sinn Feinism and the remaining of 200,000 eligible recruits in Ireland who should now be in the Army is the disastrous result of a want of foresight and the need of an energetic policy. As a man from the overseas I feel this very much, and in all I have done in this House I have tried to bring the outer Empire to the notice of the Mother Country, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy said we must envisage the actual situation. I have always held that your Dominions would rise to a man if England was attacked, but one was not listened to in those days. When the War started the Government and the Army Council did not seem to believe that a single overseas kinsman would rally to the old Flag. The statement I make is based upon knowledge and information which is quite as good as that possessed by anyone who disagrees with me, but I do not 2115 want to elaborate that point or to put it to the proof, because the truth is somewhat slow in reaching some hon. Members.
Let me say that a month after the War started the Government timidly asked for 10,000 men from Canada, but Canada sent men so quickly that we could not build the huts to house them, and many Canadian soldiers hired their own special trains in order to get to the sea coast, and actually paid their own fares to get across to this country. I hope to have another opportunity to prove my statement from official figures if any one doubts what I said. It comes to this: We have it suggested that the Imperial Conference should be asked to decide this question. I agree with what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for the St. Augustine's Division (Mr. R. McNeill), that to ask the Dominion Prime Ministers to settle the Irish question is simply to ask them to carry into effect in the Mother Country what they are all pledged to in the Dominions, namely, Home Rule. But would that be an impartial tribunal? Would it be fair to jeopardise the political existence of those Dominions to ask them to settle a problem which this Imperial House finds itself unable to settle? I think that would be an acknowledgment of political incapacity and political bankruptcy which I thought would never come to the Mother of Parliaments.
May I make a practical suggestion? We have Home Rule for Ireland on the Statute Book. I think you might summon your Dominion visitors together, reinforced by distinguished men from the Dominions, who need not be politicians, and there are many of them—reinforce them, if you like, by representatives from Ulster and from Ireland, and take the Home Rule Act as a basis of settlement, and change it according to the course of events and the lapse of time where changes may be necessary to meet the views of the contending parties. Your Dominion Prime Ministers can sit in council and make suggestions from their practical experience as to how best to make that Act satisfactory to the contending parties in Ireland, but they should not be asked to shoulder this difficulty, which is certainly the right of the House of Commons, and the right of no other body, to ultimately settle. I look at this question entirely from the point of view of 2116 the War, and of course that means the point of view of man-power. For some time after the War broke out it was not necessary to keep any considerable body of troops in Ireland because the people were universally loyal and supported the War. Now however, we have a very large body of trained and well-equipped Infantry kept in Ireland and in this country waiting for events in Ireland. One dare not go into the figures, but we do know that this body of trained Infantry is sorely needed on many fronts, and we know it is very large, so large that it might very well be the deciding factor in a great battle, even in this colossal, modern war. To leave this Irish question, unsettled means to immobilise tens of thousands of our best Infantry, the most-needed arm of all, because we cannot settle the Irish problem, and this is a most unreasonable attitude—one might almost say a contemptible attitude on the part of the House of Commons to-day. These men are necessary on the various fronts, and, at any rate, we must make an effort to-settle this question. The matter is urgent. I think the time is opportune.
We have a Government containing some of our most conspicuous members, and let me say, especially in reference to the Leader of the House, we have in the Government one of the most deservedly popular members in the House of Commons, and he is one of the stalwart champions of the rights of Ulster. That being so, I certainly join with those who-have made an appeal to the Government to try and settle this question. They have two courses before them. One is to do nothing—to drift and aggravate every difficulty in Ireland, and thus encourage the Sinn Fein movement, which is an -unconstitutional and a disloyal movement, and thus to weaken the constitutional party in Ireland That is one course. That policy will keep tens of thousands of your best troops here and in Ireland. The other course is one which has been well tried, and has always been successful, and that is self-government in some form or another. By this method you may not be able to send your troops away at once, but, at any rate, any action is better than drift, and at the moment we are drifting into a state of things in Ireland that those who know hesitate to talk about. I urge the Government to have courage, and act in the spirit suggested by the hon. and learned Member for the St. Augustine's Division. I urge them to 2117 do something to solve this difficulty, which is an outstanding reproach to this country, which immobilises tens of thousands of our men, which makes matters difficult in our overseas Empire from the point of view of recruiting and which now affects the vigorous prosecution of the War.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
I have been very much interested in the references which have been made to the settlement of this Irish question by the appointment of a Commission. If we look at the language of the Amendment, we find the emphatic statement
"that it is in the opinion of this House imperative that the Government should take such steps as may be necessary to achieve this end."
"It is imperative that the Government" should do this, but after looking at the Amendment, what occurs to me is: What steps can the Government possibly take? The Government have tried in the past, and they have been unsuccessful. What further steps can they take now? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) has pointed out what the actual situation is, and we must face it. We find four different parties in Ireland at the present time. I am approaching the subject sympathetically. We find that three of those parties are supposed to be in favour of Home Rule, although they may differ as to the particular form of Home Rule. The fourth party says, "We are perfectly content with the situation as it is." I agree with the last speaker, and I have frequently said that it is an indispensable prerequisite to any substantial settlement of the Irish question that the parties concerned should come to some sort of agreement between themselves. An agreement between the parties concerned, if possible., is from every point of view essential, and. if it is not possible for them to come to an agreement, then by what authority can this House say, "We are going to impose terms upon you," terms that may have the effect of making the last state worse than the first? It is sometimes said, "Why cannot we do this? Our great Dominions have done it. Why cannot a Commission composed of the Dominion representatives settle this question?" Both these propositions are wide of the actual state of facts. What the great Dominions did was, in the first in- 2118 stance, to come to an agreement between themselves as to what they wanted. They did that in Canada, they did it in Australia, and they did it in South Africa. They had difficulties of the most formidable character to overcome. They had two races in Canada. They had two races, in South Africa. Notwithstanding the differences that prevailed amongst them, they managed to come to a settlement and, after having come to a settlement between themselves, they came to this House and asked Parliament to place the imprimatur of authority upon what they had done. I am sure everybody recognises, if the Irish parties by any possibility could come to an agreement, that it would be an immense relief to this House to give its legislative sanction to that agreement.
The main difficulty in the Irish question now is to bring about an agreement. It seems to me that it is impossible for the Government to devise any scheme by which that agreement can be effected. Of course, in the face of the terrible danger with which we are confronted in this War, and in view of the supreme patriotism that has been shown by representatives of the Nationalist party and the Ulster party, and for that matter by all parties in Ireland, in the field of battle—in view of their comradeship in arms, and in view of the common interests that have been involved by the immense struggle in which all these parties have engaged—it does seem to me that there must be beaten out upon the anvil of patriotism some result by which an agreement can be come to between themselves. That arrived at, everything else would be perfectly simple. I do not wish to say a single word that would prevent the parties from arriving at a settlement upon the lines that I have indicated. I do see signs that there are possibilities of arriving at a settlement. The speech that the hon. Member for Clare (Major W. Redmond) made in this House a few evenings ago has gone through the land and met with a most hearty response. There is another thing-I wish to say, and I say it with the greatest pleasure. Though on past occasions I have been in opposition, as a rule, to his opinions, yet the attitude that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) has taken up in this House and in the country is one that should predispose everyone who desires to see a settlement to meet him as far as they 2119 possibly can. We must remember that the hon. and learned Member in the advocacy which he has given to our cause in this War—he might have avoided it, but I think it was entirely the proper line to follow;—took a course which was calculated to prejudice him in the opinion of certain of his opponents in Ireland, and we should take into account the fact that his position as a constitutional leader has been prejudiced by reason of the patriotic course which he has taken. The Sinn Feiners condemn him as heartily as they do British government in Ireland, and he and his party to-day are suffering in Ireland in consequence.
It is sometimes said that it is the fault of this Parliament and of the British Government that we have not come to an agreement on this subject. It is said that British statesmanship is bankrupt so far as arriving at a solution is concerned. How can the British Government, or any other Government, settle the question when the parties concerned are not willing to have a settlement? How can they force it through? It is not the bankruptcy of British statemanship: it is the impossibility of doing the impossible. Let there be concessions on both sides. Let there be forgiveness, more or less, on both sides. Let them feel that there is something to forgive and something to forget. After all, Irishmen are men of judgment and men of heart, and surely, where the question of patriotism arises and where it is in the supreme interest of their country and of their Empire, they can give way. If they can only lead the way—I think that is the true way—they will not lack the sanction of this House or the sanction of the people of this country in carrying out the objects that they have in view. Of course, I do not overlook the difficulties that exist in the position. They are very grave indeed; they are as grave as they possibly could be, but surely a difficulty, as Napoleon said, is a thing to be overcome, and I believe if sensible men, like the hon. and learned Member for Waterford and the First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir E. Carson), got together and got some of their trusted counsellors together, they would find the way. I remember an occasion when the First Lord of the Admiralty said, "What I would wish is that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford and myself should shake hands on the floor of this House." There is nothing that could possibly happen that would be more wel- 2120 come, and I believe that the handshaking of these men, holding different opinions, yet guided by patriotism, would result in a settlement of this great controversy.
How are disputes in civil life settled? They are settled either by judicial compulsion or by arbitration. Before you can have arbitration you must have a reference, and with a reference you must have the consent of the parties to the arbitration. If the three or four Irish parties would name the Dominion Ministers with a number of other men of character and position, and if they would give them their power of attorney and say, "Gentlemen, get to work, and whatever settlement you work out we will accept," we could understand a committal to deal with the matter in such a way. But I am afraid there is very little hope of any result from appointing a number of Ministers from the Dominions, no matter with what association, and saying to them, "You go to work and see if you can work out a solution of this problem, which this House is not able to solve." There is no doubt in the world, no matter how disinterested the Prime Ministers from the Dominions might be in approaching this problem, that they would be influenced by the fact that a great number of people in their respective countries are very much interested in the question, and that they would run the risk of offending one party or the other. I doubt if they would undertake the operation. If they did, no matter how successfully they carried out the scheme, they would be blamed in their own country. After all, we should not be bound by it, and no party in Ireland would be bound by it. If there is no other possible solution to the question, of course we shall have to wait and see, but that is a policy which we do not wish to pursue. If the Irish parties themselves say, "We authorise you to go forward and devise a scheme, and we will accept it," or if Parliament says to them, "We authorise you to go forward and prepare a scheme," then there may be some hope of a solution.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Colonel Sir H. Greenwood) upon every point he developed, but upon many of them I do agree. I cannot agree that there was any doubt whatever that the Mother Country would receive aid from the Dominions at the commencement of the War. Why, past experience had shown the utmost readiness of the Dominions to aid. I believe in the South African War New 2121 Zealand sent no less than eight different contingents; Australia sent several; and to the knowledge of myself and others—indeed, it was common knowledge—at least three different contingents were sent from Canada. This War was scarcely announced, when troops commenced to accumulate from one end of Canada to the other, so that the Minister of Militia, within thirty days after the declaration of the War, was able to dispatch 35,000 men to this country.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
I did not say that the Dominions would not rally to the Orown to the last man. I said that the Government of the day which sat on those benches on August, 1914, did not count upon them coming forward.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
I must traverse that statement. The Government of the day, from the experience of the Dominions in the past, would naturally have expected them to do all that they could. There is no necessity, however, for us to differ about a small point of that kind. Let us concentrate our attention upon what they did, upon the fact that they made these splendid contributions to the War and made them willingly and on their own account. With India, the Dominions have sent, I think, in the neighbourhood of one million men into active service in this War. That is the finest feat that has ever been performed in connection with our war service. We must not get away from the main question. Is the Government able to take any steps at this time to bring about an Irish settlement1? That is a question for the Government. They may be able to devise a scheme—I hope that they will devise a scheme—but unless there is agreement on the part of the Irish parties I have not very much hope for any scheme that may be devised. If it is a scheme which means compulsion either for Ulster or for the Nationalists or for any other section, then it is bound to fail. The foundation of any successful scheme must be a compact between the parties, and, I believe, in view of the patriotism that has been shown by the men in the zone of battle, that those in the zone of peace will be able to devise or make some suggestion by which a peaceful solution of this question may be arrived at.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
If I intervene for a few minutes, it is only because I feel that 2122 any error in this matter will do immensely more harm than can be balanced by any good that is done by appeals to unity. The atmosphere of this House is, indeed, singularly favourable to a full and friendly discussion even of the most heated questions. We all share in the admiration that has been expressed for the gallantry of hon. Members on the Nationalist Benches who have gone to the War, and especially that of the hon. Member for East Clare (Major W. Redmond), whose speech was justly admired when he delivered it the other night. We all esteem and are able in these calmer days to express the esteem that we feel for the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond). I am sorry he is not able to be here and I earnestly hope he is not kept from being here by illness. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is!"] It is a matter of the most serious concern to us all that his health should be completely restored and that we should again have the satisfaction of hearing his eloquent voice in the Debates in this House. His powers as an orator are an honour and adornment not to his own party alone, but to the whole House of Commons. Therefore the atmosphere is, from that point of view, a favourable one. What I am anxious to say is that I do not think the Irish question is one that can ever be solved merely by getting people into a conciliatory humour. It is quite true that it there is not a conciliatory humour it is not much use introducing any proposal, but I do not believe you can solve the Irish question merely by getting distinguished Irishmen or distinguished Englishmen to agree upon a solution. I believe that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Durham (Major Hills) and many other people have got into the habit of looking at the Irish question as though it were essentially an extinct controversy, and that it is only necessary to get rid of the remains of the prejudices, the ashes of the fires that have gone out, in order to settle the question altogether and produce a new state of feeling in Ireland. That way of looking at it and approaching it is profoundly mistaken. You will never arrive at a solution in that way.
The Irish question is a real problem to be solved. It is not merely an old story, with regard to which only prejudices of the past remain. You cannot say you have nothing to do but to get the First Lord of the Admiralty and the hon. and learned Member for Waterford in a room together 2123 in a good humour and the thing is done. It is not a thing to be solved by diplomacy at all. It can only be solved by statesmanship. It is no bargain to be driven in a friendly spirit; it is a machine which has to be made to do the work it is intended to do. If you intend to construct a flying machine, you may get the workmen sufficiently friendly in order to work together as a preliminary, but the essential question is whether the machine will fly or not. The essential feature in Irish government is to set up a Government which would govern the island to the satisfaction of its own inhabitnats and of the inhabitants of the rest of the United Kingdom and of the British Empire. What are the two main things that stand in the way of a solution of the Irish question? First, there is the antagonism between the Protestants of the North and the Roman Catholics of the West of Ireland. That does not rest merely on antiquated prejudices. It is a matter of conviction. Conviction interpenetrates the mental attitude of the whole of the persons concerned. It could not be removed by either the First Lord of the Admiralty or by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford or by both of them together. It goes down to the very heart of human nature. No one would suspect me of any "no Popery" prejudices, but I am bound to say that I do not believe there is any great city in England or Scotland which would not share the reluctance of certain parts of Ireland to be handed over to a Roman Catholic, majority. It may be a wise or foolish thing. It is not necessary to inquire into that, but it is a feeling of the utmost depth and strength and it cannot be removed by diplomatic negotiations conducted by these politicians. That is the first thing—the antagonism between the Roman Catholics of the South and the Protestants of the North, and then of the conglomeration of feelings that have grown up in the process of centuries out of that original disagreement.
Secondly, there is the most difficult question of the claim of Ireland to be a nation. I am not going to argue the merits of it. My own opinion and that of Unionists generally is that in the strictly political sense of the word Ireland is not a nation. What I am rather anxious to point out is that whatever assumption you make you will have great difficulties. What is the solution of Home Rule? It is founded on admitting the claim of Irish 2124 nationality, and it is only because you admit the claim of nationality that it is appropriate to speak, as Home Rulers always do speak, of giving Ireland self-government or free institutions, because, apart from the question of nationality, Ireland has self-government and free institutions in the membership of Irish Members in this House. I cannot help feeling a little surprised at my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Durham and other Unionists who, in their zeal of conversion, use habitually the language and the argument of Home Rulers, without the smallest explanation of the sense in which they use them, and, apparently, without being aware that, whatever might have been the effect of the War, it might have an effect on the inherent truth of the words "self-government." It is very regrettable and most unconciliatory that persons who change their opinion should hasten to use all the phrases most offensive to the feelings of those who hold the opinions that these new proselytes have now abandoned. They say that the problem of Irish government is to be solved by Home Rule, which admits and presupposes the existence of nationality. Having assumed the existence of nationality in Ireland, the Home Rule Act only offers what may be called provincial institutions. I believe that that inconsistency is the true cause of the Sinn Fein progress during the last two years. I cannot take seriously the argument of my hon. and gallant Friend beside me (Colonel Sir H. Greenwood), and of many other speakers, that the Sinn Fein movement was begotten of the tactlessness of the War Office. I do not pretend to be the judge of the sentiment of the Irish population, but I cannot suppose that they are so silly as to be driven into the Sinn Fein movement merely because the War Office were tactless about recruiting.
§ Lord H. CECIL
There was an Ulster rebellion and it has not succeeded. The hon. Member says it was because of the success of the Ulster movement. If it-were, it would have been better if the Sinn Feiners had shown the wisdom of the Ulster movement in abandoning all such movements during the period of the War. The logic of the Irish nationality argument appears to be this: You say, "You are a nation; we give you institutions because you are a nation." But if it turns out that their institutions are 2125 inappropriate to nationality, and perhaps inappropriate to some system of federation, then if you are going to treat Ireland as a nation you will be driven to separation, because it is only in independence that nationality is fully realised. Hon. Members talk loosely about Poland—there is no country which is less an analogy to Ireland—and about what will happen at the Peace Conference. I do not suppose that the question before the Peace Conference will be any question of Homo Rule for Poland. I do not suppose that the Peace Conference will trouble its head about Home Rule for any portion of the world. It will say whether this or that country is to be taken away from the country to which it now belongs and be given to some other country. I do not suppose that this country will dictate to Russia what form of Home Rule is to be given to Poland, and am quite sure that Russia will not dictate to us what form of Home Rule should be-given to Ireland.
The difficulty lies in the nature of nationality. That can never be solved unless Home Rulers in England and Ireland arc prepared to argue it both ways. If we call Ireland a nation, and by that we mean only a nation in a limited sense and not a full sense, we fully recognise that there is a larger nationality to which the Irish belong, and which extends to the whole of the British Empire. Unless they are going to offend their own extremists on that line you are never going to make progress towards a settlement of the question. I am quite convinced that the Sinn Feiners will go on succeeding so long as they have logic on their side, and until they are firmly convinced that Ireland is not in their sense of the word a nation at all you will not solve any of the difficulties that arise. It is rot a matter of policy at all. You have to make up your mind as to whether Ireland is a part of one nation with England or not, or a part that is to be federally related and is to have a position, say, like South Carolina, the independence of which you are prepared to deny, but to which you will give a certain measure of autonomy. You must get the great majority of the Irish people to accept your decision, otherwise it is no good offering it as a solution. You must get Irishmen to think clearly about the question of nationality as well as to come to an agreement. That is not a matter which the distinguished Colonial statesmen will 2126 be able to solve by a few fine words. Nothing could be vainer than to hope to heal a controversy of this long standing by such methods as that.
I am told that this is a war problem. Of course, there is a certain sense in which that is true. It is very desirable, if you can, to produce an entire change of feeling in Ireland. I can understand a person saying that Home Rule is the eventual solution of the Irish question, that, if set up, in the process of years it will work towards a friendly feeling, that gradually old animosities will die away, and that ten or twenty years hence you will find the Irish question will be solved. That is not my opinion. To suppose that by here and now setting up a Parliament in Dublin it will act as a sort of charm and change all the controversies in Ireland, surely is the strangest delusion. If you set up a Parliament for the whole of Ireland or for six counties it will be filled in a large measure by Sinn Feiners. It is obvious that a certain number of them will be elected. Will they assist the British Government to carry on the War? Would you be aiding military operations'? Would you be able to draw soldiers from Ireland? Would your position be one of greater security? Would you be spared from rebellion in such circumstances? Surely not. You would have a centre of irritation because the setting up of the Parliament J have described could scarcely fail to act as an increased irritant, and you would have a violent fight between the Sinn Feiners and the two sections of Home Rulers. Would any of that make for the efficiency of the United Kingdom or the British Empire during the. War? I do not think that you will gain anything by handling the Irish question during the War. I do not believe you would have so good a chance of success in attempting a settlement during the War as you would have in time of peace. My hon. Friend said he did not like the idea of going back after the War to the old Irish question. That is the mere exhaustion of a war-wearied politician. It is not common sense at all. It is no more difficult to deal with the Irish question after the War than it was before the War, and no easier. But, at any rate, in time of peace you have to look at it in the frame of mind of peace. We are often told everything is changed by the War. Although that is a gross exaggeration in the main, there is a sense in which it is true. Every- 2127 one looks on things in a different light. When we go back to peace the continuity of our life, as far as there is any continuity, will be resumed. What we are passing through now will seem a dream, precisely like the ideas one has in a sleepless night, distorted, overstrained and exaggerated in every direction, and we shall go back to what, in my view, are the much more rational views which prevailed in time of peace. It is to that atmosphere of rationality that I would adjourn the Irish question. I would give the fullest respect to everything that falls from the Nationalist politicians themselves. I do not in the least wish to approach the solution of it in a spirit of distrust of their judgment, and I quite agree that the whole Empire owes the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Redmond) a deep debt of gratitude for his attitude during the War. All that you can say about removing the animosities of the past is most true, but, having granted all that, let us adjourn the discussion to a time of peace, taking with us only this legacy from the War—that we shall know and like one another better, and therefore have the advantage of a friendly feeling in renewing the discussion amidst a peaceful atmosphere.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
With one proposition suggested by the Noble Lord I think we shall all find ourselves in full agreement—that this problem is now, as it has been hitherto, surrounded by the most formidable difficulties, and that good will alone is not enough to solve it. You need not only atmosphere, but you need skilful statesmanship. But if that is true, it is also true that statesmanship is not enough to solve it without atmosphere, and the hopeful feature of this Debate is that until the Noble Lord himself addressed the House every speaker expressed an earnest desire that the settlement of this old controversy should be reached now, and, indeed, I feel certain that hon. Members who have spoken represent the heartfelt wish of the British people as a whole. If you wish to measure the Imperial importance of securing the settlement of the Irish question, let us for a moment, by an exercise of the imagination, and taking the most sanguine view of the conditions and prospects, suppose that in a few weeks it was possible to announce to the world that an agreement had been reached on this topic, and that, smoothly and without controversy, proposals were passing 2128 through Parliament for a settlement of the Irish question with the general assent of all parties. Can anyone doubt but that throughout the British nation, in every corner of our vast Empire, and among every circle of well-wishers of Britain in the neutral countries of the world, there would be a sigh of intense relief, and that only in one part of the globe would such an announcement be received with regret and dismay, and that would be among the councils of our enemies. The Noble Lord made great play with the word "nation." Is Ireland to be regarded as a nation or not? If it is not, you are deceiving the Irish people by saying that it is. Surely the Noble Lord is aware that within our own Empire there are several nations. Go to Canada and tell Canada that she is not a nation, and you would soon find the reply that you would receive. Tell the Australians or the New Zealanders that they had not the status of nationhood, and you would be rapidly undeceived as to their sentiments. There are many nations already in the Empire, and you may have nations with various degrees of sovereignty.
But I think the House would be more disposed to brush aside all questions of words or dialectics and get to the central facts. It has always been our custom not to seek to make our political systems square with political theories and definitions. The definitions have got to be made to fit the constitution, and not the constitution to fit the definitions. I regard it as a profound misfortune to this country and the Empire that the Irish problem had not been solved before the War came upon us. We are all deeply grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Redmond) and his colleagues for the attitude which they adopted at the outset of the War. They did all that men could to strengthen the hands of the British Government. Whole-heartedly they threw themselves into this conflict, and on their advice and under their leadership scores of thousands of Irishmen enlisted into the British Army. That was only possible because there seemed an immediate prospect of the grant of self-government. The Home Rule Act was on the Statute Book, and that made all the difference between the attitude of the Irish National leaders of to-day and what it had been in previous generations. Even the prospect of liberty 2129 was enough to evoke loyalty. But as time went on, changes occurred, suspicions were aroused in Ireland, enthusiasm faded, the good which had been done by putting the Home Rule Act on the Statute Book was to a large extent undone by the doubts—I think well founded—that its enforcement would be found impossible. The moment the prospect of liberty receded, disloyalty brewed, and at last the world saw the spectacle of the British Government, asserting truly that it was engaged in a War on behalf of the freedom of small nationalities, compelled to divert a part of its armies in order to suppress a rising which was in intention, however foolish, designed to promote the freedom of the small nationality nearest to our own shores and under our direct control.
Compare Ireland during the war with South Africa. Frequent recognition has been made in this House by some speakers of the immeasurable services rendered by General Botha and General Smuts, now an honoured visitor to this country, in this great conflict. There also there was a rebellion, but that rebellion was suppressed by the national Government of South Africa itself with its own forces, without having to call upon the Mother Country to dispatch troops. Why is it that the only part of the white Empire in which there has been doubt, disunion, holding back, embarrassment to the Imperial Government, has been the one part in which Britain has delayed to act upon her own sound principle of governing with the full assent of the governed? I do not think in the history of any nation in the world in a time of crisis has there been so clear a light to guide and so plain a beacon to warn as this nation has had in these critical days in South Africa on the one hand, and Ireland on the other. If, before the War, there had been established self-government in Dublin, as there was established self-government in Pretoria, I have not the smallest doubt but that there would have been the same loyalty, enthusiasm, and energy in the one case as in the other. In this House long ago, in 1782, Charles James Fox moved that full rights of self-government should be granted to the Irish Parliament that then existed. England was then hard pressed in war. The Motion was carried, and the very first act 2130 of Grattan's Parliament was to vote £100,000—a large sum in those days— in-order to raise and to pay for 20,000 Irishmen to be enlisted as sailors in the British Navy.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
The right hon. Gentleman has omitted to add that that Parliament was abolished because Mr. Pitt found it impossible in a state of divided authority to carry on the war.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I do not want to go into these old controversies. Perhaps I was unwise to give, as an illustration, 1782; but I am sure my hon. and learned Friend, though I could give him an answer, will recognise the reasons that lead me to abstain from attempting to do so. Let those who are now resentful of the unrest in Ireland and of the attitude of the Irish Nationalist party in these days in this House think, after all, of all the disappointment which the Irish people have suffered. Thirty years ago one of the greatest of our statesmen, converted to Home Rule, introduced a Bill here. He was defeated. The hopes of Ireland were disappointed then. He strove again in 1893 to pass a measure. It passed this House, but was defeated again, and twenty years went by before a Home Rule Bill was again before Parliament. Then, after a struggle, which shook the Constitution to its foundations, it reached the Statute Book, but in an avowedly incomplete form. The Ulster question was not settled. The War came, and the hopes of Ireland were disappointed once more. Last summer the present Prime Minister, with great zeal and energy, endeavoured to arrange a solution of this problem. It seemed almost as though at last the question was settled and an agreement reached. Again these hopes were disappointed. Every time the stone of Sisyphus has rolled with infinite pain and trouble and toil to the top of the hill it trembles at the very crest, the labourers seem to see their hopes fulfilled and their toil at an end, but some malignant hand seems to press it back again, and it goes crashing down to the bottom of the hill. This cannot go on. The patience of no nation could stand a strain of this kind indefinitely. There is. no one who believes when the War is over, when, as we all hope, we make a fresh start in many directions in order to put our national affairs on a better basis, that the Irish question can go on as it has been in the last thirty years, the football of party politics—a series of efforts leading to no result. The right hon. 2131 Gentleman who moved this Motion said that a solution would not be easy. The Noble Lord told us that we must face facts. It is not enough to be oratorical; it is not enough to preach good will, we must deal with the definite concrete issue as between the Ulstermen on the one hand and Nationalist Ireland on the other. The formidable difficulty which has prevented solution till now is that you have a minority, different in race, and of separate sympathies, concentrated largely in one area, unwilling to co-operate with the great mass of their fellow countrymen. It is generally agreed that three principles must be fulfilled in any settlement—that for the greater part of Ireland there must be established self-government; that there must be no compulsion of the other part, and that there ought, if possible, to be established some visible sign and mark of the continued unity of Ireland. If those principles be agreed upon, it is a problem for careful statesmanship to translate them into action. It then becomes a question of detail. If those are the objects generally allowed, you have to find the ways and means to fulfil them. There are many possible plans for achieving those objects Several alternative schemes have, I know, been submitted to the Government. Whether the Imperial statesmen could with profit be brought in to act as conciliators and mediators, and to try to work out these schemes and translate them into action, the Government are the best judges. They will know the sentiments of those distinguished statesmen. I do not think it is right to say, as did my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. R. McNeill), that the co-operation of the Dominion statesmen is ruled out by the fact that their Parliaments have for the most part passed resolutions favourable towards Home Rule. After all, we proceed on the assumption that any plan must constitute Home Rule for the greater part of Ireland. The point at issue is one in which both parties claim really to be proceeding on the Home Rule principle. Both parties claim the right of self-government Nationalist Ireland claims the right of self-government within the United Kingdom, and Ulster claims that they should be governed according to their own will within Ireland.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
By this Parliament. Without going into these matters, my point is that both sides are really appealing to the rights of people to be governed according to their own will in the way they prefer. Therefore, it appears to me that the intervention and assistance of the Dominion statesmen is by no means ruled out, a priori, on the ground that the principle of Home Rule has been accepted and endorsed by the Parliaments which they serve. No doubt, as has been said by almost every speaker, if a settlement is to be arrived at, both sides must make sacrifices. The hon. Member (Mr. R. McNeill) said that if an appeal for sacrifice is to be made, it should be addressed to the Nationalist Members rather than to him and his Friends, on the ground that the Nationalist Members hitherto have shown no tendency to contemplate any form of sacrifice or surrender of the views that they have held. Is it nothing that Nationalist Ireland should contemplate, even for a moment, that a system of self-government should be set up, and that it should not completely cover in all respects the whole of Ireland? Was it no sacrifice to them to have been ready to accept a scheme which, even for a time, and even for some comparatively short area, contemplated that that area should be withdrawn from the general self-governing system which they contemplated?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
When we remember that the portion of Ireland which was to be withdrawn is one which we all recognise to be amongst the, most progressive, enlightened, and enterprising parts of Ireland, and the portion which Nationalist Ireland passionately longs to see cooperating with themselves, surely it is not quite right to say that Irish Nationalists have shown no readiness to make sacrifices of any kind! I would say to my hon. Friend and those co-operating with him this last word—whatever differences there may be on this Irish question, every man is at least agreed in this, that the spirit of Unionist Ulster is one of intense British patriotism, and that nowhere in the Empire does the flame of patriotic fervour burn more clearly and brightly than it does in Ulster. Patriotism is in the very blood of the people. Could they not, therefore, now recognise that in these days, to help in promoting a settlement of 2133 this age-long controversy is really the highest service which they can render to the Empire they love?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I certainly have no intention either of criticising or of finding fault with the speech of my right hon. Friend (Mr. H. Samuel), but as I listened to it I must confess that I was carried back to the days before the War. I was reminded a little of the kind of speeches to which we were accustomed then, and I was reminded of it all the more because I remember myself using the same illustration which my right hon. Friend has used, and saying to him that though he was engaged in performing the labours of Sisyphus, he was rolling the stone up and finding it coming down. I regret that the stone does always come tumbling down. It was only last Friday that we had unexpectedly a discussion on this subject, and I cannot say that I desired Another this afternoon, but I am glad that the House and the country has had an opportunity, the House of listening to, and the country of judging the tone of the Debate within these walls. Last Friday I endeavoured to make a speech suitable to the atmosphere of this afternoon and suitable to my own feelings. I find that that speech was understood in a sense in which I certainly did not mean it. A great man who once stood very often, and for many years, against both these boxes on this Table, once said, "Never apologise and never explain." I have not acted on that principle. When I have done anything that needed it I have been, and always shall be, ready to apologise, but I have avoided explaining. There is one interpretation which was put upon what I said last Friday, to which I wish to refer, because I cannot allow it to remain. I suggested that the result of certain action in this House might be that an election would take place in which the inevitable issue would be raised that the Nationalist Members were hampering us in the War. It was suggested that I desired that issue. There is nothing that I should more detest. I am not talking at all of party advantage, or of the chance of winning elections. I realise that it is not the desire of one party or the other, but it is the desire of this whole nation, that we should live at peace and in friendship with our friends in the south and west of Ireland, if it can be done.
My right hon. Friend said truly, that without atmosphere, without a suitable atmosphere, a settlement was not possible. 2134 That is true. But atmosphere alone is not enough. Nobody put more clearly to the House of Commons than the right hon. Gentleman himself the dilemma in which we are placed by this question, and the difficulty which has to be overcome. It is not a question of convincing the people of this country. The difficulty is in Ireland itself. One hon. Member said that what was wanted was for my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Irish party to come down to the floor of this House and shake hands. Either of them, I am certain, would like a settlement, either of them would be ready to do that to-morrow, but the power which has got to be brought into operation is not the power of the Leader of a party; you have got to convince the men behind them, or their leadership ceases. That is the difficulty, and it is there, in my opinion, that atmosphere comes in quite as much as in the House of Commons. I think, at least I hope, the feeling in Ulster has been changed a little, and will be found not so adamant, by the simple fact that all parties, all British parties, have openly stated that there can be no question of imposing a settlement of this kind upon them by force. I think with that it becomes easier. Things have shifted so much during the War that we are all in danger of being told that we have changed our views. That is very likely true in a sense. We have changed our sense of values. I never believed that the attempt on the part of Ulster to make some kind of arrangement to come in gradually, or quickly with the rest of Ireland, would be so bad as they thought it would; but I felt at the time of this controversy, and I feel it as strongly now, that that is not the question, but that so long as they feel they will not submit to it, we have no right whatever to impose it upon them. I say this, that if the Nationalist party themselves could openly avow that they are prepared to act in the same spirit as British parties, then I think it would be found far easier to make an arrangement with Ulster which would be possible with the rest of Ireland.
I said that we are all, or many of us, accused of changing our views. Nothing shows the change more completely than that my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Major Hills) was arguing with the Prime Minister and trying to convince him that his Unionism was too deep-seated. He was dealing with the question of Poland, 2135 and he actually said the Prime Minister would have some difficulty in making a good case in regard to Ireland as compared with Poland. All that kind of talk, in my opinion, does not help but hinders the prospects of settlement. I know what the views of Nationalist Members are, and I do not agree with my Noble Friend (Lord Hugh Cecil) that the only thing you have to think of in the government of Ireland is to set up a Government that will govern in the best way. I do not think so at all. I think that very often a very bad form of government, if it is with the consent and good will of the people governed, will work infinitely better than a much better system without that consent and good will. I would beg of the Nationalist Members, or those who support them, not to put everything out of perspective. I quite admit that the whole history of Ireland in its relationship with Great Britain and its present position now is a blemish—to put it very mildly—upon our statesmanship. Yes, but it is not all our fault. I would wish that that could sometimes be recognised a little more fully.
This at least may be said, that during nearly the whole of my life, and certainly during the whole of my political life, the people of this country have desired to act towards Ireland not only justly but generously. If the form of self-government which they ask for, which I confess I would like to see them get, in the parts of Ireland which unmistakably demand it, were in force, of course they would have a government that would suit them. But meantime how can you compare Ireland with a country that is subject to the most intensely autocratic government, when we know that she has in reality precisely the same rights and liberties as are enjoyed by the rest of us, that she has received a large measure of local self-government, and—I hope hon. Gentlemen will not object to my stating my point of view in this matter—that she has a representation which gives her an influence in proportion to her population enormously greater than that which is possessed by any other portion of the United Kingdom. That does not alter, in my mind, the need for some change.
Suppose the Prime Minister has to go to this Peace Conference, and is taunted, let us imagine, with the position of Ireland, this is the answer which we are 2136 ready to give: We are prepared to give Ireland self-government to-morrow where they distinctly demand it. In Poland, in my belief—I am not quite sure of my facts, but I believe that they are correct— in the old kingdom of Poland there is now a large section where the population, to the extent of something like 80 per cent., is Russian. Suppose it were said, "We will give you self-government where the Poles are in an overwhelming majority, but we will not give it in those parts of Poland where the Russians are in an overwhelming majority," would anybody contend for a moment that these people were an oppressed nationality who had the right to say that they were oppressed? I really do not want to raise these controversies. We want a settlement. But the sacrifice must be on all sides if we are to get a settlement. I do not agree either with my Noble Friend that there is no advantage in trying to settle now, if it can be done. I do believe that this Irish question does act as a handicap upon us in carrying on this War, and I do not agree that perhaps we would do it better when the War is over. I am not sure.
I know this at least, that in this House I myself—and I think that it is true of many others—have had a different feeling towards the Gentlemen who sit on those benches because of the attitude taken by the Leader of their party, and by other members of that party who are risking their lives. It has made a great difference, and, if I may say so, even in the kind of speech which we have heard in the last two or three days from the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Devlin), who reminded me this afternoon, though it was quite unnecessary, that he is quite able to fight when he wants to, even in the speeches which he made during the last few days, I felt—I will not say grateful, that is not the feeling—but I felt very pleased to find, when we received the news of what had happened in Russia, that he expressed the feeling which we all have that it would not hinder the conduct of the War; and to-day, in the attitude taken by him on behalf of his party, he again showed that they are with us, and heartily with us. My right hon. Friend, in proposing his Motion, spoke of me in a way which I am afraid will make me suspect to some of my friends. I hope not, but he said something which is more important. He has put down a Motion which urges the supreme importance 2137 of a settlement of this question. But it also urges the Government to take steps necessary for that purpose. I wish to Heaven he would tell us what those steps are! He said himself that he quite recognised the difficulties, and he was not very sanguine of anything resulting. Well, that is what has been weighing with us. I agree with my Noble Friend that if we make the attempt and again fail the position will be worse, as it was after the last attempt. That makes us hesitate. Well—we have decided that, in spite of the risks, it is worth while for us, on our own responsibility, in some way or another to make another attempt. The House knows what the difficulties are. I hope that it will not press us to say more than that now, and that it will give us a little time. We do think that it is worth making the attempt. Whether it succeeds or fails, I think that it is right to make it.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I only rise to say a couple of sentences, not in reply to my right hon. Friend or to comment on what he has said. But I desire to express, I think I may say on behalf of the whole House, certainly the vast majority of Gentlemen sitting in every quarter of the House, the satisfaction with which they have heard the announcement which he has just made. Personally, I think that it is better to make the attempt and fail than not to make it at all. But we are all, I am sure, profoundly gratified to know that the Government are making the attempt. What I rose to say is this, that in making that attempt, whatever form it may take, the Government may rely upon the sympathy and active co-operation of all of us here.
§ Mr. GINNELL
For the second time to-day the two Front Benches have conspired to induce the House not to talk about the business for which the House exists. If it exists for any business at all. it should be for settling what is considered to be a most urgent question, a question of war. Before I go further I should like to make an acknowledgment of the fine manly expression of the hon. Member who seconded the Motion before the House. He, like other Gentlemen who spoke on this Motion, emphasised the urgency of the Irish question. He had the grace to say that the House would be well advised to approach it on the basis of not losing the ideal which will appeal to the sympathy and the imagination of the Irish 2138 people. Although that may be sentimental it was the wisest remark made in this Debate. If the Irish question were capable of settlement by this House at all it should necessarily be on those lines. I know of no reason why any attempt should be made on any other lines, but the hon. Member, like all the other speakers, treated the matter as a domestic question.
Notice taken that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members being found present—
§ Mr. GINNELL
I was lamenting the fact that all the hon. Members who spoke referred to this Irish controversy as a domestic question, and treating it on that basis their common remedy was partition. The Mover of the Resolution also emphasised the fact that it is no longer a party question. The reason for that is that all the English parties are quite ready to partition Ireland, just as Russia and Austria were quite ready to partition Poland, but they lost sight of the historic fact that the partition of Poland did not satisfy the Poles, and they omitted to tell us why it should satisfy Ireland. It would be a strange cure were the surgeon to suggest to his patient that what was essential to his restoration to good health was the cutting out of his heart. It is equally difficult to convince Ireland that a similar remedy would be a cure for her ills. Why do Gentlemen who, in September, 1914, got their Home Rule Act placed on the shelf, treat this same question as so urgent to-day? Does anyone suppose that it is due to any Parliamentary action? No. Does anyone suppose that it is due to military tactics or military expenditure? No. Will hon. Members of this House even now realise the fact that the urgency of this Irish problem to-day-is due to the men of Easter week in Dublin, and to the fact that the majority of the Irish people to-day ratify that action. What does that mean? It means that Nationalist Ireland looked to this House long enough, too long in my opinion, and has ceased to look to it any more. Not only has it raised this problem above being a party question, but it has raised it above being a domestic question; that is, it has raised it above being a British domestic question. Britain has had the problem long enough in its hands 2139 with all powers, and bad use it has made of its opportunities and of its powers. It is now taken out of their hands.
Nationalist Ireland no longer looks to this House to remedy this urgent problem. That is precisely why they consider it urgent. If Nationalist Ireland could come to the bar, and, on bended knees, petition for something, it would be scoffed at. Nationalist Ireland has, on the contrary, turned its back on you and your House, and looks to itself and to itself alone. and it will continue to do so, dislike it how the Chief Secretary may. Nationalist Ireland looks to itself for its redress, in the first place, and, in a secondary sense, to the Peace Conference. Members of the Government talk about an International Peace Conference, as if they were entitled and able to determine its constitution. They are nothing of the kind, and we know it. They say that Ireland will not be represented at all at the Peace Conference. We know it is not so. Ireland will go to the Peace Conference, and will be admitted to it because it no longer admits that its inalienable right to absolute and exclusive independence is a domestic question for any country but itself. We could not go to the Peace Conference, as was pointed out by the Noble Lord on the other side, to discuss the Home Rule Act or any other measure of this Parliament. You put your Home Rule Act on the Statute Book after spending three Sessions over it, and you had not the honesty or courage to put it into operation. No; in the hurry of your lives, you sacrificed the men whose souls you then thought were chained to your tail. The Noble Lord also admitted the fact that the Sinn Feiners have logic on their side. They have more than logic. They have on their side the spirit generated by deceitful Governments and by betrayal of pledges. The late Prime Minister was maintained in office through promising repeatedly self-government to Ireland, and he proposed a Colonial Conference here in London, in 1911, taking that opportunity of saying that the thing called freedom that did not give control of a country's finances was a mockery. yet he himself, in drafting this measure of self-government for Ireland, withheld control of Ireland's finances from the Parliament he proposed to set up; withheld control of the land, withheld control of all that is essential to the making of a nation, retained power in this House to continue taxing Ireland, 2140 gathering in taxes to the Imperial Treasury, imposed not only by this Parliament, but by the sham Parliament to be set up in Ireland, and paying back to Ireland a yearly dole out of our money, without making any provision whatever for the payment of the debt of this country to-Ireland.
Twenty years ago a Royal Commission was appointed to estimate the nature and amount of that debt. It found that Ireland had been overtaxed annually since the Union to the amount of two and three-quarter million pounds. That continued, and was exaggerated from that day to this, till it amounts to the gross sum, at the present time, of over £400,000,000. Yet hon. Members in this House talk about their great desire to be just to Ireland. I wonder do they ever think of paying their debt. There are many forms of tyranny, and it was very truly said by a previous speaker that if Ireland were better governed from outside than from within, she should not, and ought not, and would not, be content But, at the same time, everbody recognises, especially in this commercial country, that excessive taxation is at least one of the forms of tyranny, and that form of tyranny having been investigated by financial experts, not appointed by us, but by the British Parliament experts, the majority of whom were not Irish but British, they have found that this form of tyranny has prevailed, and still prevails, and is being intensified. especially by the War. Where, I should like to know, is the mystery about Ireland and this debt, and about the remedy so far as material advantage is concerned. What the British Government have got to do in Ireland, whether they recognise it soon or late, is to clear out of that country. They are there only for the purpose of fleecing the people.
It rests no longer with them to talk about good intentions, about honesty, and still less about pledges. They are too late now for settling this question themselves. They have been tinkering with it long enough. They need not trouble to appoint any Commission, or ask any Colonial statesman, for those statesmen in Australia and in Canada who are intended to take part in this settlement, as they intended to distinguish themselves in connection with the War, have found their occupations in clearing their character of the charges of corruption made against them by those who knew them best. Those statesmen are detained at home. 2141 Surely 110 Imperial Conference would be complete without them. The prospect before this Empire is not improving and has not improved since the 3rd August, 1914. Time is against this Empire, and it may last long enough to learn that despised Ireland, if not given the freedom to which it is entitled, if not allowed to rule itself in absolute and exclusive independence, may prove an instrument of the destruction of this Empire. At all events, we in Ireland no longer look to this Parliament for the goal at which we are aiming. Therefore I have prepared an Amendment to the Motion before the House, which is to leave out all the words after the word "that," and insert "this House, having legislated for Ire land during the last 116 years with callous tyranny, part of which, that of excessive taxation, was revealed by the finding of the Royal Commission that Ireland had been excessively taxed to the extent of £2,750,000 per year, creating a debt of over £400,000,000 now due by this country to Ireland, common honesty and the inalienable rights of the Irish nation demand that we nay this debt forthwith and leave Ireland in absolute and exclusive control of herself, her own property, and her own affairs."
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.